December 21, 2015 by notjustpumpkinbread
The Yuletide season is upon us. The robins bobbing about the place look (and make us feel) a little bit cheerier, while those decorations abandoned in the deeper recesses of the loft have been dragged into the weak, wintry daylight and a spaghetti of twinkling tree lights have been successfully unfurled. The anticipation for those of a younger persuasion is positively palpable, but we, as fans of the Mighty Reds – and generally of an older and for some a little more cynical persuasion – get to bathe in those feelings as we duly take our allotted places within the City Ground.
What would this pre-festive fixture bring?
There’s two things that were certain in our household when it came to Christmas morning – beside the fact that my brother and myself would be awake before 05.30. The turkey would already be in the oven and something would be boiling in a pan on the top of the cooker. You know what that thing in the pan is, don’t you? Don’t worry by the way, I will be talking about the game – just humour me for a short while. Anyway, back to the pan. Presents were duly unwrapped with a similar fervour to that of Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and far too much roast dinner had been piled onto our plates in an almost Everestian manner. But what of the pan?
Cue my dad and a rather large, deep-set metal spoon containing a pretty generous portion of brandy. He holds the spoon over a naked flame, my mum empties the contents of the pan onto a plate, brings it to the table and in one fail swoop the heated liquid is poured over the Christmas pudding and ignited. Our eyes engage with the dancing blue flames like a 21st century teenager pouring over a social media app! On some occasions my dad would repeat the process, the dying flames of the previous brandy application given new life. I never liked Christmas pudding as a child, so the light show was the best bit.
And that’s what the game was like. No, not the “I don’t like Christmas pudding” thing, but the “dancing blue flames” thing. Oh how we revelled in the simplicity and ferocious speed of the first goal, mouth-wateringly finished by Lord Nelson of Oliveira and sumptuously created by M. Mendes. Barely two minutes had passed and The Dons were undone. Mr. Dougie’s game-plan had come to fruition and we could sit back and enjoy an early Crimbo pressie from the team we love. The Dons did look good on the ball though, passing with confidence and denying us possession, even pushing forward on occasion with Maynard testing Dorus and a goal-bound free-kick from Hall causing our stalwart keeper to pull another fine save out of the bag.
But those dancing blue flames would not be denied as first Lord Nelson, than Mendes sought a second. We were a whole 16 minutes into the game as Danni Pinillos looped a cross into the Dons penalty area. The approaching Mendes caught the ball on the full but only managed to cushion it into the air, while himself falling on his bum. This must have momentarily confused the Dons keeper as he then just watched as Mendes had the quickness of thought to poke the ball past him while he sat on the turf. We were 2-0 up and looking good. As if that weren’t enough we should have gone 3 up moments later when a hesitant Nelson went through with only the keeper to beat. He clearly had too much time to think about it and may also have thought he was offside, because he summarily failed to hit the target.
Those flames were spluttering somewhat as, for all our menace in attack in the early period of play, the Dons still looked composed on the ball, maintaining a lion’s share of the possession while getting forward enough to be awarded a fair few corners. Neither keeper were tested further as the half continued though, so 2-0 at half time gave us pause for thought. One more in the second half and a clean sheet meant job done and no better present than we could have wished for.
But the flames had pretty much disappeared. We’d begun to tuck into a stodgy, dried fruit filled, alcohol enriched dessert that, while topped with an inviting portion of cream, sat heavy in our already full bellies. We had to wait a full 15 minutes before our Henri unleashed a free-kick that was smartly saved, while 5 minutes later Nelson produced a shot from nothing outside the box that was tuned onto the post by the Don’s shot-stopper. For all their possession the visitors were, on occasion, still open to the odd flurry of activity from the Mighty Reds and we should really have killed the game off by the time Lord Nelson hit the woodwork.
I’m not complaining though. Two up and with the visitors not really looking like scoring was mana-from-heaven. Unfortunately, the pivotal moment during that second period of play was the innocuous looking injury sustained by Danni Pinillos. He was clearly concerned as he waved to the bench while lying on his back next to the corner flag and from the look on his face as he was helped to the tunnel, the signs were not good. So, Mancienne to left back and the introduction of Hobbs into the centre. “That’ll be alright” I thought.
We were not the same team after that. The MK Dons made two substitutions in quick order 5 minutes later and they made all the difference. Pin-pointing our left side as an area of weakness, they applied pressure to Mancienne, who uncharacteristically buckled somewhat. Mis-kicking on a couple of occasions and being pulled out of position caused all sorts of havoc on our final third. We were hanging on when the inevitable happen, but ironically on our right side as an MK Dons players was unceremoniously hauled off his feet by Eric when cutting into the box. Maynard stepped up, hit a nice penalty to the left of goal but was denied by a strong contender for our player of the season so far. Dorus had maintained our two goal lead, but could do nothing to deny the Dons scoring a couple of minutes later as some great interplay allowed the visitors to dance into our area and bury a much deserved goal beyond our great keeper.
From there we were hanging on, sitting a bit too deep and never showing any chance of catching the Dons on the break. It must be said that it was a rare thing this season to see our manager make a couple of poor substitutions. Mendes was having a tremendous game, so to see him being replaced by Ward was a surprise. Perhaps that groin niggle that saw him rested against Blackburn was on Dougie’s mind as he made the change. And I’m not sure what’s going on with Ward at the moment, but if he touched the ball three times in the 15 minutes he was on the pitch, I’d be surprised. Then to replace Oliveira with Trotter was to signal to the opposition that we were going to attempt to hang on as we no longer possessed any pace on the pitch.
But let us not get down-hearted. We won. And for a good portion of the game, we looked good. Not “we’re passing through teams and looking great, but not scoring goals” good. More “tightening things up, taking some of our chances and being hard to beat” good. This is the Championship after all. It was a lovely early Christmas present and that first 20 minutes was the most potent I’ve seen us this season. It’s just a shame we couldn’t kill off the game. Mr. Dougie has said we’re not a top six team just yet and that win over the MK Dons proves it. A better team would have scored 3 or 4 and killed the game before half time. We’re good and we’re getting better. Four straight wins at home is all we can ask for. In fairness, we can also ask for total football, clean sheets, lots of goals and an automatic promotion place but that would be greedy! It’s all moving in the right direction as far as I’m concerned, so “Thank You” Dougie Freedman, your managerial staff and all the players that have contributed so far this season.
It’s Leeds at home next and there’s no reason why our unbeaten run cannot continue.
Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to you all.
COME ON YOU REDS!!!