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

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Reds Fluff Lines on Oakwell Finale

I nearly didn't make it to our last home game of the season yesterday. Our journey to Oakwell was more frustrating and disappointing than anything the team served up on the pitch. I know that's hard to believe.

Everything had been going perfectly to plan all morning. The sun was out, it was perfect day for football. The last few weeks have been getting harder and harder to feel motivated for, but yesterday I was really looking forward to it. And I really fancied us to win the match too.

For all the dreadful performances and results we've suffered through recently, the table still made for good reading before the game. A good win could have moved us several places up the league and made it look more comfortable for us than it feels like it has been. Even Donny were still within our sights, and I wouldn't have minded finishing above them this season. If they're the Arsenal of this division, surely finishing above them would make us Chelsea...?

We set off earlier than normal, giving ourselves plenty of time to get our West Brom tickets and get to the pub in time to catch the Man Utd-Spurs match. Nothing beats being in the pub, watching the football with a nice cold pint in the summer months. It was the perfect plan. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Or so we thought. But what we hadn't planned for was somebody pulling straight across a junction and ploughing into the side of the car in Cudworth. Nobody was hurt thankfully, and she accepted fault straight away but it didn't help the matter. At 1:15, when we should have been sat in the pub watching the Man Utd game with our West Brom tickets safely in our pockets, we were in Fulton's car park waiting for a tow truck to get the car, which wouldn't even start. The game was off for us at that point, and I was gutted.

After much deliberation, we agreed that if the car was picked up and taken quick enough, we'd head to the game anyway and see as much of it as possible. Now we were at the mercy of the tow truck.

Luckily, the tow truck was quick in getting to us, giving us plenty of time to get to Oakwell. The only downside was that we had to carry a child booster seat with us all afternoon, from the back of the car. I can imagine it's the strangest thing ever taken to a football game, although I'm happy to be corrected.

We flagged a taxi and, car seat in tow, headed towards Oakwell. I felt a bit of an arse walking around with it in my hands. It's not particularly easy to miss; it's big, black, plastic and very, very noticeable. But it's a small price to pay to make the match when it had looked so ominous just half an hour before.

We headed to The Mount and got ourselves a quick pint before kick off. We were met with quizzical looks from punters and staff alike as they tried to figure out what the Hell we were carrying. Someone even suggested it was a lunchbox. Luckily, the bar staff in The Mount were very helpful and allowed us to save our big, black, plastic car seat behind the bar and come back to collect it later.

I love standing in The Mount car park with a pint during the summer. It reminded me of Wolves at home in our last home game of last season, only with nowhere near as much tension surrounding the place. Everyone seemed much more relaxed than they had the last few weeks. Maybe everyone was feeling as confident as me. Or maybe everyone was just taking in the atmosphere of the last home game, in the knowledge that in a couple of weeks we'll probably all be pining for next season to start. The World Cup is nice, but it can't replace the Reds for me. By the time we'd finished thinking about this, it was almost kick off time, so we slung our pints down and briskly headed to Oakwell, for the last time this season.

And so with about 30 seconds to spare we made our seats, ready for the final home game. The sun was blaring, the atmosphere was quite carnival and we were hoping for a final send off to a season which could have ended in disaster, and yet has ended with success. It's a strange feeling going into our last home game not particularly needing anything.You could argue it makes it boring, although it's much nicer than Wolves at home last season.

Throughout the first half, the game was pretty even, and we should have gone ahead pretty early when Hume got free of the last man. I've not seen it back yet but it looked like Hume should have done better. That also applies to Macken, who missed a great chance after a good save from their keeper. Not that the visitors didn't have their moments too. Antonio German must have felt sorry for Shefki Kuqi last week and decided to produce his own 'Miss of the Season' contender. Being sat directly behind the goal in the Ponty End has its benefits, and in this case it was a perfect view of just how bad that miss actually was.

If the miss was bad, then the only goal of the game was well worthy of winning it. It was an unstoppable strike from Mikele Leigertwood, and the round of applause from the Ponty End said enough.

At half time, the players awards were handed out. It was a strange decision to announce the winners before the game rather than waiting, but I do think Colace was a fair decision. In all honesty, it was a tough choice to pick because nobody has truly stood out. Well done to him all the same. The break gave Dicko a chance to get out and warm up. I watched him lark around with Toby Tyke, sign autographs and almost get a drenching by the sprinklers, and it actually cheered me up. We need him back. Get him signed up Robins, we all want him back. He belongs at Oakwell.

In the second half the game, much like our season, fizzled out. We had enough chances to get something out of the game, but finishing again was the difference. It's something that has haunted us all season, and is probably MR's biggest challenge this summer. There was nothing to inspire the crowd today, and the biggest cheer of the day was the flashing Wednesday score on the scoreboard, which says all that needs saying.

It was nice to see Dicko get on. It was also nice to see him at his passionate best when one of the visiting players threw himself to the ground to win a free kick in front of the East Stand. They'd been at it for most of the second half, with the referee constantly being conned by it. Dicko almost executed the perfect comedy kick up the backside, but managed to restrain himself at the last minute. It was probably just as well he did, although it would have been funny. The ref had kept quiet in the first half, but he lost it a bit in the second.

It was also nice to see passion displayed by MR when a marginal offside call went against Martin Devaney, roughly 20 minutes after the original ball had been played through. I thought for a minute he was going to the stands, but the referee gave him a talking to. Good to see someone still caring enough about this season, because most of the players have been on holiday for some time now.

As the full time whistle approached, the usual warnings about entering the pitch were played out on the tannoy, and duly ignored. To be fair, there were plenty of police officers around, although standing them in front of the scarcely filled away end was a strange decision. Needless to say, the whistle was greeted with a pitch invasion, meaning no opportunity for the players to do their planned lap of honour. It's a shame, because aside from these last few months, the season has been a success. We've stayed up, and that was the only goal when MR took the job.

We didn't stay to watch people running aimlessly around the pitch. We'd just sat through 90 minutes of it; I didn't fancy any more. We simply headed to The Mount, collected our car seat, and headed for home, with mixed feelings about the whole day.

We'll still be at West Brom next Sunday, hoping to see something to cheer but not expecting anything. In fact, that 7-0 from a few seasons ago is still fresh in the memory and not totally beyond the realms of happening again. It's a shame that the miserable end of the season has put a real downer on what should have been an enjoyable few months of the campaign, with safety assured and no pressure on. It has shown that we have a lot of work to do in the summer. But MR has earned his chance to undertake the overhaul we need, so lets give him it and get behind him. I still feel very confident he can change the fortunes of our club.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Rut Continues

It's quite a prospect to look forward to on a Saturday morning; several hours on a stuffy coach, heading to South Wales to watch a desperately out of form Reds clash with the notoriously goal-shy Swans. Is there a better way to spend the first full day of your weekend? Err...

As you can imagine, I was up at the crack of dawn to get ready for this one. It's fair to say, I'm not a 'morning person'. To make it worse, the girlfriend and the young 'un didn't even flinch as I banged and crashed my way around the house, getting everything in place for the day ahead. I must admit, by the time I was ready to set off, I was making as much noise as possible. Why is it fair that they get to stay in bed? One up, all up, that's the way I see it. Anyway, the plan failed and they slept the morning away, whilst I began the first leg of my long journey to Swansea.

Whenever I set off on the long journey to an away game with the sun barely risen, it invariably reminds me of the playoff final in Cardiff at the end of the 05/06 season. My memories are a bit blurry from that day, but it's the feeling of travelling for hours, crossing the country just to see the Reds play that brings it flooding back. Thankfully the weather on Saturday was much better than that day, with no flash floods and monsoons in sight. It wasn't particularly pleasant trudging around the Welsh capital in soggy clothes, looking like a drowned rat the last time, so I didn't particularly fancy it this time either.

We got to Oakwell around 8:15 and had a quick walk to the shop to grab some supplies. By this point, I was buzzing, well ready for this one. I wasn't totally confident about the outcome of the day, but I was still looking forward to the game.

The coach journey was the worst bit, as expected, just because of the amount of time sitting, doing nothing. Within 10 minutes, the papers we'd brought to read had been read cover to cover, and all we had left was to try and convince ourselves for 4 hours of motorway that we weren't making a wasted journey, and that we could get something from the game.

It's nice to be the confident one, 'cos there was no persuading my dad that we had it in us to get something from Swansea. He still thinks they're the best side we've seen all season.

Halfway towards South Wales, we stopped off at the services and saw the Histon team, on their way to Forest Green. They looked nervous, and it wasn't until afterwards that we realised the enormity of their game yesterday. I didn't realise they were in relegation trouble. No wonder they were all so subdued.

We arrived at the Liberty stadium at about 2:10, after taking a wrong turning earlier and ending up right beside the DVLA offices. It was a nice enough ground, but pretty much what you expect from these new ones. From the outside, it was a similar sort of shape and design to the Walkers Stadium, and was nice enough to look at. Inside, the view was great, and the atmosphere in the away end was top notch. Even the stewards were friendly, and overall it was a nice place, if not a bit similar to a few other places. It's not the best, but it certainly isn't the worst either.

The drink in the ground left a lot to be desired though. Every time we go to Wales, we order a drink and get handed one from under the desk. Is this normal?? It really creeps me out. I prefer watching my pint being pulled in front of my eyes, rather than it being in my hand ready to drink before I've finished asking for it. It was the same at the Millennium Stadium, so maybe it's just a Welsh thing.

We watched the Manchester derby reach its climax in the concourse, and watched United snatch it yet again. It was reacted to quite angrily by the crowd amassed underneath the TV, which is a bit odd. I probably would have preferred City to have won if pushed for an answer, but it didn't affect me in any way really. For a moment I was beginning to think I'd stumbled into Stamford Bridge or something.

We headed up to the seats and ended up sat practically next to the home fans to our right. Which is a great experience when you win the game, but horrible when you're being comfortably beaten, as we found out throughout.

The game itself was a poor one from our point of view, although in no way was it our worst performance of the season. Steele did his best to lighten up the mood yet again, with his comedy clearance attempt in the fourth minute. It's becoming a sickeningly regular sight to see him haring off his line, and his swing and miss was as impressive as anything he's managed recently. Luckily, the benefactor of his latest, ahem, "moment" was Shefki Kuqi, and he spared his blushes by somehow putting the chance wide. The look on the faces of everyone in the ground, especially the Swansea fans to our right was magical. You could practically hear the sound of 15,000 people simultaneously scratching their heads, wondering how he'd managed to miss that. As Harry Redknapp would have said, my Gran could have scored that.

Swansea eventually did get in front, and then doubled their lead, much to the delight of the home fans nearest us, who'd had to put up with a lot of stick from our travelling support. But after Big Dave bulleted his header in from a Hume corner, Swansea began to look nervous. Colace missed a sitter a few minutes before half time, which would surely have seen us going in level at the break. No doubt that would have made it more interesting, although it would have been more than we'd deserved. They'd totally outplayed us for 45 minutes.

At half time, we headed down for another pre-prepared pint and watched the half time scores come through. By the time we'd headed back up to the seats, we'd missed a sitter from Hume, apparently. I've not seen it again yet, but I would like to. It can't be as bad as that Kuqi first half miss. Surely it's destined to appear on blooper DVD's forever more.

The second half fizzled out a bit really, and they deserved their win, although we did improve. I would have liked to see us have a go at them a bit more, but when Doyle was taken off and replaced in the middle by Hassell, it was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I've not had a bad word to say about MR since his arrival, even during this poor run of form we're in, but he'll have to talk me through that decision, because it stumped me. Butterfield was sat on the bench, and I can't help but think the game was crying out for him.

The third goal sealed the win, but it was typical of us these last few weeks; slack defending and a lack of concentration by everyone who was back defending. It ended the game as a contest and allowed Swansea to play their football and show their fans what they can do. They knock the ball around well, although I can't help but think a better side than us would probably not have let them dominate play the way we did.

By the end of the game, a few people were getting restless, and one or two refused to clap the players off the pitch which was a bit much. I really don't think it was a terrible performance. Swansea are where they are for a reason and it was always going to be a tough ask going there and getting anything. It's fair to say that this season needs to end now so we can start planning for another year in the best, most competitive division in this country.

My Man of the Match for the day was probably Foster who didn't do much wrong, despite us conceding 3 times. The midfield was anonymous again, and the less said about Andy Gray the better. Although I've got to say, chanting about your own player doing "f*** all" during a game when he's playing isn't what I'd call support. Maybe that's just me, but I think it's really poor and helps absolutely nobody.

The way home seemed much longer. It's a long day on the coach overall, with only a few hours at your destination before you're back on the road again. Next time, I think we'll do it in the car. Assuming of course that they don't win the playoffs, which they're still looking a good bet to be competing in come the end of the season.

When I finally arrived home, at about eleven, I was knackered and didn't fancy reading up on what was being said on the forums. I can see why people are frustrated, but it needs to be put into perspective a bit. We're not a top 6 side, or even a top ten. We needed to survive this season, and push on next time. So far, we're still well on course for that. The thing I fear most is that Robins is forced out of this club, because we're not a million miles from being a good side and I still believe MR is the man who can take us forward, given the chance.

Q.P.R next week is winnable and could help push us up the table. The league is so tight around us that a win next week could put us on the brink of the top half, which would be a fantastic finishing position. I'm going to miss watching the Reds in the summer, so I intend to try and enjoy these last couple of games. Hopefully, Robins will give the players a major kick up the backside and they can give us something else to cheer about before this season reaches its conclusion.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Another week, another stalemate

It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't great to watch, but at least we're finally safe for another season. Although you wouldn't think it was much of an achievement given some of the rumblings I heard coming from Oakwell after this match.

For the last few weeks I've been getting a bit worried about this relegation battle going on below us. I don't like talking about safety until it's definite and confirmed, so I've not been able to relax at all. And yet when I woke up this morning, I had a feeling today would be the day. Don't ask me why, it was just a feeling, but I just fancied us to put our relegation fears to bed once and for all. In that respect, the Reds didn't disappoint, although in many other ways on the pitch they did.

I was in a good mood from the moment I woke up, mainly thanks to the glorious summer sunshine glaring through the bedroom window. Football in the summer is unbeatable, and today was no different. As much as I've been wishing this season to end so we can bask in the feeling of safety for another season, I'll certainly miss days like this in close season. The World Cup will help, but it's just not the same.

We set off in plenty of time to Oakwell, since we had a few errands to run before the match. The first one was to get to the box office and get our Swansea tickets sorted out for next weekend. Recent performances have had us questioning whether trekking all the way to Swansea to watch a side who've all but given in on the season was worth spending money on, but after much deliberation we decided to show our faces and get the tickets bought. After all, the season is so nearly over, so we might as well make the most of it while we can.

Once the tickets were sorted, it was time to head to the bookies and get some bets put on the Grand National. I never, ever bet on horse racing apart from the Grand National, so it's only ever guesswork for me. My dad, however, had a list as long as his arm of 10 different horses to back, all on the behalf of my mum, who really gets Grand National fever. After standing in the bookies for 10 minutes while he sorted out all the bets he was putting on, we were finally on our way to the pub to soak up the summer atmosphere before the game.

Only, when we got to the boozer, my dad realised he'd only bet on 9 horses, meaning he'd missed one out somewhere. And he'd binned the list with his bets on. He was convinced that the horse he'd missed would come in, and he'd be in all sorts of trouble when he got back home, but he wasn't concerned enough to leave his pint and jog back to the bookies. Luckily, the horse never came in, and no harm was done.

Speaking of horse racing, we got talking to a couple of Derby fans in the pub, one of which owned a couple of race horses himself. He mentioned that one of the jockeys riding in the National was a friend of his, and that he'd given up the chance to be there to watch the Rams at Oakwell. He's probably regretting that decision now after that display.

The lads we were talking to were top notch, and came across as having a similar mindset to ourselves. They know where their club stand, and where they want to be. They are proud of their attendances and their generally large support, and rightly so, but overall they were more than happy with surviving another season at this level. They were also quick to condemn some of the wages their players are picking up, and seemed insistent that a big change was needed at the club if they were to be successful next time around.

We also ended up talking to a Stoke fan, rather oddly. Obviously he was in South Yorkshire for the day out with some Derby friends, with his Stoke team playing on Sunday. He remembered with glee his last journey to Oakwell, when Trevor Teapot awarded them their 146th minute penalty to rob us of the win and draw the match 3-3.

As the clock ticked down towards the kick off, the Derby fans began to get a sweat on, thinking they were going to miss the kick off. We tried to reassure the lads that they were less than ten minutes away from the ground so there was no need to rush away, but with more and more people exiting the pub, nerves got the better of them and they headed off towards the ground. We wished them luck for the rest of the season, and told them we'd see them next time. Then it was off to the game ourselves.

The season ticket book is looking depressingly empty these days. It always makes me sad, this time of the season. I can't operate properly without football every weekend, and the emptiness of my season ticket served as a cruel reminder that another season is about ready to draw to a close.

As we got sat down, the teams were entering the playing field. Derby had brought just over a thousand fans with them, which is ok although considering their current form and the weather, I was a bit disappointed. I expected more than that. There's nothing like seeing the away end full, it certainly adds to the atmosphere at Oakwell, which was much better than last time out against Peterborough. At least they'd got the sound system working today, which was a massive improvement and made the place feel less like a morgue.

The game itself was frantic to start with, but rather low on quality. Soon, however, it settled down and both sides began to play with the same lack of interest. Both of our seasons have fizzled out recently, and it was looking more and more like a training match as every minute ticked by.

Yet again, we looked pretty toothless going forward. The last few weeks have been a bit worrying from an attacking point of view. Our defence finally seems to be playing with confidence, and the clean sheets have been getting more and more frequent, but I honestly feel we could have played until next Saturday and not have scored. Another worry recently has been our inability to pick a pass out, and that was something that was on show again today.

At half time, it was difficult to decide whether changes were needed or not. It hadn't been a bad performance, just indifferent. Robins kept it as it was, and I don't think it was the wrong choice.

The second half, much like the first, petered out into nothing and by the end both sides had accepted a point. Tackles stopped flying in, players from both sides began to pull out of 50/50 challenges, and the minutes dragged by as both sides accepted a point that confirmed Championship safety. The MOTM went to Shotton, probably because he was the only one who didn't really make any mistakes. In all honesty, it could have been a toss up, because nobody did enough to clinch it.

One criticism today would be the amount of time which had elapsed before a substitution was made by us. I thought the game was crying out for Butterfield for a long time, and I was surprised the change didn't come sooner.

When the full time whistle went, the boo's rang out around the ground, which was disappointing to hear. It wasn't our best, but was it really worthy of booing the players off?? I've seen much, much worse performances than that before, and will do again no doubt, so I don't think booing was necessary or warranted.

In the toilet before we set off home, we had the pleasure of listening to some bloke mouthing off about Robins not being up to the job and being "worse than Davey". Now, the last few weeks haven't been anything like convincing, but have we got to that point already? Robins has worked miracles this season and deserves much more immunity from the boo boys than he's getting. And his comment about hoping we get tanked 9-0 at Swansea next week was brilliant. I can only presume that it won't affect him, since he's probably not going, and probably doesn't go to many home games either. A few people around him were shaking their heads in disbelief, and rightly so, because it was crazy talk.

On the way home, we figured out that we were mathematically safe, due to the remaining fixtures for the other struggling teams. Wednesday and Palace meet each other on the last day, meaning neither of them can catch us now. I'm so glad we've finally confirmed that. Maybe now we can enjoy the last few matches and play without pressure. Hopefully, we can end the season with one more win at least and give us fans something to cheer about. Maybe it'll even shut that lad from the toilets up and make him appreciate just how far we've come recently, because it's worth bearing in mind.

That journey to Swansea is pretty intimidating next week, considering they need the points to keep their hopes for the playoffs alive, especially after other results today. Like I said before, hopefully we can relax and enjoy ourselves a little after finally, finally confirming our place in the Championship for another season.

The season might well be coming to an end, but it's time these players stepped up and showed the paying public that they still want to finish as high as they can in this division. They owe us that much.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 5 April 2010

One point closer...

It's a sad day to be a Peterborough fan, but it's still not rosy being a Red either. When are we going to get over that finish line, once and for all, and put this relegation thought out of our heads??

This game today had all the hallmarks of another let down for us. Just like against Plymouth, or Wednesday, or Palace or numerous others this season, we've managed to throw away more points against a side struggling at the wrong end of the division.

As the games are running out, we still can't quite get to safety, but I was confident that a win today would have been enough. Unfortunately, I was less confident about the game itself. Recently, we've been toothless going forward. We needed something today to lift the supporters, and finally put the season to bed and allow us to plan for another year in the Championship.

Having arrived at the ground early, Oakwell seemed really quiet. Not many people were milling about outside, or in the pub. It's such a strange feeling, the Easter Monday game. It throws me out, having a 3 o'clock kick off and yet having to go to work the next day. Something just doesn't feel right about it.

Inside the ground, it was even quieter, due to the PA system not working. It's amazing how empty the place feels without music blaring out. I don't usually spend much time actually listening to the tunes before the game, but it was certainly missed today. It almost felt right from the start that it wasn't going to be our day today. Everything was pointing towards it.

The game itself wasn't actually a bad one, certainly not compared to some of the dross we've watched in the last few weeks, but after a decent start from us, we were soon behind. The goal was soft, and immediately I was beginning to fear the worst. Luckily, we hit straight back, Humey dragging us level. Still, we never really pushed on and probably could have gone in behind at the break.

Again, Oakwell without the half time entertainment is a weird place to be. Not least because the players coming out takes everyone by surprise. Having nearly missed the kick off, I was at it again, only just making it back in time. They need to get that PA system sorted by Saturday, it throws my whole half time routine out of sync without it.

In the second half, we were the better side and probably should have put the game to bed long before they retook the lead, thanks to some more slack defending. Hume and Macken worked really well together today, and when Macken went off for Andy Gray, most people feared the worst. But Gray did well too, and won a superb flick on for our second equaliser of the afternoon. To be fair, if anyone gets a kicking today, it should be the defence, who never looked truly comfortable all afternoon, particularly when Craig Mackail-Smith came on late on. He ran Big Darren Moore ragged, and probably could have put the visitors out of sight by the end.

For us, Hume was MOTM and I think it's probably fair, although one or two others might have claimed they'd done enough to win it. Disco played well, considering how long it's been since he started a game, and Macken was good too. Overall though, Humey probably did deserve it. He looked like he enjoyed his goals too. He certainly needed them.

I felt a bit sorry for Peterborough when Hume bundled his second goal home. Relegation is a horrible feeling, and I never want to go through again. They've battled bravely against it for a long time now. I loved our visit to London Road earlier in the season. Their fans were top class that day, and so was the ground and the whole experience in general, and since that day I was hoping they'd get out of the bottom three, but sadly it wasn't to be for them. I wish them luck in League 1, and I hope they come back up.

Us, on the other hand, I still can't bring myself to say we're safe yet, because we are in free fall at the moment. 1 win in 9 is relegation form, make no mistake, and perhaps the amount of games left this season could be our saving grace. I'm glad we don't have another 10 to play, otherwise I'd be feeling very, very twitchy after this result.

After the match, Football Heaven was rather depressing to listen to, given the dreadful results for all the local teams today. One of those days to forget for everyone, except maybe Sheffield United, who've not kicked off yet. Lets hope they round off a poor day for South Yorkshire.

Derby next week will be another challenge, but it's winnable yet again. Right now, we're probably one more win away from another Championship season guaranteed, so hopefully we'll get it here at Oakwell next week. I don't fancy making that long trip to Swansea still looking over our shoulders.

Mainly now, I just want this season to be over. If we can get another win, preferably next week, we can begin to plan for another year and put this difficult season to bed. Finally.