I honestly think we’ve turned a corner. We’re unbeaten in five, winning four, and although we finished September in the same position we started it, I feel we have the momentum. The double delight is working a treat, and despite conceding a couple against Swindon I think it’s made us more solid. The centre forwards might be struggling to find the net as often as I’d like, but Liam O’Brien is keeping us in the hunt. Next up, we take on Brighton, who have actually started the season worse than us. There’s a rarity.
Ride on Time by Black Box is top of the charts going into October. This is fortunate, as Jive Bunny have been on the radio constantly through September, and I wanted to kill every rabbit I saw as a response.
The international break gives us a chance to really get to know Brighton, but Norwich poach chief scout Wilfy Fleming. And why wouldn’t he go? They may have started this season poorly, but they finished third last year and under Dave Stringer have a really good side. We pick up Martin Davidson from amateur Crossgates Primrose to replace him, and his first job is to file a report on our next opponents. Brighton like to play a direct 4-4-2, with experienced midfielder Alan Curbishley pulling the strings in the middle of the park. But, then again, we are in the ascendency, they should worry about us and even though it’s at the Goldstone Ground, we won’t focus on their strengths. It’s the no-muss-no-fuss Double Delight again, and we can almost touch a top half position. Ray Ranson misses out through another injury.
Brighton start the better and score immediately. Of course they do, why make it easy for ourselves? John Crumplin burst forwards, beating Dillon and Stimson to deliver a lovely cross into Martin Lambert who sticks it into the net. But I resist the urge to panic. We set out with a game plan, and a goal three minutes into the match shouldn’t change that. We stay tight, and although Brighton keep getting into good positions we defend well to stop any chances. After about half an hour we come into the game, Quinn having a couple of shots saved before Anderson floats a delightful ball into the box. Brock gets his head on it, but it’s saved. Luckily Quinn is there waiting, and slots home. In the second half we dominate. Garry Nelson’s early attempt is the only time Brighton get out of their own half, and I decide to go for it. As I waited for the tactics screen to load (there has to be a stoppage in this version of the game) Quinn met another Anderson cross with a magnificent left-footed volley which flew into the top corner. I keep the same shape for the rest of the game, and we create chance after chance, though it falls to Gary Brazil late on to make the game safe. We had 10 shots, and limited them to 2, so I’m happy with the performance as well as the scoreline. And so are the board, so that’s something.
Bizarrely, the scheduling has a Wednesday night game against Port Vale before a Friday night match away at a dangerous Leeds side. I’m sure it can’t be television that’s caused this, not in 1989, but it will exhaust my players. I’m not in a position to write one of the games off, but if we can at least secure a good result against Port Vale it might give me a little breathing room. They are down in 17th but just two points behind us, and they have Robbie Earle. I don’t want to lose O’Brien’s strange scoring potential, so Dillon will be tasked with kicking him out of the park.
I remember watching a game once, long ago, where a side lost 6-0 despite dominating. The highlights of course made the winning side look utterly unbeatable, but watching it live those were the only chances they had created, and had spent most of the game camped in their own box. The defeated obviously had question marks over defending, but it was just… weird. And that’s what this was like. Port Vale dominated us from start to finish. Dillon can’t get close to Earle, Dean Glover is making a mockery of us and I just don’t know what to do. And yet Wayne Fereday has some ideas of his own. First he races down the right wing, cuts inside and fires beyond a despairing Mark Grew. Then, five minutes later, he terrorises the Vale defence again, and cuts back for Quinn to fire home. At half time, I think we should close the game down, before realising that I’m playing that formation already. The second half is much the same, and Wright is repeatedly called into action. But it finishes 2-0. On to Elland Road.
Leeds have a very strong side at their disposal, and are favourites to get promoted. A poor start means nothing, and they can call on Gordon Strachan and Vinnie Jones in the middle of the park. I’ll be honest, I’m delighted to see young David Batty just on the bench. Howard Wilkinson likes an offensive formation, so I envisage this will be something like Omaha Beach, their waves of attacks falling on our (hopefully) concrete defences. Except, with any luck, the defences will hold out. Yep, in this analogy, I’m hoping the Nazis win. Deal with it.
It wasn’t like Omaha Beach at all. It was very even, but it turns out Leeds players can’t shoot (in football terms, no more war analogies), which gives us the advantage. The home side started the better, repeatedly getting beyond the full backs and crossing, but between Wright, Thorn and Scott every cross was dealt with. On 24 minutes, Kevin Brock picked up the ball on the half way line, floated it nicely into the Leeds box and Gary Brazil, ghosting into the area, volleyed beyond a motionless Mervyn Day. We pushed to double our lead before half time, but to no avail. Realising that kicking us wasn’t working, Batty replaced Jones just after half time and Leeds tried to come at us again, but the defence held firm and we even made a few more chances ourselves, Quinn failing to take advantage of lovely play by Fereday and then Brazil on the wings. The seconds ticked down and evergreen Gordon Strachan tried to make something happen, but we held on. It wasn’t one for the fans, but it felt good. We move above Leeds in the table, and having played a game more than everyone else are just outside the playoffs.
The midweek games keep coming, with Leicester up next, but to be honest I’ve got my eye on the end of the month. The board are still unhappy with me, but if we can give arch-rivals Sunderland a tonking it might relieve the pressure. And then we can enjoy a League Cup game against champions Arsenal. But the Foxes come first.
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