For some reason that warning, from the iconic seventies TV series “The Incredible Hulk” (with “me” rather than “us” obviously) has stuck in my mind. I used to think it was a description of Man United at their all-conquering best. You perhaps had a reasonable chance of getting a draw with them but you should never score against them, otherwise you’d get thumped. Perhaps, at least in the Championship, we are getting a bit like that? We would have been happy to let Southampton have a point. After all, 7 points out of three very difficult fixtures would have been a hell of a result. But no, they had to try to be clever and score a goal. Grr, grrr, rip, rip, green, green – and all three points were ours.
What a bloody silly time for a kick-off. Even by the standards of the selfish, soul-destroying Murdoch corporation, moving a game to 5.15 on a bank holiday Monday when the away fans had to travel 400 miles was a kick in the groin. How they have the cheek to show cheering crowds as part of their advertising when they have done more to knock the real fervour out of games than anyone in the previous 100+ years of professional football as a spectator sport is beyond me. Despite that, 3,000 of the red and white army made the long and inconvenient trip. It is sometimes said, with some justification I think, that the atmosphere at away games tends to be more feverish the further north the game is. I suspect some of our more, er, boisterous element are like good wines and don’t travel that far. However, the atmosphere at this game was cracking pretty much the whole way through.
I’d had a cunning plan to park up and drink in Northam, which is the area north of the ground, next to the river (or sea – or sound – but definitely water). The cunning plan was temporarily thrown off by the fact that the pub I’d intended going to was closed. However, we then found a canny bar in the marina (I assume it was so-called as we were deep in the shandy drinking south – it was actually a boat yard). We went inside for the second half of the 3 o’clock kick offs and watched that programme on Sky Sports News that is like a live teletext. As a regular home and away attender I don’t see this very often so, even with the sound off, I was in thrall to it. When Barnsley scored and then Coventry scored, I almost fell off my chair. Derby equalised of course – but they were at home. We had to leave the pub before the final whistle but when we got to the ground we found that those were indeed the final scores and suddenly automatic promotion was in our hands.
I don’t know what the game looked like on the telly. I saw one report which said there weren’t that many goal chances, which surprised me because in the ground it seemed like a cracking match. Both teams were fighting hard and both teams had a decent amount of skill to back up their efforts. In the first half we were kicking away from our end and the initiative seemed to pass between the two sides on a number of occasions. Personally I thought we were marginally the better team – but my objectivityometer was not set onto maximum. As you’d expect, despite everyone (noticeably Simpson) being fit, we didn’t play the same team as against Wolves. Connolly and Elliott were up front while Yorke was in the middle and Hysen was on the left. Away from home it is hard playing with two smaller men up front – Elliott and particularly Connolly worked really hard. Connolly’s ability to control a long ball on his chest while surrounded by two or three bulky defenders was admirable. Yorke, as always, seemed to be pivotal to everything. The other players look to him as an outlet and he is coolness personified on the ball.
The second half we were doing what I preferred – attacking towards us. This made me feel that we were marginally in control – but again I’ve seen reports saying Southampton came more into it. Usually the large majority of people who read these reports haven’t seen the game. With Sky games, the large majority have – so you probably have a better opinion of your own.
Anyhow, what certainly did happen was that the buggers went and scored. And it had to be that Saganowski, whose first name is we’llhavetowatchoutforthat. A looping cross in from the right which the multiple syllabled one seemed slightly to mis-connect with – however, if anything it being a slight mis-hit probably made it harder for Ward, who otherwise was having one of his regular great games. Cue an upping of the noise from the Saints fans either side of us. To be fair I thought they were pretty good in the atmosphere stakes all the way through. However, they really do need to drop that “When the Saints” chant. They use it miles too much and it just has the away fans sniggering.
During the second half Keano started deploying subs. Stokes and Whitehead had come on at half-time for Elliott and Miller. At some stage in the second half Leadbitter came on for Yorke. The latter substitution obviously was intended as an attempt to put pressure on their goal from the midfield as well as the front men and the wingers.
Isn’t it lovely to see Edwards back? The guy is just class. Not only can he take the ball down the wing and but he can cut in and dribble or he can come into the box along the dead ball line. Defences never quite know which option he is going to take. And so he came dribbling towards the goal with the Southampton defence doing the same as us and admiring him from afar. As he got into the inside right channel he did a Blue Peter special (“here is one I made earlier” – at St Andrews as it happens) and again pulled back his left foot and smashed the ball past the goalkeeper, who joined his defence in their role of admiring spectators.
Good we thought – a well earned point. Fortunately the players looked not at us complacent fans but at the glowering Keano: “we will never give up, we will never surrender” (which is a quote either from Churchill or that spoof movie Galaxy Quest – I forget which). The players know if they slack off even at the time of the ref blowing the first peep of the final whistle rather than after the second, he will eat them – and their children – and their children’s children.
And so the effort level was maintained. Leadbitter got the ball slightly over to the left and moved right until he got into the same position as Edwards. “Carlos, was this where you scored from?” asked young Grant, “yes” replied Edwards”. “And was this how you scored Carlos?” asked Grant again. “Oh, f***ing yes” screamed everyone behind the goal.
Two superb goals that will no doubt feature heavily on the end season video – but for us they were more important for the fact of where they had now put us. Back down on the concourse even usually cautious SAFC supporters were coming up to me and saying “we’re up now”. Usually this is where I’d worry about complacency. But if anyone thinks Keano will put one less ounce of effort and concentration into preparing for Saturday’s game against QPR than he would if we had a champions league final against Real Madrid please feel free to e-mail email@example.com saying “the problem with you is that your sloppy approach is dragging down our football club”. Please do remember to leave your name and address.
My cunning ruse of parking in Northam paid dividends and we got away back onto the motorway much faster than when we have parked in the city centre. I felt sorry for the lads and lasses making the long journey back to the North-East – but I suspect the elation of those two goals lasted the 400 miles OK.
Now be honest – how long have you spent since 7 o’clock on Monday night staring at the Championship table? Doesn’t that look good?
John aka Herts