Nationwide Division One, 2/1/01
By Martin Blanc
Oh, it's good to be back. WFC were in my thoughts even when I was scuba-diving in the Red Sea during the West Brom game, and - perhaps more reasonably - watching Nordin Wooter jinxing about for Ajax on Eurosport during the Huddersfield debacle. Then, on Boxing Day, having returned to the UK, browner and even fatter than when I left, I was forced for reasons of marital harmony to spend the day in the company of a couple of my wife's relations I have dubbed (with the agreement of most of the rest of my wife's family) Fred and Rose, who give me the willies, make me want to leave the town they're in, never mind the room, and for the future avoidance of whom I would willingly watch the Fulham and, yes, even the Huddersfield games back to back at least...oh, twice. Three times if you pushed me. So don't think I didn't share the pain.
But hey, after last Friday, everyone's looking forward. And before we're too hard on the team, let's face it, all of us did things we'd rather forget about in the past year, otherwise what's the point of New Year's Resolutions?
So, back to basics - a cold January evening, a 36-year-old goalkeeper who cost one-squillionth as much as his deputy, and some changes in personnel since I last watched the Horns. Steve Palmer and Michel Ngonge have been Frankensteinly morphed together to produce Carlton Palmer, whose all-round Mr Tickle aspects were at their very best last night. (It's only a matter of time before Dr GT disposes of what's left of Steve, the same way he did with Michel.) Peter Kennedy has confidence and energy in abundance, and though he faded a little in the second half, he was always a reliable distributor of the ball and must have locked down his spot for a good few games. The rest of the new crew will have to wait till another day...and who knows, that day could now be some way off if we're starting to cohere again. On last night's showing, the reserve most likely to get a game ought to be Nigel Gibbs, since of all the shadows of their former selves our boys temporarily became, it's Neil Cox who's taking longest to resume normal service. Despite his perfectly-weighted cross to set up Tommy Mooney's second goal, which was with his left foot, his other, main, boot had lead in it, and his positional sense was mostly muffled into invisibility by chronic nervousness.
We started adequately, presumably much like we started the last four games and the games before them. And as the back five began almost on cue to ball-watch, Gayle had a quarter of the field, that's Neil Cox's quarter, to run into and slam home what we not wholly irrationally feared could be the first Dons goal of plenty. Although there was something in the grit with which we kicked off, something in Gifton's surge forward which earned the corner which led to the equaliser, that said, "No, this time it's different. We may have goldfish memories, but dammit we only won four days ago. We can turn this about."
And though we'd got back to 1-1 against Sheffield Wednesday and others, we just kept on going this time, aided by a pretty clunky Wimbledon display. At 2-1 we were just beginning to smile. At 3-1, we were chortling. Carlton surely had his best game yet, although he squeezed out Neilsen as a playmaker, and by and large we did simple things. Like outpacing Mark Williams and his elite cadre of arseholes that comprise a Wimbledon defence. Tommy Smith was Chief Speedy, easing past the left-back numerous times and finally luring their keeper halfway to the touchline in order to bodyslam him into the hoardings. That he stayed on the pitch was not even the first and certainly not the last of some charitable decisions the referee doled out to both sides. The most entertaining, at least in retrospect, was waiting for play to stop (it nearly stopped in the back of our net) before booking Holloway for stamping on Mooney's foot outside the Dons box seventy yards away. The most outrageous was a booking for Robbo that seemed (doesn't it always, though?) thoroughly unjustified.
Despite our second-half willingness to at least try and tempt the Dons into making a game of it, an offer they quite rightly declined, we gradually played ourselves back into some kind of form, to build on the Barnsley result which itself had shown we didn't have false memory syndrome after all, and that in fact we had all along known what to do with a football, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Of course, for one who wasn't even there to start lamping in with such criticism is typical of the empty-headedness of fairweather fans (a lot of whom, naturally, were absent last night) who were sulking loudly into their sheepskins and crombies long before I went away in the middle of December. Do we want them back? Sure - like, do we have a choice? But if this does turn into phase three of the season, the older-and-wiser phase, what will have rubbed off on us? I mean, the team has learnt plenty. Alec can kick a ball much further than he could before. Neil Cox can use his left foot. Heck, Peter Kennedy used his right foot and no disasters befell him. Much more pertinently, we may now have been gritted like a roadway by Dr GT. So, altogether now - why do we sing? Because we love our team. Not because it's easy, not because we're winning.