Nationwide Division One, 18/11/00
Preston North End
We're The End
By Martin Blanc
Sometimes it's good to act on impulse, on the spur of the moment, in anger
or passion or inspiration, to burn with something or other's fire...and
sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's better to reflect, to mull over, to
pause, to delay, to leave writing a match report until you can put it in
some sort of perspective. Or just get to a computer - which rather imposes
the second category on you, whether you want it to or not.
So on the Monday after the game, it's a surprise that I'm still as keen to
rant at the shortcomings of the side as I was from the time we went 2-1 down
all the way through to the damp, infuriating end of the match. We played
some of our best positive football in ages in this game, our attacking moves
were sharp, our finishing strong. And yet we were also offering vacant
possession of most of the pitch to any enterprising North Ender who happened
along and fancied a piece. At first they tended to happen along three or
four a minute, since their industriousness put us to shame. And then, when
they saw our shapeless generosity, our lack of stomach for a scrap, they all
fancied a piece.
The goals are easy to recall, theirs as much as ours. And our near misses,
which perhaps just about outnumbered theirs. It was certainly good to have
Darren Ward back: you felt the midfield would maybe try to go down the
middle once or twice, to test his fitness, and then retreat to the
touchlines, where Coxy and Robbo would deal with whatever came their way.
And certainly, part one of that was spot on. Ward saw off the forward surges
that should, in fact, never have come in the first place, since Micah Hyde
and others oughtn't to need ten thousand people in the stands yelling 'Man
on' in order to realise that they can't dawdle on the ball in the centre
circle without expecting some serious attention. So off the End went, good
and wide - whereupon incredibly they had free rein down both sides to fire
in crosses at will. Our lacklustre midfield passing (we were third to the
ball sometimes, after the End and the referee) soon turned up some errors,
and a finish worthy of Gifton put us one-nil down.
We stormed back, as we mustn't start specialising in doing. Our approach
work was the equal to theirs, but the lasting difference between the sides
was that we had to work a f***sight harder to earn the chances, a lovely one
of which Mooney dead-eyed into the net on half an hour. Sure, on another day
Neilsen's shot soon after, Cox's rocket after that, and other sweet but
unmet crosses would have, could have, gone in. The Preston keeper was just
doing his job, well enough but let's not kid ourselves that he was playing a
blinder. We should have kept it up. But instead we sort of dissolved in the
rain, melted away, and another near-post farce, this time on the left side,
put us back in arrears.
Urgency, passion, impulse can look messy at times. We got closer to the
interval and seemed to flurry forwards, confident we could do it all over
again and maybe then impose ourselves. But we weren't doing it, so that when
the ball fell to Palmer thirty yards out, you could see why he might have a
crack rather than stick the ball back in the box. He let loose the juice,
not a bullet like Cox nor a sidefoot incision like Hyde - just a slowly
dipping ball that takes its rightful place as a serious goal of the season
contender. You could see the cricketer in him. Found the sweet spot on the
bat, four runs from the moment he hit it. He didn't move, just raised his
arms like he'd scored a hundred. He'll have to play a long time to score a
hundred of those, but this one was good enough for what we needed.
Those moments aren't meant to last, though, are they. Reality is a kiddies'
penalty competition in the interval and a controlled parking zone around the
ground (do the council want any fans to come to the games?).
Reality is the second half of this game. And as such is scarcely worth a
paragraph. So go read Ig's detailed account. We didn't start playing until
about fifteen minutes into it, by which time we were only another goal down.
So maybe the last shreds of our luck were still in evidence. Three-two is
not a favourite score around these parts, but hey, we won four-three at
Blackburn, we could do it again...except we were now on the rack, hassled
and boxed in, mocked and outrun, by a more interested team. Wooter had
twenty minutes, and got the ball maybe three times. One beautiful cross
completely threw the forwards since it came first time, and they were
justifiably hanging around the edge of the box waiting for him to do his
head-down thing for half a minute...there's probably textbooks of workplace
psychology all about how to integrate the gifted individual with the team,
but it'd do GT's head in to plough through them all. There's no easy answer
and you suspect that it has to be down to Nordin to want to join the gang,
to put his scoring ambitions aside and establish some rapport with the
people who need his skills and shouldn't see them as a threat to their own.
No, this isn't meant to be "Gifton's From Mars, Nordin's From Venus", but we
have all the raw ingredients to stay with Fulham and pull away once more
from the chasing pack of teams. It's just that days like Saturday stick in
the mind as infuriating let-downs - part and parcel of following Watford, we
used to think, but displays whose lessons can't be overlooked if we really,
really want to evolve into what we owe it to our ability to do.