Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

YESSSSSS! : the Mighty vs Doncaster Rovers

Spoiler: We won!

Fuck me, it's grey and cold. It's supposed to be May and I'm supposed to be enjoying the post lockdown world of rediscovered wonders, sunshine and joy, joy, joy. Instead I'm grimly navigating sleet (sleet!) on Aldi car park on a bank holiday and then staring into a screen trying to visualise a time when I don't have *this much* work to do. 

What I wouldn't give for a night at Bloomfield Road. In these circumstance, the football is a tonic for the soul. A glorious, riotous display of colour and noise. I've written this intro before (think stirring words about crowds and stuff), but tonight of all nights, it feels weirdly empty that we could be celebrating clinching a play off spot and I'm sat on a couch with a laptop whilst my lad plays Minecraft. 

Critch has gone with a very Critchley selection, retaining Ollie Turton in midfield (bringing in Gabriel for the tragically unfortunate Ethan Robson.) Otherwise it's exactly the same. We walked all over Northampton and it's difficult to argue that those players don't deserve to keep the shirt. I'm really quite worried that Sullay isn't fit though and again, though theories abound, I keep tuning into the team news hoping again expectation for Big Gaz to be on the bench and ending up being disappointed. 

I hope that it's all a ruse. That on the first leg of the play offs, they'll all carry a big box on and Super Gaz Gary Goal(s) Machine Madine will jump out in a load of ticker tape and pyrotechnics. 

Anyway, forget the grey... Here come the Tangerines! 


The ref looks like a really bad waxwork of Paul Simon. He places the ball on the centre spot and a Donny player pointlessly moves it a bit before taking the kick, a simple back pass that in no way merited the re-placing of the ball. Donny start very well, skimming a deep cross in that Garbutt has to slide and put behind, before working a sharp chance at the near post that is stabbed wide. 

Garbutt has our first effort. A swirling free kick from miles out that is creeping inside the near post before the keeper beats it away. We then embark on a good period, discomforting Doncaster into giving the ball away or knocking it out of play several times but without taking advantage of it. Ollie Turton has a weird shot at the end of a nice move, placing it with precision but putting no power at all behind it and looping it into the keeper's hands. A Turton goal would be the ideal way to seal this. For once, let Ollie be the hero. It is written (it probably isn't) 

I decide the referee is actually more 'fella on Stars in their Eyes' than 'waxwork'. A brickie with a golden voice, doing Bridge over Troubled Waters. My old flatmate's uncle was on it once. It led to the outrageous fame and fortune of doing a turn in the pub on the retail park near 'orrible 'Orwich's ground. Who would I go on Stars in their Eyes as? 'Tonight Matthew, I'm one of the lads from Orbital - I've strapped a cheap camping torch to my head and we're away' 

A misjudgement from Ballard is a minor scare but we tidy up easily enough. They do the same to a foray down the left from us. Actually, was it the Orb or Orbital who had the lights on their heads? I'm not sure. We do have a corner though. The corner goes straight out of play. The game is in a bit of a lull. This is when the crowd would get going. The drum beating a rhythm, the song spreading round the stands. That UB40 one would be perfect. It just keeps going, little flourishes of percussion, the chant swirling round until something happens. 

This is the one I mean - though we do it better and when Hoggy does the fancy drum bits I think it's the best thing in the world

Garbutt slides it across the face of goal. Gabriel runs onto it and slams it hard, it's deflected out. From the corner, we try a clever little move but Donny are awake to the sneaky short ball and clear away. As we break back, Gabriel races through...will he shoot...will he lay it off? No, he'll inexplicably pass it to the keeper then shout at everyone else. Full marks for the unexpected. 

It doesn't matter though as Yates wins a flick, Simms peels away and runs round onto the ball. He looks offside, but he clearly isn't, it was a lovely bent run, he ambles through, sidefoots it with power, the keeper gets a touch but it loops up and falls under the bar, bouncing once up into the roof of the net. Lovely stuff!

It sounds like some genius is drumming. People outside? Someone in the ground? Gary Madine with a waste bin from the dressing room?? Nothing happens for ages until Donny work things quite nicely but their striker belts it over the top and hurts himself as he does. It's sluicing down and Critchley is snuggled up in his massive coat, shoulders hunched up, head low. He looks like a man who has locked himself out of his car waiting grimly for the AA on the hard shoulder in the rain. 

When we restart, we football it out to Embleton, Simms showing a silky touch in the build up, then racing into the box, Embleton throws a stepover, buys the space to cross, Simms is close to turning it home at the near post. Wor Jimmy Topknot God is down and goes off for treatment. We don't need 11 players though, as we storm out on a break. Dougall starts it, Gabriel finishes it with a cross that yields a corner. The corner is caught and Jimmy is back on the pitch. It seems he'd actually gone to change his shoes.  

The rest of the half continues in a similar fashion, we're on top, but without making a really clear cut chance. Donny have a corner towards the end of the half but they're penalised for a foul. They shoot over the top from 30 yards and the whistle blows. 


Pool are on top. The pitch is slippy. Jimmy has his boots off again as they walk off. We've been dominant, probably more than anything due to the fact we've something to play for. It's been an odd match - it's just sort of happened and we've been the better side but our final ball has been lacking quite often. Who cares though? 1-0 and cruising towards the play offs. The ideal scenario is a couple of quick goals then time for Keshi, Holmes, Marvin and so on to come and play for a meaningful amount of time. That is, to be fair, greedy. Anything will do other than a defeat. 

It was Orbital with the lights by the way. 


Kevin Stewart is on because Gabriel pulled up late in the first half. Donny start with a floating cross that Maxwell tips over then a short corner and a cross/shot that Maxwell palms away. We respond with a good spell, Embleton nearly bursting in, a couple of crosses cut out. It is bucketing down. The mystery drummer is fans outside. I hope they're under the concourse bit outside in this weather. Maybe I'm turning into my gran, worrying about them catching their death in this weather. I hope they've got their big coats on. 

Embleton has a grass cutter effort, Simms picks up a brilliant Ballard sliding challenge and shimmies his way into a shooting position, hits it like a rocket, beats the keeper but a man on the line heads it over. We play it all across the edge of the box before Embleton puts a placed effort a yard or so over. Simms runs on to a nice ball from Stewart, spins and has his shot just nicked away. 

There's some high quality mad tackles going in. Stewart gets booked for what looks like a fairly reasonable tackle, then he gets a warning for a high foot. Husband slides about 10 yards to concede a foul by the goal line on the right hand side. Another booking. They take the dead ball short and shoot, it takes a nasty deflection but it drops right into Maxwell's hands. 

Jerry takes it down, trundles towards the box then slips a clever ball for Simms outside him, Simms is superb from a tight angle and he draws a sharp stop. 30 seconds later, the same man turns away from his man in the box and goes to ground when he looked away. A slip or a trip? Pool have subs waiting. Marvin and Keshi seem to stand on the touchline for ages but the ball won't go out of play. 

Finally they're on. Jimmy and his dodgy boots are off and so, surprisingly is Kevin Stewart, his yellow card having done for him. Keshi is soon on it, picking a loose ball, sprinting forward with purpose, right down the middle, then picking out Yates who hits a low shot that the keeper stretches to get a palm to and then scrambles to grab to him as Simms sniffs round for the leftovers. 

We go through one of those spells where nothing happens until Maxwell pulls out another good stop, A cross bounces and sits up for a diving header at the far post, the header is into the turf, Maxwell sticks up an arm and deflects it wide. At the other end, we fashion a chance, good work from Keshi, then a really lucky bounce off a Donny face and Embleton looks set to bury it from around the penalty spot, but slashes it wide instead. 

Garbutt has another go from distance, this time about 28 yards out, left of centre, hit like a train, drawing a very good flying save. Turton slips a really nice pass down the touchline for Yates who has pulled wide, his cross is excellent but both Keshi and Simms can't find the shot. Embleton weaves a spell, brilliant play, slams it across but somehow, Ellis Simms touch from a yard is turned wide. How that didn't go in is a mystery.  

Finally we do it. Thorniley with a great challenge to start a break, Garbutt taking it on down the middle releasing Simms who tries to lift it past the keeper, who gets a touch, Simms keeps going, charging like a bull, turning the bouncing ball home, brushing a defender aside as he does so. He's been terrific tonight and that second goal is a wonderful feeling. 

Demi comes on for shirtless Jerry. Ballard is a fag paper away from sending Simms through with an interception and quick through ball that is only just cut out. Demi has a manic run where he's fouled twice but keeps going, all the length of the pitch before running out of steam at the last moment. Marvin has one of those well timed interceptions that Marvin does so well. 

Brad Holmes is waiting to come on, but the first time the ball goes out of play is Maxwell making a near post parry after a diagonal reverse pass and a sharp effort from Donny. Finally, he comes on, with the superb Simms making way. 

Demi has another insane run, it pops out for Holmes and Demi actually seems to shoulder charge wor Brad off the ball when the young lad had a shooting chance. Keshi has a shot that makes Turton's earlier effort seem normal, having wriggled himself an acre of space, he has a weird sand wedge effort that screws over and wide when it looks like a drive or a side footed pass to Holmes was the only two logical choices. He blasts through again though, Holmes drops deep and calls for it. Keshi doesn't care but is bundled out of it. He really, really wants a goal. 

Then the whistle goes. And it hits. We've fucking done it!!! 


Who saw this? 3rd? Play off spot secure. I honestly didn't. 10th perhaps. 8th at a push. Not after Gillingham made us look like a kid's team Not after Ipswich made mincemeat of us at home, not after Wimbledon away, not after Shrewsbury or Bristol Rovers in the depths of winter. I really didn't think this was going to work.

And really has. We've made the last two games look simple but perhaps more significantly, we've beaten everyone in the top 6 (bar Lincoln, who we battered for 70+ minutes) and show no signs of fatigue. The better the opposition, the better we've played (until we recently got the knack of beating the rest) and when we've been good, we've been really, really good. 

We've been 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1 and 5-3-2 and we've played all sorts of different kinds of football. We've banged it at Big Gaz, we've played neat triangles, we've looked like toothless idealists and gnarly pragmatists in the space of a few games. Critchley has held his nerve, changed it up, learned and for all the advantages of Sadler's generosity, he's coped with an absolutely horrific run of injuries and shown himself able to win in all sorts of ways. I was guilty early on of thinking he was a one note purist, a poor photocopy of Klopp without the force of nature personality or understanding of league one and yet, here we are. Jurgen sticks rigidly to what he does and Critch finds a way to win. All the while, never losing his cool, never losing his perspective. Just sticking to the process. I fucking love the process. Fuck knows what the process is really, but I love it. 

I'm sort of in shock that we've done it, even though I knew it was coming. Fucking hell, I could even be at Bloomfield if they let people in... That would be... magnificent. 
Tonight we played well, Embleton was lively, Jerry played the support role really well. Dougall was at his naughty ratting best. I don't always give Garbutt credit (I think possibly just as he's a player others like and I tend to love the waifs and strays) but he was really dangerous, Turton did another classic steady, steady job, the defenders were solid to a man but Simms really did look the business. It wasn't just the goals, but his play around the edge of the box, his desire to get on the end of stuff and his intelligent running. 





nb: this is the orb, and this is magnificent. Doesn't seem so grey and grim now! 

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Monday, May 3, 2021

Don't say 'nothing can go wrong now!' - Northampton Town vs The Mighty

You learn a lot doing a shite blog. Actually, I'm not sure you do really, but some things I've learned are that Bauhaus are from Northampton and that this (my favourite Bauhaus song) is a cover of a Brian Eno song. That's probably of no interest to 99.5% of the readers but it's now firmly filed in my mind in the large cabinet marked 'useless things to tell people who don't care.' 

Here's another thing I learned this week - Bob Smith from off of the Cure is from Blackpool. Why didn't I know this? I know loads of useless facts like this but somehow, not this one. Maybe everyone knew and just thought it was too boring to tell anyone else? Like, I know about really obscure bands from Blackpool. I've bought records from the brilliant Pumpf label. I've interviewed John Robb like a right creepy starfucker, but somehow this fact had passed me by. I'm not saying I am an authority on all things musical, but it seems really weird that this has been in the ether since...well, since yer man with the big hair was born and I haven't picked it up. It's like finding out Michael Stipe is from Rotherham or that Kurt Cobain comes from Gillingham.  Anyway, here's my favourite Cure track for geographical balance... 

I quite fancy, just continuing to post youtube videos no one will watch in an endless stream of vague musical connections but here's the actual football bit cos that's what you don't pay me for at the end of the day. 

I've still not quite come down from the Sunderland game. Stepping back, it wasn't actually our best performances in an attacking sense, but a backs against the wall, physics defying scramble of flying saves, heroic headers, sliding blocks, all topped off with a goal worthy of winning a world cup is kind of more fun than a comfortable cruise to victory. 

This game is very different in that we expect a win and that's when I always worry about us. What's great about the lower leagues is there isn't that much difference between the top and the bottom. Yeah, we're clearly better than them but not by such an absurd margin as to make it a carefree walkover. It would be nice for a bit to win most games without really having to try, but it would soon get boring and it's part of the curious appeal of football that this year, I've been more nervous about playing the bottom half sides than I have the teams in the promotion slots. 

As simple minded blogger, as opposed to an actual bonafide composer of tactical masterclasses, I want to see us just go all out. They need to win, so I'd just say, 'Ok' and go at them from the first minute, backing my team to a) defend better b) manage the ball better and c) score more goals. Some times, I think we feel a bit like an F1 driver with a fast car, who doesn't go all out against a slower car because he wants to conserve fuel or tyres. It's only when we come up against someone with a car as fast as us, that we really put the pedal to the metal. 

That's human nature I suppose. We're influenced by what goes on around us. So my plan would be to get Big Gaz to put together a compilation of 'banging mad craic' tunes for the ghetto blaster and tell them if they stop attacking, Colin will rabbit punch them at half time.

The roulette wheel is spun but not much: In theory taking out a workhorse midfielder like Grant Ward and putting in a striker is an attacking move. Are we going to see three at the back and Sullay behind the front two? Maybe. That might work.

Northampton DJ is the best yet. The tunes are banging out. Toots, Underworld, a nice bit of the Liquidator. 


Where is Sullay? He's hurt in the warm up so Embleton is in the starting line up, presumably in the same hole Sullay was due to play in. Will Chissy spot the difference? We're off. 

Someone (Ballard?) misses an interception and Northampton are in wide on their left, crossing low and hard but Jimmy tidies up and the only damage is a corner which Maxwell (the world's greatest keeper in all of football history) takes easily enough. The Cobblers soon come again, they force a bit of panic and a wild clearance then a corner from which there's a penalty claim. Weather this storm and we'll score at will... I'm worryingly confident. 

Finally we have an attack, a little clipped ball from Embleton for Turton to run on to, a low cross and a corner to Pool. We wait an age to take it as a Cobblers player is nastily injured and has to be replaced. It's swung under the bar but then cleared and the Cobblers break back at us. We have it covered until the last man slips and they're in but then their striker slips as well. It's all a bit comic and lucky and unlucky all at once. Their lad limps agonisingly away looking like a 1950's player when stretchers were only employed if you'd lost a limb or died, as he's helped along by the physio, one of legs not working at all. 

Northampton continue to make the running. The pitch is green but underneath seems a bit like the sun baked rugby league pitch I used to play on in summer as a teenager. Chissy drops in a comment that seems to be about sending his son to private school. A true man of the people. 

Then we score. It's a lovely move. Embleton with a crisp, urgent, first time ball to Jerry. Jerry takes it on, runs up against his man, makes as if to beat him then offloads sideways it to Garbutt who is arriving late. The one with the lovely hair hits a pinpoint, laser guided effort, low and precise past the keeper, that nestles an inch behind the far post. There was a tiny space for him to hit and he put it exactly where he needed to. 

Simms gets whalloped on the head. Northampton attack a bit more but they already look a bit ragged. Simms gets pushed over and him and his marker make some kind of rolling contemporary dance type movement which sees Ellis turn entirely through 360 degrees and end up on his feet. Fitting for the man with the disco look perhaps? A minute later, Robson brightly heads forward, it loops over Simms' shoulder, he leans into his marker, catches it on the half volley but drags it wide. 

The Cobblers attack again. They look quite good at some stuff but at one point, whilst they're racing at us and we're looking a bit worried by it, they literally tackle each other. There's a pair of lovely touches from Simms and Embleton, the first a Madine-esque lean into his man and well weighted ball down the line, the second a clever back flick. Both of them prompt moves, but both moves founder on poor final balls. 

Northampton again have a really good attack which works till the edge of the box then, for no explicable reason, they dink it over the top to absolutely no one. The way they wander away from the move tells a story. This has happened frequently you suspect. 

Ethan Robson pulls up. Another muscle injury for Pool. You have to feel sorry for him. Waiting since Wigan away in January to get a game, then one game back and injured. Jordan Gabriel comes on as poor old Ethan wanders off, looking more disconsolate than in pain and Ollie Turton goes into central midfield. 

A long Maxwell kick bounces right through, Yates drifts across, pick it perfectly, takes a touch, but the keeper is out quickly, blocking the shot and sending Yates to the floor. Northampton try to emulate the direct route in response, but Jimmy tidies up again. Dan Ballard has looked a touch shakier than normal and is caught in possession but all the Cobblers can do is cross it a few times. Later, they work it into the box and are robbed by the bounce of their own bone hard pitch. The turf is designed to disrupt us, but it's done them no favours at all. 

The half ends with the Cobblers trying to play out, but end up gifting the ball again because of the lively bounce. Garbutt goes up the middle but the ball is bobbling about and his shot from just outside the box is always over the top. 


It's not been a classic. They run at us, we defend. They do it again. We defend. Then we break, the ball ping pongs about all over the shop and the whole cycle starts again. They look desperate, we look fairly composed, though the pitch (and maybe playing in a wider role) has unsettled Ballard a few times. Thorniley looks very comfortable in the middle and at one point in the half, he produced a simply sublime bit of control and a turn to play it back to Maxwell. It's incredible he's now playing week in week out ahead of other players considering his start to the season. 

Weirdly, the half time tunes are rubbish. The pre match was banging, this is more local radio smooth classics. 


Northampton make two subs at half time. We make none. A long ball sees Gabriel the wrong side of a run and a nudge gives the Cobblers a dangerous free kick. As per the first half, they make nothing of it, putting straight into Maxwell's hands. Again, though, they come again. They work it well than lash it so high over the bar, it would have cleared two stands behind the goal. 

Embleton glides from the right, to the middle, then produces what he does best, a pass so canny that it takes Simms a moment to realise he's smuggled it through to him. He's alert enough to react eventually then force a corner. The corner swings deep, Ballard heads hard and the man on the near post has to spring to divert it over the top. We swing another deep, it's cleared for a long throw. Gabriel hurls, it bounces about, Embleton picks it up, hammers it on the bounce from 12 yards and it's deflected wide. 

They'll have to attack, we can pick them off. I'm still strangely confident. I'm already wondering if it's not worth seeing Holmes for a bit. We'll get chances. I'm not sure what's to lose in doing it. The fresh legs of an in form youngster could push their defence over the line. Jimmy slides in and we concede a mirror of the free kick that started the half. It's an even worse effort from them than last time. I feel slightly sorry for them, so poor has their final product been after competing really hard elsewhere on the pitch. 

There's a slightly alarming split second as they have another long ball and another effort from the edge of the box, that's deflected absurdly high up and then down again like a bomb. Maxwell sees it over, but you can see they've lifted the urgency. I would say they're playing for their lives, but that's not true. There's not a firing squad lined up if they don't get the points, just the sting of relegation and the reality of doing more or less the same thing but a division lower. 

We work another chance, again clever passing into the box from Embleton on the right and it's a slight surprise to see Dougall running on and drawing a good save from the keeper from a low, well aimed drive at the far corner. We're on top again. Embleton a step over, across the face of goal and palmed away. Embleton is so much better in the middle than the wing and moments later, is a heavy touch from sliding Jerry in. 

Northampton have a corner. Needless to say, it isn't very good, but for a moment, the board behind the taker says 'Pet Monkey' until the taker moves and reveals the first word is actually 'carpet.' I think of Alan Partridge and Michael's fags being eaten before he hurled the monkey off a cliff. At the other end I don't notice any surreal adverts as Garbutt drags a shot from distance a yard or so wide. 

Our own real life Alan Partridge purrs over the potential of a Garbutt free kick, which of course, is floated meekly over everyone and out after Chissy assures that Garbutt is basically Zidane, Beckham and Carlos all rolled together in one. Two more Northampton subs come on. The logic of football dictates that as I'm thinking they're looking pretty much defeated now, that makes me simultaneously think 'I shouldn't have thought that' and imagine them suddenly coming to life and scoring twice. 

I shouldn't worry unless they've got three in them. Simms shoots from the edge of the box, it bounces three times, each one unpredictable on the dry clay surface, the keeper tumbles, it hits him in the chest, bounces out and Yates nips in and tucks it away without no fuss. Lovely stuff! 

Now Brad Holmes surely? Why not? Actually it's Marvin. Big Marv isn't young Brad but a welcome sight none-the-less. Jimmy makes way. They are throwing everyone forward but all they can manage is a cross shot that Maxwell clutches to him without too much bother. Again, Embleton is prompting, sending first Jerry, (the pitch does for his attempt to control and shoot), then Simms, who draws a good save from a viscous effort. 

Critch is ready to go sub crazy, sending on Keshi, Holmes and Mitchell but the third goal is a pleasing delay to that. Embleton to Yates, Yates offloads to Turton, Turton to Garbutt, a diagonal line, pass, overlap and pass again. Garbutt drills it, it's saved, but Yates is there. The ball spits about off the turf, but as calm as you like, he just waits,, dummies, then slams it in from a few yards out past a defender whose effort to stop it is as defeated as you can get. Deadly. 

Off come Yates, Simms and Embleton. Holmes wins a flick and races to close the keeper down. Keshi does some sublime work on the touchline and spreads play. I've missed him without realising how much. Demi does what Demi does and races after everything like an excited terrier. More sexy stuff from Keshi, a stunning bit of control. Demi stands up his man and plays a divine reverse pass. We're just taking the piss. Keshi gets on the end of a corner, heads over and does a dance of frustration. He looks absolutely buzzing to be back. 

Holmes has a run after a one two with Dougall, he's going, he's going, he's still going, but a sliding challenge means it's only a corner, not a triumphant moment to crown a cracking win. What matter more, is he looks completely up for playing with the team. 

The whistle goes. Calm as you like, we clench fists, shake hands, share a commiseration with the defeated Cobblers and walk away. Job done. 


I can't remember feeling so calm during a game for ages. It's not like we dominated it all or racked up 40 shots, but it just felt as if they had no quality up front and we did. They actually did themselves over with the pitch as much as they inconvenienced us and we just seemed to hold them at arms length and pick them off when the chance came. 

I thought Dougall was excellent, Thorniley really, really good at the back, Embleton probed and questioned consistently and Jerry was the player they didn't have - someone who could just finish a chance. 

What more is there to say? It was great to see Keshi, who injects a bit more of the creativity we sometime lack and lovely to see us looking hungry for the fourth and not just stopping playing at the end. Robson''s injury was a blow as he seemed willing to do the 'running about like a bit of loon' role Matty Virtue does, Sullay is a concern but if he's ok, a little bit of a rest could do him some good. 

For the Cobblers, I've seen them twice and both times, they've looked quite good at some things, but just not very good at scoring or not conceding. That's seems a stupid comment. What I mean is, some other teams have employed zero ambition, spoiling tactics and both times, Northampton have had a go at winning the game, but lost it by some margin, largely because they've seemed to fall apart whenever they get near the goal. 

For us, resist the urge to shout 'nothing can go wrong now!' and go and put in some more good performances. We've got a few players hungry to get back in and if we could add Supe Bigr Gaz Gary Goals Goal Machine Madine to that before the play offs, then I really fancy we can cope with whatever combination of circumstances are thrown up and whatever any opposition try to do. Put Maxwell in cotton wool till the first leg and we're golden*. 




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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Grant Ward is Tangerine

A team needs a heartbeat. Grant Ward is central to all that we are and all that we do.

Grant Ward is graceful, lithe, balanced. He's an aesthetes dream of a player, he glides rather than strides, with a touch of silk that makes what others can't do look so easy, you barely notice the magic at work. 

At Swindon, the ball bobbled and spat like a ping pong ball on concrete, and only Grant could get it under his spell. Not even Sullay's magic feet could tame it and yet Ward made a terrible pitch look like pristine Wembley turf with the ball at his feet. 

Grant Ward is here and there, he's around, he's about and yet it never seems to be to be too much effort, he'll stretch, he'll slide, he'll go in for the 50/50 but somehow, he always seems in control. Nicking it, playing it just in time, yet it always seems that he means to do what he does. Never late, always just in time. 

Tracking back, Mcgeady wriggles and pivots, he weaves his magic. This is no normal footballer, this is mesmerising, this is enough to tie your legs in knots, a conjuror, a hypnotist but Ward waits, Ward shadows, Ward watches and when the time is right, Ward strikes and Mcgeady is left, without the ball, a wizard without the wand.

Ward is racing down the right, 20 seconds before, he'd been filling in at left back. He's straining everything to reach it, he's going up against his man, body to body, a collision, a tumble and Ward comes away with the ball.

In the centre, he gives, he goes. Perpetual motion, showing for the ball, always. Drop deep, touch, run left, run right, move forward, stop, start, stutter, feint, drop a shoulder, find the space. Defender under pressure, a quick sprint, a point, he takes, he pivots and spreads it. Simplicity. It's not simple really, but Grant does it so well, you barely notice it.

Again and again, he does his job. The engine of the engine room, he purrs, and sometimes he growls and from time to time there's a roar as he's lashing a shot from distance or skimming a cross. Mostly though, he's just there. Doing what needs to be done, whatever it is. No flashiness, no ego, no drama. Just doing the job, then the next job, then the next one. On and on. Never tiring, never letting up, never losing concentration or focus.

Jerry scores goals, Sullay spins magic, Dan Ballard, a granite hewn collosus, Maxwell a spring loaded panther, Garbutt a left foot to die for, Mitchell a sprinter and on and on but Ward knits it all together. Ward lets others play. Ward starts, prompts, probes. He tidies, he rescues and he goes again. Shows again.

Last night he was magnificent. He played so hard that by the end, he couldn't walk. He gave everything, he left nothing on the pitch. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. 

A metronome of a player. The steadiest beat imaginable. Smart, intelligent, silken but steely, an athlete. Rarely, the star but always just behind them, in build up, winning the ball, playing the pass, starting the break, stopping the break. Finding space, always there, always showing. The heartbeat of the team

Grant Ward is magnificent

Grant Ward is tangerine. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Sullay screamer and Maxwell magnificent: Sunderland vs the Mighty

It seems only a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how good we now were. That's because it was only a few weeks ago we we were. For whatever reason, we've not been that good recently, but tonight it ends and we're back to WIZARDRY. I promise.  
I've been guilty of being a bit unreasonable and falling into the trap of expecting us to win every game, like one of those absolute deluded spoilt utter fucking bellends with a home counties accent who rings 606 when Utd come 3rd and demand everyone is fired into space and genocide committed against the players and their families. This is the curse of our Jekyll and Hyde season (see diagram) - We started ugly and were frankly crap for a bit, then we've been pretty good for ages. Had we adopted a pattern of win 2, lose 1 all year, then we'd probably have taken defeat with a more sanguine shrug of the shoulders, but when we've had long good runs and long bad runs, it's all a bit more melodramatic. Me included. 
The irony is, tonight, might just be the day for the cautious solidity of our recent games. Sunderland haven't got a lot to play for, but their season is alive enough and their recent history of calamity enough motivation to mean they're going to want to put all doubts to bed and seal a play-off berth. They've got a score to settle, having possibly unjustly lost to us at Bloomfield and are under a bit of pressure from the more, er... 'demanding' members of their fanbase. 

I frankly have no idea how we're going to go tonight but it's going to be a different test than it was against Rochdale and friends. They're not going to set out to stop us, but back themselves to score more than us and as such, maybe the tactics that didn't work three times against sides who aren't like Sunderland might work against a side that is. You can't get more like Sunderland than Sunderland I guess. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain about what the best plan is tonight to be honest. 

Then the team sheet is out and, blimey, Neil certainly has spun that roulette wheel. In come Turts, Husband and most excitingly, Ethan Robson. A player with no goals or assists to his name doesn't seem an obvious catalyst but we've seen stuff we liked in him, all be it ages ago. Can he grasp this chance? Has he been begging Critch to play for weeks, just to show him what he can do? What's the formation? Not a clue...  


We're off and bizarrely ifollow is offering a choice between commentary on Accrington vs Pompey or silence. Sullay seems to be central, Ward on the right and Pool sitting quite deep. We spend the first three minutes mostly defending apart from a toe poke forward to no one from Robson. McGeady miss-hits a free kick as a siren wails in the wider Sunderland environs. The bigger the ground, the more weird the atmosphere is. 

We defend some more. Here's a thing. Every single player is wearing an undershirt on our team. Why not just make long sleeved kits? Is Neil dressing them now I wonder? Is this some sports science thing about keeping your arms warm? Pool randomly get a corner from absolutely nothing. I admire the Archibald Leitch lattice work in the stand behind the goal. The corner comes to nothing at all and eventually the ball rolls out of play. Critch trudges across and knocks it back, looking like a man walking his dog kicking a ball away that comes into his path grumpily. His kicking style is curious, a bit like you'd expect a politician to be, awkward, not very effective. 

This is looking very much like 4-4-2 at times. There's the most fuss ever about taking a free kick from deep. It takes about 3 wayward passes to get the ball in the right place, then the ref blows and has it retaken. Eventually it's nodded away after Jimmy finally lofts it in. We do some of that passing at the back that we all love so much and then finally give it away. We look we might break, but (and you'll never believe this, Turton checks back.) Eventually, after a long spell, Husband plays it from the back and the keeper comes and gets it. At least we've got a bit of the ball now. 

Sullay has a break and plays it to Yates. He dances but a tackle takes it off him. We pass, pass, pass again and Husband lofts, Robson chases and away the ball rolls, over the line. When we haven't got the ball, it looks very much like a 5-3-2. We pass it about and go back to Maxwell. Sullay has a bit of space, but there's no one to pass to. Robson plays a raking ball but again, over the line it goes. Ward wins it in midfield, plays it to Jerry, Jerry has done a different run though. It's very much like that. 

Sunderland clip one over the top, O'Brien stretches but it's a tame effort, where it looked as if he might have chipped him. Jerry gets a bit of space with a trick, slides in Turton, Turton skids a low cross, no one is there.

Critch bursts into applause. I like to think that he's just witnessed his ultimate football image. Some of us like passes, some of us like goals, some of us like flying saves, but our impish one is brought to his feet by a good bit of pressing by Grant Ward. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't reveal what Critch makes of Ward's next action, harrying McGeady on the touch line, following him, not giving his space to breath, deflecting his cross up in the air, then watching the ball down and completing the clearance. Neil probably needs oxygen after that. 

Again, we spend ages over taking a free kick. Eventually the topknot god decides just to pass it backwards to Ballard who boots it into the stand. To be fair, I might sound critical so far, but literally nothing has happened in the game and we've had more control than them. It's been cagey.

Sunderland muster a cross, Wyke twists and leaps but heads it way over and wide. They manage a few more, but find Thorniley's, then Husband's heads. We play a nice ball to Sullay who instinctively cuts it back first time and we win a corner. Nothing happens except one of their big lads goes down and Dougall hits it into the top tier. The Sunderland player looks in pain and somewhat uncharitably, my main thought is that I don't fancy injury time at all, not wishing to extend this match at all, such has been it's turgid nature. 

Sullay turns his man, feeds Yates, but it's just half a yard too early. Sunderland get called offside. Then, my lord, we have a shot! A shot! It's a long ball from Maxwell, Sullay chases, the defender wins, but it takes an awkward bounce (or possibly Sullay does get a nick), sits up nicely for Yates who smashes a volley straight down Burge's throat. We then follow up the shot with a genuinely inventive attacking move. Sullay plays the ball of the game, a lofted cross field pass to Turton. We work it well, very well, Sullay having a couple more good touches, but Husband puts a terrible ball in and the move is over. 

Sunderland make a chance, a cross from the right, Wyke looks to have beaten Ballard but the ball ends up in Maxwell's hands. 


This is either dreadful or 'a fantastic tactical battle' or both. It's not exactly end to end at any rate. We've definitely had the better football, long periods of possession and passing, but they've looked more incisive, eschewing possession for getting it into the box and using what we haven't got, which is genuine presence up front. Put it this way, if this was an early season game, you'd be screaming at them to do something (both teams) and wondering why no one seems to want to grab the initiative. With so much at stake and Sunderland needing a spectacular implosion not to reach the play offs, it makes more sense. Still a bit shit though to race home, slam my tea down and then get served a game where neither side seems to especially want to win. 

C'mon POOL! 


There's no surprise at all that Critch hasn't changed it. I decide to leven my misery by looking forward to more of the same. We'll unlock them sooner or later. They're a load of lumps and we're wizards after all.  

Wizardry is in short supply as Sunderland win a corner, it's flicked away, but Max Power takes it down on the edge of the box, drives it hard and Maxwell makes a very good stop, flinging himself low to his left and getting firm hand to it. 

Sunderland play a very untidy ball, Robson is on to it, his control lets him down, but he slides in, keeps it alive, Garbutt picks it up, the move still might be alive, but then the ball is behind Sullay and it's cleared. 

Sunderland seem to have decided to have a go, several times they stretch us with deep balls, the Mcgeady half magics through, half gets a lucky deflection, then he blasts it over. The ref gives a corner though and from the corner, Maxwell has to collapse and scoop the ball of the line from a Wyke header. It is a very good save. 

Sunderland are playing with more pace, they're taking throws much quicker, hitting the ball forward earlier. We react with patient play. Ward and Turton work a shooting chance, Turton blasts into a defender and we've got a corner. In it comes, it's nodded away but wait, here's Sullay. What the actual fuck? He's lashed it, you can barely see the ball as it explodes from his boot, it's got a white hot comet's tail behind it, it's blasting past the keeper, it's nearly bursting the net. It's a piece of absolutely fucking magic.


Sunderland put pressure on down the flanks. They win a corner. That goal though. They win another corner. It was unreal. Perfect body shape, perfect execution. We clear the corners. The bring on Ross 'very big' Stewart. We break, when Sullay is on, he's the best player we have, the best we've had for ages. He spreads a clever ball to Ward, he's in, but then he isn't and instead he sweeps a cross that is cut out before it reaches Yates. 

Mcgeady makes a horrible little foul, Ward is streaking away, McGeady doesn't just clip him, but turns as he does, making sure Ward feels the contact. We're looking nice on the break now. Husband spreads it for Ward, he can't quite control it. Sullay kills a long ball dead and lays it for Robson who misses the run of Yates. 

Then Sullay goes down. Then Sullay goes off. I'm absolutely gutted. All year, he's shuttled up and down the left, where he doesn't belong, then finally he goes in the middle, scores the goal of the season, looks to be in pure piss taking, sheer magic, no one can touch him form and then he crocks himself. I actually could sob for the lad. I really could. 

Demi comes on. Sunderland loft a ball to the back of the box, The Sunderland no 5 is all on his own, he heads it down and across, someone gets a touch, Maxwell makes an astonishing save and somehow we're still a goal up. Can we go back to the first half now. I'm on very much on edge. 

We have a lovely spell, keeping Sunderland pinned back, relishing the space that has opened up. Dougall scuffs a shot, but we win it back and build another move, we work it with such intricacy and Husband goes on the overlap, points exactly where he wants it, gets it then, then loops it past the far post and out. 

It goes back to the same pattern, Sunderland trying to bully their way through, us heading away and closing down. Grant Ward deserves a bonus for the way he chases Mcgeady down. Ballard gets a battering, but stands up to it. I decide Luke O'Nien looks like he's won a local schools competition to play centre half. He just looks too small.. Ward deserves another bonus for his work in the other direction, bursting down the right, winning a free kick. The free kick bounces about and is cleared. Robson plays a lovely ball back in, Demi is free, his cross isn't the best but we win another corner. C'mon Pool! The corner comes to naught, but a minute later, a brilliant little cushioned header from Demi sets Yates free, he's got two with him, but he goes between them and slams in just past the post. 

Sunderland have a shot after good hold up play from Stewart. It's not that close, but it's terrifying. It starts absolutely pissing down. It's not that Peter Kay fine rain that soaks you through, it's that God's wrath mental rain that causes a flash flood. Sunderland seem to be immune from the offside flag. A dinked ball needs a frankly incredible header from Dan Ballard, back peddling, looking beaten then kind of falling back and jumping at the same time to take it away from the two or three Sunderland players queing up to bury it. 

Turton loses it. He knows it and he fouls to slow it down. They take the free kick quickly and look away anyway, so Ballard charges out and doesn't even think about the ball. Heroic stuff. The rain has eased and  then come back with heavenly vengeance. Garbutt lofts it, Robson runs on to it, holds his man off, he has it under control, but not quite decided what to do, will he shoot? Burge closes the angle and he changes his mind, squares it to Jerry, but the indecision shows in a timid pass that is never going to reach the sniper. 

At the other end, it's lifted in, Stewart nods down, shit, Mcgeady is in, he pulls the trigger, but from nowhere, Thorniley slides across the greasy turf and deflects it away. More balls come in, more clearances are hammered away. Somehow the ref gives FIVE MINUTES of extra time from nowhere. Then, he doesn't let us make a sub. COME ON POOL! Then Maxwell makes another outrageous save, a flick header, he takes a step, he springs like a panther and claws it away. It is as stunning a stop as Sullay's goal was a goal. 

Yates feeds Ward. Ward who has been magnificent today, literally can't move. He's barely hopping, he's completely hobbled and Kevin Stewart is finally allowed on. Again Sunderland get in. The pull it back across goal, Husband runs into it, it's going in... except it isn't and it rolls past the post. Lee Burge comes up. The keeper coming up! Where has this game come from. IT's fucking wonderful. The corner swings in, we head away and headless actually fucking brilliant Demi races away, there's no keeper, it's one on one, but the Black Cats man just beats the flying seasider and we're denied a moment of wonder. 

Maxwell comes, gets gloves to it, but can't hold it, it's his first error of a brilliant night, and we hack it away anyway. It's chipped in again, Gooch throws himself at it, Ballard is there again. Corner. The keeper up again but they hit to the near post, with the luminous yellow shirt at the far stick - there's a decent header, it's over the top, not by much but then.... the sweet, sweet sound of the whistle.


Fucking hell. What a win! Critch actually looks happy for once. Not even he can contain the emotion here. Sullay can walk, which is good and the impish one ruffles the enigmatic geniuses hair, then gives thumbs up to whoever is in the stand. He looks absolutely made up. The twinkle is back. 


The second half was biblical stuff, everything the first half wasn't. The same pattern is true of both periods, we played better football, they were more direct, but that was magnified in the second half. Maxwell gave one of the best performances I've seen from a Pool keeper in I don't know how long, 4 or 5 magnificent stops. The centre backs were incredible, especially in their last ditch work, Grant Ward was simply superb and Sullay's goal. That goal. I might get it tattooed on my face.  

If I was a Sunderland fan, I'd be concerned that their plan A looked hopeless and their plan B (lump it to Stewart) looked far more effective. On balance, objectively, being fair, at the end of the day, they probably merited a point, but fuck that. They also seemed to own the linesman and be allowed to hit our players in the face, so there's no reason to get all gentlemanly about it is there? They'll be in the play offs. They just need a kick up the bum. 

Anyway enough of them, it was magnificent. Not the return to super sexy football perhaps, but a performance full of character, heart, endeavour and one moment of sublime skill from a player who deserves that because, for all people doubt him for what he isn't, he's just about the only one who tries that sort of stuff and that is exactly what we need in amongst the effort, the shape, the ball retention. All of that is grand, but without the unpredictable magic of a Sullay Kaikai, what sort of a game is football? 

Take a breath. Savour it. Magic. 



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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Mourning the Super League. The best terrible idea ever.

Blink and you missed it. 

Sunday nights are normally a bit shit as work is looming over the horizon and the carefree bliss of not being dragged from your bed to live the life someone else wants you to lead is ending. This was no ordinary Sunday night though. This was brilliant. 

It started at about 9pm when I made the mistake of 'just checking twitter before bed' and saw 'Super League' was trending. How unusual, thought I, people have finally caught on to fat blokes from Wigan and Warrington running at each other and grappling for fun. That, it turned out, wasn't the case (as well you know.) Rugby League remained a niche sport and in fact, billionaire skulduggery and shenanigans was all over the place.

Sadly the world at large hadn't just discovered Eddie Waring...

As someone who has been telling people since 1992 (with very little impact, it has to be said) that football is heading for a disaster, this felt like the coming of God to smite the world with fire must feel to the weird bloke with wild hair who stands and shouts on street corners* Finally, it was happening. The game was all set to eat itself. Brilliant! 

*Is it me, or do you not get so many of them any more? 

The first thing I noticed was the idea seemed comically poor. Replace the Champions League with a worse competition which thinks it's better, only because it has more money. It didn't seem very well thought through and that made it all the more fun to imagine. It seemed a bit like the Zenith Data Systems cup had won the lottery or some weird pre-season trophy that a minor TV channel would buy the rights to and try to hype into something it clearly wasn't. 

Genuine Legacy fans: 1990 ZDS Cup final

I frankly couldn't wait for it to get started, particularly as it was apparent that the rest of English football weren't going to put up with it and, to their credit, neither were many supporters of the teams involved. 

It seemed a very real prospect that we might be starting next year (or even finishing this) without the influence of Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham. Not only would that definitely mean that someone fun could win the league and cup but it would also see the TV deal devalued significantly. That would in turn mean a drop in player wages, a lowering of the cost of running a club and an opening of the door to local money. Take Newcastle for example. Their value would inevitably plummet without the scale of investment from Sky and it might be possible to imagine a buy out from their fans, or, failing that a local person with a stake in the area and the community. 

I bought Toon for a quid from that Mike Ashley now everything has gone to shit for Sky. Canny like. 

For a fan of a side like mine, it meant dreaming again. If the cost of the game comes down, there's a prospect that clubs from outside the major cities might be able to compete again as the scale of investment needed falls. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Blackburn and Wigan as town teams who've won anything in about a million years. That could actually change! 

What fun this new world would be. And, where would all the big 6 fans go? Ok, some of them would follow, sheep like and begging to spend their money on the pay per view premier player porn promised by their owners, but many wouldn't. Would we see widespread adoption of non-league clubs or local lower league sides? Would Utd fans decamp to Salford, Stockport, FC United, Altrincham, Oldham etc? Liverpool fans to Tranmere or Marine? Would they set up new clubs? Would we see non league clubs starting at step 10, the size and scale of which we'd never seen before? Would we see multiple sides created out of the ashes of what the billionaires had destroyed? Would it be like the Victorian era all over again, community owned clubs rising from nowhere with wonderful names like 'Woolwich Arsenal Legacy' that in 100 years time would have an origin story that went down in the game's folklore? 

This might look like an old photo, but it's actually just some hipsters having a game 

By Monday, I'd spoken to several fans of the big clubs. All of them declared they'd 'had it' with their team. Both Liverpool fans I spoke to said they were off to watch non-league. This was really happening. This was not a drill. Crystal Palace were suddenly in a European place according to the adjusted league table cropping up all over twitter. What a way to go for Woy - the Croydon boy, delivering Champions League football at the end of a long, long career. Who could fail to be absolutely electrified by this? 

Rage poured out of every bit of the internet. People started talking about VAR and how the Premier League was shit anyway, how we'd be better off going back to one league and how dull the last 20 years have been. This was weird. I had to check this wasn't a dream. It's like I'd fallen asleep and now everyone was me. 

'Actually, it's already a cartel' 

Sky and the Tories weighed in. You couldn't do this, they said. English football is English football. You can't just waltz in with a big fat cheque and buy it. This seemed to me, to miss the mark somewhat. In the early 90s, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster (and the cover up of that) the advice given to football the Tories was, that if it got its house in order it had a ruddy bloody good product that it could only jolly well go and sell. Sky were the people who bought it as we all know. 

There was something all a bit hollow about seeing the way their leading pundits rushed to twitter to decry the deal. All frothing about 'the fans' and 'competition' as if they'd never chucked loads of money at a structure that disenfranchises all but the fans of the self same clubs that wanted to leave, nor had they ever moved a kick off time or anything like that at all.  

By Tuesday it was all looking shaky. It turns out that Man City and Chelsea are the good guys. Salt of the earth English football types. Proper football sorts, who'd only gone and shat on the entire rest of the pyramid because they were worried that if they didn't, then they'd be left having to play games against them and stuff like that. That explained it. It's ok to act like a cunt, if bigger boys make you do it or everyone else is. Glad we've got that cleared up. I'm off to rob some houses 'for fear of being left behind' and I'm sure you'll all forgive me for that. 

By Wednesday it was over and everyone was doubly happy. One because it meant no one embarrassing like Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton or god forbid, Sunderland, would ever win anything after all. Thank fuck for that. Where's the ratings in that? Two, because Gary Neville is now king of the world on the basis of being a footballer who can talk AND take orders from his Sky bosses about what to say. 

The fans had 'fought' and 'beaten' the 'bad guys' (which seemed to have taken just a bit of a shout outside the ground and some twitter rage for a few hours.) Call me a misanthrope if you like, but I was a bit suspicious that actually, the new Champions League deal had just slipped in place of the Super League and actually, the billionaires had decided that they were happy enough with that shite and gone home with loads of money anyway. 

It would be a bit mad if they actually won something tbf. 

I was a bit down at the mouth now. My 'peoples clubs' had been formed and disbanded in my mind in just 3 days. Tangerine dreams of cup wins and top flight glory days in tatters on the floor. The radio seemed to be telling me that it was actually a REALLY GOOD THING that instead, we could once more dream of bankrupting our owner in an attempt to finish 17th in the Premier League, that we could reignite a dream of 'being like Burnley' (i.e. not winning anything and getting beaten mostly then flogging ourselves to some random Kazakhstan money launderers*)

* I can't actually remember where the Clampetts new owners are from. But you get the point.  

By Thursday, I was wondering. Once you've realised that your billionaire owner is an absolute psychopath who has played you like a fiddle for years and then dumped you, without so much as a text message first, on live TV, is it that easy to let them back into your life? Would the bond between club and fan be reparable? Would things go back to normal? 

Take me back? I didn't mean it. Honestly. 

The media seemed happy to applaud the show of strength by supporters and by and large, it was impressive to see, for once (and it does feel like it's never actually happened before at this level) people put aside their club colours and really boring twitter banter and talk of 'ratios' to unite behind one thing. It was impressive to see that for most fans, their clubs getting even more money wasn't as important them competing properly. 

If we extend that thought (that football sans competition is shite) only a tiny little bit, it's worth replaying the debate of the last 29 years. If a Super League is the WORST THING EVER because it's got no relegation and it's a false competition that gives the teams in it a ludicrous advantage in their domestic leagues then.... how far removed from that are our own structures as they stand? Correct me if I'm wrong here, but the 'big 6' haven't been under any threat of relegation in many a year (Man City were shit about 20 years ago, but they weren't rich then) and aren't likely to be so either.

What's more, most of them are all but guaranteed a top half (or likely much better) finish every season. Usually, they take all the Champions league places. You might think that's hyperbole, but of the last 60 available places, 59 of them have gone to one of the 'big six' (Leicester being the one exception, since Everton in 2005/6.) The arrangement by which you are paid by the place in the Premier League advantages those sides and the deal is made considerably sweeter by the fact you get a lovely wad of cash for getting to the Champions League - with English clubs being guaranteed a place at very least in the lucrative group stages... it's lovely work if you can get it. 

It's no coincidence that these clubs are the same ones that Sky reward with more live matches (and more money) because they're the big global draws. It is therefore, in the interests of global broadcasters to ensure they stay successful and therefore n the interests of the Premier League to create structures that make it pretty hard for them to fuck up and nigh upon impossible for them to not be competing for at least something year upon year. 

United, getting relegated: 1974

Now, call me a cynic, but that doesn't sound like the pure tradition of the English game. That sounds a little bit like EXACTLY the same motives that kicked off the Super League in the first place. The desire to create and control a 'product' that could place big 'brands' in the global market place. It absolutely defies logic to think that Sky's pundits 'speak for the fans' - they speak for Sky's market share and we need to see that plainly. It might not sound like it from this article, but I quite like Gary Neville. He's not a bad man and to be fair to him, he's touched on some of the stuff I've mentioned - but we need more than a pundit to speak for fans, more than someone employed by the very broadcaster whose marketing of the English game to the globe made football into the marketable commodity that it's become, the broadcaster who, hand in glove with the games authorities, laid the ground, raked it over and watered it, ready for the seeds of a super league idea to grow.  

What we've got to now see, is, will the supporters of the big six be mollified by more of the same stuff they've experienced for the last 10-15 years. Will their boards get them onside by signing Mpbappe or some such global star. Will all of this be forgotten? Or will the shock of realising exactly what the game is to billionaires wake enough of them up that the realise that actually, competition is good, it's satisfying. Precariousness in sport is what gives it its thrill.

Will they too, come to think that actually, the stasis and domination of the game by a few teams in a financially rigged structure, played out in front of ever more corporate boxes, more and more for the benefit of the global TV market, is actually, on balance, a bit like the thing they've just been in the street and protested about and all together a bit shit? 

I miss the Super League. I miss the possibility of change that opened up in everyone's head for 2 days. Then Man City won the league cup again, despite not even giving a fuck about it and everything was as it was before.

Or is it?  

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Megson in! - The Mighty vs Shrewsbury Town

A horrible traitorous man, who could, at least, beat Shrewsbury...

I hope this is one of those games where I go at the end - "I was wrong" as it feels really odd that over recent weeks we've seemingly ditched a formation that we looked really good in, that suited our flair players, saw us create a shed load of chances and that looked more like we thought 'Critchball' would than anything we've seen to date and gone back to playing 4-4-2 which seems the opposite of what you'd imagine 'Critchball' to be. 

Anyway. You'll note the lack of intro. We're pretty much straight in this week as I've been doing what 2021 calls 'self care' and 1996 calls 'going for a walk on a sunny day.' Luckily, where there is normally a load of rambling digression, I've had another call from my source and can bring you a further exclusive extract of Critch's diary to keep us bang on the mark of 'topical match related information'  

What a shitshow. Every time Simon turns up, we play like that. I had to tell Colin he couldn't 'punch them all into next week' as we need them next week. Anyway, on the way home, I got a call from a sheepish sounding Mike...
"Boss, it's me, Mike"  
"I know Mike, your name comes up on my phone, we've been through this about 30 times"
"Yeah, I forget... There's something I need to tell you, you know you sent me to Macro for a load of those Lucozade energy tablets for before the game, well, I just double checked and I actually bought Kalms herbal night time sleep tablets - I was playing Candy Crush on my phone, so I wasn't really looking and I've only gone and handed three each of them out to all the lads before the game"
Well, that explains it doesn't it? For fucks sake Mike! On the way home, I rang Jurgen to see if he fancied a job here, what with all the super league stuff going off. I explained Mike's role (shouting, nipping to Macro, writing things in a black book and carrying cones) but he didn't fancy it. Never mind. I'll stick with Mike. He is very good at shouting and carrying the cones, and his handwriting is excellent. Talking of the Super League, I don't think there'll ever be anything to match the beauty of a 0-0 draw in the u23 academy league when the high pressing of both teams cancels each other out. Sheer joy. Football at it's finest. 
My advanced data metrics team told me not to worry about Rochdale. They said 'Hi Neil, look, we've been on Twitter and everyone says we always lose to them, so there's nothing you could have done about it.' Then they dropped the bombshell that we don't often play very well against Shrewsbury either. That second message rather spoiled the bowl of All Bran I was having at the time (Janine forgot to buy the low salt Muesli at Aldi, so I will have to send Mike out today, though he'll probably come back with Sugar Puffs the daftie!) 
Anyway. We got our heads together and tried to develop a plan to overcome this so-called 'hex'  
Mike said we could say the name of their old ground in snide voices and giggle and nudge each other. I wasn't certain, but when Sullay said 'c'mon boss, that's below even an immature 12 yr old' I decided to move on. 
Steve said 'don't ask me, I'm just the goalkeeping coach' and went off to try and persuade Stuart Moore that he does actually exist and to explain again to Alex Fotijeck why the fuck we bought him. 
Colin said 'We could slay their first born children in the night and then wear their skins around our shoulders like the spoils of some ancient timeless war' Big Gaz thought that sounded like 'mad craic' but pointed out he had a booking at the snooker club so he wouldn't be able to join in. I decided that probably went a bit far and might seem a bit, well 'mad' (not as mad as playing Ethan Robson mind) so I ruled it out. 
In the end, we decided we'd lift the curse by ritually sacrificing a shrew and leaving it in their dressing room. 
Did a bit of training then sent the lads to look for a shrew to sacrifice. Mike went to Macro but they didn't have any. Demi found an old brick and Garbs unearthed a dead pigeon in the gutter of the portakabin new modular training facility. We got really excited when Jimmy thought he'd seen one, but it turned out to be a sock that had been left in the undergrowth.

In the end, we put the pigeon in their dressing room and Turts had the bright idea of sticking a post it note on it, saying 'this is a pigeon, but imagine it was a shrew
That will show them we mean business. In all this hullabaloo I forgot to think about my masterclass for the week, so I'm just going to do the same thing as Tuesday, but I'll personally check they're lucozade tablets this week. Might even go to Macro myself for them. It'll all work out. 
Last week's masterclass is still a masterclass after all! 


As the players come out, loads of lads with forks run out with them. This could be a really canny plan. If they look like scoring, spear them on a garden tool. Jerry claps like mad and psychs himself up. They run out really late. It feels somewhat strange to be wasting the sunshine indoors, peering at the game on a laptop. 

There's something missing. Wait a minute, there's no Chissy! This is brilliant. You can hear everything. Some genius shouts 'Come on the Pool!' as we kick off and screams of 'Sull, Sull!' accompany the enigmatic genius as he makes a couple of early runs. Simms nicks it, touches it to Yates, who finds an onrushing Kaikai. His cross from wide left has a nice shape, but is half a yard too high.  We've started ok. 

Then Chissy appears. Sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone and the commentator-less feed was wonderful. You have to watch the game properly without someone (mis)interpreting it and telling you Sullay is shit and Ollie Turton is the world's finest human being ever, ever, ever every five minutes. Hearing the shouts and the sound of the boot through the ball made it all seem a bit more visceral. 

Simms has nice hold up play, Sullay is a wizard in a one-two with Dougall. Yates spins at the end of the move, but is robbed of the ball. We look better than them but nothing much has really happened. 

It takes 12 minutes for a shot. Embleton's short corner leading to a low drive on an angle from Fragile (but not as fragile as he was) Luke. The keeper clutches but takes it over the touchline. Garbutt takes the corner, it's swung to the far post, Yates nods it back and it bounces for Dan Ballard about 9 yards out. He swings, hits it hard as he can but it balloons high up into the stands. 

At the other end, Ward loses it, the Shrews go through the middle. A low shot that Maxwell has covered is turned into a looping effort that looks to be going in by a deflection from Ballard. It hits the underside of the bar, Thorniley clears and then it looks worryingly like Gabriel cleans out one of their players in the box but the ref lets it go. It's livened up. 

Sullay has a shot blocked, then does a little give and go with Simms and his second touch is heavy. He looks lively, fired up, he's more expressive than he normally is in his body language as he berates himself. Embleton isn't really getting into the game though. Garbutt repeats the far post cross from earlier. Jerry again gets his head on it, but it flies almost straight up and lands on the roof of the net. There's a lovely moment where everyone is static, watching it go up, and then down. 

Embleton threads a ball through to no one then gets clattered. Gabriel knocks two players over on a run to nowhere. We've had a few little spells where it looked like we might take control, but we haven't yet done so. I have one of those moments where I wonder if Critch reads this, as we launch a long throw, a tactic we never, ever seemed to use, but suddenly seem to have adopted in the last few weeks after I wrote that I didn't know why we never do them. 

Harry Chapman is on the end of a sweeping Shrews break. Gabriel is left for dust and it takes a heroic slide from Ballard to save the day and divert it for a corner. Chapman then produces a devastating inswinger and Maxwell does well to punch it, diverting it away from goal as it fizzes dangerously waiting for a touch. 

Sullay makes one of his dreamy little touches in to Simms and races free, looking for the return but Ellis instead turns slowly and has the ball hacked away from him. A great header at the back, a lovely touch from Ward, a shimmy from Sullay and a crisp ball to Embleton who has time and space to run into but instead tries to send Jerry away and his ambitious pass is read by their defence. That's what we've been like. There's been some nice stuff, but the end product isn't there. 

Finally it almost is. Sullay to Embleton who plays a lovely reverse flicked pass, Simms touches it off and Kaikai hits it first time from the edge of the box into the arms of the keeper. It's a nice move, even if the finish wasn't there. 


We've been the better side, but without creating a lot. So far, Kaikai is the pick of our attacking players and I'm still not at all convinced that having Embleton central (he's not looking comfortable on the right side) and Demi out wide wouldn't give us more options than playing two strikers does. 

That's the frustration. We're clearly (Harry Chapman aside) better than them but we've not really made that quality count. 


There's no changes, which isn't a surprise and is I suppose better than seeing Turton come on for Gabriel or something like that. Harry Chapman causes more trouble which Ward does very well to cut out, then as we break, Simms looks like an academy player as he turns straight into trouble and loses the ball, trying to play football far to deep. 

Then Simms looks world class as he chases a ball from Gabriel, to the byline, charges two defenders out of the way, crosses for Yates who is just beaten to it. Sullay keeps it alive, thinks about a run then lays it to Garbutt, his ball is good and again Yates is there at the near post, meeting it in a collision of bodies and just not quite turning it in.

Minutes later, it's Gabriel lifting it over the top, it's a sensational ball, up, over and down onto a sixpence and Yates movement is superb, he takes it down perfectly and he rifles it at the near post corner, the ball clipping the wrong side of the post. 

It's been our best spell, but after a slip from Gabriel, Shrewsbury get down the pitch and have a corner. They cross it, head it and score. It's the easiest, most simple goal you could ever see. Pennington just steps in front of his man and in front of the keeper and heads it in. I'm slightly in shock over how straightforward the goal was. 

C'mon Critch. Roll the dice man. 

Embleton is dispossessed just as he's about to shoot. We pass it about quite a bit. They have a break. We have a few moments where it looks like we might, but we don't. We end one move with Ballard lifting a heavy ball over the top for Sullay. Not the man you want chasing a high ball, nor the man you want playing one. 

Shrewsbury make a sub. They are winning. Neil! NEIL! NEIL! We are losing. I'm all for patience, but c'mon. Demi is warming up and finally Demi is coming on and we're finally switching to the formation known to the world as 'the one we discovered at half time against Burton and used for a while and looked dead good' (or 4231) 

Immediately we pass and move. As we go wide, Sullay comes inside, Garbutt finds him, he does a beautiful trick, stroking the ball away from his man with one foot, then hitting it hard from 20+ yards with the same, forcing a diving save. Demi has a little run and then lashes it over the top. 

Ethan Robson is coming on. So is, more confusingly, Ollie Turton. Gabriel makes way as does Embleton. Mike Garrity has his sleeves rolled up looking like a man fixing his car in the sunshine. Critch is looking a bit aggrieved that we seem only able to muster balls from the centre back clipped over the top for them to clean up his arms folded. A curmudgeonly looking imp. 

We try and play triangles in the corner, but it looks like we've all got a different idea of what sort of triangle it is in our minds. Demi wins a free kick. Garbutt hits into the wall. But it's lashed back in, Yates nods it back, Robson swivels and hits it hard but it's blocked by the keepers legs, there's Jerry, racing in and lashing it home. Yes! But no. It's offside. Fucking hell. 

Mike Garrity is running into their technical area to retrieve the ball. Good lad Mike. It's getting tetchy. Dougall gets smashed in the face by the ball. Norburn seems to have taken an instinctive dislike to Demi and the two of them seem locked in a permanent scuffle, like a pair of dogs who don't get on. Ballard concedes a free kick and his angelic face is red and furious as he hurls the ball down into the turf. 

Dougall is replaced by Brad Holmes. Come the fuck on Pool! We have a free kick. Sullay takes. It hits the man at the near post. We get a throw and then contrive to pass it out of play on the other side of the pitch. Yates and Holmes link up, The young lad does well to get it back to Jerry, but he gets it tangled up under his feet. Sullay nips it to Holmes, he goes down the left wing, but he can't quite chase his first touch. Was he held back? He doesn't look shy as he claims he was. Nor does he look overawed as he shouts for the ball, showing up, joining in well. 

Holmes looking a footballer aside, it's frustration itself. We have a twenty pass move that ends with Demi getting away and a ball in, but of all people, it finds Ollie Turton who just sees it hit his legs and dribble wide. 

Sullay takes a decentish corner, which grazes about three heads as it flies across the box. It's with Robson, wide, he strokes it back to Ward who neither shoots nor passes, lifting a loopy ball to no one over the bar. We spend the remains of extra time wrestling and trying to fight them out of the corner. When we finally do, we pass it sideways on halfway in a way that has me simoultaneosly apoplectic with rage and thinking 'they're letting the centre back get up' and when Garbutt finally launches it, someone wins it, it falls for Robson who has shot. It's weak though and the keeper has all the time in the world to kneel and collect. It's not only a textbook example of how to get your body behind the ball, but he had time to read the textbook first just to gen up on how to do it. 


Not going to write much here, but it's again, like early season Pool. Whether it's fatigue or actually, we aren't as good as we thought we were I don't know. There was so little creativity it hurt. Sullay did ok and we made a few chances here and there, but the side that was tearing things up and dominating only a few weeks ago looked nowhere to be seen. Shrewsbury, like Rochdale before them didn't really look up to much. The goal looked to be a defensive error, but a side of quality should be able to concede the odd goal here and there.

We looked ponderous going forward aside from a little burst for 10 minutes at the start of the secod half and with little lads up front, we found ourselves so often having Dan Ballard, aiming a ball, not very accurately at one of them and looking increasingly out of ideas as the game progressed. 

We've lost for the second week in a row to a side that offered very little and that's frustrating as fuck. I'm not sure what we're so scared off about these sides? Why can we go and pin a top side back relentlessly, but faff about against mid table and lower half sides as if they're going to murder us if we attack? 

Masterclass gone wrong. Megson in. (no, never. Megson out! Fucking prick. Hate him)




Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...