Might seem a little strange, but the fact that away goals don’t count double (if scores are level) in the play-offs could help us to be set up in the right frame of mind for the second leg on Friday. I’ve no doubt that I if they did the same things would be being said by management and the players: only half-time, nobody’s taking anything for granted, we’ve got nothing to fear etc. But if they did there would have been no getting away from the fact that it would have meant that if Doncaster failed to score twice we would be going to Wembley.
That in turn would surely have had some impact on players’ thinking on Friday night. Just can’t get away from it, however much management might be working against such thoughts. Everyone was astounded by the Liverpool and Tottenham comebacks, but surely it was significant that when Barcelona and Ajax went to their dressing rooms at half-time they would have been both confident of success and basically wanting the game to be over. Both were turned over in the second half by teams with nothing to lose, with little or no time to turn things around. And we all know how difficult it is to change mentality on the pitch in a situation when you were happily playing out time.
Of course there were plenty of other factors involved, including luck. But as it is now we go into Friday night well aware that we have to go out from the start as if the scores are level and look to win the game, rather than having those thoughts about just stopping them scoring twice. Sure a 0-0 would be good enough for us, but you can’t play for that; you can play defensively if the opposition has to win by two goals (even if Barcelona and Ajax came a cropper from such a position or better), but that’s no longer the case for us.
Doncaster’s scrappy late goal doesn’t alter the fact that, as Lee Bowyer pointed out, the result was one we would have grabbed with both hands beforehand. But it will have given them a lift, even though I can’t agree with their manager’s claim that their second-half showing merited it (which is not to say I wouldn’t make the same claim if I were in his shoes). Having secured the two-goal advantage, we were looking to see out the game and it was hardly surprising that they were displaying greater urgency than us.
That we are favourites to go through isn’t entirely down to a one-goal advantage. I think over the full game we showed a control and ability which if duplicated on Friday would see us beat Doncaster more times than not. The first 30 mins were pretty even but we had the better chances in that on another day Parker’s attempt to get around their centre-back would have been allowed and his almost perfectly-placed header would have ended in the net, past a keeper clearly beaten, rather than just wide. Doncaster’s two following efforts were both shots from outside the box; the first drew a decent save from Phillips but one he would have expected to make; the second clipped the top of the crossbar and might have been saved had it been going in. What followed - Taylor’s brave header and then Aribo’s effort (which if asked I would have to put down as an own goal by their keeper, however harsh) - sent us into the break in a fantastic position and set the tone for both teams’ approach to the second half.
I’m pleased to say that the Wallace bar in Lyon proved a most satisfactory venue to watch the match. There was initial concern as the guy behind the bar was for some reason intent on watching Rangers v Celtic, but that was soon sorted out (plenty of screens available), the wine was decent, and once the Sunday lunchers thinned out the place filled gradually with a fair number in Liverpool shirts hoping for another miracle. So I shall be there again on Friday evening.
Rather more important, the option of actually getting to Wembley for the final – no, there are no chickens being prematurely counted (or the equivalent: il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tue) – just a plan being considered. The weekend in question was long ago booked by my partner Suzanne for a trip to Paris, we were to return on a 17.53 train to Lyon (which would have meant being able to see some of the game from a bar close to Gare de Lyon). Just as I didn’t check on play-off dates when agreeing to the trip, she was unaware that the Sunday would be the day for voting in France for the European Parliament elections. With the unwelcome threat of a Le Pen victory in her head, she now wants to get an earlier train back, to be able to vote. It seems it will be a 12.59 back to Lyon, the planned trip to the catacombs postponed (yet again).
Now that set me thinking. If the plan is to get that earlier train (which would have the advantage of returning us to Lyon at 14.58, with an hour to get installed in Wallace’s for the game), could I perhaps instead get a Eurostar and take a detour? My problem is I can’t get back to Lyon from London after the game. So the plan taking shape seems to be a train to London from Paris, go to the game, celebrate afterwards, then head out to Heathrow and find a suitable comfy chair to get a bit of shut-eye before an 06.35 flight to Lyon (I’m thinking it’s easier to spend a disturbed and shortened night at the airport than getting back to Paris and waiting there for a morning train).
Obviously nothing can be decided before late Friday. But whereas before I was assuming no chance for me to be at Wembley, the door seems to have opened a little. May Lee and the boys kick it fully open on Friday.