The French Connection: The good guys won

The French Connection

The French Connection

First published in Sport

Four indisputable words summarise last Saturday's tense clash with Preston North End: The good guys won.

Proud Preston were once the Lilywhites, the original Invincibles, where Bill Shankly won his first FA Cup and Tom Finney is an icon commemorated by a glistening statue in the Deepdale Road. How are the mighty fallen!

The game was a war of attrition and a test of self-discipline. which could easily have turned nasty. It was never destined to develop into a flowing game of open football. Preston's second touch was usually a long ball forward; their main attacking ploy was to bludgeon the ball in the danger areas.

Westley's team was packed with piano breakers, but no piano players. This strategy fails when finesse is needed, notably in the attacking third.

Joe Dunne had been out having a close look at the playing surface as the crowd were still disappearing into the chilly night after the Swindon game, no doubt that's when thoughts turned to pitch preparation.

U's groundsman Dave Blacknall made a major contribution to Saturday's win by performing miracles to make the pitch as playable as it was.

Ultimately, that was decisive.

Attackers Porter, Sears and Massey were outstanding on a pitch they were able to glide over while others slithered and sank.

Joe clearly wants us to play with self-discipline and within the spirit of the game. Against Portsmouth and Preston encouraged his own substituted players to get off the pitch quickly, even though we were holding a narrow lead with time ticking away.

Maybe it was part "managing" the officials, part Corinthian spirit. As with Brian Clough's teams in his glorious heyday, it doesn't matter what is behind it; what matters is that standards and discipline clearly count.

Our only slip was when Jabo Ibhere nearly took himself out of the game and the next three fixtures by his reaction to one nasty provocation too many.

The ref's choice of a yellow card rather than a red could be a pivotal in our season. We need Jabo. We were rewarded with a touch of leniance from a ref who appreciated our approach to the game and respect for his officials.

Graham Westley was relatively quiet during the game, as if trying to put distance between himself and his struggling players.

Maybe he as conscious of Peter Risdale looking over his shoulder, up in the stand.

Westley had the door to the away changing room locked for 30 minutes after the final whistle, and some fo the energy he had saved was probably vented behind the closed door.

While the rest of us were planning our Saturday evening, the Preston players will have been on the long and sombre coach journey back to the North West.

Those with any sense will have kept their heads well down, and their phones switched off.(Westley likes to communicate bad news by test!)

All roads lead to Sheffield United tomorrow. In all of our previous memorable wins at Bramall Lane the psychology has been decisive. Our lads will love the ground, the buzz, the fans, the occasion.

It will give some an extra yard, and some a wobble. Bramall Lane has that effect. Meanwhile, the Blades players take onto the pitch the pressure of living up to past achievements. The winning team will play the game, not just the occasion.

<b>Read Jim's column every Friday in the Gazette</b>

 

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