That’s it, then. Sixty-one games of a season which started with a comeback 2-1 win thanks to an injury-time goal against Charlton, it ended in exactly the same way. Which was not a good way for us. Ahead thanks to a comedy OG on four minutes, pegged back after 34, beaten after 93 minutes and 54 seconds of 94 minutes. Not even the loser’s “prize” of a visit to Birkenhead could prompt a victory.
It seems a bit churlish to try and garnish it up in any way, as I usually do, with tales of what happened since the last game, but you’re getting it anyway. I forsook the Pompey away game as I had to be at Leeds Bradford airport for what we’d originally thought was a perfectly planned holiday, at 5:30 on the Friday. Having watched that game in a pub near the airport, one of the first people I bumped into at 5:45 was Alim Ozturk. He could have given me a lift!
Anyway, holiday over by Friday evening, it was an early start for Wembley. After controlling my nerves pretty well all week, I went to bit listening to the Tranmere v Newport extra time and was subsequently all over the place for the following twelve hours, only regaining some semblance of positive excitement on Wembley way about two hours before kick-off. News of a broken-down Peterlee supporters’ bus reached us thanks to the magic of modern communications, but with all buses full to the gunwales, they had to rely on a replacement. Which broke down on the way home.
Anyway, we were into Wembley by half eleven, tried the Crystal Rooms, which was a bit like Peter Kay’s Phoenix Club, but without the tinsel curtains and only cans on offer. We gave up on that, and tried the Double 6 Sports Bar, which boasts, if that’s the right word, a collection of the least accurate portraits of famous footballers in the world. Glenn Hoddle’s (un)likeness drew suggestions that ranged from Pele (sarcastic) to Ted Hastings from Line of Duty, via Robbie Savage (who it actually looked a bit like). That wasn’t even the worst, but we gave up on that, tried the impromptu football games up Wembley Way, missed all the people we were trying to meet while bumping into lots that we hadn’t expected, as is the way with Wembley. A quick handshake with Bobby Kerr made our Ian’s day, we took our seats, and the nonsense began.
O’Nien Flanagan Ozturk Oviedo
Catts Power Leadbitter
No changes from the last game, then, and you couldn’t blame Ross for that, as we’d bossed that game. We kicked off away from the East End where our fans were based, but the first action of the game was a naughty one on Power right on the centre spot which effectively ended his game – after less than a minute. No free-kick, no bringing play back after the advantage had been played. Remember that, ref, if anything similar happens later. (Spiller alert – he only did if it was in Charlton’s favour).
Anyway, before any sort of pattern could be established by either side, Sarr decided to pass it back to his keeper without looking, the keeper, who’d been doing something other than watching the game, was a bit off balance, but still should have done better than tickle it with his toe, let it run past him, and fail miserably in a desperate sprint to prevent it trundling into the net. Four minutes gone, surely the Gods of football were smiling on us, with the majority of our fans thinking “Wembley, a win, this time, surely.” True to form, Charlton went to pieces, but unfortunately Power had to leave the field after only eight minutes – why do other teams, notably Portsmouth this season, get away with blatantly injuring key opposition players? Mebbe it’s time we adopted the same ideology of “we don’t care what you think of us, we’re taking him out”. Other than a big penalty shout when Wyke’s shot was stopped by a Charlton arms, and a shot from distance by Leadbitter, which he only managed to get 75% on, that was saved at the foot of the post, we didn’t trouble their keeper. Mind, they didn’t give McLaughlin much to think about either, until after 25 minutes they got their first corner, which Big Jon dealt with comfortably. A few more crosses were similarly caught, we dealt with a free kick despite the ref missing a blatant barge on Catts, and we got past the half hour with McLaughlin erasing the Perez thoughts from the minds of our older fans with a sensible and confident display.
Then it went all wrong. A low cross from their right went to the back post, there was a hint of offside but not enough to scream about, and the ball was bundled in for the equaliser. Oh bugger. The remaining ten minutes, plus three added, were pretty much the same as the thirty five that preceded them, with neither side showing much more than brief bursts of football, although Morgan, on for Power, did link up well with O’Nien down the right to almost create something on a couple of occasions. Almost, but not quite. Our goal scorer, Sarr, was booked at last for fouling Wyke, to great applause from the Wearside contingent.
After the nonsense of negotiating the blokes’ netties that were cubicle only, we made no more changes for the second half, while Charlton brought on Pearce for Sarr, who’d presumably been taken out the back and shot.
After Maguire had found Morgan, but Lewis had made a mess of his cross, we did get the ball in from our left as Oviedo pushed forward, but when Maguire flicked it up and past his marker, his shot was charged down by another defender. A few minutes later, he was a touch unlucky to be the one making way for Grigg as we looked to change the formation a bit. On the hour mark, Pratley, who we’d put bets on to be a bit naughty, virtually assaulted O’Nien, necessitating stitches in our man’s head. No remonstrations from the ref, who got more deserved abuse from our fans when he booked Grigg for winning the ball in physical style, with Charlton’s tactic of flinging themselves into the air when tackled striking a chord with the ref. A corner from Leadbitter looked to have created a chance, but Flanagan was on the end of it without being able to control his effort, and it went wide.
With twenty to go, Charlton did the sensible thing from their point of view and took off Pratley before he did anything else daft, with Jonny Williams coming on. Former player syndrome? Well, eh was lively enough….so we brought on McGeady for Wyke. Aiden was immediately into the game, trying shots whenever he got the chance, but they went either wide or high, and, to be honest, Honeyman was more of a threat (in a more direct style) going down the left. As the last five minutes came along, there must have been an increase in the price of petrol or summat, as the high-viz jackets marched from the tunnel along the perimeter of the pitch, and we began preparing ourselves for extra time. Four added minutes were announced, Flanagan was booked, and they somehow got a cross in from their left. When it arrived at the back post, their man was all over Oviedo, but no foul was given and the loose ball was poked home by Bauer. Six bloody seconds was all that remained. Six bloody seconds that now mean Birkenhead and Milton Keynes instead of… well, pick anywhere half decent in the Championship.
Man of the Match? I’d say Catts, as he was the one still trying to get his players going in the dying minutes.
Disappointment. Three times I’ve taken our Ian to Wembley, twice this year, and there’s been no joy. I’m part of a steadily-shrinking band of folks who’ve seen us win there, and I’m getting heartily sick of seeing us lose. Still, it could be worse. Could be a Mag.
It’s been a long, hard, campaign for the fans, and let’s hope that some don’t see this Wembley defeat as the straw that broke the camel’s back and say “enough.” We’ve come a long way, been to a lot of places, and covered a lot of miles this season. League position-wise, it might have been our worst ever season, but despite this defeat, it’s been a lot more enjoyable than the previous two – and we’re not on the verge of administration or bankruptcy. It’s now officially Close Season, so take a deep breath, put your feet up, take a well-earned break, and I’ll see you next season.