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

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Two Blunt teams share goalless draw at Bramall Lane

It's been a horrible week in the build up to this one. I barely slept the night before. I always get a bit flimsy before any Yorkshire derby, so that's nothing new, but this time, I really, really wanted us to beat these lot. It had been one of the first away fixtures I'd looked for when they were first announced, and I'd been counting down the days since.

Of course, recent meetings between us two have been bad-tempered (and that's being incredibly diplomatic), and Bramall Lane is a hostile enough place as it it, so I was expecting a full-blooded Yorkshire derby between two sides whose seasons have threatened to fizzle out in recent weeks, and it didn't disappoint in that respect.

For the second week in a row, I was on the receiving end of good luck messages from the Wendy in laws. Naturally, they'll cheer anyone against the Pigs, even us "dingle bastards" (their words, not mine), so yet again I found myself promising them that we'd give them something to cheer about. I don't know why I keep doing that, because I never truly believe it myself. The closer we'd got to this game, the less confident I'd been feeling. By Saturday morning, I had consigned myself to witnessing yet another derby defeat. There's been too many of them already since the start of 2010.

We had decided that getting the train through to Sheffield might not have been the smartest idea, so instead we got the train into Barnsley, and were travelling on the coach. The plan worked perfectly; we were in town in plenty of time, so after a quick bacon butty we headed to the Mount for a swift one (and it has to be one, since I've got a bladder the size of a walnut), before heading to Oakwell to board the coach.

Only, when we arrived at the ground, the coaches were nowhere in sight. I've got to say, I love Barnsley Football Club, but sometimes the words 'piss-up' and 'brewery' spring to mind. The funfair outside the Ponty End meant that the coaches had to find alternative routes into the East Stand car park, so at 12:45, when we should have been settling nicely in our seats ready to head off, we were wandering around the car park while the coaches circled the ground. And when they did eventually arrive at the East Stand (some from different sides) they circled the car park a couple of times too, followed blindly by us fans. A couple of times, they stopped, waited until everyone had gathered by the coach door, and then set off around the car park again. It was fantastic entertainment. I could have stayed in the car park all afternoon. Top stuff.

Anyway, with the coach drama finally over, we were on our way to Sheffield, the natural habitat of the Deedar. I don't know if the route into Sheffield was the normal one, but as we headed towards the city centre, the locals stopped what they were doing, transfixed by the fleet of coaches trundling by. I'd swear they've never seen a coach before. The ride through was pretty stress free, and we were soon inside Bramall Lane having a quick one before kick off.

I can't really make my mind up about Bramall Lane as a stadium. From the outside, it looks rather regimented. Inside, the view is great for the away fan. The stewards didn't seem to strict either, which I wasn't expecting. And thankfully, nothing seemed to be pelted from the upper tier either, which was nice of the home fans.

Watching the team come out for the warm up was rather worrying, since several regular faces were noticeably missing. We knew MR was struggling for fit players, but it was seeing some of the missing men like Disco and El Haimour warming up that hammered the point home.

Before the game, the screen to our left played a VT of the Blunts squad re-enacting the PE scene from Kes. Good film, although I'm not sure it was totally a coincidence that they chose to screen it against us. At least it gave the travelling fans a chance to get their first jeers in against Chris Morgan. There was plenty more to come throughout the game.

When the teams were read out, we hadn't even managed to fill the bench, a sign of the state the squad at the moment. The last few weeks have obviously taken their toll on the players, and hopefully we can have a couple of them back for Monday. The big news, however, was Hume was starting, which gave him the opportunity to line up against Morgan for the first time since his injury. It was to his credit that he was able to shake the hand of the Pigs captain, where most of us would have shook him by his neck instead.

The teams came out, and people began to try figure out who was playing where, to the back drop of that horrible 'Greasy Chip Butty' rubbish they sing before each game. Given that their fans take the piss out of us for singing 'It's Just Like Watching Brazil', I'd say they've got some nerve. It's cringe worthy.

I was buzzing now, and was ready for the kick off. For some reason, I was actually beginning to think we could beat them. We were certainly due something, and they were low on confidence at the moment. Sadly, we're also low on confidence, and that was something that was clear on both sides throughout the match.

In the first half, we absorbed a lot of pressure without ever really threatening the home goal. Hallfredsson looked good in patches, and was probably our most dangerous outlet. Typically, he picked up a knock right on half time and never recovered from it, being substituted just after the break. Despite being on the back foot, the lads played well and, aside from a couple of saves from Steele, neither side had done much by the time the referee blew the half time whistle.

During that first half, the ref had missed a few poor challenges on Gray, but his second half performance was much worse. His dismissal of Hume's claim that he'd been fouled by Morgan, who clambered up his back to gain enough leverage to win the header, was comical, with the referee running from 20 yards away, just to tap on his forehead a few times to signal that the ball had hit his head. I don't think any of us were claiming the ball had hit anything other than his head, more that he'd ridden Hume like a Blackpool donkey for it to do so. Sadly, that was one of many decisions which didn't go our way. Frankly, the less said about the drop ball in our box, the better.

In the second half, we were better, but still never looked like scoring. They missed a couple more decent chances, and shouted for a penalty whenever they got the opportunity. Of course, they would do after the return fixture at Oakwell last year. If Clattenburg had been in charge, they'd have won 4-0 yesterday. But we hung in there, and despite a few hairy moments, defended well as a unit and claimed our second clean sheet of the week.

Our MOTM was Moore, without question. Nobody played particularly badly, but Moore was a rock and dealt with every hoofed ball they threw at him. It was a convincing display by the big man. It probably helped that Jamie Ward went off injured, as he's the sort of player Moore struggles against. Once he was off the pitch, Moore never really looked flustered again.

In stoppage time, the referee did what he'd threatened to do all match and got his red card out, sending of Connolly for a second bookable offence. Most of us were amazed it wasn't one of our players, especially since quite a few had been sat on bookings for most of the game. It further served to highlight that the referee had never really had a grip on the match.

As the game drew to a close, and their lad had just been shown the red card, the Morgan/Coward banners came out in full force. I'm sure it will have hurt him, especially after reading his programme notes, in which he talked about how much he enjoyed playing against his home town club. That is only scant consolation though, given what has happened in past seasons.

The whistle blew, and it was a feeling of relief around the lower tier, as we'd hung on at times and battled to an impressive away point. It pays to remember how good Sheffield United are on their own soil, and it certainly isn't a bad result by any stretch of the imagination. That said, some people were still unhappy as we headed back to the coaches. If some of our fans were unhappy, it wasn't a patch on the home supporters. I didn't hear Radio Sheffield afterwards, but I'm told it's an entertaining listen. I just hope the fat guy who was walking through the away fans outside the ground shouting "You Barnsley bastards!" over and over got to have his say...

Back in Barnsley, the coaches were given an ovation from the roadside by a group of lads, who chanted 'Red Army' and applauded as we drove past. I'm not sure if they thought we were the team or what, but I enjoyed it all the same. They can't have been applauding us for making the journey, surely? It's only, what, 20 miles away or so? Not one of the worst trips of the season. I'm sure those who made the Plymouth journey midweek deserve it a lot more than us.

There was just enough time on the way home from Barnsley to stop off for a final pint of the day in Castleford, where we ended up alongside a couple of Leeds fans. They looked fed up, so I resisted the urge to ask them how they'd gone on. As if I didn't already know. It was one of the big talking points all the way home on the coach.

So overall then, a very good point at a very difficult place to go. Other results mean we've lost no ground on the other strugglers, and surely another win should make us safe for another season. It'll be sad if we are the team to relegate Peterborough, since it was one of my favourite away games this season, but it's a dog eat dog league and if sending them down goes towards keeping us away from the bottom three, then so be it.

And at least we're done with Yorkshire derbies for another season. I might finally get some sleep tonight.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Donny edge forgettable Yorkshire derby

Well, we all knew it would happen one day. After wins in our previous 3 meetings with Donny since their promotion to the Championship, they were long overdue something against us.

Before I set off yesterday, I got something I never thought I'd get; a good luck message from my girlfriends dad, a die hard Wendy-ite. Seems that Donny have ruffled a few feathers in the last couple of seasons, and apparently "it's time someone brought them back down to Earth" (his words, not mine). It's fair to say that rather than bringing them back down to Earth, we've just made it a whole lot worse.

Amidst rumours all week that Rovers had failed to sell more than 2,000 tickets for the game, plus the many warnings on the official website that all Donny fans would be kept away from town, I wasn't expecting to see many of them roaming around. I couldn't have been more wrong, and we saw plenty of them. I didn't see any trouble between the two sets of fans, which rather makes a mockery of the 'all ticket' fiasco that had surrounded this game. Luckily, the police saw the error of their ways and changed the ticketing on Friday, rather late, but better late than never.

Before the game, we headed to the ticket office to sort our Pigs tickets out, and ended up stood behind Ryan Shotton in the queue, who was trying to get some more tickets for the players lounge. He gave us an early bit of team news, confirming that big Darren Moore was back in the team, with Shotton being moved to full back. He also told us he was hoping not to get sent off, which is helpful. Just try not lunging into people, that should probably do it. He received a generous offer from a couple of lads in front of him, who offered to buy his players lounge tickets if he promised to sign for us permanently next season, and I'm taking his nervous laughter as a verbal contract. We wished him luck for the game, and he went off on his way.

We watched Crystal Palace lose to Cardiff on the telly in the pub before we set off to the ground. Cardiff winning probably rang the death knell on our playoff dream, but at least Palace weren't gaining ground on us before we'd kicked off. Although how Palace didn't get that penalty beggars belief. Poor old Paul Hart nearly had a mental breakdown chasing down 4th official, and Plymouth-match-abandoner Gavin Ward. Hart must use all his luck up getting jobs in the top two divisions, because he certainly doesn't get any on the pitch.

The walk to the ground seemed quieter than normal. I think a few people were fearing the worst today, given our recent form and their burning desire to end their poor run against us. I certainly was.

As the teams walked out, you could practically hear the shock echoing around the ground. Where was Boggy? Or Macken? Is that Andy Gray?? And Anderson? It was a totally different Barnsley team to the one we've seen recently. As it dawned on people that we were playing 4-5-1, confidence began draining from the crowd, certainly where we were sat. 4-5-1 at home?? Very negative tactics, and it showed straight away.

The game started, and even with 5 across the middle we were being totally outplayed. Nobody seemed able to keep the ball, something which Donny have proved themselves more than capable of doing. Before long, it was looking more of a case of when they scored, rather than if.

In all honesty, Robins seemed to spot the problem early as well and was quick to change things. Whether Teixeira was going off before his injury is debatable, but clearly our gameplan, which was to stifle the visitors and stop them playing their usual game, was not working. Boggy came on, and we switched to 4-4-2, and immediately began to get more of a foothold in the game.

Billy Sharp was causing a nuisance of himself and taking a battering from the crowd, although it was obvious that if he scored, we were getting it back ten fold. I couldn't bear the thought of his piggy face gloating if he hit the back of the net though.

The goal came as a sucker punch, and was as soft as any we've given away recently. Coppinger picked the ball up on the edge of the area, and eventually got the chance to curl the ball into the bottom corner. The defence stood off, and stood off, and then looked at each other totally bemused when the ball hit the net. Billy Blunt was straight onto the ball, smashing it into the net again and celebrating in front of the Ponty. God I hate him. To be fair though, after the verbal abuse he'd taken, he was well within his rights to dish some back out. Not long after, he shushed the Ponty End after he mishit a cross, and again took some abuse from the crowd. It's all part of the fun, although I'd be pretty surprised to see him in a Barnsley shirt next season after that.

The Donny fans were rightly enjoying themselves now, although we were still in the game, and hit the bar right before the half time whistle. Still, we'd been here before; 0-1 down at half time last season, nobody would have predicted what was coming next. And yesterday, after half time we were playing with much more desire and passion, and Donny were sitting further and further back, inviting us on them. We carved out some good chances, although they nearly caught us on the break a couple of times. Their ability to pass the ball well helps them out in all positions on the pitch, and a couple of times they managed to break a Barnsley attack up, and quickly hit us on the counter due to slick, passing movement.

As the match wore on, we had some glorious opportunities, mainly Colace, who should have been bursting the net with that first volley, although Old Man Sullivan pulled off a superb stop to keep it out. By the end, we seemed to run out of steam, and by the time the full time whistle arrived, Donny had weathered the worst of the storm. They'd finally got their Oakwell Championship win.

Their fans went mad, of course. After John Ryans comments in the press during the build up to this game, about us and them overtaking both Sheffield clubs and being top dogs in South Yorkshire next season, they probably saw this as some sort of statement of intent. Of course, it also put them above the Pigs in the table, meaning they were officially the top team in South Yorkshire. There's not many times I've wanted the Pigs to win, but I hope they trounce Scunny today and take it back from the Pikeys.

Hammill got the MOM award, although both Shotton and Moore might feel a bit aggrieved, as they both had decent games. Nobody played particularly badly, but too many played like it was a practice match. It was a pedestrian performance, and at this level, teams will take advantage of that.

Radio Sheffield was unbearable, as you'd imagine. Total football, sexy football, outplayed, outpassed, many different terms were used, surprisingly mostly from fans who'd not managed to make the game. Personally, I think a draw would have been fairer, but given the result at the Keepmoat earlier in the season, I think it's been evened out. Credit to Donny, there's no denying they can play. But my God, don't they just let you know it.

I was in a lousy mood all night after that result, but I've calmed down a little bit now.

I've tried to keep away from forums since the game, and allow the dust to settle a bit. We played like the season was over already, and MR has accurately described this as "unacceptable". I just hope people don't overreact too much to this, because we've achieved so much this season and it would be a shame to end it on such a sour note. I actually heard someone say they felt Robins was losing his grip, which I thought was unbelievable after the season we've had. Lets keep some perspective. It was a bad result and nowhere near the best of our ability, but we still have the right man at the helm, and we'll come good again.

I won't be at Plymouth midweek, so next time out for me will be the Pigs at Bramall Lane. After 3 straight defeats, one in a local derby, hopefully the performance will be better, the players will want it more, and we can give them what we owe them. I can't wait.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ipswich hoodoo rolls on

I hate Ipswich and I hate football and I hate away games.

It was a nice, early start to the day. We set off on the long drive to Suffolk at about 9:30, with sleep in our eyes and smiles on our faces. I know we have a poor record at Portman Road, but some time that had to change. It has been a season where we've managed to end a couple of jinxes, and I was feeling fairly confident about our chances on the day.

The journey down was pretty stress free, until we hit the A14 outside Ipswich where the roadworks are causing havoc. We read the warnings on the official website, and gave ourselves plenty of time to get through them, but it's so frustrating to be so close to the ground and yet so far away. Eventually we fought our way through the queues and got ourselves parked up, and headed towards the ground.

There wasn't much around Portman Road, although we did eventually find a nice bar to grab a couple of pints, thanks to the advice of a friendly steward (the only friendly steward of the day). The pub was called the Old Orleans Bar and it was a nice place with a decent mix of fans in there. We'll be heading there next season, assuming both our sides are in the same division again.

After a couple of drinks, we headed to the ground. Before the game, I'd been told that Portman Road wasn't a nice ground, and as yesterday was my first visit, I was unsure what to expect. However, I quite liked the place. It's fairly old fashioned, or at least a couple of the stands are, and the away end is low and enclosed, which always helps generate a good atmosphere. It's a good job we did, as the home fans sat in silence for the majority of the game, although they haven't had much to cheer this season. They were a playoff favourite as the campaign kicked off, yet they've battled all season to stave off the threat of relegation. In midweek they were kept in the changing rooms for well over an hour after losing away at Watford, and they're probably desperate to get enough points on the board to survive, and move on to next season.

The frisking was a bit extreme on the way into the ground. I swear, any more vigorous and the steward would have had to marry me. But we got in, and got ourselves into the concourse in time to grab a coffee. My dad asked for a "coffee mate, please", which led to much confusion behind the counter as the bloke serving us scratched his head and said "Is that the powdered stuff?". We sort of attempted to clear up the misunderstanding, but by this time we were just ready to get sat down and watch the Reds hopefully end our nightmare run of results at Portman Road.

The game itself was dreadful. They were better in the first half, and could probably have been 2 or 3 up by the break. Luke Steele will take a lot of flack for the goal, and rightly so, because I've seen the replay several times and it's getting worse and worse. Why not just put your boot through it? Was it really a clever idea to let the ball run out? Luke clearly thought the ball was out of play, but if he puts it in the crowd, what's the worst that can happen? A throw in to them instead of us. It was a terrible piece of decision making, and it's fair to say it cost us a point yesterday. If you haven't seen it yet, you're in for a treat.

The second half, we were better but still not good, and we could still be playing now without scoring. Boggy had a slim sight of goal late on but it wasn't enough to be considered an actual 'chance'. Hume came on and looked poor again, and even his set piece delivery wasn't up to scratch, which isn't like the Iain Hume we know. Not having a reserve team is killing his season, and I hope he stays on until next year when we have the reserves back and he can get match fit.

The stewards were totally over the top all day inside the ground. I don't know what they were expecting to happen, but we were surrounded by Police up where we were sat, and anyone who stood up for so much as a second were immediately jumped on by the fuzz. Also, twice I went into the toilets and was followed by 2 stewards each time. Maybe I'm just dodgy looking or something, but they seemed intent on ruining what was threatening to be a decent atmosphere in the away end. The travelling fans were still in good voice throughout, and the Swansea chant was great. For the record, I will be going to Swansea, although hopefully I won't be sitting down.

As the full time whistle drew closer, we pressed more and more but never really looked like getting an equaliser. I was willing them forward, heading every ball, desperately wanting something to break for us. But it didn't, and we were beaten by a goal that wouldn't have looked out of place on a school football pitch.

When we got back into the car, we put Radio Suffolk on, hoping to catch some reaction to the non-event we'd just witnessed, but apparently the Championship is an afterthought, the real footballing action in Suffolk comes from the Zamaretto Division One South & West. They had match reports, manager interviews, the lot. Maybe they just don't like interviewing Roy Keane. I can't say as I'd blame them.

The journey home was a total nightmare, and just summed our day up perfectly. I wasn't aware that they take the roads in on a night in Suffolk, but we were diverted from both the A14 and the A1 through God-only-knows-where before we were finally back on route home, just in time to hit some sort of meteor crater in the road and blow a tyre. When we first got into the car outside Portman Road, our sat nav gave us an estimated return time of 8:30pm. At 10:15, I was retrieving a wheel trim on some quiet country road in the middle of nowhere. Like I said, I hate football and I hate away games.

Despite all that, I wish I was heading to Bristol on Tuesday night, but work commitments are keeping me away from Ashton Gate this season. If we play like we did yesterday, then we'll more than likely be beaten, although it all depends who turns up; the Jekyll of the Preston match, or the Hyde of Reading. Yet again, we sit pretty much an equal distance from the dogfight and the playoff fight, so all the points we can get are very much welcome. It's proving difficult to see just how our season is going to pan out.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Reds pick off Forest... feeling that one? Pick them off?? Like scabs?? Well suit yourselves.

I really enjoyed last night. I've had a couple of stressful days at work, and this match came at just the right time. I probably would have preferred this fixture on a Saturday if you'd asked me at the start of the season, but it was a good night anyway at Oakwell last night.

The whole journey to the game was spent ranting about how shite work was with my dad, who was also having the same rant. We occasionally broke off to have a rant at the numerous Blunt fans who were whining on the radio, but other than that, it was a very stress-relieving journey to the game. I felt better for it by the time we were parked up.

Just time before the game to nip for a quick beer before getting our Ipswich tickets and heading into the ground. The atmosphere was pretty good for a Tuesday night, with 2,007 or so visiting fans in the away end. They started out making a fair bit of noise, although they gradually got quieter as the game went on. Yesterday was the first time this season I've been in my seat whilst the players were still warming up, and I'd forgotten how amusing that can be. Why do people stand with their back to the pitch when the players are practising shooting? Surely they can see what is about to happen? Needless to say, it happened again yesterday and someone got a Boggy shot right to the back of the bonce. I'm fully aware that one day it'll probably be me who gets a face full of football, especially now I've written this, but hey ho.

The match itself was, for the most part, enjoyable. In the first half, we weathered a couple of storms before grabbing the lead with either a very good or very lucky Bogdanovic header. Despite a lot of away pressure, we held strong, with the defence doing a decent job in keeping the very dangerous Forest forward line quiet. Adebola might look like a big useless lump, and to be fair he plays like one when the ball is on the deck, but in the air he's very, very effective. He won a lot of headers for them yesterday, and was a thorn in Foster and Shottons side all night.

There was a very funny moment in the first half, when their defender, Perch, kicked the ball into the West Stand, having a tantrum because the decision had gone against him. The bloke behind me shouted "Go fetch it now" and, for some reason, it really amused me. I'm not sure why I liked it so much but it really made me laugh. It sounded like a teacher at school shouting at some pupil. That's gonna stick with me, that one.

The second half was quite similar to the first, with us living on the edge for long periods, although we had a few spells where we were on top and could have put the second goal in. Boggy missed a great chance for his second of the night, and it was beginning to feel like last season when we let a lead slip at Oakwell against these lot. Earnshaw had got the goal that day, and he'd been loitering with intent all night again. It was nice of him, however, to attempt that ridiculous tackle in the box which led to a groundbreaking event in English football; a referee awarding us a penalty. Unfortunately, about 1 minute after getting that decision, last season came flooding back all over again. Thankfully, there were no hissy fits about who was taking it; Boggy stepped up and sent Camp the wrong way. It was only this weekend I was having (yet another) rant about how we never get penalties, so I suppose I can shut up now. I bet it's a while before the next one though.

At 2-0, it was never totally comfortable, and they got their inevitable goal fairly late on. But we stood firm, defended until the end and claimed a crucial 3 points, and another massive step towards safety. They had a couple of half-arsed shouts for penalties, and apparently a goal disallowed, although I missed this happen somehow. It's about time we got our bit of luck though.

The fact that they sit third says a lot about this division. I wasn't impressed with them at all, and their style of play was pretty uninspiring all night, with lots of long balls from the back designed to catch our defence out. I'm not saying that we're Brazil, or Ajax of the 90's, or Donny/Arsenal, but we play more football than they did. Fair enough if it works for them; at the end of the day, if they get promoted then they probably won't care and rightly so. But you feel that automatic promotion is slipping away from them now, and usually a good footballing side can easily overcome a hoofball outfit when it comes to the playoffs. Burnley, anyone?

At the final whistle the feeling of relief was evident, as was the enormity of that result. It could be the one that just ends those lingering fears of being sucked back into the dogfight and allows us to look back up the division instead of down. By the end of the season, that win could prove priceless.

A few down points of the night were confirmed on Radio Sheffield on the way home; mainly Donny winning again and Wendy stealing a point from the jaws of defeat, but the main thing is our result and we got a good one last night. Now we move onto Ipswich Town away from home. They don't lose much on their own soil, but if a win over a top 3 side can't give us the confidence to go there and take the game to them, then I don't know what will. Let's hope we can keep our very, very slim playoff hopes alive.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Wasteful Reds share spoils with plucky Palace

On Saturday morning, I was taken by that horrible feeling in my stomach that we were going to be beaten. I don't know why; maybe I still hadn't fully recovered from that mauling at Newcastle last week, but I was genuinely worried. That said, I always am on the morning of the match so I don't think it actually means anything.

The sun was blaring when I opened the curtains, and even though it was still fairly chilly, it felt like a top day for football. The girlfriend had already set off long ago to Swansea, so I'd taken my chance to get a nice lie in ahead of the game. By the time I was up and ready to set off, I was feeling a bit better about the whole day. I still couldn't see us winning though.

We only stopped in the pub for a couple, since we've had a few hectic weeks recently and have got a couple coming up too. Unfortunately we didn't spot many Palace fans wandering around the place. It's a shame really, I always like having a chat with the opposition; see how they feel about the state of their season. Anyway, we made our way down to the ground, with me still worrying about the outcome of this one. It's fair to say that safety is far from guaranteed for us just yet, and with Palace sat behind us in the Championship table, it was a good chance for them to pull us back into the dogfight. Yep, it's fair to say I was fearing the worst.

The performance on the pitch was far from the worst we've seen this season, and I do think we were rather unlucky not to have taken maximum points from this one. We made plenty of chances, but seemed to lack the clinical finish, the final touch in the final third. Players seemed to panic whenever the ball dropped in good positions. A bit more composure and we could have cantered through this one, but sadly we know it's never that easy.

In the first half, we made most of the running, although how many people thought that header by Alan Lee was sneaking in the back post? Palace are still desperately claiming it went over the line, although it didn't look like the case to me. Credit to David Preece for making the save, it was a very good stop and went a little way towards redeeming himself following that horror show at St James Park last weekend. Overall, Boggy, Hammill and one or two others could have seen us going in at half time leading. On the other hand, a couple of outstanding blocks and tackles from Hassell maybe saved us at the other end too.

Second half, for the most part, we dominated, but again lacked the cutting edge to breach the Palace goal. In fairness, whenever we did our bit right and worked the keeper, he was more than equal to it. I thought he played well, Julian Speroni, and he kept them in it, particularly as the game wore on. It was always going to be one of those days when Macken did all the hard work on the byline, before squaring to the brilliantly placed Teixeira, who blazed his effort wide with the whole goal to aim for. By that time, most of us had given in on the hope of 3 precious points. The nightmare substitution kept everyone interested for 5 minutes or so, whilst people try to figure out who the Hell was coming on and going off. Even Alfie looked confused as he took his jumper off and had to stick it back on again. That's entertainment.

Man of the match went to Bobby, which was fair enough. He was solid throughout, and made a couple of decent blocks to keep Palace at bay on the rare occasions they threatened us. Overall, as I said before, I didn't think we'd played so badly, and deserved more than a point. Palace came with a game plan and executed it well, so credit to them.

Also, Trevor Kettle deserves a mention, for making up for his dreadful first half performance with a solid second half. At times, he threatened to lose control of the match, but just about redeemed himself. It was his best performance at Oakwell, although it was never going to take much beating in all honesty.

That night was spent watching the Football League show. It was a noble effort from Claridge and co., who managed to show one chance which had already been flagged for offside and wouldn't have counted, and also managed to get Boggy and Shotton mixed up, which is no mean feat given some of the glaring differences between the two.

So next it's Forest on Tuesday night, and I feel a little better about that one now. Our record against the top teams is much more consistent, so hopefully we can provide a bit of a shock and take another step towards safety before our big clash with Ipswich, which I'm buzzing about already. Although I still don't feel confident about that one either. Maybe it's just me.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Well, we cracked. Simple as that; after a dreadful piece of officialdom, we simply cracked under the pressure of being a man down against a team who are surely on their way to the Premiership.

Yesterday was always going to be one of the biggest games of the season for many people. I'd never had the opportunity to go to St James Park before, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been relishing this away game for a long time. This one had been meticulously planned for weeks prior to yesterday; every pub we intended on having a drink in, every curry house within walking distance of the ground; every detail. Nothing was left to chance.

We arrived at Wakefield Westgate train station at about half 8 and we were already surrounded by Geordie fans. They're everywhere! I even recognised my old English teacher, stood with her black and white scarf on. Half past 8, still in Yorkshire and we were already outnumbered. Once we were on the train, we got talking to another Geordie who was also making his way to the match. He talked about how gutted he was at Oakwell earlier in the season, after Bobby stuck in his late equaliser, with no mention of how we'd dominated pretty much all of the second half! Anyway, we wished each other luck and he went off to his seat.

We passed the Angel of the North and arrived in the land of the Geordie at just after 11 and got straight into O'Neills, just outside the train station. The first bloke we saw in their was totally arseholed, which was pretty impressive for the early hour of the morning, and seemed insistent that me and my dad had Salford accents, for some bizarre reason. We quickly shook him off. It wasn't long afterwards that I turned around just in time to see him try and slide on his shoes across the wooden floor and end up going down like a sack of shit. Early morning drinking, can't beat it.

A couple of beers later, we headed to the Centurion bar in the train station to meet up with a work colleague of my dads called Rich, who is a Geordie season ticket holder and was planning on taking us for a couple of drinks. He was a top bloke, and looked after us well. He was also very confident; he had a bet on 5-1 Newcastle yesterday. We had a good laugh when he told us that; it was a stupid bet, it would never happen etc...

Rich took us to the Newcastle Arms and introduced us to Neil, the landlord and another top bloke. We stayed in there and chatted to some of the locals, and again they were feeling in confident mood. A lot of them were in agreement about one thing though; they don't actually feel that they have a good team. It was a recurring theme throughout the day, that the Geordies think they have a group of overpaid, overrated players and that, when their Premiership status is achieved as it surely will be soon, they won't be good enough to survive without serious investment. They also don't think Mike Ashley is the man for the job, and they've made their feelings known on that issue throughout the campaign. Even the match programme had an article, written by Managing Director Derek Llambias, in which he "sets the record straight" about Ashleys commitment to the club. I would be surprised, given some of the opinions from the fans we spoke to, if that article had any effect on them.

Whilst we were drinking in the Newcastle Arms, I ended up talking to Paul Malcolm, a goalkeeper who had started his career at Newcastle United but had played for us 3 times during the 1986-87 season. He mentioned that 2 of his 3 appearances were against Yorkshire rivals (Bradford City and the Blunts) and he also went on to make 34 appearances for our Pikey friends in Donny. I asked him who he was cheering for and he told me he was shouting for the home team. I don't believe him though. There was a glint in his eye that just screamed "Come on you Tykes, beat them on their own soil, show us how you plan to win the playoffs, give them the Preston treatment'. I know it seems like I got a lot from that glint, but it's a knack I have. I could just tell. Anyway, he was a great guy and really friendly, and he also requested a copy of this blog today, so if you're reading this Paul, thanks for your hospitality. And I'm sorry we couldn't get the 3 points that I'm convinced you secretly wanted us to get...

When we finally headed to the ground and got in, the millions and millions of steps didn't seem too bad, certainly not as bad as I expected them to be. Maybe the few drinks beforehand numbed the pain of hiking for what seemed like an eternity, I'm not sure, but we eventually got to the top of the stand and got ourselves in place, just in time for the minutes silence, which was observed perfectly. And there we were; ready to see our beloved Tykes against Newcastle United, the runaway leaders and only team unbeaten on their own patch. But that was about to change, we were the team to finally end their domination of this league. We were gonna beat them, I could feel it.

For 40 minutes or so, it wasn't unthinkable at all. We were under pressure from the start, as you expect to be in games like this. They had the ball in the net early on but it was ruled out for an offside flag. But, despite us not particularly threatening Steve Harper in the home goal, we were playing solidly, and keeping the hosts quiet. And if we get in at half time at 0-0, anything can happen. Maybe the home fans get on their teams back, nerves begin to show, cracks appear. Half time couldn't have come quick enough.

Of course, the biggest decision of the day was about to be totally ballsed up by the man in charge. To be fair, there should never have been a decision to make; Dicko should have got rid of the ball when he had the chance, but he didn't, and Peter Lovenkrands wasted no time in rounding Luke Steele, before hitting the ground despite what seemed like no contact from the keeper. Admittedly, being 300 miles in the air makes it difficult to see exactly what had happened, but TV replays since have shown that it was a very, very soft penalty. But, it'd been given, as had a red card for Steele, and with David Preece being thrown into the mix just in time to face the resulting penalty, we were already fearing the worst. Sure enough, the salt was rubbed firmly into the wound and Lovenkrands converted the spot kick for 1-0, which is how it was at half time.

The second half was a total non-event for us. Usually, Robins works magic in the changing room with his half time team talk and the lads come out all guns blazing. We managed it at Oakwell earlier in the season against these lot, and had been unlucky not to get all 3 points. But it was never gonna happen yesterday. The goals began to flow freely for Newcastle, and we seemed to roll over and die, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole day. We did manage to get one late on, but it didn't even feel like a consolation by then. David Preece took a lot of stick yesterday, and some of it was deserved, although our lack of a reserve team seems to still be costing us dearly in situations like that one. He looked desperately out of practice, and had an absolute nightmare in his first appearance since our 5-2 defeat at Q.P.R.

The fans were in good humour despite the terrible result on the pitch, as only you can be. Results like that don't often happen, and the best way to avoid wanting to jump from the top of the stadium is to make light of it. The chants about only needing 6 more, and that we were gonna win 7-6 were enjoyable, and even the Newcastle fans enjoyed our rendition of Sing When You're Winning. It was very reminiscent of our Premiership season, where chants like that were the norm every weekend. As I say, sometimes you have to just enjoy the day and have a laugh about it, because events on the pitch were never going to make anyone feel better.

Man of the Match?? My God, I don't know where to begin. David Preece? No, obviously that is a joke. Honestly, it's too difficult this week, I won't even attempt it. Nobody can come out of this game with any credit, unfortunately. 6-1 is just too damaging.

After the game, we headed to O'Neills again, being told numerous times throughout the walk back that it "wasn't a 6-1 game". It's nice that people were trying to make us feel better, but it really didn't work. I actually think it was a 6-1 game, but probably wouldn't have been had it not been for that one big moment which went against us in the first half. Again, we spent a good hour or so talking to various people about the days events. People often say that the Geordies are friendly folk, and yesterday really proved that. There's been no away game this season where that many people have been as keen to have a chat as yesterday, both before and after the game, so they deserve a lot of praise for that. That's what away days should be about. Anyway, after a couple of pints, as we had done so many times during the day, we shook some hands, wished people luck, and headed off for a curry before the train home.

The train journey home seemed much longer than it had earlier, and I could barely keep my eyes open all the way home. When we finally got back into Wakefield, the first person I saw was wearing a Newcastle shirt and kindly pointed out the scoreline. Like I needed any reminding of that. Support your local team you gloryhunters! Not that I'm feeling bitter or anything, you understand...

So there it is. The game everyone was looking forward to, the day out I'd been planning for weeks, and we'd been routed 6-1. It's worth saying that every part of the day apart from the football had been terrific, and all the people we'd met and spoken to had been great, so as far as away days go, it was still a really good one. And we never expected anything from this match. It was a freebie, and hopefully the scoreline won't have damaged confidence enough to affect the rest of our season for us. We've still got work to do to ensure we don't get dragged back into the battle at the bottom. Crystal Palace next week is a massive, massive game for us.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Burning Question Pt. 2

The next question has been posted on the official website, and again I'll use it to fill the gap between now and our weekend skirmish with the runaway leaders Newcastle United.

What has been the highpoint for you whilst supporting Barnsley? And the low point?

Both are very difficult questions and I'm sure the chap putting this book together will get quite a varied bunch of answers for this section. Many people will have different answers for very different reasons. I'll chuck my two cents in, although again I won't be sending this in, just as a bit of fun really.

My lowest moment is probably the 93 minutes before Isaiah Rankin finally secured our League 1 status in the 2002/03 season, at home against Brentford. The whole match was a sickener from the beginning right until that dramatic, dramatic finish. After the disappointment of the previous season, when we seemed to just accept our relegation without so much as a fight, I think most people feared the worst and I was no different. It felt like the shortest game I've ever sat through; the minutes flew away and it seemed inevitable that we'd need something from champions Wigan Athletic on the final day to secure our place for another season. Thankfully, we nicked that precious goal right at the death, and staved off the threat of relegation with virtually the last kick of our final home game. Can you imagine what could have happened to us had that not gone in? Would we be back at our current level now? Would we we have fallen even further into the depths of the Football League? It doesn't even bear thinking about really. As good as that winner felt, the whole match before that was very, very low, to see our club in such a dreadful state and staring into the abyss.

And the highest? Promotion to the top flight of English football is always going to take some beating, along with a few others, but for me it's our playoff final against Ipswich Town in the 1999/00 season. It wins out for many different reasons in my eyes. It was the first time I'd watched the Reds in anything other than a league or cup game. And since that glorious day at the old Wembley, I've seen us win at the Millennium Stadium and lose the FA Cup Semi Final at the new, updated version of the famous twin towers not so long ago, and nothing has come close.

The whole day was amazing from start to finish. The sun was beaming down throughout, and I always remember walking up Wembley Way, already knowing that the first sight of the pitch was going to be a breathtaking moment. I wasn't disappointed either; I don't think I'll ever love a stadium as much as I do the Wembley of old (Oakwell excluded, obviously). The towers, the general feel of the place, the way could could almost feel the history of the place jumping out of the walls, and the beautiful green grass bathed in the sunlight; it was perfection. The Old Wembley vs. the New Wembley? Insulting to even consider it a contest, in my opinion.

Of course, we lost the game 4-2, despite being agonisingly close to returning to the promised land. After Hignetts rather... ahem... lucky opener, we seemed so close but it wasn't destined to be that day. Maybe, had Barnard converted that penalty or if Georgi could have hit the back of the net with that header just before their 4th, things could have been different. Overall, given our results against the Tractor Boys in that campaign, it's difficult to argue with their promotion. In fact, the following season they won a place in Europe, and then went on to beat Inter Milan, so they didn't do too bad out of it. And us? Well, things went a bit downhill for us after that...

I still remember sitting feeling proud of our performance, and yet gutted that we had just fallen short when that final whistle blew. I also remember being proud of the Reds fans staying behind to applaud our team and our opponents who'd beaten us fairly and squarely. Relations between us on Ipswich have always been pleasant since that day, as I think they recognised the amount of respect we showed to them. It's how football should be. Afterwards, the journey home was surprisingly upbeat and totally out of place with the result. There aren't many defeats that leave you still feeling positive, but that was one of them. Overall, for the whole day and experience, it always sticks in my mind as my greatest day of being a Reds fan.

Thanks for reading.