Saturday 4 May 2013

Signing Off In Style

As end-of-season sign-offs with nothing really to play for go, this one was as good as it gets. We managed to sign off the campaign with a fourth straight home win and, with us unbeaten away since mid-February, that meant 18 points from our final eight games. We didn’t quite manage a first home clean sheet since late November, but perhaps you shouldn’t crave everything. Not even Palace missing out on the play-offs, or Millwall getting relegated. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to return to the Premiership on the back of one point from four games against them. So let’s go again next season with the words of Sir Chris in our ears, the impetus that we have, and confidence in the strengths that have contributed to our end of the season. In between, a decent holiday won’t go amiss.

I don’t want to indulge in a blow-by-blow account of the final game, perhaps just to focus on the main moments as I remember them (which given the early pub start are fading by the moment). The team showed a couple of surprise changes, forced by injury, with Hamer unavailable and no sign of Fuller. Button came in in goal with Obika getting a start up front, while Jackson returned for Hollands but Gower kept his place alongside him , Hughes being kept on the bench. It did give us a chance to look at the two loan players in the final run-out.

Let’s face it, the first-half didn’t exactly set the pulses racing. Bristol City were playing for pride and beyond ensuring ninth place and signing off in style I can’t think what we were going for. It was a contest crying out for a goal to make something happen. In the event we had a couple of early headers, one glancing and one powered, but with neither troubling their keeper, plus Harriott being played in only to blaze wide. They had a free-kick which summed things up as after their guy made a run towards the box and was adjudged to have been fouled by Gower (who picked up a yellow), the shot went into the centre of the wall at about knee-height. The ref entered into the spirit of things, as after at least two interminable breaks for injuries and drinks, including the premature departure of Wiggins (with Wilson coming on and Solly switching sides), he thought two minutes of stoppage time would suffice. Hard to disagree if he’d gone for the obligatory one.

It was a case of Sir Chris telling the players at the break that they can kip in tomorrow but had 45 minutes left to send us home happy. Maybe he planted an idea in Kermorgant’s head that he would end up on single figures and behind Jackson in the goalscoring chart for the season. Whatever was said, the deadlock was broken in a fashion entirely out of keeping with what had gone before, prompting a quick reassessment of the goal-of-the-season competition.

Good work fashioned a position out right and the ball was played into the box slightly behind Yann. If you want to hit a shot on the volley and on the turn you couldn’t dream of doing it better. Kermorgant fairly leathered it into the top corner of the net. If I fall asleep before the League Show on TV tonight I’ll be watching it tomorrow. And now with the impetus and attacking the Covered End, it wasn’t long before we extended the lead, with a goal that in its way was almost as good. The ball was worked wide left and when the cross came in Kermorgant made sure it was his, burying the header.

Suddenly we were 2-0 up and having a party. But the game itself then settled back into first-half mode as we assumed it was done and Bristol perked up after replacing Baldock, who looked like a player who felt he’d made a poor decision in pre-season. No worries, but the game as a contest came back to life as we managed to gift a truly poor goal, passing the ball back progressively until an awkward ball to Morrison saw him try to lay it back to Button, only to screw it up and lay it on a plate for their guy to lob over the keeper into the net. I’ll have to see it again, but I think they didn’t touch the ball between our throw-in in their half and the guy scoring. Tough on Button too as he’d had nothing to do through the game, had no chance with the goal, and was to depart shortly after following a pulled muscle, with Pope taking over between the sticks.

It would be wrong to make it sound dramatic, but the game was now up for grabs, with the sub-plot being whether Kermorgant could complete his hat-trick and overtake Jackson as top scorer for the season. You wanted a last-minute penalty to see who would demand to be the taker. In the event, after Wagstaff replaced Harriott, the outcome was just about settled by additional goals. Kermorgant worked some space outside the box and tried to chip the keeper. It didn’t quite fade into the net, but came back off the bar for Obika to nod home.

That pretty much settled the result, but there was still the mini-contest to decide – and Jackson made sure he won out, by getting on the end of a cross to extend the lead. More goals could have come, with a daft sequence of blocks in a goalmouth scramble preventing Yann getting his just rewards, but it ended as it did, not too soon for Bristol and with us sated.

No player ratings for today as it was no match to judge performances. No question who gets man-of-the-match, as Kermorgant’s first strike could well get goal-of-the-season and his brace settled the contest. Just a good deal of satisfaction with how we’ve performed overall, especially when the chips were slipping if not down. Clubs talk about good spirit and character but not all of them have it. We do. Ninth becomes the benchmark for next season, but let’s worry about that tomorrow.

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