We’re halfway there! Where is there? That’s still anyone’s guess at this stage, but here is leading the pack at the turn of the year. How did we find ourselves at such dizzying heights? Read on…
“And does anyone else get the feeling that we’re only just getting started…?”
That’s how I ended part 1 of this series. But bloody hell, I didn’t expect to be right! We’d just won at Rochdale to remain second in League One. Fans might have been beginning to believe in a play-off push, but can anyone say with a straight face that they thought we’d have opened up a seven-point gap to third place by mid-December? This is ridiculous.
The somewhat dreaded investment vote resulted in an emphatic ‘Yes’; Gareth Ainsworth marked the tenth anniversary of his brief first spell at the club; and those boys in light and dark blue just might be taking us beyond our wildest dreams. These are crazy, special times to be a Wanderer. Here’s how the second quarter of this continuing journey unfolded.
With a first ever meeting with Ipswich postponed, the initially scheduled four-game gauntlet became three. First up: much-fancied Peterborough, purveyors of the terrifyingly terrific trio of Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney and Mo Eisa. A tough test lay in wait. After seven wins in eight home games unbeaten, was this when we’d come unstuck? Nope. Even at 2-0 down after an unfamiliar 3-5-2 had backfired, there was barely a whiff of pessimism in the cooling Adams Park air. Adebayo Akinfenwa halved the deficit in trademark style before we levelled through an own goal – but only after the team move of the season. Posh regained the lead before Curtis Thompson saw red having marked Marcus out of the game. Into the 95th minute the clock ticked. Surely it was over now. Erm, nope; this is Wycombe. Foul. Penalty. No Joe Jacobson? As was the case two weeks previously in the 1-1 draw with Accrington, no matter. No Nick Freeman this time, though. Instead, Bayo. Buried. Bedlam. First test passed. Fortress intact. What a game.
That cancelled trip to Portman Road gave us two weeks off – excluding a couple of games in this thing sponsored by another thing. Then along came the fallen giants – who defy the laws of physics by continuing to fall. While back in March we went rather Lilliputian on Sunderland, this time we always looked like downing them with ease – and we did just that. And it was our own titan of a man who settled it. Darius Charles scored then proceeded to whip out the quote of the season so far: “This is our house. You play by our rules.” It may have finished 1-0, but this was routine stuff. ANOTHER 1-1 draw on the Fylde coast followed, the Blues lacking the juice to squeeze the Tangerines out of the contest, but normal service would be resumed four days later.
The relentless rain had flooded Rotherham train station, but our (supposedly) toughest trip yet was not to derail our campaign. Scott Kashket set us on our way early doors, but the real star of the show was altogether more intangible: the inverted trapezium. Three more points – and a clean sheet which would start a club record-breaking run.
Another month, another win. Shrewsbury came to Adams Park and left with nothing – Rolando Aarons the difference maker on a soggy afternoon which commenced with the newly elected Couhigs dancing in the deluge. The way had been paved for a new chapter which should officially start a couple of weeks from now.
From rain down south to even more rain up north a week later. The Blues rolled into the Wirral for an – let’s be honest – uninspiring FA Cup first round tie against Tranmere. It twisted and turned: we were behind then level then ahead then level again. All back to Adams Park for the replay – where 11 were undone by ten and frustration set in. Never mind, no cups to distract us from the quest for promotion! Oh wait, we returned to Prenton Park in between for the league game – which saw the mighty Blues play live on TV for the first time in FOREVER – and saw off the other team on Merseyside thanks to a defensive masterclass. Unfortunately, the game was marred by alleged homophobic abuse reported by Ryan Allsop – the shameful fallout from which continued into the aforementioned replay. “You ‘keeper’s a grass,” the travelling Rovers fans chanted. This is why we don’t get anywhere in tackling prejudice and bigotry in football. Will they have grown up by the next meeting? Probably not, to be honest. It’s quite sad really.
The penultimate game of the penultimate month saw more late drama at the Park – specifically, more late penalty drama. No need for the Beast to crush the visitors’ hopes this time, though; JJ stepped up and down Doncaster after waiting an eternity – as Donny’s Donervan Daniels received treatment after he fouled Bayo. It was another slog against ten men, but at least we came out on the right side of it this time.
I’m not even going to go into great detail about what followed three days later. We went and did a job on Ipswich, but our point – almost all three – was illegitimate because we had the audacity to go there and defend. For a far more amusing reaction than I can give, go on YouTube and find Ipswich Fan TV, whose New Year we’re sure to ruin by incensing them no matter what the result.
An unprecedented break of nigh-on three weeks might have thrown us off course, but a solid enough win over Burton ought to have allayed any fears of that. But then the defeats came… Yes, defeats – back-to-back ones for the first time since April. Over at the Stade de Trois Côtés, the Wanderers player most suited to WWE increased his credentials but was ejected from the ring for doing so. The Wall of Wycombe had already fallen by then as we conceded our first goal in 602 minutes – but we emerged with plenty of credit after an enforced backs-to-the-fence defensive job.
And so part two of this unbelievable season drew to a close on the south coast. This was to be no Boxing Day stroll beside the seaside, though. The Pompey side we’d seen off three months earlier were rejuvenated and primed for revenge. Of course, six points clear at the top at the halfway stage is a terrible place to be and one or two doom-mongers have had a go at the panic button. Let them press it, I say; it’s not going to stop the majority of us who are still in awe of what this team – this squad – is achieving. Speaking of “hit”, this season is a great big free one. We might not go up – we might not even finish in the play-offs – but, as the great Gareth said himself post-match at Fratton Park, anyone who claims they thought back in August that we’d now be in a position to make a go of it is, quite simply, telling porkies.