Great lord in actual heaven, did anyone else see that coming? We know the Championship can be a fickle so-n-so, but when your luck’s as rotten as ours, a last-minute penalty and winner certainly wasn’t something I’d pencilled in as a possibility before the match.
But once again, we absolutely turned up when you least expected it. And not that pretend turning up we do every week where we stroke the ball from the side to side to the great admiration of the stats men – there was a genuine purpose about us on Tuesday. True, it took us a little while to really get into the game, but by the end the lads had us all cooing with pride, and rightly so.
It wasn’t an exemplar performance by any stretch. There were mistakes, an unthinkably poor goal conceded, and shakiness on occasions that caused worry across the stadium. But unlike other matches, we kept on for the entire match, and were rewarded eventually for our persistance and the relentless directness of some of our attacking.
I don’t even mean directness in the Adrian Boothroyd sense of the word (heaven forbid). There was an element of that, and it was a useful weapon, with Clive Platt giving one of his most consistent performances in a Sky Blue shirt. The directness was simply through a greater willingness to move towards goal, at a pace that has been unknown to us for much of the campaign.
This wasn’t down to a single man, or a single tactic, but more the underlying approach that the team adopted, and recognition in the second half that it was their best means of success.
If you go through the team, it’s clear that the individual standards were higher than usual, and these performances spanned across the pitch. I rarely do match ratings, but when so many of the team contribute to the result, it seems running through each actually offers a good assessment of the game:
Joe Murphy – I think I have a fairly decent idea of what Joe gives us in goal by now. Like Westwood, he’s fairly metronomic with his kicking, but unlike Keiren, he’s not likely to make the difficult saves. He’s liable to mistakes, but that’s simply his level, and there’s never a lack of passion or general gobbiness from him. He didn’t have a huge deal to concern himself with against Leeds, so thankfully we didn’t get a repeat of what happened at Reading. One save of note, which it was vital he made.
Rating – 6
Cyrus Christie – What he lacks in composure, he more than makes up for with the threat his pace can cause when attacking. He should have shown more conviction when tackling in the build up to Leed’s goal, and had a very quiet period in the second half, but when he was called upon, he answered with sensible decisions and a constant willingness to offer himself on the right flank. That’s the sort of confidence you want to see from a lad his age.
Rating – 6
Richard Keogh – He’s revelling in the responsibility this year. He was outstanding. Reliable positioning, terrific purpose in his distribution, and some phenomenal tempo-setting runs into the opposition’s half. I criticised him for his sloppiness last year – I can’t fault him, this. He makes me want to wear my Richard Keogh mask every single day.
Rating – 8
Martin Cranie – Impressive as ever; he’s just not as wibbly-wobbly and frantic as Keogh so many don’t notice is contribution – I certainly do. He won an insane amount of headers against Becchio, which is a feat in itself, as he’s a right swine to contend with in the air. There was no silly behaviour – just reliable defending.
Rating – 8
Jordan Clarke – It seems unfair to judge him too harshly while he’s playing out of position, and is still coming back to full fitness. I think he’d be the first to admit he needs to start (and is capable of) stepping it up a level from where he’s at right now. He started shakey once again, but I’ll credit him for settling down, and steadying up as the game wore on. More of that please.
Rating – 6
Carl Baker – Bakes is absolutely hilarious. Prancing around like a Daddy Long-legs, there was one point where he had possession for a good seven seconds, and not once during that time was he able to get the ball under control. But as with many of the team, he evolved into a threat through the course of the match, and showed a greater eagerness to keep hold of the ball as we pushed for the winner. Could have been the hero himself if Nimely hadn’t pinched the ball off his toes when he missed in the final moments.
Rating – 7
Gary Deegan – There was a lot of pressure on Deegan coming into this match, with no Clingan and Thomas to help regulate the midfield. He did a solid job however. I still can’t quite understand how he’s not able to react to his own first touch, which regularly ends in the ball being nicked away from him. He hassled and harried the impressive Delph though, and should be happy with his general contribution.
Rating – 7
Oliver Norwood – Another who started a few notches off the pace, but was able to gain a better grasp of the game once he was afforded a bit of time on the ball. Wonderful delivery and shape to his passing, and showed glimpses of higher-level vision and ingenuity which was tremendous to see. Seems to fancy himself as a bit of a set-piece expert, and from the few deliveries we saw, there’s potential there. One ball in particular left me regressing back ten years, given the similarity in style to the high-quality we saw back in the David Thompson days.
Rating – 7
Gary McSheffrey – “The thing about McSheffrey is that he’s either terrific or terrible. For the majority of this season, he’s been the latter, but you can’t ever write him off, because he’s always likely to pull his socks up and have a blinder.“
I said this before the game, and it’s exactly what happened. All he needs is a few things to go his way, and he suddenly believes he’s a world-beater again. Often commits to what he’s going to do ever so early, but was a constant threat, and showed wonderful character to step up and win us the game like he did. Then he whipped his top off and made me realise that contrary to what I have my friends believe, he’s probably more suited to a spot on our left side than I am.
Rating – 9
Clive Platt – On the drive home, I was astonished to hear a call into Linnell criticising big Clive’s display. I’m the first to swear about him when he puts in one of his Trevor Benjamin shifts, but sometimes I think people are so firmly committed to an opinion, they find it impossible to alter this and offer praise when it’s due. Platt had one of his best games for us on Tuesday. He showed great awareness of the space around him, and for the first time in ages, recognised when defenders were backing off him and brought the ball under control rather than releasing an aimless flick. This was crucial, allowing time for others to join in and support him – it was a different Platt, a more considered Platt. He deserves credit for it.
Rating – 8
Alex Nimely – He’s still working on his partnership with Platt, but when he plays this way, it really does count for a lot. I’ll continue to say it – the boy is a class above. For years we’ve pined after some genuine pace, and while he’s no Forrest Gump, his pace with the ball at this feet must be terrifying to play against. Should have grabbed the winner himself as he stretched following wondrous work by McSheffrey on the left, but he made up for it with a Mifsud-esque run in the final moments, leaving the Leeds defence with little option but to bring him down.
It’s all so very natural to him, and that’s the most valuable thing for me. Unlike a lot of our players, he doesn’t have to concern himself with getting the ball under control, or put too much thought into a simple five yard pass. That sort of stuff is the norm (as it should be) and he can focus his energy on creating the chances that we simply weren’t able to make before.
Rating – 8
The great escape?
Ever such a lot of work is still required, with a massive reliance on the misfortune of Portsmouth to come to our rescue, but where a week ago we all felt like we were down and out, the buggers have once again drawn us back in. We’re off bottom, and at this stage, psychological battles can prove as decisive as the on-field ones.
Yes, the two below have games in hand. But let’s be very clear about it – winning games in this league is a whole lot harder when you’re struggling at the bottom. I’ll take points in the bag over potential points any day.
Home form alone isn’t going to keep us in this league, though – if we harbour any genuine aspirations of sticking around, we need to go away to our rivals and prove ourselves there too. Forest this weekend is unspeakably big – if we win, we then pull away from them, and that should be the only aim now. Our squad is decimated, the finances destroyed, but as anyone who was at the game on Tuesday could see – you’re going to have to drag us from this league kicking and screaming.
When I see wins like that, I couldn’t give a monkeys about logic, realism and acceptance. I’m more concerned about the belief, passion and momentum that is now required to dig ourselves out of this hole.
I promise you. We’re not like other clubs. Avoiding relegation is sort of our thing. Game. On #skyblues
— Gavin Horsfall (@GHorsfall) February 15, 2012
Highlights (and Neil Redfearn’s condescension)
The goals and stuff are available to view on the BBC, along with a slightly more comprehensive round up on the Sky Sports website.