Friday, 7 May 2010
Back where we belong
We know just how you feel Roberto. But not tonight.
.We did it. I didn't doubt it for a moment, honest. But the strain of being optimistic and up-beat for a whole season from the first game when we beat Liverpool to the City clincher last night has really left me emotionally drained. The whirlwind opening that opened up the possibilities; the defeats by Arsenal, Chelsea and Man.Utd that seemed to put us firmly back in our box; the late surge following the defeat at Wolves to finally clinch it with 9 wins out of 11 to earn our best ever points haul in the Premiership.. Was this just one season? It seems longer.
The sobering thought is that every season might be like this for years to come as we take our rightful place amongst the big boys. Are we up to it? Not the team obviously, but the supporters. Some of us have mental and physical conditions that won't tolerate such levels of constant stress or happiness. Oh well like Ledley and Gomes I'll just have to risk it. They were either both drugged up to the eyeballs or so high on adrenalin that they didn't notice the pain. Either way they were magnificent and Dawson too when we were under pressure in the first half. This defensive solidarity has been the improvement that has been missing in the last few seasons. Once again a clean sheet and the ability to close out a match when required,
We are already benefiting from the Top Four reporting bias because the BBC report used the phrases Tottenham were the 'vastly superior' side and that Manchester City 'at no point exerted any authority'. We shared possession and made as many clear chances but we were by no means 'vastly' superior and City certainly dominated the first 20 minutes and a lot of the first half..
They started brightly but we resisted with some character and grit. By the second half they began to lose heart and we asserted more control of the match. If it hadn't been so important it would have been a really enjoyable game with both sides looking to win and reap the rewards. Kaboul's strength created the chance that fell to Crouch and both had particularly good games. Not too much escaped the full-backs and when it did both Dawson and King cut out the crosses.
This was a superb all round team effort, including the substitutes. Congratulations to Crouch who atoned for an earlier miss and for Harry who called everything right once again. Not capable of taking us to the next level? Well it looks as if he just has.
Another Hanson phrase along with 'you never win anything with kids' that can be assigned to the cliché dustbin is his banter with Lineker about Spurs 'always letting you down in the end'. Not this time Mr.Hanson, not this time. And kids can win anything if they are good enough. The same fans who knew that Defoe would miss the penalty against Chelsea were probably the same ones that knew we wouldn't make fourth. All wrong.
I felt curiously deflated following the win, being hugged by complete strangers, albeit from Stamford Hill, in an Irish bar in Madrid. I don't think I quite realised that we had actually done what I have been saying we could do. City fans were gracious in defeat more than you can say for their owners looking foolish in their City scarves and trying to work out who suggested investing in the wrong half of Manchester instead of Mexican taco futures, or Mid Western pork scratchings. With so much money available their time will eventually come. But not this time and not at our expense.
But since then I keep remembering it with some excitement and pride. After a long wait we are back in the top rank where we belong. It's a poke in the eye for the money men and a tribute to a club that has done it the right way. No financial risks, the steady development of a quality young squad who came to us not because we promised them pots of gold but as an attractive footballing side with a great tradition and history. Lets hope we all reap the reward we so richly deserve. I said earlier in the season that my dream was Champions' League football at the new stadium. We can cross the first one of the list.
Now the fun begins. The smile that Bellamy gave Harry after the game which seemed to say 'I'm all yours mate' is a sign of things to come. All the bounty hunters, or their agents will be bending Harry's ear . But this is the time to stick by the players that have got us where we are and with a couple of judicious signings to make further steady process. Bellamy is one of those players we need not look to now. The time of second best has passed. You made your bed Mr. Bellamy. Enjoy!
If there is any justice both King and Dawson will make the World Cup squad and with Crouch ,Defoe, Lennon, and Huddlestone we might just win it. I think I'm getting into the swing of this new found status. I could get to like it.
While there is an outside chance of finishing third I don't think that Harry will field a radically different team on Sunday. If Arsenal draw against Fulham we need to win 11-0 at Burnley. Fulham have a Europa final a few days after so even at my most optimistic I can't see it happening. But stranger things have happened. Tottenham making 4th for example. We couldn't get to third and enjoy automatic qualification for the Champions' League could we? Watch this space.