Wow , where to start.
Well, having watched my Sky+ re-run of the second-half (only the second-half) three times and counting, I can at least confirm it is real, it did happen, and in eight days Wembley will be bathed in a sea of yellow and green.
The joy and exuberance that followed the final blast of Roger East’s whistle was fitting given the magnitude of the win and what it meant but, as alluded to by Alex Neil, it is a job only half-done
What happened yesterday will live in the memory forever but will ultimately count for little if Neil and his players can’t see the job through next Monday. Yet with such a focussed, driven and determined Scot in charge it will be a brave punter who bets against a City victory.
That Middlesbrough have beaten City 5-0 on aggregate in the regular season matters not one jot, in the same way City’s two wins over Ipswich counted for nothing upon kick-off at Portman Road last Saturday.
What does matter is that we have a manager who proved yet again yesterday that he is an absolute master at game management.
At the interval the concern among the Yellow Army was palpable; half-time huddles mulled over why City had had so little joy in the attacking third, furrowed brows puzzled over how and why Town’s attritional style of football had seen them enjoy relative success and heads were being scratched over what could be changed in order to make a difference.
“He’ll be having another ‘wee chat’, that’s for sure.”
“There’ll be some tea cups flying around in the City dressing room.”
“He’ll have the hairdryer out.”
Except he didn’t. For all the angst among the Yellow Army the boss was clearly measured and, rather than let rip, his message to the players was a simple one: keep calm, ignore the supporters, the game will open up and you’ll get your chance to win it.
And now we know who knows best, and we should probably take that as a slap across the wrist.
As ever he called it right and the players, buoyed on no doubt by some encouragement to offer a little more, made a start to the second-half that effectively took the game away from Mick McCarthy’s men.
For his part Sky pundit, George Burley was left bemoaning the rules of association football and cited the “double-whammy” of City being awarded a penalty and Town having Christophe Berra sent off for his deliberate handball.
Well George, I’m sorry, but that’s one you’ll have to take up with Sepp Blatter old son. Rules are rules.
Burley’s bitterness aside, referee East had no choice and, in fairness, every other ‘Blue’ in the ground had no complaints. Thankfully Wes stepped up just when we needed him most and to give Bialkowski the eyes to send him the wrong way in the circumstances was just brilliant.
And although the renditions of “Que Sera…” were a tad premature, especially given Tommy Smith’s bundled equaliser, it did feel like the balance had been permanently tipped the second Wessi’s penalty hit the net.
Typically Neil will call to account those who were found wanting in the build up to the Town equaliser – and will be demanding no repeat at Wembley – but we should at least be thankful that John Ruddy didn’t arrive a half a second earlier and risk ‘cleaning out’ the Ipswich centre-back.
If he had done so, City would have been on the wrong end of one of George’s double-whammies, and the game back in the melting pot.
That Town had their four minutes in the sun at least gave their travelling support something to cling on to but with Nathan Redmond having endured a difficult first-half, it was symptomatic of a much improved second that it was he who scored the crucial second – nut-megging Tyrone Mings in the process.
The third was simply the coup de grâce on a game that will never be forgotten and, importantly, was a fitting reward for another lung-bursting shift from Cameron Jerome.
His duel with Tommy Smith over the two legs was one of the key duels and, with an assist at Portman Road and a goal at Carrow Road, the City man can consider himself the victor
“A moment that will go into East Anglian Derby legend”, was how Sky Sports commentator, Daniel Mann described Jerome’s deft touch after it had trickled into the Town net, and the delirium that followed merely confirmed it.
The final 20 minutes, with the Town fire finally extinguished, were of an ilk rarely seen at Carrow Road and were moments to be savoured. Rarely are any football fans – yet alone the Y’Army – afforded a chance to celebrate the hybrid of a derby win and a pending trip to Wembley.
It was special. That, on a personal level, I was able to celebrate it alongside my dad made it even more so.
The pitch invasion, while initially a tad unnerving, was thankfully good natured and should not be allowed to detract from the finest of afternoons – the outpouring of emotion was spontaneous and understandable.
But, as Alex will never tire of reminding us, the real celebrations can only begin if we can see the job through in north-west London on Bank Holiday Monday. Until then, aside from the queueing and fretting over tickets, we need to keep the rest of our powder dry.
If the Millenium Stadium taught us one thing it was that the Play-Off Final is not just a day out. It’s only fun if you win.
And while Master Karanka will fancy his Mourinho-style game-plan to win the day – dives, time-wasting et al – we have folk in charge who will be equally meticulous and focussed, not to mention bullish.
Alex and Frankie have barely put a foot wrong since they entered the place – I don’t see them starting now.
Oh, and by the way – 30 years ago, following a two-legged semi-final win over Ipswich, we went to Wembley and beat a red and white adorned side from the North-East… who had done the league double over us.
“Bravo, win or die…”