We weren’t expecting this. Like a lightning bolt splitting the sky on a crystal clear summer’s day, nothing had prepared us for this trouncing in Tameside. I suppose we’ve been rather spoilt of late – I hadn’t seen the Pilgrims lose on the road since my 21st birthday in March, when we succumbed at Whitby. Before that, it had been another two months since a single-goal defeat at Kendal in late January and another six weeks to a loss at Matlock. Furthermore, I hadn’t seen us concede on the road since the second half at Harrogate, by which time we were 6-2 up. Of course, this day had to come.
Credit to Droylsden, who were excellent. Slow starters this season, they showed plenty of examples of why they reached the Conference North play-offs last year and I wouldn’t bet against them being back in the mix in a few months’ time. United underestimated them, got their tactics wrong and had a few underlying frailties exposed.
The beauty of following a team with a small-ish group of regulars is that, however hopeless the situation, you see the funny side of it. Hence the title of my blog, I suppose. When the third goal went in with about ten minutes remaining, there was nothing else for it. We found our voices, picked up the drum stick and tossed confetti about. When JB started bashing his head against the corrugated iron at the back of the stand, in a bizarre mix of defiance and bemusement, there were shades of the 5-0 defeat at Nantwich two years ago or the general Football League era when sometimes anything less than humiliation was a bonus. The stiff upper lip stood proud and I was delighted to see manager Rob Scott give us a mention in his post-match remarks.
In the same interview, Scott criticised a number of older supporters who rounded on the team towards the final whistle. We live in a democracy and they’re entitled to their opinion just as much as I am, but the justifications for the abuse are very hollow. Maybe I wouldn’t have aimed my remarks at “those old codgers” but the manager has a point. You must take the thick with the thin and, for the last 18 months, we have had a lot of thick. We probably haven’t had this much success, or had such defensive resolve, since the Conference promotion campaign and that’s getting on for a decade ago. There are going to be off days, like Saturday, but let’s take a glance at the stats (nearly 1,000 minutes without conceding – that probably more than some of these people can remember) and the league table before we resort to throwing insults.
My two-penneth over, on to the day itself. We had negotiated confused Wednesday supporters (I wonder how near they got to Rochdale before realising the match was actually at Hillsborough), Northern Rail, toxic canals and the general Manchester suburban environment to reach one of the most intimidatingly-named grounds in the country – the Butcher’s Arms. The ground itself was decaying in parts, but the set-up clearly had enjoyed some investment with a very pleasant social club and a couple of new-ish stands. In one corner was a rather strange building with a balcony and a number of (unoccupied) patio tables and chairs. I assume it was the director’s box unless penthouse living and al fresco bistro dining are big in Tameside.
With JB, who wasn’t going to come to the match at midday, cruising at a steady 95mph down the M62 and arriving in the nick of time, the usual suspects gathered behind the goal and got the atmosphere going. United started with a decent tempo, though delivery from the wings was poor all afternoon. Semps might have permission to shag all our wives, but he had a bit of an off day here. Mikel Suarez looked a little short of match fitness and generally isolated up front on his own, leaving Spencer W-D to do most of the running. Having not conceded for so long, you felt it would require something special to end the run and, sadly for us, Droylsden provided it. Steve Connors seemed too far out to pose any danger but he lashed in a shot from a good 30 yards to open the scoring.
United had come close through SWD and Shaun Pearson, both denied brilliantly by Paul Phillips, and there was an encouraging debut for Josh Burge, but when Mike Byron doubled the Bloods’ lead shortly after the break that was that. With the introduction of Miles Hunter, whose goal had beaten Corby in midweek, Jamie Yates and, later, Danny Davidson, the managers did, to be fair, try everything to get us back in the game. Many chances came and went before Droylsden scored with a couple of counter-attacks in the last ten minutes to turn a routine win into something more eye-catching. David McNiven and then Ciaran Kilheeney made it a day to forget.
But spirits were high on the journey home. Already looking forward to the next one (a Lincolnshire derby against Gainsborough in the FA Trophy on Saturday), laughing at the day’s events and feeling proud at our noisy, defiant antics. I then went and got slaughtered but that was in no way related!
Next Match: Sheffield United vs. Crystal Palace on Saturday – hob-nobbing in the press box with those Sky Sports types hopefully.