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

Monday, 3 May 2010

Reds end season on a high at Hawthorns

So another season has passed us by. Overall, it's not been a bad one really has it?

I've got to say, I was much more up for this on Saturday night than I was Sunday morning when the alarm awoke me from my slumber. The last day of the season is traditionally supposed to be bathed in glorious sunshine, a perfect day for football, and Sunday was far from that. When I opened the curtains, the first thing I saw was rain.

On the last day?!

It's just not allowed to happen, and it had already put a downer on the day before we'd even set off.

Of course, the opposition had their part to play in my downbeat mood too. I still fully remember the total humiliation of our last visit to West Brom, and it had a lot of the hallmarks of Sundays match; last game, away from home, West Brom in party mood after a successful season, with us guaranteed another year in the Championship with 'nowt to play for. That 7-0 has been running through my head all week, and who could honestly say it wasn't gonna happen again?

Of course, any stress I was feeling paled into insignificance in comparison to what the missus was going through. It was crunch day for the Wendies, and she was very, very stressed. And I bore the brunt of that stress. She practically kicked me out of the door Sunday morning. Say what you want about our supposedly "boring" end to the season, but it's a much better scenario than the one she was facing up to.

I remember that feeling last season, knowing a win at Plymouth would be enough to secure safety, and hoping that Charlton would do us a favour and beat Norwich, just in case like. It's horrible to go through.

I did wish her luck, and I did actually mean it too. I know, I know. For shame.

We set off at half 9, and arrived in plenty of time at The Hawthorns. Outside the ground, the road was lined with car park attendants in hi-vis jackets touting for customers, enticing drivers to come park in their premises, like some sort of Brummie looky-looky men. I rather liked it, it gave the journey a 'continental' feeling that the weather had failed to provide.

I like The Hawthorns. I know it's been renovated fairly recently, but it still retains its traditional feel. I love the whole 'industrial' feel of the place. And those blue gates looked cracking near the club shop. Inside, the away end is pretty cramped up, although we weren't exactly packing the place out so it didn't effect us too much today. The view was good too and although the home atmosphere was a bit subdued for a team on their way back into the Premiership, I did like the place.

Before kick off, someone with a sense of humour obviously thought it was a good idea to have the mascots playing a game of keep-ball, West Brom vs. Barnsley. Which would have been ok, had West Brom not had roughly 14 mascots to our paltry 1. Our mascot did the only thing he could in the circumstances, and allowed the West Brom mascots plenty of time on the ball, in an obvious attempt to wear them out. Sadly it didn't really work, but we were all behind him in the stands, urging him on.

As the players came out, the enormity of the day began to sink in. This was the last game of the season. THE LAST GAME! For months! I can barely get through the international breaks, never mind the whole summer. The World Cup is nice, but it's just not the same. I'll miss these afternoons, and even this terrible run of form hasn't dampened my spirits. I mean, what else would I do on a Saturday afternoon? It's like a drug, football. I can't cope without my regular fix every week.

I was determined to make the most of this now. I was just hoping the team had the same mindset.

The game was all ready to kick off, with beach balls and a variety of other inflatables flying around the ground. I was looking forward to getting into this "party mood" they'd been planning all week. Even if it was God damn freezing.

We started brighter than our hosts and probably should have been ahead when Disco pulled a shot wide from a decent position after just a couple of minutes. We were in full voice by this point, and one or two celebrities had started to take their seats. I never knew Julius Ceasar was a dingle, nor have I seen Rafael, Donatello or ANY of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at previous Barnsley games, so it was a bit of a shock. At this point, the party atmosphere was more vibrant and much louder in the away end. Of course, most of the songs were in relation to Sheffield Wednesdays plight, but the performance on the pitch was giving us plenty to sing about too.

Why can't we play like we did yesterday every week? Or at least most weeks? We've not played well since Preston all those months ago, but yesterday showed that we can play well when we put our minds to it. It's frustrating that we don't do it against some of the lower teams in this division, instead of saving it for the likes of West Brom, Cardiff and the other top teams, Newcastle away excluded obviously.

The Mexican waves started next, all the home fans and the away end too. I saw a West Brom fan mention this on the 606 forum the day before, he was disgusted that Middlesbrough hadn't joined in with it a few weeks previously, and hoped we'd join in and not spoil the fun. I don't think he'll be disappointed with our contribution.

It was so relaxed by this point. It's nice to not worry about what is going on elsewhere on the final day. I can think of one team who were in a much worse position than us though...

The first cheer went up behind me, and it quickly spread around the rest of the away end. I got several texts, some of which simply bore the name 'Alan Lee'. We knew what it meant. I didn't really know how to feel. It's difficult to think of someone you care about going through so much pain elsewhere. It was a strange, strange feeling.

After an eventful first half, in which West Brom missed one or two decent chances, the game was goalless. By then, news had filtered through that Wednesday had equalised just before half time. The missus was just about holding it together as I spoke to her on the phone. Just about.

This season has provided some strange moments, but I've got to say, being stood in the toilets at half time with Beetlejuice to my left and Pamela Anderson to my right probably tops them all. Surely Pamela was in the wrong toilet? I've seen that tape before and she looked all woman to me, if I recall rightly.

The second half kicked off and we started brightly again, and got our noses in front thanks to 'Player of the Season' Hugo Colace. I missed this goal, I was too busy watching the home fans bouncing up and down to our left. It stopped them bouncing pretty quickly. I've missed quite a few goals this season just through not concentrating, I'm really gonna have to buy the end of season DVD.

After that, it was backs to the wall for a lot of the game. West Brom created chance after chance but their finishing was woeful at times. But the writing was on the wall and we all knew the sucker punch was gonna come. It was more a question of when.

During a ten minute spell, when we could barely get them out of our half, they won several corners in a row all of which were taken by Chris Brunt, who was barraged throughout the game, as you'd expect. By they fourth or fifth corner, he finally acknowledged the stick we were giving him and allowed himself the slightest of smiles and a timid thumbs-up. Was it sarcastic? Maybe, but it made me smile anyway.

The next big cheer was for the second Palace goal, scored by Darren Ambrose. Right up until this point, I still thought Wednesday would find a way out of their predicament. This was the first moment it dawned on me that Wednesday were going down. Again, given my situation I wasn't too sure how to feel about it. I tried to ring the missus but got no answer. Maybe she knew too.

Back at our game, Robins made the decision to substitute Big Dave, and the ovation from all four sides of the ground was a fantastic sight to behold. Daz had been made captain for the day with Fozzie on the bench, and this moment led most people around us to believe that this was to be his final appearance in a Reds shirt. The rumours have been circulating for a few days now about whether Moore will be offered a new deal, but it's not looking good. We'll miss him though, he was fantastic throughout this game and he's had a good season.

There aren't many players like Darren Moore around. He's a model pro, a real character and football as a whole will be much worse off without him. Thanks for the service, Big Dave. You deserved that recepion on Sunday. I hope it stays with you forever.

The home breakthrough finally came in the final minute after some more dreadful defending from us. We were sitting so deep by this point, it was inevitable. Scottish midfielder Graham Dorrans got the goal, and naturally the home fans went crazy, running onto the pitch and boing-boinging around the place in general. By the time order had been restored, the referee decided not to risk further problems and end the game a couple of minutes early, which was probably just as well for us, given that there was only one team going on to win from that moment.

The final whistle went and people were straight on the phones desperately trying to get news from Hillsborough. We stayed to applaud the home fans as they entered the field of play to celebrate with their players, who've had a fantastic season and deserve their shot at the Premiership again.

We didn't stay behind long enough to watch the West Brom team celebrate their promotion and collect their medals, although we did catch sight of the guy holding his scarf aloft and taunting us as we made our way out. I gestured a couple of times that they were coming straight back down, just to wind him up more than anything, since I don't really have anything against Albion. That was pretty mild compared to most of the gestures from fellow Reds fans around me.

Outside the ground, we got talking to a couple of Albion fans, and asked if they were planning on stopping up this time or not, and they felt pretty confident that with a couple of signings, they'd manage it this time. I hope they stay there, I quite like them and they've been a model for clubs who go up from this level. They don't go crazy and spend more money than they have, they approach it sensibly. I wouldn't begrudge them a bit of success in the top flight.

They also asked us how Teixeira has been getting on. To be honest, I expected more from him, although his past injury problems can't have helped. We told them that we didn't think we'd be signing him permanently next season. I don't believe he's done enough.

By the time we got back to the car, Wednesday's fate had been sealed, so I left the missus alone for a while to reflect on their dreadful season. It brought home just how well we'd done this season too. It could so easily have been us, given the terrible start we had.

Eventually I did talk to her, and she was handling it rather well. A lot better than I would have handled it. She'd also made sure the tv cameras circling Hillsborough caught sight of her in full 'grief' mode. Nobody could say she's camera shy.

The drive home was quiet. I still can't really believe the season is over. It doesn't seem like 5 minutes since we were sat at Hillsborough on the opening day, and now here we are, season over. It's a depressing thought.

And so we made it home, tired and emotional. It's been a rollercoaster of a season, and I am sad to see the back of it. MR has done great things already, but next season we need to step up another level. I've been confident right from the start of his reign that he can turn us around and get us into the top half of the table. Will we achieve this next season? Maybe not, but we can't rush these things. Given where we were, I'm happy just to make steady progress. But it's no exaggeration to say this is the first time I've been genuinely excited about a new season, with genuine hopes and dreams rather than pessimism and fear. I thank Mark Robins for this. Maybe that's a bit premature, but I'm buzzing already

Well, that's it for this season. We've all got a summer away now to rest, recuperate and come back ready for another season in the Coca Cola Championship. Thank you for reading and commenting this season, I'll see you for the next match. Wakefield away? Damn right.

Thank you.