Sunday, 27 April 2014

Brighton 25/4/14

Going into this game, there was still a mathematical possibility that we could avoid relegation, albeit only really clutching at straws. I think most fans were resigned to relegation at this point though, and that was palpable in the stadium. There was no more worry - no more desperation. This was a game we were going to enjoy win lose or draw, in a superb new stadium and live on Sky. All I wanted was for us to give a good account of ourselves, and it was a chance for me to say goodbye and thanks for the memories to the squad that will no doubt will be unrecognisable come next season.

I took a half day from work and headed down to Brighton, arriving at around 4:30. I managed to park up on a side road only a few hundred yards from the stadium, which I think was blocked off shortly after I arrived with temporary barriers. But if you're already parked there, what can they do? :) Getting there early paid off!

Dick's Bar at The Amex

I met up with my good friend Matt and had a couple of drinks in the stadium bar, Dick's Bar. The bar was huge, and served pies and hot dogs as well as a good selection of drinks on draught. It was also clearly very popular, with a one-in-one-out system being employed the closer we got to kick off. The stadium itself was very impressive too - they have managed to avoid the usual boring soulless "bowl" design of most newer grounds, with one side higher than the other with an extra tier of seats and a curvy exterior. There was also great leg-room and fancy padded seats, not that we sat down, of course!

We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted with unreserved seating, and we were also allowed to stand for the whole game. We've been very lucky with that this season - there have been very few times where we've been told we had to sit down. I expected the rule to be enforced a lot more at this level.

Right from the off, the atmosphere from the Yeovil end was akin to a party, with relentless singing and jumping around with green balloons flying about overhead. Looking at our fans, you'd never guess in a million years we were all but officially relegated.

Brighton still have a shot at the playoffs and really needed a win if they were to continue with that hope. But for large parts of the game, they seemed to be wasting time with few ideas when they really should have been throwing themselves at us. We played well, especially in the first half with a thundering shot from Palazeulos hitting the crossbar and several chances just wide. We looked good going forward, and were defensively resolute with some cracking challenges particularly from Webster and the ever calm and collected Duffy. Brighton looked good on the break, but with no real end product or firepower, hitting the bar and missing open goal chances where it looked easier to score. The possession was fairly even for most of the game, with end to end play that would no doubt have been thrilling for a neutral. It's typical that we had to wait until the penultimate game to get a decent referee - who played advantage well and was fair and on the ball. There were a few poor challenges, each penalised correctly, but he let the game flow and was largely invisible - the sign of a good referee. We gave a good account of ourselves, especially in the first half, and held our own. But in the 78th minute, Brighton substitute Lua Lua broke the deadlock just minutes after his introduction with a cross-shot that bounced and beat Marek Stech. From there, Brighton were on top, sealing our fate with a goal in injury time making it 2-0 and continuing their dreams of the playoffs.

The Amex

But the game was largely unimportant. For the fans, it was a chance to have one last party away from home. It was a chance to sing our hearts out - incessantly. It was a chance to say goodbye to the players who so very nearly kept us in this league, dragging out our fate until the 45th game of the season. And it was a chance to give a standing ovation and rapturous applause to our outstanding management team who made sure that we weren't just in this league to make up the numbers. We may have finished bottom, but that's not the whole story. We've rarely been outplayed, outclassed or outdone in this league. And I have no doubt in my mind that we'll be back.

Me with previous guest blogger Lou
I want to wish Leicester and Burnley all the best for the Premier League and offer commiserations to Barnsley who had their fate sealed yesterday. You guys get to play us again next season!

So this is where I say goodbye. I hope you've enjoyed reading about Yeovil's Championship story through this blog, and I hope you have as fond memories as I have about the past 11 months and our achievements. Nothing can take that away from us - we are the famous, the famous Yeovil!

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Fat Lady Sings

*clears throat* 

"Oh mio babbino caroooooo....."

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post after today's home defeat against Huddersfield, signalling the end for Yeovil Town's single-season foray into the second tier of English football. While it wasn't entirely unexpected as we arrived at the business end of the season, knowing that it's now all but official (we need to win our remaining two games around 7-0 and that's if Birmingham don't win their remaining games) is absolutely heart-wrenching. 

I think back to that amazing day back in May last year, where thousands upon thousands of Glovers fans took over Wembley Stadium, rendering it a home game as Yeovil overturned Brentford, giving us our first ever season in the Championship. 

It's been a rollercoaster ride since then. Largely written off at the start of the season by every pundit, reporter and bookies, we were never expected to be anything other than the new whipping boys of the League. Even some of our own fans, ever the pessimists, wrote us off before the season had even begun. But not me, for a change. I was optimistic for once, and I like to think we proved a few wrong over the past nine months. 

We have had some cracking days along the way, visiting some world-famous stadiums and overturning some famous names in the process. Probably one of the highlights for me was the trip to Watford, where it was hard to see who were the League newcomers and who were the seasoned Championship stalwarts. The trip to Reading, where 8 man Yeovil held the Royals to a draw in an epic finale to great day out. In fact, every trip, whether we won, lost or drew was a real pleasure. Yes, getting absolutely thumped at Middlesborough and Huddersfield, and losing in the dying minutes at Derby was gutting, but visiting the iPro stadium and revisiting the Riverside and the John Smith stadium as a Championship outfit was a joy. 

It's the hope that kills you though and so many times in recent weeks, we climbed out of the relegation zone, rekindling the thoughts of "what if" even in the most stubborn of fans who refused to believe survival was ever possible. Today though is the final nail in the coffin, as we failed to overturn Huddersfield and give ourselves any chance of staying up. Mathematically it's still possible but the fat lady is halfway through her finale performance. 

I will be writing my final post for this blog on Friday after the Brighton game - my last farewell to this league and one last chance to enjoy being able to say with pride that I support a Championship side.

It has been a wonderful season, in spite of it's end, and I have spent it with some wonderful people. If not in person, then on Facebook and Twitter. Seeing the same old faces at away games that I saw when we were back in the Conference. We've seen nothing but success, on the whole, for many a season and for many - myself included - relegation is a new experience. And it is not a good one. We may not be back for a long time. We may bounce right back up. But believe me, we WILL be back. 

You can count on it :) 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Blackburn 18/4/14

My penultimate game of the season was also our penultimate away game up at Blackburn Rovers. I had been intending to do the Charlton away game last Tuesday but unfortunately I was off work ill and couldn't make it after all. Sadly, it ended in defeat after a crazy 10 minutes at the start of the first half after going into half time at 1-1. Winning, or even drawing at Charlton, would have made our chances of survival much greater, but as it stood at the start of yesterday, we were looking at needed at least 2 wins out of our final 4 games, and even then we would be relying on others to slip up. 

I got the same train from London to Blackburn that I got to Blackpool a couple of weekends prior, leaving the house around 7:15 and, after a change at Preston, arrived at Mill Hill station at 12:45. The journey was, thankfully, largely uneventful though the train was absolutely packed. It prompted Virgin Trains to make the accouncement that they wouldn't be serving hot drinks on the train in case we spilled them on each other. No words... 

Mill Hill station is a little closer to the ground than the main Blackburn station; around a mile's walk. We popped into the Fox and Hounds pub, just over the road from Ewood Park, and had a couple of pints with some fellow Yeovil fans. I was glad of their presence as the pub started to fill up - otherwise we'd have been the only Glovers in there! Not that the Blackburn fans were unfriendly - generally everyone seemed welcoming.

We made our way to the ground about 2pm, and met our friends before a pretty decent cheeseburger from the concourse kiosk. We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted, picking our customary 'top left of goal' spot. We were also allowed to stand for the whole game, in spite of numerous signs around the ground to the contrary, giving us a great view of Ewood Park. It's a beautiful ground, with a soul that is rare in football stadia in this day and age. Their fans however didn't live up to the atmosphere - remaining largely silent for the majority of the game. The Yeovil fans however were in fine voice, a particularly lengthly and loud rendition of "Green and White Barmy Army" ongoing for a good 10 minutes or so with no breaks. 

The game was, in truth, largely uneventful until the final 15 minutes with neither keeper being tested by any clear cut dangerous chances other than a few shots towards the end. Stech had a few routine saves to make, as did Robinson, but other than Rovers hitting the post (which Stech left, unnervingly, in the first few minutes), Rhodes heading straight at Stech and a few Yeovil shots wide of goal, neither side really threatened. Yeovil were steadfast in their defending with Duffy in particular working tirelessly. We had some lovely approach play, with Joe Edwards absolutely running his socks off to the point if near-exhaustion, but that final ball was sadly lacking and we had no real punch up front. Lawrence, as appears to be customary with him, took several touches too many at every opportunity and Hayter, though he worked hard, could do little with the balls lumped up field to him. Had we had a real finisher up front, for example Miller or, at a push, Moore, I think we'd have been out of sight with Blackburn looking lacklustre. 

The Blackburn fans were booing at full time after a frustrating game for them, with Yeovil closing them down well and stifling any chances of an attack. I think Yeovil were marginally the better side over the 90 minutes and I think we would have looked good for the three points had we been able to create anything of note, but a point away at an ex Premier League side pushing for the play offs is not to be sniffed at. 

Unfortunately though, a point really wasn't enough considering our position and the trip back home for me was rather flat, probably not helped by the very excitable toddler (I really dislike children!) on the train. It shows how far we have come that I was disappointed with a point away at Blackburn Rovers, but the realisation of our peril was starting to set in. Realistically now, we need to win all three of our remaining games but it's not entirely over yet and it's still all to play for. My next game is our last away game at Brighton, which has moved to the Friday night which is a bit of headache, but a night game always has a great atmosphere and a trip to a brand new stadium will be fun. I just hope we still have something to play for then after the Huddersfield game on Monday! 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Blackpool 5/4/14

After a couple of weeks hiatus, I resumed my unenviable task as the intrepid away days blogger this weekend. This blog has been hard to write for several weeks, for myself and my guest blogger Lou. It's been heartache after heartache - Leicester being one that really stings and still haunts me at night - dropping two points against the league leaders (now officially promoted) in the 92nd minute. So I think I can be forgiven for so very nearly rolling back over this morning after my 6:30 alarm went off. But boy am I glad I had the motivation! 

Today saw Yeovil travel the long old road up to Blackpool. I opted to take the train, to save myself a fortune in private company car mileage. My train left Aldershot at 7:34 and I happened to be sat across from a couple of Yeovil fans. Small world! I arrived in Blackpool at 12:25, to be met by my dad and our good friend Matt. We headed down to the seafront - which was a little brisk but not too windy or cold. We had a quick pint and a burger in the Wetherspoons, The Alfred and Lion, which is a very nice pub with a homely feel even though it's standard Wetherspoons chain fare. And you really can't argue with £7.99 for a double bacon cheeseburger and a pint of Strongbow :) 

We made it to the ground around 1:45 and got our tickets, and although we paid for a specific seat (the padded ones, lavish!) the stewards weren't bothering to check tickets anyway and we ended up sitting wherever we liked, just to the right of the halfway line about halfway up. Considering it was less than an hour to kick off by the time we took our seats, the ground was absolutely dead. Apart from Yeo fans, obviously, we bloody love getting in early :) 

Rumours were rife, on the internet, in the pub, and in and around the ground that on-loan YTFC striker Ish Miller had had a falling out with Gary Johnson and had been sent back to Forest. My heart absolutely sank. Where would goals come from now? Some Yeovil fans may not have rated his work rate over a whole game, but you can't argue the stats. His goals have kept us in the fight. Without them, we would have been down a long time ago. 

The team news filtered through after a while and it was true - Miller was dropped. At the very least. Lawrence up front with Hayter. Lawrence shows a lot of promise, but he is just a rookie kid. I was worried. This game was so massive - lose and we were all but relegated. 

After the 4-1 drubbing at home to Barnsley on Saturday - the worst we have played all season - we needed to come out brightly, and that we did. Apart from a great early save by Dunn, we looked good. A few early shots and some good tackles and blocks and we settled into our stride, piling on the pressure. Blackpool were rattled and look panicked, especially at the back and they seemed to resort to very "physical" tactics very early on - or perhaps that's their usual style? The referee should have given at least 4 bookings in the first half alone for poor challenges and clear manhandling. Perhaps we were going to be playing the officials yet again today too. But wait!

I couldn't see it myself but in a goal mouth scramble, the ref awarded Yeovil a penalty!  A few bodies were on the ground, and I wasn't sure if it was a foul but allegedly it was for handball, in the 16th minute. A penalty, to Yeovil. 

This was it, this was the chance - this is what we needed. We absolutely had to bounce back from Saturday and we needed to capitalise on our early pressure. A ref finally on our side? A bit of the rub of the green! Up stepped James Hayter. I love Hayter, have I mentioned that before? Well, I really do! Calm, collected and professional, he slotted home the penalty in the top left corner with the keeper floundering. Aint nobody gonna save that! 1-0 up and well in charge of the game. I was confident. But not too confident. This is Yeovil - we don't hold on to leads (*cough* Leicester *cough*)

Soon after the penalty, Liam Davis had a shot from range which forced a great save from the Blackpool keeper. Davis hit his shot like a bullet and was really unlucky to not see us go 2-0 up. We really needed that second - 1-0 is such a dangerous scoreline for us. It's far too easy for us to throw it all away. But Blackpool seemed to fall apart after our goal, with their confidence shot. Their pass-back to the keeper from the halfway line under no pressure spoke volumes. Our tactics seemed to be to lump it upfield to Hayter, who's 5'10" if he's an inch, and not the most sprightly. I worried that these tactics were going to be our downfall. After all - there was no Ish Miller. But the Blackpool centrebacks just couldn't deal with Hayter. He ran them absolutely ragged, especially in the first half. We went into half time 1-0 up, and to a chorus of boos from the Blackpool fans. They couldn't be that bad in the second half, surely? They were making us look good! 

Well no. This is Yeovil. We sit back on leads, we invite pressure and we seem to lose our shape in the second half of pretty much every game I've seen this season. Blackpool were the brighter immediately after the break, with so much space in midfield, but entirely out of nowhere we had some lovely build up play and Lawrence found the ball at his feet. 2-0 to the Yeovil after a class strike that really warranted cementing our lead in the 74th minute. 

Soon after though, in the 78th minute, Lawrence became the villain. Cheaply giving the ball away leaving Blackpool with a clear shot at goal, albeit 25+ yards out. Grandin scored an absolute wordly. Couldn't argue with that, Dunn had no chance and we'd left ourselves wide open. Was this it? With this the collapse I was so afraid of? 

I rocked slowly back and forth in my padded chair. The minutes ticked by painfully slowly. 84 minutes. Hours passed. 85 minutes, what? How was that only a minute?! Wave after wave of Blackpool attacks with us sitting in our own goal mouth. Even Lawrence was backmin our own area. The last few minutes were painful and we begged the ref to blow the whistle during injury time, heart in mouths. Finally, he blew and the Yeovil faithful jumped put of their seats and punched the air, hugged each other and let out a MASSIVE audible sigh of relief. We'd done the double over our first team in our Championship foray, and had, for now, kept the dream of staying up alive! 

My men of the match today were Hayter, for an unbelievable work rate and a cracking penalty, and Ralls who worked tirelessly from start to finish - always looking to create with some pinpoint through balls and working from box to box for the cause. 

Next up for me is Charlton away after we play Bournemouth at home on Saturday... currently still on the train back from Blackpool due home at gone midnight...

It ain't over til the fat lady sings - and I ain't singing just yet :)