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Rob Ridgway's "Rat Pack"

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James, thanks for the reply and for the catch. There have been a number of financial references in recent posts ... Marchie, I appreciate your ongoing interest as well!


Tuesday, February 3

It’s official. Patty is leaving again.

At least I had the weekend to worry about it before she told me. She’ll leave Friday for Los Angeles, right as we leave for Manchester and the match with United on Saturday.

She broke the news to me as we woke up this morning. It just confirmed her words of the other day, but at least now I know where we stand.

“It’s too good to turn down, Rob,” she said, by way of consolation. “I won’t be gone long.”

“Three weeks is a long time,” I said. “At least to me.”

She nuzzled me softly – which felt marvelous but left me with the feeling of one condemned when it was done. “Honey, I told you before – I love you and nothing is going to change that. It’s just a business trip.”

“I know,” I said, moving to my side to touch her face. “But can’t a husband miss his wife?”

“We’ve been through so much lately, Rob,” she replied, returning my soft touch. “I think we both could use a little time to decompress and just return our lives back to normal. Nothing is going to change, I promise you that – but we should just relax a bit.”

“I’m clinging to you?” I asked. “Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“We’re clinging to each other,” she replied.

I frowned. “Baby, I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” I said. “Honestly. We’ve just had a serious loss in our family and I don’t see what’s wrong with being together – as a family.”

“Rob, you’re going to Manchester this weekend,” she reminded me. “You were at Bolton last weekend. I can’t go with you on those trips and you know it. Then next weekend you go back to the northwest, I think to Liverpool for the FA Cup. You’re going to be gone every bit as much as I am over the next few weeks – so honestly, what is the issue?”

I looked away from her. “Pure selfishness, I suppose,” I said.

# # #

I headed to training with a heavy heart. I do support my wife’s career, and I do need to stand back while she spreads her wings. Deep down, though, I’m simply not ready for her to leave.

For me, it’s too soon after losing the baby, and I just need Patty near me. I’ve admitted a few things to myself after meeting with Christie Boyle, and the honesty with myself has really helped.

It’s going to be a long few weeks to have her gone – and during a very high-profile portion of our fixture list. I’ll be on my own.

As sad as I am over Patty’s second leavetaking, after leaving for the ground what I wanted and needed was to be alone. As a result, I didn’t set foot on the training ground – a very rare thing for me.

Some managers leave training entirely to their backroom staffs, and above all to their assistant managers. I have never felt that way. If it’s my rear end that’s on the line for results, I owe it to myself – as well as to my players – to be on the pitch watching from up close to see who deserves to play.

This means I tend to rely on staff for day-to-day tasks some managers handle in exchange for avoiding training. Paula Ryan has been wonderful in that job since giving me the proverbial kick up the backside a few months ago, and I appreciate it. I get to concentrate on the football, which is where I find my joy.

Or rather, what passes for it at times. I’m taking this surprisingly hard, and while it’s natural to have that feeling, I also have to realize I’m going to go nuts if I don’t get past it in a hurry.

So for me, the best way to do that was to go upstairs and watch training. Dillon didn’t mind the extra responsibility – in fact, he made a gentle comment about finally getting to do his job – so I simply kept to myself for the day.

# # #

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Thanks, Mousey! I appreciate your loyal readership :)


Wednesday, February 4

When it rains in this business, it pours.

There were two Premiership matches today that were important to us and neither of them went the way we had hoped they might. To make matters worse, now I’m looking for a goalkeeper.

First things first. Federici injured his right knee in training today and will miss a minimum of 6-8 weeks. I have no qualified reserve keeper at this point – so my decision to release Marcus Hahnemann at the beginning of the season will now come under scrutiny.

From a financial standpoint it was the thing to do. And of course we have Lobont, who has played as well as any keeper in the Premiership on his day. Yet that doesn’t make things any easier, especially as we prepare to head to United this weekend for a clutch road game that is suddenly even more important.

It’s important because we’re now fourth after the results of today. Arsenal played at Bolton and not only scored, they won thanks to a brace from Robin van Persie. Emanuel Adebayor and Maxi Rodriguez also scored for the Gunners to overcome El-Hadji Diouf’s brace for the home team.

More damaging, Liverpool picked up goals from Fernando Torres and Peter Crouch to extend West Brom’s winless streak in the league to 14 in a 2-0 win. Arsenal is now second, United is third, we’re fourth and Liverpool is now caught up with the pack at the top of the league. Chelsea is still top by two points, but they have a match in hand.

The league is very tight, with second through fifth in a virtual dead heat. Yet mistakes will be very costly down the stretch in more ways than one, since of course only the top four get consideration for the Champions League. The fifth-place finisher gets Europe in the form of the UEFA Cup, but it’s obviously not the same.

Things are looking pretty good for us in terms of getting into Europe, which is something I wish the pundits would realize. Even if we can’t break the stranglehold of the Big Four, we do have the ability to spin some money in Europe next season for the first time in the club’s history if we can finish strong. Manchester City’s good midseason run of form is cooling at the moment and if we can keep playing well, we look like good value to raise our profile a bit.

Yet right now, I have one qualified senior keeper. I’m going to have to do something, and quickly.

# # #

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Ah, the keeper issue. Annoying ....


Patty got another letter from Peter McGuire’s attorney today. Thankfully, it didn’t cause the same reaction in her that the last one might have done – but she was still quite upset nonetheless.

She spent the evening packing for her trip, while I helped her and kept an eye on the television at the same time.

I suppose there is really nothing else for it. I should just accept it and wait for it all to be over. By the time she gets back, I’ll probably be ready to explode from all the pressure and it’ll be even nicer than usual to see her.

As she packed, though, she kept looking back at the letter, which had a few additional questions for her regarding the deposition she’ll have to give.

The letter had thankfully gone to her attorney as well, but she was carbon-copied on the contents and that only served to raise her redhead’s temper.

“I swear I could just hit him again,” she said, as she packed several of her favorite blouses into a suitcase.

“I could hold onto him for you,” I volunteered, but it didn’t even draw a smile from her.

“You’d have to hold onto him tight,” she said. “I have a lot of slapping to do. You might get tired of that.”

Patty’s thoughts of physical violence against McGuire were a bit disquieting for someone of her usually gentle personality. “Honey, the truth will come out in court,” I said. “You’ll tell what happened truthfully and after that’s done it’ll be over.”

“What if that’s not enough for me, Rob?” she asked. “What if I don’t like how this comes out?”

“What’s not to like?” I asked. “Surely he’s going to get what’s coming to him.”

“What if she doesn’t hurt him enough?” she replied. “What if he doesn’t get hurt like he hurt me?”

I shook my head. “Then you let it go, like you did with Paul,” I said. “Really, Patty, there’s no sense in playing eye-for-an-eye here. He’s going to be out of your life before too much longer since I don’t think you have any desire to let him back in. Right?”

“Right,” she said firmly. A frown creased her pretty forehead, and she stopped to brush a stray lock of hair out of her eyes.

“Do you really think he’d try?” she asked.

# # #

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And the winner is ....


Wednesday, February 4

With the January window closed, we’ve figured out a solution to the Federici problem.

With my second choice keeper now ready to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his medial collateral ligament, we signed our former trialist Jens Lehmann on a free transfer for the rest of the season.

Lehmann sounded quite unlike the opinionated keeper who built a real love-or-hate relationship at Arsenal. He wants to finish his career on a winner and if he doesn’t see the field, that’s fine with him. Or, so he says.

“I’d accept a backup role to Lobont,” the German told me when we spoke by phone this morning. I know Reading needs a keeper and I’m happy to be the one you need.”

“Perfect,” I said, noting that a discussion on terms would have to be had.

“It won’t even be expensive,” Lehmann promised. “You treated me well on trial, you did what you had to do when I got injured and I didn’t forget it. I’m healed now, my injury is fine, and I’m ready to do my part.”

“Especially against Arsenal,” I smiled.

“Especially against Arsenal,” he agreed. “Unfortunately, even though Wenger is a great manager, we did not agree at the end. I would like a chance to prove him wrong.”

“Then get over here for a medical,” I said. “Let’s make sure you’re okay. I’d to have you on the bench for United this weekend.”

“Another team I wouldn’t mind helping you beat,” he laughed. “I will be there by lunchtime.”

And he was.

# # #

The media speculation is back with Reading now traveling to face its former manager.

The excitement level generated by the teams in the first match here in Reading has helped with the hype for the rematch, as the emotion of the afternoon, especially on our side, made for some interesting viewing. It wasn’t always the best football in the world, especially from our point of view as we lost a big lead, but for the neutral it was pretty gripping stuff.

There aren’t many neutrals where United is concerned. You either love them or you don’t. We, on the other hand, have the advantage of going into the road tie as distinct underdogs and national underdogs as well. More than a few people in England who are tired of the Big Four’s dominance are starting to jump on our bandwagon, and the way I can tell is by the mail I get.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that I’ve gotten a few letters from Leeds this weekend. The Yorkshire club, which has fallen on hard times financially, still detests our opponents for the weekend. So the urgings I’m getting from Leeds faithful are as strident as they are inspirational.

One of them was perhaps a bit too colorful for my liking, but the sentiment it expressed was certainly one hundred percent appropriate for my team. “Beat them,” the letter said, before a foray into the world of less appropriate language. “Since we won’t be able to for a couple of years yet.

My gaggle today was finally centered on the match, and that was welcome to me. “The last match you played was epic,” Weatherby informed me. “Surely you aren’t looking for a repeat of that sort of match on their ground?”

“Quite right, Jill,” I admitted. “If we go up there with the idea of getting in a shootout with them, we’re doomed as sure as we’re standing here. I keep telling people that we are still a work in progress and despite all that, we’re still expected to go up there and grab some sort of result. I’ll tell you this – if this group of players plays the way it can, then we have a chance of doing that. But if we go up there with the idea of grabbing a 3-0 lead there like we did here when we played, we’re not only going to be sorely disappointed, we’re going to get beat. Flat out.”

“What effect will having Bikey out of the lineup have on you?”

“First, I should say that I have every confidence in Andrea Gaspari,” I said. “He’s been getting some stick from our supporters for not setting the world on fire since he got here. But the fact of the matter is that we have a settled pairing in central defense and Gaspari is still a player for our future. He’s going to get his big chance on Saturday and I have every reason to believe he’s going to do well. He’s going to have his hands full – we all are – but there’s a reason he’s in the Premiership and that reason is that he can play football. I’m sure he’s looking forward to showing you all on Saturday.”

Word had also reached them about Lehmann by my briefing time. “Will he make your traveling squad?” I was asked.

“Yes, if he’s in good enough physical shape to be signed,” I said. “I have every reason to believe he is. We kept tabs on him after his trial ended here and let’s just say he wasn’t far from our thoughts when the need arose.”

# # #

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Just got back from my holiday and one of the things I needed to do is catch up with this antastic story. KUTGW 10-3

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Thanks, Salkster ... great to have you back on thread!


Thursday, February 5

The decision I have to make is whether I play 4-5-1 against United. It’s the same discussion I had before the Liverpool match on Boxing Day.

We got a 1-1 draw out of Anfield on the day after Christmas and to do it, I had a long and hard thought about sacrificing the understanding we’ve worked all season to build with the 4-1-3-2 formation. In the end, I stayed with what we knew. It wasn’t pretty, but we got a draw.

So with that in mind, I spent the morning tinkering with formations, while Dillon again took training with the senior squad. I’m having the same internal debate all over again.

Some good news for us today - Pogatetz finally resumed full training today after missing two months with his knee injury. He’s obviously not ready to step back into the eleven yet – he’s going to play in at least one reserve match before that happens and he’ll have to show me he can do it without a setback – but getting him back will be a huge help to us.

Nothing against Rosenior, of course, but Pogatetz was starting to come into his own before he got hurt. To have him and Dagoberto out at the same time was a real challenge for us, and it was a real eye-opener for some at the club as to the depth issues I mentioned earlier in this narrative.

We don’t have much. Those two injuries exposed us.

So now, with the race at the top of the league tighter than it has been in many a year, we’re getting two of our best players back just in time for crunch time. I like that idea. We’re due for a couple of breaks.

Yet I can only pencil in one of those players – Dagoberto – for Saturday. We make do where we need to make do, and we make sure everyone in the squad knows their value before we head north.

After this match, we’re down to only two matches remaining against Big Four opponents and they are both at home. We have Arsenal and Liverpool left to go and after the FA Cup tie against Liverpool our fixture list tends to favor us a little more.

Stay the course. That’s the important thing now.

# # #

Patty and I had a very quiet night at home.

We both had things on our minds. My mind was fixed on her leaving tomorrow for Los Angeles. Her mind was fixed on my leaving for Manchester.

That put us at cross-purposes, I supposed. So while we thought about things this evening, it seemed to me a good idea to talk things through instead before it was too late.

“You know, this isn’t good,” I said, and she looked across the living room at me.

“Hmm?” she answered, looking up from her book.

“I said, this isn’t good. We’re going our separate ways tomorrow and we’re hardly talking to each other.”

“Won’t make it any easier,” she said, and suddenly I understood a bit of what she was feeling.

“No, but then I won’t feel alone until tomorrow,” I smiled, and she put down her book.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” she said, a smile crossing her pretty face for the first time that night. She crossed over to my side of the living room and sat in my lap.

“I was just waiting for you to say something,” she teased, as I reached up to smooth her hair.

“You can say something too,” I protested, but she hushed me by melting into my arms.

“We have one night,” she said. “So let’s make it count, okay?”

# # #

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Friday, February 6

Patty flew out this morning. Actually, we both did.

I went to Heathrow to drop her off and then met my team for our own trip to the Northwest about an hour later.

Last night we had a chance to kiss and make up, so to speak, and the experience was lovely, but as she left today I didn’t exactly have a feeling of confidence about having her gone. Last time she went to Hollywood she wound up in the papers over McGuire’s divorce and of course, the miscarriage made it a trip we would both rather forget.

I can see her wanting to go to have a positive experience after the way her first trip ended, but then with the attention she’ll surely get from her IMG friends on the West Coast, a good time is just about guaranteed.

Good for Patty, in that respect. She needs it and she deserves it. I do wish I could share it with her, but that isn’t my lot at the moment. My lot is trying to figure out how to take points off Manchester United.

Gaspari was quiet the whole way up today. It now looks like he’s going to be matched against Carlos Tévez tomorrow and that’s enough to give any young defender reason to pause. Yet, good players rise up to challenges and I didn’t need to remind him of that fact as we flew northward.

In fact, the whole team was quiet. Dare I say, we were focused. The usual banter of the road wasn’t there for much of the day today, because we all know what our task is tomorrow. It involves doing a job that will mark our arrival on the big stage – gaining much needed points at perhaps the hardest place for a visiting team to win in the English game.

I’m looking forward to the challenge. My players had better be as well.

# # #

Not surprisingly, the national press that is converging on Manchester to cover the match is doing so while composing the funeral dirge for our season.

The “Big Four” is starting to assert itself in the standings. Defeat to United tomorrow will knock us out of the top four for the first time since the second match of the season, when taking four points out of our first six on offer had us in sixth place.

For the record, our low point was thirteenth place after the opening draw with Chelsea, but both teams seem to have recovered nicely from that.

They more than we, unfortunately.

# # #

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Great story 10-3, have just caught up with it all. The lovey-dovey stuff between Rob and Patty can be a tad sickening at times though...how about them actually having a fully blown argument like the rest of us poor married souls do??? :-) Seriously, great story though.

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Great story 10-3, have just caught up with it all. The lovey-dovey stuff between Rob and Patty can be a tad sickening at times though...how about them actually having a fully blown argument like the rest of us poor married souls do??? :-) Seriously, great story though.

So true, so true :D

Even though I want Rob to do well, I hope United win :p

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Interesting that comment should be made right at the moment ... with regard to the character of Patty Ridgway, I've had people write me to say they wouldn't read the story if anything happened to her. So I'm in a bit of a quandry ...


We had a brief run-through at Old Trafford this afternoon, and just looking around the place – even with no opposing players – gives me a sense of what we’re up against.

The giant Nike swoosh that adorns the seats in the East Stand is just one example of United’s corporate power. As for the AIG logo that adorns their shirts … well, let’s just say that not every example of corporate power is positive.

But the point is that this place represents the pinnacle. As much as competitors such as ourselves would try to have fans believe otherwise, until someone else can match the record of success our hosts have in the Premiership, there’s really no other way to describe the Theatre of Dreams.

Far and away the largest club ground in Britain, Old Trafford used to hold a lot more – as did many of the country’s great old stadia until Heysel and Hillsbrough. So to see 75,000 seats – over three times our listed capacity at the moment – staring back at us was a bit daunting to think about.

But in the end, of course, the object is the same. They have to score more than we do to get three points. So “localizing” the match into a battle between their eleven and ours is of paramount importance in my view.

After our workout, I gathered the team around me in the center circle at the grand old place. “It’s all about Reading versus United tomorrow – and it’ll be decided right here,” I said, pointing downward into the center circle. “Not up there” – as I waved to the stands.

“We’ve been through a stretch where we’ve struggled to find our game,” I added. “Tomorrow we show what we have learned. I have every confidence in your ability to get a result. You scored four times against them at our place and I have no doubt you can find a way to goal here too. So let’s relax, and concentrate on showing the country what you’ve learned in the last few weeks.”

I received nods of understanding from the eighteen players in the traveling squad and the two players along as emergency replacements. It was a nice training session and hopefully it will translate into a result that we need tomorrow.

# # #

My hotel room phone rang at 1:45 a.m. Sunday morning. It was Patty, calling to tell me she had arrived safely in Los Angeles.

“A long day,” she sighed. “Flight delays, waiting for things, you know how it is.”

“Not for some time,” I admitted, rubbing sleep out of my eyes to concentrate on the conversation.

“Ready for tomorrow?” she asked. “The match is on television tomorrow on Fox Soccer Channel so I’ll be up bright and early to watch it.”

Bright and early indeed – a noon kickoff in Manchester meant she would be up at 4:00 a.m. Pacific time to watch.

“Sure you want to do that?” I asked. “I mean really, isn’t that why a DVR was invented?”

“I want to watch live,” she said. “If I can’t be there with you, I’d at least like to watch along with you.”

That was sweet, and I told her so. We hung up the phone, and nearly 5,300 miles away, Patty received a visitor.

“Come on, let’s go get a cup of coffee,” Martin said. “And then we need to have a long talk.”

# # #

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But something did happen to Patty, twice, (car crash, miscarriage).

You always leave us wanting more, now I want to know what this long talk is about :D

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10-3. it took about a week of reading, but i'm all caught up...so .....um.....please make with the typing of more words please.... great story.

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ksoja and Larakin, welcome to the Rat Pack, by the way ... you're just in time for the big match :)


Saturday, February 7

Manchester United (15-4-6, 3rd place) v Reading (13-9-3, 4th place) – EPL Match Day #26

Remember all those seats I mentioned yesterday? We saw a few of them today – empty.

That was a bit surprising. But as we took the pitch at the Theatre of Dreams this afternoon the place was almost ten percent short of capacity.

That can’t have made the Glazers very happy – but it meant seven thousand fewer voices working against us. The word reached me in the tunnel prior to the match that the place wasn’t full, and I smiled in spite of myself.

The fans who usually occupy those seats must have thought the result would be a foregone conclusion. In that regard, they weren’t far removed from the national media, which expressed itself in the form of Setanta Sports’ Hopkins before the match.

Speaking live on their pre-match show, he asked me point-blank if we could recover from a loss today. My answer was perfunctory.

“Bobby, ask me after the match,” I said. “I have no intention of losing today and the only way I’ll consider your question is if they’ve got more on the scoreboard than we do when it’s all said and done.”

He apologized when the red light was off but when I asked him why he had even asked the question in the first place, he gave me the answer I sought – fairly and honestly.

“The producers think it’s ending today for you,” he said. “If I’m honest, I have to get your reaction to that thinking with a live microphone. I know better than to ask such questions usually but that is the angle people expect today.”

“Football is a funny game, Bobby,” I said, my face reddening slightly at the slight both my players and their manager had received on national television. “Usually, you never know what to say or write until after the match is over.”

With that, I headed back to the dressing rooms to tell my players exactly what I had been asked, and exactly how I had answered.

# # #

The lineup of players in the tunnel was done in virtual silence. Players who knew each other exchanged handshakes and I had a quiet word with Coppell at the end of the line.

The first time I had seen him it was much more informal, with the Reading minnows shockingly in a position of prominence in the league. Now, 26 matches into a 38-match season, there was a lot more on the line.

We were trying to hang around. United was trying to cement a position they surely felt was theirs by right. The mood was a lot different.

“They’re playing well, Rob,” Coppell said by way of greeting.

“Thanks, Steve. So are you,” I answered, shaking his hand firmly. He and I are cut from more or less the same cloth – no nonsense in terms of our approach to the game, though I have a tendency to show emotion much more readily than my counterpart.

“Good luck to you,” he offered.

“And the same to you,” I replied.

That was it. The lines began to move, and despite seven thousand empty seats, the Theatre of Dreams still welcomed the teams with a full-blooded roar.

# # #

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But something did happen to Patty, twice, (car crash, miscarriage).

You always leave us wanting more, now I want to know what this long talk is about :D

What he said - Here's hoping for a good result for Mr. Ridgway and his charges :D

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Thanks, Dan! Now on to the kickoff ...


Entering the pitch from the corner between the Stretford End and the East Stand, United’s heroes got a full roar from the hardest core of their support. No empty seats to be found there, for sure.

I once dreamed of defending the Stretford End as an active player, but now my job was to attack it wearing a different set of colors. My mind was completely fixed on purpose as I tossed my overcoat over the railing leading to the visitors’ dugout. Coppell took his seat high up in the home dugout, as was his custom, while I straightened my tie and proceeded to lead my team from my usual location – the edge of my technical area.

Problem is, at a place like Old Trafford, the edge of my technical area is a bit … shall we say … exposed. The first time I manage in any away location, I suppose I’ll get stick from the home supporters for the way I like to conduct my business. That was certainly the case here, as the United support behind the visiting bench really let me have it.

Didn’t matter to me, though – I had one purpose today and it sure wasn’t to please the home support. In the end, I elected to go with two strikers from the get-go – no 4-5-1 for this manager, even in a place like this – and opted to play to the strengths of my team rather than react to the strengths of my opposition.

Gaspari stood tall in the early going, thank goodness. Matched one-on-one with Tévez, the young Italian held his own, and actually made the first significant play of the match defensively. He spoiled the Argentinan’s turn at the top of our box thirteen minutes into the match, deflecting Tévez’s effort behind for a corner.

The two-striker approach, coupled with a careful passing attack, seemed to work well for us in terms of keeping possession – frankly a shocking thing to consider especially at Old Trafford.

The slower, deliberate style seemed to suit both teams well – as Coppell and I engaged in a bit of a tactical duel. My time in Calcio appeared to stand me in good stead – so where is Emiliani when I really need him? – and as we reached the halfway mark of the first half both sides had had only two half-chances apiece.

But then, things started to open up, and we were the team to make the first move. Kalou did what he is best at doing – embarking on a long excursion down the opponent’s right flank leaving a trail of exasperated defenders in his wake – before looking up and seeing Kitson rumbling his way into the center of the United defense. Given another start in the raider position, Kalou still found time to work the left flank.

Kalou shifted his weight to the right, zipped inside sharply and lifted a wonderful cross that had Kitson’s forehead in its crosshairs. Dave rose confidently and smashed a header toward Edwin van der Sar’s right post – but the Dutch keeper showed amazing anticipation, diving at full stretch to palm the effort to safety.

Kitson threw his head back in frustration and play continued, with Mikael Silvestre launching a counterattack down the right, with that Ronaldo fellow right in the thick of things.

With Kalou trapped in deep and Hunt nowhere to be seen, Rosenior moved to challenge the Portuguese wing wizard, and Ronaldo went around him like he wasn’t there. I had seen this pattern before.

Hunt raced back to help out, though, and by the time he arrived on the scene Rosenior had recovered sufficiently to take Ronaldo’s first option, Michael Carrick, out of the mix by getting in his passing lane. Pazienza moved smoothly to a deeper position to help support as Ronaldo finally was brought to heel deep on our half.

But that didn’t stop him. Ronaldo did a little backheel to escape Kalou, cut sharply to the middle to take on Pazienza, and launched a drive from twenty-five yards that had a ticket for Lobont’s top right corner.

Ronaldo was already celebrating – but the goalkeeper had other ideas. Reaching behind him, Lobont tipped over with an acrobatic move that might well have been the save of our season. Ronaldo’s brilliance had been checked by “The Cat”, and both sets of supporters rose to their feet in appreciation of some wonderful football.

That signaled much more open play – which, on the road, didn’t exactly suit me. A shootout wasn’t on the cards from my point of view, but as the teams moved freely up and down the pitch, it was what we were stuck with. United was dictating the tempo, and while we had the offensive nous to hang with them, it was certainly not the style I preferred.

I turned to Dillon and together we thought about ways to get our possession game back. They were pressing us heavily at the back, with the clear goal being to rattle Gaspari. That didn’t surprise me – I would have done the same thing had I been in Coppell’s shoes.

However, Gaspari wasn’t going to bend. He was very good, and once Coppell and his staff saw that my import was on his game, they switched to something else.

In this case, “something else” was named Rosenior, and he was having a very difficult time against Ronaldo. But then, who doesn’t? The only thing I could do in this case was have Kalou help defensively – but at the cost of my best wing player on the offensive half of the pitch. Ronaldo was changing the game and it had nothing to do with him getting on the scoresheet.

Then we countered them at the half hour and took off some of the pressure, with Ferreira’s ball sending away our new right-sided midfielder.

Maloney was restored to the eleven and he took off down the right with Patrice Evra now trying to figure out where that turn of pace had come from. Maloney looked up and saw the other side of the strike combination, Dagoberto, slipping free of Nemanja Vidic and starting his run.

Maloney’s cross was just as good as Kalou’s had been. Unfortunately, it never reached Dagoberto, who went down in a heap under a challenge from Vidic’s central defense partner, Rio Ferdinand.

We all jumped up at the same time and I waved my arms frantically for a penalty. Steve Bennett wasn’t interested, though, which was unfortunate. I certainly was, as Old Trafford claimed yet another visiting team’s penalty shout.

Now it was end-to-end stuff again, entertaining for the fans and the neutrals but positively nerve-wracking for the visiting manager, who was trying his best not to show it.

Bennett blew for halftime and I had a word with the fourth official as the teams headed for the changing rooms.

“He missed it,” I said simply. “Dagoberto looked like he had been eaten by Mount Rushmore.”

That drew a smile, but cut no ice. At least we were still level.

# # #

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“Play with composure,” I told the players at halftime. “We’re in a great position here. We can attack them, we should have scored through Kitson and we should have had a penalty through Dagoberto. I like how we’re playing, but I want us to see more of the ball. Then we can smash and grab.”

The impressive Darron Gibson chose the second half to make his statement on the game, though, playing a fine match in the center of United’s midfield. His one-on-one duel with Pazienza was great stuff, with the youngster dragging a well-taken effort just wide of Lobont’s right post seven minutes after the restart to get my heart back in my throat where it belonged.

Yet, as in the first half, we didn’t buckle and that made me very proud of my charges. We were back at them moments later, with Kalou skimming van der Sar’s crossbar three minutes after Gibson’s raid, setting up the prospect of a tasty second half indeed.

I wanted the match to go back to tactics – our 4-1-3-2 holding out nicely against Coppell’s 4-4-2 with hyper-aggressive wing play. Of course, Ronaldo drives all that, which is the ultimate luxury to have.

I had no qualms about sticking with the base formation as by this point in the match it was clearly giving as good as it got.

On seventy minutes, though, United tried again. This time the excellent Patrice Evra overlapped with John O’Shea and assumed a midfield role, a bit odd for one of the world’s best left-sided full backs. However, seeing O’Shea in that position in the first half was equally odd considering the bench options Coppell had available to him, but this immediately made United more dangerous in the attacking third.

This time O’Shea and Evra worked against Maloney and Ferreira on our right flank and it was Maloney they turned. Evra cut inside, took a wall pass from Gibson, and struck a scorcher at Lobont that even “The Cat” couldn’t stop, finding the far left corner of his net to put United into the lead twenty minutes from time.

Old Trafford now had something to cheer about and from my point of view it was seventy minutes of hard work down the drain. Now we had to think of something else, with the defeat we couldn’t afford now staring us plainly in the face.

After the goal, Coppell immediately pulled Gibson from the match in favor of Darren Fletcher, while I held three fingers up while standing on the touchline, indicating I wanted 4-3-3. Without a word, I pointed to Lita and Faé on the bench, and both players sprung into action, having already started their second half warmups.

I made the switch on 76 minutes, with Hunt and Kitson making way for the two players, putting me in the 4-3-3 formation that has been so deadly for us late on in matches. Dagoberto and Faé supported our supersub as attacking midfielders, with Kalou and Maloney acting as “double raiders” from the central positions supported by Pazienza.

Then, on 78 minutes, it happened. Coppell took off Ronaldo.

The reaction from the United support – not to mention Ronaldo himself – was one of breathless bewilderment. They hardly applauded the introduction of Jonny Evans in his place, and from my standpoint, I could see no ill effect that might have led to the move.

All I did was breathe a sigh of relief. A very difficult task had been reduced to merely difficult, and for that I was thankful.

We piled forward looking for the equalizer, but now it was the turn of Vidic and Ferdinand to stand tall. We put five in the United box with regularity, but when they would bunch up our attack would grind to a halt and when we spread out, United’s numbers took them out of the play.

Bennett signaled to the fourth official, who put up four minutes of added time. The United crowd, famous for not liking the amount of added time in a match regardless of how long or short it was, whistled its disapproval, mainly due to holding a 1-0 lead.

That meant a more frantic pace for us. Lobont restarted play with a goal kick at the start of injury time that found the head of Fletcher, who started play back toward our goal with a header in the general direction of Evans on the right.

It never got to Evans, though, as Kalou flashed in front of him to steal the ball with a wonderful little chest trap that sent him away right up the middle. Lita started his run between the two central defenders, and Kalou’s weighted ball toward the striker was perfect. Leroy took the ball in on van der Sar alone, and our bench rose in anticipation of still more late-game magic from our supersub.

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Maybe not, James, but I will say this ... he's the best impact sub I've ever had and without him I would be mid-table or below.


Lita shot – and missed. His shot missed van der Sar’s left post by a whisker and the United support groaned with relief while ours … well, it just groaned.

Lita gave a look of self-disgust as he headed back up the pitch. United doesn’t give up chances like that very often, and Lita had just missed his.

The moments seemed to fly now. United spread the park, trying to hold possession, and wind down the game. We started the fourth minute of injury time still without a smell of the ball.

Evans had it, down the right flank, and under duress from Dagoberto simply hoofed it down the right touchline – but put it into touch. Rosenior fairly flew toward the touchline, received a new ball from the United ball boy, and heaved it into the middle of the park toward Kalou.

Salomon controlled the throw and marched toward the United goal. Fletcher came to close him down and Kalou gave him a shoulder dip, taking the ball to the outside to move toward his left foot. Fletcher followed him and Kalou wound up to shoot.

Then he laid the ball off. Lita had made another run and took the ball at the top of the United penalty area.

# # #

Sometimes life has moments that seem to go in slow motion. This was one of them.

Lita took the pass from Kalou with a terrific first touch that freed up space around the left of Ferdinand, who frantically moved to cover and keep Lita on his hip.

He never got there. With our entire bench willing Lita to pull away, he did. Van der Sar raced out to collect at the striker’s feet as Lita was momentarily tangled with Ferdinand – but Lita flicked the ball to his right. Van der Sar was stranded. Leroy kept his feet.

Lita slotted home with the last kick of the match to get us level, four minutes into injury time.

He had done it again!

Manchester United 1 (Patrice Evra 1st, 70)

Reading 1 (Lita 11th, 90+4)

A – 68,993, Old Trafford, Manchester

Man of the Match – Bogdan Lobont, Reading (5)

# # #

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You know what, Bob, I'm going to break 'radio silence' here to tell you something. You're right. I am darned lucky. One of the most enjoyable moments I've had in FM was playing this save, primarily because of Leroy Lita. The fellow has been pure magic off the bench.


“No, I certainly haven’t.”

In theory, I suppose I should have been a little tired of answering the same question in the same way. But when the question is “Have you ever seen anything like Lita, scoring so many huge goals?” I have no problem answering the question as many times as it’s asked.

“I did think we deserved a point today and the statistics sheet will bear it out,” I said, waving it for added effect at my post-match news conference. “Most visiting teams don’t get the possession here that we did today and I’m very happy to leave here with a point.”

“What about Ronaldo coming off? What did you make of that?”

The invitation to create controversy was one I turned down. “That’s Steve’s decision and it’s none of my business,” I said. “He has the right to manage his squad and perhaps there was something going on that none of us know about. It’s certainly not up to me to speculate.”

“Despite the point today, how does it feel to be out of the top four?” That was Hopkins, asking a factual question based on information I hadn’t yet received.

“I trust Liverpool won, then?” I asked.

“1-0 at Newcastle,” he said. “Torres in the 77th minute.”

“They are the in-form team,” I said. “If I’m not mistaken that makes six on the trot for them now. They are the defending champions and they are playing like it. Still, though, I’ll take our road point today. Yes, if we are fifth from what I understand, that means no one else lost in the top four, which would also keep things very close.”

“That’s also true,” Hopkins admitted.

“Look, let’s be honest,” I said. “We’re done playing the Big Four away from home in the league. Our results were good. We beat Arsenal, lost to Chelsea, and drew United and Liverpool. Five points out of twelve on the road against those four teams isn’t bad. We are very much in the thick of things at the moment and we still have home matches remaining against Arsenal and Liverpool with some better fixtures coming up from our point of view. So don’t write us off yet. That would be a mistake.”

# # #

Patty turned off the TV in her Los Angeles hotel room, smiling with a cup of morning coffee. It was six o’clock in the morning on the West Coast and she was happy for me.

Her father approached from the guest room. “Now that your game is over, Patty, let’s talk,” he said. “You wouldn’t do this last night. Now we need to.”

She turned to him.

“Patty,” Martin said, “it’s time for you to come home.”

# # #

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Sunday, February 8

There was one significant surprise yesterday – Arsenal’s failure to gain ground on Chelsea.

Somewhat shockingly, the Gunners were not only unable to defeat Cardiff City at the Emirates, they were unable to score – and now they are surrounded in controversy.

Their goalless draw with the Bluebirds was probably the highlight of Dave Jones’ season – but Robin van Persie, who was left completely out of the side by Arsene Wenger, didn’t even show up for the match today, leading to all sorts of speculation on the Sunday sport pages.

It’s the second time this season van Persie hasn’t shown up for a team function – it happened just before Christmas as well – so Wenger has a problem on his hands.

That was one of the two big stories – the other being Ronaldo’s substitution against us yesterday – as the press played its favorite game, “second-guess the manager”. I often think I’m the only target of that game, but two of the highest-profile managers in England are now squarely in the crosshairs today, making me glad I was relaxing in Berkshire this afternoon.

Chelsea got a leg up on the rest of us, with an expected 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge over Birmingham. Didier Drogba’s brace went well with John Terry’s headed goal for the margin of victory.

Liverpool’s win has them third now, but even though we are in fifth place, we’re only two points behind second-placed Arsenal. One set of good results can change the table in a hurry.

The thing of it is, when I’m in this situation I tend to think about where we’ve messed up. Holding three-goal leads against either United or Derby, for example – in matches where we settled for 4-4 draws each time – would have us level with Arsenal for second place. Holding both of those leads would have us up with Chelsea at the top.

Speaking positively, the gap between ourselves and sixth-placed Manchester City is seven points, and they still have to play us at our place. We’re hungry for revenge after what they did to us at Eastlands and we intend to extract the full price of revenge.

For their part, City won yesterday as well, with Valeri Bojinov and Vedran Corluka scoring in a 2-0 win at the Valley against Charlton. And the amazing Dean Ashton continues to pump home goals for West Ham, netting twice in the Hammers’ 2-2 draw at Bolton. Joey O’Brien and Lubomir Mihalik canceled him out, though, but Ashton has scored 24 of his team’s 40 goals in league play, and has 28 in 30 matches in all competitions.

Everton defeated Blackburn 3-1 at Goodison Park with Andrew Johnson doing all the damage with a hat-trick in 19 minutes in the first half to give him 20 goals in all competitions this season. Kevin Thomson scored for Rovers.

Portsmouth and West Brom ground out a 1-1 draw at Fratton yesterday as well, with the rarely-seen Dave Nugent firing home for Pompey.

Today’s fare wasn’t as entertaining. Nic Anelka’s goal for Spurs was enough to see off Derby at Pride Park and Gabriel Agbonlahor’s brace helped Villa to a 3-0 win at home against Middlesbrough, which is fast joining the relegation race.

But now, what matters most to me is surviving the next few weeks. While the squad rested on its Sunday, I looked ahead to our next matchup – the FA Cup tie at Anfield against Liverpool.

They are the in-form team in the league and they have just pulled ahead of us in the table. We will be looking to send a message and what better place to do it than at their place?

It’s going to be an interesting week.

# # #

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Actually, I can't believe Lita is so good.... Maybe I should buy him in current game..

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Thing of it is, Lita's numbers aren't that great in this save in terms of attributes. His finishing number is why he's third choice striker on this team to Dagoberto and Kitson, but he comes off the bench with bags of pace and my finishing tactic runs him right at the heart of the defense supported by the raider and two wings. I won't deny it's been special, but if a few of these goals were scored at 1-1 instead of 0-1, we'd be topping the table. And if they weren't scored at all, I'd be mid-table at best.


“I have absolutely no intention of leaving Rob, Dad. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not saying leave him,” Martin said. “I am saying come home. It’s ridiculous that you should have to pursue the career you want from London, flying thousands of miles to come here, while he stays in England and has everything his way.”

“Dad, there are modeling centers all over the world. Paris, London, Milan, you name them. They’re everywhere. Los Angeles and Hollywood are two, but they aren’t the only ones. If I do make it in this business I’d be spending time in Europe too. Why are you doing this?”

“I just don’t like how things are going,” he said. “You have been through so much, and I think it would be better for you – and for Rob, quite frankly – if you faced these things closer to both your families. It is time for you to come home.”

“That’s not a decision I get to make on my own,” Patty protested.

“You have the right to your life,” Martin explained. “And if Rob truly does love you, he’ll understand and accept that.”

“Dad, no. I can’t and I won’t!”

“You’re going to be here for three weeks,” Martin said, rising to his feet. “I’ve got that long to change your mind. You’ve always been a very bright girl, Patty. You’ll understand sooner or later. It’s really for the best.”

She scowled. “So, Dad,” she finally said, “how do you like your watch?”

Martin stopped in his tracks, looking down at the £1,500 timepiece his son-in-law had painstakingly selected for him at Christmas.

In one motion, he removed it from his wrist and laid it on Patty’s dressing table. With that, he left, leaving his daughter in tears.

# # #

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Just like to say that i have spent my spare time in the last three days catching up on this and Calcio...

To say they are brilliant is like calling the sun dim, it just doesnt do it justice.

You are a brilliant writer and have got me hooked to your story, thankyou. :thup::D

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WelshWolf, welcome to the Rat Pack, and thank you for one of the nicest things anyone's ever said about my writing. I do appreciate it.

Today's topic ... who says Rob and Patty never fight?


Monday, February 9

“I hate this place, Rob,” Patty said by way of greeting. “Every time I come here, some disaster happens.”

Already upset over the way the conversation had started, I resisted the temptation to simply tell Patty to come home. And knowing her like I do, it was probably a good thing she was over 5,000 miles away when I thought it.

“Your father is asking for it,” I finally said. “I’m not going to put up with this.”

“Rob, really, what can you do?” she asked. "And what are you going to do?"

“I can tell him off,” I said. “I don’t need to take this sort of emotional abuse. He’s trying to break us up, Patty. Can’t you see that?”

“He said he wasn’t trying to break us up,” my wife said. “He said he wanted me to be closer to home to face the challenges we have. In a way, I can see his point.” She was defending him and I was thunderstruck.

“You can?” I asked. “I’m supposed to simply give up the commitment I’ve made here in Reading?”

“He said if you loved me, you’d understand,” he said.

“Blackmail!” I spat. “Emotional blackmail! He knows I love you more than anything in the world, and he’s trying to paint me into a corner by getting control of you!”

Patty patiently waited for me to stop venting. “Do you really?" she asked. "Give his thoughts a fair shake, Rob."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you serious?" I demanded. "Are you really, genuinely suggesting that he might be right -- or that you might not be the best thing that ever happened to me?"

My head started to spin as Patty answered both my questions. "You've got a job that takes you away a lot so I have my career," she said. Her redhead's temper was on a slow boil.

'Fine,' I thought. 'May as well have it out now.'

"Let's deal with this," I said. "First, I am very unhappy that he saw you like that, and frankly I don't give a hang that he gave you the watch I bought him. It's my hard-earned anyway, and if he doesn't want it, then he damned well doesn't have to have it."

“He’s always been that way," she finally said. "He has always tried to reward behavior that he finds acceptable rather than reasonable behavior that makes me happy. He’s controlling.”

“I had a different word in mind.”

“Rob, don’t!”

“Don’t what?” I protested. “Don’t fight for us? Don’t fight for what we’ve built here in England? Don’t make an attempt to live the way we want to live? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Don’t accuse my dad,” she said. “I know how to handle this. And I know how to handle him. Please believe me, I have no intention of leaving you frankly, even though you're gone quite a bit, I'm not ready to leave Berkshire as long as you're there. But I can't have you treating my father that way. You need to believe all those things.”

I hate it when I can’t control negativity. It bites me in my dealings with the media and it is biting me hard right at the moment. According to the website I checked, I am about 5,200 miles away from Patty as I write this and that means zero control of circumstances that directly affect my happiness.

And I hate that.

# # #

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“So how do you slow down Liverpool, Rob?”

Another great question. If I knew the answer to that, they wouldn’t be ahead of us in the table because we would have beaten them the first time we played.

“Everyone says it’s closing down Gerrard, and that’s part of it, but the key to success against them is in not letting them have the ball,” I replied. “Which is extraordinarily difficult to do, especially when we play at their place. We were pretty good against United to get a draw – and we’ll have to be every bit as good against Liverpool to stay in the Cup.”

With the squad back for training, it was time to evaluate a couple of experiments made against United – quite the place to be experimenting, no? – and I drew a couple of conclusions.

At present, even though I love Kalou in the raider position, I need him more on the left. Hunt is out of his depth at elite level at least for the time being and I need Kalou’s talents more in the wide position.

That means Maloney, who did a nice job on the right against United, will go back to the middle for Liverpool. In essence the choice I have is between Hunt and Faé, and since frankly neither option excites me at the moment, the one that gives me the least heartburn for this tie is the one I need to play.

That’s Faé. While he’s done next to nothing offensively this season, he is a better defender than Hunt and while I have folks like Kalou and Maloney making forays into the opposing team’s half, defense is an important thing. So, Faé it is.

This is what I mean when I sometimes think that we aren’t ready for prime time – yet. I want more depth in the midfield and in the defense before I can honestly say we’re a Champions League side. The senior squad reserves are just too thin. Yet, I have to win with what I’ve got, and perhaps next August I can shape the squad a bit more to my liking.

The stadium expansion will be done by then, there ought to be more money available, and of course that can only be good for the long-term development of the club. It will also assist in reaching the long-term goals the board is sure to demand if we claim a European place this year.

I would like to get to the point, however, where decisions on my squad aren’t based quite so much on which player will hurt us least. We won’t have arrived on the big stage until I can make every squad decision based on who will help us the most.

# # #

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You know... I'm now actually looking forward to reading about Patty then the match itself....

You're a dam good writer....

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Just caught up once more, top work. I see what you mean about the layered plots.

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Marchie, SCIAG, thank you very much. Keeping all the plot balls in the air is a fun challenge, and then there's football (well, sometimes, anyway!)


Tuesday, February 10

Are You Being Served?

Sadly, I am. It has taken quite some time, but today I was formally served – by Kate’s attorneys – as a witness in her divorce trial.

It won’t be long now, and I suppose the best thing I can do is get it over with. I’d really prefer to have this taken care of by April so I can concentrate on the end of the Premiership season and hopefully cementing some sort of place in Europe for Reading Football Club. Then the human wreckage that is Peter McGuire can go drift off to whatever place wreckage goes.

I’m spitting mad on a couple of fronts today. First, of course, is the matter of being served in the first place. It’s sure to go to the press and that can’t be avoided. However, given the desire of everyone on my side of the equation to have the proceedings sealed, my hope is that reporters don’t wind up all over me while I’m trying to do my job.

I know, I know, good luck with that.

Of course, I’m also displeased with the idea of Martin verbally working over Patty while she’s in Hollywood. She reported to the IMG offices this morning, ready to get her assignments for a series of shoots they want her to do. At least that got her away from her father for the morning. For that, I was glad.

Of course, by that time I was well into my day so I hardly knew what was transpiring on the American Left Coast.

Unfortunately there as well, that was probably for the best.

# # #

I spent some more time with Gabriel Farmer QC today as well. It’s in the club’s interests to have McGuire’s divorce proceedings sealed too – even though I have nothing to hide, it does the club no good in terms of its image to have its manager thrown about in the press as the latest hot topic of conversation.

It’s bad enough I have Sidney Richmond watching over me like a hawk. I don’t need to give him any other ammunition, and frankly I wish attorneys wouldn’t help him. Obviously Richmond is none of their concern, but I’m sure somewhere in the cobwebs of his mind, Peter McGuire wouldn’t mind seeing his old nemesis Ridgway take a fall right alongside him, professionally as well as personally.

And McGuire will fall. I am quite certain Kate’s lawyers will see to that.

Farmer explained to me that the club will file a brief with the judge requesting the sealing of the records. Ordinarily this is done as a matter of course, and the judge would usually have no reason to disagree, but the reason Farmer is so insistent is because of the definite possibility – I used the phrase ‘lead-pipe cinch’ – of leaks to the media.

He would like the judge to issue a statement with teeth to keep the proceedings, and those involved in them, out of the media. It’s already an open secret in the press that Patty had a relationship with McGuire, but since it hasn’t come out in a court yet, or the truth of the matter been leaked to anyone yet, no one has reported on it. Yet it’s only a matter of time.

# # #

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Meanwhile, I’m still trying to prepare for Liverpool. Back to the old grind.

Actually the ‘old grind’ isn’t as bad as all that. It keeps my mind where it ought to be during the day and away from the woes being created by those people who don’t have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart.

If that sounds like I’m trying to wear a white hat, fine. I’ll take that on. I’m just sick of it. I’ve been harsh when I’ve had to be, I’ve been nice when I’ve had to be, and I can’t help but think I’ll need to be a complete jerk soon – because I’ll be forced to be. Nothing like seeing the oncoming train before it arrives.

For the third time, I watched the replay of our Boxing Day matchup against Liverpool on DVD. I think Liverpool can be exploited through the middle even with Carragher present – the reigning World Footballer of the Year – and it’s going to take something special from Dagoberto to do it.

Yet I saw openings left by the Reds defense in the first matchup that we simply didn’t exploit. They played a comparatively deep defensive line during the first matchup mainly out of respect for our up-front pace but as the match wore on and they grew in confidence, I saw gaps. If we see the same scheme again, we can exploit them. I’ll take any advantage I can get.

We also learned the referee for Sunday’s match and that didn’t make me smile too much. Lee Mason has done a couple of Premiership games this season but has spent the majority of his time in League Two.

Now he will get two top-five Premiership teams in the FA Cup, which we have never won and which Liverpool will seek to use to make the ultimate statement to us on their own pitch. Hopefully, Mason will not prove to be a League Two official in such circumstances.

# # #

Wednesday, February 11

Some good news and some not so good news for us today. Unfortunately, the not so good news is both more prevalent and more important.

But since I’m such a positive, vibrant person I will start with the good news. The reserve team, which was culled substantially in the January window, rose to the occasion and drew with Arsenal tonight in a 1-1 match. The good news is that the slash-and-burn of the reserves allowed our August signing Niklas Berg to get a game for just the sixth time this season. The prodigiously talented young striker scored our goal to get us a split in the points.

This is the reason why so many of my reserve players needed to go. I want people like Berg and Cathcart getting games under our coaching staff, where I can keep an eye on them. Our future depends on players like those and since attempts to loan those players either weren’t advisable or fell on deaf ears, I have to get them games somehow.

Now for the not-so-good news. Frank Lampard scored a brace tonight within six minutes as Chelsea defeated Blackburn 2-0 to make up their game in hand on the top of the league. As a result, they are five points clear now and to make matters worse for Rovers, Roque Santa Cruz suffered a fractured cheekbone and will miss a minimum of one month.

I found myself checking the fixture list after the injury to see when our return match will be played. No such luck. He should be healthy in time to play us.

# # #

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The first media contact I’ve had with Rafa Benitez prior to the weekend’s match was today as well. We don’t travel until Friday, with a flight to the northwest planned to get us there in time for a brief workout in the afternoon.

The fact that we’re traveling wasn’t lost on Benitez. “We respect them but frankly I hope they don’t travel quite as well as they did last weekend,” he told his morning briefing. “Having to fly on successive weekends can tire a team and when we have an important match we know playing at home will be a big advantage for us.”

In short, he was suggesting that worn-out Reading was going to be run ragged by fresh, homestanding Liverpool. Unfortunately, he might well be right. I’m just happy to have a full week to prepare for this match and a full week to rest players knackered after the exertions against United.

The season is starting to get long for some teams, those who are at mid-table with no prospect of Europe and also not worried about relegation. Some days, a team runs on pure adrenaline and for us, Saturday may well be one of those days.

But obviously, you can’t say such things to media. So when the Berkshire Brigade met me after our own light training session today, I suggested in a roundabout way that Benitez might be trying to unsettle us.

“He might be trying to unsettle us,” I said.

“Observant,” Weatherby smiled. I grinned.

“They don’t call me Master of the Obvious for nothing,” I answered. “But in seriousness, Rafa says what he has to say and so do I. I’m happy with the fitness levels of my team and I’m satisfied that they are recovering well from United. We want to get to where Liverpool is – and by that I mean their stadium, at the moment – rested and ready to give them a great game on Saturday. You’ve got two top five clubs going at it this weekend so I expect us to travel well.”

“Do you expect the best Liverpool squad to face you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “They are like we are – I feel they respect us, I have to assume they respect us, and if they don’t play a full-strength squad we have the ability to make them pay for it. So yes, I think we’ll have a good matchup between two clubs who can make things happen on the pitch.”

“All this talk about sending messages, Rob,” Hopkins said. “What’s the meaning of all that? Can’t the teams simply say it on the pitch?”

“A media guy is asking me this?” I answered. “You try to draw us out all week long into saying something confrontational, ask why we don’t, and then ask again why we do? Well, I’ll tell you. Liverpool is the in-form team in the league at the moment and they’ve passed us in the table after a great run. I want to be able to show them that they aren’t going to leave us in the dust, no matter where they play us. I can either say that here in front of you or I can say it when we get to Liverpool. Then we can prove it on the pitch.”

“Like you did at Stamford Bridge?” I didn’t catch the reporter’s name, but was rather surprised both at the tone of the question and at the fact that it wasn’t Emiliani.

“Go right on being funny,” I said, waving my hand at my interrogator. “You know, we have two media comedy shows on Saturday night for wise guys like you. Meanwhile, this fellow has just wrecked it for the rest of you. Good day.”

# # #

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Thursday, February 12

The Murdoch media empire is starting to get on my nerves.

From Hollywood, Fox reporter Candy Kinsey reported this morning that my wife had been spotted in the after-hours company of IMG powerhouse attorney Adrian Levant. This led to speculation as to why she would be seeing an attorney, especially so late at night.

This led to speculation about her earlier conversation with Martin, after hours and rather loudly at that, in the Hollywood restaurant Passione, about her ‘pending return to the United States’.

That led to an afternoon inquisition from Murdoch’s The Sun asking if it was true that my wife was leaving me for Levant.

Media is very good at putting two plus two together. However, sometimes they aren’t so good at higher forms of math. That’s why they’re journalists instead of rocket scientists. And just think – I only have five weeks to go of this.

It shouldn’t have been surprising, therefore, that my briefing with media was pretty short. Benitez’ comments were given the headlines in the Echo up on Merseyside this morning, with the general feeling that poor Reading was in for a first-class blistering from the Champions of England on Saturday.

Fine. Let them think that. My players think differently and that matters more to me than what the Echo thinks. I’ll have my entire first-choice lineup with me with the exception of Pogatetz, who plays in a reserve match tomorrow night as a fitness test. I’m hoping he can get through the ninety minutes and get back to the senior squad. We could use him. Magallón is also scheduled to suit up for the reserves tomorrow. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

And then we are back to full strength – at just the right time.

# # #

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Dan, thanks for the encouragement ... herewith, today's installment :D


The rest of it, though, was just ugly. This morning after training I got to go into London to give my testimony in Kate’s divorce. I would sooner have had a root canal rather than face all those attorneys, but the wheels of justice grind exceedingly fine, as the saying goes. I was looking forward to seeing them grind McGuire’s bones into dust.

The Germans call that schadenfreude. I call it come-uppance and good riddance.

Along the way, I got a phone call from Patty, for whom it was now early morning.

“You’re up early,” I said, and she yawned in reply.

“I didn’t sleep,” she said. “Once that reporter saw me out with Adrian last night I could hardly get a wink.”

“So it’s Adrian, is it?” I said with just enough lilt to let her know I wasn’t entirely furious. Not rapturous, mind you, but not furious either.

“Actually, it is,” she replied. “He’s a pretty good guy. However, I’m not married to him.”

“So what did you talk about – with Adrian?” I asked.

“How to survive the next few weeks,” she answered. “There are going to be a lot of demands on my time.”

“I could say the same thing,” I answered.

# # #

“I am not involved with Kate McGuire,” I insisted.

“No one is suggesting that you are,” McGuire’s attorney said. I already didn’t care much for Betty Copeland, but what stuck in my craw the most was that an attorney who was apparently as competent as she is was so interested in a fee that she would represent a snake and a woman-user like Peter McGuire.

I had to remind myself not to judge her like she was trying to get a magistrate to do to me. “Then ask me the question again?” I asked.

“Mr. Ridgway, I asked why you attempted to return to Kate McGuire in Venice,” she said. “For the record.”

Attorneys for both sides were taking notes and my red face must have given me away. “I didn’t attempt to return to Kate in Venice,” I said. “I attended a party with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. She was not involved with Mr. McGuire at the time and I was not involved with Kate. However, we did meet at that party and Kate had a heart-to-heart conversation with me.”

“And what did this conversation entail?” Copeland asked.

“She told me that Mister McGuire” – I nearly spat out the honorific – “had had a prior relationship with Patty while he was married to her. I already knew this.”

“And then?”

I took a deep breath. “She told me that she had been a fool not to marry me,” I replied.

“Do you still love Kate?”

I frowned, in the midst of an objection from Kate’s attorneys.

# # #

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Just finished reading from the start (no mean feat by this stage) and must give your work three thumbs up! You've really raised the bar for everyone. This is not only the best work i've seen on this board, but on any Story/AAR/Roleplaying board i've ever come accross.

As a fair few others have already said, this is definitely good enough material to be published. I'd buy it for one. Now if only there weren't the manifold legal and technical difficulties to overcome... ;)

All the best and keep up the good work.


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TV, what can I say except thank you ... it does my heart good to read such kind words. Welcome to the Rat Pack with my thanks for your praise.


The British teams in the UEFA Cup are into the knockout stages now and the first legs of those matches were tonight.

Villa is in trouble. They lost at home 1-0 to Bayern Munich, with the Bavarian powerhouse taking both an away goal and the overall lead home with them.

Spurs will need a special effort to advance as well – they fell 2-0 at Serie A leaders Atalanta, which still holds on in the race for the Scudetto despite the chase of much-better funded rivals. Everton got an away goal at Sevilla and heads home 1-1, and Bolton had an easy time against Steaua, winning 4-1 and promising Sammy Lee an easy passage if his team avoids implosion away from home.

Rangers aren’t looking so hot at the moment either, falling 3-1 to an excellent Valencia side in Spain. My old club will need something special as well at Ibrox to advance.

So as I drove home tonight I had all sorts of wonderful thoughts going through my head. Though today was only a deposition, my hope is that Farmer will get his way with the judge in this case. I want the proceedings locked up tight and so does my employer. I have that much going for me as we head off to Liverpool tomorrow.

And, I also have the opinion of one of Britain’s most read football writers. Henry Winter, of the Daily Telegraph, has weighed in on the match and he seems to believe the key to it all is one Liam Rosenior, but I'm not sure if he thinks that's good or bad:

All Rosie?

The performance that Royals fullback Liam Rosenior puts in on Reading’s away trip to Anfield on Saturday will be crucial in deciding whether the Berkshire side get anything out of this encounter.

The former Fulham man has had a mixed season to say the least. In last week’s encounter with Man Utd he was given a torrid time by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and was lucky to not be at fault for what would have been a stunning goal, as the winger made one of many forays down the right-hand side.

To be fair, few defenders can keep the lid on the phenomenally gifted Portuguese player; if any. Even so, Rosenior has been shown up more than a few times by inferior opposition this campaign and an inside club source tells us that promising young manager Robert Ridgway is considering a more reliable replacement for the young under-21 international.

Struggling Middlesbrough are thought to be interested, so a July move might be on the cards. But for the moment the focus will be squarely on the upcoming game at Anfield.

With Pogatetz out, Ridgway doesn’t have much in the way of choice at left-back, so Rosenior is destined to start unless Ridgway relents the proven-player policy he’s stuck with so far.

It isn’t all bad, however: How many times have we seen Rosenior send the ball swiftly and accurately upfield to release the creative force that is Salomon Kalou? Reading can only hope this scenario is the one that manifests itself at Anfield on Saturday, rather than a repeat of last week’s performance.

Liverpool are right back in the swing of things and Kuyt’s intelligent football, Torres’ raw pace and Gerrard’s sheer determination will surely get the better of any defense that is not entirely ‘on the ball’.

- Henry Winter

# # #

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Friday, February 13

This Is Still Anfield.

The unlucky aspect of the day was not lost on me as we flew northward. I’m not a very good flier under the best of circumstances and doing so on a Friday the Thirteenth positively creeped me out as we left London.

To make up for the queasiness I felt in my stomach, I made myself look out the window of our plane for the entire flight to Merseyside. That was an experience – thankfully, it wasn’t too rough at our cruising altitude of 26,000 feet – so once we broke through the cloud cover it was actually a surprisingly nice flight.

It gave me some time to think, and along the way I thought about our last match and my tactics. While they got us a 1-1 draw, we were pretty stunted in our offensive flow. So this time, I need to show confidence in these players. The best way to do that is to let them play in the system they have learned so thoroughly and well.

Dillon sat next to me on the trip north and we talked quietly about the squad while he watched me look out the window.

“Rob, it’s a bit disconcerting when you won’t look at me while I talk to you,” he smiled. “Really, we’re not going to crash.”

“That’s not it, Kevin,” I said, watching the clouds far beneath us while, somewhat disturbingly, we flew directly through the contrails of a jet which, some minutes ago, had been heading in a different direction. “I need to get used to this flying stuff again. I flew while I was at Rangers quite a bit but lately, not so much.”

“You know, if you don’t loosen your fingers, you’re going to have to take that armrest with you when we get off the plane.” He was smiling, and I was starting to smile in return.

“That bad, huh?” I said, looking down at my white knuckles.

“Well, maybe not that bad,” he answered. “But relax, Rob. You don’t get enough chance to do that anyway. Let the pilots worry about the plane and you worry about getting some rest. You’ve got a lot on your mind.”

I do. And what is on my mind is a hell of a long plane trip away.

# # #

“So he finally got deposed?”

“Yes, Dad, he did.” Patty was trying to stay patient.

“So tell me, Patty … what is Kate like?”

“I don’t care for the inference,” she responded.

“I’m not suggesting anything,” Martin responded. “Just wondering what sort of woman could do that to him.”

“Do what? He loves me.”

“You know what,” he answered. “She threw herself at him in Venice. You saw it with your own eyes.”

“She did,” Patty admitted. “But Dad, it’s not like that. Rob turned her down, and I didn’t see that. I came back home because I didn’t see that. And once I figured it out, I figured there was no one else for me but him. Really, why are you doing this?”

“I’m just asking,” he said.

“You aren’t asking,” Patty said, a tinge of frustration in her voice. “You’re trying. Now out with it, Dad. What is really bothering you?”

“I told you,” he answered. “You need to be home with all that’s going on around you. Your support network is non-existent over there. Your husband, such as he is, is all over the country and it’s obvious you’re his second priority. You’re my daughter – so you are my first priority. Now and always.”

“Mom might not like hearing that,” she said.

“Your mother knows,” Martin answered. “She’s ready to help.”

That surprised Patty. Her mother has always been supportive of our marriage, but that news took her aback.

“Really?” my wife asked.


# # #

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“You know, I’m really not interested in talking about this any more.”

My media gaggle was starting to bore me. The reporters were still trying to draw me out on the same question they’ve been working on all week, and I still refused to give them the answer they wanted.

They are of course looking for something that will inflame the masses before tomorrow’s Cup tie. I’m not about to come in here and guarantee a result – though I think we can get one if we play well – because such a guarantee will make it difficult no matter how well we play. Even the Yank is smart enough to realize that.

So this afternoon I finally told the media what I thought. My patience has run out.

“I’ll be happy to talk about matchups, happy to talk about players, happy to do all that,” I said. “What I’m not happy to do is inflame the situation any further by talking about a result that we may or may not get.”

So they changed tactics. “Does that mean you’re giving up hope for a result?”

“Don’t put words in my mouth,” I snapped. “It’s not becoming of you.”

“Few things are,” one quipped.

“At last, something on which we agree.”

Then, the question that pushed me over the edge. As I was leaving the briefing, a reporter I had never seen before approached.

“How was your deposition yesterday?”

I walked away.

# # #

Saturday, February 14

Liverpool v Reading, Fifth Round, FA Cup

Déjà vu. That feeling you’ve been somewhere before.

I couldn’t help but feel it as I walked with the squad through the Anfield players’ entrance. Last time was Boxing Day. Today it was Valentine’s Day.

I woke up thinking of a year ago, when Patty was so wonderful to me in Padua. She indulged all the old Italian Valentine traditions – including walking to my apartment while not making eye contact with any man she knew to be single to avoid breaking the Italian tradition – to give me a gift and start my day off right.

That tradition holds that the first single man a single woman makes eye contact with on Valentine’s Day will marry her. She wanted that man to be me, so she practically blindfolded herself to walk across Padua’s main square to come to my place – “only because I couldn’t see your place from mine”, I remember her saying – and it was a lovely morning.

So I thought about that while she was thousands of miles away, tucked away in bed while I prepared to leave the hotel for the ground.

I sent her an e-mail with a few words of love and hoped I’d hear back from her sometime before I was ready for bed. We’ve been good about staying in contact, but it has been a struggle sometimes. Eight time zones can cause havoc with schedules.

And media can cause havoc with everything. I sat with the team in our hotel lobby this morning and made the mistake of reading the papers.

At least you can’t buy The Sun here. I’m sure they were as salacious as the rest. Media has finally figured out that Patty is in Los Angeles and I’m here, so the expected stories about our pending split stared back at me from the printed page.

However, the speculation was starting to get annoying. And someone found out that she has been talking with her father. So that part of the story was disturbingly accurate.

I don’t know that Martin has the tactical nous, if you will, to talk to reporters. And I don’t think he would want to – the moment something got written he didn’t like he’d be out of control. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to make an impact on my life in a most unwelcome way.

I looked at my watch. Nine o’clock, time to leave for the ground, and one in the morning on the West Coast. No, not yet. What I needed to do would have to wait.

# # #

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I read the Echo on the way to the ground, and what I saw frankly surprised me. Not in terms of the contents of the pre-match stories, which were the written equivalent of a camper frantically rubbing sticks together over a fire pit trying to make smoke.

What surprised me were the odds being posted. Liverpool was listed as 1-4 at home for a win and we were 9-1 for an away triumph. I shook my head.

“We aren’t playing that badly,” I said out loud. Dillon turned to me.

I handed him the paper and he just sighed in response.

“Put it on the changing room wall if you want,” he suggested. “These players could use a bit of a spark.”

I nodded, mulling the idea over in my head. The coach reached the ground and I stood up before we headed inside.

“I don’t know about you guys but I’m ready to show everyone that the conventional wisdom is a pile of s**t,” I said in a rare foray into the profane. “I’m sick of all this and I hope you are too. Focus today, and make them sorry you’re the visitors. Okay, let’s get inside and get ready.”

With that I led the team off the coach and into a crowd of largely silent fans, waiting for their red-clad heroes to arrive.

# # #

If you can’t get excited about entering the pitch at Anfield you can’t get excited about it anywhere. The black cloud over me started to lift as the teams descended under the famous sign and took the pitch. It was time to let the play do the talking, which was something I much preferred.

I also didn’t mind seeing Fernando Torres left out of the Liverpool squad. Say what you like about messages, but that sent a message to me – Benitez thought he could handle us without his top scorer. Of course, that still left Kuyt and Crouch to deal with, but not having the Spaniard to worry about was a big plus for us.

Benitez and I shared a perfunctory handshake as we headed to our respective benches, a few fans behind our dugout who don’t care for Liverpool’s ownership reminded me that, as a Yankee, I suck just as much as their owners, and the match began.

From the beginning, I saw an intensity in our play that has been sadly lacking over the last several weeks. Gerrard started forward – Benitez did us that much respect, anyway – and disappeared under a crunching, clean, ball-winning tackle from Pazienza, who was clearly up for the job today. He then sent Kalou away down the left and the winger’s pace was clearly up to snuff.

That was two minutes into the match. We had better in store.

Kalou fizzed a shot wide of Pepe Reina’s goal and once the ball was put back into play, we won it again. Maloney had it now, looking for options, playing with his head up and with a great deal of confidence with the ball at his feet. This time he went up Route One – and no one went to cover Kitson.

My targetman isn’t the fastest striker on God’s earth. It didn’t matter. There was so much room between the central defenders that I could have found space, and Kitson took the ball with a fine first touch. His second moved the ball from his left foot to his right inside the Liverpool area, and his third touch beat Reina to his right post for a 1-0 lead to us in the fourth minute of the match.

For the first time in far too long, I saw intensity from everyone in our colors – players, substitutes, coaches, even physios. We were all off the bench at the same time in various stages of celebration, as Kitson accepted the congratulations of his teammates.

Our intense play continued from the kickoff. Liverpool surged forward looking for a quick equalizer but when they arrived they were met by a wall of silver and black-striped shirts in an angry mood.

The physicality of our defense was really gratifying to see. That isn’t to say we were dirty – far from it, in fact – but we were legally using positioning and even body weight to deny the Liverpool players access to the parts of the pitch they wanted to use. Finally, the Liverpool skipper got so frustrated trying to get around Pazienza that he put both hands on the Italian’s shoulders and threw him to the ground while trying to maneuver around him.

At that, our bench was up and screaming again, with Gerrard getting a talking-to from Mason. That meant fourth official Steve Bennett got a talking-to from me.

“How come you aren’t out there instead of Mason, Steve?” I asked, and he had a hard time keeping a straight face in reply. “Last time I checked, that sort of tackle was illegal in this game.”

“I’m here because Lee was assigned by the FA, Rob,” he finally said, shaking his head in amusement. “And mind your line, please.”

He wanted me to stay in the technical area. I wanted Gerrard carded. There was a bit of a difference.

Not surprisingly, Bennett won the conversation and play resumed. However, our play was starting to get a rise out of the champions and as such it was what I had hoped to see.

They couldn’t get near the goal. As the minutes passed and our defense continued to play effectively, you could see the frustration starting to show on the faces of our opponents. Benitez, for his part, was trying to maintain the calm of his team, and as such was standing at the front of his technical area, the very picture of pacification.

He really couldn’t look like anything else. Panic, in the eyes of his faithful, was unthinkable, especially against the upstarts from Berkshire. So play went on and the situation didn’t change.

Finally, four minutes from halftime, it did change. It all started when Carragher hoisted a very good ball down the right for Jermaine Pennant. The winger moved forward with some authority and crossed looking for the giant target of Crouch in our area.

The huge targetman leaped for the ball, but mistimed his jump and the ball settled safely into Lobont’s hands, with our keeper perhaps the most surprised man on the park that the ball was actually in his possession.

He started play back with a long throw down the right wing for the run of Faé, who immediately put the ball into the middle for Maloney. The Scotsman’s return ball to the right was now taken by the overlapping Ferreira, who was chugging away toward the byline with two Liverpool players in hot pursuit.

His pullback was excellent, and found Dagoberto fifteen yards from goal, stoutly defended by Carragher. And then, he wasn’t.

Dagoberto skinned him by playing the ball between Carragher’s legs and whipping around the defender’s outside hip, with Reina’s eyes as wide as saucers in no time flat. Just like that, the Brazilian had the ball by him, nestled in the back of the net for a 2-nil lead to us right before the break.

Now we were really whooping it up. The Liverpool players looked on in shock, their in-form team being dismantled before their eyes. The Anfield crowd was having as hard a time believing it as their players, and when Mason blew for halftime I headed to the changing room as well satisfied as I could be – leading the champions 2-0 on their patch with 45 minutes to play.

# # #

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You really are far too good at this, 10-3. It took me years to build a Reading team capable of beating a top-4 side in FM05, and you're making it look way too easy. Excellent as always. :thup:

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Thanks, Balthazars ... but the problem with most football matches is that they do tend to go ninety minutes ... :(


I must have said “play within yourselves” about a dozen times during the halftime team talk. It was a great start to the match and frankly I couldn’t have asked for better. Now I wanted us to play just as well from the goal outward to try to hold the lead.

“No shots on target for the champions on their own patch,” I said. “I can’t fault the defensive work so I won’t try. Now you’re going to get their very best shot in the second half and they don’t have Torres dressed for this game. Show them, and show the world, that you can play with them on their field and can finish this job. It’ll be a famous win for you if you can manage it. I think you can. Now prove it.”

Our return to the pitch for the second half was greeted with a concerned atmosphere from the Liverpool suporters. They obviously aren’t used to seeing their team dominated in such a fashion and especially not at home. We had every reason to be optimistic as Liverpool kicked off to start the second half.

The “best shot” wasn’t long in coming. It took four minutes. Kuyt, who had been virtually invisible in the first half, now sprang to life and stung Lobont’s hands with a powerful effort from nearly thirty yards after skinning Sonko along the way.

That was Liverpool’s first shot on target of the match. I was quietly pleased that we had held them away from the goal for that long, but the home team sprang immediately to life with the knowledge that there was indeed a way to goal for them through simple self-application.

The next ten minutes were an exercise in the art of self-defense, as Liverpool began to play with increasing confidence. Crouch barely missed with a header from a Gerrard free kick and Lobont tipped Daniel Agger’s rising drive over about three minutes after that.

Still, though, I felt pretty good. Liverpool were huffing and puffing but they couldn’t blow our house down. Sonko and Bikey were standing tall together in the center of our defense and Lobont looked impenetrable between the sticks. Rosenior was playing well too, which was probably making Henry Winter smile. We were good value.

We countered them on 71 minutes, with Dagoberto working a wonderful give-and-go with Maloney that eventually brought the Scotsman into the clear twenty yards from goal, with the out-angled Carragher and Reina to beat. Maloney wound up and elected to shoot for power, with the delay giving Reina just enough time to set for the shot. The Spaniard reacted with a wonderful save, denying Maloney’s ticket for the top right corner.

The ball went behind for a corner, but we did nothing with it. Liverpool then broke in return, with Gerrard again as their fulcrum. This time, his looping entry ball for Crouch found the giant targetman and he responded with an equally looping header – that this time eluded the outstretched arm of Lobont and into the net.

It was freakish. But it counted, Liverpool was on the scoreboard and now the masses at Anfield reacted at their team finally finding a way through.

I looked at the scoreboard. Sixteen minutes from time with a lead on the road. I motioned for a tighter 4-4-2 and Lita immediately sprung up off the bench, knowing I would consider a 4-5-1 for the waning moments. He started his warmup without being asked.

He is acutely aware that sometimes his role isn’t to score goals, and in this case his role would be to run himself ragged at the top of a three-man triangle, two parts of which would also double as the front two legs of a five-man midfield.

Now the atmosphere was much better, but I was still quite pleased at how we stood up to them. We had a real spine defensively, the oddness of Crouch’s goal notwithstanding. I wasn’t worried.

Lita reported himself ready for play ten minutes from and I made the move, putting Leroy on for Kitson and Harper on for Faé. We moved to 4-5-1.

They shifted to the inevitable 4-2-4 with Crouch and Kuyt the center forwards, and the match moved into crunch time. I spread my arms wide on the touchline, and yelled for Harper.

“Spread the pitch,” I yelled. “Slow it down and kill off the game!”

He didn’t need to be reminded, though – and when he got the ball it went deep into the Liverpool end and toward the corner flag. Right where I wanted it.

While I silently congratulated Harper for following instructions, Liverpool got the ball back and launched a long counterattack. Pazienza fouled near midfield, though, and Reina came up to take the free kick as his teammates moved forward.

Bikey and Sonko were prepared, with Bikey the man-maker for Crouch. Before Reina took the free kick, they each took two steps forward, putting both the Liverpool strikers offside. The ball came in high, and Crouch took it down with his chest, rifling a useless shot past Lobont that got the crowd excited.

The keeper went to pull the ball out of his net – and Mason pointed to the center circle. The crowd went wild with delayed gratification – and I simply went wild.

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Still going strong I see.

Just managed to get my internet up and running again, and have managed to catch up.

Please keep it up. I enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy reading published books. Thanks.


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