That’s your lot chaps, 2017/18 draws to a close with defeat in deepest Devon and the curtains come down on another remarkable season.
Putting the controversy surrounding the EFL Trophy aside, we’ve won silverware and competed at the right end of the table. we’ve made the play-offs, a great achievement for our first season back in the league, but we’ve come up short.
Tonight, for the first time in our four encounters, Exeter were better than us. I called Boateng earlier as the one player who we needed to keep quiet, but in truth they had three or four players on their game this evening. We had several who looked dead on their feat, victims of our ‘quality over quantity’ squad policy. I’m not saying Danny got that wrong, we finished in the top seven, but eventually the fact we’re a work in progress cost us dearly.
There’s no point in assessing the match too much is there? They scored a goal which was poor from our point, but for thirty minutes we looked like a mid table side who found themselves in the play offs by accident. It may have been fatigue, it may have been players carrying injuries, but Exeter could have been two up.
Of course, we equalised and for a moment I thought it was on. If that had been allowed, would the game have changed? Maybe, maybe not. Rheady was pushed, he did handle it and it shouldn’t have been a goal. I’ll tell you what we’ve been punished for there though; Rhead going down too easily throughout the season. If it was a push it wasn’t a big one and I guarantee if I squared up to him in a nightclub and gave him a push of the same force, he doesn’t budge. Referees are wise to it I’m afraid. All the assistant referee has seen is a hand, all the referee has seen is the goal. We can feel hard done by, but taking off the rose-tinted glasses, just for a second, will give some perspective. If that goal is against us, we’re in uproar.
The manner with which we finished the first half gave me hope we’d come out all guns blazing, but Hiram Boateng’s moment of brilliance ended the game as a contest. Their third looked to add a shine to the score line they probably deserved, our late consolation at least meant we had something to cheer. Yes, there was a nailed on penalty towards the end, just as there was at the Bank, but they weren’t given. Remember, Luke handled in the first half in the area and it wasn’t given either.
We’ve every right to be indignant about the scenes at the end, their fans attacking our players and officials is not on. I’m not convinced the ‘special dispensation’ they got to limit the number of fans we could take was fair either, but those factors only served to create an advantage, they still had to perform. Nobody can complain about Boateng’s dominant performance or Pym’s solid showing in the first leg. The end was unsavoury, but the result was, on the balance of play, entirely fair.
Right now, it hurts. I hate Lincoln losing and to lose in the play-offs for a sixth time stings almost as bad as my back does right now. Perspective is easily spoken of, I made much of it this morning, but right now I don’t have the balance that I had then. I’m upset we lost, I’m upset we conceded so many goals and I could easily point to things in the season I believe were not right. How would that help? On the whole this has been a tremendous campaign, one with a Wembley final in it and a play off assault too. Yeah, we had a small squad which ultimately cost us but we’re one year older and one year wiser. Danny and Nicky are going nowhere and the best players are staying put too. Recruitment in the summer is going to be crucial and there’s going to be tough decisions to make, but when we look back tomorrow or in a week’s time, it won’t be with a feeling of anger or resentment.
I’ve seen lots of Grimsby fans loving the fact we are going to be in the same league as them next season, I’m delighted they can find solace from their own failings in our too seven finish not ending up as it should. That’s what rivalry is all about, isn’t it? It doesn’t make it easier, rather petulantly I’ve blocked some of the worse offenders on Twitter because, when all is said and done, tonight hurts like hell. I really liked our display against them but, being truthful, I thought the shadow banner was a bit much. It’s given them material to be used in the event of a resurgence on their part, something I can see happening.
Recently, I’ve blocked out intense pain by popping trammies and diazepam, but this stinging won’t go away with a helping of drugs. It will soften with a look back at the season, the big moments like Coventry away, like Crewe away, like Grimsby at home. Once a hangover begins to shift, you can look back and enjoy the night out. Right now, I have a hangover from losing tonight’s game and, if I’m honest, at the FBA result too. Tomorrow, once that subsides I’ll be back to my usual self, toasting the great season we’ve had and understanding my own satisfaction shouldn’t some from industry recognition, but from the fact you lot still read and like what I do.
Roll on tomorrow morning.