So here’s the thing. You come to a small club in danger of dropping down to the 4th tier of their national league system, you unfortunately lose your first game in charge and morale is low. What do you want least at this point? How about a cup match away against a team from the top tier? Well, take my hand my friend and let me whisk you away to Sweden’s capital. Stockholm, here we come. To play fucking Hammarby IF.
Now normally I’d relish this kind of challenge – A chance to play a team at their place 2 leagues above us? Hell yes. Except in a situation as dire as ours this just seems like a no-win situation. We can’t throw the match because we need every bit of morale we can muster, so I need to play the first team. The match is on a Wednesday, so it’s going to knacker and possibly injure my 8 good and uninjured players. We’re going to lose, so morale’s going to drop anyway, it’s just a case of not getting embarrassed. And with 7 games to play and 6 points to make up to even get out of the automatic relegation places and into the play-off spot, we just don’t need a cup match at all.
I hold a team meeting, which actually goes very well. I tell the team that we’ve got the quality to turn this around, and they believe me the poor bastards. So morale for now is high.
Everybody’s job today is to defend. I tell them as much. We will play very narrow, deep, defensive, compact and we will try not to get obliterated. I name the same line up as my first match and hope that consistency of selection will do us a favour at some point. Before the match I again tell the team that they’re under no pressure here, but even I don’t believe that.
We’re under the cosh straight away, with Lidberg connecting with a Silverholt cross and heading over from point blank range.
Half an hour in Jarrett smashes a shot from outside the area off the far post. We’ve barely had a sniff but at least we’re mainly restricting them to long shots like that, which is better than nothing.
Our task isn’t made any easier towards the end of the first half as Grannum and Vilas Nilsson both pick up injuries. But they can both stand, so they both play on.
At half time I do nothing but encourage the team and tell them they’re unlucky not to be winning, a complete fabrication but again they believe it.
It’s another cagey 20 minutes before I bring on Sekiraca for Axelsson, just like in the first match. Sekiraca started full training yesterday and while he was nowhere near ready to start today he’ll have 25 minutes to shine here.
With 15 minutes to go Silverholt heads just over from a Hammarby corner, and I tell the team to waste as much time as possible. They oblige and we last until the end of 90 minutes. We have had 1 shot, a free kick that Joakim hit straight at the wall, but it doesn’t matter. If we can last another half an hour we go to penalties, and then it’s anyone’s game.
Lago comes on for Andersell, who’s predictably had a quiet game, but he’s closed down defenders and put in a shift bless him.
7 minutes after the restart, Torsteinbø hits a free kick over from 25 yards and we can breathe again. As it turns out we can only breathe comfortably for 3 minutes, because then Jajic cracks off a shot from 20 yards that has power but no accuracy. It flies wide. I take this opportunity to bring on Erik Hoffman for his debut. I can’t afford to rest my “good” players so I take off Pärsson, another former pub-teamer, for a well deserved break.
Extra time half time comes and goes quickly, and Hammarby’s Rômulo then tests my ability to resist soiling myself by first heading just over from a Solheim cross, before swinging a cross of his own in for Lidberg, whose powerless header is caught by The Hammer.
The referee blows for the end of extra time and I celebrate with a subtle fist pump. I’m secretly delighted. This is probably the best scenario we could have hoped for. We have defended admirably today, with Henningsson picking up the player of the match award as the pick of the back line. But everyone’s done their part. Admittedly we only had that 1 shot in the entire 120 minutes, but now we’ll have at least 3 or 4 from the penalty spot and we just have to score more than Hammarby.
Both teams score their first penalty: Silverholt for Hammarby, Joakim for us. Torsteinbø puts Hammarby back in front, and then with thudding inevitability, young striker Lago’s effort is saved by Tim Markström. I let out an audible groan. I don’t mean to, it just happens. “Don’t let this all have been for nothing” I think desperately, “Our valiant defending, the fact that I’ve knackered our first team by playing them mid-week for 120 minutes and possibly injured 2 of them”.
From then on we match Hammarby: Solheim scores, Hoffman scores, Lidburg scores, Grannum scores. It’s 4-3 and Hammarby win if they score their 5th penalty. Dusan Jajic steps up, picks his spot… SAVED BY THE HAMMER! We can level the scores here. VILAS NILSSON SCORES! 4-4 after 5 penalties each, and we go to sudden death.
Rômulo…Scores for Hammarby
Malm…Scores for Höllviken
Magyar…HITS THE BAR! Hammarby have slipped and given us our chance.
Burnniku steps up to win the match for Höllviken…AND SCORES! Cue the pandemonium from the travelling fans! The players run over to the corner full of Höllviken fans, some diving into the crowd as others just applaud and celebrate. I walk behind them, smiling from ear to ear but holding back. Taking my time. I’ll applaud the fans, and I’ll pat the players on the back, but they deserve the chance to celebrate together. This is their win.
We’ve done it. You’ve done it. You beautiful bastards. This is a landmark day. This is a show of intention. This is not a team that will go gentle into that good night. These aren’t wishy washy prima donnas, happy to sit back and fade into the fourth tier, playing only to pick up a paycheque. These are men who will tie the laces on their worn black boots and fight for their honour. If we only have 7 shots in these 7 games and we stay up, then that’s what we’ll do. We will find the win in a no-win situation. We’ll play the worst football this league’s ever seen if it means we can grind out the results. This is my army. And I am Tony Pulis. I am David Moyes. I am Sam Allardyce.
I am Franjo: Enemy of Football. And I couldn’t give less of a shit.
Find me on: