A blurred perspective of Wembley…
Brendan Hobbs is seeking to find some perspective following the defeat at Wembley…
Perspective, like my car keys, is something I lose on a fairly regular basis – especially when dealing with an emotive subject like football. It tends to be one of the first things I let slip when I’m suddenly blinded by passion, anger and frustration.
My physical perspective of Sunday’s match was very good; my seat was low down, almost at pitch side and therefore I had a great view of the clinical display of football meted out by Preston North End.
Preston fully deserved their promotion, dominating a fragile Swindon side from the off, showing a rare collective display of determination and desire that simply blew Town away.
When the final whistle blew my perspective of the game was slightly skewed by the sheer emotion of the situation, I had just witnessed a spectacular, bone-jarring car crash of a match which brought our entertaining season to a screeching halt.
The match stats offered no solace, or even an indication of what I had just witnessed, it just added to my confusion. Swindon ‘dominated’ the match with 68% of the possession, but yet we were never, ever in control at any point. We out-shot Preston 13 to 9, but yet I don’t remember us ever seriously troubling their ‘keeper.
What I do remember is lead-footed defending, with all three of our centre backs failing to win a header, track their markers or win anything of note on the ground.
We were ponderous and edgy in attack, our trademark quick-fire assaults were stodgy at best, with most of our players failing to get out of first gear. This was illustrated by the recent stand-out performer, Ben Gladwin, who simply couldn’t find any fluency or control. Our familiar slickness had simply vanished in the face of a relentless onslaught in white.
Preston played a type of football that we all used to love under Lou Macari, calling it physical and direct is unkind. It takes a skill to play this way and Preston excelled at it. Their midfielders harried and harangued ours, not allowing them a second on the ball. We’d receive the ball and suddenly there’d be two Lilywhites at our backs, pressuring the possession which we’d promptly surrender cheaply. This was a game that we desperately needed to start quickly, stay tight at the back and more importantly, settle our nerves – but alas we never got the chance.
From the perspective of a lot of Town fans, North End’s tough-tactics were clear fouls and they certainly made their feelings known, me included. On reflection, it was just good, hard tackling –unfortunately we’ve just forgotten what this looks like.
And this is probably what irks me most, when we played Preston at home earlier in the season, we rolled them over with ease. They sat off us for most of the game, foolishly allowing us the space to play and we took them apart accordingly.
Simon Grayson obviously took this on-board and adjusted his tactics, he knew that we couldn’t deal with a physical game or the long ball over the top. Our defenders often failed to win the first header or on more than one occasion allowed the ball to inexplicably bounce before attempting to deal with it.
On the other hand (and I’m no tactics genius) I didn’t see us try anything different to any other game since Christmas, we went out and played our normal game, the same way we did against Bristol, MK Dons, Walsall, and Leyton Orient . In fact I didn’t see any evidence of the new defensive tactics that we’d supposedly worked on since shipping five against Sheffield.
Despite all my frustration and miss-placed anger, what’s important for me is to keep in perspective the whole season’s efforts and not allow this very disappointing end to cloud everything. This has been doubly hard as our ‘difficult end to the season’ (or DETTS if you will) started weeks and weeks ago – in fact, it began the moment it became impossible to get an automatic promotion spot.
Therefore it’s felt like this tortuous run has gone on for ever, pushing the good times further and further back in my mind. For me the playoff semi-final was a continuation of our DETTS, the fact that we conceded five goals against Sheffield United at home was pretty troubling.
But sod all this doom and gloom, with a day or twos space I feel my mourning period is over; I am now prepared to celebrate a fantastic season. Remember, we were predicted largely as relegation fodder by most of the national press; we’ve defied everyone by finishing in our best position in fifteen years and we’ve played some truly amazing football in the process.
I have witnessed some of the most skilful players that have ever worn the red shirt; they’ve dazzled and amazed me in equal measure. Rough, uncut players have been polished and shaped into diamonds, who will no doubt make us a sack-full of cash.
The mazy runs of Massimo Luongo, the pirouettes of Yaser Kasim, the subtle trickery of Gladwin, the swashbuckling runs of Jack Stephens and the continued rise of Louis Thompson – all of this has been amazing to watch and I feel immensely proud that I have witnessed it all.
Mark Cooper and Lee Power have moulded and crafted a young team from nothing, on a shoestring budget, with a small set of backroom staff and very limited resources. Coops has managed them impressively, with a steely-eyed determination which has ultimately landed us an amazing fourth place finish.
Next season will be my 30th consecutive year as a Season Ticket holder, and I’ll see a completely different team – gone will be the talent, the legends and the much coveted. No doubt another batch of exciting but raw loanee’s will be drafted in and blended with what remains from this season’s crop.
The squad will no doubt be completed with a light dusting of untried talent plucked directly from the lower echelons of the non-league – and much like going on a first date with a stunner, it’s going to be very exciting and equally pant-pooing at the same time.
Will it work out, will they succeed where the last lot didn’t, or will we ‘do a Swindon’ like Leyton Orient did this year? I really, really hope not.
From my own personal perspective, losing on Sunday capped off a terrible week for me, last Wednesday I was made redundant from a job I loved and losing the play-off final just felt like I was being kicked whilst down. But football has a habit of doing that, it’s just that this time I thought I deserved a break, instead I was on my knees getting repeatedly kicked in the nuts by someone wearing running spikes.
I was down, defeated and dejected, giving it the full ‘why me’ treatment in my head – and it appeared I wasn’t the only one; people took to the phone-ins, to the forums and twitter to vent their anger. Some terrible stuff was aimed at the players and for what? Their only ‘crime’ was to give us a season of entertaining football and our highest finish in fifteen years.
I still felt like my world had collapsed, I was left wondering how cruel life can be – how can there possibly be a god if it can choose to smite me in such an unfair way? But then I read about a woman who lost her husband in the first Nepalese earthquake, and then lost her only son in the second, I then realised my total idiocy – perspective, ladies and gentlemen, perspective.