I was even nervous of the wind that gusted around the ground before the game. I wasn’t alone in lacking confidence; a weak rendition of ‘que sera sera’ by one gutsy fan before the game was greeted by an insistence that he hushed. Don’t tell anyone, but we don’t know how to win.
Despite these factors, I was sure we’d edge it; Exeter had to get a goal, allowing space at the back for Yemi to run into. Absorb the pressure, as we have all season, kill the game and hit them on the break. No play-off is ever won at a canter, but we were all set for a good night.
Tactically they got it just right and I don’t think we were ready. They put pressure on our back three, put lots of balls into the box at pace, bypassed our midfield and isolated Yemi. Sounds easy enough, but to do it for 90 minutes was impressive – in contrast we looked to be running on empty.
Rose and particularly Hargreaves struggled to get in the game, whilst Foster fought doggedly but alone to try and gain some control. Gilchrist and Quinn, who struggle for pace and control were tied up in knots by the constant pressure. Turley’s eccentricities got the better of him; like Gazza in the 1991 Cup Final, he was awash with mis-channelled energy. There’s no doubt he kept us in the game on a number of occasions but to maintain a constant feud with his back line seemed bizarre. At a point where he should have helping relieve some of the pressure by slowing the game down, he was stoking it up by barking at Matt Day. The finger pointing and bickering was constant. Maybe it’s the way he plays, but it didn’t work.
Then there was a moment of light – they made a flurry of substitutions and space began opening up at the back – it looked like they were panicking. That was the time to capitalise, but Duffy missed his sitter and the pattern of the game settled again.
At 2-1 I wanted to go home. I didn’t care about who won, I wasn’t particularly fearful of defeat, but even a victory would have been little more than a relief. This is why football is marketed to the neutral – because being a football fan is shit. It’s not edgy and exciting; extra time, penalties and see-saw fortunes are not entertaining. It’s like a dirty addiction – you think you love it, but when you experience it, you realise there’s nothing to love.
In the end you cannot go eight points clear at the top of the table, win the away leg of the play-off semi-final, go 2-0 in the tie, miss three sitters (Yemi and Zebroski in the first leg, Duffy in the second), lead in the penalty shoot-out and still not make it and say it was anything but your own fault.