Monday, 28 May 2012

Gutted...

Today was a strange day.
I went to work as usual for a Monday, but it wasn't a normal Monday.
There was this horrible sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and throughout the day my concentration would wander and it was always the same question running through my head. What if?
What if Jeff's shot was a couple of inches lower?
What if Jeff had delayed his run on to Ben's flick?
What if Mo had hit the target after Ben's knock down?
What if that guy on the post had not been there to stop Steve's header?
What if the other guy had not flung himself across to stop Mo's shot?
I could go on.
All day these thoughts have been running through my head as I tried to put together bits of tomorrow's Worcester News.
I tried to kill them by listening to the Test Match commentary but it was no good, even though England won. They kept coming back.
Why did Steve Phillips have to tip over Jeff's header and stop Mo's shot?
Why couldn't Marlon's shot have curled the right side of the post?
Why did Nick Powell chose us to score that wonder goal against?
But these are the small margins that both enthuse and frustrate us football fans in equal measure - the margins which can define our club's destiny - and our mood for the forseeable future, well, the next few weeks anyway.
While I am deflated, my mind also wanders to the group of Crewe fans I spoke to on the train from High Wycombe on Sunday morning. Hope they had a good party.
Now we know how the Southport supporters felt in '98, the Rushden fans in '02 and the Grimsby hordes in '06. This time it was our turn for the tears and the early exits.
More pertinently, we know how the Torquay fans felt 10 days ago, having dominated much of the game, created chance after chance, and got nothing.
The deflation has only kicked in today if I am honest. It's a strange one.
Last night, I travelled back with a feeling of resignation. It wasn't as if we played badly, not as if we froze, not as if we were rolled over. It just wasn't our day, simple as that.
Let's face it, we were due one after our last three finals. Law of averages says runs like that don't go on for ever.
In 98 and 06 we didn't play well and won. Yesterday, I felt we played better than in those two finals.
No one could legislate for Nick Powell's fabulous strike. Yes, quibble all you like about whether we defended the throw-in well enough, or could have stopped the ball getting to him, but it has to be conceded that even Jack Butland might have struggled to save that one.
The second goal was conceded by a team who were chasing the game, and had shot their bolt in withering heat.
Losing was something I had not really planned for. It's always a nagging thought in the back of your mind, but something you don't want to contemplate. You go there thinking you're going to be having a big party.
When it doesn't happen, it's hard to take, and today, it has hit me.
But what a good day it was overall - it was great so see so many make the effort to travel down and give the lads fantastic backing.
If even 500 or 1,000 of those who aren't regulars came to Whaddon next season, it would make such a difference.
I hope we have converted some of them as Yatesy and his team, the players and those behind the scenes who work so hard for the club deserve it.
The new Wembley is fantastic. The Bobby Moore statue, Wembley Way, the arch, the fantastic views and the lunch.
All great - but a horrible place to lose.
The team sheet was the next much-awaited part of the day, and there were three big decisions on there, Luke Garbutt coming back, Russ Penn left out and Jeff Goulding put in.
On Garbutt, I thought that was the right choice, harsh as it seems on Keith Lowe, who has never let us down all season, and I can understand how disappointed he must have been.
But that was the back four which has seen us through much of the season, and also Luke is left-footed and gives us the balance down the flanks, and an extra set-piece option.
Russ Penn left out - not sure that was the right decision in hindsight. On the day, I felt central midfield was the weakest part of our side, with Marlon Pack and Luke Summerfield starting sluggishly and struggling to hit the heights of earlier in the season.
They gave the ball away a lot and were outbattled and outpassed for much of the game by Luke Murphy and Ashley Westwood, and we also battled to contain Nick Powell.
Jeff's inclusion was the biggest surprise as he has been a bit-part player in the closing weeks of the campaign and had not even made the 16 on some occasions.
But I thought he did well, linking up well with Ben and using his strengths of link up and hold up play to help fashion out some of those opportunites - and with a bit more luck he could have walked off at half-time with the match ball.
The Powell goal was special, and it served to wake us up, and from then until the time Marlon's shot flashed inches wide in the second half, we were pretty dominant.
All those chances I listed at the top of this blog came and went, and by the time Mo went through and was denied by Phillips, we could still be there now and not score a goal.
Ben was causing problems for them, and we were a threat every time we went forward with Jermaine McGlashan, and were dangerous from corners, where Jeff's header, and the two off the line from Steve and Mo could not have been any closer.
We started the second half well, with those chances for Marlon and Mo, but Crewe had drawn the sting out of us as gradually the heat and the disappointment of those chances going begging took its' toll on us.
We looked more and more dejected, more resigned to our fate and the long season gradually seemed to creep up on a few of us.
The other problem was that having picked the side he did, Mark Yates had left himself very limited in the impact his substitutes could make.
With Burgess and Goulding starting, it meant that when we were chasing the game, he did not have a 'battering ram' to bring off the bench to help us get a head of steam up late on.
The two big men were tiring and had to come off for Jimmy Spencer and Darryl Duffy and with Russ coming on as well you never got the feeling the changes were going to impact the game positively.
It meant that we could not really go gung ho, and if anything the result was somewhat inevitable with around 15 minutes left, even before Byron Moore put the seal on it.
The final whistle saw the lads crumple to the turf. Garbs was unconsolable as Steve went to pick him up, and Scotty was prostrate in his penalty area for a few minutes.
But you have to give Crewe some credit. From 18th in November to League One, a run of 19 games without defeat, and playing some decent football on the way.
Yes, they may have had a bit of luck on Sunday thanks to some bad luck and poor finishing from us but you make that luck yourselves and their name seemed to be on the cup, rather like Chelsea's in the Champions League - and Powell's goal was worthy of winning any game.
As for us, we dust ourselves off and we go again, and I would echo the words of our fantastic skipper Alan Bennett in his post match interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/18234370 - passion and emotion, what every football supporter wants from their players, and a challenge to Yatesy and Paul Baker.
We cannot rest on our laurels now. The club has made great strides on and off the field this season and it would be disappointing to see this squad break up as I think we have the nucleus of something special.
I would hope that Yatesy could add some more quality to what we have here, and if we can keep the likes of Marlon, Summers, Mo, Benno, Sido and co, why can't we be up there again next season?
League Two will be tough again. Moneybags Rotherham, big-spending Fleetwood and this season's fellow bridesmaids Oxford, Southend, Gillingham and Torquay will all fancy their chances.
Northampton, Plymouth, Bristol Rovers and Bradford will surely come good now their recently-appointed managers can shape their own squads.
But why should we fear anyone after what we have done this season? We have proved we are as good as or better than most of these sides.
So yes, we have that feeling of despair now, in the wake of yesterday. But there should also be feelings of pride in a fabulous campaign, and hope for a bright future.
Now to see what the summer brings, and we will dust ourselves down before getting back on the rollercoaster in August.
See you there.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Beaten by a fabulous strike, but little else to do. One save in the second half, then beaten again as we were chasing the game and were exhausted.
Sido Jombati - Quiet game. Defended well but ineffective coming forward. Not sure about the backheel on the touchline late in the game...
Luke Garbutt - Thought he did okay, some good forays forward and some good crosses. Corners dangerous as well.
Alan Bennett - Led the team superbly as usual. After a sticky start, thought he kept AJ Leitch-Smith fairly quiet as his movement is excellent. Was tricked brilliantly by Powell for his goal though.
Steve Elliott - Also had an excellent game and so close to a goal when his header was cleared off the line.
Marlon Pack - Disappointing as he was the one we looked to in order to run the game. Some good set-pieces though and inches wide with his second-half shot.
Luke Summerfield -  Felt he started sluggishly and didn't really recover. Got into some promising positions in Crewe territory and didn't make them pay with wayward shooting.
Jermaine McGlashan - Always looked a threat and forced Crewe to double up on him early on. Only criticism would be his crosses rarely beat the first man.
Kaid Mohamed - Some good runs but missed our two best chances - the shot over the bar in the first half and the one-on-one with Phillips in the second.
Jeff Goulding - Thought he did well and linked up with Ben as he was able to read his flick-ons. With a bit more luck he could have had a hat-trick. Hit the bar, one tipped over and the offside goal.
Ben Burgess - Was a constant threat in the air winning most of his headers although did not have a direct effort at goal.

Substitutes
Darryl Duffy (for Jeff Goulding 75 mins) - Little chance to make his mark. Could make no headway against the Crewe defence.
Jimmy Spencer (for Ben Burgess 83 mins) - Barely got into the game as he came on straight after Crewe went two up.
Russ Penn (for Marlon Pack 83 mins) - First action was a trademark crunching tackle but as we were 2-0 down could not influence the game.