Finally, the day when we will know what lies ahead of us is close at hand. Soon all the talking is over, and the time for recriminations/congratulations and assessment of the campaign can begin. And we are dealing with far weightier matters than who might occupy a certain address in Downing Street. By 5pm on Saturday we will know for sure if it’s the play-offs; OK, there’s a decent chance that by 3.10 we’ll know it’s the play-offs, but it ain’t over yet. And it won’t really be over until whatever ungodly time the coaches get back to SE7.
Through my life there have been times when I’ve truly felt on the verge of losing it (which is tantamount to saying that any impartial observer would have concluded I’d gone gaga). There’s still a day left to come to my senses, but the track record on that front isn’t good and barring a Damascus moment there’s a seat on the coach to Oldham with my name on it. I’m trying to rationalise the decision to go and draw some straws of comfort. At least this time they’re not calling it ‘Operation Boundary Park’, which would have been the kiss of death (I did actually manage to miss Operation Riverside, due to moving too late on getting tickets, but mention of Operation Ewood Park still prompts a wince). Last season’s futile gesture was a trip to Sheffield Wednesday away (and how they’ve gone down in my estimation since Sunday), for the delight of seeing us get turned over 4-1 (in the game against Palace the TV commentator mentioned that Jeffers hadn’t scored a goal for donkey’s years; was his last one actually against us?). All I remember of the coach trip back (apart from the horrible demands of others – hopefully not to be repeated – to have Mama Mia put on the video) was the very kind lady organiser asking me if I’d enjoyed myself.
I’m also trying to draw comfort from the prospect that even if Leeds are 4-0 up after 10 minutes the game is still very important for us. A win would guarantee us at least fourth place and consequently the second leg of the play-off first round at home (of course if Swindon beat Millwall it could be the Spanners up first, or of course Huddersfield if they win their final game). One regret in not being at home with my feet up on Saturday will be having to pass on betting on which TV or radio commentator first says ‘you need a degree in mathematics to work out the combinations’. Please just don’t be silly, you need 11+ standards, no more. Why is it that every football fan is well aware of all possible outcomes yet they seem to be beyond the pundits? Oh yes, they’re mostly former footballers.
Having bored the pants off us early in the season at The Valley (a game which seemingly persuaded Parkinson to abandon 4-5-1, although at that time there was no plan B with only one fit and available forward), perhaps Oldham will do the decent thing and just roll over. But I see they’ve tried the trick of an end-season revival by binning their manager. Hopefully they’ll be concentrating more on the holiday brochures and booking pub seats for the World Cup than trying to impress the new boy.
I do think Parkinson and the squad can take credit for holding things together – its not that long ago that we were in danger of missing out on the play-offs period - and putting in better performances of late. It seems Burton has been playing through the pain with a hernia and it seemed indicative to me of the mood that Sam kept going late on Saturday even though clearly injured. Of course the dream of Saturday being the last game of the season is pretty much just that, but four more displays like those against Norwich and Leeds and I’d back us against the rest, including our near neighbours. Boundary Park on Saturday will be another ground for me chalked off and I trust that I’ll be adding the New Wembley before May is out.
Just time for some unstructured rants/thoughts. Didn’t you just know that Varney would fail to put Wednesday ahead on Sunday when he was one-on-one with the keeper? And didn’t you just know that Ambrose would bury the chance that came his way. All very depressing. Given the numbers that have been through our ranks over the past three years it’s pretty much impossible to watch any Championship game without some reminders of what might have been – or why did we waste money on that waste of space. And I see Gillingham have announced that they won’t be offering a contract to Chris Dickson. I don’t know if his contract with us is up at the end of the season, but whatever, please Chris get your mind right. A schoolteacher wrote on my final report ‘it’s sad to see a student waste such ability’ and anyone writing out one for him at the moment would have to echo the sentiments.
As for Fulham, no I’m not happy that ‘plucky little Fulham’ have made it to a European final. Plucky little Fulham would be as bust as Portsmouth without Al Fayed’s millions having been poured in and they should have gone down instead of us (yes, that bloody last-gasp unjust equaliser for which the linesman should have been struck off). And how on earth can the Football League, full of sanctimonious humbug, pick on Hartlepool for a breach of rules and dock them three points when West Ham lost none (as they said, it would have been unfair on their fans). There ain’t no justice. Hopefully there will be some on Saturday.