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In the gutter for Christmas

If you’d asked me before Gypsies 1 Tramps and Thieves 1 whether I would have been happy with a draw, I would probably have said no. Wins are far more valuable than draws, even at this relatively early stage.

Yet when I walked out of the game yesterday into the increasingly swirly Kent mist, I felt we’d done to Lady Luck what Man United players do to slappers at Xmas parties. Kenny Richie has nothing on us. From missed penalties – the ball is still heading past Swindon as we speak – to a defence shitting itself every time the opposition came in our half, to Jon Main’s goal with his knee from 3mm out, a point felt like three.

Yes, it was that bad.

Before we scored, I was thinking of the consequences of us losing. OK, a lot of it was having to get through Gutter’s reaction had it happened , but also what it would have done to our mood. If we’re serious about getting automatic promotion (stop laughing), as both TB and one of our players said this week, you don’t go to Ramsgutter and play like you’ve just come off the funny farm, no matter the result.

Yes, their manager was doing his usual “discussion” with the officials, the pitch was shit, and when Gutter say they want a strong ref, what they mean is they want a referee who ignores their players shooting oppo players on the pitch whilst penalising their opponents for farting. But we have to rise above that if we don’t want to settle for the playoffs. I wouldn’t have cared yesterday if we really did snatch it at the death, but by and large those who were there were happy with the draw. But in truth, we shouldn’t be.

Drawing doesn’t hide the fact that I honestly did question whether we’d signed Jon Main simply because we could, rather than him slotting into the side. Actually, I’m being unfair, he was at least putting shots in when he could, and I’m sure his goal yesterday will be the first of many now.

In fact, am I being unfair full stop? I suppose the bottom line is, we played shit in a hostile place and we still came out with a point. They had won 7 out of 10 beforehand at their “ground”. Perhaps just as importantly, we have enough decent players to make that difference as and when needed. Yesterday, Finn came on and totally changed the game for us. Suddenly, Gutter were finding it harder to cope, and if anything we could (and maybe should) have got it at the end. So does that make yesterday two points dropped then?

Bottom line is, this was a trip to the dentist and we came out with a filling put in but no major root canal surgery. What this does mean now is that Friends of Franchise have to be executed on Boxing Day. If we don’t get 3 points come 5pm then, forget automatic promotion. Then we have Staines away, and quite simply we have to come away from there with a point at least.

In fact, I’ll go one step further. Recently, our league performances have been a bit, well, hmm. A quick glance at recent results (bar the FAT) is that we have a psychological trait of making life difficult for ourselves. How many times have we gone behind recently only to come back? While you could praise our ability to somehow keep getting back into games, it’s really yet another example of us riding our luck. Here’s an idea. How about us taking control of the game early on ourselves, getting the first goal, and using our undoubted talent to kill teams off within the first 20 minutes? Rather that than constantly giving the first goal away then having to yet again kick into gear. One day it won’t happen and it’ll be 3 valuable points lost – almost like yesterday in fact.

See, it’s all starting to get a bit businesslike now. We’re getting to the stage, if we’re not there already, where it’s not just the points that matter.We now have to up our game, and stop conceding the early goals. While we now have a surplus of strikers, we need to stop fartarsing about up front and start putting those chances away. We need that killer instinct now, we need to kill teams off. Literally, if we have to. In short, we need to look like a team who genuinely can get automatic promotion, rather than one that just talks about it. Just like yesterday’s performance didn’t show.

Am I hopeful over Xmas? If truth be told, I’m not. I can’t help feeling we’ll scrape through FoF on Boxing Day – we’ll either go the inevitable goal down or we’ll go 2-0 up after 20 minutes, fail to add the third, concede during the second half and hang on yet again. And Staines? I honestly think we’ll end up losing that. Reason why I think that is because we’re going to get worse before we get better at the moment, and Staines are doing quite well right now. We might see us kick into life, although I’m more convinced it’ll be another Chelmsford – plenty of nerves, tentative defending and a suckerpunch that we just don’t recover from. I might be wrong on all this, and I hope I am, but I honestly can’t see any other outcomes right now.

Our season certainly won’t be over by the Hendon game on NYD, but we could be preparing ourselves for the guaranteed loss on penalties in the playoff final.

And while you bask in the SW19 Xmas cheer, here’s…..

Plus points: Last 10 minutes

Minus points: First 80 minutes

The referee’s a……: Rampant rabbit. No, I don’t quite mean that he hopped around the pitch at a rate of knots pausing only to chew on grass and avoid lurking foxes either.

Them: Remind me of H&R, minus the charm and savoir faire. Credit where it’s reluctantly due I suppose, things were a lot more serene yesterday. Maybe it’s the Xmas cheer reaching even Southwood? Maybe the real ale on sale had some sort of relaxant in it? Or maybe somebody down the Ramsgutter end was dealing out spliffs? But I just can’t help thinking in the back of my mind that yesterday was more of an exception rather than a rule. A few more hotheads in the ground and who knows what might have happened? Just hope we never have to find out next season.

Point to ponder: For once, I don’t think there is an entry for this. Unless you count the way we were totally the opposite yesterday as we were against Maidenhead. Why? Seriously, why? Maybe there is less pressure on us in the FAT, which may reinforce the view that there is a lot more pressure on us than perhaps any other non-Conf outfit. Plenty may argue that was the case again yesterday. On the one level, we should be flattered, but on another (more important level), I think maybe we would be better off learning to cope with it a bit more..

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Manston airstrip Kent International Airport, which has to be the world’s least busiest international airport – it makes Altenburg-Nobitz look like Heathrow. Christ, even Ryanair don’t use it (yet). You could see it from one of the terraces, which makes it all CCL like (minus the amount of aircraft coming in, of course). One thing, they always have a 747 cargo plane on the tarmac. Does it actually take off? Or do they just leave it on display to prove to people that it is actually an airport and occasionally they have proper big planes there, like a grown up airport? (2) Decent quality bar-staff, suitably decked out in tight red Xmassy uniform. One of the plus points of visiting chavvy areas (ie Ramsgutter, Harrow, Maidenhead) is that the female bar staff do at least give us old men a reason to poison our liver. Wouldn’t recommend the same dress code to our own pullers of creamy head though (3) To give you an idea of how strange yesterday was, I actually found myself salivating at the thought of eating Wimpy fried chicken from Clackett Lane. Needless to say, the bastards didn’t have any cooked…

Anything else? No. Trips to Kent always put me in a bad mood, especially when we play shit. Just be thankful we didn’t actually lose.

So, was it worth it? Umm

In a nutshell: Bah humbug.