At last, some clarity regarding the outcome for the season. Not quite everything is yet in place, but it seems obvious that if just two ‘outside’ results in the next round go our way all is virtually settled. Clearly Millwall have peaked too soon and they are set to slip up at home to admirable, fast-improving Brentford on Friday (nothing wrong with talking them up when we need a favour). Then all we need is a draw on Saturday in the game between Leeds and Swindon. With those two results in the bag, it’s all back in our hands: eight wins from our last eight games (including of course the one against Leeds) and we take second place whatever the others do. Technically we could still end up on the same number of points as Millwall, but they are not going to claim maximum points – and even if they do we only have to make up current deficit of nine on goal difference.
There is of course a flaw in the argument (there always is). We can’t be sure that Millwall will lose at home on Friday, so we may have to wait for them to implode in a later game. As someone who recently pontificated on the prospect of Leeds having regrouped after their Cup exploits, and suggesting that our main priority was to be within two points of them going into the final two games, my forecasting record might be considered dubious. But life is all about learning from mistakes (that’s generally been my problem as never having made one it’s been hard to develop).
Having been obliged to miss our last three games (Paris for the rugby was a delight, even down to the result; yes, I was denied the pleasure of celebrating a last-minute Wilkinson drop goal to win the game, but on balance I’m not sure that would have compensated for a severe strain to the entente cordial, especially as I would have been re-enacting it for the rest of the weekend), I’m in no position to comment on our recent form. The results speak for themselves: Gillingham was a disappointment (and a rather worrying one, given the fans needing an explanation that Elliot was injured rather than Parkinson having taken leave of his senses, followed by some not well chosen remarks from him along the lines of having to work with limited resources, which goes against our wage bill and the decision not to sell players), Huddersfield a result we would have taken before the game (which isn’t to say we weren’t howling from afar for the last-gasp winner), and what went before is simply unmentionable (I’ve taken the line that we’d informed the Football League before the season started that we considered it well beneath us to actually play against Millwall and that we’d rather not bother to turn up at their place – and that’s just what happened).
Funny how life goes in circles. The last time we played MK Dons I was off in France and during the game was buried in an underground vault in Beaune for an extended wine tasting, receiving text messages as the goals went in, with the level of inebriation rising with the score. It’s pure chance that for Christmas I received a voucher for two for a wine tasting at Vinopolis (well, it seems this one - which starts with what would seem to be a rather superfluous 20-minute session on how to taste wine – extends to a cocktail and three rum tastings in addition to the wine). It seemed only right and proper that I booked it for this Saturday as my partner Suzanne will be arriving in London for the Easter break (although the poor girl has no idea of planning as she is scheduled to fly back before the home game against Carlisle). I feel duty-bound to request the same text update service and to get as completely lathered as last time around. A repeat performance all round for us would do nicely, especially as a four-goal win coupled with Millwall losing will narrow the goal difference gap by at least five.
Talking of planning, mine ain’t so great these days as the Easter break means a delayed work trip to Amsterdam, so I’m going to have to pass on the Colchester home game as well. At least not getting to many games of late means that I can only recall us scoring goals and playing great football (it was a painful reminder to encounter last week a Brentford fan and to reminisce about the second we scored against them at The Valley, which for me stands head and shoulders above anything else for goal of the season, if you include the five minutes of passing and movement that led up to it). Consequently I have no doubts about our coming results.
Finally, one piece of trivia that still makes me chuckle (in addition to Hull giving Dowie the saviour’s job and the penalty that wasn’t for Palace), inspired by Kandol’s contribution to Leeds’ cause on Saturday. I’m afraid he can’t lay claim to ‘move valuable contribution from the bench’ title for this year at least. I happened to catch on the box a Catania v Inter game. Inter were strolling at 1-0 up and dominating the game when with about 15 minutes left Catania came up with an unexpected equaliser. Jose the sage responded a few minutes later by bringing on former Portsmouth player (isn’t everyone?) Muntari. His first act was to chase and bring down a Catania forward, giving away a free kick on the edge of the area and collecting a yellow card. He took his place in the wall inside the box and when the kick was taken jumped up and handled. A penalty was duly awarded and Muntari was given a second yellow. He was on the pitch for 85 seconds, only touched the ball with his hand, picked up two yellow cards, and gave away a penalty – which was converted (Catania went on to score a third to win 3-1). Pure class.