Well, it’s into the play-offs and into third place after a 2-0 win against Doncaster. It never feels comfortable when you’re living through it, but on reflection it never seemed in doubt and we strolled to a win fairly simply. The biggest concern now is the squad depth which seems to be getting worse rather than better, as the return of Keshi Anderson and Marvin Ekpiteta has been undone by the loss to Sullay Kaikai last week, Ethan Robson on Saturday and now possibly Jordan Gabriel. Looking positively, a win against Joey Barton’s bottom-of-the-league Bristol Rovers, and we’d play one of Portsmouth, Oxford or Charlton in the play-offs, with the second leg at home in front of a crowd of around 4,500.
- Simms at the double
Jerry Yates takes a lot of the plaudits every week and deservedly so, but tonight belonged to Ellis Simms and his match-winning brace. That’s now seven goals in 21 games (17 starts) for Simms since January, a terrific return. We recently did a loan report for Everton’s Grand Old Team and the improvement in his game since his debut in January has been considerable. A real handful on his day and a good foil for Yates.
2. The return of fans
Not quite in the way we’d like, in the stands, but what an amazing moment after the game for the group of fans to show our collective appreciation for Neil Critchley and this group of players.
3. Another clean sheet
Chris Maxwell made a couple more fantastic saves, Thorniley and Ballard are making quite the defensive partnership and our overall organisation was fantastic. Yet another clean sheet and we’ve only conceded 37 goals – nobody in the league has conceded less and we’re level with title-winning Hull. We seem to nullify the opposition nearly every week and restrict them to minimal chances, which bodes well for us going into the play-offs.
4. Return of Keshi
Keshi Anderson made a difference in the last half-hour when he came on and showed us what we’ve been missing with his clever touches, breaks forwards from midfield and the goal threat he carries. He’ll be a great option for us in the play-offs, especially if we meet Sunderland and therefore lose Elliot Embleton. We are carrying quite an attacking threat at the moment, which isn’t something you could’ve said a few games ago.
5. Third in the league
Don’t count your chickens just yet but what an achievement for us to be third in the league going into the final day of the season. It wasn’t long ago that we were 13th and couldn’t seem to break into the top half. The 3-1 win for Charlton over Lincoln meant we could climb two places due to our win. The run we’ve been on since the win at Burton has been quite incredible, with some impressive wins along the way and good performances nearly every week. We’re very consistent and seem to adapt our game to combat the opposition’s threat. Bring on the play-offs.
- The referee
Neil Critchley was forced to remove Kevin Stewart 15 minutes after he came on at half-time, as well as James Husband, after both picked up bookings. Stewart’s seemed harsh and he was close to being sent off which would’ve been ridiculous, so it was a wise move to remove them from the fray. Unnecessary from the referee, who had done well in the first half to keep the game under control.
2. Gabriel’s injury
Jordan Gabriel was removed at half-time after limping down the tunnel. Fingers crossed it was precautionary and due to the booking picked up, rather than anything more sinister. Now Critchley has the opportunity to rest some of his tired players after a relentless schedule which is a juicy bonus going into the play-offs.
3. Where’s our midfield?
To say we have five recognised midfielders at the club, it’s a slight concern that four of them have struggled for fitness. It was great to see Kevin Stewart come on at half-time, but he only managed 15 minutes due to picking up a booking. Oliver Turton did fantastically well in the first half and made it seem like we didn’t miss a partner for Kenny Dougall and that’s down to the system we play.
4. The fact we still have to play one more league game
I just want the play-offs and I want it now. We’ve got Simon Sadler, we’ve got a team to be proud of on the pitch and we’re going to the play-offs. It doesn’t matter what happens from here – naturally we all want to win now we’ve got here, but let’s just enjoy the ride and take one game at a time.
5. Behind closed doors
It would’ve been the icing on the cake to see a sea of tangerine around Bloomfield Road to cheer the boys over the line. The jubilant scenes outside the stadium were lovely to see and hopefully we can see the boys to Wembley over the two legs which should be able to be played in front of spectators. There will be thousands more watching from home, fuelled with pride over this manager and this group of players.
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