It would appear from Wyn Grant’s posts that the Sheffield papers have been labelling us a team that grinds out results while theirs play the beautiful game. It’s unlikely that that impression will have changed after this afternoon. We ground out a result for sure, which is testament to a defensive display that should be sung about for years to come. As for them, quite frankly there’s no point in playing neat, tidy triangles without a cutting edge and a change of pace when it matters. The stand-out statistic, according to the BBC, is that they had one attempt on target all game. As that was a shot from outside the box that Hamer turned away comfortably enough, they can have no complaints. We got the goal that mattered and after that protected it with aplomb – and the assistance of an idiot called Beattie.
It wasn’t pretty from start to finish. We struggled to get anything going up front, never had control of midfield, and failed to keep possession in a way that would have made things a lot easier. I really think that today the pressure of the game got to us a bit. We knew that a victory would leave us at least seven clear – the target for automatic promotion is now 111 points, or 51 from 20 games – and that getting over the line today would mean just two more games against teams in the top five. We just wanted to win. Having gone in front the priority was a clean sheet and that did affect how we went about the rest of the game. Absolutely no objections from me. We’ve just beaten both of our main rivals, home and away. Proud? I’m glad all over and it’s only going to get better with the Sunday papers.
The team contained no surprises, with Pritchard keeping the central midfield spot alongside Hollands. On the bench, Haynes and Clarke provided the back-up for the forwards, Russell in midfield, and Cort for the defence. The opening 20 minutes were edgy as both teams sized each other up, aware of the importance of the game. They had the edge in possession but gave no indication of making it count; we didn’t threaten, but kept the shape. Aside from one Kermorgant knock-down that Wright-Phillips almost got on the end of in the box, and a Green free kick that had too much curl to be on target, I really can’t remember a goal threatening. But we’ve seen all that before.
On 20 minutes we won a free kick in a central position. It was well set up as it could go either way, with Kermorgant and Jackson lining up, both having scored direct in recent games. In the end it was Jackson – and if last week’s was good this one was better. Bent to the keeper’s right and in off the post. Unstoppable.
After that it was about nerve and resolve. We gave them some encouragement as Hamer was having trouble with balls in the air in the blustery conditions. He elected to punch two when catching them looked easer and when the third came around, direct from a corner, tried to catch it and failed. The ball was dragged behind the goal-line, but the referee had seen enough of a push and the danger passed. It had me a little worried for a moment I have to say, but if you reach the break ahead and that’s the best the opposition have offered things ain’t bad.
There was no change in the pattern of play in the second half. If anything, we were committing fewer players going forward, which left Kermorgant to nod on balls to nobody, as BWP seemed out of sorts with little support. There was an entertaining few minutes as Green fouled his opponent, who hobbled around for the subsequent five minutes and allowed Green to get in two decent shots in quick succession. Otherwise it was tick, tock, clock running down. I have to say I thought we should have had a penalty for handball as their guy clearly raised his hands to one headed back rather than the ball just hitting him, but the ref was having none of it.
Sheffield had to do more to put us under pressure as aside from an occasional dangerous cross nothing was happening for them. They made two changes with about 15 minutes left, with the one Green crocked going off and the other seeing the appearance of the ubiquitous Beattie. We adjusted with Russell coming on for Green, with Pritchard moving out wide as Wagstaff wasn’t on the bench and we did need to stiffen up midfield as our inability to hold the ball was only encouraging them. The changes were to set the scene for the final drama.
The ref had already booked Wiggins for a perfectly good tackle and this hinted at a little over-reaction to anything that could be considered rash. Only a few minutes after the changes Russell made a tackle which looked fair enough to me at the time, but a red card was quickly shown. I’ll have to see it again on the highlights. But just as Sheffield should have been thinking this is the opportunity, in wades Beattie. I’m not sure what he did, but there were some afters and the ref duly sent him off too. If I was their manager I’d have him running up and down sand dunes for a week. If Russell was over the top (again, I really don’t know) Beattie was plain stupid as in an instant he sacrificed their advantage.
Both sides dropping to 10 suited us more than them as it disrupted play and if anything reduced their ability to turn the screws in the final minutes. Haynes made his debut for Wright-Phillips and in the little time he was on the pitch showed a zip which augurs well, winning one free kick on the edge of the area (which this time Jackson elected to hit hard and very wayward) and winning the ball back a couple of times. There was one cross of theirs which clipped the bar, a couple of corners, but we denied them any real sight of goal right through to the end. Five minutes of stoppage time came and went and it was just left to Sir Chris to conduct the celebrations.
We all know it’s not done and dusted; there’s 20 games to go for crying out loud. But the big challenges have been dealt with and surely only complacency – or some horrendous bad fortune – can cost us now. The management, the team, and us can enjoy Sunday looking at the table and get back to it on Monday. Have a nice day off guys, you’ve earned it.
Hamer – 6/10. Has to be marked down for the uncertainty he showed with high balls in the first half. Could have cost us.
Wiggins – 9/10. Picked up a booking for no good reason but defensively superb and showed the usual drive going forward.
Solly – 9/10. Never passed, played his part to the full in a near faultless defensive display.
Morrison – 9/10. It could have been a 10.
Taylor – 9/10. Same as Morrison. Just look at the stats for their attempts on target.
Jackson – 8/10. Solid game and the free kick was just sublime (we’ll forget about the second one).
Hollands – 7/10. This was a day for holding what we secured and there were no frills. That said, we didn’t control midfield at all today.
Pritchard – 7/10. Not a bad game, although the fact he was pushed out wide to accommodate Russell (for a few minutes) said that we needed to beef up central midfield.
Green – 7/10. Dangerous at times and could have scored with the couple of shots.
Kermorgant – 6/10. The service today to the front two was limited; it just wasn’t a day for them to shine. Won his fair share in the air, but to no effect as BWP didn’t get on the end of any of the touches.
Wright-Phillips – 6/10. Expected more from him outside the box in a tough game. Not much happened for him today.
Subs – Russell (well, what mark do you give for a guy that’s sent off after a few minutes? I’ll reserve judgement as the decision looked harsh to me); Haynes (no mark, but an encouraging cameo).
Man of the Match – No question. Beattie.