On the beaches, with growing confidence and growing strength

Gareth Evans has just been kicked in the head by Rochdale’s on-loan winger Temitope Obadeyi. The referee, typically useless all night, tries to let the game go on as Rochdale charge forwards, but as the linesman nearby waves his flag frantically for the foul, he belatedly blows the whistle. The City players nearby rush over to check Evans is okay and say a few things to Obadeyi. The City fans, housed in the lengthways stand and right next to of the incident, loudly call for the issuing of a red card. It’s only yellow, so attention turns to a woozy Evans, being helped off the pitch by the physio.

As Evans stands on the touchline in front of us, waiting for the referee to allow him back on, we chant his name loudly and continuously. City’s number nine turns round to us to show his appreciation by applauding, before emphatically waving his arms in the style of a conductor leading an orchestra, urging us to keep going. With the chanting from away fans having being kept up since well before kick off, it’s his nod of approval for the support and the difference we are making.

And in response, we roar even louder.

On an evening of so many positives for City – terrific Wayne Jacobs-influenced tactics, colossal individual performances and outstanding goals – it was the connectivity between the players and fans which stood out to me as the highlight. This was unconditional, positive backing for the players – the level of which has not been seen since the memorable night at Lincoln City in 2007. The singing didn’t stop until the players trooped off the pitch, having all come over to jubilantly thank the fans at the final whistle. There will have been some City fans with hoarse voices the following day, mine certainly was.

And the reward for such backing was a performance of incredible commitment and quality. This was no fluke result, achieved by sticking 10 men behind the ball and grabbing a goal on the break. This was no long ball hit and hope, duck and let someone else take responsibility approach from the team. They played some brilliant football, they ran their socks off closing down the opposition, they deserved the three points and the winning margin.

Who quite knows where it came from? But it felt so good. When Robbie Threlfall netted that stunning free kick to put City 2-1 up, the celebrations were wild. Strangers hugged me, my hat went flying off, my glasses fell to the floor, at one stage I fell to the floor. And it was only after the adrenaline starting to wear off as we headed back to the car that I realised I must have twisted my knee in the process. I was suddenly hobbling, with a grin that couldn’t be shifted.

And the singing. The singing was as beautiful as a group of football fans chanting mainly out of tune can be. There was no time for rest and catching breath. One chant over, the next one begins. A new range of songs to enjoy and keep repeating in future games, the usual numbers sung more heartfelt than we’ve being able to for months.

We were one team – the players, the management, the supporters. When Rochdale attacked we cheered every time a successful tackle was made. When City possession broke down we seemed to collectively mutter “unlucky” and urge them to keep going. When the referee gave a decision against us we snarled and barracked him angrily in the hope he’d not dare be so foolish next time. When Rochdale fans finally bothered to sing, we took the mick out of how many years it has been since they were last promoted.

At Spotland the fans and players felt closer than they’ve been for a long time. Let’s do it again soon, more often, please.

From Despair to Delight

Following Saturday’s desperate loss at Accrington not too many would’ve predicted the events of last night at Spotland. Prior to the last night’s game BfB’s Jason ‘Winston’ McKeown had issued a rallying cry for supporters to find their voice and really get behind the team.

The message had definitely sunk in. Prior to kick-off their seemed to be a sense amongst the fans that City might just cause a bit of an upset. Another strong away following made the short trip over the Pennines to Rochdale however this time they had brought with them their full singing voices.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the acoustics allowed the chanting to echo around the ground, no doubt creating an intimidating environment for the home players.

As the snow poured down City, who had reverted to 4-4-2, started fantastically. They came absolutely flying out of the blocks and pressed Rochdale forcing them into early mistakes and adding pressure to their defence.

Michael Flynn had been moved up front to play with James Hanson and his direct approach, battling and strength really put the Rochdale back-line under strain. It also allowed James Hanson to become more involved in the play and the role of target man interchanged between the two players.

Gareth Evans, who started on the right side of midfield, began brightly showing real determination and pace to cause Dale’s left-back Kennedy a lot of problems. Luke O’Brien took the role on the left-side of midfield that allowed new signing Robbie Threlfall to slot in at left-back.

Threlfall, who has signed on an initial one month deal from Liverpool, offered a bit more height, strength and positional awareness than O’Brien and looked composed throughout. He also offered fantastic delivery from dead-ball situations and this came to the fore in the tenth minute.

City’s high-tempo start put the home side under early pressure from which City won a corner. New signing Threlfall whipped in the corner only for Dale keeper Fielding (who was dressed in bright fluorescent orange in a bin man/lollypop stylee) to flap at the cross; the ball dropped to Matt Clarke 4 yards out and the big centre-back made no mistake in thumping the ball home for City’s first goal since the Torquay game. Cue wild scenes of celebration from the City faithful which was a just reward for their excellent early backing and City’s excellent start.

City continued to press following the goal which resulted in Flynn going close from long-range forcing a good save from Fielding although strangely no corner was given. Despite City’s excellent play Rochdale still looked composed and passed the ball well through the midfield. Their strikers, Chrises Dagnall and O’Grady linked well but their attacks were often snuffed out by the resilient City backline with all four defenders impressing.

O’Grady frequently tussled with Clarke throughout the half and often won soft free-kicks when it appeared, to the majority of City fans, that the former loanee was constantly backing in.

Rochdale continued to press towards the end of the half with efforts from Jones and O’Grady although City keeper Glennon watched both go harmlessly over. As City showed signs of tiring from their early tempo Rochdale began to find more space in the midfield often through Dale midfielder Taylor who had so clinically exposed City at Valley Parade. More passes were strung together as pressure built on the away side which resulted in Dale pulling a goal back just before half-time. O’Grady managed to battle his way past Williams and fire a low ball across the face of goal for Chris Dagnall to apply a finish that squirmed under Glennon’s body at the near post. In previous weeks heads would’ve dropped and a feeling of inevitability would have set in however, buoyed by their brilliant start and vocal support, City battled on against an increasingly dangerous Dale and made it to half-time for a well earned breather.

Suitably refreshed from their half-time oranges and no doubt words of praise from their new manager, the players returned to the field for the second period. Once again the support for the players and manager rang throughout the ground.

City started with a similar intensity to press and shut down the Dale players but seemed to be increasingly getting pushed back deeper and deeper as Dale enjoyed the early possession. After having a moan to the referee as the players walked off for half-time, Chris O’Grady seemed to have convinced the ref that the City defenders were constantly fouling him, and not vice versa, resulting in the man in blue giving the striker a floury of early second half free-kicks around the City box.

Once again City’s resilient defence managed to keep Dale at bay, snuffing out several attacks. The desire to prevent the home side from attacking was typified by Gareth Evans who, after requiring treatment twice in the first half, never stopped running and tracking back (and forward) and arguably enjoyed his best performance in a City shirt. He not only worked tirelessly but showed signs of skill and composure going forward that have been lacking in recent weeks; he even managed to act as mascot to gee the City fans up after receiving a nasty boot to the face in the first half.

City’s never-say-die attitude resulted in the home side making two attacking changes to find the break through. During this period of pressure City looked to break on the counter attack using Hanson as an outlet but the former shelf-stacker looked increasingly shattered as the game went on.

With 15 minutes left Michael Boulding came on for the solid Stephen O’Leary where Flynn pushed back into central midfield. Boulding’s fresher legs put more pressure on Dale as City looked to steal all three points. As City attacked left-back Threlfall found himself on halfway and played a quick one-two with Luke O’Brien, getting the ball back Threlfall powered his way past two Dale defenders and was up-ended by what appeared to be the last man right on the edge of the box.

The away fans screamed for a penalty and a sending off but the referee took lesser actions instead giving a free-kick and a yellow card to the guilty Dale player. City lined up the free-kick with Flynn waiting to drill an effort goalwards, instead Threlfall stepped up to curl a beautiful strike over the wall that appeared to go off the bar and in off the keeper’s back (Not entirely sure as I haven’t seen the replay). The away fan’s erupted with delight with noise that nearly tore the roof of the stadium off.

The home side looked to hit straight back and a close range effort from Dagnall was well saved by Glennon. City again played on the break and a floated ball from mid-way inside the Dale half by Threlfall was nodded down by James Hanson to an on-rushing Evans, the shot was suitably smashed home by his left boot from the edge of the box giving the player a much deserved reward for his awesome, tireless performance.

Jubilation again amongst the City fans who could not believe the transformation from their side of a few days ago to now. The fans stayed standing until the full-time whistle as choruses of ‘City till I Die’ pulsed around Spotland.

At full-time, most notably, Michael Flynn ran over to City fans to celebrate this was in stark contrast to the disgusting abuse he had unduly received at Acrrington. Simon Ramsden also joined in as did the rest of the team in the celebrations so that the City players and manager left the field buzzing.

I couldn’t help but walk out of the ground with a massive grin on my face, shared with other fans, with a reminder that this is the reason why we put up with all the upset and the heartache for days and occasions just like this.

So now we look to Saturday and Darlington coming to VP. With a bit of luck, word of mouth should spread to those that didn’t make it to Spotland about the fantastic display and the renewed confidence. I hope now that we can really build on this and carry on the excellent work come the weekend. It just goes to show that as a City fan you can go from despair to delight in just a few short days.

What we can all take with us on Saturday is the desire to get right behind the team and push them on to more great performances like this one. Then who knows where we might be come what May?

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