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Bradford survive

Pre-season tour
Gallen signs
Hornets sting Town
Owls shot down
Gray returns
Wijnhard crashes out
Worthington woe
Ayre departs
First home point
Bye Bye Brucie
New manager announced
Fans show anger
9 points to safety
First home win
Ndlovu at first sight
Town leap to safety
Macari wins award
More cup woe
Ndlovu joins Blades
Jamie jumps ship
Town hit rock bottom again
Morris' McApline move
Prodigal son returns
Biggest win
QPR doomed
Nearly there
The bitter end

Sunday 6th May.

Well, here we are – D-day! Kick off is 2 hours away and I’m as nervous as a kitten. It’s a cool grey day and although Portsmouth are now the bookies favourites to be the wrong side of the relegation line we have never won our final McAlpine fixture of any season since we took residency. Anyway, these sequences are there to be broken so today would be a good time to start, and besides it’s probably the first end-of-season home fixture with any real significance for us. There are to be no score updates during the game today, so I’d better check the batteries in my Walkman and make sure my mobile phone is charged. Wish us luck, our whole season depends on the next few hours.

In my haste today I couldn’t find any batteries for my Walkman and like an idiot, I forgot to recharge my phone and so I had to rely on the McAlpine grapevine for news from Fratton Park and Edgeley Park. There was a strange atmosphere in the ground as fans knew that only one combination of results could condemn us to relegation, yet the mood reflected the feeling that Town’s destiny was uncertain. The players lined up as expected with Margetson relinquishing the goalkeeper’s jersey for Nico Vaesen and Thomas Heary restored to right back allowing Kevin Gray to partner Chris Lucketti in central defence.

Town opened the game fairly brightly as Craig Armstrong made his presence felt with some crisp early challenges to vindicate his choice as player of the season and it was the converted midfielder who created the first genuine chance of the game. In the 10th minute a Simon Baldry free kick from the right was swung into the crowded Birmingham penalty area and the loose ball came out to Craig Armstrong who after a controlling touch worked room for a low shot forcing Ian Bennett into a smart stop to his right.

Chances were limited, as Birmingham seemed to be adopting a safety-first approach in the knowledge that their play-off berth was secure and the players not wishing to risk injury for those games. It took the visitors just over 20 minutes to create their first worthwhile attack but despite their lack of earlier opportunities they made this attack pay dividends. Birmingham always looked more comfortable on the ball than Town, and a period of sustained possession by the visitors saw the ball worked out wide to Stan Lazaridis on the left flank. The Australian took the ball towards the corner of the Town area and flicked it through to the unmarked Woodhouse who progressed towards the 6-yard box, coolly lofting the ball over the advancing Vaesen and just inside the post for the goal we didn’t want.

Once again this season the defence afforded far too much space to an opposition striker, and this only served to illustrate why Town are in the perilous position they are. About the time of the goal the grapevine began to buzz with the news that Portsmouth had taken the lead against Barnsley and although Crystal Palace were still drawing 0-0 with Stockport things were not going to plan. Meanwhile, on the pitch the Town players seemed stung into action by the goal and set about trying to ensure that they were the architects of their own destiny. On the half-hour Simon Baldry worked himself some space on the right hand side and after advancing to the edge of the penalty area played a high raking cross deep into the box. Under the close attentions of a Birmingham defender Delroy Facey failed to get much of a head onto the ball but it dropped nicely for the lurking Ben Thornley who smashed in a right foot shot only to see it hit the upright a behind for a corner after it took a slight deflection. From the ensuing corner Simon Baldry had another opportunity but seemed to be caught out as the ball hit him a passed a couple of yards wide of the upright.

Town continued to press without really threatening Ian Bennett’s goal until the 39th minute when we again had a glorious chance to level the scores. Chris Holland played the ball out wide to Simon Baldry who showed great skill in possession to hold off the challenges of 2 Birmingham defenders eventually working himself enough space to knock the ball back to Craig Armstrong. The converted midfielder took a couple of touches before launching a long 45 degree cross into the area where Andy Booth evaded his defender a rose to plant a majestic ball towards the goal with Ian Bennett helpless, but once again the upright came to the rescue of the visitors and the ball was cleared to safety. Booth clutched his head in his hands, as did most of the crowd who were starting to wonder if it was going to be another one of those days where the ball seems drawn to woodwork like a magnet.

Thankfully it was not going to be one of those days when Town finally restored parity as the half neared its end. Delroy Facey picked up a loose ball in centre field and fed Simon Baldry wide on the right who in turn brought Ben Thornley (who had switched to the right flank for some reason) into play. Thornley worked himself a little space before chipping a teasing cross into the six-yard box and although Delroy Facey failed to connect, the ball reached Andy Booth who bundled his shot into the back of the net. The stadium erupted as the fans knew that once again they were able to control their own fate without relying on other results.

Town are always at their most vulnerable when they have just, and with the headline writers already composing their front-page stories of how the returning local hero saved Town from relegation, they shot themselves in the foot once again. From the re-start Town seemed unable to gain possession and Birmingham played the ball around quite comfortably on their right flank before bringing Darren Purse into play. There seemed little danger as Purse knocked a long ball over the top of the static Town defence and into the area where it was met by Andrew Johnson who delivered a lofted cross towards the edge of the six-yard box where the unmarked Curtis Woodhouse dived in to head past the helpless Vaesen. This was unbelievably naïve defending and the whole mood of the stadium was reversed within 90 seconds, the referee called a halt to proceedings and the fans were left to wonder whether we could turn this around.

On a number of occasions this season I have praised Macari’s half-time team talks as the players but today the players emerged for the second half completely devoid of ideas. Perhaps, aware of the other key results, Macari had told the players that they were still safe at the moment but this was not the attitude to stave off the threat of relegation. Birmingham were well organised and Town were guilty of squandering possession to easily, and the few attacks we could muster were half-hearted and failed to trouble Ian Bennett. On the hour mark Francis made a double switch for Birmingham sacrificing Lazaridis and Johnson for Furlong and McCarthy, the latter so often the architect of our downfall both for Port Vale and Birmingham.

Dean Gorré was introduced for Ben Thornley on 65 minutes but the Dutchman seemed to struggle to get to grips with the game and had little impact on proceedings. Birmingham created little and their one effort of note from Paul Furlong brought out a scrambling save from Nico Vaesen. As time marched inexorably on Town became increasing desperate and were reduced to lumping the ball up field hoping that someone could latch onto it, but for the most part this ammunition was too easy for the visiting defence. The fans were also becoming more desperate as the news from Fratton Park was not good as Portsmouth had by now doubled their lead and Towns survival now hinged on the result from Edgeley Park.

Macari tried to pep up the Town attack by introducing Kevin Gallen for Simon Baldry on 73 minutes and although he managed to get behind the Birmingham defence on a couple of occasions was still effectively marshalled by the visitors defence. The mood in the stadium tangibly changed with a little less than 10 minutes remaining as news quickly filtered round that Crystal Palace had taken the lead against Stockport. The stunned fans began to try to lift the players for one final push as the realisation grew that the day was going horribly wrong. Whether the message did really get through to the players is difficult to say but they seemed to look a little more positive and the introduction of Kenny Irons on 85 minutes almost did the trick.

With seconds of normal time remaining Irons and Holland linked well on the edge of the Birmingham penalty area and when Irons received the return ball he knocked a delightful cross over the Birmingham defence towards the advancing Andy Booth. The scorer of Town’s opener met the cross with a powerful diving header, but unfortunately the quality of the effort was matched by the quality of the save and Ian Bennett pulled off an amazing reaction block to deny Town the equaliser they so desperately needed. Some wags in the Lawrence Batley stand began cheering soon afterwards and everyone was desperately looking round for fans with radio’s to confirm if Stockport had found an equaliser. It wasn’t true and the fans slumped back into their seats knowing that the nightmare was about to turn into reality.

The remaining minutes passed with Town franticly trying to create an equaliser, but everyone knew by this stage that our best chance had eluded us and by the time the referee called time on the season we knew that he was blowing time on Town’s stay in division 1. The stadium fell silent on three sides and a mini pitch invasion did little to distract us from our despondency, particularly when it wasn’t half as entertaining as the Keystone Cops episode we witnessed following the play-off semi-final defeat against Peterborough a few years ago.

Nico Vaesen was in tears at the final whistle and Booth and Facey both sat on the pitch in stunned disbelief as most fans remained in their seats reflecting on the cruel sequence of results that had conspired to demote us to division 2. The final scores of the games of interest to Town today were Portsmouth 3 – Barnsley 0; Grimsby 1 – Fulham 0; Stockport 0 – Crystal Palace 1 and they conspired to send us down us by a single point and cause us to reflect on the games such as Bolton, QPR, Grimsby etc. where an extra point could have been achieved.

However, it mattered none – we were still relegated.

TOWN 1 (Booth 45)

Birmingham City 2 (Woodhouse 21, 45)

Position in table – 22nd

Town – Vaesen; Jenkins; Lucketti; Gray; Heary (Irons 85); Thornley (Gorré 64)); Armstrong; Holland; Facey; Booth; Baldry (Gallen 72). Subs not used – Margetson; Moses.

Birmingham City – Bennett; Eaden; Purse; Holdsworth; Gill; Hughes; Lazaridis (McCarthy 58); Atherton; Woodhouse; Marcelo (Horsfield 72); Johnson (Furlong 58). Subs not used – Poole; Bass.

Referee – Phil Richards (Preston). Attendance 19,290



All words and thoughts by Chris except where stated.

A big thank you to Machala for putting up with me doing this and Ian for his support and my Mum for her proof reading.

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