The events of Monday evening threw up a mixture of emotions. Since the final whistle, much has been said about various ‘what ifs’, one line of debate is the perceived unfair nature of the play-offs.
“How can a team finishing third, 15 points in front of their play-off opponents not go up?” That was the phone-in theme on talkSPORT drivetime on Tuesday night, I’m sorry but I don’t buy into this. Back in August, every team knew the rules. After 46 games if you didn’t have a top-two finish, teams three, four, five and six go into a knock-out scenario.
I didn’t hear any complaints in 1991 when Millwall arrived at the Goldstone in a similar situation to what the Albion found themselves last week? Or when we mugged both Swindon and arguably Bristol City back in 2004?
The play-offs not only generate money and excitement but extend the season for teams that otherwise would be playing ‘end of season fare’ from about March onwards.
That said, I will take to my grave a belief that circumstances have in some ways consp-ired against the Albion. Nothing will convince me to change my mind that Mike Dean has ultimately cost the Albion a place in the top flight and the £170million that comes with it.
Wrongly sending Dale Stephens off at Middlesbrough changed the course of football history. I believe he got it wrong and then the FA choked when they had the chance to right that wrong. While we will never truly know, deep down I will always believe that at 1-1 and in the ascendency, the Albion would have won at the Riverside that day and gone up automatically. From then on, it appeared that the footballing gods collectively conspired against the Albion, no Stephens reprieve, four serious injuries at Hillsborough and then a goal for Wednesday at the Amex that was clearly a foul and should have been ruled out.
Again, ifs and buts, but no Wednesday equaliser and I’ve no doubt the Albion would have pushed on and got three, perhaps even more goals. We will never know, Mike Dean will have to explain himself to every Albion fan he meets for the rest of his life, and we can only think of what might have been. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so now is the time to regroup and move forward.
In Chris Hughton, we clearly have the best manager in the Championship, now is the time for Tony Bloom to really back him with an extensive transfer war chest, with automatic promotion next season the ultimate goal. The season and in particular the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions, ostensibly I’m still that eight-year-old boy from 1973, fanatical and passionate, and still gutted about the cards, particularly the red one from Mr Dean, the Albion have been dealt.
If I needed a sense of perspective, it came on Tuesday morning when watching the video of Andrew Lock’s press statement on the steps of Lewes Crown Court at the end of his father’s killer’s trial. Words cannot truly describe what the Lock family have been through, and how they’ve been let down by the system. I’m not ashamed to say that his final sentence in his very emotional speech brought both a smile and a tear.
“We love you dad, up the Albion”. Rest in Peace Don. And we will all certainly raise a glass to you at that first game in the Premier League.
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