In his novel “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish” Douglas Adams introduces us to the character of a lorry driver called Rob McKenna who can never get away from the rain and has noted over two hundred and thirteen different types of it. It’s something I’ve always identified with and while, unlike McKenna, I don’t keep a log of it written down, there is certainly a section of my brain that is dedicated to identifying – and then fleeing from – types of rain. There is the light mizzle that somehow leaves you totally drenched before you’ve reached the end of your street. There’s the gentle drip-drop of a spring or summer shower. And then there’s absolutely shitting it down, horizontally in stair rods, so that you resemble a clothed Olympic swimmer in ten seconds flat. That’s the type we had to put up with before and after yesterday’s game. It was the only dampener on an otherwise wonderful and entertaining afternoon.
Our number is growing both locally and globally. For the last two home games a third child has been added to our regular group. Yesterday my mate’s brother-in-law – a Leeds fan who has seen us from both the WSU and the away end – was staying with him and came with too. Up to now it has been relatively easy to get tickets around where we sit for any extras, but yesterday the normally empty seats were all taken up. Yes a bumper crowd made its way to the ground through rain type 134 (absolutely shitting it down, horizontally in stair rods) and braved the additional security to pack the Amex. It must have been raining hard because The Boy – a programme addict – agreed to get his match day magazine in the concourse rather than outside.
At 2.15 the WSU concourse hummed with sopping wet people. We three adults decided we needed to be wet on the inside too. The boys dived straight under their shelf and began, variously, reading programmes or luzzing Maltesers. I had a nice chat with “16 things” Jem Stone and his dad (“we met on a radio show” “Turn It Up?” “no not that one…..”). There was a genuine air of anticipation though we were acutely aware that Derby had put us out of the top two the night before. We needed to win. I think Hughton managed to get that message across.
We came out of the traps like the favourite in the Wimbledon Derby. The greyhound analogy is a good one, since March and Murphy were flying past their full backs like prize racers easing past a Corgi. Again and again they were put away and crosses came in from all angles that we were just unable to convert. This was all in the first fifteen minutes. Of course such dominance doesn’t just happen. In midfield Kayal was giving a master class while each full back was providing quality ammunition for the hounds. It seemed we had to score and, indeed, on seventeen minutes we did in exactly the manner with which we’d been pressing. Murphy released Rosenior down the left and his low centre reached March who had come inside. His initial half volley came off the back of Hemed’s legs but it dropped invitingly back at Solly’s feet and he lashed in the rebound. 1-0.
Again the lead was not to last long. This was a constant theme last season and has now happened against MK, Burnley and Birmingham too. It’s the only part of our game that needs sorting out and yet Birmingham’s equalizer was of real quality. A slide rule through ball opened us up and it was followed by a precise, outside of the foot pass in to the space on our left where Rosenior, for once, wasn’t. Stockdale saved the initial shot but Toral followed up with a deft header in to an empty net.
This wasn’t to stop our roving wingers and fullbacks. The only thing to stop them was persistent fouling by a banjaxed Birmingham back four. This wasn’t helped by the weak-as-piss referee Gavin Ward, the sort of man who lets ten challenges in a row go unpunished and then books you for complaining (and disallowed a good looking goal for us). The other thing to stop us was injury and this was purely accidental. Rosenior, raiding again down the left, clashed legs and fell nastily in an unfortunate collision. He immediately thumped the turf and one leg wasn’t moving at all. He was stretchered off and it looked nasty and long term (one day after the closure of the loan window too). As he left our new female announcer told a befuddled Amex it was Hemed. Cue much narfing and gags of the ‘get back in the kitchen love’ variety. Oh dear.
The injury brought on the much-loved Calde and everything else continued in the same vein. Kayal controlled the game. March and Murphy looked dangerous every time they had it. We couldn’t quite score. 1-1 at half time.
Here’s why having a pint or an extended wazz at half time is a bad idea. Anyone late back in to their seats – and there were plenty – would have missed us taking the lead. Murphy (again) got free down the left and cut it back for March (again). A thumping shot was saved but Johnny On The Spot Zamora (who *whispers* hadn’t been that great up till then) tapped in the rebound. 2-1. I was tempted to sing THAT song from the Poyet era but I was surrounded by kids.
Birmingham, who had always looked quick and dangerous on the break, now had to press us once again, and too their credit they did. We dropped back a little on the lead, though we introduced the lively James Wilson in to the fray. What a player he looks. On another day he’d have had three. Firstly he did his best Murphy impression, skinning Birmingham down our left and dragging a shot across goal inches wide. Then March for the umpteenth time got clear on the right and pulled it back, but Birmingham’s PIG smothered it with Wilson sniffing. Then we nearly scored a cracker, Kayal playing Wilson clean through with a wonderful through ball and a deft finish pinged back off the post and in to a grateful keeper’s hands.
Ince came on to allow us to sit back further and Mr Ward went in to meltdown, booking people for breathing and adding a befuddling six minutes of stoppage time. Ok, so we were time wasting, and that drives me insane when the opposition do it, but the reaction was completely disproportionate given the number of fouls on us in the first half. In one of the six minutes David Davies (and WHO calls their kid a name like that FFS?) should have equalized but his low shot was saved brilliantly by Stockdale. Finally the whistle went. 2-1 us. Top of the league.
There were so many outstanding performances. It was a breathtaking game. If you’ve been reading carefully you’ll know March deserved his man of the match but was nearly matched by Bruno, Murphy, Kayal and Stockdale. Everyone played their part though on both sides to send the majority of the 27,200 odd souls home happy in to Hurricane Splashy.