I comforted myself with the thought that we'd probably feel quite good after the Watford match so it would probably be a close and entertaining game. I privately felt we'd get a point and I would have been happy with that if the performance was good. At sixteen minutes to three in the afternoon, we took our seats with our programmes in our hands (mine were already starting to chill as my gloves were in the glove box back in Chorley), we then listened to the announcement of the starting line ups. I smiled encouragingly at my son but internally I heard a low groan when the word Knight (mare) rang out around the stadium. I thought "Rhodes will think Christmas came early" and I prepared myself for a painful afternoon of trying to find ways to console myself and my lad after Jordan Rhodes had finished savaging Zat on his way to a hat trick. Just goes to show what I know eh?
As the game kicked off, the ground was fairly quiet but that didn't last long. I watched with mounting disbelief as Zat Knight calmly turned Rhodes into his personal bunny and our midfield made the dingles look like Accrington Stanley reserves. Mavies in particular had a field day and when we went one nil up the only surprise was it took so long. The roar of joy and relief around the 'Bok was only the start. As half time approached memories of all the times we've conceded right after the break and our heads have dropped crowded into my mind and I began to silently pray that today would be the exception. I needn't have worried. A second goal for us just before the break sent the crowd including me into paroxysms of sheer delight and when the lads went off for half time we sang ourselves hoarse.
For the first time in a long while I felt something special was on the cards but that bogeyman of conceding in the first few minutes of the second half was laughing in the back of my mind all through those fifteen long minutes.
But just two minutes into the second half he shut up once and for all because there was a goal but it was OUR team that scored it! Joy of joys! Three nil up! Surely we had this one in the bag now, surely not even dugout Doug could find a way to throw this away could he? Substitutions always cause butterflies in my tummy when it's Dougie making them but again I need not have worried. He made precisely the right changes at exactly the right moment. All through the rest of that half we stroked the ball around, we toyed with Blackburn and what few attacks they had were disdainfully crushed by a defence that suddenly made the Great Wall of China look like a sheet of wet tissue paper when just a few weeks ago they'd have been about as solid as a politician's promise.
Then in injury time, as blue and white dingles were already heading for the exits in droves we put a full stop on our superiority by casually, almost contemptuously brushing their entire team aside to sweep in a fourth goal. By now I was wearing a grin that made me look like i might be technically cretinous and I'd lost my voice. I didn't care that my fingers were freezing, that my throat felt like someone had rubbed it with heavy duty sandpaper or that at least six people stood on my toes as we tried to get out of the stadium after applauding the lads off.
The verdict was in:
Dougie got everything right, the selection, tactics, formation and even the substitutions in a performance that has to rank right up there with some of the best I've ever seen in almost forty years of following the Trotters.
All the players deserved five stars, it was impossible to pick a man of the match because everyone performed superbly. I personally gave it to Danns but only by a hair, Mavies, Juke, Mason, even Knight could have taken it without any argument from me. Bogdan made a superb save in the dying seconds to keep a clean sheet and it was the least he deserved because he too did everything right today.
As we headed back down the slope to the train station my son said he hasn't seen me grin like that since I was exchanging vows with Wendy and when I asked what he meant by that he said I looked like Forrest Gump with a box of chocolates! I must have been in a VERY good mood because he's still alive.
All in all this was without doubt the best I've seen us play all season. For the first time in what seems like forever it was fun to be a Trotter again and even more fun to get home and speak to my dingle supporting brother with a very smug grin on my face.