And suddenly, it all becomes worth it again…
The weather might be a bit cloudy this morning, but Poundland Stadium 1 Poundland Club 3 makes it a fine Sunday.
It’s almost as though we should play all our games away from Plough Lane. Hell, we’ve had thirty years of practice doing that.
But you can feel justified in at least allowing yourself a little glowing feeling for the rest of the day.
I’m not going to be a smart arse here, and suggest that I knew we were going to come away happy yesterday. I didn’t.
Yet I did sense we’d get a reaction to completely fucking it up against Crewe.
That was further fuelled by discovering that Reeves and Little were back starting, although finding out Tilley was absent was a downer.
Like Newport, I managed to see more traffic jams on the road than I wanted. Unlike Newport, I managed to get into the ground before kickoff this time.
Where we started OK. Well, more than OK as it goes.
It’s nice to get a little bit of luck, and the ball deflecting in front of Evans two minutes in was exactly that.
Or Connon Lemonheigh-Evans to you. Crazy name, crazy guy.
And a crazy strike too. Their goalie couldn’t hold onto it, and it was some way of marking your first start for us.
Their keeper might have done better, but I’m not sure I really care about that.
This being AFCW, we were then on the back foot for too long, and you were left wondering when it would inevitably be 1-1.
It didn’t help that they hit the bar from a free kick, although soon after that, their man got sent off.
I wasn’t sure why, to be honest, though having a look on the highlights as I write this, it was a shitty challenge.
Not that it mattered. We were 1-0 up, and a man extra. What could possibly go wrong…?
If there’s one thing that pleased me most of all, apart from the result, it was the way we managed to overcome adversity in the second half.
And by adversity, I mean doing the equivalent of smearing yourself in meat paste and running towards an American XL Bully.
While Walsall were a little bit dangerous, we could – and should – have put it to bed with the penalty we got.
Personally, I blame the fans for this one. They were the ones piling down to the front before Little took it, sending off over-confident vibes and raising the ire of the Footballing Gods.
It was a shit penalty, even shittier than the Iraqi Scouser’s “efforts” earlier this campaign.
And yes, you just knew afterwards.
To be fair to their scorer, it wasn’t a bad turn and shot in the box, but everyone in our end just looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and awaited the latest excuses for throwing away yet another lead.
Something was different yesterday, though. Whether it was the reaction to last week, or a sub-conscious jolt that we were repeating the same brittle, feeble failures I don’t know.
We stepped up a gear instead of sitting back and hoping Walsall wouldn’t hurt us too much as they went ahead.
The penalty, their equaliser and us going ahead again happened in the space of roughly five minutes.
I have to admit, I was starting to have premonitions of it being one of those batshit 5-5 games where defending became an aspiration.
Our goal again had a little bit of good fortune, with Currie’s shot taking a deflection. But thinking about it this morning, I think we might have gone ahead again anyway.
We always need a third, and the best was saved for last. And through the player we all wanted to get it.
AAH’s goal was the kind he was scoring last season, although this time his efforts were part of a winning team.
Decent strike too, and it saw the locals scurrying back to whatever actually goes on in Walsall the rest of the time.
Even eight minutes of injury time didn’t put us in blind panic for once, we learned to actually kill the game off and make it comfortable.
Granted, having a man advantage helped, but this is AFCW after all.
So, what? Well, you can’t fault that kind of performance and result, especially when it’s away from home.
JJ seemed pretty pleased afterwards, as his post game interview hinted at. I did like his “I’ve heard the way that he talks” comment, though.
I don’t doubt the Iraqi Scouser may have a bit of cockyness about him, but that’s no bad thing in a striker.
As for the rest of it, I think we needed yesterday. Letting it slip again would have been almost too much to tolerate.
We haven’t won since Sutton five games ago, although we should have had at least one more win since then.
Yesterday wasn’t the perfect performance, there’s still some issues we need to address. But it’s such a nice feeling knowing that for once, we did what we were supposed to do.
Plus points: We won. Good for the most part. Reeves. Little. Evans. Our goals. Going up a gear after the equaliser. Killing the game off.
Minus points: Minutes between 56 and 58. Another shit penalty.
The referee’s a…: Despite sending their man off, and giving a spot kick to us, he still managed to be lousy.
He did seem keen on giving them free kicks around our box whenever we even stared at one of their players.
Them: Aren’t Walsall the last team we managed to beat at Plough Lane in the league?
They had their moments, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for us, though they somehow improved when they went down to ten men.
Our second goal seemed to kill them off though, which is a nice thing to see.
Walsall are a club that are always, well, there. Even by the standards of Midlands sides they’re unglamourous.
They managed to be a permanent fixture in League One, before they wanted a change of scenery, and now they seem to be forever stuck in League Two.
Maybe like Rochdale they’ll end up out of the Football League eventually, and hardly anyone will notice.
Not the worst place to visit, though like Scunthorpe’s ground it’s a “new” venue that suddenly looks quite dated.
Their away end holds about 2000, apparently, and I bet queuing up for a pie/pint/piss is fun when it’s full.
Point to ponder: Doesn’t yesterday prove how much we need Little and Reeves playing?
Considering both have been out for the same amount of time, it’s a good thing both played the 90+ minutes and didn’t look knackered at the end of it.
We were definitely different (ie better), and as JJ said in his post-game comments, it’s a shame that Ball and Lakin did nothing wrong yet were dropped.
But that’s a squad game for you, and we’ve needed that for so long.
I don’t find it a coincidence that we have won a game again now both of those are back, although it does worry me to rely on them so much.
Then again, Tilley was absent yesterday (dead leg) and it was all right without him.
Our success/failure this season is going to rely on everyone keeping as fit as possible. The last month proves we’ll be mid-table if we’re weakened.
Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a bit of luck on that score this campaign? We’re owed a lot of it…
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) An interesting looking hole on the floor in the men’s bogs (see above). Perhaps that’s where our recent leads end up? 2) The pitch invasion at the end by two lads on their first shandy. More amusing than it should have been. 3) “Nonce in a costume” to the mascot of a local charity. To be fair, it did look like a removed cyst.
Anything else? This might be the falsest of false dawns, brought on by our first win in a month, and I hope it doesn’t age too badly.
I do wonder with a fair wind, a bit of luck, and some sensible planning for the January window**, what we can achieve this season.
** – I fully expect Lewis and Evans to return to Edgeley Park, Currie to sign for Barnsley for £1m and AAH to join the Saudi League for the price of an oil well.
We’re by no way the finished article. I wrote (OK, typed) down two things when it was still 2-1 that make me think that.
I noted we lacked a killer instinct, and that AAH seemed to have lost his pace. Now, your editor was proved wrong on both yesterday, but recent results seem to justify that.
But could we be onto something?
Even a tiny thing like seeing players post-game joining in the clapping bits of “Two times out of non-league” is a sign of a much better headspace than recent years.
For the first time in a good while, most people seem on the same page. Don’t underestimate what happens when that’s the case.
I’ve covered football professionally for about eighteen years now, and in that time one gets vibes about teams.
We’ve had that aura of struggling sides in recent campaigns, but this season I haven’t had that one bit.
I’m not going to say we’ll finish top, or even in the playoffs, although stranger things have happened (see AFC Wimbledon in the 2015/16 season, for example).
If we did achieve that though, perhaps we shouldn’t be entirely surprised.
Us going up at Wombley might have been a surprise, especially when you remember pre-Xmas, and even now it feels a bit flukey.
It wasn’t entirely that, but we hit an unstoppable run of form that we’ve never experienced since.
Would it be a massive shock if we repeated that?
After the last five seasons, it probably would. But one only has to see where St Evenage are this morning.
Yeah yeah, rather be in non-league than having Steve Evans even remotely near SW17 etc etc, but the right squad with the right manager can achieve a lot in L2.
Hell, seen where Crawley are right now as well?
If those two can drag themselves out of L2 shiteness, I can’t see why we should be any different.
Games like yesterday will help us believe. And belief is such a powerful motivator…
So, was it worth it? Absofuckinglutely.
In a nutshell: Now, can we finally learn to win at home?