And there we have it. Wembley it will be; and Sunderland again. Most Addicks will cherish their memories of what I’m told was a cracking atmosphere at The Valley on Friday night. I’ll content myself in the years to come with the memories of events in Old Lyon’s Wallace bar, where this time around I was not the only Addick. That meant that as my partner Suzanne looked on askance, we indulged in some jumping up and down as Doncaster missed their fourth penalty, before the head went back into the hands (we all know why), only for celebrations to resume in earnest just after as their guy blazed wide.
The aftermath was a quick decision to confirm with others back in London that yes, I did want a ticket for Wembley, then Saturday morning and the logistical arrangements to best utilise the allocations of the season ticket holders among us. Once that was done, all that remained was to discover that the cost of the London-Paris train for Sunday and the London-Lyon flight back early Monday morning had gone up in the days since I checked. So be it, couldn’t exactly change course now and no doubt others will be making longer and tougher journeys to be there. So all is booked. Bring it on.
My take on Friday’s game? Probably was the case that any neutral watching it would have concluded that Doncaster were the better team. We did struggle both to impose ourselves and control play and to deal with their attacks from broken play, the most obvious example being their third goal, in extra time, when they pulled us apart from box to box. Add in a possible penalty against Taylor for shirt-pulling, and a more obvious one as it seemed to me that their guy was felled inside the box (I could be wrong and can’t comment on what the Sky people said as the Wallace didn’t run to allowing the volume). As was reflected in Lee Bowyer’s visit to their dressing room, Doncaster deserve plenty of credit for how they played, including how they responded to first going two down in the first leg and second to going 3-1 down on aggregate so early on Friday night.
At the same time anyone agreeing with the claim that they ‘played us off the park’ is I think not giving enough importance to the ebb and flow of a two-legged cup tie. The fact is that over the two games we were behind for about a minute, before Pratley’s equaliser on aggregate; and we were only level for the first 30 mins in the first leg and then most of extra time. For just about three of the four entire halves of normal time we were leading in the contest. That inevitably affects how you play, especially late in the game. Doncaster pulled one back at the death on their patch, then drew the scores level in the final minute at The Valley. Sure, for that they deserve credit, but what choice did they have but to chase the game? If a far-post header from a set piece hadn’t gone in we would probably have run out 3-2 winners on aggregate minus much of the drama.
As it was they did get the late ‘equaliser’, while we were spared the prospect of having to come up with a fresh plan to come from behind as Pratley scored pretty much before we had the chance to come to terms with their extra time goal. After that, if Doncaster had won the penalty shoot-out we would have had no choice but to nod and say ‘fair play’. That wasn’t to be.
Sunderland will be an entirely different kettle of fish and Bowyer, Jackson and the team need no advice from outside on how to set up for the game. We don’t know yet if Vetokele will be available and if so fully-fit. And fitness/rustiness issues are clearly going to affect others. So just what combinations and formations we start with have to be a matter of conjecture. What we have to hope is that an edginess to our performance on Friday wasn’t down to nerves/pressure in front of a sell-out crowd, or at least if it was in part they are now out of the system, because we know what Wembley can be like for a play-off final. And Sunderland have had experience of playing there this season.
Instead we’ve got all week to work on the songs. There’s got to be mileage in a reworking of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper: ‘it was 21 years ago today, Super Clive showed his Mackems the way ...’ Like I said, we’ve got all week.