CRUNCH TIME

By Daniel Rankine
Mar 22nd, 2008

In case you’re wondering, the title to this piece doesn’t refer to Ashley’s crazy lunge at Hutton on Wednesday night. It’s more about the big four extravaganza (no puns please) this Easter Sunday.

After the emotional roller-coaster of the Spurs game I’m not sure my nerves can take it. Oddly, if we take the lead on Sunday, I’ll probably be even more nervous. But back to Ashley briefly, and the media backlash – they really don’t like the fella do they?

You would think that he ended Hutton’s career (already over mate, you’re at Spurs) and defecated on Riley’s boots rather than mistime a tackle and be a petulant git. It’s not like we haven’t seen that before, perhaps every other week, from a pick of any player in the league? No, they’ve got in for Ash, probably for playing away behind the missus’s back, he’s now fair game for the hacks.

Granted, with the ref incident he didn’t do himself any favours, but the bile thrown his way has been a bit over the top. He deserved a red card but he did go for the ball. Quite a high ball, near Hutton’s knee, yet there has been worse tackles seen in a football match.

On Wednesday I had to listen to the Five Live Extra coverage of the game (no doubt as agonising to listen to as to see) and then watched the goals on Sky Sports News. In a game that can only be followed by ‘of the season’ the highlights showed each of the dramatic goals once and yet showed Ash’s horror tackle six times from about three angles. Surely there’s a bit of an agenda going on there? If a great football match can’t be enjoyed without needless sensationalism it does worry.

It pains to dwell on the game itself. Having being so close to victory (three, four times? I lost count) it felt like a defeat to suffer the sucker punch. Grant wanted to bring entertaining football to the table and he’s certainly done that. Not least in some bizarre subs that could have wrapped up the result but instead handed the initiative to Spurs.

Fans grumbled about the tactics and subs, especially taking off the excellent Joe Cole, but in the end there was nothing that could be done about Keane’s finish. It was a bit bad luck, the ball bouncing off Ricky’s back, and an emphatic finish, whether Cole was on the pitch or not. It has intensified the, already massive, pressure on Grant and this fixture in particular. So far he has yet to defeat any of the big four in the league and that needs to be addressed this Easter.

Eight games to go and the title race is heating up. Not that you wouldn’t have noticed from the over dramatic adverts currently playing on Sky. Grand Slam Sunday is a pub landlord’s dream isn’t it? This season really could go to the wire. For all the doom and gloom merchants please lighten up. Or go and support someone else. We’re five points off United and have the top two at home. It’s nearly April, the final run in, and we’re still in with a shout. If you’re not excited by that then you might be dead.

For much of this season, maligned by the exit of the special one, an injury list to rival M*A*S*H, and an embarrassing cup defeat, we’ve been hoping. We’ve been hoping that through all the problems the team have encountered during the season that we could still be within touching distance of the leaders come Easter. We hoped we could still win the European Cup we’ve craved.

There’s no need to be downbeat after the midweek epic. It was stirring, amazing stuff. The unshakable character of the team was there for all to see. The players don’t hope, they believe. Sunday is the time when we can make it happen. It’s simple, for the players, and the fans. We win and we can take a big step towards the league title.

Let’s get behind the team and make the Bridge a cauldron of noise, It’s time to make a claim for that trophy.

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