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

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Pre-season: Sheffield Wednesday (H)

I've missed this feeling. The feeling of beating the old enemy, and further crushing their already-weakened spirit. It's such a shame we won't get to do it in the league this season.

In the build up to this game, I toyed with the idea of not going. I was facing the journey and the match alone, since my dad couldn't make it again. And the missus had no intention of sitting in the home end for this one. Not that I could understand why, since I've been convinced for a while that we'd lose this game. If anything, I thought she'd be eager to join me, sit right in the heart of the Ponty End, smirking all evening.

I wish she'd come now. It would have been very enjoyable.

I've been yearning for a change before the season begins. Not a massive change, just a cheeky game in another side of the ground. The plan was to head for the West stand for one of the pre-season friendlies, but I hadn't reckoned on it being closed, so that's on hold now until the Rochdale Carling Cup tie. Instead I decided to take a nostalgia trip and sit in the upper tier of the East stand. Back in 2000, I had a season ticket up there and watched Hignett and co. come agonisingly close to guiding us to the Premiership for the second time. That season still stands out as one of my favourite of all time, and I'd not sat up there since then, so it seemed like a great idea.

Walking around the old places I used to stand, where we used to get a burger and a drink, it was strange. It's hard to believe it's been a whole decade since those days.

Of course, I remembered why we don't sit there anymore when I headed to the seats; the sun being in my direct eye line. I could barely make out the shadowy figure of Toby Tyke bombing from the halfway line and smashing the ball home in front of the away end. Why doesn't he do this anymore? He used to do it every home game, and it never got old. Maybe yesterday was a signal of him bringing it back?

Without wanting to pay the Deedars too many compliments, they brought a decent crowd for a friendly, especially one they knew was going to be as close to torture as possible. A newly relegated side, low on money and confidence, playing a local rival away from home? Someone at Wednesday must have a sense of humour.

This is more than can be said for Don Rowing. I'm not sure why Wednesday idolise that fat topless bloke, but banning him seems a bit over the top. I can't see how he poses a threat to safety. In fact, our lass and her dad know him and see him at most away games, and insist he's usually the one attempting to defuse tense situations, rather than initiating them. Besides, a ban for removing a shirt? How did Newcastle keep all their fans in Oakwell last season? Most of them had their shirts swinging above their heads right from the start, but I'd be willing to bet that if we drew them in the FA Cup this season, we'd still be flogging them 7,500 tickets again. Madness.

With the atmosphere building (as much as it can for a friendly game), the crowd singing back and forth, and the sun still gleaming, the players entered the pitch ready to start the game. I expected Liam Dickinson to start yesterday, but he was on the bench again, with Andy Gray starting. He's had a good run in the first team so far has Gray, and is beginning to look better. For the first time in a long time, nobody around me booed or jeered him, which made a pleasant change too.

The game kicked off, and we were rampant. The slick passing which we'd displayed so far in pre-season was back on show, and at times Wednesday were left chasing shadows. Neat little triangles, one touch passing, it was superb to watch, and effective too. It yielded a goal just 6 minutes into the game, Goran Lovre supplying a fantastic low cross after some good play in midfield, which Devaney swept home. We deserved it too, and as the half wore on, we really should have made our dominance count for more.

Last season, Rotherham fans mocked us when we gave MR the job, dismissing Robins as a long ball merchant, who preferred to grind out ugly wins rather than concern himself with playing good football. And I was worried, because at times last season, their assessment looked accurate. But Robins is building and developing his own team here. And I know it's difficult to judge on a couple of meaningless friendlies against League One opposition such as Wednesday (that feels good to say) but it's hard not to be excited.

At half time, you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief from the visiting fans. There team had been totally outplayed, failing to muster a single shot on target, and 2 or 3 nil wouldn't have been harsh.

But it was always inevitable that the away team would start the second half with more impetus, and they certainly did so. They began to get a foothold in the game, and a came close on a couple of occasions to managing to force Steele into a save. Sadly for them, our defence stood firm, blocking anything that came their way, and when Goran Lovre headed in our second goal with 20 minutes left, the game was all but over.

Then the substitutes came. Sweeping changes for both sides. For us, on lumbered Liam Dickinson, who really failed to whet the appetite in his brief cameo. Our mystery trialist, who definitely ISN'T Steven Bennett, and is actually Jeronimo something-or-other, came on and showed a few glimpses of talent, but looked rather off the pace. Surely MR will give this lad a start at Chesterfield on Saturday? Potter was also on the pitch, having come on at half time for Jay McEveley after a slight injury scare, but failed to impress with some erratic passing and even more erratic defending. But am I right in thinking this was his first appearance of the pre-season? Maybe that sharpness will come. We all know he can pass and defend well enough, we saw it last season.

As the match petered out, the Wednesday fans filtered away, no doubt concerned about their teams poor pre-season. They've failed to beat anyone of note, and aren't scoring many goals. On yesterday’s evidence, they don't look the title challengers they're no doubt going to be tipped as. But things can change quickly, especially when the games become more serious.

The final whistle went after a minute of injury time, and I filtered out into the car park and off on my way home, satisfied with everything. The performance levels were good, the play was (at times) excellent to witness, and everyone who had started played well. Shackell again looked formidable in the heart of the defence, and his cool, collected style when he's in possession is clearly working wonders for Steven Foster too. They're looking pretty solid at the moment. McEveley is slowly getting better, as is Goran Lovre, and even Nathan Doyle looked good last night, if not a little hit and miss with his passing. Andy Gray held the ball up well, and Adam Hammill is playing with confidence, something he hasn't done since Home Park in May 2009. It's hard to criticise anyone. Some might argue that Sheffield Wednesday weren't all full strength, and maybe that's true, but you can only beat what's in front of you. And we did so, convincingly.

All the way home, I was thinking about our performance. I couldn't wait to get in and brag. I'm playing poker with the father-in-law on Saturday night, and there's gonna be some serious ribbing going on.

In truth, I just can't wait for this season to begin. But first we've got the small matter of Chesterfield to attend to. A new ground to see, and hopefully another good performance. And a last chance for the players to stake their place in that first eleven that'll walk out at Loftus Road, in just over a weeks time.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Pre-season: Huddersfield Town (H)

After Tuesday nights relatively stress-free victory against York City, the signs looked good. Today, they're looking a little bit better still.

Not that I'd been holding out much hope for this one. I'm not entirely sure why, but I fancied Huddersfield to beat us. Maybe revenge for that wonderful night in 2006 when we sent them packing out of the playoffs, on our march back into Championship football? Whatever the reason, I felt sure I'd be writing about our first pre-season defeat tonight.

It was gonna be an interesting experience for me, because my dad wasn't coming with me, but the missus was, and as I've mentioned before, she's a Wendy fan. She wasn't especially happy about coming, and she spent the morning making sly digs whenever she got the opportunity. I let it go though. After all, it's nothing compared to the stick I'm gonna be giving her and her dad in a couple of days when League One's most bankrupt newcomers arrive at Oakwell, ready for their 90 minutes of pure, uninterrupted piss-taking.

The first job of the day, once we'd arrived at Oakwell, was to go and get some tickets for Chesterfield bought. I also contemplated getting the new home shirt, but I've decided to delay the inevitable. Especially since I'll be back at Oakwell tomorrow, paying £400 or so on those Q.P.R tickets.

It was nice to be walking around the place, with the sun beaming down, taking it all in again. The last time I came to Oakwell, to pick up the season tickets, it was a grey, miserable day, and the new season seemed like decades away. Today, all the usual feelings came flooding back. Seeing away fans milling around, looking lost as they try and find the away end, watching the programme sellers setting their stalls around the car park, hearing the familiar, soothing sound of someone bellowing "HALF TIME DRAW" in your lughole as you walk by; aye, I'm just about ready for the real stuff to begin.

Not that I don't enjoy the pre-season. It's nice to be able to sit through a Yorkshire derby without constantly biting the nails, staring forlornly at the scoreboard and wrestling with that sick feeling I always get in my stomach. In a few weeks, we'll be welcoming Leeds to Oakwell, and I'm nervous about that already, so it's just nice to be able to watch with the pressure off.

Anyway, we got our Chesterfield tickets, had a sneaky look at the new home shirt up close, and had a steady walk to the Gatehouse for a cheeky pint before the game. It went down a treat in the summer sun, and only served to put me in the mood for the match. Before long, it was time to make the short walk from town, up and over the hill and towards Oakwell. You wouldn't believe how much I've missed that walk.

We got to the ground, grabbed a quick bite to eat and had a read of the match day programme, before sitting down. I'd been planning on sitting in the West stand for this game, just as a change from the norm, so I was gutted when I found out it was closed. So I decided to stick with what I know, and got sat down in the Ponty End, ready to watch the warm up.

Well, that was the plan, only there didn't seem to be any players warming up anywhere. God knows why, but they were training on the academy pitches. I suppose they were trying to keep the pitch as pristine as possible for as long as possible. To be fair, it looked great. It won't last.

When the players came out, I got the usual butterflies that I always get when I'm at Oakwell. It was the perfect day to be back.

The game itself was a decent encounter. For the opening 20 minutes or so, we were fantastic. We knocked the ball around, created chances, and saw Adam Hammill score 2 absolute wonder goals. Usually it's hard to celebrate goals in a friendly match, but not when they're as fantastic as those two. We'll probably not see a better goal this season at Oakwell than his second, it certainly had shades of Brian Howard vs. Cardiff.

I've been impressed with the way we seem more comfortable on the ball in these last two games. Suddenly, players are looking to pass and move, playing with patience and waiting for the chance to advance. It's a much better tactic than lumping the ball forward, and so far it's been successful. It's good to see MR is trying to get us playing the right way, and even better to see his labour bear fruit on the pitch.

Not that the game was one-sided. As the first half wore on, Huddersfield began to come into the game,creating some good chances along the way, and could easily have been back in the game before half time. But they were wasteful in front of goal, and by the time Hammill had scored his 3rd, from a great team move, the game looked to be over.

Mystery Trialist/Steven Bennett
At half time, Hugo took to the pitch for the first time since his very public return to the club, and it was nice to see him get a good welcome, if not a bit disappointing to see him acting like a little girl when the sprinklers got him. He was warming up alongside "Steven Bennett", who apparently wasn't "Steven Bennett" at all, but the "mystery trialist" we were taking a look at. I'm not entirely sure who he was, but it was all rather confusing, and I'm still not entirely sure what's going on.

Also, there was a young lad sitting in the West stand with what looked like his agent, which could be a sign that MR is about to do some more business for the club. Couple this with the rumours that Shotton was at the game too yesterday, and it might be a good week for us.

The second half was a bit of a non-event, with Huddersfield getting the goal their play deserved. By this time, MR had made plenty of changes and the team was unrecognisable from the one that had started the game. It was pretty even, with both teams having spells of possession. Their goal was a weak header from one-time Reds target Theo Robinson, although quite why Preece was on his arse in the goalmouth is a mystery. But it didn't really take the gloss off a good performance.

The new boys impressed again. I can't speak highly enough of Shackell, he's class. Every touch is brilliant, he's always calm and collected on the ball. And he brings the ball forward nicely, always looking to pass rather than smash it long. O'Brien too had a much better game, looking menacing on either wing. Lovre is still catching up with the pace of the games, but again showed flashes of what we can expect. And McEveley was solid and steady again.

In fact, nobody stood out as having a poor game. Even Dickinson came on and showed a few decent touches. I'd like to see him start a game now, see what he can do.

Micky Boulding, back in a Reds shirt
Micky Boulding also got on the pitch and put himself about a bit. In fact, he almost bundled that late corner in but it was cleared from the goalmouth by some desperate defending. I don't think he'll secure the contract he's after, but I'd love to see him get a goal in pre-season, just for old times sake.

The full time whistle came and went, and we filtered out into the street. All the talk around us seemed positive and most could appreciate that we'd seen a good performance. Say what you like about friendlies, but when they're going well, they create a real buzz. With every passing game, I'm more and more eager to get the campaign underway.

And as an added bonus, on the way home we found out Wendy had lost at Scunny, which is always nice to hear. I kept the gloating down to a minimum with our lass. They'll be plenty of time for that on Tuesday night anyway.

I've a sneaking suspicion Wednesday might beat us, but I had that same feeling about Huddersfield and I was proven wrong. Even so, what we've seen so far has filled me with a lot of confidence. We're playing the right way, looking to do the right things and so far it's working. And for the first time in a long time, we seem to have players who want to be in posession, who are capable of remaining calm and finding a team mate. Maybe I'm reading too much into a couple of meaningless games, but it's hard not to feel positive at the moment. It's scary feeling this optimistic in the build up to a new season. I just hope Wendesday don't go and ruin it all on Tuesday.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Pre-Season: York City (A)

Hello and welcome back to Seeing Red for the 2010/11 season. Hope the Summer has treated you well, and suitably whet your appetite for another 9 months of torture, agony, excitement, drama, tension, and unbridled ecstasy.

In typically stubborn fashion, I'm gonna sweep the World Cup under the carpet and pretend it never happened. We've all debated to death just who let us down and how. We've sat in pubs until the early hours, drowning our sorrows and frantically trying to piece together the last remaining fragments of our nations shattered pride. And we've watched Spain lift the fabulous, imaginatively named 'FIFA World Cup Trophy' and conquer the world, an honour we'd all love to see England earn once more.

No more watching prancing, flouncing, wailing, flailing jessies waving their imaginary cards at some Korean referee. No more listening to that incessant drone, that constant, unmissable noise which prompted t.v. viewers all over England to press their mute button for some peace and quiet (no, not Mark Lawrenson, the vuvuzela's). And no more England flags waving dejectedly in the wind, no more pubs full of half-cut Englishmen (and women) urging the team on, clinging to the faint hope that we CAN win the World Cup, that we're destined for glory. No more.

It's over now. For another 4 years, our World Cup dream sleeps. Wake it up in 2014.

The proper stuff, back again
Now we're back into the proper stuff. And there's nowt more proper than a wet, miserable Tuesday night stood on an open terrace watching the Reds. Top notch.

I'd never been to the York ground before this friendly, but I'd been looking forward to it. Last season, with York still in the FA Cup draw, I was praying to any higher being that would listen, hoping their number would be paired with ours. Sadly, we ended up with Scunny and that was the end of that, so when the pre-season fixtures were announced, and Bootham Crescent was up first, I was pretty chuffed.

The day seemed to be dragging at work, as the excitement built up. I know most people wouldn't get excited about some meaningless pre-season friendly, but I can't help it. I spent most of the morning frantically checking the official site, hoping for some good news on the 'new signings' front. And then we got some. Hugo, back home where he belongs. Sure, he left to find himself a new challenge, to see if the grass was greener, and quickly realised it wasn't, and came crawling back, eager to continue his love affair with Barnsley. Just like Michael Boulding. In all seriousness though, I welcome him back. He's a good player, and we would've missed him this season. Mark Robins clearly thinks a lot of him. Why else would he have given Hugo so much leeway, when Boggy was kicked out on his arse for stalling?

I was anticipating a nice, pleasant journey through to York, despite the torrential downpour which lasted the whole way there. I've been plenty of times, and was planning to park in the hospital car park, about 5 minutes away from the ground. So I made the fatal mistake of leaving the sat-nav at home, boxed up. I was so sure I knew the way. In my defence, I DID know the way, I just hadn't reckoned with a road being closed. It totally threw us out. So our nice, pleasant journey to York became a desperate drive around the city centre, marauding through taxi routes and nearly running down pedestrians. Eventually, we did manage to find our way back onto a road I knew, somehow, and made it to the hospital in plenty of time.

We asked a local where the ground was and walked with them, chatting about the upcoming season. These particular York fans just didn't fancy the disappointment of another Wembley heartache. I had to have a giggle when one of them said "It's a horrible feeling, getting to Wembley and just not turning up". I can relate with that. I reckon Kayode Odejayi can too. Anyway, we followed them towards the ground, then followed the huge police presence to the away end. It seemed a bit over the top, but given what happened with those Hull fans, rioting in a pub in the city centre, the old bill were clearly taking no chances.

One of the away stands
The ground was pretty much what I was expecting, and I liked it. Since Peterborough last season, I've had a real soft spot for these rare, standing terraces, which was partly the reason I was looking forward to this game so much beforehand. I can imagine the atmosphere in the away end being electric in a competitive match. I know who I'm hoping for in the FA Cup again this season.

The game then. It wasn't the best, naturally, but we did well. The new boys were a mixed bag. McEveley, O'Brien and Lovre all started slowly, with O'Brien in particular failing to get into the game. But it's early days, so it can be forgiven. The stand out performer from the newbies was Jason Shackell. He was immense, and slotted perfectly into the back four. He looked like he'd been playing there for years, rather than months. He tailed off as the game wore on, which could be down to fitness, but he looks an exciting prospect and if we can keep him fit, he could turn out to be a huge player for us next season.

Some of the newbies warming up
As for the others, it was solid, rather than spectacular. Steele made some good saves, and showed a few glimpses of the erratic streak which got him, and us, into trouble at times last season. Bobby was his usual, solid self, and Humey worked hard as he always does, and put in a fantastic cross for the second goal. Disco ran at people, but showed no desire to pass the ball, and missed a couple of glorious opportunities to slide people through. Fozzie looked ok, although he took a knock early and needed treatment for a blood injury. Hopefully, without the burden of captaincy hanging over his head, Foster can kick on and get back to being the player he was when he first signed. Doyle was also steady, although it'll be interesting to see how prominently he figures in MR's plans, especially now Colace has re-signed.

I'll save a special mention for Andy Gray, who scored two very good goals, despite taking yet more unnecessary flak from some Reds fans. His first strike especially was real quality, and a glimpse of what he can do. It's no coincidence that many managers have paid good money to sign him in the past, and I hope he can shove some taunts down a few throats this season.

The rain clouds were gathering...
At half time, someone nearby pointed to a rather angry looking sky, with a black cloud hovering menacingly close to the ground. Suddenly, I found myself wishing I'd bothered to bring a coat, but luckily the weather held out until just after full time. Not that a bit of water bothers me, of course...

The second half kicked off, with the Reds playing towards their own fans massed behind the goal, although there seemed to be Reds fans all over the ground. I could see flags to the left and right of the away end, to the point that it was beginning to feel like a home game. Players who hadn't performed at their best in the first 45 minutes began to settle down a bit, and by the end everyone had put a decent shift in, including the lads who came on (rather late) as subs. Jamil Adam looks a tidy little prospect, and Dicko Mk. II also had a couple of decent touches, so both showed some real potential. Andy Gray took his second goal well, and we probably could have had a couple more, although York could have scored themselves. Overall, it was a decent workout for them, and they showed enough to excite me further about the new season.

My favourite moment was Disco screaming and shouting at young Jamil Adam for not supplying him with a pass in the box, blatantly ignoring the fact that earlier in the half, he himself missed a much simpler pass to a totally unmarked Iain Hume. The reaction from the crowd said enough. I particularly liked the shout from one bloke of "Tek no gorm lad, he never bloody passes". The look on Disco's face after he clearly heard this: priceless.

When the full time whistle went, the clouds which had been threatening to unleash all night did just that, and the heavens opened, so it was a mad dash to the car, making sure to smile and wave for the police cameras which filmed out exit. No time to even exchange pleasantries with the home faithful, who I do hope can get back into the Football League this season. It was a nice ground, the folk seemed decent and I wouldn't begrudge them some success. And it'd take us one step closer to playing them in a competitive game too, so come on York, make it happen.

Huddersfield will be a much sterner test that York provided, especially for our newly assembled defensive unit. They have some good, young goalscorers at the Galpharm, and I'm sure they'll want to impress against a Championship club, particularly Theo Robinson, who might well see a chance to persuade MR to part with some cash and bring him to Oakwell. But after last night, the signs look good.

Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.