Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Charlie Adam's Tangerine! - the Mighty vs Fleetwood Town




As I walk to the ground, I see a grandad stoop to do up his grandsons coat. I miss my grandad. I miss my boy being young enough to need to have his coat done up. I find there's something about little everyday moments of care and tenderness that cut through me to my soul, a pang of melancholy beauty overwhelms me at the gentle way the old fella pulls the coat to make sure the zip doesn't trap the boy's skin and ruffles his hair once they're ready to march to the game together. What is more beautiful than that? Going to the match with yer grandad who loves you unconditionally. Honestly. I'm welling up.  


The low sun makes everything hazy. There's more police than away fans. A solitary cry of 'cod army' eminates from the Fleetwood fans shuffling past. A desultory retort of 'going down' is the half arsed response from our numbers. 

This is not so much a rivalry as a minor neighbourly dispute. This might be the last time we do this, in the league at least. It's hard to see them receiving the kind of money they've had put into them going forward. 

Tony Parr reads out the mascots favourite players. Kaddy. Kaddy. Kaddy and.... Kaddy. A weird slap bass chilled out smooth funk track provides a pre match mood more suited to being piped into the Teanlowe Centre in Poulton to accompany pensioners having a milky coffee than football match against your near neighbours.  

This is DEFINITELY NOT a derby. It just isn't. 


---

Everything is fine until Fleetwood break. I don't know exactly how it comes to this, but Grimmy running away backwards, trying to get to his goal, Marvin seems to just fall out of the picture and their big lad is running through, completely unopposed but then Hubby saves the day with a brilliantly timed tackle, from behind, taking the ball cleanly and...  I think there's a chant in his honour. I can't be sure, but I'm fairly certain I hear his name ring out! Tremendous stuff from the League 1 Baresi. 

We're back into the game. There are corners. Our best move is a load of passing that ends with a chest from Bees, a flick from Kaddy, a flick on from Carey and Lavs stretching but not quite reaching it before the keeper. It would have been a tremendous goal.

They're quite big and worryingly, they seem able to push us over pretty easily. Hubby is sent face first into the turf by a shoulder to shoulder challenge. Coulson looks tiny in comparison to some of them. Have we washed him since Saturday? Was the bath too hot after that game? He seems to have shrunk. 

We're twatting about again having a lot of the play but without really threatening much. Carey whips some balls in. We don't attack them. Carey seems to have an unerring ability to aim good balls at Kaddy, which might be a slight waste of the work seen as up against the Fleetwood defence, Kaddy is like a gnome in a forest of giant redwoods. 

We're still twatting about, going across the edge of the box when Kaddy disdainfully flicks it wide to CJ, the ball seeming to say, 'go on, do something' - CJ does, taking a touch and then lifting a really nice near post ball, where Jake Beesley levers himself away from his man and falls forward, like a middle aged dad flopping into a swimming pool, meeting the ball perfectly, and then leaping up from the turf and running away in celebration as the ball sneaks through the gap between the keeper and the near post. BEEEEEES! 

A diving header! What could be better? 

Lets go on now and score some more. Surely we won't make the same mistake as last week. I mean, imagine if we ended up relying on a Grimmy wonder save again against a team in as much trouble as Fleetwood. We'll be fine! Don't be so pessimistic! 

Byers smashes one from the edge of the box that sits up beautifully. It's well hit, but straight at the keeper. CJ has a run into the box. He hasn't done that for ages. There is a semi plausible claim for a penalty but I don't think it's a terrible injustice that isn't given. Having done two good things, CJ then balances it up slightly by racing to meet a ball looping in the air by the corner flag and just inexplicably tapping it out of play and looking a bit surprised at what he's chosen to do as if he doesn't control his legs. 

Marvin is completely undone by their big lad up front. There's a dangerous cross. Jimmy Husband is again brilliant, with one of those last ditch tackles where he launches himself full length. 


---

I'm not sure what to make of it. We're in front. We've been ok-ish in phases but it's weirdly flat. There's no real edge to it.

As I'm walking through the concourse, I catch a snatch of conversation
'you weren't joking were you?' 
'no, it's been like this all season' 
'just fucking sling it into the box for fucks sake...' 

---


C'mon Pool, lets get this over with. 

The first moment turns out not really to be a moment at all and more of an optical illusion. We break and the ball is crossed, Bees strikes it, it looks goal bound but it actually lands further away from goal than Bees is. I can't tell if it hit a defender or the gangly one sliced it - if he did, I bet he couldn't do that again if he tried to. 

Then a lovely hit from Byers, taking in a little touch back and with the crisp precision of someone folding origami, having a gentle touch and then arrowing a no backlift low effort that bisects everyone in a crowded box and whistles agonisingly wide. 

It's Kaddy's turn next, taking the ball on the bounce from a knock down and cracking a first time effort that is alway just rising a little bit too much which is a shame because it's swerving in a way that would have been beautiful had it been caught by the net. 

Lavs is running hard and seems to have the advantage over the Fleetwood defender patrolling the channel he wants to hit. We're on top. It's a matter of time. 

Or is it? Marvin gets tangled up. Jimmy has to intervene again. Fleetwood's Lawal, who I really like the look of, being both big and good at football (plenty of players in this division are one or the other, but few are both) has a run and just as it looks like he's over cooked things, he gets a shot off that ricochets horribly and Marvin this time gets things right, getting just enough on it to take it away from a Fleetwood man. 

On the touchline Charlie looks basically the same as a bloke managing a Glasgow Sunday league side would. I love his ability to look like he's just some fella, despite probably having spent more than my monthly wage on his outfit. Critchley suddenly chucks a massive paddy, shouting so loud as to be audible across the whole ground and clapping in anger. I don't know what that was about. 

Lavs is haring in again, running as he does like a child down a hill, momentum growing, struggling to stay upright. He'd be ideal in that weird cheese rolling thing where everyone belts down a slope after it I think. I digress. He's going square, looking for the space to shoot. It looks to me like he runs into Kaddy, but the ref blows and points to the spot, and I realise he is actually tripped and his momentum means his stumbles and flies into Kaddy. 

Here we go. It's low, it's hard.... and yet, their keeper gets to it and turns it round the post. It wasn't a bad spot kick. I've seen far worse go in, but it's a really good save. Fucking hell Pool. Can we just properly win a game for once? 

Maybe we will. CJ is flying through the middle, set away on the break, he's not getting caught. This will be a lovely way to put it to bed. CJ makes to go round the keeper. He's knocked it quite wide, but maybe he's fast enough to catch it anyway... the keeper doesn't want to take the gamble and squarely trips him up, no disguise at all. That's a red. 

It isn't. Steve Banks gets booked for pointing out that it was the most blatantly obvious red card ever in the history of football. Which is fun. I wonder when his last booking for us was? About 1998 I'd reckon. Possibly the refs logic was 'c'mon, it was CJ' but that's not really an argument an official should be making, however grudgingly you have to admit it has some logic to it. Carey smashes the free kick straight into the wall but then catches the rebound beautifully and the goalie that shouldn't be there makes another good save, low to his left and Sonny is denied a lovely goal. 

Then Fleetwood score. I'm doing the full on head in hands, fucks sake Pool, why is always like this routine when there's a cheer and I look up to see the offside flag. It's a delightful moment as it takes Fleetwood fans longer to realise and their celebrations to die down. Sit down...! 

We make some subs. We have some breaks. Sonny fights his way up the pitch well, but we can't quite finish it off. Joseph hares up the other side of the pitch but ends up playing a weird square pass that isn't on. Fleetwood are putting more and more players up front. We try and kill it by adding Virtue for his weekly 8 minutes. 

We don't kill it. Fleetwood score, the ball nodded down and one of their subs catching a kind of scissor kick effort on the full, sending the ball crashing into the roof of the net. Except they don't, because despite my minds eye reading it thus, Grimmy flings his arms and himself upward and pulls of another miracle point blank save and I actually shout 'fucking hell... Grimmy! fucks sake! Grimmy!' because I can't believe he's saved it and I can't believe we're here again. 

Still they come. We're absolutely all over the place. The ground is finally alive. There's smoke, drums. Seaside... Barmy Army... We're willing them to just not fuck this up. The referee seems to be adding time that doesn't exist and barking louder than I've ever heard a ref shout at players... It's like the yapping of a dog. We can't keep the ball, we look to have no shape at all and they're pinging the ball between them and cutting us to bits, a flick on, A touch back, a drive and Grimmy again, tumbling to his left, the ball skidding off the turf and Grimmy spills it and scrambles forward then kills the ball, lying on it and breathing deeply. 

We're done. Thank fuck for that. 


--- 

Critchley does possibly the worst fist pump he's ever done. It's like the kind of celebration a quite desperate double glazing salesman who has just scored a contract for a 3 bed semi detached would do. If he gets us up this season, it will be the most astonishing triumph of stubborn will over reality. 

It's more of the same. We're not able to score enough when we're on top and we end up under pressure eventually as a result. There's only 3 points for a win, regardless of how many you score, but too many times we haven't got those 3 points because we don't score enough goals. I suppose you have to say we created chances and missed a penalty. I felt sorry for Lavs. He can't buy a break at the moment and he played ok tonight. 

It is astonishing to think we're still theoretically 'in the hunt' - the fixtures have been kind and Barnsley aside, remain so. I still think we'll trip, or if we don't, that we've already stumbled too many times and are playing largely for pride. I say that, but I'm going to Carlisle and if I'm truly honest... You never know. You just never fucking know do you? I don't know. I don't think so. But who knows? Again, it doesn't seem like I've just watched promotion winners. Maybe, just maybe, that's the plan. To go so under the radar, that not even your own fans recognise what's happening... 

Byers played well - it's irritating to think that he's probably another on the list of 'loan players we'd really like to stay but probably won't' because he's becoming increasingly key. We've lost Rhodes and we've not got enough goals. We'll lose Kaddy and we're way short of magic and he's got levels of wizardry it feel impossible to replace. Byers gives us a bit of tempo and character and basically is a kind of slightly more floppy haired Kenny Dougall with quicker feet and losing the actual Kenny Dougall was bad enough in the first place. 

Whatever... the main thing is - we beat the upstart tinpot non league neighbours and Charlie Adam's tangerine... 

Onward


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Saturday, April 6, 2024

'Fine margins' - the Mighty vs Cambridge United


Apathy is like quicksand. Apathy is a cold wet bog on a bleak moorland. Apathy is like having your shoelaces tied together and trying to run. Apathy is a shrug of indifference. Apathy is giving up on hope. 

Have you ever felt incapable of feeling? Did that frighten you? 

Apathy is how despots gain power. Apathy is what allows incompetence to take root. Apathy is a scourge. 

Sometimes I notice that I spend my life sighing. I'm sure I used to smile more. I'm sure I used to try more. I'm sure I used to dream bigger. I'm sure I used to throw off my worries more easily. I'm sure the burdens were lighter. 


Apathy is when you get ground down. Apathy is the stone of your ideals being worn into sand by the friction of life. Apathy is fucking shite. 

It's not fair to blame Neil 'front foot football' Critchley for everything. He's just a bloke who washes his Volvo, and makes sure to buff the wax to a shine, who likes his polo shirt crisply ironed and does his best to do what he thinks is right.  

I've just read a book about Alf Ramsey. It was brilliant - the most revealing moment comes near the end, when Alf, fed up at his treatment by the FA and finished with the game as a job goes to some matches. Ramsey is an odd, stubborn, singular character but also someone who possesses a strange kind of dignity and strong moral code - he refuses to trade on his name and eschews the directors box, instead paying to stand with the fans. There, he has an epiphany - it's not, he realises, that fans know nothing as he'd always thought - it's just that they want something different from the game than those on the pitch and on the touchline do. He finally learns to enjoy the sport as they do. He learns that a mistake can bring joy, that a risk can pay off. He learns what it is to be a fan. He realises they're the point of the whole thing. He enjoys himself. It's really quite moving to read. 


Neil 'in and out of possession' Critchley is an enigma. I still don't really know anything about him. Every time we lose, he says 'we weren't us' and I don't know what that means. If the team is his and therefore the 'he' defines the 'us' and the 'we' and I don't know who he is how can I understand what we or us are? 

I watched (which is rare for me to do) an elite game last week. Sitting through the dirge of Manchester City vs Arsenal, I thought about how fearful both teams seemed. Everything was about not losing the ball, not giving the opportunity to the opposition to launch an attack. It was, in the words of our glorious leader, all about 'shape - in and out of possession' - for two sides possessing wonderful footballers, neither team wanted to risk playing any football which seemed a shame really. 

There's a weird passive aggressive quality to it all this year. Neil 'the group' Critchley seems tetchy. The fans seem tetchy. The players seem heavy legged and edgy. We just don't seem to be together. 


I also watched Goal! - the story of the 1966 World Cup. It's an amazing thing, capturing a world on the turn, an England where the page is flipping from a Victorian past to a jet age future. I was struck by a phrase in the narration, right neat to the beginning, that bemoans 'not losing, that's what modern football is about' 

Apathy is the opposite of love. 

C'mon. Deep breath. It's only a game of football. Our old mate Sullay Kaikai is on the pitch. Today might just be the day when Sonny shows what he really is. He's the League 1 Phil Foden. No, really. He actually is. It doesn't matter - We're not catching Lincoln, not least because our goal difference is fucked - so lets just try and win 15-0 and hope for the best. 

---

The first half isn't bad even though Critchley has gone pure roulette wheel for the team selection and managed to get the ball to land on both Kylian and Bees. When promising sexy football that we'd cry with pride over (or whatever he said) I don't think any of us had 'two lads who could maybe play for Grimsby without it seeming too weird' as the strike force in our minds eye. 

That said, I actually quite like the way neither of them actually look like scoring but occupy the defence and win enough of the direct balls that it gives us some space to play behind them. Whilst Kylian and Bees probably have a negative XG, the space they give Kaddy, Sonny, Byer and Coulson to play in is valuable. I always said that goal machines don't simply score goals and the two of them add a kind of Madine-esque bloody mindedness to our play that oddly works even though it probably shouldn't. We're better when we don't linger on the ball and we don't have to because we can hit a big lad if things get a bit tight. 

It's frustrating though. We're all down the wings and putting crosses in but the crosses are never quite right. There's some corner we get our heads to but they loop over the bar and plop on the top of the net or flop harmlessly into the side netting. There's some neat link up play with Coulson and Carey. There's a blocked shot or two. There's Dembele making the heart ache when you think that we've only got a few more weeks of watching him stop, stutter, glide and then simply dance his way past like a puckish child running around the legs of boring adults for the sheer fun of it. I fucking love him. Never fall in love with a loan player. Fuck that. Who am I supposed to love? Matty 'cameo' Virtue? I'll take the pain. It was worth it. Every second of him has been a delight to behold. 

Talking of lost delights. Sullay glides square. I'm almost tempted to shout 'go on Sull' but then he's not ours anymore and he's run into traffic anyway. Then he has a free kick. It's in the exact spot he flew that beauty in from against the Cods. He steps back. He more or less misses the south stand. Oh well. It's not his day. He'll be spinning some magic sooner or later. I just won't see it. I'll always see that Sunderland goal though. The net lifting off its base...  

I'll tell you whose day it is though. It's Sonny fucking Carey's day. He's again busy and purposeful. He's got a little strut about him. He's the player who benefits from Cambridge realising that Kaddy is fucking ace and they should mark him more tightly as that give a bit of space to exploit. He's good at that. CJ has it wide. He puts it in. His crossing is somewhat of a lottery but he finds the jackpot of a Blackpool player. Kylian manages to squeeze it to Kaddy. The wee wizard appears marked by the entire Cambridge team. He dummies doing something brilliant with it and then in a move that shows as much as anything how good he really is, does something simple and effective instead, just tapping it square for Carey to run from space and swerve home a low side foot shot, right into the bottom corner. 

We carry on playing ok. I mean, we're not great and it's not pretty, but we're actually putting a fair amount of pressure on the Cambridge area. It would be pushing it a bit to say their goal, but we're in control and in the right half of the pitch. The wing backs are high and Cambridge are reduced to a couple of shit breakaways and not a lot else. A ball is swung in. Beesley leaps. Sonny pounces, taking with one foot and slamming the ball an inch wide of the near post with the other. 

--- 

That was ok. I could handle another half of that just about. Ok is fine. I'm not precious. 

--- 

We don't get another half of that. Gary Monk is not Gary 'what about Gary Monk for the X vacancy?' Monk for nothing and like so many managers of teams with players who aren't as good as ours do, makes a tactical tweak that renders us baffled and seems to negate the quality of our team completely. He only goes and puts a really big lad on at the back to counter our big lad threat. What an absolute 4d chess merchant! 

It hasn't up to this point been a classic, far from it in fact, but the second half really plumbs the depths. For some it makes them angry when it's shit, but for me, it's a great advert for League 1. At one point someone kicks it out for no reason. The throw is then thrown straight to the other team for no reason and then kicked out of play for no reason. It's kind of beautiful. There's 10,000 people watching this shite. Is that not glorious? I'm sick of top flight football with all the 'best players, best games, must watch appointment global TV' shit. Give me some attritional football where it's only fellow sadists present. 

Lavery comes on. Beesley goes off. I wouldn't have hooked Bees myself and I'd have brought Joseph on. He's on a few minutes later though. The twin towers have fallen. Still, There's barely enough time to notice the subs between CJ letting the ball roll out of play multiple times for no apparent reason and a load of shapeless midfield scuffling. Sullay goes off. He gets a nice round of applause. I clap a bit too loud. Fuck it. The boy brightened my life up by playing football well. I don't care. 

A Cambridge free kick. It's fizzed in. A touch. It's in. FUCKING HELL GRIMMY. He springs from nowhere, it's like an optical illusion. He defies gravity and time by springing from one side of the goal to a place he physically doesn't seem able to get to but does and gets a strong palm on the ball to push it away. It was a stunning save. He's basically been able to snooze most of the game but as soon as one of his trip wires are stepped on, he's up, shuriken at the ready for some ninja action. I fucking love Grimmy. He kneels, takes a deep breath. Exhales. Claps his gloves. Goes back to sleep. What a player. 

Lavery races away. Here we go. We're going to put this to bed now and we can all go home moderately happy. Shayne is devoid of confidence though. He's done the hard bit, it's opened up in front of him but instead of going on, he panics and tries to slot in Joseph who doesn't expect the ball and ends up just running into a defender. 

Cambridge aren't exactly ripping us to bits, but they've got far too much of the play and we've got far too little. There's a move, I can't really remember what happened apart from the fact the ended up two on 1 with everyone running backwards in full on terror, a little slipped pass and their forward is in - Grimmy goes to meet him, the ball is past him... it's a moment of slow motion horror as it seems destined for the inside of the post but like a long shot on a wonky pool table, it seems to take a slight deviation and instead kisses the post full on and rolls away to a relieved Carey who up and unders it away like a rugby player and we all breathe out. They have a shout for a penalty. I don't think it is one, though that said, Marvin is penalised just before for a foul outside the box that seemed less of a questionable challenge than the one inside, so if we were in a world of mad VAR cross checking of every pixel it might have been. Then again, we also had a shout at the other end that I thought was one, so we might end up in an infinite regress of what ifs. That that's not an option is another thing I much prefer about crap lower league football. 

Not a lot else happens. Virtue comes on and does the thing he does where he barges into people and hacks the ball upfield. He's quite good at that. It's also clear that the switch to a clear central three finally gives us a bit more presence. I'd quite like his job. My work quite often gets me down a bit. I seem to have quite a lot to do and a lot to think about for not a huge amount of money. Matty V gets paid more than me and he just has to play football (and then, mostly only the simple bits of it) for about 7 minutes a week on average which isn't even long enough to get tired. 

Sonny puts a free kick into the arms of the keeper. The whistle goes. 

---

In a way that game was the story of the season. We were definitely better than them first half and whilst the game suited what we were trying to do, we did fine. We were definitely not better than them second half because the game ceased to suit what we were trying to do and we didn't know how to respond to that. Cambridge caused us problems without actually being any good. Critchley did a lot of enthusiastic and purposeful clapping on the touchline but he made like for like changes that didn't seem to add anything in particular other than legs and it wasn't like Cambridge were outrunning us. We ended up deeper and drawing them on and the clapping didn't seem to do much to alter that. 

3 points is 3 points is 3 points, but then, does it make a difference? I don't know. I'd rather win than lose. I've told myself the season is over, but I kept checking the results so deep down, I must harbour some ridiculous hope. That said, it just doesn't feel anything like a promotion team, whatever the maths might say is possible. I had a slight pang of envy at the Cambridge fans, tightly packed, singing and celebrating their likely safety. It's all relative. The point is surely to get some joy from it and they make a few hundred seem like a lot more and our sulky under par mood seems very flat by comparison.  

It is what it is. The sun shone. Sonny shone. We clung on. Just. I really don't think we're going up. C'est la vie. 

Onward. 


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Sunday, March 17, 2024

High pitched frustration - Wigan Athletic vs the Mighty


There is a certain tension in the air. Cynicism is easier than belief. We're on edge a bit. Critch hasn't done anything mental. It's the same team that have scrapped their way a worthy win and a precious point. It's a side that looks, at long last, balanced and increasingly in tune with each other. The big danger in all of this is that after a few decent results we've once again got something to lose. 

Wigan is all hard edged darkened brick juxtaposed with a garish splash of retail hell. You can import global capital's dream of leisure as spending but you can't quite erase the Orwellian past. A grey day. A skyline of half demolition and fitful unfinished regeneration. A nowhere ground. I think the DW feels a bit like it must feel to be trapped inside Google maps. Everything is a bit too neat, the stadium and the shopping centre around it feel like computer designed 3D models dropped onto a landscape that doesn't really suit them.

We need this. C'mon Pool.




----

I'll be absolutely honest from the start. 

My heart isn't in this write up. 

From the point at which Rhodes goes down, gets up and then goes down again, I've got a sinking feeling. It's one of those games.  I'm struggling to think of much that happened, let alone much that happened that was any good.

I was stood in front of some high pitched 12 year olds who never stopped making random and incredibly angry observations and after a while that seemed to short circuit my brain and the game is now filed in my head as an endless loop of us passing along the back line, looking a bit confused when we got to either wing back and then either belting it long (to little avail) or going back the other way, in which instance Wigan put pressure on forcing either Marv or Grimmy to whallop it long (to no avail) whilst a shrill kid's voice shrieks the eloquent phrase: 'Why are you playing like spazzes you cunts?!' in my ear. 

I can remember the following things: 

1: Kaddy was crap. He isn't crap, he's brilliant, but today was his worst display in tangerine and we, therefore, had little to nothing to fall back on. He got the ball, he lost the ball. His set pieces were little islands of hope that were washed away by the sea of reality. That's a long winded and needlessly indulgent way of saying, he hit his corners too long and his free kicks were wild and off target. He can't be perfect every week. I forgive him unreservedly because to blame him would be the most wild act of petulance imaginable and the boy has given us pleasure beyond measure to date. 

Do not mention Rob Apter. Do not mention Rob Apter. Do not mention Rob Apter. Do not mention Rob Apter. 

Rob Apter. 

Sorry. Not Sorry. 

2: Wigan were wise to us and did the things we don't like. They didn't let us rest on the ball and they were rough and rugged. The ref wasn't especially on it and Wigan soon asserted themselves and stamped their authority with a bit of skulduggery and brawn.

Wigan weren't all that but I think the key differences were that their players seemed to win more individual physical battles and that their midfield were prepared to charge at us when the ball turned over. I like the no 12 for them who seemed to twig early on that we would run backwards if he ran at us and that, therefore was what he did throughout the game.  

3: We were sluggish and predictable and we rarely, if ever summoned up an unpredictable or imaginative pattern of play. We lost the midfield battle and we didn't find much joy wide. We seemed to be sitting deep and when we had possession we didn't move the ball quickly or seem to be in any great hurry to find space. Wigan weren't dissimilar but they broke faster and looked more comfortable on the ball at the back. Their midfield was more dynamic than ours. The one player I thought really mixed it a bit was Matty Virtue and he was only on the pitch for about 8 minutes. 

4. We did make chances. Not many, but some. We missed them. This wasn't a surprise as the whole experience seemed to fizzle inevitably into a tetchy disappointment. The eternal optimist in me had my head in my hands a few times, daring for a moment to belief we were about to transcend the general air of torpid struggle and cursing the fact that reality intervened. The eternal pessimist in me chided the optimist within. 

'We're not scoring today' 
'You never know' 
'You do though don't you' 
(kids shriek 'DON'T GIVE IT TO MARVIN YOU FUCKING MONG' 
'I've lost my train of thought now' 
'Me too' 
(Coulson runs into a Wigan player and falls over) (Kids 'FUCKING SHIT PRICK DICKHEAD FUCK OFF')  
'Told you mate, we're not scoring' 
'Aye... but maybe...'
'Just give up'  

It would be unfair and needlessly hyperbolic to say we created nothing - Byers had a very mixed bag of a game but at least tried to wriggle through and got a few shots in. Lavery had fleeting moments of waspish threat and a couple of efforts, the best of which flashed wide of the near post. The best chance came late, a corner, a header back across and Kyle Joseph with what felt like a golden chance, nodding it tamely over the bar. 

5. This was another in a long series of games where it felt as if we did the same thing over and over and over despite it not working particularly well. We did change shape with a few minutes left and we made a couple of chances and conceded a couple of chances. 

I'm trying my best here, not to turn this blog into a grim polemic, but as I've observed previously, it is games like this that are the most frustrating thing about our current incarnation - we're losing, so we seem to react by 'keeping it tight and hoping to nick a winner' - which to me seems a fundamental misreading of what 'being a goal down' means. - when we shifted shape, yes, we looked more likely to concede a second, but we might also looked a little bit more likely to score a goal. That's the risk/reward calculation you make with an attacking move and we seem very averse to making such calls. 

Again, I've observed this previously (and it's really easy to cite 'desire' and 'heart' and 'bottle' and those radio phone in cliches and I'm very keen not to do so) but I can't avoid saying that we really didn't seem too desperate to settle things up. I kept waiting for the onslaught. I kept waiting for us to click into gear and for the situation to get to the point where we started to throw players forward and for the sheer weight of numbers to overwhelm Wigan and for us to toe poke home a scrappy goal borne of sheer willpower. 

It never came. Instead, we seemed to continue in basically the same patterns we'd started the game with as the kids behind me offered sage advice like 'this is shite' then asked rhetorically 'why are we shite?' and the crowd at large cheered ironically as we once again knocked it to Grimmy. 

6. There's something about the DW stadium. The pitch almost always feels a bit too big and bit too puddingy. The ball seems to move slower here, even through the air. Sometimes this Blackpool team look like they can't put it together. The whole game felt a bit like Ollie Norburn winning the ball, turning looking for a pass, hesitating, taking a touch, not seeing a pass and then turning again and going backwards. Today was Coulson, running at Wigan and then checking inside, looking and only then someone beginning to show for the ball. Today was one of the strikers going to the near post and once in while winning the fight, only for the other to be nowhere in the vicinity. Today was Marvin looking for the midfield and almost visibly sighing before launching it again for the whole thing above to play out again. 

Some days we just don't seem to connect with each other. Some days we just don't make the runs. Some days, it's just not fun. 

This was one of those days. A big, expectant crowd that turned sour. The full time whistle, the air full of rancour. Angry faces scowling their way to the exits. Talk of 'another season in this shit league' 

---

Some days watching football can feel like a waste of time. This was one of them. If we are doomed to another season in 'this shit league' then to be honest, I can't say we particularly deserve otherwise. I just hope that if we don't go up (and we still can, despite the fact that today we looked nothing like a promotion winning team) we approach the new season with a bit less rigidity and a bit more daring. 

After the game, I went to the pub with some Wigan fans of my long time acquaintance. We didn't really talk about football much. Why would you? It's just some blokes belting it about and a game like that yields few things to celebrate. 

They thought they were lucky and that we weren't as bad as I thought. I thought we were shite and they were being nice. They didn't think we'd go up though. I agreed. If I'm absolutely honest (and this is hard to admit to myself) I'm beginning to hope we don't because we're palpably quite a long way from being good enough and whilst this season hasn't been anything like the car crash of last year, we're nowhere near the quality of the Grayson team of yore or the first Critchley side. We lack either the solidity of the latter or the weight of attacking quality of the former. 

We're approaching 40 games now and I'm still not sure what to describe us as. We're not an all out footballing team like Peterborough. We're not a shithouse team like Stevenage. We're not a defensive wall that we spring from like we were last time. We're not an utter crock of shit like Mad Mick produced. We're just more than a bit nondescript. We're neither fish nor fowl. We're not fast, we're not silky, we're not particularly tough. I hate to say it (I actually do. Really. I don't want to be another voice moaning away like it's a surprise that sometimes football doesn't go your way, I don't want to demand things and strop and tantrum when I don't get them...) but we've looked very 'mid table' overall and today wasn't a glaring anomaly. Yes, we've been excellent at points this season, but the list of 'nothing' performances is just too long to ignore.

When it's our day, we're pretty good. When it isn't, we just don't seem to have it in us to change that. 

I think I need a week off. 

Onward


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Saturday, March 9, 2024

Cheating Nobber Bastard - the Mighty vs (the ref +) Portsmouth


5 years passes in the blink of an eye. A lifetime is but a grain of sand on the giant beach of infinity.
 

What a day. And what progress since! Yes, we might be in an identical position with an almost identical points tally as we were in 2019 but back then, we didn't have an upgradable ticket option that allowed entry to various alcohol related lounges for that all important 'somewhere in between corporate and the plebs in the concourse' experience.


To think that some of you are cynical. I for one can't wait for the Tia Maria After Dark liquor Lounge, the Absynthe 'forget we're 0-2 down with hallucinatory halftime spirits' lounge and whatever other excellent opportunities the club seize upon to enhance the matchday experience.


But yeah. 5 years...


There's been Armand, Super Gaz, Keshi, Sullay, Crazy Uncle Richard, electric Josh, King Kenny, and Jerry Yates to name but a few. Jerry flippin' Yates. What a human being. Get him back. Swansea don't like him. Idiots.


We've gone up. We've stayed up. We've gone down. We've floundered, fizzed, fought the odds and fucked up and everything in between. We've conquered. We've folded, we've smashed and grabbed. We've dominated. We've been supine, pathetic. We've been sublime and ridiculous There's been Terry, Larry, Critch. A lot of Critch. So much Critch. Michael Appleton's charismatic charm school, Mad Mick and tune getting TC (was that a dream?) Stephen 'bloody marvellous for 5 minutes but far too much fun to give the job to' Dobbie and then Critch again. Cos we're stuck with him. Forever. Millennia will pass, empires will crumble, the earth will be swallowed by the sun, the sand on the beach of infinity will melt then evaporate but Neil Critchley will be wearing a club polo shirt and saying 'inandoutofpossession'


I've loved every minute of it. Sort of. A new dawn. There's been a once a century, maybe once a millennium surreal global experience. There's been a once in a lifetime weird Wembley day. There's been worship, anger, love and loss. Tangerine smoke. Noise that has resonated deep within and cleansed. Grumbling dissatisfaction "Fucking hell CJ" Breathless joy and disbelief. Kaddy. Bowler vaulting legs. Madine and Yates with that 1-2-3 goal! CJ last minute into the empty Preston net. Fucking hell! CJ!!!


It is what it is. May it always be so.
 

It's love. Love is painful. Love is beautiful. Love is all we have. Love is beyond human understanding and lives somewhere beyond death and beyond us all. It's beyond quantification and explanation. It is in short supply. It is everywhere. It's within us.


It is Saturday 3pm


We love you Blackpool. We do.


---



Pompey seem over excited to be here. We seem a bit underwhelmed by the occasion. They're all about playing up and chiming and we're curiously subdued.

It's what commentators describe as 'attritional.' I can practically hear Critch on the training ground drilling 'shape lads. Never mind that silly stuff. Get back in shape'

Neither side gives an inch. They're dirty. Kaddy gets a booting. Gabriel gets clattered. Critch isn't happy. We're still oddly sleepy in the stands. Kaddy makes a rare misplaced pass. There's a shadow of a groan. He is human. Jimmy is definitely human. He chases one and then goes down. This has been waiting to happen for weeks. Hubby looks knackered. On comes Casey. A back three and no left footer. Hmmm.

Slowly we start to take charge. Beesley is running hard and pulling the defence with him. He has a half chance, but a heavy touch lets their man get a foot in. Byers is all touch and go invention. Quick feet and quick thinking getting us started. Kaddy, a little body swerve, go on, a ball slid for Rhodes who seems to have taken it too far but finds one of those arrowing low back lift finishes and we've all got out heads in our hands as it sneaks just wide... Just...

What happens next I cannot explain. I can only describe what I see. The ball up the middle. Bees is being wrestled. His shirt is pulled, the defender then has him in a headlock. The ball still makes it through to Rhodes who competes for the ball, seems to win it then get tangled up with the defender, the contact sending them both sprawling. The ref blows, I presume for the foul or to take play back for the foul on Bees.

He points towards the south. For FUCKS SAKE ref. What is that? I'm disgusted. I look away. There's a groan of shock. He must have shown a yellow. FUCKING HELL. I look back to the pitch. There's a sense of incredulity. There's a sense of stunned outrage in the stands. You don't get that for a yellow. Rhodes is marching towards the touchline. He can't have sent him off? For that? What the fuck? WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK??? WHAT??? Rhodes is more Gary Golf Pro than Gary Madine. You'd kind of get it if it was the ol' lord and master of skullduggery himself but Rhodes is not of that ilk at all. A straight red? I am absolutely baffled. I keep recounting it for the next 10 minutes. It was us that got fouled. Wasn't it? Twice? I don't know how that happened.

Pompey play it around. They've got a plan. Knock it about until we can't keep up with running after it.

It nearly works straight away Grimmy makes a full length low stop, palming the ball onto the post. We hack it away. We breath again.


---


This is going to be a long second half.

---


It is a loooooooong second half. It feels about 3 weeks long.

What happens is everyone, but mostly Grimmy.

Brilliant fucking sleepy Grimmy. Grimmy on his BMX pulling tricks. A man of few words who answers with a shrug. A man who loves his nan. Grimmy with a quick three skinner knocked up to steady him for the inevitable onslaught. Grimmy rubbing his eyes and yawning.

I fucking love Grimmy.

Grimmy at the near post somehow. I don't know how he got there. He wasn't there and then he was. Thank fuck for Grimmy. He moves through time and space, shifting miles in seconds. He's light itself. He doesn't think much of it. He's just doing what Grimmy does. A gentle eyed ninja. A soft old cat that like to curl up and snooze. Sleeping with one eye open though. No one's fool. An alley cat with a raggedy ear.

Beesley chases it. Beesley sent sprawling. A nasty tackle. OFF OFF OFF. Of course not. Yellow. Kaddy sent flying. A stamp? He was stamped on then? Not in the eyes of the ref. The ref doesn't see such things when they happen to us. Beesley again. He practically turns a cartwheel. Play on. Gabriel is barged in the back. That's not a thing. You get the picture. Critchley has his arms outstretched. He's beyond hopping mad. He's seething.

Every now and again we almost slip their defence. Beesley chases one round the corner and heroically reaches it. Side netting. He's applauded like he's just scored. Coulson charges. Kaddy flickers and tries to slip it through. He should have shot. He's only human. Today at least.

Grimmy throws himself to his left. If earlier he was full length, now he's surely put his shoulder and his finger tips out of their sockets to reach that and turn it onto the post. Unbelievable save. Joseph on. Beesley off to a well deserved chorus of BEEEEEEEES. The ground is pulsating. The drum incessant drowning out the horrible bell. The noise desperately urging us to keep playing at this heroic tempo. Back in shape. Chase, harry, nick it. Keep it, break, clear. Repeat. Marvin heads it away. Time and time again. Norburn crashes about and breaks up but Pompey collect eventually and then come back at us. Grimmy sprawls and takes a shot. It's a good save, but it looks routine in the context of world class things he's produced. He stays down. Christ almighty fucking god, not Grimmy too. He's buying us time to have a break. He's up. His kick is huge. He's fine. The ball drops. There's a 200th of a chance for a split second before the keeper snuffs it out and we treat it like a moment of pure gold. COME ON THE POOL. Joseph is stabbed through. He can't shake off his man. We cheer the effort like there's nothing left in the world but this. Jordan Gabriel whips up the west. The whole ground ignites. CJ is stood on the touchline. He's gone to warm up about twenty minutes ago and now he's just stock still, swaying with the play. He's glued to it. We all are. They come again. It's hacked away. It's back in, it's hacked away again. It's back again and there's Kaddy, snapping away and winning the tackle and clearing it anywhere like he's pure hod carrying centre half. The team gather round him. He trots off. He's more than magic. He's fucking amazing that boy. In again. Grimmy punches. Then again. It flashes across. Another punch. C'mon... Ref! What's the point though. He'll probably play till they score... It's put across... It's cleared. That fucking bell rings. It never stops.

There's the whistle...

Thank fuck. The bell finally stops.


---
What more can I say than we were magnificent? This team sometimes hasn't shown this fighting quality. It showed it in bucket loads today. We need to take this application to the teams who aren't anywhere near the top of the league and if we do, we'll wipe the floor with them. We were absolutely cheated by the refereeing today. He's probably chuckling his way back to Preston tonight, but the last laugh is on him, cos Tangerine will always be a fundamentally better colour than fucking 'lilywhite,' and nothing will ever, ever change that.

Onward!



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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Long time coming - Shrewsbury Town Vs the Mighty



Ive just worked out that I've not seen us win away since Sept 2022. In that time, I've endured misery, disappointment, spendings off, lethargy, anger, a hollow sense of hopelessness, festive damp squibs, spring disasters, autumnal collapses, winter freezes and a creeping feeling that it's really not worth the price we pay in time, money and energy. 


Shrewsbury is lovely. It's all half timbered buildings that overhang smart shopping streets and winding alleys. Gone though, is Gay Meadow and long gone too, presumably is the coracle that used to fish the ball out of the river should an agricultural centre half put it over the stand. 


The New Meadow is less of a meadow and more of a Lego build on a retail park. The walk to the ground is a paen to big brand shopping. The strange thing is, despite the whole place having an air of only recently springing from the drawing board of an architect that specialises in 'high footfall opportunities combined with social drivers' they seem to have overlooked the fact that people might need to actually get to the football ground. It's a case of taking your life in your hands and dodging cars before wending your way down mysterious and muddy paths. 


--- 

We start ok. We have a couple of chances. None of them are particularly convincing but we briefly look like a good football team accelerating from a standstill. We'll go through the gears and there will be goals! Lovely goals. Loads of goals. Goals from the left, the right and the centre. Goals to warm the soul. 

That isn't how it pans out. In fact, we're really frustrating. We're being penned in by Shrewsbury. We cannot get a foot on the ball. We cannot get up the pitch. Grimmy looks for a pass. Everyone stands still. Norburn picks it up. He looks to the right. CJ stands still. Jimmy tidies things up. He looks for a pass. He misses the pitch. 

Fucking hell Pool. This is crap. I should be more patient than this but I'm not. I haven't got it left in me after all the dismal away games. I've used up all the 'things will come together' and 'you can't win them all' and 'they'll learn from this.' We get away with one woeful bit of defending where we lose it complete because Shrewsbury play a dreadful final ball. We get away with another because of a rank bad finish. 

There's a long injury delay after Lavs clashes heads with a Shrewsbury player. The white Pele is clearly hurt but he carries on. C'mon Pool. I'm sick of watching football that feel like 2 day old cold porridge whenever I go away. 

A long ball. Beesley (who has been decent) leaps. He doesn't win it but the ball comes off their defender as if he'd achieved the perfect flick on. Coulson who has been as good as anyone on the pitch pounces, drills into the box, pulls it back and there is the little genius, the diminutive magician, the fucking insane talent that is Kaddy to take a touch, set himself and angle a low shot precisely where it can't be stopped, right into the corner. It's a bit of sheer class in what has been a crappy, scrappy game and it feels wonderful. 

---

To be honest, I don't think we deserve to be in front. Who cares about that though? Actually, I do. Not because I'm trying to make an agenda driven point. I'm not. I'm perfectly happy for Critchley to win every game from now to the World Club Championship final and be declared the tactical master of all history. I'm just concerned that we're not quite at that point yet and we're shaky as hell away from home and we need to play better because as poor as Shrewsbury were, they matched is and I want to win this game not piss it away by being bullied by a limited side. 

--- 

We're better. We start with a series of attacks. We look more direct. We drive into the space instead of tentatively prodding at it and turning round. We force a series of corners. 

Critch makes a good change, bringing on Joseph for Lavery and keeping the physical levels up front high. Joseph looks a threat immediately. We create a bit more. Coulson has a shot blocked at the far post after a good move. Joseph has one squeezed away. Jimmy ends up with a really good chance from a cross from the right and only a last ditch stop saves it for the Shrews. The reactions of the three players vary. Coulson looks as if he's furious, Joseph looks in pain, Jimmy looks rueful and smiles to himself as if he knows he's just not destined for those moments of glory. 

Gabriel replaces CJ. Christopher Hamilton has not had a good game. He's been indecisive, static and his touch looked as if he put the boxes his boots came in on his feet, rather than the boots themselves. Oh CJ. 

Critch also chucks Jordan Rhodes (Rhodes!) on. He doesn't look so much indestructible as a bit leggy and off the pace (as you would be after a while out) but he's a threat. Husband almost has him in with a very good long ball that finds his, frankly ridiculously intelligent run. 

The Shrews have a moment. We've been a lot better and we now deserve the win. They put together 5 minutes though and it culminates in one horrible little sequence where we don't seem to be able to clear and then Grimmy makes what looks like from a pitches length an absolutely incredible double save. We chant his name even though the flag goes up. 

Kaddy has been terrific. One first half run was not only the highlight of the half, but I suspect, the best thing the New Meadow pitch has witnessed all season. He's tracked back and snuffed out threat. He's won a header. He's roamed and darted, he's spun and prompted. He's now picking up the ball on the right. He's tricking himself into space to cross, he's made the cross and the trick into the same move. The cross is sublime, an arcing ball into the most dangerous space. 

Coulson has had an excellent game. He's been tigerish and even in the turgid fist half, driving forwards directly and linking play with quick, intelligent and incisive play. As Kaddy's ball stands up between the far post and centre of the goal, Coulson is reading the invitation and charging onto it, hurling himself at it with a controlled intent. The crossed ball meets the head of the runner in a very satisfying way and then emphatically hits the back of the net. 

There's general delight, relief and joy. We've deserved that. It would be ironic had our first half performance been the decisive factor because the second half was a distinct improvement. 

Pleasingly, we stay on the front foot and see the game out looking for a third. 



---

As I've intimated above, it wasn't a vintage display but by the time the the final whistle game we definitely deserved the points. Critchley seems oddly subdued at full tame. Curt applause and turning his back at the short but clear start of a demand for his trademark celebration. Perhaps this was about showing intent or letting the players take the limelight. Maybe it's just because really, we've just seen what has to be and probably should have been and largely hasn't been to date, a minimum in games of this nature

Byers, I haven't mentioned in the main but, really grew into the game. He made us tick in the second half. Marvin was really good. I could be wrong here, but it feels as if Grimmy has played a lot higher and made to give Marvin a further escape route in moments of pressure. Beesley I though led the line really well and ran his arse off. 

It was, in the end, the sort of win you'd expect a good team to produce against a side out of form and near the bottom of the table. It was the sort of win we've almost never achieved. In some ways, this sort of win (ugly, sticking at it, earning the right eventually to play a bit) is a more important thing than hammering Pompey or Bolton. It's the kind of win that should have been much more frequent. It's a very welcome win. 

It's worth it isn't it? 

We're still in this... 


Onward!

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