So, it proved to be a fourteen-and-a-half hour round trip for maybe 10 minutes of dreaming. But it was a damned fine 10 minutes; and more than we expected when setting off. It’s amusing to think of four teams having occupied second spot through the afternoon, especially when the shortest duration went to Millwall; and they had the agony of waiting until the last kick at Elland Road. At least for us once the opening closed it shut pretty tight pretty quickly. As Parkinson promised, we did our job and if that proved not enough we ended the afternoon in pretty good spirits and looking up for what lies ahead.
Boundary Park conjures up images of a place for a genteel Sunday stroll until you check where it is on the map and until you get close to the ground and off the coach. Just why do so many teams choose to locate their ground on the most windswept, barren spot available? Seemed to me like a mix between Scunthorpe and Stoke. The coach arrived in time for us to enjoy all that Oldham has to offer, which proved to be one glass of wine which somehow tasted even worse than that on offer around SE7. Apparently the beer was good. There’s nothing pretty about the ground or the setting, but it was all about getting there, winning the game, and listening on the radio to what was going on elsewhere.
The team saw Sodje(S) and Forster drop out (whether through choice or injury I can’t say, we had no way of hearing the tannoy announcing the substitutes), with Llera and Mooney starting the game. And the first 10 minutes proved to be our worst of the afternoon. We looked sluggish and uninspired, as if the team didn’t believe in the dream, while both teams struggled to come to terms with the wind. In particular Llera began uncertainly and some confusion between him and Randolph almost let them in. But we slowly came more into the game and began to get a grip on midfield and start to make things happen. Oldham settled back after an energetic start and began to remember their best interests (Leeds not getting promoted). While all this was going on Swindon had their brief moment in the sun before the Spanners equalised. A couple of efforts came and went and then without too much trouble we took the lead. Sam was being allowed a good deal of space down the right and he sent one in low. It seemed to miss the pair at the near post and then another couple coming in, all of which left Bailey on his own at the far post to poke it home.
With news coming through that Leeds were down to 10 men, things were starting to come together and at the break we were, if not optimistic, at least feeling better placed than at the start. And things could indeed only get better. An early break in the second half led to Mooney (I think) getting fouled and a free kick in an inviting position. Bailey and Llera seemed to be the options and in the event the latter hit a lousy shot low just around the wall. The groans of disappointment quickly changed as the keeper took his eye off the ball, seemingly to check on onrushing forwards, and he made .. well, a complete pig’s ear of it. Dreadful blunder but at least now we had a cushion.
Pretty soon it was pandemonium. The unbelievable had indeed happened as Leeds went behind and suddenly we were in the box seat. But even then the feeling was that it had all come together too soon. With about 30 minutes left the chances of no further goals in the two other matches were pretty slim. The only surprise was how quickly the bubble burst. A Leeds equaliser, Millwall going ahead, then Leeds taking the lead. And when news came through that Millwall had gone 3-1 ahead we knew the game was up. There was no way that both Leeds and Millwall would concede two. All of a sudden the song changed to ‘Wemberly ....’ At least we were spared it being snatched away in the final minutes.
The only other real event of note was the miss of the season by Bailey. Having taken advantage of indecision and wriggled through, he adeptly chipped the keeper and ran on to the loose ball with an empty net ahead. The angle was a bit tight, but I’d have backed my grandmother as they say. We knew it didn’t really matter. By this stage Oldham were pretty much going through the motions and we were fairly comfortable. But a third would have ended any thoughts of a silly goal letting them back in.
Wagstaff came on for Sam, Spring for Semedo, and late on Sodje(A) for Mooney, who pulled up with what looked like cramp as he was running through. We were running down the clock and when the end came it was pleasing that a pitch invasion by Oldham fans prompted no response (no complaints there, it was their ground and I think the fans were only trying to get warm). The team came over for some well-deserved applause. It had been a job well done, and, taken together with the recent performances against Norwich and Leeds, enough to suggest that we’re going into the play-offs in as good a shape as we can be (barring any fresh injuries).
No player ratings (it’s been a long day and I want to see if there’s any highlights on the box), but if anyone stood out for me it was again Dailly and the rest of the defence as they ensured that Oldham were restricted to a few long-range shots and the occasional dangerous cross. Mooney and Burton were a mixed bag up front, with good moments. Basically, having gone one up not too long into the game and scored at the start of the second it wasn’t an afternoon for going hell for leather, just for keeping things steady. There’s time enough for heroics over the next week and beyond.