Saturday 5 May 2012

See You In The Championship

Ah, that was nice. If we couldn’t have Sir Chris on the bench, Jason Euell was a decent stand-in. Hartlepool supplied the smurfs and made a game of it, but we got the 100 points and enough celebration to see us through the coming three months. Tomorrow the reflections, reviews, and thoughts of preparation for the next campaign can begin; today we just enjoy.

The game itself was a reasonable affair, if not the five-goal thriller that the scoreline might suggest. Powell made the right selections for the starting X1, focusing on the players that have done most of the legwork through the season. It was right that Morrison and Taylor were reunited in central defence for the final game, as it was that Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips started up front and Hollands and Stephens formed the central midfield partnership. That’s no reflection on those who have come in, including Cort. Today was about acknowledging what has been done.

After the songs and the parachutists the first half was a low-key affair, like drawing breath before the main event. We had the better of the play, created the better chances, but were short of our best, failed to take the chances, and let in a sloppy goal to give them the lead. A good knock-down in the area, presumably from Kermorgant, saw a goal-bound shot blocked and the rebound over the bar, one cross went through both sets of players instead of being converted, and Wright-Phillips shot narrowly wide. Against that, Hartlepool didn’t look dangerous, but with our focus not entirely all there a couple of bad minutes saw us fall behind. Jackson presumably picked up a knock and was replaced by Haynes and almost immediately indecision over a through ball led to a corner, which went to the near post and wasn’t cleared, allowing their guy in space to convert. Sloppy.

It was a bit tough on us to be behind at the break, but we hadn’t really controlled the game and a slightly lacklustre approach meant that we couldn’t really complain, just needed to knuckle down, play better, and not let the season end on a slight downer.

The first 20 minutes or so of the second half didn’t produce any real change, even though attacking the Covered End inevitably brought a little more urgency to proceedings. Hartlepool had their goal and were happy enough to get players behind the ball and waste some time. It was up to us to break them down – which we should have done as another knock-down for Wright-Phillips should have produced the equaliser, but he shot over the bar. The clock was running down and the further change saw Pritchard came on for the ineffective Wagstaff, a change which did improve our mobility. But before the crowd started to get restive the goals came – in a flood.

Having delivered corners straight into the arms of their keeper, we tried something akin to their opener and one towards the near post saw Hollands meet it sweetly to volley into the roof of the net. That improved the mood all round, except for the smurfs, and not long after a well-worked move down the right produced a cross to the far post which Haynes met superbly to put us ahead. Then, before the crowd had settled down, we seemed to put the game to bed. What looked like an overhit cross was chased by Kermorgant. He stuck out a leg to try to send it back across goal and instead it floated beautifully inside the far post. He had the decency not to pretend there was any such intent, but who cared?

3-1 up in the space of 10 minutes and that was the cue for Euell to make his appearance, with Wright-Phillips departing. The assumption was that was that, but apparently Hartlepool scored again. Some people in front of me were leaving (why?) so I really didn’t see it, but apparently they had a shot deflected and in. That changed the script a little and made for a little more concern over the final five minutes or so, but we saw out the time left without serious alarm. All that was left was to cheer and clap and watch the trophy being paraded around.

There’s no ratings again today. But honourable mentions go to Pritchard, whose introduction made us much more fluid and effective, Haynes, who took his chance very well and was close to making other opportunities count, and Kermorgant. Donning a beret for the celebrations only added to the pure enjoyment. See you in the Championship.

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