…. thank goodness that Man City rhymes with that song, I’d hate to see how they would have fitted the Emirates into it.
Anyway, Heading to Manchester 6 Heading Home 1. Not much needs to be said, really. When Mo slotted home after 27 seconds, to totally wipe away any feeling of paranoia, Tranline.com suddenly had a rush of hits from mobile phones in SW London. From then on, you didn’t really pay much attention because you didn’t need to.
In the next ten days, there will be much more angst, much more bowel churning moments. And that’s just working out how to get up to the North West. There will plenty of time next week for the first major outbreak of wibbling and soiled underpants. But for today and up until Monday at least, enjoy basking. We’ve waited all season for this kind of performance, and we’ve finally got it.
You can tell how big a performance it was, simply by leaving KM last night – there was a real genuine buzz about the place, one I don’t think I’ve quite experienced in the AFCW era. When people were saying “see you in Manchester” after the game, they’re clearly not planning on merely a weekend with a nice Saturday evening on Canal Street. We want to win. And for the first time this season, I believe that maybe, just maybe, we can.
Between now and the 21st, there’s going to be plenty of comparisons to that day at White Hart Lane in 1988.Â The opponents were the same, and while we now have AFC prefixed, a fractured history and some open wounds that will never fully heal, there’s something eerily familiar twenty three years on.
No, I’m not suggesting we’re going to win 1-0 and Seb Brown will save a dubious penalty, not that I would complain if we did, but I remember how I felt walking back to Seven Sisters tube station after that game (and passing some straw boated Hatters who looked like their season was going to collapse on them – ultimately, it didn’t). It was a mixture of elation, fear, excitement and above all else a sense of bloody-hell-we’re-in-the-final.
Back to last night though, and with the exception of GG going off, it was what we wanted and – perhaps more importantly – needed. I think we had to prove something to not only any other interested party watching on, but ourselves. If we’d scraped through with just a 1-0 defeat, we would have all been happy with getting there but with a fair amount of trepidation. If Luton destroyed Wrexham in the first leg, they could certainly do likewise to a nervy, underperforming AFCW side.
By winning 6-1 on the night, in a playoff semi to boot, the approach becomes a bit different. At half time, I saw people saying that we were going to win. No, not the game last night but the playoffs full stop. Some of it may be down to the usual yahooing and bravado, but there is a genuine underlying belief that we can do it.
We can’t afford to show any complacency from this result, because we are playing Luton. This may make our focus a bit easier to manage, because we will have to be at our stonking best to beat them, something we may not have felt so much if we played Wrexham. But last night, there was a real feeling of “bring it on”.
Again, if one was to harp back to 1988, nobody gave us a chance in the buildup. Christ, some of the stuff written about us wouldn’t be allowed to get printed these days. But the only people who believed we had a chance were ourselves, and that’s ultimately what mattered. We may get better column inches between now and Saturday week, but the underlying essence remains the same.
Still, that was then and this is now. As you work out what kidney to sell to pay for the rip-off Â£40+ for a ticket, and how you’re going to get up there, just sit back and say to yourselves that right now there are 22 other clubs in this division who would right now kill to be in our position…..
Plus points: We’re in the playoff final. Mo’s hat-trick. The first minute. General all-round performance. Both subs coming on and scoring. Not needing to worry about anything in the end.
Minus points: Sloppyness for their goal. GG going off.
The referee’s a…: We won 6-1, so anything he did or didn’t do becomes like a mere ripple on the ocean. Or a tiny fart in the direction of Berrylands sewage.
Them: Fair play to them coming down and at least give it a go, it has got to be difficult to come down to a venue such as ours, plan to throw the kitchen sink (not literally, but if Neil Lennon was our manager…) and have that totally buggered 27 seconds after the first whistle.
Thankfully, they didn’t try and kick lumps out of us afterwards, although if they did they may not have reached us…
Point to ponder: Isn’t the biggest victory coming out of these two games relatively unscathed? While we never properly worked out whether or not bookings in the playoffs meant suspension for the final, we didn’t get any so it’s all academic. And only Gwillim’s injury is a concern, but it’s more than likely he’ll be fit for the final.
Taking off DK when we did was one of those things you always think should happen in that situation but never does, and you’re shocked when it actually occurs. Yes, I know we had to play him to ensure we got through, but we could have taken him off after he scored and it wouldn’t have made much difference.
But as it stands right now, we have a squad that is as fit and as prepared as it will ever be. I’ve tried to put Bromley out of my memory, but the Fi$her playoff in the RP days was as much down to a knackered and injured set of players. A few ringers from Aldershot for them didn’t help either, but it’s no co-incidence our success since then has partly come down to having everyone available and on their game.
Which begs another question – how important will this nine day layoff be? There’s an argument for momentum being lost by not playing this Saturday or Sunday, but we need this weekend off. Firstly, it will calm everyone down and get us to re-focus. Secondly, anyone who has a knock or niggle or such like has enough time to recover.
We also need to tighten up on a couple of things – even last night, Seb was called into action when he shouldn’t have been, and Luton won’t be nearly so forgiving. A good week or so analysing that – and more importantly, remedying it – will do our chances far better than bouncing back into a game 3/4 days from now.
If we can’t motivate ourselves to perform to the highest level for the 21st, we don’t deserve to be at Eastlands…
Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Sight of Steve Evans in his Range Rover in the KM car park ticketless. Yes, he turned up thinking he would get in on the day. Where did he think he was, Crawley? Eventually managed to get onto Premier Sports’ coverage – both viewers complained that there was a muffled “chugging” sound whenever he spoke, but it stopped when the Blue Square PR bod was told to get off his knees. (2) Sight of a Man Yernited shirt with Mulley on the back. Either a confused family member or somebody knows something we don’t.
Anything else? Not really, all there is to say is that the reality of being one game away from the Football League still hasn’t sunk in yet. In 1988, the buildup didn’t seem real, and because of that we didn’t let the occasion get to us. Maybe history really could repeat itself…?
So, was it worth it? Probably.
In a nutshell: At the bottom of the Piccadilly main station approach turn right into Ducie Street. At the end of the road turn right onto Great Ancoats Street. Cross over the road, then the canalÂ and turn left into Pollard Street – this is well marked as a walking route to “Sportcity”. Continue straight along Pollard Street which leads onto the A662 Ashton New Road and you will come to the stadium on your left.