This Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is becoming quite the adventure. Another night relocated to the stand formerly known as Tesco, with another shootout victory, and I’m starting to think I could get used to this.
Of course, the pre-game arrangements were wildly inappropriate, as the club had a go at fitting 10,000 people through only a handful of turnstiles, rendering the start of a match pretty pointless for a large number.
The queues to get in were bad enough – and that’s even if you got to the ground in good time – but it was the 20 minutes spent living on my nerves as I waited to hear the words “I think you’re in my seat” that were particularly brutal. I’m not the kind of person who can enjoy a game knowing I haven’t been given an allocated seat. What if I’ve pinched somebody’s regular spot and they have to ask me to move? And what if there are no alternative seats in the vicinity by the time I’m asked to shift? I’ll be left skulking around looking for a new seat, in full view of everyone.
The very shame of it.
In circumstances where you’re cramming everyone into a single stand, I’d much prefer being sold an actual ticket next time. I sensed there would be a big walk-up for this game based on the chatter online; you do wonder whether the club had any inkling themselves.
In actual fact, this overwhelming sense of unease and displeasure was clear throughout the first half as we struggled to come to grips with which direction our support should go. The tempo was low; it almost felt as though this game had caught the team by surprise. From what I remember amidst the haze of my seat-stealing concern, it was a fairly drab first half, with a few players noticeably off-colour.
Jennings in particular had some needlessly wasteful moments during the opening period, and I was worried that this would evolve into him becoming the focus of a “Chris Hussey”-style agenda. Not that I think a couple of poor moments should be enough to warrant specific treatment or attention – I just know what we’re like when we’re all packed together in a single stand like that. The mistakes that Jennings made were visible, memorable and far easier for us to latch onto, especially if the team as a whole is not really functioning as expected. Luckily he recovered something that at least resembled composure, and showed good sense to focus on regaining a rhythm as the game wore on.
The returning McGoldrick was also having his own issues. In fact, I’d say he was having his worst game of the season. Nothing was coming off, his touch was limp, and quality was eluding him – but that wasn’t much different to the rest of his teammates. Even Carl Baker’s long range efforts were flying out of the stadium all over again. We needed the break.
In the second period the fans seemed to settle down, there was a reduction in the amount of people screeching “forward”, and the team began to work some useful occasions (as Sven used to call them). Not clear-cut chances, but instances of decent play which threatened to evolve into something handy (if the ref would for once allow it to).
I thought Moussa looked a threat on the left, with his ability to run with the ball, but also to shield it and play in the runners around him. Baker too had his sticky boots on, and eventually gave their left back a triple hernia with all that manic leg jiving.
McSheffrey’s dips in concentration and anticipation were causing him to make bad decisions, which was a shame, because a more alert incarnation would’ve seized on some of the opportunities that were bobbling his way.
The goal came through tremendous forward passing by Bailey for the second time in recent games, as he steered the ball over the defence and into the path of Jennings, who’d steamed on towards the byline. From there he drilled a dangerous ball across the six-yard box which was enough to cause Harry Maguire to panic, and he could do nothing else but flick it into his own net.
Own goals are always underwhelming, so aside from a mini-leap, I kept the celebration casual. We had our obligatory lead once more.
However, if taking leads is obligatory, conceding goals is pretty much a rite of passage. Sheffield United looked tidy enough all night, and we had particular issues in dealing with their Manchester United loanee John Cofie, who strode around the pitch in Zaha-esque fashion, teasing our defenders into multiple fouls.
Michael Doyle gave a fairly typical performance, drawing free-kicks, moving the ball around sensibly, whilst still looking susceptible to pressure in tight areas. However, it was his long-shot which was to be the cause of their equaliser, as he dipped a fairly straightforward-looking volley down to Murphy’s left. Unfortunately, Murphy couldn’t hold it as it landed low by his side, so instead parried it into the path of four onrushing Sheffield United players reacting or gambling on the mistake, while our defence froze.
It was a frustrating moment all round, with us conceding yet another lead and Murphy only managing to palm the shot right back into trouble. Without the benefit of a replay, it’s hard to be too critical, but I really do think we should expect better from him in that situation.
It’s worth noting at this point that Utd had been brisk and forthright in their substitutions, while Robins’ only change was to replace the threat of Moussa with the less dynamic John Fleck. This felt like a strange move, as Moussa appeared to be offering a pacy outlet on the counter, and Fleck’s arrival didn’t really have the controlling influence over the game that I assume Robins was looking for.
But following a final few minutes of ebbing-and-flowing, the game drew out to its conclusion, and we headed towards some late-night dramatics from the penalty spot. At this stage it’s always interesting to see who has been taking notice of the rules of the competition and JD over the tannoy, and those who make a dash for the bus. The majority remained – well done everyone.
If Murphy was the villain during the game, he found redemption in the shootout as he saved a key penalty from our pal Harry Maguire, giving us the buffer to extend the score to 3-1 and put further pressure on Flynn, who sent his skywards.
Our pens were all confidently dispatched, and including the Burton game, that’s a got to be close to 15 successful shootout kicks on the bounce for us. Pot luck or not, that’s a significant figure, and an impressive reflection on the bottle of this group. If we’ve got any intentions of winning this thing, we’re going to have to call on that composure a few more times yet.
And that my friends was pretty much all you need to know about the Northern Section Quarter Final for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. It was an eventful night of queueing, sitting, moving, sitting, moving again, apologising, moaning, swearing, freezing, celebrating, singing and dreaming.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mighty excited about the whole thing.