After the shock of the weekend result at WBA I wasn’t sure where I should go with this week’s blog. Should I have a rant about what went wrong? Take a look at how WBA did a Sunderland on us by outworking us, being hungrier than us etc? Or should I just accept is a blip and concentrate on the upcoming derby? Well, I still can’t bring myself to criticise the club (not after one bad game out of 15 or so), and anyone that does needs to give their head a shake. Even Man Utd has the occasional off day!
Besides, under the guidance of O’Neill what do we have to worry about? At the start of this season (and indeed last) I went into the first derby game of the season full of expectation and optimism. Looking at the two squads on paper it was going to be a walk in the park for us. Pre-season they’d got rid of Nolan and Barton (arguably their two best players) and brought in a crock of a striker in Ba and a poor mans’ David Bellion in Obertan. We’d brought in a load of good new players, already proving their worth away at Liverpool on the opener.
Well, we know where that optimism got us don’t we! O’Neill had the good sense to save our worst performance since the removal of Bruce for the game before the derby. He obviously told the players to take it easy, not to run themselves into the ground (like they have done for the previous 15 games) and to avoid unnecessary injuries/bookings. At the same time as achieving all of this (with the exception of a Bardo injury), he also managed to dampen the heightened levels of optimism and expectation with a comprehensive 4-0 thumping. If that’s not evidence of O’Neill’s genius when it comes to football management, I don’t know what is!
All joking aside, it was a wakeup call that we probably needed. A reminder that, without the hard work and commitment we have become accustomed to seeing, we are a team that can be beaten.
And so the build-up to the derby has officially begun. In six days’ time we will be stepping out at “Answers on a Postcard” Park looking to exact revenge for our previous derby day defeat and to exercise the ghost of WBA. At the moment I feel ok, a little nervous, a faint feeling of butterflies in the pit of the stomach, but nothing too bad. As the days pass, I know that this feeling will gather form and become a constant ache in my psyche. By Friday I will have spent half of my time in banter with friends from the dark side, winding them up and accepting their taunts in retaliation. The other half of my time will be spent with a growing sense of trepidation and unease. By the close of play on Saturday I will spend a restless night, tossing and turning, playing out every eventuality (good and bad) in my head as I lie in bed drifting into dreams of exhilaration and waking in a cold sweat following the nightmare scenario.
Sunday morning will be a morning to avoid me. I will be grumpy, irritable and likely to snap at anyone that has the bad sense to try and talk to me. A word of warning in advance, anyone that suggests to me that it is ‘only a game’ then I will not be held responsible for my ensuing outburst! I would also like to offer my apologies to the opposing left winger on Sunday morning, as my pent-up nerves and fragile emotional state will no doubt see me kick them at least three foot into the air if they try to go past me at right back (I expect Bardo – or his deputy – to do the same to any filthy mag trying to go past him on Sunday too).
And so to the game itself. The feelings will be the same as any match day – hope, excitement, dread, fear, expectation and belief – all heightened to a dangerous level. I’ve no doubt there will be highs and lows throughout the ensuing 90 minutes. As the final whistle blows, who knows? Will I be delirious, depressed or somewhere in-between? Only the lads that step onto the pitch can make that decision for me.
I only hope they can make me proud, as they have so often since the arrival of Martin O’Neill. It would be nice to enjoy a derby day game for a change without the usual nail biting, nerve jangling, roller coaster that we are served up.
Haway the lads!
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