• Albion 1 - 1 Sheffield Wednesday, Play off semi final, 16.05.2016

    Now that the dust has settled, and the pain is less raw, the overwhelming feeling is one of pride. We fell agonisingly short, but the season has been remarkable and Monday night was such an incredible occasion that it would be remiss of me, not to commit it to words.

    As a defence mechanism, I think a lot of Albion fans were approaching the game with the mind-set that success was beyond us, but we would treat it as a celebration of the season. The events of Friday night had killed us – yet more outrageous misfortune decimating the side and leaving the proverbial mountain to climb – with half of our best climbers watching from the side-lines.

    But then – a glimmer. A text from a trusted source – “Knockaert fit”. Surely not? The little magician had been stretchered off the field 70 hours ago, in huge and obvious pain – having bent his ankle double. Got to be a mistake.

    Then another e-mail suggesting the same. Just maybe.

    On arrival at the ground, word was out – the buzz akin to the rare days when glory be – Vicente had got out of the right side of the bed and declared himself fit to play. And not just ‘Knocky’ – Sidwell too had defied the odds and with the help of copious pain-killers, was also down to start. Suddenly the team didn’t look so threadbare – mission impossible, downgraded to mission improbable.

    The Amex was alive – a crowd to a man, determined that if it wasn’t to be, we’d go down fighting. The deafening PA blared The Great Escape. The teams came out to 28,000 blue and white flags waving – to ‘Sussex by the Sea’ positively bellowed out, like rarely before. The artificial noise of the PA gave way to the organic roars as the game kicked off.

    The referee might have fired a starter’s pistol, rather than blowing on his whistle – such was the intent with which the Albion flew at a startled Wednesday. What was to follow in the next 25 minutes was simply unbelievable. It felt like there were 15 men attacking the Owls’ goal. Within two minutes, a dream start was denied only by desperate last ditch blocks. Chance after chance after chance. Knockaert, Wilson and Baldock tearing at the Wednesday back line who looked utterly shell-shocked – early bookings for two – resorting to stopping the tide by any means.

    The noise was incredible. Unprecedented. So loud. The Wednesday fans were seemingly singing – at least they were jumping about and their mouths were open – but they might as well have been miming – they were on mute.

    Knockaert was a man possessed – a man intent on turning this tie round by himself. On another, luckier, day he’d have achieved it. He was everywhere – down the line – into the box – at the full backs – the centre backs. He missed a big, big chance with a far post, close range header, it should be said, but we’ll forgive him that.

    A series of free kicks on the edge of the box, as in turn the Frenchman, then Kayal, then Skalak, were crudely brought down. Knockaert stepped up – curled it over the wall and surely IN!? - 28,000 roars to aaahhs, as the ball defied the laws of physics – striking the inside of the right post, before somehow flying along the goal-line and out past the left post.

    The next, from the same spot – as he looked to line up the same top corner – the wall jumped to block – only for Knockaert to cleverly side-foot it under their feet. A little more pace and it would have been in, but (the excellent) Westwood scrambled across in time – puffing out his cheeks as he lay clutching the ball.

    The onslaught was constant – Wednesday, rabbits in the Albion headlamps, had barely touched the ball, as pressure rained down on them. Surely, they’d crack? Baldock turned his man on the edge, shot first time, excellent tip over from Westwood.

    Another desperate lunge, another free kick, down the side of the box. Knockaert swung it in at pace – Bruno got the tiniest flick on with his bald head – and finally - finally it’s in! Lewis Dunk from a couple of feet out, volleying into the roof of the net. An absolute explosion of noise. The Amex erupted. Belief poured from the stands – not that we COULD pull this off – but that it WAS going to happen. At that moment it felt like we were unstoppable – I for one felt it with absolutely certainty.

    The Albion continued to sweep forward. Owls’ fans silenced. The North chanted “You’re shitting your pants, you’re shitting you’re pants, Sheffield Wednesday…” And they absolutely were.

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