I have no doubt that it added excitement to everyone’s lives when the Romans used to throw gladiators, Christians and lions into an arena and tell them to sort out their own promotion candidates by killing everyone else on the pitch. The crowds rolled in, and Biggus Dickus (Promotions) Ltd made a lot of denarii. After the genuine competitive excitement of the league, the spurious excitement of the play-offs feels like this. We’ve won promotion; why do we need to go through it all again?
As for involving still more clubs in the season’s climax, words fail me. We shall soon arrive at a situation where all 24 clubs will be simultaneously fighting promotion and relegation battles up to the last day of the season. Why not scrap the increasingly meaningless league matches and just have play offs?
Popularity with the fans didn’t bear much scrutiny at Bury on Saturday, either. Knowing their supporters, Bury made it all pay-at-the-gate, and were rewarded with an apathetic crowd of 5,782, about half capacity, and not even their biggest of the season. And we provided nearly 25% of those.
Still, however silly the rules of the competition, we are in it, and we are bound to observe them. There was a football match, and we had to do our best to win it. To take a point from the away leg is at least satisfactory, though it could have been even better.
It wasn’t a game crammed with incident; in fact, I asked Ellis afterwards if he would mind my reporting on the Lincoln – Scunthorpe game instead, but he was strangely reluctant to let me. So this has to be it.
Two changes from Carlisle, Stock replacing the injured Browning, and Hayter for McDonald. I hadn’t seen McDonald, so can’t comment on this, but for all Hayter’s merits, we desperately need someone to take the load off the ambling Alp up front. Oh my Connell and my Feeney long ago.
Bury undoubtedly had the better of the first half, or at least the first 46 minutes of it. In the first few seconds, the lively Newby, £100,000 from Liverpool (where do they get money like that?), clattered Cummings from behind as the ball went out for a goal kick, then began to work the right wing dangerously, getting in one good cross, which Stuart headed across goal to Noah Vale. He wasn’t there, of course. (Joke). Luckily, in Cummings we had the right man for the situation, and hard though Newby worked, he made few clear cut openings.
After 15 minutes, a collision between Hayter and Nelson left Hayter a bit dazed, but the Bury captain needed a bandage round his head to stop the bleeding, and played the rest of the game looking like heroic John Wile of old. Well, it makes a change from Alice bands.
The only save at either end worthy of the name in the first half was when Moss fielded a long shot from Forrest, though Bury might have scored when Cramb pulled a shot from close in on the left clear across goal to miss the far post.
Injury time brought probably the most significant moment of the match. Like most people, I was following the ball, and had only a hazy idea of what happened off it, but it seems that Stuart took offence at an Elliott tackle and unwisely took a swing at him. It was close to the touchline, so no doubt the linesman saw it clearly, and referee Winter waved the red card. You’re asking for trouble if you raise your hands, of course, but if it is true, as Stuart claimed, that his nose was broken, one must feel some sympathy for him.
Bury chose to start the second half with the same ten men, and Boscombe with the same eleven, but the balance of power had clearly shifted. Soon came our best chance, a fine cross by Young which zeroed in on big Steve’s head. He made a good connection - it’s what he’s been put on earth to do - but Garner just reached it to prevent it from going in to the far corner, and turned it wide.
Having done most of their defending in the first half, Young and Cummings could now show their flank running powers to add to the attack. Chances came and, alas, went. A Stock pile driver just cleared the bar. A Purches header was straight at Garner. O’Connor came on for the lightweight Thomas, and in the last five minutes Holmes and McDonald replaced Stock and Hayter. Clearly the attacking intent was there, but was this not a little late to make the switch?
We ended well in control, but had better not kid ourselves that we’ve done the hard part. There are ninety very tough minutes to come at Dean Court on Tuesday. In a way, it’s good that we are playing the only team to have beaten us in our first 22 home matches. Complacency is unlikely.
AFCB: Moss, Young, Cummings, Gulliver, C Fletcher, Stock (Holmes 84), Purches, Thomas (O’Connor 67), Elliott, Hayter (McDonald 85), S Fletcher.
Subs unused : Stewart, Narada.
Robin Stieber, London