BLOG: SADDLE UP AND HOLD ON TIGHT BLOG: SADDLE UP AND HOLD ON TIGHT

BLOG: SADDLE UP AND HOLD ON TIGHT

In the latest of his regular blog's Hillary Street-Ender takes us back to through an emotional Tuesday evening, where the Saddlers took on Preston North End in the Second Leg of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy - Northern Area Final.
In the latest of his regular blog's Hillary Street-Ender takes us back to through an emotional Tuesday evening, where the Saddlers took on Preston North End in the Second Leg of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy - Northern Area Final.

This is the big one, the night when one more decent result will see the Saddlers make it all the way to Wembley to tread the hallowed turf for the very first time. The excellent result gained from the first leg at Deepdale has set us up very nicely but with ninety more minutes still to go no-one can afford to think that the deal is already done. There’s a feeling among some fans, me included, that if any side’s capable of buggering up from such a strong position then it’s us. Our very poor recent home form doesn’t bode well but if we can remain resolute and disciplined for just another hour-and-a-half our long-held dream of seeing the Bescot Boys run out at Wemberlee will become reality. Sure, we’ve been in the position of being one step away on four previous occasions but never have we gone into a second leg in quite such command. North End have been a bit unlucky in that their progress in the FA Cup left us without a game last weekend, giving time for niggling little injuries to clear up and allowing Deano and company to focus solely on tonight’s proceedings while the Lilywhites’ players ran a few more miles into legs that have had a busy time of late, co-inciding with a run of disappointing form. The nine thousand or so tickets available to home fans have been sold out for a good ten days and we make our way to Bescot knowing that history may just be made before our very eyes. During our run to this stage we finally managed to shake off our penalty shoot-out hoodoo so why shouldn’t our Wembley one go the same way at long, long last? I mean, blimey, even Willenhall Town have reached a Wembley final so it really is about time for us to take that last and most difficult step. Should we do it the players and coaching staff will automatically enter Saddlers folklore and we fans will finally have something that so many of us have seen as something that only happens to fans of other clubs. To see our team at Wembley would mean the world, only it’s never been for the likes of us……

There’s a crackling atmosphere all around full-to-bursting Bescot Stadium as the game gets underway and we can, maybe, put our nervousness to one side now that the moment is finally here. There have been so many occasions over the last couple of seasons when we’ve started a game well enough only to go behind at the end of our opponent’s first attack of note and a repeat of that this evening would make things unbearably tense. Preston have more attacking options than most at this level and will know that an early goal would change the whole dynamic of the evening in an instant. It seems inevitable that there’ll be an early onslaught on our goal but a whole lot of huffing and puffing amounts to not all that much and an end-to-end first half sees the Saddlers looking the more threatening of the teams. Young Romaine pretty much runs the show for us but our lack of a little bit of nous when it comes to putting through a killer pass restricts us to long-range attempts that don’t trouble Stuckmann unduly. The packed house stands to applaud our players from the pitch and we know that we’re three quarters of the way to Dreamland. Downing seems to have put his recent inconsistency behind him and deals superbly with the wily old campaigner that is Kevin Davies. The Chambo’s are setting the tone for everyone else and the evening turns into one of those rare occasions where no-one has a bad game. The second half is spent as much watching the clock as watching the game and we almost pinch the lead when Sawyers’ close-range flick draws a great stop from the North End keeper. The minutes tick away but there’s always the nagging feeling that one goal for our visitors will send our nerves into over-drive and have us chewing our nails right down to our elbows but we enter the final quarter-hour with our two-goal lead still intact and with the boys going about their business pretty comfortably, although we’ve needed O’Donnell to be at his best on a couple of occasions. The nearer we come to the final whistle the more North End throw at us and things begin to become rather fraught. They’ve probably left it all a bit too late but our goal lives something of a charmed life over the final few moments and there’s one real, old-fashioned goalmouth scramble where a couple of saves and a goal-line clearance are necessary before one attempt smacks against the crossbar and away to safety. Had one of those gone in then who knows what might have transpired?

And then the final whistle’s going and we’ve made it to Wembley after all these years and all the condescending rubbish we’ve had to endure from fans of other clubs. The thing I thought would never happen during my lifetime has become reality. I’m not in tears but it’s a very close-run thing at such an emotive moment. I’m wishing my Dad and Grandad could somehow be seeing this but I’ll just have to enjoy it on their behalf.

Tom and Albert, this is for you.

By: Hillary Street-Ender.
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