I thought this was a nailed on scrappy one nil victory for us. Hmmm… Well, I’ve never been particularly good with my predictions since McClaren came back. This was a bit of a rollercoaster ride to be honest & I was a blubbering, emotional wreck by the time that penalty went in. A 3-2 win & as a result of Bournemouth & Boro’s failings, we’re back at the top of the league. Can we stay there this time? I reckon there’ll be a few more exhilarating games like this before the season’s over.
There were a few surprises in the starting line up. After the airy fairy defending of the last few games most fans were predicting a return for the more defensive minded Shotton instead of Christie. No. Christie still there at right back. I expected Lingard to start instead of Dawkins too but I was wrong there as well. The big surprise was Thorne’s return. We knew he was fit enough to be on the bench but he’d not got on the pitch in previous 2 games. In hindsight, McClaren really needed to take a punt on him in this one. Otherwise, when was he going to play?
We started the game well but didn’t dominate like we normally do. It certainly wasn’t as fluid as usual but that’s clearly down to the absence of The Petulant One & his irreplaceable hold up play. Wednesday played well, were clearly solid & organised but didn’t carry much threat up front. The hulking, greasy haired, 7 foot tall chap they had meandering around near Keogh & Bucko wasn’t much cop.
Their 1st goal was exquisite though. Hughes, showing some Eustace-like qualities, gave away a needless free kick in a dangerous area 10 yards from the edge of the box. Up stepped McGugan to slot it in the top corner with apparent ease. Grant was nowhere. I hadn’t actually noticed McGugan was actually on the pitch to be honest. I must have seen him play 20 times for Watford & he combines that rare quality of being completely anonymous during a game, with the ability to score the occasional brilliant goal.
Anyway, that did seem to spur us on a bit & Ince went close to equalising twice. Thorne also went close with a rasping drive from outside the box. In the circumstances, he put in a great performance, demonstrating how well he fits into our system. He looked pretty mobile, sprayed effective short & long passes around with aplomb & put in some meaty challenges. Yes, now & again he looked a bit rusty but if anything it was as if the players around him weren’t really on the same wavelength. Buxton was a particular culprit here, often bringing the ball out & past Thorne when a short pass to him would have sufficed.
I thought we were in for a frustrating 2nd half with us desperately trying to get an equaliser but that came within a few minutes of the restart. Flicked in from Bucko via a set piece of all things! There we go, we could relax & focus on getting the next goal.. Hmmm… Er.. no… Jeff contrived to lose possession badly in the middle of the pitch, Thorne for once was absent, Keane got hold of the ball & dashed past a lumbering Bucko & smashed the ball into the net, possibly via a deflection off Keogh. It was a goal eerily similar to the one we conceded at the end against Forest. Grant, again, was well beaten.
Time for the usual McClaren intervention, Lingard & Bryson on for Dawkins & Thorne. Both played a part in getting is back in thr game with their energy & directness, with Lingard looking particularly dangerous. Dawkins hadn’t had a bad game but I just wish he would get into the box more, that 2 goals in the cup game at Fulham feels like a distant memory now.
Another goal from a corner (won after a great run by Lingard) swiftly followed, courtesy of that man Bucko again & the team & crowd were well up for it. Then an excellent jinking run from Hughes & perfect slide rule pass to Ince & it was a penalty. Westwood sent off deservedly too. There were a few nervy moments as we waited for Kirkland to amble on but Bent slotted the penalty away with customary vigour. It all got a bit emotional then in the Guthrie, I think the pressure’s getting to us.
I heard a few moans about Bent afterwards. Clearly, he doesn’t hold the ball up like Martin but there isn’t a player in the Championship who’s capable of what he does. Bent gets into the box & scores goals, though & that’s what we need. I think he stretches play too & worries defenders. If that’s not working, Martin can come off the bench as our plan B can’t he?
There are still some grumbles about our defence. We can all see it’s not perfect but we still have the 3rd best defensive record in the division, so it can’t back that bad. I think Thorne will help give them confidence too as the games go on.
Anyway, let’s focus on the positives. A clean sheet & a good win against a possibly resurgent Charlton will set us up just fine for the game at Fulham. Let’s see where we are in the League after Saturday.
Come on you Rams!