Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
Caught your breath yet? No, nor me. The havoc-wreaking Yellows are, very literally, not for the faint-hearted and even by their standards Tuesday’s stoppage time was hectic. The chaotic anticipation of a late late penalty was soon drowned by a wave of anger at said penalty being disallowed, only for that wave to be dwarfed by a tsunami of elation as Scott Boden kept his cool and worked out another way to find the net. And then we were supposed to just close the laptop and go to bed?
There was plenty of pre-match chat on “the socials” (as they – the worst people in the world – say) about wanting the Aldershot game to be a peaceful one. A night off from the havoc; a game wrapped up within the first hour; a match that caused us all less of a cardiac challenge. It looked like Gary might’ve heeded that message because the boys came flying out the traps. We should’ve taken the lead in the first minute and, had it not been for Aldershot burgling a cheap goal, it’s not inconceivable that we could’ve been out of sight by half time. But that would’ve been too easy: if the Gulls are going up, they’re going to do it by putting their fans through the wringer.
The After Eighties
Stockport (h); Bromley (a); Chesterfield (h); Wealdstone (a); Wealdstone (h); Weymouth (a); Wrexham (a); Notts County (h); Aldershot (h). These are all games where we’ve picked up points with goals in the 87th minute or later. There are plenty more examples of crucial goals being scored in the last ten minutes of normal time, too: Wright scoring against Woking and Hall at Sutton spring to mind. Without those extra points, we’d be mid-table now. No chance of promotion, no hope, no glory, no reason to be leaping around the living room. But we did get those points, we scored those goals, and we’re top of the league.
I’m always wary when people talk about “team spirit” – it seems to me that the term tends to downplay things that are more important. It may have been “team spirit” that encouraged the lads to keep going, but it wasn’t “team spirit” that gave Adam Randell the composure to chop back onto his left foot, nor the ability to caress a ball in with his weaker peg towards Scott Boden. It wasn’t “team spirit” that helped the Sheffielder delightfully flick his header goalwards and beyond the ‘keeper. Of course there’s an important psychological aspect; the players are brave and determined and resilient and they believe they can score late, but we shouldn’t forget that it was a really good goal. The cross and header were superb; they were products of skill, quality, (ironically) fitness, and players being really good at football. Those involved deserve just as much praise for that as they do for their spirit.
Oh, there was some luck too. As the ball went out of play deep into their own half, Aldershot clearly hadn’t noticed that both our long throw specialists were off the pitch, so even though the penalty area was crowded with centre backs Ben Wynter had neither the ability nor the inclination to launch it towards them. Fortunately, because all attention was in the middle, last weekend’s hero was able to throw short to an unmarked Randell. He was eventually put under a bit of pressure but by that time he had the ball well under control and was able to pick his man in the box. One could call that “a fantastically intelligent long-throw decoy manoeuvre”, or “team spirit”. I think “luck” or “opposition negligence” are just as appropriate.
(Yes, I thought of the sub-heading before kick-off and have stuck to it).
There’s a serious point here, though. There’s no doubt Aldershot’s back line would have been pleased to see Wright’s absence because he’s clearly our best striker and a real nuisance at this level. That said, it shouldn’t be underestimated how well our forwards performed on Tuesday. Though he should’ve opened the scoring while the chimes of the Tijuana Brass were still ringing round the ground, Billy Waters probably put in his best performance in a Gulls shirt. His work-rate was brilliant and his interplay with the also excellent Boden hinted towards the potential of a proper strike partnership.
And while JSW was being ran ragged by those two, it was Asa Hall who once again took up goalscoring responsibilities with a fantastic volley on the end of another Adam Randell cross. Strikers who are simultaneously fit and good have been hard to come by for The Gulls this season, so goals from midfield have been crucial in the title push and the skipper has been at the forefront of that. His first venture into double figures since 2008-09 could not have come at a better time.
The Referee’s Impressionable!
This is all our fault. Referees have probably always been scrutinised, but particularly in the last couple of decades we’ve seen a real ramping up in “refereeing analysis”, be that in shiny TV studios or online. That’s where VAR came from: a relentless obsession from pundits and fans about getting the “right” or “fair” decision on everything. The mere presence of Peter Walton on my telly, seemingly every night, is a symptom of football media failing to do its job, failing to report on the football and instead making celebrities and protagonists out of those who are supposed to just facilitate the continuation of a fair game. Now everything is overanalysed, often in slow-motion; officials are more scared than ever to get something wrong; and are probably more impressionable to claims that they have got something wrong. It’s rubbish and uncouth; we should resist it in all its forms.
Cut to me this morning: rewinding, pausing, rewinding, replaying, rewinding, pausing and replaying the penalty incident from Tuesday. It’s not important whether I think the correct decision was reached (but I’ll tell you anyway: right now I think it was, but I’ve U-Turned on this more times than the current government on the question of whether children should be fed). What is important is how it was reached. Just like on Saturday, the officials allowed themselves to be persuaded into (or, in this case, dissuaded from) a decision by remonstrations of the players. There’s certainly a broader conversation to be had about Umerah’s two bookings, but in both games the call went the way of the players who screeched the loudest, and that’s obviously not on.
Eastleigh are our next opponents, and they’re a good side. They come off the back of two victories over Notts County and a win against Sutton. Just like every game between now and the end of the season, we’ll need to play well to beat them. Tyrone Barnett is a decent centre forward – not far off the Danny Wright mould – and right-wing-back Sam Smart has already caused us problems this campaign. But we should go into this match with cautious optimism rather than concern. It’s possible that we’ll have a couple of injury returnees, but if not then that’s also fine. We’re in fantastic form, we’ve got a manager and a group of players who have a lot of talent and experience of winning games. Trust them. Don’t allow yourself to be fearful of a club that is nothing more than a bus stop near an airport, or any of our title rivals. It’ll be alright. (Probably, and if it isn’t, life goes on).
COYY – Matty