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Nationwide Division One, 20/2/01
Blackburn Rovers
Playing Catch-Up In The Four Zone
By Martin Blanc

Here's what I want to know: referees, yeah? They must be pretty used to abusive chants to do with their masturbatory practices, some even proud of the wrath their Little-Hitler routines provoke. So why don't people chant: "The referee's a dead man" or "We know where you/we know where you/we know where you live"? Might I suggest it to the Rookery for future reference? Perhaps these numbers might have conveyed to Mr Styles the level of his failures.

One-nil to the referee maybe, but unfortunately the referee isn't in the promotion hunt. We were, and yes, still are this morning. But after exhibiting our torturously familiar frailties for Blackburn's closer inspection (a few very Welsh moments from Page before his departure, and some more of Cox's as well) and this time surviving to emerge on level terms, we were on the ascendancy, it felt, as we entered the fortieth minute. Prior to that, Baardsen's best save had come from the post, off which the ball rebounded after a probably preventable shot from inside the box. After it, he - along with what was left of the rest of the team - shone with a raging fire they haven't shown all winter. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now, considering our opponents are managed by the dirtiest bastard in football since Norman Hunter was released from Borstal, it was particularly galling to watch him jumping up and down at the touchline, ordering about the latest of the Jack Walker Trust Fund's investments (Mr Styles). Galling too that the scummy antics of the team he's in charge of went almost without exception unpunished. It was a very dark night: our home-made entertainment in the first twenty minutes of the second half even consisted of hoping that he might do a Jock Stein right there in front of the East Stand. On this, as with so much else, we went home disappointed.

The key moments: Robbo got Page in the shit in the first place with an underweighted toe-poke, but was also clearing up after himself when Page's challenge on the diving Bent occurred. No red card. Styles picked Helguson from the mob who protested, and then he had to go, for the mild four-footed challenge that followed just before half-time. Maybe a key moment too was Nielsen missing the lovely through-ball he received in the third minute, because we'd still have had a ninety-minute game at one-nil up.

How we chuckled as the second half began to unfold. Sometimes you can't see the difference on a pitch between ten and eleven-man teams. Nine shows. Just standing there about to kick off, it shows. We had to cede their half of the pitch to them straight away. It's to our enormous credit that we managed the attacks, the moves, the long shots we did. It's to our credit we made Blackburn wait as long as they had to for a goal. It's to our credit we sang and mocked and pumped up the players and the night as a whole. It's to our credit we didn't storm the pitch.

It's to our probably lasting disgrace and damage that our two experienced defenders, one of whom really needs a rest and the other of whom is now going to get one anyway, haven't been able to access their professional grit, motivation, self-belief for too long now.

So while the night ended with a mood of terror, of being scared to drive over the speed limit even by a fraction, in case Mr Styles was watching (no, really...), the season rolls on with us clutching onto our play-off place. It will end with victory for one or other of the two sides to this club's collective on-field personality. Are we Millionaires, or are we The Weakest Link?