By crowd numbers at least this was the biggest game ever seen at The Amex. By noise levels just before and just after kick off it was too. Yet somehow events in Birmingham on Friday served to downgrade it. I’m getting a little ahead of myself but perhaps you already know what I mean?
It certainly felt big on the way over, mind you. Mindful of the train troubles that had beset the last two mid-week games we left home a full two hours before kick off and, while we had a painless journey as it turned out, it was also a busy one. The 12.52 from Brighton (for a 2.30 kick off) was rammed. No actual songs in our carriage but rather a low hum of expectancy. Familiar old faces abounded. This was a big day out.
Recently, when I tried to explain this blog to Al on The Albion Roar I said that it was a story of the whole day and that often something would come up in pre-match conversation that would prove relevant to the later events on the field. So it was that Steve and I were discussing the latter half of the season and I mentioned our defence and particularly the partnership of Goldson and Dunk. Steve referred to how daft Dunk’s sending off at QPR was. Then we moved on to discussing what we would need at Boro.
That’s the only issue really and the reason I mentioned how Friday’s result had rendered the Derby game largely irrelevant. Allow me (another) rant at Sky. What is the EFFING point of taking us all the way to sodding Cleveland for a 12.30 bollocking kick off so that everyone plays at the same time for ‘fairness’ when, only the week before, a TV company dictates that Boro will get two more days rest than us, that we knew before the Derby game exactly what we needed up there and that Burnley were able to kick off later than anyone, knowing a win would get them up? It is cockwomblingly, mind-numbingly ruddy pointless. Thanks Sky.
OK, I feel better for that but you get the point. Anyone who thinks the promotion race has been run fairly in terms of timing is living in cloud cuckoo land.
But you have to play the hand you’re dealt. The fixture computer dealt us Derby at home as our last game, the ticketing computer dealt out every seat in The Amex and, after oiling our voices with a couple of Ouse Waters, we joined a packed Amex. The roof was just about held intact but Sussex By The Sea nearly took it off.
Regular “atmosphere” threads appear on NSC. People bemoan “soulless bowls”. Yet the ground was on point as we kicked off, the backing the lads needed, initially at least, coming from every seat, except those in the East Upper where library attendants still patrol, armed with hot stares. The lads reacted and we had the first good chance of the game, Russell overrunning the ball to Kayal in his own half and the Israeli’s long range shot getting deflected just wide.
Derby, though, looked decent enough on the break and Ince wasted a good chance when put through by a long diagonal ball. Not as good as the subsequent chance we had as a free kick was awarded on the edge of the D, slap bang in French Tony territory. The kick was placed even better than the one against QPR but Derby had watched that back and had a man back peddling on to the line to cover. It was just headed over.
I’m not sure whether you’ve got this from previous reports – the Leeds one would cover it – but all too often this season the quality has been lacking in this division. It wasn’t here but the two of us were even and cancelling each other out. Not so in the second half.
A pessimist would say we allowed Will Hughes to dictate terms after the break. A Derby fan that he took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was probably a mixture of both but as the play went through him, Derby began to dictate and had a series of long range efforts that were fairly comfortable for Stockdale. However, not so the one on seventy minutes when Hughes produced a sublime piece of control and stuck through Weimann. His initial shot was saved but he put away the rebound. The celebrations in the away end were echoed in Burnley.
The game had been frustratingly and inconsistently refereed from the get go. The penalty shout that looked nailed on from the WSU looked less so on replay but other free kick awards seemed totally random. Challenges that looked certain yellows (including one from Stephens, this was inconsistency rather than bias) were let go as was a plainly obvious elbow on Bruno. One of the few cards that had been correctly awarded, however, was an early yellow for Dunk. On eighty two minutes he doubled it and can have no complaints, a challenge that was as brainless as the one up at QPR ending in the same result. He will not play at Boro and left with his shirt over his head.
But this team NEVER gives up. A draw would be largely pointless – we’d still need to win at Boro in all likelihood – but it would maintain the unbeaten record and put just a touch of pressure on the watching Burnley.
Is there a finer sight than a keeper coming up for a last minute corner? Yes, of course there is. Like, say, your Czech international hitting a 30 yard rocket as part of a four nil win. Keeper up means you’re desperate. But with a last minute corner in the offing we were. Up came Stockdale and caused chaos. The ball fell kindly to Wilson and he lashed in a shot via a deflection to general mayhem in the stands. It finished 1-1. So how did we all feel?
The question mark in the title is deliberate. Certainly some of us felt flat at the end. We shouldn’t though. We knew before the game that we’d probably need to win at Boro. We knew Burnley were the favourites to go up. That next week was the big one. The only thing this could do was set a marker in the ground for a possible playoff clash in which someone needs to paint a large target on Will Hughes’ arse.
Had we not scored that goal I’d have felt flat too. But we did. And, as the players came round for the end of season lap of honour the North Stand started with “we are going up”. The players visibly picked up. Yes, we will have no Dunk. We will have two fewer days in which to rest. But we will be prepared. Think back to August. Would you have taken a last day shoot out for promotion? I would have in a heartbeat. It’s time to pick ourselves up and throw the kitchen sink at Boro, hoping that fortune favours the brave.