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Stoking the fires

OK, hands up – who here was expecting a classic 4-0er with everyone playing subliminal one-touch football with a heroic hatrick from Jamie Pullen?

If so, put your hands down and sulk. The most important thing about Port Vale 1 Stoke 0 was that it was three points. Yes, it wasn’t a classic. Yes, it was yet another case of just getting through the game. Yes, this is turning into another set of results and performances that we endured during February. By Sunday evening, your arse will look like the flag of Japan.

But not for the first time, it was a game that could have gone wrong that didn’t. Let’s do another show of hands – during the second half, who here had flashbacks to the Good Friday game last season against East Thurrock United? You remember, it was that cold, wet Good Friday that we didn’t really play too well, against a side we should beat comfortably, and yet let in two goals within the last two minutes…..

What a difference a year makes.

Actually, I have to be honest here and say that I was ready to curse like fuck when I found we were playing a much changed side. TB will explain why in his interview that I taped (below) but at times I thought it was a gamble too far. Surely we should be playing our best team for the remaining four three games? I’m not saying we got away with it today, because we probably were a lot more comfortable than our arseholes will let us be right now. But at times when the passing went astray, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and think “what the fuck have we done?”.

Well, that question was answered via Alan Inns’ effort, thankfully. Boy, we’re going to miss him now. You do have to wonder though, will Monday be a step too far? Did the fact that we played without three of our most effective players yet still won prove that we’re destined for the title? Though the answer to that is, of course not.

Monday will be ten times more difficult than today was. They want to deny us promotion, and you know they’ll give it to us. Eastleigh didn’t find it too easy from them earlier this afternoon (though with a penalty. And they say luck evens itself out…), and we certainly won’t.

I mentioned the word “luck” here, and it’s something that I’ve written about a lot recently. A neutral I know went today, he saw us lose at Eastleigh but beat Team Barf. According to said fencesitter, we’re winning without getting the rub of the green. Offsides given against us weren’t offsides, we should have had a couple of handballs given our way, that sort of thing. Granted, you make your own luck. Witness how we made them panic when we did put pressure on their defence. Yet even that didn’t quite happen for us today.

Am I moaning? Yeah, a little bit. Various incidents do stick in the throat, even more after a day like today. Yes, we’re getting the results on the board, but we should have been home and dry by now. Then again, H&R did hit the bar and post a couple of times against Chelmsford. So maybe, just maybe, things are slightly turning our way? We’ll wait and see, but it’s certainly a long time overdue if so.

Enough whinging. We did what we needed to do today, if not particularly spectacularly. There is now nine points up for grabs, and we have four between us and Eastleigh, and as it stands six between us and the Axewounds. OK, they play tomorrow, but all of a sudden they have to beat Braintree. Considering by kickoff time we were just one point in front, it does show you what the margin for error still is. I know we always talk about how we’re going to fuck up games, but imagine being Eastleigh or H&R right now.

Yes, I know that might be a step too far for people to take, but put yourself in both their positions right this minute. If you’re Eastleigh, you’re happy with beating Bromley today, but by five o’clock you saw the points gap widen from just one to four. Psychologically, you basically have to win two more games than the team at the top. And now you’ve only got three left. Granted, you’re at Bognor on Monday, and you should win that. But hang on – didn’t Chelmsford come a cropper against exactly the same team at exactly the same venue? It’s also worth remembering that you have a habit of losing to teams near the bottom as well.

And if you’re H&R right now? This time last week, you were one game away from being level on points with the top team. You’re now six points adrift. Yes, you have that game in hand again, and you should get three points back. But what if you don’t? Right this very minute, the slight doubts might be creeping in. What if suddenly your tactic (singular) doesn’t pay off? What if, Satan forbid, you start doing what the team at the top did a few weeks ago and start turning wins into draws, and draws into losses? Just needs one more poor performance and a result to match and your title chasing could be over PDQ.

And, if you’re either of those two sides and you’re being really, really, really honest with yourself – you’ve had a helluva lot of luck in your recent runs of form haven’t you? Maybe not quite so much Eastleigh, although that dubious handball goal really has pushed the envelope somewhat. You’ve done well, in fact you’ve done very well. You’re still in with a title shot. But you have to keep it going almost as much as the team on top does now. You are now under pressure, probably for the first time this season. And pressure is something that it takes getting used to if you’re not accustomed to it.

As far as we’re concerned though, it’s another three points….
Plus points: We won. Clean sheet. At a vital time of the season. Proverbial banana skin avoided. Without our first choice XI starting. JP not having that much to do.

Minus points: Shit game. Shit weather. Shit nerves.

The referee’s a….: Better than some I suppose. But really, if he and his assistants keep missing things like shoves in the back and handballs, what chance do you really have? Somebody today mentioned Steven Cook (remember him?), and how well he’s progressed from this level and below. To be honest, you can see why he’s progressed so quickly…

Them: They were on a bit of form recently, weren’t they? I can see why they could cause problems, although they were only going to score if we let them, if that makes any sense. Fair amount of them turned up, almost as many as they get at home 😉 Didn’t realise their manager was Frank Gray, who played against us for Lids in the 1975 FA Cup tie. What goes around, and all that.

Point to ponder: Don’t get me wrong, we’ve needed his ability to be selected for the past month, and he’s done a good enough job. But would it be fair to say that Kezie Ibe perhaps didn’t quite set the place alight as maybe he should? It was clear he didn’t gel with JM that well, and it was Kedwell that made him motor a bit more today. I guess getting a striker on loan is a hard thing in itself, especially as they are expected to score goals without knowing too much of how a team players, who supplies the crosses/passes etc. One does wonder if we’ll end up with another Kedwell-esque signing come the summer. Ironically, I’m off to Stevenage v Ebbsfleet tomorrow where Ibe might be in the Fleet squad again. Be something if he scores a hat-trick.

Meet the manager: TB’s post-match interview streamed below. Apologies for the “thumping”, that’s happening a bit more often for some reason. I think my dictaphone is starting to wear out…

TB on Basingstoke – click here
To be honest, there’s not really much he could say. I suppose he was quite brave to not play Leberl/DK/Lee, although it’s “brave” because we won. I’ve no idea what his previous title winning campaigns with Hayes (not Yeading) and Aldershot were like in the run in, but I wonder if he had to deal with a squad before that is just about keeping going? If he has, he’ll certainly need all his experience…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Crowd of 4136. And here was me thinking the hoohar of the 3.05pm kickoff would depress our crowd below 3000. Proves that it didn’t really matter in the end. (2) The Wombelles. No further comment necessary. (3) Speaking of which, when they played that Nolans song, Tintin Haydon and the Basingstoke thingy started dancing about to it. It was a bit on the gay side, you have to admit, and they seemed a bit too friendly towards each other during the half time shootout… (4) Quite a few people wearing Surrey CC garb (ie caps, coats). I’m not the world’s biggest cricket fan, but don’t you think it’s a bit early to start wearing that sort of stuff? The season hasn’t finished yet, unfortunately (5) Spotted – Dave Anderson and Paul Lorraine. Hmm…

Anything else? Not really, if truth be told. Right now, you’ve practically suspended just about every other aspect to do with AFCW. It’s all focusing on three more points on Monday along with slipups elsewhere. Today was a means to an end, nobody is getting carried away. This is going to be one helluva fortnight…

So, was it worth it? Hope so.

In a nutshell: Another vital three points….