“Just when I thought I was out….dey pulled me back in!”
(E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt as Sylvio Dante in the Sopranos with his Pacino/Michael Corleone impression).
This thing of ours eh?
I’ll come clean.
After waking up with the usual and sometimes puzzlingly inexplicable matchday spring in my step on Tuesday morning, the day wore me down.
After starting out wishing the hours away till match time, a couple of absolute soakings in the line of duty before clocking off had lowered my enthusiasm level for another fun night at Ewood from 100% raring to go early in the day to somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent at tea-time.
I’m not great health-wise and don’t drive these days and I’ll be honest, if my step-daughter had come home from work (she’s just beginning her career with long days in a hospital 20-odd miles away from where we live) and said, look, I really don’t feel like a quick change round after driving home in the rain and setting off again, I’d have quite understood.
I’d maybe have called on my pal for me and daughter number two a lift but I’m not completely denying the fact that I might have even opted to cut losses for once with energy at a low and watch the goals fly in on TV with a glass of red as the heavy rain fell outside.
One can barely imagine coming off Ewood more stupefied by the torpor of a performance than that against Ipswich on Saturday and the appeal of another 90 minutes of the same was diminishing exponentially.
But, trooper that she is, our Mills was into her “32 Conway” shirt, as quick as her mum could wrap a sandwich up to take to the game, little sister was up for it and, thus galvanised by their enthusiasm, the three of us dutifully set out.
As downtrodden as we felt following the fortuitous point we took off the resilient Tractor Boys, whose failure to capitalise on their superiority was largely down to relying on two of our goal-shy rejects to score, we skipped into the Tuesday night drizzle elated as Owen Coyle’s side for once pretty fully lived up to their manager’s sometimes daft and certainly much-derided pre-match talk.
As well as Coyle’s often infuriating posi-jabber, even poor Jason Steele, quite routinely nominated for press duty (believe me, nobody volunteers for it) on account of being one of the few to emerge from the Ipswich game in credit, came in for stick for daring to suggest the rare clean sheet was indicative that we were “heading in the right direction.”
Of course I thought it was a load of bollocks too but for goodness sake what do you expect the lad to say: “We’re clearly not good enough and canon fodder for superior visiting teams and we’ll more than likely lose on Tuesday”?
Of course no-one over the age of 14 should take anything a footballer or manager says at face value and like most of the message board cognoscenti I fully expected a whupping despite Forest’s weary away record.
But if there’s one thing as good or arguably even better than a comfortable win, it’s the narrowest of wins after a tumultuous end to a game which sees your opponents lose their rag and have one sent off (who had just escaped second and third bookings for a) a dive and b) blatant dissent worthy of Nick Kyrigios) while another makes a berk of himself by going down pole-axed to feign injury then springs up and decides to have a fight with the bloke who never initially touched him when the ref susses his deceit out. Chaos! Disorder in the house! We love it! That perked me up alright.
How on earth did Mills not go? (In fairness he could probably have sent Gallagher off for his part quite justifiably too).
But hold out we did, leaving only peripheral mysteries of the night unexplained, such as why was the Forest coach standing in for banned Philip Montanier on the touchline wearing a pair of sun-glasses atop his head all night after darkness had fallen and a biblical deluge poured down?
Forest are nowhere near as good as their coaching staff obviously believe them to be sending them out to play so expansively and without recourse to pressing/closing down away from home.
No-one typified that more than Henri Lansbury, whose hairdo screams: “Look at me, Bale, Zlatan, Becks, I’m one of them, in that class, me.”
Coveted by Burnley, he looked a bit of a wash-out to me, deeper and deeper as the evening wore on and ending up picking the ball up at the edge of his own penalty area but creating and prompting nothing of significance. Beckenbaur-esque pitch-map wise maybe, but only when Der Kaiser was 53 and playing in the odd charity game.
Forest had plenty of efforts but many of them were powder puff or denied by brave blocks, reminiscent of those wins against PNE, Boro and Birmingham last season.
Sometimes a red mark on the thigh or shin from blocking a goalbound effort can be as significant a contribution at 2-0 as a third goal and the back four is beginning to look a thing of some recognisable shape and form.
To compound our joy after, an enraged car full of corporate Forest fans who’d clearly left early to make an instant getaway were hurling profanities into the night sky as Bolton Road remained blocked off to foil their plans until every last spectator was safely across to the far side.
The power of football to punch you in the gut one minute then lift you stratospherically to ridiculously ecstatic highs next eh?
In the cold, moon-bathed light of the morning after our myriad long-term problems of course remain and we could even be back in the bottom three when you read this.
We certainly could be on Saturday if we don’t shape ourselves against a very much-improved Bristol City.
But, after deriding Coyle’s “Fortress Ewood” talk last week it would be remiss of me not to point out that we have in fact taken points from four of the last five at home.
I said last week four points was minimum from two home games but look at the Championship results overall and only Newcastle (and possibly any winner of Sheffield Wednesday v Cardiff) will have taken six out of six from the pair of fixtures.
Four other sides had back-to-back home games and none of them won both. It’s surprising how few teams ever do.
There was certainly much encouragement from the Forest game. True, they are a side who seem to think they’re a little bit more fluent and dangerous than they actually are and unlike several visitors this campaign they allowed us to pass it and move them about a bit from the off.
Gallagher was as much a handful as he was anonymous three days earlier and both his goals were a result of smart, slick decision-making on a surface which encouraged attempting the bold and invoked the inevitable defensive mistakes. Nobody would have begrudged a penalty apiece on the night.
Emnes too was much improved from Saturday and though his goals have temporarily dried up he was industrious and enough of a handful for his partner to benefit greatly.
Those who heavily criticised the decision to restore Lowe to right back have a point but he did nothing calamitous defensively and freed Marshall – who picked up a tweak in the warm-up and received intensive treatment, I’m told – to create, unburdened by defensive priorities.
This he did with a smart first-time knock for the opener which Gallagher latched onto brilliantly and finished cleverly.
We do look to have fitness issues – Evans and Guthrie were on their knees towards the end for whatever reason, injury, lack of sharpness or maybe injuries-caused-by-lack-of-sharpness! You won’t get away with that level of exhaustion in the engine room every time.
But balancing that, what a joy to see, when legs were relatively fresh, a goal fashioned via a crisp through ball from one midfielder to another ACTUALLY IN THE PENALTY AREA with causing mayhem aforethought! A collectors’ item which we all hope becomes less of a scarce commodity in weeks to come.
The finish was simpler, but I like centre-forwards who are in positions to round off moves with simple finishes; though they look like “gimmes,” remind yourself how many Chris Brown helped himself to in two seasons.
A second clean sheet would have been nice, and possibly more deserved than the previous one, but Lenihan has done well in his game and a half standing in for Greer until he failed to put his name on the long throw and if Steele has an odd mistake in him, getting it out of his system when it does us no ultimate harm points-wise is the time to do it.
But a win’s a win and nothing beats coming off Ewood deliriously happy, especially when it’s been an effort to get there and at least part of you questioned whether it was worth it!
It does make me question why anyone would conceive a protest involving missing two big and potentially crucial chunks of a potentially very important next home match when the visitors will be backed throughout by a large and vocal following.
I’ve never had a conversation with “Birdy” but he seems the most loyal of supporters – goodness me, he and a handful of others turn up at places like Crawley on Monday night to watch the Under-21’s, one can only wonder and admire at that level of dedication to the cause.
Although I know I’ll get a tirade of invective chucked at me for suggesting so, do call it off, mate – would you really want to miss a last 15 minutes as gripping as we’ve had in our two home wins thus far? Fancy losing your 100 per cent record of seeing every game and goal for decades for a half-assed bit of posturing which is going to affect and change nothing/nobody.
I must have had about 20-30 people on my modest Twitter following last week suggesting that they might not attend the Wolves match on account of the potential shenanigans or won’t take their kids/grandkids.
The advice to those people – I’m not one of them, me and the youngest are away on holiday for the Wolves game but if I wasn’t, me and the girls would be in our seats 0-90 (have you seen the back of the Riverside?) – is “Well, they should be educating their kids about our plight.”
These are kids aged 10,9,8,7,6 we’re on about. Do we really sit down and indoctrinate them, Ripping Yarns “Barnstoneworth United” style?
I found out a lot about Rovers history by reading up and asking my family questions but I was a bit geeky to be honest. Most kids in that age bracket – and I work daily with a bunch – are more interested in Match Attax cards than the traditions their dads or mums are proud to be a part of.
My 12 year old knows who owns us and knows that Venkys are a complete waste of time and space, but I would no more involve her in historical lectures and protests than I would tell her what music she ought to be listening to.
Venkys will go when they decide, not when anyone paints a wall or chucks a few toys on the field.
We all hope it’s soon provided something sustainable comes along as an alternative to replace them.
When it happens, nobody will be grading fans to be admitted or not admitted on the basis of whether they were vehement active boycotters/protestors or passive “what-will-be-will-be” spectators who continued to need their football fix.
Whoever wants to go will go and whoever doesn’t won’t.
One thing Tuesday night taught me was I’d far sooner fall out with Burnley following folk than fellow Roverites (see my @jimwilkz Twitter timeline for the full drunken horror).
In the words of Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross’s song written after the Scottish Independence Referendum: “We’ll All Get Along Just Fine.”
When did we ever refuse an accommodation?