Three of the Best
By NNFox
Wednesday 28 Apr 2010 11:37:00
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Which three games stick out in your mind when you think about our last three seasons? I may yet have to alter my final entry with at least three games to go before we can instead focus on the World Cup. For now, though, which three would you pick? These are mine:

2007/2008 – Southampton 1 Leicester City 0

If it is possible to know deep down that your team will be relegated two months before it happens, with all the swings of the pendulum that can and did happen in that space of time, then this game is the evidence.

All season, our team looked like a small boy dangling his legs over the edge of the canal. Let’s see how far we can push this before we take the plunge. Let’s appoint four different managers and bring in players from Premiership clubs who will largely flatter to deceive. On a demoralising Tuesday evening on the South Coast, we wasted gilt-edged chances and lost to a sloppy goal in all too familiar fashion.

There were fleeting moments of brilliance, of course, just to try and convince us that it wasn’t going to happen. Just to dangle those legs for as long as possible. We put four past West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns four days after this defeat on the South Coast and had destroyed Norwich a month earlier.

But wins like those were merely papering over the cracks as a succession of loan signings came and went in the final weeks of the season and, in the end, it was a Southampton win that helped to relegate us on the last day at Stoke. So, in a beautifully simplistic move, we got rid of our manager and gave theirs a go instead.

2008/2009 – Carlisle United 1 Leicester City 2

Big moments. Big games. Turning points. Sky Sports obsess over them when covering the Premiership title race, but they happen down the leagues as well.

We had a few during the course of last season. Winning at Scunthorpe to go top springs to mind, along with injury time goals by Max Gradel at Milton Keynes and Steve Howard against Leeds. The last three games were particularly memorable – winning the title by the seaside, collecting it a week later at home before a big fancy dress party at Crewe.

However, one moment sticks out in my mind when I think about last season and it took place in the Cumberland Building Society Stand. I vividly remember sitting down as the referee blew for half time at Carlisle, wondering whether our bubble would finally burst. Despite winning eight and drawing one of our previous nine league games, the lead at the top was just two points and we were trailing at the break in the far North West.

Remarkably, given that it was mid-December, Carlisle’s lead marked only the second time we had fallen behind in a league game away from home. Prior to our long trip up the M6 to Brunton Park, we had only been in a losing position on the road in League One for a matter of seconds following a decisive injury time Jack Hobbs own goal at Brighton. But we roared back in Cumbria through Andy King’s fine effort and a close-range stab from Bruno Berner. We were too good for this league and there was plenty of time to revel in that fact on the long journey home.

2009/2010 – Leicester City 0 Newcastle United 0

Fabricio Coloccini - £10million. Jonas Gutierrez - £5.2million. Kevin Nolan - £4million. Our starting XI that faced top of the table Newcastle at the end of January cost less than a quarter of the combined transfer fees for these three Toon players.

I’m not crying about it. We’ve faced far more expensively-assembled teams in our time with far less expensively-assembled sides of our own, but those figures do bring the gap between Premiership and Championship wealth into context. We were playing the likes of Yeovil and Cheltenham while the Magpies were travelling to Old Trafford and Anfield before we both arrived in the second tier last summer.

As a result, our lot really had to put a shift in before the Sky cameras to match our lauded visitors. We needed to put a foot in early on and refuse to be overawed by their record. Unfortunately, Richie Wellens took this a bit too literally and was back down the tunnel with half an hour gone for one nasty tackle on the angelic Alan Smith and another slightly less cynical challenge on Wayne Routledge.

There were many other talking points in a thoroughly entertaining but goalless encounter, namely Matty Fryatt’s mazy run which nearly produced the goal of the season and Bruno Berner’s hack at Routledge which miraculously failed to result in a second booking from Andre Marriner. Plus we should have had a penalty.

All of those details ignore the main positive from City’s approach to our last game in January. Everyone else in the division seemed to be playing this sexy continental 4-3-3 formation, which Bristol City used to destroy us in December and generally appeared to be working out pretty well for most of the play-off candidates at the time.

So we adopted it too following a frustrating January and below-par defeats at Cardiff and Barnsley in particular prior to the Newcastle clash. It clicked immediately and we were on top from the off against the league leaders.

When Wellens was sent off, Nigel Pearson stuck Martyn Waghorn up front alongside Matty Fryatt and went with three in midfield. A bold move, which was to pay off with a valuable point and a similar decision recently helped to secure all three in the home game with Watford after the first half dismissal of Steve Howard.

At Oakwell just days earlier, City had looked flat and unadventurous. After a cavalier performance against the Toon Army, the sky was the limit and our new setup sparked a superb run of results which continued despite a severe injury to Fryatt. Suddenly, no-one held any fear for Leicester City and we can be confident whoever we face in the play-offs.

I fancy it.

 



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