Where do we go from here? Just about anywhere
We sat comfortably in 10th place. Not bad for a team predicted to finish in the bottom 3. This isn’t complacency, but I was more than confident that my team would collect the 50 points predicted to almost guarantee mathematically that we wouldn’t go down. January’s 4 wins in 6 games had been great, but February would be a challenge.
We’d start the month at home to Preston, who we had beaten away from home in 2016, with a last minute goal. In a desperate relegation battle, Preston would scrap for points, and perhaps my own naivety would cost us. A back and forth game, Preston would take the lead, before Sam Winnall equalised. Simon Makienok would get Preston ahead again, before Conor Hourihane equalised once again. Finally, Ryan Kent would get us ahead, only for us to concede again to Simon Makienok a few minutes later. 3-3. A fun game for the neutral, but an annoying game for me. To make matters worse, Winnall, who had been so instrumental as a false 9 in recent games, picked up a knock, and would be out for a week or two.
Our away trip to Reading would be next, and whilst Reading were below us in the table, they were by far the odds on favourites. We would defend well, with reserve striker Elliot Lee coming into the side and scoring for us in a 1-1. Another point on the road, giving us one of the best records away from home in the league! We remained in 10th.
The harsh realities
Away to Villa. Top of the League Aston Villa. It’s hardly a fair match up. The quality would be there for all to see, as Villa played us off the park. They’ve got a huge budget, and a Premier League team, and for all my dreams of being the plucky underdogs, we were taught a valuable lesson with regards to how far we’ve got to go before we become a regular competitor at the top of the league, let alone the Premier League. Again implementing their 3232 system, Villa dominated the chances created, and it was no surprise to lose by a mighty 3-0. An own goal from Aiden White, and a goal a piece from Jordan Ayew and Ross McCormack ended a miserable afternoon in Birmingham.
It downright sucked…
Brighton at home would be a matter of days later, and we had to move quickly to get over the disappointment of the Villa game. Brighton’s season had come a little undone, as an early title and promotion push had come crashing down, with the seaside team now sitting 3 places below us in 13th. I was expecting a tough game…I was wrong.
With Winnall back in the false 9 role, and with us set to counter (I have found we seem to play more attacking, and with greater movement on this…) we went at Brighton. In the third minute, left back Aiden White (who would by the MOTM) found himself played through by Hourihane, shooting to the far corner, which Stockdale palmed into his own net. 1-0!
Brighton showed no signs of life, and we continued our offensive. We were fluid and creative, and it was no surprise that Hourihane, captain fantastic, would slot home another fantastic effort from outside the box (as he had done last month), proving why Watford had taken interest, before Kent finalised the game with a third.
Goodbye my love.
We’d finish the month against Huddersfield, at home. After the Brighton game I was confident, but I didn’t expect the tragedy to befall us. Let me first say that we played fantastic. Winnall once again led the line, and it was he who made the difference, as 2 goals from him gave us a vital 2-0, which not only gave us bragging rights, but also saw us rise up the table to 7th, a point off vital 6th playoff position.
The tragedy would happen in the 3rd minute. A nasty, NASTY tackle on our precious Ryan Kent would see the youngster taken out of the game…the assessment being one heartbreaking…
Kent was gone…his injury would take him out of the rest of the campaign, and beyond his contract with us. 32 appearances, 9 goals, he had been crucial this season, and I was sad to see him go. He offered us much pace out wide, and a directness that we sometimes needed. We would miss him, that would be for sure…
7th place was not to be sniffed at though, and with the season coming to an end in the next few months, it would be important for the likes of Hammill and Maddison to step up in the wake of Kent being out. Maddison especially would have to do better, having been a bit of a bit part player, having come back from his own injury problems.
We go again…but we will forever remember Ryan Kent.