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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two Play Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg, 09/05/06, 7.45pm
Crystal Palace
Aidy's Night
By Martin Blanc

Immense. Amazing. Rock solid. Tense. Iron-willed. Undefeated.

Just some of the words we used, once we’d calmed down, to describe the fight on the touchline which was triggered by maybe a little too much management of the game and, in particular, the ball. But if we focus on that, we’ll be overlooking a job done with just as many of the qualities as we brought to the 60th-minute melee.

With the same eleven as started the exhilarating second half at Selhurst, we managed to play in a formation of 6-5-3 or thereabouts, so much ground did we cover, and so thoroughly did we snuff out any Palace ambition to get back into the tie. Jay Demerit didn’t miss a header all night, and won his aerial battle with Andy Johnson with plenty to spare. Malky was taking no prisoners either, and marshalled everyone from start to finish in his determination to get this team of men out of the Championship safe and sound, like he’d done with the women and children of West Ham and Norwich in previous years.

Jordan and Lloyd continued where they left off on Saturday, though with even less nonsense, if such a thing is possible. And Ben Foster mopped up with aplomb, though he could have ploughed through most of Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire in the interim, so little did he actually have to do, beyond retrieving the ball from the crowd after a shot from McAnuff, and jogging forward (well, in the sense that 80-year-olds jog the Marathon) to take our offside free kicks. (In the other highlight of the second half, Ben was comfortably outpaced by an Eagles fan from the Lower Rous, who displayed his displeasure at the go-slow with a passable banana kick to return the ball to the required point.)

Across the middle, we sat back, hoovered up the ball effectively, and soaked up the vicious tackles. Spring was the first victim only ten minutes in, prompting a succession of turf-dwellers in blue to think they could get Bangura sent off, or anyone else booked – though, ironically, Johnson himself missed out on even the merest opportunity to take a tumble in the box – partly because Jay and Malky aren’t stupid, and partly because the ball didn’t spend more than a few seconds in our area all night. When the frustrated Palace players clattered into us, though, we simply bounced back to our feet with a Mohammed Ali smile. We got balls through to Marlon and Ashley from time to time, but either the offside trap had been sprung, or the bounce just wasn’t quite as friendly as it had been three days earlier. Marlon had a couple of shots, and Ashley’s half-bicycle volley came close, but that wasn’t the sort of game we were playing. As if to prove it, Ashley dropped to left midfield in the second half and Gavin Mahon stepped up to play behind first Marlon, and then Darius.

What really made the night special was the atmosphere, the noise, the audience participation (excluding the pitch invaders) – the collective feeling that we all had a job to do, and it was one that couldn’t be done by any one person alone. We’re all Golden Boys, that’s why we’re here, but rarely have I felt quite so much like another member of the XI as when Marlon and co. began imploring us to raise the volume in the aftermath of the touchline fracas. We were being asked to respond, to do what only we could do, and we did, and tried to play our part in powering them on to Cardiff. We were deafening at the start, and perhaps only furiously noisy by the end of the game. We were so on song, Aidy needed a go-between to take his shouted messages back to the dug-out from his front seat in the directors’ box. We can be proud of that (even if he isn’t. What price a Bluetooth headset for Cardiff…?) and we helped make it a great night. I learned a bit more about the character of our manager, who’s managed to remain a mysterious savant to some extent – but more importantly, the team we have is now adaptable, unfazed and mature, as well as all the other qualities we already knew they possessed. They’re playing at another level, and their mental strength seems excellent, so that even defeat in Cardiff wouldn’t be a negative catalyst for next year. But we’re in it for the next level, aren’t we, so let’s keep thinking positive, and may the New Big Adventure continue.