If you are late to this, do not fret – you just have …
Ugh. We’ve fallen into a hole results-wise, and my new Alsatians have been walked into next week. It hasn’t been an easy break. We’ve got Darlington next, who are 23rd in the league and should be a pushover, but I feel a bit stuck for what I should do. Normally I’d play a completely rotated team but I feel like we need a morale-boosting win. I decide to play pretty much my strongest side, with Renner coming in for Farnerud. Kah, Pflipsen and Brandon are all still injured but Hugo Pinheiro is back from his suspension – thank goodness. I almost entirely blame Bernard Lama for our horror shows in the last couple of games. Let’s just pray we get to the end of the season without losing our big Portuguese stopper again.
I am so jaded that I expect Darlington to score every time I see them get the ball, but the truth of the first half is that it’s one-way traffic in our favour. It takes more than half an hour for us to break the deadlock, and I’m sweating like an avocado in Shoreditch – but break it we do. Victor Renner collects a Møller pass and slides the ball across the six-yard box for Sir Les to rattle into the roof of the net. Then, ten minutes later, Davies strikes furiously from the edge of the area, Tony Bullock saves, but Cyprus international Tarkan Mustafa is loitering around and pops it home for 2-0 at the break. Bubb is a bit tired, so I put Ronaldo on and shift him in behind the front two for a laugh. The second half is a similar story. Pinheiro only has to make one save, Peter Møller scores to mark his 30th goal of the season, and shortly afterwards he adds his 31st as well just for good measure.
Darlington hit the post twice, but so do we through Ronaldo and Renner, and the game finishes as a nice, comfortable 4-0 win. Thank God for that.
Manchester United win the League Cup in a kind of vindication for us. I never mind losing to eventual champions, though obviously I hate them for putting me out in the first place. I also note
that the media are really talking up Swansea’s Mamady Sidibe – and they’re right to. He’s notched 31 goals in 46 games for the Swans, who are outside of the promotion places in Division Three. If they don’t come up with us this season, I’d be mad not to have a cheeky nibble at him. Look at the state of this fella.
Chugger collapses into the home car park as we prepare to welcome Lincoln City to Northamptonshire. This is one of our three remaining games in hand, and using my advanced knowledge of mathematics, I calculate that we can still sew up the league before the Vans Trophy Final if we win every remaining game. Our next three are against teams from outside the top ten, but the three after that are all against those inside it – including our previous conquerors, Oxford United. To that end, and considering that Lincoln are 16th in the league, I rotate heavily for this one and put faith in my back-up players. Not you, Lama. Pflipsen returns from injury so he can play, while I decide to partner Cristiano Ronaldo and Victor Renner up front as a youthful Kevin Phillips/Niall Quinn style tandem. I’ve no idea how tall anyone is but Renner has 16 for Jumping, Heading and Strength, so even if he’s 5’4, he’s a target man to me. And who knows? This could be the start of a beautiful partnership. We can call them Victoriano. Let’s see if they can do the business.
It only takes five minutes for the Imps to take the lead, the perennially useless Colosimo giving the ball away in a stupid position that allows Hunt to feed Lee Thorpe and he wrong-foots Pinheiro for 1-0. I am seething on the touchline, but my players respond well. Farnerud, Ronado and Pflipsen are industrious and dangerous, but my heart begins to sink as Paul ‘Dino Zoff’ Musselwhite stands firm.
The half-time whistle blows, and we’re one down at the break. I start to wonder if I accidentally smashed a mirror into a black cat while I was drunk after the United game, because things are just not going our way.
However, we’re playing well despite our moment of colossal (Colosimal?) ineptitude, so I send the players back out and they repay my faith. The first ten minutes of the second half is a siege on the Lincoln goal, and eventually the two Ronnies (close enough) combine: Renner finds Ronaldo, he looks up and pings a return ball to the big fella who lets fly with a right-footed volley that ties up the game and gives him his first goal for the mighty Diamonds. It’s 1-1 just before the hour. We then reach a very eventful 61st minute. Off the ball, Paul Smith squares up to Cristiano Ronaldo, I imagine jealous of his square jawline. In response, Ronaldo turns around and punches Jason Barnett in the face for some reason. It’s a tremendous right hook, but the referee sees it as some kind of infringement and shows Ronaldo the red card. I have to give all the credit to Smith for a textbook wind-up, where he’s managed to avoid being sparked out and get Ronaldo sent off all in one movement.
Down to ten men, I switch Pflipsen (6) for Møller and send the lads into all-out attack mode. At Nene Park, we turn ten men into an advantage, and so it proves: the Great Dane puts us into the lead just two minutes later, we continue to dominate even with a man down, and as the game is coming to a close, the fresh-faced Renner pops up in the box to score his second and our third. Another mad game, packed with incidents, but we’re through it. Or at least, most of us are. It has been quite an afternoon for Victoriano.
I decide not to appeal Ronaldo’s ban because, you know. In happier news, Hugo Pinheiro has been named in the Third Division Select Team of the Year, and rightly so. He’s been an absolute mammoth in goal for us this season, brought into sharp contrast during his suspension. I’m going to need a very steady reserve next year, that’s for sure.
Right, let’s get on with securing ourselves a league title, shall we? Barry Hearn-run Leyton Orient are the next visitors to Nene Park. 16th in the division, their ‘star’ players are all defenders. I remember Simon Downer being amazing for me on one version of Champ Man many years ago, so I shortlist him just in case it was this one. Bubb and Pflipsen are just one yellow away from suspensions, and worried it might rule them out for the Vans Trophy final, I decide to rest them here. Ronaldo’s red card is definitely going to rule him out unless punching suddenly becomes part of the accepted rules, so to keep him happy, he’ll play in virtually all our games between now and then. This time I pair him up top with Sir Les in a pretty strong side; the most notable change is that I’m trying Martin Andersson in attacking central midfield rather than right-back. He might well be a natural midfielder – I really have no idea. I guess I’m about to find out.
We have an absolutely fantastic opening to the game and put ourselves into an unassailable four-goal lead that finishes the game early doors. First, Ronaldo heads an Andersson cross goalward, it’s parried by Matthew Gregg, and who appears in the box to follow it up? You guessed it, Jamie Davies, and in just the second minute, we’re ahead. Then, it’s Ronaldo’s turn. Andersson, showing that I’ve been playing him out of position ever since he arrived, collects a Garry Monk long ball and centres it for CR7 to climb above Dean Smith and head past Gregg for two. Ronaldo is terrorising Orient’s back line, and on 16 minutes, he jinks past Smith and McGhee and squares for Sir Les to slam home our third. We’re basically taking the piss now, and to that end, Ronaldo wins a free-kick by presumably showboating his way to the ground wide on the left. Underwood whips it in, and Garry Monk gathers, turns, and womps the ball into the top corner! When your centre-backs are skinning people and hitting top bins, you know it’s game over.
I make lots of protection-based substitutions but do bring on Pflipsen even though I’m worried he could be booked – though instead of that, he waits until the 90th minute before turning home a Møller pass to complete the rout. Ronaldo picks up Man of the Match for a stirring performance, and thank the lord baby Mary Jesus, we seem to have stopped the rot.
As the players and I applaud our loyal supporters in the Airwair Stand, news filters through from elsewhere. Much like us, second-placed Luton have also fallen foul of Rochdale…and that’s it! We’re promoted! Regardless of everything else that happens, we are going up, say we are going up! Get those commemorative t-shirts on lads, and then everyone down the Rose & Crown. Tonight, we celebrate!