Well, I said I'd take a win by one goal; I suggested it would be 1-0 or 2-1; and we showed in parts the reasons why we could well go on to win this division or could fall away find ourselves in this division again next season.
We won and with Bristol Rovers drawing and MK Dons losing we find ourselves 4 points above 3rd, 6 above 4th and at least 8 above all the rest. I might have preferred it had Leeds not scored that late, late winner, but overall I think it was a good day.
Before we played Norwich I suggested that there are five clubs that can finish in the top two. I may well be wrong about this, so I might have to change things later on the season, however right now those five look like this:
Leeds 9 13 25
Charlton 9 13 23
MK Dons 9 3 17
Huddersfield 9 7 15
Norwich 9 -3 10
For me that makes for very good reading. After an unbeaten start we should have carved out a bit of lead, and now we seem to have done so. I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't see Bristol Rovers staying where they are, so that actually leaves us 6 points above the real competition.
As I have mentioned before I'm not greedy. We have a target for the season; we want to start next season in the Championship, and to that end second is as good as first as far as I'm concerned. This is why a Leeds win yesterday may well turn out to be the best result for us.
With the results taken in total it ensures that we will be in a top two clash with Leeds next Saturday. I'm still not sure if I want to spend all day on a coach, but if we win on Tuesday evening, or if we draw and Leeds don't win then it will be a game where the winner is top at full time. The draw to be at that game may well prove too great for me to miss it. This is, of course, assuming that I will still be able to get a ticket and a seat on a coach if I wait as late as Wednesday morning to book it.
So, on to the game. There have been some differing reports of the match itself, ranging from a comfortable victory to us hanging on a little at times. I don't intend to provide a match report, and I've never considered myself qualified to give the players scores out of ten, but my overall feeling coming away from the game was that we had scraped the win. All football matches are defined by events. Had we scored two of the early opportunities we may have coasted the second half and scored another goal or two. Had Exeter's equaliser not been disallowed for offside we could have had a desperate finish to the game and it literally could have gone either way. Ultimately we won, and that is (in my humble opinion) all that we can ask for.
It was interesting to note, however, that we didn't score after about twenty minutes which we have done a few times this season, and Exeter seemed to abandon their initial game plan and stopped defending so deeply, came out and opened up a little more. What I have been most impressed with this season - and the reason I believe we will finish in the top two - is that despite not seeming to have a Plan B (or rather not having to show it yet) we are able to break down teams that defend for their lives. This is one of the hardest things to do when you are one of the favourites in the division. We have scored in every game (Leeds haven't) and we have had to break down a number of teams to do so.
There is a little bit of a worry about how we will cope when we play teams that come out to attack. Both Southampton and Norwich did that, and when Exeter opened up yesterday our defence looked a little less than impenetrable. however, we didn't lose any of those games and for some different officials' decisions we could have won all three.
On 31st January 1999 we entertained Man Utd at The Valley. They won 1-0 with a late, late goal. I won't pretend that we ever looked like winning that game as wave after wave of attack was kept out in the second half, but we could have hung on for the draw. That win put United top of the table (where they stayed for the rest of the season), a draw would have left them second. By 27th May 1999 Man Utd had won the treble. They won the Premier League by just one point. The truth is that you don't have to win every game easily; you don't have to win every game; you don't even have to win any games easily.
So we won, collected the three points, and move on to the next game where any kind of win will be great. I'm going to Colchester, and am confident of a result, but on the basis that we are likely to lose sooner or later it is reassuring to know that we have a sufficient cushion that we will not fall out of the top two if it happens there.
Up the Addicks!