Next up is midweek action, under the lights in the League Cup. Maidstone should be put to the sword, so I’ll play the fringe players and see what they can do. I am slightly concerned by Warren Barton, though, who seems to be in perpetual motion. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Maidstone give us much more of a game than Middlesbrough. When Tony Lormor gets on the end of an Archie Gourlay through ball I assume it will be business as usual, but a mistake on the half hour lets the Kent side equalise. I was right to be worried about Barton, he and Clarke on the right are involved in everything – I add both to the shortlist just in case. Gourlay gets himself on the scoresheet and I think it’s all over, and then Maidstone pile on the pressure. Corner after corner, our resistance finally gives in the 90th minute and we head into extra time. Right from kick off the away side burst down the right, Barton puts in a cross and Clarke smashes home. I bring on the big guns, Fereday, McGhee and Kevin Scott, but not much happens at first. At half time in extra time, Maidstone drop back to hold onto their lead, and we smell blood. First Gary Brazil whips a cracking free kick into the top corner, and then whips in a great cross for Fereday to drive home with a minute left. It may only be Maidstone, but by golly these lads have got fight. I guess all those high aggression stats count for something more than kicking other players.
Our reward for that win is a trip to Fourth Division Scunthorpe in the Second Round, but we don’t have time to think about that as the games are coming thick and fast. Next up is a trip to Ewood Park, and an opportunity to throw ourselves time and again at the fortress like defence of Ally Dawson and Colin Hendry. This won’t be easy.
It wasn’t easy, even though Hendry missed out. It was an even game for about half an hour, but then O’Brien lost the ball and couldn’t recover to stop Frank Stapleton firing into the net. After that, Blackburn grew in confidence, happy to knock the ball around and wait for us to make mistakes. We had a bit of luck in the second half as Kevin Dillon pounced on a loose ball to equalise, and I took the opportunity to replace young Clark, who was struggling, with John Gallacher. This was a mistake. First, Ray Ranson picked up a knock and we had to play Steve Howey out of position at right back. Then Gallacher pushed Stapleton in the box. The evergreen 33 year old picked himself up to slot home the penalty, and then Simon Garner beat Gallacher twice to get on the scoresheet himself. All told, a bad day at the office.
We return to the North East to find a shiny head awaiting us in the car park. Dion Dublin has completed his move and joins up with us as we prepare for our final match of the month against Stoke.
After the performance at Blackburn he goes straight into the starting line up. The board weren’t happy with that defeat, but at home we all expect better. Stoke are unbeaten so far, but could only manage a draw against Middlesbrough. We smashed them. So we should smash these. I don’t just want to blemish their unbeaten record. I want to pour ink all over it, and then set fire to it. That will set me up nicely for September. Unfortunately, we are without a right back, so Alan Neilson is drafted into the side. He has the unenviable task of marking Peter Beagrie on his debut.
In hindsight, it was inevitable that Neilson would struggle with that task. We actually play ok, making chances, breaking theirs down, but one lapse of concentration from the youngster has cost us. Beagrie went on a run down the left, jinked inside his marker and fired the ball with fury across Tommy Wright for his first goal of the season. We spend the rest of the match attacking hard, but to no avail. In 1989, as now, Stoke are an organised defensive unit. Dion Dublin didn’t really impress in his first match, which is disappointing.
We finish the month by selling Darren Bradshaw to Celta Vigo for £750,000. He wasn’t going to get much game time with Steve Howey developing. The money is a little silver lining to what has been a difficult month. 4 games, 1 win, 3 losses, and a Cup victory in extra time against a Fourth Division side. Just about. The board isn’t happy, I’m not happy, the fans aren’t happy. We will travel to Wolves next month and try to contend with Steve Bull without any right backs, before games against Hull and West Ham, currently 1st and 2nd in the division.
This may be more tricky than I thought.