I think I’ve mentioned before that the mighty Shots are not so mighty this season. Each game I’ve been to has been, to put it mildly, rubbish. The sort of form that makes you question your support.
Tonight we played Braintree to a small crowd of very loyal supporters. This, despite the fact that last Saturday we played a blinder, destroying Southport 5-1, the game, basically won in the first 20 minutes. Still, a cold Tuesday night in November with Champions League fixtures on the telly, is obviously a good reason to stay in the pub or curled up on the lounge at home.
So, with low expectations protecting us from disappointment, Nicktor and I joined the old faithful on the Slab. Naturally the talk was all about last Saturday, though tinged with a caution born of previous shattered hopes and dreams.
The game started well, with both teams playing determined end to end football. This came to a shattering conclusion after a mere ten minutes when Braintree were awarded a penalty. The ball was easily slotted home and the scoreboard seemed to dare our boys to do something about it.
Normally, at this point, we are more likely to capitulate than anything else but not tonight. It was only a couple of minutes later that we scored a fantastic goal from inside the box. It started as a corner, which was half cleared by the Braintree defence. Brett Williams pounced on the loose ball and, with a determined kick, made it all square. And that was about it.
While Braintree kept pushing against us, we couldn’t do anything. Every attack was repulsed, almost every pass intercepted. It was horrible football to watch…unless you were a Braintree fan. They were always looking dangerous, held up each time by our, for once, effective defence. We were all waiting for the inevitable goal.
And then came the red card. In a tackle that looked perfectly fine, Jordan Roberts was given his marching orders and the Shots were down to ten men, some of whom resembled refugees from the Battle of Waterloo. It didn’t look good, as the clock counted down to the last 12 minutes of the game.
And then, suddenly, out of nothing and surprising everyone at the match, we scored a second goal. An extraordinary header saw our team explode with happiness and extravagant celebration. Not to be outdone, the East Bank erupted as well, joining in as if they, too had knocked the ball into the net. Meanwhile, on the Slab, even the old timers showed some excitement. Even old Charlie cracked a smile – something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
And so, going into the dying moments of the game, all we had to do was hold on to the narrowest of leads. And Braintree knew we were on the back foot as they surged towards our goal in a last ditched effort to gain back, at least a point.
One massive strike rattled against the cross bar – you could almost feel the expulsion of collected breaths around the ground as it was clattered harmlessly away. A second chance was wasted as our keeper missed a catch and the ball just drifted by the post, somehow eluding the Braintree striker.
But these were nothing to the final strike. A fully struck shot, aimed straight for the goal from quite close in the box. And our keeper managed to pull off one of the best reflex saves I’ve ever seen. Leaning back and reaching high, he did the impossible and tipped the ball over the goal.
He landed a bit awkwardly and had to lie on the pitch for a bit but he was fine and lauded as the hero he was. A truly brilliant save, just when it was needed.
And that’s how the score stood at full time: 2-1 to the Shots. The disappointment for the Braintree players was obvious as some of them fell to their knees when the final whistle blew. And, really, the game should have belonged to them – they had more control, more possession, more shots on target and accurate passing – but they just couldn’t take a trick tonight. And we left the ground on a massive high.
Football may be cruel but I tell you what, it can also be incredibly exciting sometimes.