So City throw the game away to draw 1-1 against media darlings Shrewsbury in a game they should have won comfortably. City lined up: Big Kev; Pettefer, Rivaldo, Whitbread, Virgo, Hiley; Cronin, Thomas, Walker; Devine, Flack.
The game started very tentatively from both sides, with for the first twenty minutes no-one having any control, shots or anything else for that matter.
Tackles were firm, but the game looked to be heading for one of those hoof and counter-hoof affairs. However, silky Shaun Devine decided otherwise - on twenty minutes Flack and Thomas tangled with each and wrestled for the ball as both ran into the penalty area as if in a three-legged race. One of them spotted Devine lurking to the left and slipped the ball through. With a defender breathing down his neck and a keeper rushing out, Devine kept his cool and without a hint of panic shimmied right to leave the keeper left on his backside and slotted into an empty net. Further chances followed from Devine, Whitbread, Thomas and Hiley - not to mention a near own goal seconds before Divine's intervention when Flack's niggling persistence saw him rob the defender and whip in a cross from the left which another defender beat his goalie all ends up to send the ball marginally (for us) the wrong side of the post.
Shrewsbury battled on, generally second best, and gradually worked their way back into the game. As the half drew to a close, the whistle couldn't come quickly enough for me. Although Kev was virtually a spectator with only the odd routine cross to deal with, the defence were beginning to come under increasing pressure. Fortunately they prevailed and the whistle went.
Ratcliffe had obviously said a few choice half time words as Shrews came out in the second half like a bull in a china shop. City were content to hang on to their lead, hoping that this was just an early flourish to be withstood for ten minutes or so. But having nearly weathered the storm, City's luck ran out and Shrewsbury were given a deserved equaliser, albeit in massively controversial fashion. A cross from the right struck Whitbread on the arm with little opportunity for him to do anything about it, the lino gave a penalty, Jemson whacked low and hard just past the valiant dive of Kev, and it was back to square one. The game then upped the tempo, with attack and counter attack following one after the other from both sides - although our defence coped with most of theirs admirably, their keeper was easily the busier of the two.
Then City's downfall on the hour: Walker was withdrawn for Coppinger and a minute or two later City get a penalty in front of the bank for handball (although it looked to me equally as ball to hand as theirs was earlier, I have to say). Up popped Devine, coolness - or was it unease? - personified, to amble towards the ball and launch it nonchalantly into the top corner. Except he didn't. He launched it about two feet over the top corner with possibly the worst penalty I have ever seen from a City player at the Park. Although to be fair, most of our best chances had fallen to him, and most of them produced saves of note too, so it would be a tad harsh to chastise too much.
After that, City pressed for the winner, and our strikers continued to appear more likely to score than theirs. Last week minutes of injury time were required to rescue the game, so when only two were signalled today, we knew that time would run out before we could find the winner. So it proved to be as the ref ended the game even earlier than that. Damn.
So another point on the road to safety, and the unbeaten run continues - it could also be said that the run wasn't really threatened either today. However, rather than a point gained, this was definitely two points dropped. Had Walker stayed on the pitch a minute longer and been in a position to take the penalty, we would surely have won.
There were some strong performances today, notably from Flack, Thomas, Pettefer and Rivaldo. Flack won everything in the air and was a real menace hurrying defenders into playing balls they didn't want to. Thomas was a terrier in midfield, and always looking to get beyond the strikers to find a goal. He very nearly did at least twice. Pettefer was tigerish in the tackle, particularly in the first twenty minutes when his other twenty one co-professionals hadn't realised the game was underway and Rivaldo was simply immense - strong tackles, good tracking, simple balls to compatriots who were better positioned and with a real confident unflustered manner about him. The rest of the team all did OK - no one was bad, although they all could maybe have stepped it up ever so slightly. To be honest, it wouldn't have taken much of a step up to beat this Shrews team.
And 5000 at the Park - nah, 3500 so no price reductions for you lot against Boston in a fortnight. But you really ought to be there regardless. We've got two horrendously difficult games coming up now at Hartlepool and Turkey (which I think we'll be lucky to emerge with a point from those two games), so it's imperative we get behind the team for the relegation battle against Boston.
The footy's watchable, there's even some skill at times and the commitment is unquestionable. What the team need is that unquestionable commitment being reciprocated more than ever by the fans - both the team and us deserve crowds, atmosphere and a good game with a winning scoreline. Let's give 'em that in spades from here on in and make relegation a distant flirtation that troubles us no more from March onwards.
Go on, you know you really want to be there.