Santa Claus delivered for us big time this Christmas – nine points out of nine and up to fourth is a great way to get us feeling optimistic about the new year. This was a really good trip out. It’s a nice easy trip down from the North-East (I was up there for a couple of days) and it is no problem finding somewhere decent to have a drink before the match. We were in the Moulders Rest just on the corner of the dual carriageway – opposite the away fans’ car park. When we came out we found a huge contingent of SAFC supporters being marshalled by police horses, dogs and police in riot gear. In fact we still managed to make it to our seats in time to see the kick-off (just). We knew that Thirwell was likely to be missing after his injury against Bradford and we knew that Arca was fit again. Sensibly Mick Mac did as little as possible to disturb the team. That meant putting Arca on the left wing instead of left back, which I really don’t like but I can understand on this occasion why he did it. So it was Poom in goal, Wright and McCartney full backs, Babb and Bjorklund centre backs, Macateer and Whitely central midfield, Oster and Arca wingers and Smith and Stewart up front.
The first half we were kicking towards our end (well those of us behind the goal – we also had a side bit as well). I thought the first half was fairly even and on balance we deserved to be maybe one goal ahead. However, I spoke to two people at half-time via the miracle of the wireless telephone: one was watching Sky Sports; the other was listening to Metro. Both said that their media of choice was reporting us to be well on top. Either Metro and Sky were wrong or I know nowt. I think we all know the answer to that one.
One of the big talking points of the first half was Macateer’s foul on their player who took git long throws (I hate teams that have them). I can honestly do an Arsene Wenger on this one: I just didn’t see it. It does sound very nasty but I have no comment to make on it. I’m surprised Trigger stayed on – but that is because I thought Mick Mac would take him off – the Rotherham players (who were pretty damn physical in any case) seemed to work out (correctly I reckon) that there was no way the ref would send any of them off for a tackle on Trigger so they were kicking him all over the place for the rest of the game. Credit to Trigger for the fact that (whatever his culpability re the foul) he retained his composure for the rest of the game.
Poom had had to make one very decent save and they had a shout for a penalty. I can’t take an Asene on this one as I did see the ball hit Oster’s hand but it was down the other end – personally I’d say it was ball to hand but the whole crowd did shout for it (as opposed to those occasions where some shout then everyone else joins in). In one report I’ve read it said the goal came against the run of play. I don’t think so – it was a fairly attacking game by both sides and we got a corner on the left. Oster swung it in nicely and someone (Wright on to Bjorklund?) connected with it and the goalie did well to save it, but couldn’t hold it. Now what have I been saying about where good strikers score goals from? On the six yard line! And there was Stew. To be honest I think not only his pace but also his reactions have been very poor recently. Not this time. He got a good firm header and placed it well past the defenders and into the net. Excellent. Not excellent was the stupid bliddy contrived celebration – very mid-nineties and very unfitting to the moment – pack it in yers lot.
A bit later and the ball came to Smith with his back to goal in the left hand side of the 18 yard area (again – where strikers should be). God only know what he was going to do with it: turn and shoot? swivel right and go for the bye-line? swivel left and head for goal? lay it off? Whatever, while it was a dangerous position, it wasn’t that dangerous. Nevertheless the defender standing behind him just kicked him in the back of the leg. You could hardly even say it was a tackle from behind – it was just a kick. We were killing ourselves laughing – how bliddy stupid could you get? The fact that the Rotherham manager insists it wasn’t a penalty (Smith only managed to struggle on for a couple of more minutes before having to come off at half-time) puts his strident comments on the Trigger foul into perspective. So up steps Stew. Isn’t it nice having a penalty taker who you think is much more likely than not to score? Stew take his penalties very slowly – he seems to wait for the goalkeeper to commit himself before deciding at the last moment where he is going to put it – so against Wimbledon he chipped down the middle after the goalkeeper had gone left – this time the goalkeeper had gone right so he hit it low and firm into the opposite side. Very nice.
2-0 up at half-time with both goals coming at our end. When had that ever happened before? Oh yes, last away game – at West Ham. The second half was going to be psychologically very important for us. We needed to be mature and sensible. Perhaps more importantly we needed them not to have Brian Deane on the bench. In fact we got both.
Those of a nervous disposition should stop reading now as I am going to say something that will make you froth at the mouth. Phil Babb was a colossus – he was the nearest thing to Gary Breen one could wish for (other than Gary Breen obviously). The problem with Ringo and Jockie is that they just don’t talk – you need a talker at the back and that is what Breen does so well. In this second half with the defence right in front of us you were conscious of how much Babb was contributing. He’d actually been canny against Bradford as well. I’m no more a Babb fan than anyone but I’ll always praise a lad in a red and white shirt if he performs well. Generally the fact of how well we held things together can be gauged from the fact that Poom didn’t have to make one save in the second half (he collected a couple of high balls well). A third goal would have been nice but the clean sheet and confidently holding on to the lead was much more important to us.
Overall I thought Trigger was the most important player (putting to one side that foul). He was in the position he performs best for us and he was prepared to push the strikers forward as no other of our central midfielders do. Whitely had his normal canny chasing everything down game. Oster I thought was poor by the standards he’s set himself recently. His corner for the goal was excellent and he had one or two good moments but I can’t help think he doesn’t relish games as physical as this. Wright was good, continuing a good run of form. Ringo was involved a lot and was very good at trying to push forward (congrats to Huulio for covering back for him well) but somehow he managed to leave me vaguely disappointed. Stew you have to give full marks to for doing the job a striker is meant to do. Kyle did a great job in the second half of making their defence’s life a misery – I wish more of my fellow supporters would judge him by the job he has been asked to do (and generally is doing pretty well) rather than by some standard they are setting that he is never going to achieve (he’s not Quinny; never will be; is not even meant to do the same sort of role as Quinny – let’s move on).
There is a temptation to say “oh this was only Rotherham”. But they had picked up 20 out of the last 24 points and had beat early pacesetters Wigan at Wigan on Boxing Day. This was a very professional job. We have a small squad and no money. But we have some canny players and we have some lads who are really putting in the effort for the manager. I fear an automatic promotion spot is perhaps beyond us but it’s not impossible so let’s enjoy the fight to try and get it. Happy New Year.