Mickey Blue Eyes
Saturday morning, bright and glorious, enough sunshine for a pleasant walk to Jericho Lane to watch local Saturday morning footy. On view were some good amateur players and matches against a wonderful backdrop of river, sandbanks, fresh air and Welsh hills. There's no better or bracing way to start the day, and, given all our recent midday kick offs, almost something quaint about it. It was a great set up for the home match V Wolves, one I was looking forward to to get us unglued from the desperate mess at the bottom of the table.
Earlier, we had the good news that Felli had signed a contract extension and Jags, Bainsey and Jack rightly played for England. Then we had "Emailgate," a sort of inconsequential soap opera for terrace fishwives and gossiping owl shawlies, the sort of nutters who look and sound like a copy of Les Dawson's famous en femme impression of a gummy fat old woman hitching up her bosom for back entry tittle-tattle......Football, don'tcha just love its madcap extremes. It's better than moronic TV, armchair "fans" or computers any day of the week, as stimulating and funny as a Peter Cook or Spike Milligan script. I wouldn't swap it or spontaneous pre- and post-match piss-takes for any other hobby. Bring it on, I say, bring it on. There's nothing like the old verbals to spice up matters.
Pre-match feeling in the pub was as optimistic as ever, even taking account of our league position if we lost. I thought a draw likely. Then I heard Plewsy's rumour that Jack wasn't playing and revised it to a possible loss. In reality anything was likely to happen in this kind of situation. All of which appears to have encouraged more fans to attend than first seemed likely. I expected a gate of about 29-30,000; but 33,953 turned up despite a decaying economy, a two-thirds empty away section and mid day disappearance of the sun and a lower temperature. Once the sun dipped below the yard arm it got even colder.
Sure enough the rumour was true, Jack was out. So were Phil and Sylvain. Back was Felli, and in came Tim and Seamus. Wolves had a couple of huge gangly central defenders and the disgusting runt Hunt at wide left, and, apparently, not much else. It wasn't difficult to forecast a "dour struggle." But it wasn't that bad as it turned out, though it was mostly scrappy. In the end the game had an edge because Wolves are a team of horrible bruisers who deserve both their reputation and their league placing. And Our Boys, egged on by an outraged crowd, plainly decided they weren't going to be trampled on for a whole game. No wonder Wolves manager Mick McCarthy is beginning to sound like an irritated barrow boy selling dodgy gear, a bit like Alan Sugar in a track suit.
The opening phase didn't have much to commend it. Jack was certainly missed since there was nobody for Felli to combine with. Seamus was as courageous as ever wide right and had a few runs at their defence that inevitably ended with him being decked, but Royston was relatively quiet on the other flank. Tim did his usual fractious "forward mid" role and got a cut head for his pains. Louis's engine, alas, is nearly gone and to preserve energy he is usually limited to short bursts of brilliant close control; anything else is beyond him now. Just to make sure, the Wolves centre backs would spread all over him every now and then to make sure he couldn't turn quickly and make a monkey out of them. Tim Howard had virtually nothing to do in goal, while the rest of the defence was solid enough despite Johnny "Oggy" Heitinga's weirdly unreliable performance at twin centre back. Jags plainly didn't trust him much because he spent a goodly part of the early exchanges playing safe by belting it long, at times rather too wildly for some in the crowd. But I guarantee you'd do the same if you had Johnny and his moods alongside you. All that said, if anyone looked likely during this spell it was us.
Still, it took about a quarter of an hour before we saw a decent move from defence to attack. Tony knocked one short to Felli at the right edge of our penalty area, he turned and loped through the middle - his long stride fairly eats up the ground, but makes him look laconic to the uninformed - and then lanced a through pass to Tim in their half at the centre circle, who hit a superb first time pass wide right to Seamus, who hit an equally sublime long cross from tight on the touchline. Which arrived at the far goal area angle, where Tim once again demonstrated why he's so important to us by having made up ground to head it back to left of the penalty spot. Louis was on it in a flash and left-foot smashed a difficult air ball goalward but it hit the ground and bounced high enough for their 'keeper to make a brilliant instinctive save and palm it over. Really, that was our first half highlight despite most possession and territory. In other words, same old, same old.
So naturally we go and leak one ten minutes before half time after the enemy played a brief spell of keep ball down their left touchline opposite our penalty area. I wasn't the only one annoyed none of our right side seemed bothered enough to stick a foot in somewhere. A quick exchange of passes ended with a ball into the corner angle of the penalty area and Felli came across to do a routine dispossession. He put a foot in on a player going back toward the touchline, missed, and the guy tripped over his stay-behind. I wouldn't have given it, but then I'm heavily biased. To add insult to penalty the horrible little Hunt stuck the penalty away, no sweat. One down and, like most of the fucking season, too stupid for words. But that's life.
Fortunately, sanity and fairness were restored when we equalised with a few minutes of the half left. Again it was a Felli-Tim combo that set it up. A move down the left, ball inside to Felli on the half way line, another through pass to Tim - by this time bearing a sticking plaster over a head wound - and he got pushed down yet again by their big Lurch of a centre back. Free kick, taken left footed by Bainsey, one of his specials that curled over and dropped perfectly at head height just outside the centre goal area. With Wolves defenders heads swivelling right and left to watch Tim, Louis and Felli, Jags stole in through the middle and butted it home off the side of his head. Relief all round.
A minute later we should have had a penalty when Tim was pulled back going for a rebound from a save off a Felli angled shot from the left. I don't understand why the referee with a clear sight line couldn't see it because I could and I was at the other end of the ground. Anyway, not given and the crowd were rightly furious. We've had some refereeing whoppers this season and this one was no different.
In the second half the enemy could hardly muster an attack but again despite possession and territory we still looked short of the necessary matador thrust. Still, we kept plugging away with Seamus keeping up a non-stop persecution of their left back and Royston gradually getting more into the game - a couple of times the Dutchman went on crossfield runs that almost burned up the Wolves defence until they did what comes naturally and dropped him until he limped off with six minutes left. Wolves began to stretch and nearly broke after a neat move through the middle starred Leon's through ball to Tim (yes, he really was everywhere) and a quick pass to Seamus and a neat kebab of the defender took him just wide of the right goal area angle. He pulled it back to Louis, who back heeled it into the centre of the goal area, where yet again Tim appeared like a hard-running ghost for what seemed a tap in. But a defender made a stupendous last minute stop and he and Tim and their 'keeper ended up in a desperate heap on the goal line.
With fifteen minutes left Wolves were obviously a busted flush as relatively the pace stepped up. With twenty minutes left Moyesy decide to stretch their defence a bit more and brought on Tolos in place of a clearly shattered Tim. By this time we were raiding mostly down our left with Bainsey prominent and looking more like his normal self. We had a series of left side corners that had their defenders manning the pumps. Eventually this told when one of them pushed Louis over for the umpteenth time and we got a penalty. Bainsey took my advice and hit it low to the right of their very tall 'keeper......so tall he couldn't possibly drop fast enough to an accurate, reasonably powerful shot. A couple of minutes later Bily came on for Royston. The Argentine Firecracker came on for Louis with five minutes of added time to play but Wolves were done for. There was something supremely ironic and satisfying they should lose through two goals given away through fouls, since that seemed their only "ability." On this evidence, they're dead ducks.
Overall, given Jack's and Sylvain's absence, this was a good win in a game that was mostly an untidy scrap. In those circumstances I don't think we could expect much more.