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Nationwide Division One, 28/8/00
Sheffield United
By Martin Blanc

It's your birthday. There's a pile of presents. All beautifully wrapped. Lights reflecting off the sellotape. Which to open first? You have ninety minutes, and your time starts now.

Let's start with the third goal. It's as good a place as any in this banquet of football laid on for us for Bank Holiday afternoon. Once we'd spotted Tommy Smith's subtlest of indicators to Cox that he wanted the ball on the blind side of the wall, it looked like a fun move. Just for a second, though, the ref was in the way, and then Cox looked like he'd made a hash of it (after looking like he was crossing it - a beautiful dummy). Smith took it wide and delivered (or shot) a bit close to the keeper...but Gifton, ah Gifton, banged it in just like he'd practised in that reserves game. And thus we were nicely set up for the season.

What an afternoon. The framework of the Wimbledon game having been laid, we put out a team that played as fluently as any for two years. And without Nielsen, or Wooter, or Johnno, or Kennedy. My God, we're a squad.

And the most enjoyable aspect was that we were finally, consistently dangerous going forward. Can Gifton alone be that magic missing piece of the jigsaw, the piece you dropped behind the radiator all those years ago, and had to wait for the man to come and replace them all before it was freed and you could complete the picture? Well, could be - so kiss that gas-man and slot GNW in.

No - in fairness, this was the team writ large. Everyone played for everyone else, in defence and attack, in earnest at the end of the first half when we got the lead back, and in fun in the second half, moving the ball about like the "Brazil" chants had gone to our heads. And if GNW got the man-of-the-match nod for partly sentimental reasons, a cooler judge might with equal justification have given it to Micah Hyde. He earned it, over the course of these ninety minutes and the whole of last season. He was as instrumental as GNW in our fluidity. And the fourth goal was rightfully his, a supremely classy move he started and finished, closing the game down a bit late, and calming nerves that could have been more badly exposed if our careless show-boating earlier in the second half had actually led to a second Blades goal.

Of course it was hardly going to, not with Robbo and Page and Ward in total command. Bodies behind the ball, interceptions all immaculately judged (except by the ref) - and Baardsen commanded everything that was left. We gave them too much space and time just the once, and it led to a goal. Hang on, there's an order to events, and we've totally lost it here - your Auntie'll be cross you opened the best friend's present before hers - but it's just so exciting. Otherwise we bossed the ninety minutes, another rarity, or rather novelty, as we rebuild team confidence. And the fruits of it to boot. And four different scorers. And so nearly five - Robbo - and six - Palmer. Which doesn't account for Smith and Cox who are both well capable of finishing too.

Come on - this is dangerous thinking. Let's not lose our heads (he said, as his own rolled down Tower Hill with a grin plastered to its face). It's only August.

Great. Forty-two other games in which to do almost exactly what we did here. Tee hee. So many other birthdays to look forward to.