Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. That’s just the way it is. The bad thing is we can’t all be pigeons at the same time and, inevitably, one person’s amazingly brilliant day is another’s shower of doo-doo. This seems to be most true of all with football fans with promotions, relegations and local derbies all taking their toll. But when you get a mid-table clash in bright sunshine at the wonderful time of three o’clock on a Saturday then your day is going to come down to circumstances and individual performance.
Circumstances, for me, were such that I was unattended, unsupervised, unfettered by rules. No “The Boy” who was and is with his mum and sister in an activity hotel in Devon. Unfortunately, I had important work meetings planned on the Friday and Monday. Glum face. Statue. But, you know, every cloud and all that. I strolled in the sunshine around our wonderful town, taking in just what a great place it is when the weather’s nice and you have all day, and then I strolled in to the Welly at the sort of time many of you are still having breakfast, caught up with some old friends, had a pint and watched the cricket. Happy face. Pigeon.
All of which goes some way to explaining why it is I’m bleathering on about statues and activity hotels instead of the game. One in the Welly, one and a half in the Caxton (wonderful pub, you must go, great landlord) and then met Steve who was not camping but was walking up the hill to catch the train to the Swan and even more beer and sunshine. And then I saw him. Old, old friend with whom I have been to many away games in many northern grief holes back when football actually was a bit scary. “Good” you think. Well, said friend doesn’t go much these days but, when he does, we normally lose and he’s therefore regarded as something of a Jonah. Luckily he’d only stopped in for a pint while walking his dog across the downs and was not actually going but we’d still seen him. I should have known then it would be draw.
As we strolled some more to the ground we checked the team news to find out that Dunk had made a Lazurus like recovery and was playing. Harsh on Balogun who’d done nothing much wrong but I suppose if your captain and defensive talisman is available you have to play him. Other than that Groß was back in for Bissouma as we fielded the same side that started against United. More of these two later.
Like United I felt we started strongly, chasing and closing and having far more territory. Fulham may have had the first decent chance, Mitrovic heading over a cross that was partially behind him, but in general we looked a lot more threatening and Fulham took on the real air of an away team. Knockaert and March were having a lot of joy against their full backs. Our full backs once again looked solid. There really wasn’t too much to worry about and then, suddenly we should have been leading the comfortable life of collective pigeons.
We broke from defence quickly and Propper fed Knockaert on the right. He looked for the obviously offside Murray but the latter checked his run, went nowhere near the ball and ran back onside cleverly while Knockaert continued with the ball before slipping it back to him. With Fulham all over the shop Murray went in to the box and turned from goal, drawing a foul. PENALTY!
Unfortunately Groß was the designated taker. His last two penalties had gone in so he was entitled, but how his last one wasn’t saved I have no idea. Sometimes you – maybe the whole ground – just know what’s going to happen. “He’s going to miss” I said to Mark next to me, and his low penalty was saved. Now. This wasn’t a terrible penalty but he telegraphed where it was going in both look and run up. This would later send my friend Ollie vaguely apoplectic over post match beer. “Why do they even have to look at the goal? They’ve been doing this since they were eight and its never moved!”. Fair point, well made. But even then we could and should have scored from the resulting corner, Murray heading just wide from close in.
Still, this would only be a disaster if we conceded.
And concede we did. A beauty of a goal to be fair, Fulham spreading it quickly inside from the right wing and Seri playing a lovely cushioned lob to beat the offside trap and see Schurrle finish with aplomb in to the corner. All that hard work and one nil down.
Still we nearly got it back, early doors in the second half. Propper robbed Mitrovic and played a lovely through ball for March who was one on one with the keeper and hit Row Z with his shot. Go and stand in the statue section with Pascal, Solomon.
The woeful Groß was replaced by Bissouma and then our day got worse. A hopeful long punt up field should have been dealt with by Dunk. A fit Dunk would have dealt with this all day long but the Dunk who was rushed back was out fought by Mitrovic who went through on goal. Ryan stopped the first shot but it rebounded straight to the same player, who stuck it away. Dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Enter our very own pigeon in the form of Murray. He’d been fantastic, again, all afternoon and now he (with lots of help from Knocky) saved the day. Fulham gave it away wastefully at the back, Knockaert’s run took out the whole defence before he slipped it to Murray who showed how to finish a one on one.
On came Ali J and Locadia, the former looking lively, the latter still not quite all there for me, but there was no doubt the momentum had swung our way. Murray drew another clever foul out wide and, from the resulting free kick and aerial ping pong Mitrovic inexplicably handled in the area. Pigeon to statue in one half of football. Murray showed the whole ground how to take a penalty and that was that. 2-2, some mild scenes of joy and we were done. A point gained that could feel like two dropped.
Our post match conversation, Ollie’s penalty rant aside, must have been the same as yours. Was Dunk brought back too early? Yes, undoubtedly. And why has Groß lost his confidence? Last season’s best player and bargain of the year has been made to look extremely ordinary each time out this season. Just as having competition seems to have given Murray a new lease of life so it’s knocked Pascal’s confidence out of the park.
And then? A bus. Craft beer. The Albert. Some bloke off NSC. Feeling wobbly. Another bus. A kebab. And bed. A day in the sun drinking with the best people in the world, my pigeon like demeanour ruined only by some statue like finishing and defending.