Written on the day, but not getting home until midnight after the game, and other Bank Holiday activities means I’ve only just gotten around to typing up my scruffy notes.
And here we are, the last home game of the season on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of a ridiculously wet April. Last weekend saw only our second away win of the season at fellow relegation candidates Hartlepool. A win, courtesy of two Dom Telford goals and a good look at his sports bra, saw us move six points clear of them with just the two games left to play, and it also gave us a goal difference six better than them.
To hear everyone talk you would think that we were easily safe. Which only leads me to believe everyone is trying to jinx us. Jeff stelling on Soccer Saturday I can understand, after all he is a hopeful Hartlepool fan. But it has been everywhere. Three different articles in the Football League paper, on the forums, on the BBC match report, in the Downsman, and yesterday in Horsham I heard someone say we were safe as we were six points clear and with a much better goal difference so it’s effectively seven points.
Stop it. all of you. Six goals are fuck all. Two defeats for us and two wins for Hartlepool is automatically four of them. And if we do lose, we do have a capitulation habit to bear in mind. We have a terrible habit of throwing things away when the fans get too cocky and start taunting away fans. This falls into the same category. We need a point. When we get it, I might finally release that breath that I seem to have been holding in for the last nine months.
Today’s opponents are Walsall. When we played them away earlier in the season, we took an early lead through a Dom Telford goal. Walsall equalised in the first half, and then got a winner deep into second half added time. A goal that if we had prevented it, we would now actually be safe.
It isn’t the only time we’ve thrown away points late on in games this season. Five times we’ve dropped a point by conceding a losing goal in the last couple of minutes or added time. And two points were dropped when we let in an added time equaliser against Newport in the first game of the calendar year. Only once have we grabbed a late point, that being against Crewe. Those dropped seven points and the six-goal difference they would have meant would have put us in the heady heights of sixteenth and two points ahead of today’s opponents instead of six points behind.
Walsall are on a terrible run of form, so hopefully that’s something we can capitalise on, and not just scrape a point, but get a point. Get safety in style and if coupled with a Wimbledon loss it would put us above them in the table which would be a passing moment of sweetness in a morass of shit this season.
There is a new manager in charge at Walsall after their poor run of form, the appropriately named Mat Sadler, a former Crawley player. It turns out our manager, Scott Lindsay hails from Walsall, so it is a bit of a reversal.
I am straight to the ground from writing, and it is busy in and around the ground an hour before kick-off. There was no sign of an away fans coach by that point, but when the others turned up there were three out there. We had waited until the last game of the season to use the free ticket vouchers for the game and have Terri and Tom along today.
The programme still doesn’t have Anthony Grant in the squad on the back of it, despite the fact he has been playing in seven of the last eight games (and he came on as a sub again today).
Meanwhile I’m wondering whether it is work experience weekend at the ground as the little ginger steward in front of our block only looks thirteen at the most. Is that what they must resort to when Al isn’t around. Brighton have a home game at three on a Saturday afternoon for the first time in ages.
Walsall are in an all-white kit and are sponsored by Poundland. Which sounds like it would have been a much more appropriate sponsor for ourselves for most of the season.
Kick off is a couple of minutes late and there is a nice early chance for Tom Fellows which is saved. And there is a red smoke flare going off in the home terrace within five minutes.
Eleven minutes in and we lose ball one out over the KRL Logistics away stand from thirty yards out by a Walsall player for a corner. A goal by Barrow against Hartlepool filters through and brings about a chant of one nil to the Barrow boys.
There isn’t a lot of action, and the next attempt of note was a free kick for us about thirty yards out which was tapped sideways to Jack Powell whose shot was deflected just wide for a corner. Not long after, Nick Tsaroulla digs a cross out and the Ashley Nadesan header is just tipped over for a corner. Which comes out to Tsaroulla, and the shot is just over.
Both teams are attacking more and there are penalty shouts at either end and both are waved away. James Tilley is on the receiving end of a few fouls in quick succession and there is a stoppage for treatment for him.
There are four minutes of added time, and in that, former Crawley loanee Isaac Hutchinson is allowed to cut in and curl a shot in, but good strong hands by Corey Addai put it out for a throw before the half time whistle goes with it 0-0. And we find Hartlepool have equalised against Barrow as well.
Into the second half and it is a bit frustrating. The final ball just isn’t working. There is lots of possession, but a lack of shots. Then a Ben Gladwin cross comes over, Telford misses his header, and the ball bounces off Nadesan and squirms through the keeper who scoops it out. It looked to us as if it were in (and replays later suggested it was over the line), but it is waved away. A recurring theme from the last home game of the season, as there was the one against Leyton Orient last season which was two yards over the line and not given.
A break see a Tilley shot well saved, and then at the other end a Walsall corner almost sneaks straight in at the near post, by Addai keeps it out and ends up in the net instead. The Walsall fans celebrate the ‘goal,’ not aware that it’s the ball that needs to go in, and not the keeper. We breakaway and it is another piss poor final ball.
And now Hartlepool are leading. It’s not good for the nerves. Nor is the Walsall free kick twenty-five yards out in the centre. But it hits the wall, as does the follow up attempt.
Half an hour into the half and ball two disappears, it is smashed well over the east marquee by the brick shithouse of a Walsall defender. That is in real danger of smashing a window at Thomas Bennett school a quarter of a mile away.
Then we get a free kick on the edge of the area. And do nothing with it. The crowd is announced as 4,189 with 281 away fans, and just following that Gladwin gets a booking at the defensive end, and as the Walsall player rolls around like an extra from Platoon, the home terrace thrown three red smoke flares onto the pitch, which are cleared off long before Walsall get around to taking their free kick, which thankfully goes straight out for a goal kick.
Six minutes of added torture time is announced, Hartlepool are now leading three one, and the sponsors man of the match is announced as Tom Fellows, which isn’t bad as he was subbed off a quarter of an hour before the end. Six minutes go on for far too long before the final whistle is blown, and the match ends 0-0. We are officially safe, and I can take that breathe now.
Remarkably there is only the one pitch invader, who is more celebrating everyone seeing him on the pitch than us surviving. The stewards treat him as if they are fishing and have caught a minnow and they just throw him back into the terrace.
The players lap of appreciation follows the game and most of the crowd stay to applaud the players who are gradually being de-robed as they walk around as they give away shirts, boots, socks, and shorts to ‘lucky’ fans. And a few kids get out onto the pitch.
We stay in twenty-second in the table, but we will still be in League Two next year. One game left, Bank Holiday Monday 12.30 away at Swindon, which we will be going to for our fourth away game of the season.
Come on you reds.
Then in the pub after the game I came up with a poem to describe the season.
It has been tense
It has been tough
We have been dreadful
And often not tough enough
We have played badly
And we have played well
And lost time after time
Putting the fans through hell
In the relegation zone often
In danger of leaving the league
With only very rare wins
To prop up the emotional fatigue
A point today was good enough
But no goals were scored
Still there was plenty of action
To prevent us being bored
The final whistle was blown
And we got the point we need
Survival is now ensured
Despite all those blown leads
The season didn’t go to plan
In fact, it was a nightmare
Let’s learn from this next time round
So we don’t repeat this despair