True to recent form, Sunderland scored, fell away, and eventually lost - to secure the play-off matches that nobody wanted, against Portsmouth. On the plus side, we did Southend, nice folks that they are, a favour and Sammy the Shrimp and Elvis J Eel will be strutting their stuff in League One next season.
It being the last game of the season, and away from home, there was a weekend planned. The Southend invasion was due to be a promotion party, remodelled to a “we’re here anyway” party, and we had a date with Durham Cricket Club at Grantham (v Nottinghamshire), but the rain and the temperature meant a brief lunch stop at Stamford before making land at Stevenage . I know, it’s a lifetime away from Southend, but the hotel deal that Silent Bob had negotiated made it all worthwhile. A train ride to the Lamb, a meet up with the Woods brothers, then to collect the rest of our party at the Lord Aberconwy at Liverpool Street, and it was off along the north bank of the Thames and into deepest Essex. I doubt if the Last Post pub will lever take as much money, as the visiting fans made the most of what was essentially (and just as well) a fixture that was meaningless for us.
Matthews Ozturk Flanagan Hume
We kicked off away from the end housing our fans, and with various inflatable objects doing the rounds, and it was quickly apparent that Maguire wanted to be the man who, although we conceded an early corner. McLaughlin had to charge out to get a boot to an attack as the hosts played as if their lives depended on it (which they did, really), and it took until almost twenty minutes were on the clock before we did anything meaningful at the far end, but Gooch couldn’t make it count. Ten minutes later, he played in Maguire, but the shot was off target. He had another penk soon after, from distance, following a cross from Grigg that was cleared, but their keeper was up to it. With ten minutes of the half remaining, Power fed Maguire, who gave it to Gooch, but the shot went wide of the mark. Not good enough.
Wyke, who’d been having a fair old battle with old boy Michael Turner, was booked when he tried to win the ball back from the other central defender, then we did a Sunderland. With only a minute left, we conceded a corner on our right. Nowt wrong with that, even Barca give away corners, but what Barca don’t do is let an immobile third division defender score with a slow motion overhead kick that went in at about three miles an hour. Where was the man on the back post, who, on a Sunday morning, would have simply headed it off the line? Two added minutes, which were largely taken up with Southend celebrating their charge towards league safety, were played out and we went into the break stamping on the beachballs that McLaughlin hadn’t already burst.
Not that it mattered, but we started the second half in fifth position thanks to the other scores, but we did win an early free kick, which had McGeady written all over it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his boots on, and Maguire’s effort went into the wall, and Southend’s free-kick soon after was a lot closer to changing the scorelline, but was headed onto the top of the net. Ten minutes in, and Ross decided to shake things up by replacing Gooch and Grigg with O’Nien and Sterling. The energy those two brought to our game was quickly evident, with Luke running down the right and Sterling simply moving an awful lot faster than Grigg had.
It took some tenacious defending from the Shrimpers to keep Sterling from scoring, as O’Nien fired in a low cross, then the rain/hail/unseasonable weather started. The water poured onto the home fans to our right through a broken piece of guttering, we shrank back from the front of our stand to keep dry, and the pitch got a bit slippy. Wyke looked to be about to pull the trigger as he turned on the edge of the box, but was pulled down, only for the ref to wave play on. Looked very much a penalty to me, and Lovely Linda, the inflatable Swedish lady lying at my feet. Sterling shot across the gaol after being played in by Maguire, then we brought on McGeouch for Power. A free from Grant cleared the wall and caused a bit of upset in the penalty box, but went wide without anyone managing to get the vital touch.
With fifteen to go, however, things changed. The ref simply couldn’t ignore the pull on Wyke this time, and Maguire hit the penalty low to the keeper’s right, and despite him getting a hand to it, the ball flew into the side of the net. Right, stop messing about Lads, get this one won.
Nah. That would have been too straightforward. Wyke managed to shake off his marker to get in a cross, but Sterling couldn’t get his shot on target, then repeating the trick soon after when he got his shot in but it flew just wide of the front post. With three minutes of normal time remaining, we cocked it up again. The ball seemed to be loose for an age before it was knocked into the net at the far end, the home fans went ballistic as their league status was preserved, we pulled the plug out of Lovely Linda’s back and stamped on more beach balls, and the ref indicated another six minutes of misery. At the end of it all, it didn’t really matter, as we were in the play-offs weeks ago, but just to rub salt into the wound of a rotten run of form, other results conspired to give us Portsmouth, who must be laughing themselves daft at the prospect of another two games against the division’s (out of) form team.
On recent form, would you put money on us to get past Pompey? Just asking, like.
Man of the Match? Probably Maguire, who pulled strings and looked like he might just make the difference. Eventually making it back to Liverpool Street, the power went off at the Lord Aberconwy meaning no beer (‘cos the tills wouldn’t work and the staff couldn’t possibly deal with folks handing them the correct money) so we decamped to Mabel’s Tavern to dissect the evening’s events before doing the same back in Stevenage. Play-offs? Bugger them. Let's go to Brackley to see Spennymoor in the playoffs.