Well, some things are a whole lot clearer now, but, in many respects, the chase for promotion has become far more complicated. About as clear as mud, in many respects! I predicted a draw on Saturday, and as such, it should be far easier to accept the implausible prospect of automatic promotion now…but I can’t help but feel slightly flat. At the very least, by not being in a position to compete for the second place, it is another obvious sign of the diminishing percentages of an immediate return to the Championship. As the title of Wyn Grant’s recent post in his Addick’s Championship Diary suggests; it’s the ‘half full or half empty’ debate we face in our own minds now.
Automatic promotion may not be totally over, but asides from Swindon, Millwall and Leeds need to loose their remaining two games with us victorious in ours – given their far superior goal difference – and that is simply not going to happen. As I scrape the bottom of the barrel for some small comfort, I considered how tough it would be to miss out on promotion on the final day by the painfully narrow margin of goal difference alone. I’m not sure I’d get over that monumental blow in a hurry, and the disappointment could well have an adverse effect on the spirit and moral of the team leading in to the Play-Off’s.
I feel slightly disappointed that Saturday’s game will undoubtedly have a different feel about it now the automatic spot is highly unlikely. But despite that, on the face of it, nothing has really changed with respect to the need for an Addicks victory. We need a win to maintain our position above Huddersfield (to avoid the likelihood of playing either Leeds or Millwall in the semi’s), and to try and gain the 4th spot from Swindon (so we are likely to be at home in the second leg). In addition, Leeds will know that only a win may prove enough to keep Millwall from leapfrogging them. It is also an uncomfortable prospect knowing we will go some huge way in assisting Millwall towards gaining the second automatic spot by beating Leeds this weekend. Any Millwall fan not travelling to Tranmere on Saturday may well find their attention drawn to matters down the road, and I’d not be surprised if there was a few unusual faces spread throughout the bumper Valley crowd this Saturday cheering on the Addicks through gritted teeth. But the difficult question is which would prove the harder to accept: Millwall going straight up with our helping hand or facing a Millwall team in the Play-Off’s smarting from missing out on the second spot? Considering we’ve conceded 8 goals to our less-than-friendly neighbours, all I will say is that I wouldn’t be too sorry not to face them again this season.
From here on in we face numerous such-like juxtapositions: some easier than others to explain or rational, some harder to accept!
Even the very subject of the Play-Off’s may divide opinion. Whilst going up automatically might offer the obvious and quicker rewards of your season-long efforts and to help you hit the sun loungers before the Germans have unraveled their beach towels, the bean-counters will not be the ones jumping the highest in celebration. Whilst the club would never freely admit to it, an ideal scenario for promotion would be via the Play-Off’s so as to enjoy the all-important financial rewards of both the T.V and additional matchday revenues that will prove a welcome financial boost to the perilous Addick coffers. Memories of sub-standard performances in the not-so-distant passed left me wondering whether were going to throw away even a Play-Off place, so in this respect, I’m trying to convince myself I’m happy enough. Would I have taken this position at the start of the season? Very probable.
Of course the prospect of a glorious day out at Wembley is something every football fan should look forward to, but asides from the two-game obstacle beforehand, it is a day out I’d have happily left for others. Not now, of course. Our 98 Wembley Play-Off Final victory was one of the most emotional and mentally-tiring days of my life given that the raw emotion ranged so agonisingly back and forth from ecstasy to despair and back again. Days like that make me question whether games of such magnitude can ever be truly ‘enjoyed’ or whether they are simply an experience to ‘endure’ in the hope of the right result. You could go your whole life following football week-in, week-out and never see a game like it. Even with the cherished memories of victory, I have no burning desire to face that experience ever again, and I’d hazard a guess that amongst Addicks, I won’t be alone.
So, we are now left to consider the remaining levels of hope or the varying degrees of Play-Off failure. But in any given situation, hope is always the last thing to die, and as a proud Addick, I have plenty of hope left in me…