Football fans love routine and superstition. Lucky hat / scarf / pie / pants. Sit in the same seat with the same people having arrived on the same train. All of that can help us feel secure when we’re on a good run or require changing when we’re on a bad one, even though it is patently nonsense. Sceptics and science say so and, after yesterday, so do I. We couldn’t have changed the pre match routine more if we’d tried.
Thanks to Network Rail there were no trains at all from our local station. With three kids and two barely salient adults to get over to Falmer we opted for a Seagull Travel bus direct to the ground, rather than faff about changing in town.
There was an additional issue. How do you know when someone’s been running? You don’t, pretty soon they’ll tell you. I’ve been running all year and banging on about it for just about as long. I make no apology for this as I want to raise a boat load of cash for charity next year but it explains why I had a very achy foot and ankle in the week. I went to see a sports injury person who diagnosed tight calves and gave me some stretches. He also said to wear cushioned shoes with insoles as much as I could, i.e. my running shoes. This was not going to happen at football when I had my lucky Gazelles. However, said lucky Gazelles had a hole in the sole when I checked them for arch support, and as Noah floated past my front window, I didn’t think they’d be practical.
So it was we got a bus from a pub we’d never been in full of people we didn’t know with me dressed in ridiculous looking running shoes.
They weren’t quite as ridiculous looking as the MK Dons fans mind you. A pathetic number turned up given the distance and the fact it was a Saturday afternoon. Those who did looked like a small sub-section of newly arrived Palace Ultras who’d spent fifteen minutes in front of a video called ‘how to be a football fan in 2010’. Or, as Steve said to me just before kick off “that – that’s shocking.”
Not quite as shocking as the Dons defence it turned out. We came out of the traps all guns blazing (to mix my metaphors) and with March and Murphy starting on the wings we looked highly intent on feeding them. After five minutes the Dons had already misplaced several passes in to touch and been roasted on either wing when March was again set off down the left. He created space beautifully but was somewhat wasteful with the cross and we were fortunate to see it turned out for a corner. “No end product” I said, knowledgably. The corner came in and we won the first ball but the Dons succeeded in clearing it to the edge of the box and looked like they had the numbers to block any shot. However, the ball whizzed in to the top of the net at the speed of sound from a shot from just outside the area by none other than Soloman March. Ahem. 1-0.
The onslaught continued. While the Franchise fans looked like they’d watched an annoying Ultras training video their players looked like they’d been reading books called “how to put the ball in touch”, “how to put the wrong studs in your boots” and “how to be lucky with an offside trap”. Time after time we got in behind them and another goal seemed to be only a matter of time away. Hemed, though, was having a shocker, wastefully placing a header wide when it looked easier to score. We still doubled the lead soon enough though, as Bruno, March and Baldock interchanged, the pace and skill of each terrifying a limited defence, before Baldock slipped a pass just through a defender’s legs to the unmarked Murphy who finished low in to the corner.
Annoyingly the thieves hit back almost immediately with their first shot of the game, Dunk and Stockdale both culpable. Nicky Maynard has always been a dangerous player at this level and he received the ball with his back to goal and more than twenty five yards out, with Dunk tight to him. He rolled Dunk like he wasn’t there and shot immediately, the ball skidding in to the goal past a surprised Stockdale. 2-1. It was the only thing of note they would do all half.
We would go on to rip them a new one time and time again, only for Hemed to waste the chances. Firstly he turned a chance to cushion a volley easily in to a net in to a thrashed overhead attempt. Then, when found on the penalty spot with a ball that was slightly behind him, he dug it out only to hit the post. The rebound came out to March who pinged it back in and Hemed’s header went wide. From two yards.
At half time I tweeted that the ref would have stopped it there and then had it been a boxing match. We had not taken enough chances however, and there was no way they could be as bad in the second half. Indeed they weren’t.
A much more even second half saw us go in to our shells and MK get more of the ball, the part of the game they are comfortable with. It saw Baldock limp off with an injury that looked bad (Baldock’s pace was at the heart of everything good yesterday and we will miss him) before the plastics were denied an absolute stone wall penalty by a ref who’d been useless all game. The otherwise awful Carruthers went one on one with Dunk in the penalty area but too wide to be a danger. ‘Don’t dive in, see him out’ I thought. Dunk dived in. Bizarrely both the ref and linesman denied the penalty claim. They must have realised their mistake because we got nothing out of them at all for the rest of the game.
So it was that Zamora was booked for nothing. So it was that Manu who, to understate it a touch, didn’t look great, was penalised for beating their right back for pace. So it was that the ref left the ground to a chorus of boos from North Stand, West Stand and the trainee Ultras. So it was we won 2-1, moving the unbeaten record to seventeen league games and moving up to second, behind Hull on goal difference.
To finish. Well done to the club on a record league unbeaten run. The transformation from this time last year is incredible. Well done too on another immaculate pre-match remembrance ceremony. Today we will honour those who gave their lives selflessly for our freedom (The Boy is a Cub so we will be at a service). Their tragic loss is what makes it possible to watch a fantastic attacking performance against a plastic football club with a comic ref. For one Saturday we did not take this for granted.