It’s getting closer, we’re almost there. OK, for most it began some weeks ago, but all being well tomorrow I actually get to watch a game in anger. I did see the second X1 take on Reading and on Monday I was able to view the splendour that is The Valley from three different vantage points: going past on the train at sparrow’s fart on the way to Amsterdam, from the air after taking off from City airport, and finally – praise be to Irish pubs around the world – on the box for the Sheff Wed game. But tomorrow I should be able to take up my seat and howl in proper fashion (not that there was any shortage of howling in a foreign field when BWP buried the shot in the opening minutes).
It goes without saying that the pressure is on for a home win. I’d be happy gaining promotion by winning all our away games and drawing at home, but it’s not the most reliable template for success and we don’t want to start getting a complex about not taking maximum points at The Valley. And we do owe Exeter one after they ruined the party last year (come to think of it, a Dutch work colleague was in London at the time and came to the game and also watched Monday night’s game with me; 0-1-1 might suggest another Jonah). Of course when on holiday as the news of three straight wins came through you start to contemplate heading the league through the entire season. That may no longer be possible, but as things stand 4-2-0 is a start we would all have taken with open arms. 5-2-0 and that still very much applies; anything less and we start to worry more about whether we have the necessary strength (and strength in depth) to win promotion, especially if victory is not secured by being outmuscled.
I’m sure others have given the appropriate analysis of Monday’s game. From a distance the first 30 minutes was a rout, albeit helped by the early goal. Excellent pressing in midfield when out of possession, some lovely passing, decent supply to the forwards, and every prospect of a second goal. But as everyone saw they wore us down with football of a different sort. They were only ever a threat from set pieces, but whether or not we like it that was a weapon which ended up paying off. And our inability to respond in the final 25 minutes meant we couldn’t really complain about the outcome over the full game.
Without the option of bringing on Green to provide a fresh spark, we were short of options. Replacing Hayes with Euell was understandable; Hayes did well enough, but by then the problem wasn’t up front but rather the service from midfield, where we had lost control of the game. Passing our way forward went out of the window as they pressed harder. Yes, a big target man might have been an option, given the way the game was going, but fresh legs in midfield seemed the priority. Pritchard was on the bench, but perhaps Sir Chris didn’t want to take the risk (same presumably applies to Bover as yet). Perhaps I’ve missed something, but where is Alonso? I’d assumed he’d be first-choice back-up in central midfield. I assume he’s still not available, but without him we did look short of good options when it came to winning back midfield. It seems that neither Green nor Benson will feature tomorrow, so the onus could be on getting the game secured before legs might start to tire towards the end.
For me, it’s just a pleasure to be contemplating being there. It’s been a while.