Next Match: Scunthorpe United (A) Tuesday 28th September 2010

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Reds see off the seasiders

That's another step towards safety then. And it was a lot more straightforward than I thought it would be really against a usually decent Blackpool side.

It was an early one yesterday morning for me, as I had to run the missus round to her dads nice and early so they could get on their way to Reading for the Wendy game. Yep, they made that long old trip and are feeling thoroughly miserable today and now she's refusing to look at the league table, or watch any of the highlights. In that position, I usually prefer to just get on with it; have a look, take it on the chin and then move on to the next game, but whatever works for her.

We got into the pub just in time on Saturday to see Wayne Bridge perform his incredible dummy and dodge the waiting, outstretched hand of John Terry. That was a classic moment wasn't it? I would have done exactly the same to him as well, it was perfectly executed. Some people may say it's childish, but I can't imagine I'd have been in any mood for niceties either after going though what he has the last few weeks. The pub was packed out, and we ended up talking to a couple of lads in tangerine. Their first question was whether Adam Hammill has learned to cross yet, and we responded with how much we'd rather have Hammill than Charlie Adam. I don't think they believed us, although I didn't believe myself either. They also indicated that Blackpool owe us one after our win at Bloomfield Road earlier in the season, so revenge was on the cards. We told them about our experience of being at the seaside earlier in the season, where we struggled to find a decent pint anywhere, and they gave us a recommendation for next time, assuming that both of our teams remain in the same division of course. They were a good crack and after we'd shook hands and wished them luck for the remainder of the campaign it was off to the bookies for a quick flutter.

The bet yesterday was an accumulator on every Championship fixture, ours included. We managed to get 9 out of the 12, although typically Barnsley let us down by not drawing the game. Do we ever draw anymore?? Not that I'm complaining when we're winning, but it's been a while. We'd have made more than a million pounds on that yesterday, but us, Preston and Derby let us down so there we go. We'll have another go next weekend, and see where it gets us.

Anyway, the game wasn't great to watch, and both teams were average, but the points went the right way for me. Blackpool were very, very lacklustre, and we never really looked like conceding, which is a novelty against our usually shaky back line. Shotton played well after winning his place back in the side, following his 4 game ban. Hume was impressive after he came on too, and took his goal very well. He also showed a lot of urgency in trying to win the ball, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him starting next week. The atmosphere was very subdued in the ground from both sets of fans, although the teams on the pitch didn't give the fans much to sing about. Yet again, we were a much better outfit in the second half, and for that reason I think we shaded it.

The Man of the Match went to Doyle, and I think that, yet again, that was a decent shout. I've been so impressed with him since he signed for us, and he only seems to be getting better every week. Again, I thought he controlled the midfield for us, and handled the difficult task of keeping Charlie Adam out of the game very well. Robins said it was Adams poorest game of the season, which is probably true, although we stifled him really well. Overall, it was a hard working display, not a classic by any stretch but another important 3 points.

Afterwards, following a couple more pints in the boozer, it was time to jump on the train home, with the warm feeling of being just outside the playoffs in my stomach. In terms of the match, we were never challenged in the way I thought we would be, and I was disappointed with the away side, but, nonetheless, you can only beat what's in front of you, and credit to the lads for doing that.

Next week is a freebie for us now. We're not expected to get anything at Newcastle, so we can go there with no pressure on us and hopefully snatch something away from the league leaders. I'm buzzing about it already, it's going to be a great day out.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Burning Question

"Why do you support Barnsley? Why is it your club, your passion?

That's the question that was asked by the official club website, on behalf of a Reds fan who intends to collate the answers and publish a book on all things Barnsley FC, which I will undoubtedly be purchasing on it's release (I'm a sucker for anything with the BFC logo on). I figured that, since we're in the middle of a quiet week, with no match until the Seasiders visit on Saturday, I'd have a pop at answering the above question. I probably won't be sending it in, but it'll be something to fill the silence.

Controversially, I'm a bit of an outsider when it comes to Barnsley Football Club. I was born and raised in West Yorkshire, in a mining town called Featherstone, which is probably most well known for it's professional rugby league club, Featherstone Rovers. 'Fev' is obviously much more of a rugby town than a footballing town, and you're already an outsider if you aren't a Rover from birth. I don't mind a bit of rugby league, and always look out for how the Rovers are getting on, but football was always my first passion.

As you can imagine, for the ones who do follow football rather than rugby, West Yorkshire is Leeds territory. What is it they say about rats? Never more than 10 feet from one? Well, that's how it works with Leeds fans and West Yorkshire towns like the one I grew up in. Of course, you have all your other, more common fans milling around; Man Utd, Newcastle, Liverpool, just like you do pretty much anywhere in this country, but even they're in the minority, dwarfed by the shadow of the (ex) Premiership club from Elland Road. I don't know if times have changed since I was last there, though I'd imagine they have; probably all Chelsea, Man City and LA Galaxy shirts these days.

My dad had no affiliation with Barnsley whatsoever, and neither did any of my family. I had no ancestors who originated from there, and on paper there was no direct link which would explain why I spend most of my free time (and money) at Oakwell. In fact, my dad had grown up in Sunderland and had a strong connection with the Mackems, although he had also been a regular at Old Trafford in the past and still felt strongly about his Red Devils too. I guess it was a bit of a bolt from the blue, me becoming a Reds fan. I think he still blames me to this day, especially through some of the lower times.

I was only rather young when I chose to follow the Reds. I was fascinated by the football on TV; the noises of the crowd and the spontaneous singing, or the grown men crying with delight or with despair depending on where their team was heading. After growing up being a young armchair fan, it seemed like the most natural step to start attending games. My dad gave me a choice; any local team with the exception of Leeds. I didn't wanna follow Leeds anyway; I guess even at a young age I could tell their fans were quite undesirable. I made my choice and went for the Reds. I can't really answer why; in terms of popularity, Wednesday were ahead at that time, and in terms of closeness, Huddersfield Town would have been an easier choice, but when you're a kid that sort of logic isn't really what you consider. Maybe I just like an underdog, and we're certainly that.

I can't really remember my first game I attended at Oakwell, although certain things stand out. It was either Q.P.R or Grimsby, but it's incredibly shady. I don't even remember if we won or not, although I think we did. I seem to remember Neil Shipperley scoring in front of the away end. But the important things are still as clear as ever; the sight of the stands towering over me, the smells and tastes hovering in the air. We were in the West stand that night, which was a mind-blowing experience for a young kid attending his first ever football match. Of course, the West stand just oozes history and tradition, and even though since that night I've moved all over the ground, eventually settling on the Ponty End, it made a lasting impression on me and I intend to move back there one day, if not just for nostalgia puposes.

Despite being an outsider in terms of the town, following the Reds just feels like you're part of something. Does every club have that feeling? Their fans would probably tell you that their club is the same, but I doubt any other club could have had the impact this one has had on me. Oakwell is the scene of every football dream and nightmare I've ever had; it's been the scene of desperation, the scene of humour, desire, spirit; of being high as a kite and low as a snakes belly. Most of all, it's been the scene of total agony and complete ecstasy. It's a rollercoaster that you can't escape from, and yet you don't want to anyway. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you feel like packing it all in. I've gone through years of liking and disliking this club, changing as often as the wind. But in spite of that; in spite of me going through days of disliking this club, I've never once fallen out of love with it. I'm as hooked as the next person. That's what makes the long trips to Plymouth Argyle or Southampton possible. It's a feeling of belonging, which simply can't be replicated in any other walk of life.

But most of all, it's a feeling of brotherhood with fellow Reds fans. It's that knowing nod to someone in the street, when you're both wearing your colours. Or chatting to a fellow Red in some strange town in some nowhere part of the country, simply because you're both there for the same reason. You'd never visit there normally, and probably never meet half of the people you do meet if it wasn't for Barnsley FC. You're going over the top together, be it to witness a smashing 4-0 win, or a heartbreaking abandonment when you're 4-1 ahead and cruising. I feel some affiliation with every single football fan in this country, because we all fight in the same battle every week; navigating the country, finding friends all over the place and showing our support to our team. That said, it may be the same battle, but the war includes only us Reds.

These days, my dad tells people he's a Reds fan. He's turned his back on any of the other teams he's followed and settled on my first love; BFC. And I have a link to this town and this club that I hope will travel for generations through my family. My Wednesday-ite missus has different views, of course, but that's for another day. Ultimately, the warm, welcoming feeling that I get every time I go to any game is what keeps me coming back. It's that feeling of acceptance, of camaraderie, that really makes the club appeal to me. I've been supporting them for a long old while now, and despite all the anger, sadness, joy and anguish (most of those emotions come in the same 90 minutes) I couldn't and wouldn't want to trade it in for any other thing or any other team. Especially not Leeds.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Maiden Double for the Super Reds

It was the first proper Saturday away game I've missed since Reading, and one I was looking forward to, so it's Sods Law that the lads go and do that. Maybe I'll miss a few more in future.

We've all heard the radio commentary, and probably all seen the highlights by now. It was tense, nervous listening on Saturday afternoon. I had a 'family gathering' to help organise and attend, and unfortunately this was the game to fall foul to it. It could have been worse though; I had to grovel to change it from the first weekend in March, and our trip out to St James Park, although it was still difficult to listen on the t'internet. I hate missing away games, especially after a result like that.

It sounds like a vintage away performance from us, which was helped by us grabbing two early goals. After that, other than a few spells of pressure from the home side (which was always going to be the case) we were steady away, and could have even added one or two more, although I'm not greedy, the two will do just fine. It'll take a lot of beating that one, it could well be our most impressive win of the season. I'm sorry I couldn't have been there to witness it myself. I'm also gutted that I've missed our first double of this season, and I'm hoping I'll be around to witness the second one on Saturday.

Special mention has to go to Danny Bogdanovic, of course, who seems to be playing for his new deal. There's been articles in the papers today quoting the lad talking about his love for the club, the town and the fans, and I for one would be very happy with him signing a new deal. A fully fit, on the boil Danny Bogdanovic is probably our most lethal finisher at the club currently, and I do think he could be the man to grab us 20+ a season. He's struggled to maintain his fitness and keep his first team spot, and still managed a pretty impressive goal return for us, so credit to him.

That's it for today then, until playoff chasing Blackpool at the weekend. At least we know we can play against the top half teams, so hopefully we'll give them a decent game. Remember playing them last season? That was a miserable day, and I genuinely felt we were going down after they beat us at Oakwell. We owe them something for that. I hope we can build on a fantastic weekends work on Saturday.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Heartbreak at Glanford Park

How much does that one sting today? Our inability to defend a set piece, and then to clear our lines after several attempts, has cost us what would have been a decent point, considering how we played. But at least we know how Cardiff felt at Oakwell last year, and we had a far shorted journey home than they did!

Before this game, it was difficult to think of anything other than our earlier visit to Glanford Park in that dismal FA Cup game in January. That day we were terrible, every single one of them in a red shirt (and a few in claret and blue, as well). Nobody performed well enough, and it was a poor start to 2010. Even so, it was still difficult to imagine we could be as bad as that again. Surely this time, with precious league points up for grabs, we'd turn up and give the sold-out away end something to celebrate?

The journey to Scunthorpe was as easy as ever; the Barnsley match programme on Saturday said that Scunny was one of the easiest grounds in the football league to find, and that's no exaggeration, so we were there in plenty of time to get parked up and get into the Farmhouse pub just outside the ground. The pub was packed with Reds fans, just as it had been all those weeks ago on FA Cup 3rd round day, and the atmosphere was building up. Also, there were a few Scunny fans milling about in the boozer too; their absence was notable last time.

The ground is an unusual one. It opened in 1988, but it seems much, much older than that. The home section behind the nets is still standing room, and it's a massive shame that the away end isn't the same, otherwise this one would be a fantastic away day, especially on a Saturday. Those standing sections give the atmosphere a boost like nothing else can. Inside, the ground is very small and cramped and only seems to have one way in and out of everything. The toilets are impossible to navigate through; it took me about 15 minutes to get in and out, but overall, I don't actually mind the place at all, and I'd rather be at Scunny than at somewhere like the Ricoh Arena on a cold Tuesday night in February.

I was sat very near to the back row right behind the nets. For those who were sat around me, they'll know just how dreadful those particular seats were. The view wasn't great, as we were directly behind a supporting post and the scoreboard that hangs down from the top of the stand, but that wasn't the problem; the problem was that we were sat directly next to the 'Anti-Andy Gray Society'. For those who weren't close enough to hear about this, then I apologise for ranting, but for those who heard them, what the Hell were they on?! They had already shouted that they hoped Gray had his leg broken before the game had kicked off, and the abuse only got worse as the clock ticked on. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think Gray had a good game yesterday, far from it. But the level of abuse they gave the lad was unacceptable. Shouting for him to break a hip or to be shot, and calling him all manner of insulting names, it was just too much. Not to mention continuously getting Foster and Moore mixed up, and shouting comments about Luke Steele, who, because of the closeness of the stand to the pitch, clearly heard these drunken arseholes and their abuse. These lads were relentless, and it ruined the game for many people who were sat around them. Not one chant originated from the area, because the whole block just felt so tense. People were telling them to be quiet, to get behind the team instead of abusing them, but it didn't work, and they ruined the game for many people.

As I said, I don't mind people giving stick when it's deserved, but they had already made very loud comments about several players before a ball had been kicked. Is that supposed to be supportive? Is that what we call getting behind the players these days? I was ashamed to be supporting the same team as them, and I hope that their heads are throbbing this morning as the alcohol wears off. I also hope they are embarrassed by themselves today, although I doubt they will be. Clearly they don't give a shit about the team, and the sooner they piss off to watch someone else, the better.

That feels a bit better now that's out of my system.

Anyway, the game was poor, and we were poor. Robins thinks we should have had all three; I don't agree with that. I thought Scunny deserved it. I do think that, had we pushed on after the equaliser, then we could have nicked it, but it would have been harsh on the hosts. Nobody on our side stood out, so a MOTM award is difficult. Boggy, maybe? He got on and scored, which is a lot more than anyone else. I'd be tempted to give it to Gray, just to shut the morons behind me up, but certainly not on merit of his performance. On nights like last night, picking someone out of the bunch of them feels pointless, because none of them really did enough.

Teixeira missed a sitter which was up there with that Auf Weidersehn miss on Saturday against Plymouth, and at the back we looked shaky all night. One plus would be the return of Bobby Hassell, who had to step into the fray when Trippier went off crocked. He did well to say he hadn't played in so long, which is just as well, since the injury worries at the back are starting to pile up again. Also, Moore had a decent game too, although he took some stick from people around me which I didn't think he deserved. There were worse performers than him. Also, Steele has apparently lost that confidence in his kicking that he seemed to have picked up recently, which is a shame because when he's confident he's a great keeper.

Some people where slagging Robins off for not making the correct changes; he made the substitutions that everyone was calling for. Sometimes he can seem a bit negative, but his line up yesterday was almost the exact same as the Preston team a couple of weeks ago, so what's changed since then? Why has that performance not appeared on a pitch since? These are questions that Robins needs to answer, but I'm still confident he will so getting behind them is gonna be key at this point in the season.

Cardiff away is a write off, lets be honest. Our record there is awful, and I don't feel confident it's gonna change after this weekend. But there's loads of points to fight for this season, and where would we be now if MR hadn't turned us around? Rock bottom, planning for life back in League 1? I'll take where we are right now (13th) and finish the season, get ready for the next one, because after the start we had, it's a fantastic achievement for us. It's not the time for panic, it's the time to remember where we were, where we are and potentially where we could be in the future.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

More Plymouth Misery

We're one day before Valentines Day, so I had a busy day ahead today aside from the match with lowly Plymouth Argyle. I was whizzing home after this game to start cooking a romantic meal for the missus, and then throwing on a shirt and hitting the town for a few drinks, hopefully secure in the knowledge that the Reds had won another priceless 3 points in their push for the playoffs, and condemned the relegation-haunted visitors to yet another away defeat. Football. It's shit sometimes, isn't it?

To be honest, Plymouth are becoming something of an unwelcome niggle this season for us. Obviously, we all know the story about abandonments, postponements, and so on. But today should have been our opportunity to put a few things straight. Sadly, things never quite work out like that. And so, I now have to cook a romantic meal for a gloating Sheffield Wednesday fan, and then take her out round the town, feeling as helpless as the team looked on the pitch today.

The pub beforehand was subdued. Did everyone know something I didn't?? Maybe they knew that all good things come to an end; that our talk of the playoffs was premature and that there's still lots of work to be done before we can truly kiss goodbye to the dogfight going on below us. Maybe. Or maybe people just knew that Plymouth were harbouring an absolutely woeful away record, and we were just the team to hand them the charity they needed. Deep down, I think I even knew that myself.

Talking to one of the Green Army beforehand, he seemed to have already accepted his clubs relegation from this division. To be fair, they haven't been given much reason to be confident all season, and particularly away from Home Park. On paper, this was a routine home win, and the bookies certainly saw it that way. I was so, so close to sticking some money on the away team today; I have a reputation for being able to change the course of footballing history by betting on something, because inevitably the opposite always happens. I bet on Liverpool and Chelsea all those seasons ago in the FA Cup, simply to help the Reds cause. It cost me some hard earned money, although it was totally worth it. The only thing that stopped me today was the fact that I'd look a bit of an oddball walking into the bookies in Barnsley, in my Barnsley shirt, and sticking money on the away side. Besides, I haven't done it all season, so I decided not to start now and jinx it. Maybe, thinking back, deep down I knew we weren't destined to win today. Events on the pitch certainly indicated that was the case. It was your stereotypical 'not our day today' sort of performance.

The game was dreadful from start to finish. We shaded a first half in which chances were few and far between, although the chances that were created mostly came for us, and mostly ended up high up in the sparsely populated away end. Our wastefulness has been coming to the forefront more and more these last few games, Preston aside, and today it was glaring. The pitch wasn't great either, with mud patches all over and a sizable puddle in the final third towards the Ponty end, which was rolled away during the half time interval. We pride ourselves on being good hosts here at Oakwell, so maybe we were just making Plymouth feel more at home by playing the vast majority of the game on a cabbage patch. It certainly didn't help the team play the decent brand of football we've been pushing for recently.

The second half was just shocking. We were terrible. Plymouth looked more urgent, more aggressive, and far more likely to score than we did, which was reflected in the scoreline. Robins made changes, such as bringing Danny Bogdanovic on, but it never really looked like it was gonna work. For some reason, today wasn't our day. Or maybe, as I said before, Plymouth are just destined to enjoy all their meetings (and non-meetings) with us this season. If I had to go for a Man of the Match today, I'd probably go for Colace, because he took his goal well and was probably the best of a very bad bunch. I was stunned that Teixeira got it, because I didn't think it was his vintage best at all. Maybe the club think that giving him MOTM awards every week will convince him to come here at the end of the campaign, which is genius if that is the case, but I don't think he was our most outstanding player today. It was probably a very tough call for the sponsors though.

Without wanting to sound bitter, I do think we've seen no worse this season than Plymouth. They were difficult to watch, with plenty of gamesmanship and very little quality, although they're scrapping for their lives and probably are willing to do anything to pick up points, particularly at this stage of the season. And, as I said to my dad after the match, many of our fans will consider them the worst we've played this season, but they may well reciprocate that feeling, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the campaign. The best team won today, and they deserved their 3 points, so fair play to them.

I was straight home after the game, as I said before, so I didn't hear much reaction after the game, apart from on Radio Sheffield, which was full of the usual Blunt bleating, and only the occasional opinion of one of our lot. One bloke was straight on there going on about dropping Luke Steele, although I don't think the lad did too much wrong to be fair. He might have been caught out for the third, but I don't think many keepers would have been in a different position than Luke, and 99 times out of 100 that shot could fly anywhere. Basically, it was a freak, and I don't think Steele was bad at all today. His kicking seemed to have improved too. The second lad I heard on the radio was far more optimistic, pointing out that we were still in a fantastic position, much better than anyone expected, and that we should get behind the Reds. He's right, but it doesn't stop this one from stinging like Hell.

Scunthorpe away on Tuesday looks far more daunting now. They got a tonking today too, and will be hoping to put it right just the same as us. Last time I was there it was a disaster, we never started, and that can't happen again. That lad from Radio Sheffield is right; we're in a far better position than expected. But it won't last if we don't start beating the teams below us in the league. It's a massive game now, and I'm feeling the nerves already.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Back Down To Earth

The Playoff bandwagon didn't so much slow down as veer off the road and crash into a ditch after a poor display against fellow playoff chasers/relegation battlers Celti.. erm, Middlesbrough.

Since beating Watford at Oakwell on Saturday, it's been a pretty stressful few days, so I was looking forward to yesterdays game. Away days are great to chill out and get away from stuff for a couple of hours. Providing, of course, that the team don't provide you with yet more stress on the pitch.

Before the game, I knew we were gonna lose this one for one simple reason; everything went perfectly to plan all night. The ride through to Middlesbrough was as straightforward as it could have been, with no traffic and no unscheduled detours through the Middlesbrough backstreets. My sat-nav must have taken offence at my harsh words in my Preston post, 'cos it straightened up its act and behaved itself all night. As it happens, the ground is signposted from quite far back anyway, so navigating my way through the dreadful weather conditions was made that little bit easier.

It was my first journey to the Riverside Stadium, and I was impressed. Most of these newer grounds are often accused of being bland and soulless, or lacking character, but 'Boro didn't feel that way. Despite its relatively young age, it's seen a lot of good and bad times already and had a totally different feel to stadiums like the Ricoh Arena or Madejski Stadium. Also, the old Ayresome Park gates have been located at the Riverside to give it a traditional feel, and I liked that touch. Overall, it's an impressive ground both inside and out.

We got into the concourse nice and early, plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and a swift Carlsberg. The best way to describe the burgers at the Riverside is that they're like the sort you get at Burger King. For some people, that's unacceptable, but since I'm quite partial to a BK, I could probably have stayed in that concourse eating them all night. Anyway, once we'd polished off the grub, we had ten minutes watching the rather strange MTV (Middlesbrough TV, not the other one) that was being broadcast, which was complete with some rather cringe worthy shots of various 'Boro players posing for the camera. It also managed to spell a couple of our lads names wrong; notably Fredson, minus the 'Half'. I'm beginning to worry about Emil; it can't be long before he's suffering from an identity crisis. Last week at Preston, he was Auf Weidersehn, this week he's Fredson, what next? No wonder he looked so lost on the pitch, he hasn't got a clue who he is anymore.

Just before heading to the seats, I buttoned up the coat, pulled all jumpers down and tightened up ready for the ice cold weather. The concourse was freezing, and I was dreading walking out to the pitch side for the first time. I'd only brought a little jacket, and it was beginning to feel like I'd made a schoolboy error. It was a nice surprise, then, that the design of the stadium meant that it was actually pretty mild by the time we were sat down, due to the roof covering the whole away end and the whole ground being enclosed. And after seeing the way the rain water was splashing up at pitch side, I wasn't jealous of the players being out there.

The game itself was exactly as it's been all season; a game of two halves. We were beyond dreadful for all but the first 7-8 minutes in the first half, and if we'd been trailing at half time 4-0 it wouldn't have flattered them. I don't think they were as outstanding as some match reports would have you believe, rather that time and time again we needlessly gave them possession. They weren't having to work too hard to win the ball, which at this level is criminal. We also looked totally toothless going forward, and never looked like managing a shot, never mind scoring. And yet again, we resorted to hoofing the ball forward, which is so frustrating after seeing what we can do with the ball at our feet at Preston just a week ago. The half time whistle couldn't come soon enough in this one, and 2-0 was a decent scoreline considering how much worse it could have been.

After nipping down at half time to passively smoke a couple of cartons of cigs in the toilets, I was ready for the second half. We do have previous for turning games around after the break, and 'Boro know this first hand from their Oakwell trip before the new year, so it's always impossible to write us off. We started with more urgency than we had first half, although the quality was still poor and overall we got what we deserved; nothing. Our goal came from our first shot on target, and although both Gray and Rodriguez missed very good chances to steal a point, it was a fair result overall. Without wanting to sound bitter, 'Boro weren't particularly outstanding, but most of the time they didn't need to be.

The away fans were in fine voice again throughout, and even managed to cram in a couple of contenders for Chant of the Season; particularly the 'Good Refs' chant immediately after the celebrations for our solitary free kick of the evening, but any of the Celtic based songs that were on offer too. Although I must say it raised a smile when the England chant went up, shortly after local boy Hugo Colace scored for his boyhood heroes., The irony wasn't lost for that one. As for Man of the Match, it's a tough call today, but I think I'd give it to Steele, who kept the score down in the first half with some fine saves and looked generally steady throughout the night. Doyle looked decent again, although his performance dipped as the game went on, and he totally lost it when he was switched to right back. Anderson was poor and will be lucky to keep his place at the weekend. Hammill was just his usual, frustrating self.

The drive home after the game was quiet and rather sombre. I don't think we'd really expected anything at 'Boro, but it just felt like a let down that the team didn't turn up. I can take being beaten by the better team, but it's more difficult to accept when we've let them have it easier than we should have. Other results on the night mean that the Championship is wide open, piling more pressure on us for Saturday against our old foes Plymouth. On paper, it's very winnable, but if we do slip up, the table starts looking a bit worrying again.

Still, we've had our bad performance, so we look forward to seeing a decent one at the weekend. It does worry me for Scunny away next Tuesday, but I've enjoyed the last couple of midweek away days so I look forward to it already. And I'll definitely be remembering to take the big coat for that one.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Reds gatecrash the top ten

It wasn't a classic, but the playoff bandwagon picked up a bit more pace yesterday after that narrow, just about deserved 1-0 over the Hornets.

I wasn't so confident about this one. Their away run is terrible, but who else in this division would you pick to play when you can't buy a win on the road ahead of us? We always seem to be the ones who give teams respite from whatever rut they're in; we've got history for it (Sheffield Wednesday, anyone?) so I was rather worried about this game. Then again, I do tend to worry about most games anyway so that usually doesn't indicate anything. As it happens, my instincts were to be proven wrong again, although you won't find me complaining too much today.

The atmosphere in the pub beforehand was pretty lively; it was a big match for both teams, this one. It was one of those games that could shape the season for whichever team managed to nick the points. While we were pulling Preston to pieces in midweek, Watford were doing a real number on our Blunt neighbours at Vicarage Road, and they'll have been confident going into this one. There wasn't many Watford fans buzzing around before the match, which was a shame 'cos it's nice to have a natter with them, and get a feel for how their season is panning out. Not so long ago, they were on the brink of administration and it looked like a point deduction and a relegation scrap, so it's testament to them that they, like us, are breathing down the neck of the playoffs.

On the pitch, it was always gonna be a tall order for us to replicate the Preston performance, and it never got to those heights. Again though, the lads really dug in, and probably just about deserved this one. Darren Moore was back to his best after his episode at Deepdale, and Doyle was fantastic yet again. And after smacking the post yesterday, he's getting closer to getting a goal for us too, so if I was a 'Boro fan I'd be worried about him on Tuesday night. Luke Steele deserves a mention too; that save at the end was the difference between one point and all three, no question. It was destined for the top corner, and it was a class save. He even looked more solid when it came to claiming crosses, so fair play to him. The only thing in question yesterday was his kicking, which looked suspect on several occasions, although some of the dreadful backpasses he was tasked with clearing were very bizarre. If you pushed me for a man of the match, I'd probably go with Doyle again, simply for yet again rolling his sleeves up and doing the dirty work with minimum fuss. He's getting better every game, that kid, and getting him for nothing was an absolute steal.

The only one who came out of this one badly, apart from the referee who was, yet again, pretty poor throughout, was young Ryan Shotton, who picked up his second red card of the season with a needless, reckless tackle. Sometimes the young lad seems to lose his head, and we're lucky it didn't cost us the points yesterday. Maybe Robins needs to have a word in his ear, and tell him to calm himself down a bit. As I said before, it was a needless challenge yesterday, and his suspension could cause us problems for Tuesday night if Bobby Hassell isn't ready to return.

He's getting closer...

Watford were a bit unlucky yesterday, and even after Steele pulled off that save could have nicked an equaliser, but overall it was a good, solid display from the Reds, and the sort of display that we need to reproduce if we want to keep pushing up the division. The key word that is thrown around is consistency; we need more of it and this was a step in the right direction. It was also another clean sheet; something else that we need more of.

In tarn after the game, it was celebration time, particularly any time the Championship table popped up on Sky Sports News, showing us sat proudly in 9th place. Me and my old man ended up chatting with a bloke who travelled from outside Halifax to get to the home games, and was having himself a swift one before his trek home on various methods of public transport. He was refusing to get too carried away, which is probably for the best, but sometimes you just have to take the highs and enjoy them while you can, because they don't last nearly as long as they ought to.

'Boro on Tuesday is gonna be a tough one. I'll be making that journey to the Riverside, weather permitting, full of confidence that if the same team that ripped Preston to shreds turns up, we can certainly pull of another big result. They've signed quite a few have 'Boro, most of them from Celtic, but their home form isn't great, so if we can go there on a high and play the way we know we can, hopefully we'll take another step towards that playoff race.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Deepdale Delight for Super Reds

Hands up, and be honest, who saw that coming?

I certainly didn't, particularly after the shambles at Reading last weekend. If we can't even manage one measly attempt on target against a side second bottom in the league, what chance did we have at Preston, a team with an impressive home record?

The journey to Deepdale was interesting, to say the least. After queueing in traffic for almost an hour on the M62, we finally managed to break the 50mph barrier and get to Lancashire. That wasn't the end of the fun, though. It never is when your sat-nav is nothing more than a liar. To be fair, I do manage to get lost going to most away games, despite all my meticulous planning beforehand. I actually managed to get lost going to Donny this season, believe it or not (in my defence, you'd think 'The Arsenal of the Championship' would signpost the ground a little better...) so going wrong in Preston was never truly in doubt. But when a sat-nav says "You are 3 minutes from the ground" it invariably means "You're fookin' miles off, walk at your own peril". Of course, in hindsight I shouldn't have listened, but it meant me and my old man walking for what seemed like a lifetime. And the ground is a tease too. It appears behind every house, down every street, and yet you never seem to arrive at it. Strange stuff, but at least the nice, long walk made the pre-match beer that bit sweeter.

Actual footage of where I parked...

The ground (when we finally got there) is one of the nicer ones in this division. It looks modern yet retains it's traditional feel too. The enclosed sides add to the atmosphere, which tonight, certainly in the away end, was fantastic. The Reds fans were noisy, passionate and on top form all night. The 'Darren Ferguson Chant' was out in full force many times, and just as enjoyable as it was those months ago at London Road. Of course, it helps when the team give the fans something to sing about on the pitch, and they didn't let us down tonight.

The best team won tonight, no doubt about it. At times, the football was terrific to watch; we were patient when we needed to be, aggressive when the situation required it, and controlled the tempo for about 75 of the 90 minutes. Teixeira looked promising, and with match fitness under his belt, he could turn out to be a masterstroke signing by MR. Several players will seriously feel they'd done enough to warrant a MOTM award, but for me, Doyle wins it hands down. He was involved in everything we did. He broke up any Preston attacks, and created countless chances for us with his patient, calm range of passing. He thrived next to Colace today, and between them they were on top of almost everything. And this meant that Anderson had the freedom to play as he should; it was the Brazilians best game for us in a long time. In fact, it was the teams best performance for us in a while, if not the whole season . 4-1 was about right, although we could even have nicked another. Performances like that will only breed confidence, something which has been in desperately short supply recently.

Obviously, not everything was perfect; Steele looked shaky again on a couple of occasions, and the less said about Darren Moore's moment of madness, the better. But other than that, all players come out of this with a lot of credit. It was great to watch, and should settle a few nerves around the place in regards to our league position. Maybe people can start dreaming about moving up the table again, instead of back down into the brown stuff. And it was a fantastic sight looking at the league table and seeing us sitting proudly in the top half for the first time since the opening day.

The walk back to the car after the full time whistle didn't seem half as long and winding as it had before. I even managed to overhear a couple of Preston lads discussing how they "always lost to the shit teams"! If we were shit tonight, then I fear for them more than us, because in all honesty, we outclassed them all over the park. Still, I hope those two enjoyed their portion of sour grapes, and hopefully the more honest Preston fans will be able to admit that we were good value for the win. The sat-nav didn't let me down on the way home; in all honesty, even if it had, nothing would have crushed my good mood. Days like this one don't come along often (enough) for us, so I'll be cherishing this one for a while.

Watford next up at Oakwell then. They've had a confidence boosting win tonight against someone or other, and may well fancy having a pop at us on Saturday. But if we can perform like that, then I'm very confident we can get the points.

Thanks for reading.