Glorious. What a sublime performance & an almost perfect day (spoilt only slightly by finding out that the Mexican we intended to go to in Sadlergate was closed. Well, half derelict actually..). There can’t be much that can top this. Apart from a victory in the final at Wemberleee, of course!
The nerves had set in hours before kick off (about 630am to be precise). Yes, we’re the best team in the play offs & McClaren’s clearly got the lads focused but anything can happen in these sodding games. One bad refereeing decision or a loss of concentration in defence can make all the difference. Brighton proved in the first leg that they’re a pretty decent side. Certainly capable of causing us damage. Thankfully, we got through it. And we did it in style.
The Witch was with me today (seven rows down from my seat in the “Guthrie”). I’m sure she found it a bit of a contrast to sitting in the away end with a few hundred disconsolate Watford fans.. One quick pint of Pedigree on the concourse & we were ready to take our seats & soak up the steadily building atmosphere.
The team had one change from the first leg, Hughes in for the injured Bryson. Quite content with that, as I thought Hughes’ guile might help us control possession a bit more in midfield. I think it did help but it was also clear that the whole team was massively up for this one, spurred on by the fantastic atmosphere from the capacity crowd. I thought we controlled the game from start to finish.
It was still a bit nerve wracking in the first half though. Seeing Hendrick booked after 21 minutes for a “studs up” challenge didn’t help, we didn’t want to be down to ten men in a game like this. However, Wardy carved out a few good chances early doors, Fozzy hit the side netting with a fine strike & even Wisdom had a crack at goal. He’s been brilliant in the last few weeks. What a beast of a full back.
The first goal, courtesy of a sublime backheel by Hughes, via another fine cross from Fozzy, settled the nerves a bit. It was a quite wonderful goal, the power & placement was amazing to see. I think if I’d have tried that I would have broken both my legs.
Wardy nearly got another after chasing down Kuszczak. He’s due a goal but his aggressive, all action, endeavour is an essential part of this side. Despite being 3-1 up on aggregate, things were still a bit tense & it took a great save by Granty to prevent an equaliser from the lumbering, petulant Ulloa, who was played in by a lofted pass from the tricky Lingard. That proved to be the nearest Brighton got to our goal for a long time but it could have changed the match completely. Well done, Granty. Again.
The half time whistle blew & after a comfort break & a quick debrief with the Witch, it was time for the second half. Were we going to come out on the front foot & kill the game or were we going to allow Brighton to get back in it? Rather pleasingly, we proceeded to put Brighton to the sword.
Martin (who had a great game, revelling in the space he had) bagged his fourth goal against Brighton this season, bundling home when Wardy astutely headed across goal from Russell’s cross. 25 goals. So far. Not bad for a free transfer. I think I celebrated that one a little too extravagantly, it was hugs, high fives & pats on the back all round for our little band of ST holders. All very manly stuff.
I was a bit worried at this stage that the goal had made people overlook the planned 56th minute tribute to those who died in the Bradford fire disaster 29 years ago. No chance. Within a couple of minutes, the whole stadium was standing up, applauding & chanting. What an emotional moment & what a fitting tribute.
Next came a sweet volley from outside the area by the excellent Thorne, not the most powerful of strikes but placed well enough to creep in the far post. 3-0 on the day, 5-1 on aggregate & we all knew we were on the way to Wembley.
Before long it was a 4-0, with Jeff whacking in a powerful shot, after a typically direct run into the box. We were all in dreamland, how many were we going to score? Well, no more goals from us but there was just enough time for Lua Lua to remind us that Brighton were still on the pitch. 4-1. Wasn’t a brilliant goal but most Derby fans applauded it, we were feeling pretty generous at this stage.
There was only one thing left to do. Prepare to invade the pitch. Apart from a few idiots who got on to the pitch before the whistle blew (shades of the Fulham game in 1982-83, anyone?), it was quite a pleasant affair. The club had clearly decided that they couldn’t stop it happening, so they concentrated on segregation duties.
And that was it. Time to depart & work out the quickest route to the Brewery Tap & start to think about Wembley. Short journey for me & the Witch..