Still in our hands – just!

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Preston North End 1-1 Latics
Saturday 30th April 2005

You can put the calculators away now.  The position at one o’clock on Sunday is simple.  A victory against Reading takes us to the Premier League regardless of what happens elsewhere.  This point, obtained despite yet another disappointing performance was enough to keep the club’s destiny in the hands of the players and manager, it also set us up for a season finale that could be equally ecstatic or devastating.

As local derbies go the game was fairly regular stuff.  Scrappy with periods of dominance for both sides, Preston probably edged it in terms of amount of play, definitely had more (or at least better) chances and were streets ahead when it came to getting the ball down and playing.  The fact that we got something out of the game was as much down to their wayward finishing as it was our own resolve.

I’ll have to admit to more than a twinge of optimism when McCulloch popped up at the back post to put Latics in front.  The period following the goal was probably the best we got all afternoon but even so chances were at a premium and our batter players were defensive ones.

Every Preston attack was stomach turning and when Jackson gave a free kick away on the corner of the box, there was a feeling of inevitability.  You don’t need to be Jose Mourhino to know that you can’t leave men free on the back post but someone had forgotten to tell our defence.  An almost carbon copy of our goal followed and the guts were wrenched from both fans, and team.

Luckily half time, and their well earned bollocking, wasn’t far away.  We’ve made a habit of looking like different teams in each half this season, hopefully this one would follow suit.  On balance, the fact that the second half didn’t look as bad was as much to do with the change of ends as improved play, we still didn’t create a great deal but neither did Preston (or not that you could see clearly).  In the end a draw was probably fair and potentially still enough to win us promotion on the day although no one was really expecting the tractor boys to slip against Crewe, were they?

If there are plaudits to be had they would have to go to Jackson, McMillan and Kavanagh.  Of the substitutes, Jarrett added energy when he came on, Graham had a go but wasn’t getting there and Mahon neither had the time or the ball to make much of an impact, why an obviously injured McCulloch stayed on the pitch but Ellington and Bullard didn’t even he didn’t know, the lad was on his knees by the time the last substitution was made. 

And the verdict?  If I wasn’t so nervous, I’d say that the performance wasn’t good enough, but as I’m bricking it and the point keeps things in our own hands.  The real test comes next week and it will be a case of how the lads want to be remembered in the club’s history as much as their football ability.  Surely they want it?  Let’s hope they show it.

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