Well, thanks a bloody bundle Charlton. All through the past week I’ve been explaining to the unenlightened (non-Addick friends) that the reason we’ve let Norwich win the league and Leeds take second place is that the only way we could ensure that Millwall were not promoted was to enter the play-offs with them. If we had taken one of the top two places, which clearly we could have done, the Spanners could have sneaked up with us. So we allowed Norwich to come through and kept our options open. If Millwall were going to be in the play-offs, we had to be there too in order to ensure they stayed were they belonged (hopefully with another SE London outfit after tomorrow). That line of argument kind of falls down when we deny Leeds a guaranteed second place.
But deny them it we did. And whatever the permutations – we know what has to happen next week – it still feels good. It means I have to backtrack on all I’ve been saying, probably means I have to buy a ticket for Oldham (if I can get one), but tonight there’s still a warm glow. It was a tough game and we won it. It may not make a great deal of difference in the shake-out (although at the least it keeps us in fifth going into the final round), but don’t tell me the effort of getting up at sparrow’s fart to fly back from Lyon to make it for the game wasn’t worth it.
I’m going to keep details to a minimum tonight (and there may be more than the usual factual error), because I’m knackered and full of red wine (which I hope to top up as we go along; the alternative is unpalatable). And there’s a takeaway with my name on it. If I’m lucky I’ll stay awake beyond Match of the Day to relive the game. If not, I’ll wake up, eat the rest of the takeaway, and still have a warm glow inside.
The team lined up, as they used to say, as printed in the programme. We pretty much knew there would be no changes for us and Leeds stuck to the plan of keeping Beckford on the bench. We started brightly and dominated the opening 15 minutes in terms of possession, but one daft mistake – the first of two by Sodje(S) which almost cost us the game – almost gifted Leeds the lead. His weak backpass let in their guy for a one-on-one which Randolph blocked superbly (and he did well to gather the rebound). After our good start failed to produce a goal, Leeds started to dominate possession and we were to have our worst period of the game as we struggled to keep the ball. Forster and Burton up front weren’t causing them enough problems, Racon and Semedo were pinned back, and with Sam well shepherded and no real threat down the left we were under the cosh for a while. Our main threat going forward was Richardson bursting into space, clearly intent on reminding them what they’ve missed. But otherwise, as the game descended into a fairly dour struggle between two evenly-matched and determined teams, chances were in short supply.
We had a few bright moments, but at the break, the one-on-one excepted, neither side could say they had really troubled the opposition’s back four. And the game continued in much the same vein for a large part of the second half. We knew by then that Millwall were losing, but if anything that inhibited Leeds as a draw would still have represented a good day for them. We were tending to get the upper hand in the crucial contests, however, and started to threaten more consistently, with Sam, as so often the case this season, blossoming in the second half, ably assisted by Richardson. And in a tight game finally the chance fell to us. A ball in from the right saw Bailey throw himself in its general direction, possibly handballing, but then the ball loop up to Sodje(S) a few yards out with the keeper grounded. He had time and space, but instead of planting the header in the net put it over the bar. In a tight game it looked like being the decisive moment.
Changes were needed and Leeds brought on Beckford, while Parkinson opted for a triple substitution. Burton and Forster were replaced by Sodje(A) and Mooney, while Reid as usual came on for Racon, with Bailey moving inside. It was a bold move to do it all at once, but it worked – only just, as Sam clearly took a knock in the latter stages and might otherwise have gone off (to his credit he kept doing the necessary work). Sodje(A) from the start unsettled a Leeds defence which had contained Burton and Forster, especially in the air. At the same time Leeds clearly carried a greater threat and a tight game was to explode in the final stages as a goal broke the deadlock and then opened it up for both sides to have chances to score.
In truth, I’m not entirely sure how we scored. I think it was a ball in which Sam managed to flick on and the onrushing Sodje(A) met, only for a deflection off the defender to take it over the keeper and into the net. Cue pandemonium. After that Leeds had nothing to lose and they were to have a chance with a flick at the near post and then what can only be described as an opportunity which produced the save of the season. A ball in from the right found Beckford around the penalty spot and when he headed it all in the ground thought it was in. Randolph must have just thrown himself in the general direction and deflected it wide. Aside from a couple of routine shots, and the odd threat in the air, he’d had not a great deal to do. But early and late in the game he’d made two exceptional saves which were to win us the game.
There was still time for a free kick from Bailey to come off the inside of the post and a breakaway led by Reid from inside his own half which ended as these things often do, in rather comical failure to score. We just wanted the final whistle and when it came celebrations were extended and merited. Until it dawned that it meant having to go to Oldham next Saturday. The Leeds fans we spoke to after the game were frustrated by what they thought was their over-reliance on a long ball game, and in truth they showed nothing today to set them apart. On balance we deserved the win, Parkinson takes credit for the changes he made, but the victory owed much to the two saves by Randolph.
Randolph: 10/10. It should really be a nine, because he was a little hesitant with some crosses, but what can you say? Elliot has been outstanding this season, but since taking over when he was injured (another decision for which Parkinson should take credit, as Warner was available) Randolph has done nothing wrong and today takes all the plaudits.
Richardson: 9/10. He clearly wanted to impress today and did. Defensively sound and made a nuisance of himself going forward.
Borrowdale: 7/10. He’s not everyone’s favourite and when its him and Bailey down the left its a bit sterile going forward. But the first task is to defend and today he did nothing wrong.
Sodje(S): 7/10. For most of the game he was excellent and deserves a better mark. But he nearly gifted Leeds the lead in the first five minutes with a poor back pass and spurned the golden chance to put us in front.
Dailly: 9/10. Just another outstanding performance.
Bailey: 8/10. Gets an extra mark for one superb defensive block. Still a fish out of water wide left, but does it for the team and made the switch into the middle when Reid came on.
Semedo: 7/10: Sound game – and at times in the second half realised that occasionally there’s nothing wrong with taking the ball forward, even if the prime task is protecting the defence.
Racon: 7/10. Struggled to impose himself in the first half, but was actually winning the midfield battle in the second and a tad unlucky to be substituted – although the changes needed to be made.
Sam: 8/10. Gets an extra mark for continuing to work hard when clearly injured in the latter stages. Caused Leeds problems through the game and continues to stand out in terms of creating chances. Time for another goal though.
Forster: 6/10. Worked hard enough, but in tandem with Burton neither had the pace, aerial ability or something else to stretch Leeds’ defence. When they were on Leeds generally looked comfortable in defence.
Burton: 6/10. As for Forster. It doesn’t look like a partnership at the moment.
Subs: Sodje(A) – 8/10. Made a big difference just by unsettling them at the back, and just happened to score the goal; Mooney – 8/10. Played his part too in making them work harder. Reid – 7/10. Looked a threat but could have made more of the opportunities which came his way on the break.