Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Left foot. Right foot. (King) Kenny Dougall : The Mighty vs Lincoln City




Spoiler: We won (again)...

As if by magic, the sunshine appears. We've been in darkness for months, locked away through winter and to compound it, the summer has been in hiding up till now, but we're up and out into beautiful blue skies. We're soon past some has been milltown that haven't graced the top flight this century... We're over the big bridge at Warrington. We're past distant power station cooling towers, through green flanked motorway valleys. I see a red kite soaring on the air currents. I see rolling fields of green and yellow and farmhouses of pink stone. I see poppies, growing in the gravel at the end of a slip road. What colour are they? Tangerine of course.

It's a sign. Everything is a sign. The. Pool. Are. Going. Up. 

Getting to Wembley is a piece of piss until you get to Wembley. We sweat in the car for an hour trying to find the mirage that is the official parking, forever 2.4 miles away, permanently 10 mins from our destination, but never seeming to get any closer. The signs direct me to a closed road, the alternative route the satnav suggests sends me to the world's busiest road instead. I'm getting seriously panicky. But suddenly, there it is. Let's be honest, parking is a fucking boring topic, but for a minute or two, I considered just dumping the car, torching it and then trying to buy a new one for the way home. 

First thing I do when we get in, is scan the warm up... and thank fuck... Dan Ballard plays but wait... Ellis Simms is out!... It doesn't matter, it won't matter, it can't matter. We. Are. Going. Up. 4-5-1 will be fine, Mitchell, Keshi and Embleton is a creative force to be reckoned with. Dougall and Stewart are rock solid. Jerry will run the line because Jerry is Jerry and Jerry a god waiting for us at the gates of heaven. To top it off, as if to cheer us up in case we're worried at missing Simms, Critch has popped CJ on the bench...

What could possibly go wrong?



--- 

Flames leap into the air, the sound of the two sets of fans mingle in the heat. We're off. Lincoln wander down the right. They just seem to stroll through, a ball comes in, it's low, close to Maxwell. He kneels, anticipating a touch that never comes, from a forward rushing to the near post, instead, it skips off the turf, past him ... Ollie Turton goes to clear... but he doesn't clear and instead, turns it into the net. 

What the fuck just happened? I'm literally on my knees. There's heads in hands all around. What the actual fuck just happened? A narrative is supposed to start with equilibrium before the problem is introduced, not kick off with the problem immediately... This is Cardiff 2001 stuff. My head has gone. We're on our feet now. We've picked ourselves up. We're roaring them on. We're swaying with the punch and now we're springing back, stamping, clapping, screaming, urging them on. 

The metal casing on the stand is the drum. The roof of the tier above is being punched. There's noise swirling. We're on our feet. It'll take more than a goal to beat us... C'mon Pool... 

To be honest, I have no real idea if what I'm writing is any sort of order... This is a dream taking place in waking life. We try to regain composure by passing it about but the ball looks slow and the grass looks too lush, too thick. The energy isn't there. Keshi is busy, but he looks too eager, running into traffic, spraying first time balls that no one can read. Garbutt gets booked for a big lunging slide in the corner and I'm not enjoying this at all. 

It seems to take forever for us to have a shot. Luke of the lovely locks curls a free kick into the arms of the keeper. At least we've had a go now. But they come forward and Grant cracks one off the post. Heads turn to the sky, a square of blue framed by the grey Wembley roof. Surely this can't go wrong. It is going wrong. We really aren't playing very well. Lincoln are snapping into us, Lincoln are tigerish and dangerous. We're flat and slower than normal. 

Demi heads one well over the top. Jimmy steps forward, he runs, he lays wide, the cross comes in, Jimmy keeps going, he stretches, he just can't reach and there's Demi again, on the overlap, charging on to it, striking it, catching it on the full, hammering it, but the keeper beats it away.

There's a roar, there's a renewal of belief. There's a wave of noise. The walls are beaten again. 

Jerry chases down, Jerry wins it, Jerry sprints forward down the middle, he's away, then he's not but he's no one trick pony this lad, a little turn buys the space and the ball he plays to Embleton is perfectly weighted. Embleton is onto it... we're urging a shot and the shot comes, charged down, back to Embleton, who shifts it sideways and YESSSSSSSSSSS! It's Kenny Dougal, driving it, crisp and low, fading away from the keeper. There's delirium... Yes! We needed that. We needed that and we got it. The fella next to me lifts me off my feet. I nearly go over the seats behind me. It's been a nervy start, but that's the release we needed. 

If I'm not sure about the beginning of the game, from this point on, it's more or less a blur. At some point Embleton dribbles a weak shot at the keeper. Demi has a decent header well saved, leaping far higher than he has a right too. Lincoln balloon a shot over the top and then the half time whistle goes. What order that happened in is anyone's guess. 

--- 

Fucking hell. I have no wise thoughts. I'm done in and it's only half time. I though Demi did a great job in getting us moving forward, showing a purpose when we lacked it, I enjoyed a beautiful outside of the foot ball by Dan Ballard and a sublime pass from Kevin Stewart, but everything is just a jumble in my head. We've got this. We've got to have got this. We're back into it, we finally started putting things together and we're too good to let go of everything we've done. Aren't we? Surely?  

---

The second half is even more confusing to recall than what went before, it's too intense to think about what's happening as it happened and thus, it's just noise and random images... I don't think too much happened for a bit... then a ball comes in from the right, Jerry kills it, he shapes to spin, but then lays it back and there's Kenny Dougall, taking it in his stride and unleashing an arrow into the bottom corner...  This time I lift the fella next to me. The noise is even louder. It's insane, there's about the same number of people you might get for a decent tie in the LDV trophy group stages on a Tuesday night, but it's a cauldron. Dougall's name echoes round the ground, bouncing down off the empty top tiers, meeting the next chorus rising from the tangerine army.... ONE TWO THREE FOUR! OHEEOH, SUPER KENNY DOUGALL!!! 

He never gives the ball away....

I can't even pretend I can do the rest of the game justice. I can tell you Gary Madine (he's a Goal Machine) comes on. We're right on top, Madine and Yates look a handful. Madine is more than just a presence - he plays a lovely diagonal for Keshi who is stopped by a desperate tackle that sees him limp off. At some point before that, he did a fucking outrageous spin and flick past three players. If he looked a bit eager in the first half, he purred his way through the second... I can tell you that CJ Hamilton replaces him. I love Critch's subs today. Going for it. Not getting cagey, trying to put the boot on their throat and press down. 

At another point, Madine nods a header just over the top from a little dinked Garbutt free kick. A few times CJ makes getting away on the right look like a piece of piss. Jerry plays one of the most sublime passes I've ever seen from wide left. What happened before or after that image, I dunno, but the lad can play. Similarly, he has a ridiculously clever little flick in the box at one point. He's so much better than just a whippet up front. He's a really fucking good footballer. 

He almost, almost, almost puts the game to bed. Dougall plays in Madine, the goal machine shows his insanely good radar as he dummies it, and lets it run through his legs, Jerry is through, we're up as one, he's lifted it, over the keeper, we're about to let it all go, but it's just too cute a flick and Lincoln can scramble back and scrape it away.  

Then there's pressure. Grant Ward is on, Embleton is off. Lincoln aren't done. There's a horrible cross, at some point Maxwell has one of those crazy punches and we scramble it away. The ball seems to whistle across the face off goal more times than I'd like. Jordan Thorniley comes on. Shirtless Jerry goes off. There's pointing at the back. There's tireless running, there's a wonderful, wonderful shithouse challenge from Kenny Dougall, calmly taking a man down, perfectly judged so it can only be a yellow and we can all get back. Jimmy is leaping and sliding. Garbutt snaps into a perfect tackle. Lincoln are pressing... 

The clock ticks on. The crowd is announced to a rousing chorus of 'Fuck the EFL' The clock ticks on some more... All the screens and a PA you can actually hear, but I've no idea how much injury time there is. Their keeper is up. We clear, they win it back. The keeper comes up again. We clear, but they win it back again and the keeper stays up... This is brilliant stuff, but I'd really rather it was over, much as I like it when goalies go mad. Somewhere in all this, Lincoln come a bit close, but as it goes over, wide or whatever actually happened, all I can remember is cheering like we'd scored. Again, a wave of noise goes round the horseshoe of Pool fans and it's clear, we've done this... It's just a matter of time now... 

We clear it, CJ races down the right, CJ is pulled down, or maybe he's knocked his man down. There's a whistle and for a second or so, I'm looking to see who the free kick is too, but then I notice that our lads are sprinting, their arms are aloft, their sliding, Jerry is dancing and that it's all over and WE. ARE. GOING. UP!!! Me and my new best mate hug again. The noise goes up another notch. 

--- 


For reasons best known to people who are paid loads of money to run football, the trophy is presented behind a big cardboard screen facing away from the majority of the Pool fans. It doesn't matter, because there's 15 minutes of celebration that not even the EFL can fuck up. Simon Sadler (he's one of our own) applauds. Demi lifts the cup again and again and again. The crowd roars again and again and again. Critch is grinning his impish best, his eyes are twinkling like christmas lights. He's eschewed the big coat, he's cast off the body warmer, and is resplendent in a champagne soaked white polo shirt. Sullay and Grant Ward embrace. Ellis Simms limps around, a grin from ear to ear. Jerry conducts the fans, bottle in hand. 


There's a few moments where I just watch. I drink in the noise. The fists punching the air in rhythm to the chants, the sheer delight all around. All this club has been through. All that is still to come. This wonderful, strange and magical thing that entranced me by accident 30 years ago. This thing that I thought I'd lost and that now, I've never felt more strongly. Wembley comes and Wembley goes but this feels like something else. The players sprint and slide. We roar once more.

In the background, the Lincoln fans have applauded their team, they've had a magnificent season and yet, they've slunk away, heads bowed. It's over for them. You win sometimes, you lose sometimes and today, we won. We're back where we were. It's all football, whatever league it is, but it's PNE, it's Blackburn, it's West Brom, it's Forest, Derby, QPR, Sheffield United and so on and so on... It's the second tier and we're in it and we won't be there just to enjoy it and cling on for dear life either... Critchley won't see it like that. Sadler won't see it like that. We're really, really back this time... The warmth from the fans to the club. The genuine sense that it's a two way street.

Pinch yourself. There's a fella in a suit on the pitch who owns the club and we love him. We're singing his name.  He's not one of that lot. He's anything but that. He's not part of some consortium of investors who fancied expanding their portfolio. He's not some crazy middle east tycoon who fancies a club to play with who picked Blackpool out of a list of names. He's one of our own and we're only just getting started on this journey...   


What a season. What a strange time. What an end to it all. What are beautiful thing it is to be tangerine

Thanks for reading this shite this year... In a bit x  

utmp

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Wem-ber-ley preview.


Bet it wasn't 30 fucking quid to park in the 1920s..

It's not been a rollercoaster of a season however much lazy previews might use that ready made seaside town imagery. It's been more of a slowly ascending lift that was stuck for a while at the ground floor, before starting on a steady upward climb, gathering pace all the time before threatening to explode through the ceiling of the entire structure like the ending to Charlie and the Chocolate factory.

Sort of. It's a shit metaphor. I could probably expend some words on Colin Calderwood as a lift engineer or Kenny Dougall providing the oil to ensure the mechanism worked properly but that would be stretching already painful imagery to wincing point. 

What I'm trying to say is that before the season, it looked like we'd be very good, then when the season started we weren't actually very good but slowly but surely we got better and better until we were probably superior to anyone else in the division and certainly, with our incredible defensive solidity and late season flurry of goals, way beyond my expectations for the season.

It's striking how we've evolved over the course of time. Whilst players like Maxwell, Yates and Turton remain mainstays from the opening day, we've built, bit by bit, from an attractive but innefective idealist vision to a pragmatic and flexible side capable of playing in several different ways.

Ballard, Dougall, Simms, Thorniley and Madine just some of the players who either weren't Blackpool players or weren't expected to remain so for long who have made crucial contributions.

We can see this as cause for 'what might have been' self recrimination about the summer rebuild but... perhaps... the way that the ratio of hits to misses in terms of signings improved exponentially as the season went along is actually a real positive. Maybe it shows an artist's eye? Any fool can paint a picture by numbers. It takes real thought to take a blank canvas, try several different approaches, to adapt, to develop something by trial and error and then to settle on what works... An artist's notebook is full of sketches that never make it to the gallery. 

The sideways passing reached a nadir... Critch even once or twice looked flustered. We responded though. First, back to basics, with the odd masterclass that hinted at greater things thrown in, a little Christmas wobble, results ground out again, the turnaround vs Burton, caution gradually giving way to confidence, a rolling stone gathering pace and momentum. 

Even as late as March though, doubts remained as to the attacking prowess of the side. Yes, Jerry scored goals, but who else did? We missed CJ's pace. Sullay was isolated and lonely on the wing and this Simms character was raw and simply not ready and why the fuck had we put so much faith in an injured Sunderland reserve reject? 

I felt these doubts as much as anyone else. The quiet way Critch has gone about his business, slowly showing more ambition, more experiment, more nous has silenced me. It's less than a month since I confidently dismissed an article suggesting we could play five or three at the back on the basis that if we knew anything about Mr Neil 'tactics gnome' Critchley it was that he builds his systems on a defensive four and that wasn't changing anytime soon. What do I know? 

We have found success playing in numerous different ways. We have a well rounded squad, we have depth and the ability to shake things up from the bench. We've come so far from where we started and really, long as the lockdown season has seemed, we've done it very quickly, overcoming injuries that would have done for many a season, revealing a steely character and will to compete that has spread from one player to another like an obvious covid metaphor. 

No season should hinge on one game, but whilst a loss won't be an abject disaster due to the solid foundations upon which the club is now seemingly built and what appears to be an ownership committed beyond any reasonable doubt to our motto of "progress" - there is a lingering sense that this team could be something special and promotion could be the prerequisite for keeping it together. Lose and there's a danger of feeling of 'what might have been...' 

Ballard,Simms Gabriel and Embleton are far more likely to sign up (whether on loan or permanently) for football at a higher level. Promotion would silence all but the most outlandish stories about our better players as targets for other clubs. The Championship TV deal would relieve the pressure on Sadler's individual input and perhaps accelerate plans for the clubs infrastructure development. The value of all our players would go up. It's an ugly truth, but a truth none the less, that the financial factors around promotion matter more than they once did. 

It is the latter point that maybe means most. The true crime of the Oyston regime (well, one of them) was to fail to capitalise on the opportunity afforded them to establish the club as a genuine going concern at a higher level and a genuine part of the community having won a pot of gold that refilled itself for season upon season.

Having lucked upon a position whereby the name Blackpool FC was positively regarded by the wider football world and was embraced locally in a way that has never been seen in my lifetime and probably that of people at least a decade older than me, the fact that position was not just squandered in a footballing sense, but turned into something not far short of a civil war is still frankly baffling to anyone not reconciled to the fact that no standard logic applies to our former owners.

Mr Sadler is a very different proposition. He seems to want to build something different. Something that lasts for decades. Something that consists of more than breeze block, rust and a few amazing memories albeit ones tainted by the fallout that followed. You have to feel confident that if we were to see even a proportion of the successes the former regime was gifted by the perfect freak storm of Uncle Val and Ollie that the money will transform the club and by extension to some extent, the town for years to come. 

There's a tendency to want everything now in the modern football fan. A tendency to see things as binary. Win and everything is rosy, lose and everything is a disaster. Tomorrow is only a game of football. Mr Sadler's vision for the club is bigger than any one game but having come so far this year, it feels as if defeat might cut quite hard. For the first time in my life, we'll all feel the joy as one. From bottom to top and everything in between. The converse is obvious. 

For so long, it's felt as if success has come despite our ownership... Tomorrow, we'll be in the strange position of potentially celebrating success because of our ownership. Perhaps that raises the stakes. I don't know. Perhaps that sits strangely when for so long, we've been used to defying the odds with footballing waifs, strays, cast offs and bargains. A rag tag and bobtail Pricebusters FC held together at our high points by eccentric brilliance and prone to implode without it. That's not who we are anymore. Does that make it feel different? Is this me turning expectant? I fucking hope not. 

I don't know. It's only football and yet here we are. So many words. It's a funny old game and so on... 

I'm predicting 10-0 to Pool because frankly my brain won't comprehend breaking this game down into a serious tactical battle. Lincoln aren't shit and are worryingly adaptable and resilient but I think we're better. If we turn up and get it right, I think we'll win. If we don't show what we're capable of then they might, though I'm not ruling out a topsy turvy game,won by a freak Gary Goals deflection in the dying seconds and general chaos...

Break it down seriously and you have to think of our weak points against sides that don't encourage the break... You have to acknowledge that Lincoln are the only decent team we haven't beaten (and most of them, we've beaten well.) I don't want to acknowledge anything other than that we are the Pool and we're going up and I just can't seem to get enough...

Towers are better than cathedrals. Tangerine beats red and white (or black.) Appleton might be a brick shithouse but Critch is a nimble little trickster...

Utmp






Friday, May 21, 2021

Still the noise goes on (all the way to Wembley): the Mighty vs Oxford United.



What a fucking week. Tuesday was magic but the rest can get in the sea. That's my life though and my life isn't interesting. Why the fuck would I think you'd care cos your life is probably not a jolly barrel organ tune all the time either... Football is much more interesting than that shite and I'm going to an actual game.... I'm looking forward to it so much that there's even a tiny regret that we're so far in front. I really want a proper game of football. Promotion and all of that is great, but part of me just wants to live through a game in its own right and feel it. Properly. Tension. Anger. Release. Frustration. Delight. All of that please.


The skies are dark and dramatic as I approach Bloomfield. This is nearly July and yet it looks and feels like November. I see a car with the reg 'GAZ' ahead of me at the lights at the top of the road of dreams. That's got to be a sign. The Bloomfield is buzzing. There's kids with facepaint having their picture taken. A lady is gossiping with her neighbour and I overhear her surprised remark about 'it looks like there's a game on.' A fella with lots of tattoos smokes in the doorway of his flat, all tightly sprung menace, watching the crowds pass by, a look of surly, dangerous resentment in his eyes.



I fucking hate the paper tickets. It pisses down briefly as we walk up and I'm convinced they're going to turn to mush and then I'll get turned away. Perhaps this is a dream that is about to become a nightmare?


So far, so good. I'm in, and it all seems real enough. There's no zebras on the pitch or melting clocks. I don't suddenly end up falling or stuck to the spot. What there is, is a portly Oxford Utd coach who catches my eye because he doesn't appear to do anything related to the team at all. He just stands there in the centre circle watching and occasionally does some bad kick ups. All I can discern is his main job seems to be holding a ball under his arm. Nice work if you can get it.

Critch surveys our warm up with a clinical eye. The noise builds. Oxford leave to a chorus of boos. Our players leave to a rapturous send off. A fine rain begins to fall. This is a football match. We even cheer the names in the line up and we've not done that for ages. Demi is in for Keshi but otherwise it's unchanged.

⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽

---

Pool start well. We move it nicely, we probe, we shift the ball about, we try different angles. The best moment is a cute little Ellis Simms back header. It's not that dangerous, but it's just the sort of thing a player in form tries and a player out of form doesn't. The press. The press. Oh, the press... It's fucking brilliant. A thing of beauty. They can't get out. We pin them in. We're tigerish, we're so alert.  


But... Ballard concedes a free kick on their left. They cross. It's not cleared well and there's a low drive from one side of goal into the bottom corner of the other. Shit. I sit down. Anyone of a certain age knows what I'm thinking. I stand up. Come on POOL!  


Demi intercepts. He spreads to Embleton. Embo must give it, there's an overlap. The greedy get goes inside again, he's going to run into a man and waste it, but no! He's sent his man with his eyes, shaping one way, then going the other and he's drifting right through and he's digging out a beautiful, beautiful curler, and now he's running away arms aloft and I am going mental and so is everyone else. Jerry is behind the goal, he's whipping the fans up and we're drinking it in, delirious, joyous, release... Fuck you Bradford. This is not a repeat.


It's a corner. Embleton goes to the far post, Ballard chases, twists into an almost impossible shape, nods back brilliantly and Dougall leaps and forces home. Same again. It's a cauldron of noise. This is everything I wanted. This is wonderful.


We control the half. I've never especially rated Stewart on the laptop but in the flesh, he's much more impressive and a gorgeous outside of the foot pass sees Jerry almost through. Simms and Demi combine and shirtless Jerry fires it into a defender. Embleton this time does use the overlap, Garbutt finds Simms who hits the hits legs of defender. Demi goes wide, he's slowed it right down, he's teasing, teasing, waiting and waiting then bang! He goes, so quick, so sudden, so direct and his half cross cross half shot is tipped away. He's playing really well.


Maxwell has a chipped pass, a lovely, perfect lofted ball over the top. Yates kills it perfectly. Is Maxwell a keeper? Are we sure? I honestly don't think I've ever seen one better with his feet. Jerry is just crowded out, but the ball breaks to Ballard.. SHOOOT! go the crowd, but sadly wor Dan doesn't take the invite, you can tell he thinks of it, but instead he just lays it sideways and runs back to the defence almost embarrassed at not quite knowing what to do.


We're so on top we're already requesting waves from our heroes. We get one from Simon. We get one from Critch. There's an either an absurd (and unpunished) dive by their 17 or my eyesight is really going. Maxwell however, is booked for arguing an offside. It's a petty booking to give and then the ref seems happy with Demi getting battered and Ballard's ankles getting twatted. No bookings for aggressive foul play or blatent cheating, but questioning the linesman is out of order seemingly.   ---

It's been superb. We've cruised it after the early mishap. We're class. I can't believe the quality in the flesh. We're just so commanding and we rarely waste the ball. Oxford are far from a bad side but they knock it out of play from time to time or hit the odd pointless pass and we just don't do that. Demi is a proper whippet, I really enjoy watching him play. Dougall just makes a mockery of the fact we once couldn't live without Spearing. Yates has so much presence for a smaller front man. He uses his body so well, he knocks much bigger players off balance, he's always trying to roll his man, he's just relentless in his movement. Ollie Turton isn't the same player I last watched live. He just fits perfectly. He looks twice as good. Last time I was here (15 months back), I wrote a blog about the lovable idiosyncrasies and tragi-comic repeated failings of some of our team. There's none of that today. They all just look totally comfortable. They look like they know exactly what they're doing and the most impressive thing is how they make the prodigious effort of keeping a decent enough side like Oxford pinned back look easy. They're working so hard, but it's not desperate effort, it's controlled energy. This is a machine of a team.


---


Big Marv is on. Ballard has gone. I hope it's not the ankle he got hit on... (Critch reveals afterwards it's not.) We've not played for long when Oxford hit the post. It's a scare but at the same time, there's something really satisfying about hearing the thump of the ball on the post again. Then they get it wide and play in a floaty ball… and it's just headed in... That was weird. It was a really easy goal. It's not iFollow, so I can't rewind or anything and I don't know who to point at as a result, but it was quite bizarre how simple it was. Surely it can't go wrong now? It can't, can it? Surely not!


Simms takes and lays off well, Demi scampers away down the right, taking it wide, he knocks over a flatish cross, Ellis stretches but it's a touch too high.. Jerry is there at the far post, he takes it down with one touch and then bang. Shot to the head, ball in the opposite corner and I just can't get enough of this game and this Pool team. The sniper hits the target. Perfect. It had to include a Jerry goal and here it is.

 

Maxwell is brilliant with his feet again, as he has been all year, he takes it under pressure, and he not only clears it but it's a decent ball forward. He's absolutely cleaned out a second later though. I'm apoplectic. It's a pointless, dangerous late challenge and Maxwell is the one player we don't have anything like a like for like replacement for and he looks hurt. I'm immediately thinking it's a red for a nasty, badly timed challenge. The ref shows a yellow and I lose it. I'm angry, but fucking hell, does it feel good to be hurling foul mouthed invective at a referee. The bottling twat.


Two minutes later a little trip from Stewart. Yellow card. Fucking dickhead ref.  


Kenny Dougall though. Great work, a tackle, it's a 50/50 and he falls, but he just bounces up, tackles again, and then again and comes through with the ball, plays it out to Demi. Off he goes again, a cross to the near post, Simms darts onto it, hits it first time, side netting.  


Oxford free kick. Ref does a stupid repeating blackbird type whistle. Then he does it again, marching over to deal with some pushing looking like a jumped up deputy head compensating for his lack of control over his own life by meting out pointless playground punishments. I really have taken against him and I'm usually fairly sanguine about referees. They're no worse than they ever were, they're going to get shit wrong sometimes and we should live with that but this lad is a knobhead. Petty one moment, laid back the next.


Sub time and wor Gaz, Keshi and Gabriel are on. They've barely settled in when Oxford cross from wide again. Maxwell paws it out. It's bounced. then seems to be cleared but as it happens, it turns out not to have been cleared and someone pops up and pokes it in. Again, it just sort of happened. Since Ballard has gone off there's been a kind of hesitancy in the defence which is quite atypical of our season of late.


Garbutt has a free kick. Madine gets free and heads it well, but it's saved. Oxford aren't done thought and again, a floating ball causes doubt in the defence. It gets through to the far post, we dither and in nips one of them, a close range effort is blocked away. The man next to me looks tense and says 'It's not over this.' They get a free kick. A lady near me shouts the beautiful phrase "C'mon wall - stand tall!" and then follows it up with an admiring "Well done wall!" I've missed this so much.


We take control back. Madine holds up and his lay off is the catalyst for a simply lovely move, from one side of the pitch to another, keeping it moving, till the space opens for a wide man to be set away. The cross is in between the two strikers, but had it found one, it would have been a goal to salivate over. Jerry goes down the line and blasts at near post and it's touched over. Keshi is free a few times, but good as his running is, his efforts are a bit tame.


Oxford engage in some completely pointless shithouse behaviour, tripping people and storming round like if they can't win it, they might as well piss us off and maybe leave their mark on us. There's a bit of a scrap and one of their lads is held back by another. It seems a bit of an empty gesture when the game has gone.
I'm well beyond nerves and just soaking it up. The east is the north tonight. The crowd has been brilliant but the presumably enormous shared household grouped together just to the north of centre in the east is has been the heart of it. Now they're massing by the advertising boards. We're urged to stay off the pitch. Dougall is man of the match. There's a brilliant chorus of 'tangerine, tangerine, tangerine.' Sometimes the old ones are the best... My voice is going. I haven't felt this alive for months. The whistle goes. ---


The noise goes on. The players don't even go off to come back on. They're round the ground at the first chance. Dan Ballard is dancing stiffly, but he looks fit to burst with excitement. Yates is ahead of the pack, he's giddy as anyone in the stands. Critch is giving it fist pumping delight and applauding earnestly. There is just a touch of that man from years ago who evokes more feeling than any other manager in the way he shows that calm surface but is clearly raging with passion on the inside. Billy was more expressive, more demonstrative, but Critch burns quietly. Billy was an intelligent, measured man. A good man. The best of men. Critch is a good man too. He knows the value of respect. He's got a decency that Ollie liked to project performatively but Critch seems to really possess deep down.

 

Gary Madine is in the crowd. He's hugging someone. There's a little kid being brought onto the pitch from the crowd. Sadler is applauding. He knows what we're after and we might just be very close to going up. The noise still goes on. More players go into the crowd. Critch gives every block of every bit of the ground the clenched fists and the applause. This can last forever for all I care.

Football is stupid, it's pointless but it's noise, it's people. It's something. It's special.

I fucking loved that. I needed that. I think we all did. Lets do it again in London in a week and bit?

FUCKING YES!!!!!!!

utmp

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---



Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Tangerine Dreamland: Oxford United vs the Mighty

No caption needed

You don't need a load of shite today. Let's get straight into it. 

The roulette wheel has been well and truly spun. Some things that were always going to happen have happened (Ollie Turton was always, always, always playing at right back) and some things that surprised even dedicated Critchologists have too. It's a back four which is simple enough, but Jordan Thorniley is rewarded for a string of excellent performances by being dropped in place of Jimmy Husband, who is a football god with a lovely haircut but I can't help think of as a mainly a left back... 

The midfield feels a bit weird as well. Embleton plays, not in itself not a huge shock, but will be on the right (or the left perhaps) with Kevin Stewart returning to partner Kenny Dougall and Keshi on the other side. Or is it a diamond of some kind, with Stewart sitting deep, Dougall and Embleton in midfield and Keshi at the tip? 

Up front, it's simple enough. There's Jerry, rested and ready and Ellis Simms, bang on form. The question is - will this side be getting the ball to them? I don't like Stewart and Dougall playing together, but maybe the combined creativity of Embleton and Keshi will counteract that. Keshi loves to roam about and Embleton always plays better with another player to swap with. It's not the team I'd have picked, but then the team I'd have picked would have been impossible as Sullay and Grant Ward aren't fit. 

Who knows anyway... I've been wrong a million times and Big Gaz is on the bench, so if all else fails, get him on and knock it long and let the Gary magic happen.  

Critch is on telly, looking as impish as he ever has. The sound is down, and the silence puts emphasis on his face, fluctuating between cheeky side eyes mischief, steeliness and slight flashes of well disguised but undeniable panic. The players are shot artfully as they warm up - they're an arms whirling, shuttle running, tangerine machine. You don't get this on iFollow do you? Mind you, iFollow don't fuck people around with kick off times either so it's a two way street. 

Karl Robinson is on now. He looks like a man who would frequent a slightly upmarket pub, talking really loudly at the bar about his round of golf and whose political views would hinge on common sense and commons sense would be whatever he thinks. The Oxford fans seem a bit too neatly arranged around the stadium. A generic commentator man, pronounces 'The play offs' in that Sky TV voice which is part commentator, part film trailer voice over. A graphic confirms that Chris Maxwell is the best goalie in the world. Critch has ditched both the big coat and the body warmer and gone for a hooded tracksuit top/jacket for a light shower. I realise the Oxford fans remind me of a subbuteo stadium where there aren't enough little figures to give the sense of a capacity and the owner has arranged them a bit too neatly to look natural. 

Fucking hell - lets get on with it... 

--- 

Oxford put a few passes together. We swarm and close off their openings. Jerry has a nice touch. Nothing comes of it. Then there's a lose touch and Oxford are steaming through. Jimmy and Ballard are either side. Jimmy launches into a tackle. The whistle goes. Fuck no! We've been here before... I SAID WE SHOULDN'T PLAY HIM AT CENTRE BACK!!! FUCK ME... It's a yellow. Thank fuck for that. The free kick is dangerously central, but it's belted into the wall. Jesus... 

Our touch isn't quite there but we have a little spell of pressure. We have a couple of crosses from Turton and Embleton blacked but then Brandon Barker has an insane run, the length of the pitch. It's stupidly good, he doesn't even seem to be running that fast, just gliding past anyone and everyone. He lays it off at the last, Jimmy dives in again, I wince, the ball is blocked away and we emerge unscathed. I double check. Jimmy is still there. 

Finally we have a corner. Turton, Simms and Embleton working on the right to win. They flick it away at the far post. The ground rises for Jordan Banks. Critch applauds. I'm generally not given to sentiment, but...  It's a moment to take pause, if ever there was one. 

Embleton tries to play a little first time flick for Jerry. It's cut out. We have one of those little phases of passing we do so well but Stewart is robbed in possession and the momentum shifts to them and they do a mirror image of what we were doing. Turton tries to send Keshi away, but the ball is a fraction too heavy. Oxford play right up the edge of our box, we force them all the way back. 

Garbutt, Keshi and Simms link well wide and suddenly we're in. Simms fires it, it's blocked, pops up for Keshi who drills it, drawing a good stop, it falls for Embleton who hits it low but the man on the line saves ruins the day... We come again quickly, and work a shooting position, Embleton hitting a curling effort that is blocked away again. 

Suddenly we're in this. Keshi shimmering past a man. Jimmy being scythed down. It's deep free kick. Embleton lifts it well, it dips nicely, it's cleared but badly, sliced across goal and then, fucking hell... it's not Fred Titmus, but Ollie Turton! He's going to put it wide of the post and then fall over... BUT HE DOESN'T - He can't miss, he doesn't miss. He's Ollie Turton football genius. YESSSSS! 

Get big Gaz on. Pissing around in the corner for 65 mins will do. What's this though? A lofted ball from the centre circle. Disco Ellis takes it, flicks it over his own shoulder, runs around and rifles it home. It is a sublime finish. I am pretty much speechless. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! 

I've not really noticed the crowd so much, but I notice their silence. I hear their boos when Jerry skins their man, gets round the back and then goes down in the challenge. So quickly had I readjusted to the crowd, their silence and restless murmuring is more jarring than them in full voice. 

Maxwell gets told off for pissing about in the six yard box. Critch makes some notes. I reckon they're basically 'YES! YES! YES! IT'S A FUCKING MASTERCLASS' There's a shout for a penalty as a cross strikes Jimmy's hand. I don't know the rules now, but in ref yourself park football, Jimmy would be shouting 'ball to hand' and the game would roll on. Oxford break with lightning pace, Sykes skids it across. Dougall hares back, blocks tumbling, rolling, coming back to his feet and we clear. 

The shots of the crowd from the side are like those pictures of the beaches in the height of Covid shaming last summer, making it look like the ground is packed when it's really 3/4 empty. Brandon Barker weaves another spell, before dinking a pass so cute it's sickening, a forward darts to the near post, turns it back and a shot is crashed into Dan Ballard from about 15 yards out. 

Keshi gets booked, seemingly for getting pushed twice. (I've ignored the timewasting dribbling away of the ball because, well, it's us...) We end the half well, with Simms nearly finding Keshi with a crossfield ball and Embleton nearly sending Simms through with another eye of the needle pass that doesn't quite get through. 

---

Well. Aren't we good? I thought they started better, but we just knocked in two goals, kind of out of nowhere and since then, we've kept them more or less at arms length. Barker looks terrifying but so far we've prevented them getting a shot on target and aside from a couple of punches, I can't remember Maxwell making a save. Jimmy has given me a few palpitations but we've looked pretty solid since. Garbutt has looked crisp and purposeful and Dougall has been at his best, one of those games where seems to be moving faster and further than everyone else and to have added +1 to his base level skills. Maybe Mike Garrity has given him an extra bottle of Lucozade or something. He has been terrific. 

This is made for us. We love to play on the break. We've got pace on the bench and Super Gaz and his magnetic boots in the corner. The depressing men on Sky talk about the game in such a boring way at half time. I don't even look up to see who they are. I miss the barely worth the effort graphics of iFollow. 

---

Oxford start as you'd expect, on the offensive. They earn a couple of fouls, they force a few headed clearances. Our passing is a bit off, like the start of the first half, but Embleton gives us the first moment, Simms holding it up well, then laying it for the loanee, who just glides inside, past one then another before popping a low drive just wide of the right hand past from the edge of the box. 

Finally Oxford work a chance. Henry splits the defence, Sykes races through. There's a cheeky little touch in the back from Ollie 'Goal!' Turton that maybe puts him off and super Chris Maxwell races out does what he does, standing up strongly and beating Syke's drilled effort away. 

Not so fragile anymore Luke has proved to be still quite fragile after all Luke and Jordan Thorniley comes on. There's a weird bit where now returned to left back Jimmy is the heart of everything for 90 seconds. There's also a nagging feeling that if Oxford get their pace running at this pair of centre halves, they could get some joy.

Jimmy is provider again, a lovely ball that curls away from the keeper, evades a lunging defender and finds Yates, it's a tight angle but it's Jerry and it could be the killer. It isn't and the ball is sailing into the car park. Even a sniper misses the odd shot. Yate's miss was understandable, but James Henry's a few minutes later is a bad one. It goes without saying Barker provides, racing down the left, then having the vision to cut it back beyond the players racing to the near post. Henry has only Dougall rushing to the scene a little too late like someone trying vainly to catch a falling vase to worry about, but he just strokes it way over the top. 

It encourages Oxford though. They win some more set plays. The ball seems to get stuck in a mass of players from one cross and rolls out to Maxwell, when it looked like it might fly out of the pack more dangerously. There's near post cross cut out and a few corners but finally, we calm it down with bit of passing and force a corner of our own. We keep it on that flank for ages. We force another corner. Embleton does a grand job of taking as long as he can taking them, but less of a grand job in actually delivering a dangerous ball. Oxford bring on two subs. Karl Robinson toys with a sharpie and shouts like a competitive dad at a swimming gala. 

Yates and Simms are blocked off. Husband, Dougall and Ballard block off yellow shirts. Oxford come again, they link it well, they're pacy, they're bearing down on goal, but there's Ballard, with a foot in, there's Stewart with a toe in, there's a ball away, Simms collecting, turning, laying off, there's Jerry racing forward, he's clear, he's pulling away, he's reeled back in, but he's no one trick pony, he's no selfish one note finisher, he's sliding in Simms who is, if the phrase means anything, a finisher and finish he does, a deft poke under the keeper. It's DREAMLAND!  

We bring on Demi and Gabriel. Embleton and Anderson depart. Brandon Barker goes off for Oxford in one of the less explicable moves by the angry swimming dad. Then, it's the man, the myth, the legend, Gary Madine for shirtless and selfless Jerry. 

Maxwell takes a few crosses very well. Turton heroically takes about 20 seconds to decide where a throw in should go. Kevin Stewart surprises himself by having a shot. Maxwell has a bit of a tepid punch, but as has happened all night, one of us is first to the loose ball and Ballard completes Maxwell's half finished work. 

Karl Robinson now has his coat on looking sulky as if one of the pool attendants has told him to shut up, sit down and keep quiet or get kicked out. Oxford are out of ideas. We're stringing 5 along the back and forcing them out, then looking to pick them off. We're a decent ball from Demi away from a goal Machine shaped cherry on a very tasty cake as he lurks at the far post, entirely unmarked. When Oxford do trick their why through, Dan Ballard makes the most outrageous defensive header, more of a save than a clearance. We are so solid, I half wonder if we could do without a keeper and play 11 outfield players. 

Oxford's night has gone badly and they finish with 10 players as the influential Branigan limps off. A really half hearted 'Yellows' breaks out, but the little plastic figures in the Subbuteo stands have had enough. You get the feeling, they'd have gone home some time ago if they weren't glued to their seats. 

The whistle. 

--- 

Wow. We're a machine. Why do I even bother second guessing the team selections any more? Simms was pivotal, Dougall was the beating heart, Ballard was pure hewn granite but every single one of them was magic. There is nothing else to say. I could write for a week and not explain how good they were tonight, how measured under pressure, how hard they worked for each other and how fucking great it is that Ollie Turton of all people set us on the way as it sort of defines what this teams is. The whole, the sum of the parts and all that Aristotle stuff... 

This was just about the perfect performance. Tactically spot on, executed brilliantly, clinical and incredibly solid, bodies on the line, canny, calm but explosive just at the right time. 

Just don't print the details for Wembley in the programme... 

MAGIC! 

UTMP

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Monday, May 17, 2021

not a play off preview...



What's the point of a preview anyway? You all know the score with this shit. We win, it's mad good, we don't and it's shite as. I haven't a fucking clue. You can cite all the XG you like, or shout about 'it's the quality of the recycled ball in the second transition that gives us the edge' but it doesn't mean it's going to happen. I'm convinced the preview-itus of the modern era is all about betting anyway. Or filling up pay TV schedules. It can't have escaped your attention that you aren't paying £23.99 a month for MCLF (not yet anyway) so I'm not duty bound to bore the living shit out of you by telling you what might or might not happen in order to fill up the dreary wasted hours of our lives. 

Here's instead, is what is happening on the Blackpool Battle Bus right now. Don't ask me how I know. I'd have to kill you. 

Gaz Maz is saying 'Y'know what gaffer, I reckon I could go from the start if you need me like - mind, y'wouldna want me out for Wembley so mebbes not eh?' Sullay and Keshi are having a silent stare off. The first one to blink loses the shirt - it's been 2 hours and neither have. Elliot Embleton is trying to pop up between them and get them to both blink, so he can win, but no one is taking any notice. Big Marvin is trying not to hope Jordan Thorniley trips up getting off the bus. He's thought about tying his shoelaces together, but to be fair, if you're Marv, it's a long way down to another fella's feet. 

Ollie Turton is sat at the front with the coaching staff. Jordan Gabriel is glumly sat with Ethan Robson who is telling him 'Look, he's like his son, it's not your fault mate, they even part their hair the same way'  Everyone is really hoping Grant Ward is fit but Kevin Stewart has been given a copy of a coaching manual called 'The other team's half and you' just in case. Chris Maxwell is staring straight ahead, saying nothing, mentally rehearsing making brilliant saves and saying sensible, focussed, purposeful things. 

Ellis Simms has a pair of those massive fuck off superstar headphones on and some cool as fuck shades. Jerry is fast asleep after Critch lost his patience with him bouncing up and down the aisles and stopped at a greyhound track to let him run around for an hour chasing the rabbit. Demi wanted a go too, but Critch wouldn't let him and is now shouting 'are we there yet?' every ten minutes making Critch wish he had let him after all.

Jimmy the Topknot god, Kenny Dougall and not so fragile anymore Luke are swapping tips on the best pomade and talking about bamboo crockery and coffee machines. Dan Ballard is just looking like a big kid having the absolute time of his life and hoping there'll be something to head soon. He's not stopped looking around since they got on the bus, drinking it all in, loving every second of it. He's been counting the traffic lights and filling in an i-spy book of coach journeys. He needs a wee but he doesn't want to leave his seat and miss out on the chance to see an ambulance. 

The silver fox is plotting. He's brought his A game tactical masterclass, his best massive coat (and his best body warmer for if it's mild.) Janine has packed him turkey sandwiches (half and half bread) and he's got a his favourite whiteboard markers. He trusts the process. He's calm, because he always is. He knows what he's going to do. He'll breath deeply and stick to the plan, whilst Karl Robinson and his shitty white trainers chucks a fit in the stands. 

Colin has been practicing his best staring. He stared so long at a rosebush in his garden, it withered and died at the weekend. 

Steve Banks has the blue folder. He's told Chris Maxwell all about Eric shithouse Nixon, Maxwell was appalled and so they did some extra brilliant diving practice just to get the anger out of their systems. Mike Garrity has been to Macro and got a case of shandy in the event of a win (0.5% volume, 1 per player, and a lemonade for Brad Holmes) and some throat sweets so he can shout Critch's instructions in his best loud voice. 

Everything is in order. Everything is as it should be. 

How will we go tomorrow? I don't know - but they won't let us down. They've come to far together to not give this their all. Their all is what they always give. Together is what they always are. They're fucking marvelous. 

C'mon you POOOOOOL!!!!


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Guess who's back? The Mighty vs Bristol Rovers

Here we go. For the last time in normal time. Does this game mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. We can't start getting picky about who we play. If we're going up, we'll beat whoever and if we're not we won't. What we probably could do with, is a decent performance and some minutes in the legs of the players on the fringe. Third would feel good though. Third is where you get a medal, certificate or rosette at school sports day. Third is a place on the podium. Third is really meaningless, but mentally it's something and in a world of random chaos, the story is the only meaning we really have. 

End of season games can be great. One of my all time favourite matches was a Steve McMahon era thrashing of Bristol City. It wasn't actually all that as a game, but I sat in the North, basking in beautiful early summer sunshine, watching us put five past them (including an outrageous half volley from distance from, of all people, Big John Murphy) there was the rare and unusual pleasure of knowing the memory of this performance would linger for months, untainted by the inevitable calamity that usually follows positive performances.

There's no such luxury today, just a sense that a similar performance would fuel optimism. Let's look at it properly. If we put in an absolute horror show like we did against Gillingham in Terry Mc's last game, we can all say 'well, that makes selecting the team easier and puts complacency out of the window. Glad we got that out of our system' - we can't lose today We've done the hard bit. I'm honestly not fussed about who we play, bring them on. Any of them. We'll beat anyone! No point analysing it all and driving yourself mad with guesswork...

The roulette wheel selections are in. And OH.MY.GOD

Sir Gary Big Gaz Maz Goal(s) Machine Madine

Either this is a chance for a fond farewell or a test to see if he can be the ace in the hole for the play offs. The little point of difference off the bench. Either way, fuck it. Everything is better with Gaz. It's equally exciting to see Brad Holmes starting. In fact, it's more exciting... Gary is a FOOTBALL GOD, but Brad's one of our own and it's forever since we had someone like that. Stuart Moore comes in as well. It'll be interesting to see if he exists or whether we're playing without a keeper and just going to dump a jersey on the ground in the six yard box. I'm not going to believe in the physical reality of him until I've seen him for myself. Marvin, Stewart and Keshi all play as well, which is great stuff and Demi, who has looked like he's got a point to prove in his last few sub appearances, gets a deserved chance from the start. Basically, after all the measured selections of recent months, Critch got Mike to nip to Macro for WD40 and then gave the selection roulette wheel such a mad waz that all the balls flew off and whoever he picked up first got picked. 

Lets go! 

---

The sprinklers sprinkle into life as Ten Pole Tudor lurches out the PA. It's a wonderful life isn't it? A patch of grass and a football match. What more can you ask for? Jimmy the topknot genius is the skipper, Brad is looking hungry as he toes the halfway line, anticipating exploding into action on the whistle. It blows, piercing the slumbering Sunday mood and Holmes sprints to chase. We're off... 

The first action sees the actual Stuart Moore get a cross a bit wrong. No harm done though. Peter Clarke sounds like someone who hasn't been to Liverpool doing a scouse impression. Holmes links well with Keshi then gets chopped down. From the free kick, a weak clearance drops for Franco Baresi Jordan Thorniley but he strokes it over the top. 

We put together a really nice move. Stewart driving play, Embleton threading it, Keshi tricking his way to a corner. It's a good delivery from Embleton but it flashes across the face of goal without a killer touch. At the other end, they cause is a similar problem with Thorniley's last ditch touch sending the ball skimming over the bar. In response, we start a move with a beautiful pass down the line by Demi, away goes Gabriel, the cross sliding again across the face of goal, we football it about on the left, work it back to Keshi who goes outside then inside, finds space, drives it hard, the keeper saves and Demi finishes to move he started by hitting it over the top from 8 yards out. 

The lively Demi races through and is chopped down. Embleton takes a horrific free kick. Demi then earns a round of applause from our little twinkle eyed imp of tactical masterclasses for some closing down. Critch *hearts* closing down. Holmes goes down in the box. The ref doesn't care. Embleton and Keshi link beautifully for a goal made entirely of first touch one twos but a whistle for nothing in particular in the build up means it doesn't count. 

Joey Barton looks 'Man at TK Maxx' in his skinny trousers, padded coat and cap, swigging a bottle of water with a bit of pointless swagger. He's a singer for an indie band that once were third support for the Charlatans. All attitude and no voice. A bit like Northampton, Rovers don't look so bad at some stuff but seem to lack much purpose in the last third. Demi has another great run, he lays it off to Embleton who turns, spreads it, Husband controls, puts it back into the middle, Keshi works a chance to shoot and curls it just over the top. 

Keshi tries to win a long ball. He gets pulled, then it seems he gets a hand in the face. The ref is uninterested. I watch Holmes for a bit (at least as far as the camera will let me) and I like his style. He's comfortable coming deep, he jogs constantly, working the line, looking for the little gap and making the centre back work all the time. He goes to the right, turn, loops back on himself then sprints across the box. This is no headless kid. There's much to learn, but there's a certain maturity to some of his game and he's got the physique to compete.

It's Holmes involved in the next moment, he gets the right side of his marker, Keshi slides him through, he's shoulder to shoulder, then he's through and then he's stumbling and falling. It's a free kick and a booking but if there'd been a crowd, there'd have been screams that it should have been more. Keshi aims for the top corner but hits the pole that holds the net taut instead.

Again Keshi provides, A ball swept wide, headed first time by Anderson, a cushioned little dart that Husband goes for a spectacular leaping effort with his left, misses it, then scoops it off the ground with his right, but straight at the keeper. We keep coming. Holmes wins a corner, Embleton has a shot blocked. Peter Clarke is one the world's slowest talkers. Chissy calls the opposition 'Bristol Rogers' - I can't decide if that's some kind of adult film star or a country music singer. I decide it's the latter as I can't deal with anything adult being associated with Chissy. We do loads of passing, but no one wants to have a go. 

Embleton has a divine touch, a beautifully disguised back heel. Gabriel races on to it, turns his marker inside out, pulls a lovely ball back, Holmes lets it run, Keshi emerges from a bit deeper, completely unmarked and hits it hard. The keeper throws up his arms, more defensively than anything else and is as surprised as anyone when the ball hits one of them and rolls wide. 

---

We've played quite nicely. It's encouraging to see the way Keshi has been the main threat and looked sharp and hungry. Demi has been pretty effective with the usual caveat that his end product hasn't quite been there. Holmes hasn't looked out of place, Marvin has had a nice quiet afternoon, Stewart has been steady and we can now be sure that Stuart Moore does exist, though he might as well not do as Rovers have barely looked like forging an attack. 

--- 

There's no changes at half time. Marvin decides he feels sorry for Stuart Clarke having nothing to do and pings a pretty racy back pass at him. He does well with it. I'm now on Super Gaz watch. No sign so far. The bench is full and Critch is guarding it with folded arms, a little gnome with super powers like something out of David Bowie's labyrinth except with more branded sportswear than you'd expect a gnome to wear. Maybe if we answer his cryptic riddle, he'll put Big Gaz on? 

Stuart Moore then decides to give himself a test, making a hash of a back pass and sliding out in panic to rectify his error. The ball rolls wide, a Rovers man goes down. The ref gives a goal kick.  There's a chance as Thorniley prompts, Embleton takes the invite, does some step overs and hits a grass cutter at the near post. Demi whallops one from distance that looks like it could catch the keeper out and sneak in, but hits the side netting. 

We go through a little spell where all that happens is we run at them and they trip us up. Embleton ends that phase by almost hitting a curling shot from the corner of the box into the top corner. Half a yard further out and we'd be hailing a stunning goal. 

Rovers then come alive. A woeful finish foils them first, a great sliding block from Jimmy second. Is this little spell a sign that a change is due? Stewart is robbed in possession. the Rovers man just goes straight down the middle, has a shot, it clips Gabriel, wrong foots Moore, who does brilliantly to get a foot to it. The corner comes in, Rodman is free. He heads it wide. They should have scored at least once. You have to feel this isn't the first time they've felt like that this year. 

Big Gaz watch is being frustrated by the fact the ball isn't going anywhere near the bench. Someone is warming up. Surely it's the talisman? I know Critch though and it's just as likely to be Ollie Turton. A burst of excitement as Holmes robs the ball, there's a split second when he looks free to slip it home, the ball balloons up, he chases and then gets cleaned out. The ref overlooks it completely. We get a shot of the bench. Gaz isn't sat on it. Holmes gets treated and seems ok. 

Embleton and Husband fiddle it about and win a corner. Simms is waiting to come on. He scores goals, but he's not Gaz! Thorniley slides at the far post and can't quite reach the cross. As if to confirm my mystic abilities, Turton joins Simms on the touchline. Of course he's bringing Turton on. He loves Turton almost as much as he loves closing down. We have more nice interplay, a sublime touch from Keshi included and another corner. Kevin Stewart has a dig and it's blocked, he hit it so hard it bounces back to the halfway line. 

Keshi and Holmes come off. I'd have maybe taken Stewart off cos I think he's looking a bit leggy. Marvin looks worryingly as if he might have done his hamstring again. Then we gallop forward, it's hit into Simms, he lays it off for Demi, who chests it, runs into the space, clips it back to Simms who just places it into the corner of goal. It's a lovely bit of direct play, a tricky finish made to look like a piece of piss and testament to how this lad has improved over the time he's been here. A minute later, he's involved again in the build up, and is a heavy touch away from repeating the trick as Turton puts him away. 

Then we go to the bench. IT'S HAPPENING! I'm going to stand up and applaud from my couch. Gaz is getting ready! Marvin gives away a free kick in the corner. Bristol have made about 600 subs. Moore has to flick it out from under the bar. He we go. Embo is off...

Blackpool's no 14....

...and here's the Goal Machine... A desultory stretch. As if he needs to warm up... He's Gary fucking Madine... A quick touch of fists with Embleton and the head is down, and he's cruising on. A big American truck of a forward. Life is good. 

Rovers goes right down the middle and find a shot, Moore makes another good save, plunging to his right and throwing out a hand to turn it wide. Rovers do exert some pressure, we withstand it, but it's a bit edgy. We launch a long free kick. The Goal Machine leaps, but he's not quite fine tuned yet and the magic doesn't happen. Rovers have another attack, but again, their finishing is dire. Simms and Madine combine and Super Gaz tries to muscle through but is squeezed out.

Rovers are throwing everyone forward. A long throw gains a corner. The corner is cleared. We race forward and now we're in the corner at the other end. Lovely stuff. Madine takes it then as calm as you like, just puts it into the legs of the defender and wins another throw, like an adult playing football with a toddler. Super Gaz, taking the piss in the corner at the end. As it should be. 

---

This game won't live long in the memory. Simms isn't the complete article but he's such a good finisher and his awareness has improved massively. I've not a lot more to say. We did the job, we kept a clean sheet. Moore made some good saves, but he's not Maxwell. The squad is looking much broader than it did and the bench much, much stronger. 

We've finished third, we've got Oxford. 80 points is loads of points. I might hide from football now for the next nine days. You spend all season trying to get into the play offs and then they're absolutely terrifying when you get there. 

It'll be reet. We're an unstoppable force. A chameleonic juggernaut with a calm man at the helm who has turned out to be far more flexible than anyone thought he ever would be... It will be ok... I've nervous already. Petrified. Deep breath. Believe...! It's us. The play offs. They might as well just give it us now... 

There'll be a masterclass. The harder they come at us, the harder we hit back. We went toe to toe with them and won a fabulous game. They always try to play, we love it when the opposition does that. Am I convincing myself? I don't know. Come on. Critch is zen. Critch will get it right. We're fucking ace!

Fuck it. I'm terrified. I'm going pretend it's not happening till next Tuesday at 5.45. Don't talk about it to me. What play offs? 

Onward! 

utmp

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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 yet...it 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. 

FUCKING HELL! WE'RE THERE!!!

YES! 

Onward! 

utmp

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




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