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The big build up

So here we go. The countdown to by far away the most important game of the season. Forget last week, forget Xmas. Forget even the start of the season. Only one game matters now, and in less than 48 hours the talking will be done. The pontification will cease to be. Yesterday’s predictions become tomorrow’s toilet paper. And life may possibly never be the same again.

Yes, I’m talking about Derby v Man United at Pride Park. Can United hit back after Pompey dumped them out of the FAC last week? Will their goalkeeping crisis give the initiative back to Arsenal? Could the strike forces of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney have a fatal desertation of form? And what of Derby? Will they confound all the odds and overturn a team who should do them? I’m sure we’re all particularly interested in the way they will handle almost certain relegation, coupled with a 6-1 thumping by Chelski only this week. While top v bottom clashes should be pretty predictable affairs, I’m sure those with longer memories will point to an already-relegated West Ham preventing United from winning the Premiership. Anything can happen.

There’s also the small matter of us travelling to the champions elect on Saturday. Don’t think anyone’s noticed.

Actually, one thing that has grabbed me is that (up until now anyway) how hyped up it is. Or rather, how it isn’t. Seriously. Granted, I know we’re all looking forward to it, in a perverse way, but it’s been quite businesslike if anything. Nobody’s waving their undersized nobs about, saying we’re going to do this and that. Instead, the concensus is that we’ve got to win and let’s focus on that more than anything else. It sure as hell makes a change from ye olden days, when we bigged up playing AFC Wallingford in our first season, stuff on the PA etc and we ended up losing 3-0. We seemed to have grown up a bit since then, thankfully.

Certainly TB’s got the right idea, if his South London Press comments are anything to go by. He’s obviously not sure whether this current bunch of players are able to step up to the plate though. Personally, I reckon this game will prove to us not just whether we can catch Chelmsford, but how likely we are to succeed in the playoffs. Think about it – this will be a high pressure game, and will be the nearest game thus far to a playoff type situation. If we handle it well but draw/lose in the last minute, it’s a bastard but will show us we can equip ourselves.

What concerns me isn’t so much us losing, as painful as that will be, it’s us freezing. I don’t think we’ve been playing up to our potential recently (even with the results), and I’m certainly not convinced with JG and MG as centre backs. It’s possible we can win. It’s just as possible we can draw (which IMO is the most likely result). Unfortunately, it’s also very possible we could lose this 3-0.

That’s why I think this game will decide where the title will end up. Lose or draw and they might as well get the t-shirts printed right now. Win, and suddenly the whole season changes just like that. Yes, it’ll still be a 5 point gap, but play sensibly on Good Friday and it’s down to two. And then the pressure is on Chelmsford. As TB’s SLP comments above make clear, they’ve had a relaxed time this season, and nobody’s put pressure on them. But get within 2 points by 4.50pm a week on Friday and who knows?

Lest we forget that on Easter Saturday they have to travel away to Maidstone, who gave us a little scare or two down there IIRC. And they’ll have to win that for once. A draw there for them would just mean a win for us and a loss for them…

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. Although maybe that’s no bad thing – it will after all tell us exactly why we should focus on winning Saturday. I certainly don’t take the line that some Wombles have been taking that we should really forget about chasing Chelmsford and settle for second. That’s a bollocks small time thing to say – firstly, if you can still win the title up to the last day of the season, you go for it. Bet Alex Ferguson never tells his players to give up chasing Arsenal at 5 points behind. That’s probably why United win more titles than anyone else (and you thought my choice of teams in the opening paragraphs were mere accidents). And we would do well to copy a bit of that attitude.

Secondly, take our foot off the pedal and then what? Lose momentum? Rely on a rather dubious theory that we can turn it on for the last two games of the season? Wind down simply to avoid injuries? Never quite works like that, and if we keep chasing and chasing we continue to build into a (hopefully) winning team with plenty of confidence. And we’ll need shitloads going into the playoffs. If we lose the title on the last day of the season, then lose in the playoffs but put 2 zillion percent then we have to accept it wasn’t our turn. But to meekly surrender when you still have got a chance, no matter how slim? Unforgivable. And with the amount of money put into the side, more than a little anger-inducing….

Basically, it really is all to play for on Saturday. One final comment to make, and it’s about allocations etc. Although we’re going to get 1100, it’s kind of telling that Chelmsford are leaving that figure a bit open to interpretation, IYSWIM. How else do you explain the following from our OS?

“Chelmsford will try and be as flexible as possible on the day of the game to ensure there will be sufficient room for our supporters but that will be governed by the size of the crowd.”

In other words, if there’s 1500 of us, everyone get in at about 1.30pm and they’ll have to give us extra spaces. If they don’t, some of our more clued up fans will know what to do*

* DISCLAIMER: SW19 does not condone anyone going in home ends. It’s wrong and against the spirit of the game. Certainly do NOT pretend to be a fan of the opposition and claim to know who’s playing in order to avoid ejection. Your editor has never done this at Liverpool and Newcastle. Honest.

In all seriousness, I’m surprised this wasn’t all ticket, at least for us. I would like to think at KM we’d ensure people didn’t need to travel and resort to attempting entry to the home support. Last year we only took about 600 or so, for reasons I don’t quite know why, but this time it could well be a four figure turnout. Gloryhunters? Us? While there’s no obvious needle between us and the champions-elect (in fact, I’m surprised how cordial relationships are between us and them), there’s always a flashpoint around the corner.

If we’re going to do anything on Saturday, we just need to keep our heads, concentrate on what we’re doing and let the rest happen. And that applies to our team as well….