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County Fair

Well, that ended up better than it could have been…

If you ever want to know about fine margins, luck, voodoo and whatever else football throws up, then Eleven Men 1 Twelve Men 0 is a good case study.

For make no mistake, while we sit here basking in another three points, this could have gone very, very badly…

I don’t mean we were lucky today, if anything I think we got what we deserved, but so many things threatened to conspire against us.

Even getting into the ground made me have one of those strange vibes.

I’ve been through Heathrow, Houston, Orlando, Reagan National, Dulles and Newark airports in the last month, and I wasn’t patted down so firmly as I was today upon entry. It did feel a little bit OTT.

Also, I know there’s issues with east-standers migrating to the south stand, but I can’t remember having to show my ticket every time I wanted to sit down.

I missed it, but apparently there was a kerfuffle half-hour before kickoff, with somebody getting escorted out for some reason.

On the field, not having a game for a fortnight, with the ring rustiness that brings in can always be a problem.

Assal going also leaves us short, especially with the unknown quanities of the new signings.

A referee that was, ahem, picky from the off, tough opponents from up North to boot, and it had the potential to be one of those days.

We certainly started on the back foot, and Stockport were a bit too lively for my liking. Thankfully, like the bulk of League Two, they were too shit to take advantage.

Not quite as shit as the linesman though, who clearly had a bet on the away side being ahead at the break.

I can only assume that’s why he gave them a penalty, for the crime of their player running past Tzanev and falling over.

Or “coming together”, as the OS diplomatically put it.

Players try it on, we all know that, but our reaction was one of genuine disbelief. Professional footballers know when they’ve been diddled, and that was one of those times.

Still, cometh the hour and cometh the Bulgarian Kiwi. Though the penalty was a shit one anyway, helped by the fact it took ages (four minutes, apparently) to be taken.

That was some reaction by the crowd when Tzanev palmed it away, it has to be said.

I would now like to say it kicked us up the arse, but actually it didn’t. We were still on the back foot, and looking as useful as a FlyBe return ticket.

One can only assume JJ gave the various derrieres a well-deserved jabbing in the dressing room at the break. Perhaps literally.

We certainly came out differently after the break, and we actually looked capable of an attack or two.

And, in a moment of majesty, we scored.

It was some header by Pell, although the cross from Biler wasn’t too shabby either. Perhaps the first real bit of quality up front, and it showed.

Of course, as said earlier, you just wonder if that would be enough after all…

We had a penalty turned down, as clearly the rules state that fouling Josh Davison in the area does not result in any sort of infringement.

Then, Biler managed to put over the bar/wide from about a yard out, and you were left thinking that was the pivotal moment.

We certainly needed that second goal, although looking back at it post-match – were we under that much pressure?

I don’t know what’s changed, but we don’t panic nearly as much as we used to when we were 1-0 up late in the game.

Towler may be gone, but PK and Pearce are looking strong at the back, and indeed the whole back line looks more assured.

Confidence, perhaps?

Sure, it was uncomfortable at the end, especially with about two hours of injury time added, although I’m not sure it was quite as hairy as other places are suggesting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve finally got over the PTSD of the last few seasons about defending leads.

I would have liked a second goal, although in a strange way winning 1-0 in such a fashion is a good trait to have.

The Iraqi Scouser did well enough, although a few around me were yelling at Jennah to get stuck in. I hope he’s not going to be the player who gets targeted by our own supporters.

Other than that, it’s the kind of performance (and win) that pushes you towards the playoffs. Not spectacular, but solid.

Solid enough to grind out a victory than in previous months/seasons would have not happened.

Especially when you really do feel like you’re playing against twelve men…

Plus points: We won. Clean sheet. Tzanev’s save. Knucking down. Pell scoring. Weathering some pretty useless decisions against us.

Minus points: Not attacking when 1-0 up.

The referee’s a…: Was worse than the one on Boxing Day against Newport, apparently. Which I assume is not a compliment.

Started off OK, gave us a couple of free kicks, then, well, didn’t. I genuinely thought he’d be instrumental in their inevitable equaliser/winner.

Oh, and I hope the linesman who gave the penalty finds himself in the colorectal department of St George’s, with his flag inserted at a 45-degree angle.

And I also hope the surgeon dealing with him is an AFCW fan who has just started his shift…

Them: The sort of strong, Northern brick shithouse side that we’ve traditionally struggled against, in our nancy southern ways.

As said above though, like so much of this division, they weren’t quite all that – even when we let them have virtually all the field.

I was a bit surprised how they dawdled right at the end, however. Not that I care, but if they had showed just a bit more urgency in the last minute, this could have been a very different report.

Their goalie clapped the south stand at the end, which was magnanimous of him.

It’s easy to forget that Stockport themselves found themselves in the Conference North between 2013 and 2019, a stat that should make most of us equally shudder and thankful.

Perhaps that explains why they sold out their 1200 allocation today? They appreciate being back in the EFL, just like we did.

To nobody’s surprise, they didn’t look too happy on the bus coming back…

Point to ponder: In the words of Jim Mora – playoffs?

Actually, why the hell not? We’re now tenth, three places off them and with that crucial ability of not being able to concede goals and get points as a consequence.

I don’t think we’re the finished article, not by a long shot, but there is a solidness that I haven’t seen for some years.

Personally, I think our goalscoring (or lack thereof) will let us down, ditto our ability to sit back and let them come at us late on will bite us anally.

But the players this evening can be sitting at home and thinking that if we can win these sort of fixtures – why can’t we push on?

Fans may be thinking of consolidating this campaign, and perhaps the club’s decision makers are as well.

But if you’re JJ, or any of the squad members – you know it’s achievable this season.

There’s about twenty games left this campaign, give or take, and there will be more ties like today ahead.

Some will be against the nine teams currently ahead of us, but we defeated such a team today.

Our next three games are Orient away, Carlisle at PL and Northampton away. Three of the current top four, in case you haven’t seen the table.

We may come back down to earth at Brisbane Road next Saturday, but equally we might not.

And even if we do – get through the next three fixtures and we might not get a leisurely second half of the season after all…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Woman on the Northern line with AFCW carrier bag beforehand. Weirdly, she wasn’t going to the game. 2) No music over PA. I preferred it, as it goes. 3) The electronic advertising boards are a tad bright.

Anything else? So, farewell Ayoub Assal. We kind of knew you but not for long.

If it’s true that we got £1.2m for him, then that’s damn good business for somebody who burst into the team during MR’s initial season.

And if it’s true that he’s getting £40k a week – I bet he would have walked to Qatar for that money.

True, transfer fees and wages are like penis sizes. Everyone over-exaggerates the figures involved. But massive cock or not, it’s the proverbial no-brainer.

It’s a shame that it ended so anti-climatically for his time with us, especially missing Sutton because of an apparent hospitalisation.

Reportedly because of a virus, although perhaps he was in shock after seeing what Al-Wakrah offered him.

We could have done with his pace and power today, although lest we forget that he often went off the boil a bit.

Not to mention there were times that he looked like he wanted to twat opposition players for kicking him.

We’ll miss him, but any half-decent player will move on from us. That’s a fact of life, and we should be used to it by now.

It does prove to other squad members that they can join other clubs for decent wonga if they put their heads down.

The likes of Jack Currie and Hussein Biler might be the next to go for tidy fees, although there is the usual danger of over-relying on our youth system.

As for our now departed Moroccan Messi, some say that he might have put a downer on his career by heading for the Middle East instead of League One, and work his way upwards.

But careers are short, and I don’t blame him one bit. Hell, perhaps they’ll even offer us a friendly at their place…?

So, was it worth it? Eventually.

In a nutshell: Dare we dream…?

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