Newcastle (A), Barcelona (H), Man Utd (H), Plymouth (H), Inter (N)
We started the final and most important month of the season, with an away trip to Newcastle. The Geordies were in a terrible state in the league, and were right in the relegation zone, and fighting for their lives. We got off to a bad start when Zamblera scored after just 5 mins, but 12 mins later, captain Hangeland equalised after heading in from a corner. The game changed 15 mins later though, as Dickson Etuhu picked up a 2nd yellow, and was off. A minute later we were 2-1 down, Jonas Gutierrez scoring from the resulting free kick. Guthrie added a 3rd for Newcastle midway through the 2nd half, and despite Mul scoring late on for us, we went down 3-2. All chances of the league finally gone now, as Chelsea would have to lose both games, as well as Arsenal dropping points, who with our defeat had gone above us into 2nd.
Just like last month after the disappointing result against Chelsea, we had to bounce back for the 2nd leg of our Champions League tie. We got off to a bad start, and it was no surprise when Ibrahimovic scored after just 15 mins
However, the goal woke us up, and we began to dictate the play, and we were in fact unlucky to still be behind 1-0 when the 45 mins was up. I told the players not to worry, as how we had reacted to going behind was encouraging, and we would still be in the final if the game stayed as it was. Onto the 2nd half and the first half an hour belonged to us, as we peppered the Barcelona goal, but we couldn't find an equaliser, which set up a very nervy last quarter of an hour. Barca had a couple of great chances but just couldn't find the net, and we were unlucky not to equalise in the final few mins, as Samba hit the bar, and Diarra missed a sitter. It mattered little though as we went through 2-1 on agg! Awaiting us would be our 2nd Group stage opponents Inter, who had beaten Arsenal 4-1 on agg.
With a Champions League Final to look forward to, and our league challenge practically over, I decided to rest my entire 1st XI so they were fresh for the final, and so I named a 2nd team for my remaining 2 league games, both of which were home ties.
First up was Man Utd, who still had a faint chance of finishing in the top 4, but had to rely on Liverpool slipping up. With Diego ineligible for the CL, he was instrumental for me in this game. After 21 mins, he put us ahead after good work from Longas, and the Brazilian got a 2nd just on half time. Rooney pulled one back late on in the second half, but just when a comeback looked on the cards, De Mul scored to give us back our 2 goal cushion, and that's how the game ended. On the same day, Liverpool overcame Arsenal 2-0 to ensure their place in the top 4, and it meant we were just 3 pts behind Arsenal, with a slight chance of 2nd still possible, but even more encouraging was Chelsea losing 2-0 away at Man City, which meant Arsenal were upto 1st, and we were still in the fight for the title!
The final game of the season saw us take on already relegated Plymouth at Craven Cottage, and I named exactly the same team, confident they could give me a win over the pilgrims. The game was tougher than I thought, and it was only Diego's 6th goal in 9 games, that separated the teams, which came in the 75th minute. Was it enough to give us the title though? Unfortunately not, as Chelsea won 1-0 away at Anelka, which confirmed they would finish above us, but they needed Arsenal to slip up if they stood any chance of the title, so did they get that help? Arsenal just had to win away at Wolves, but like I had found earier in the season, Molineux was a tough place to go. In fact the game was determined by a late goal in the 88th minute, but who was it to? Eduardo ran at the Wolves defence but his pass to Van Persie was over hit, Wolves hit them on the counter attack and Ross Wallace squared to Kevin Foley, to give Wolves the win, Chelsea the title, and us 2nd place as our goal difference was superior to Arsenal's.
The time had finally come, the Champions League Final between Fulham and Inter to be played at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Fortunately I had no fresh injury worries, and it was only Duff who would miss out, but even he would have only been on the bench.
I named the following side:
GK - Joe Lewis
DL - Paul Konchesky
DC - Brede Hangeland (C)
DC - Christopher Samba
DR - Fredrik Stoor
DMC - Mahamadou Diarra
MC - Tomas Rosicky
MC - Bjorn Helge Riise
AML - Martin Petrov
AMR - Clint Dempsey
SC - Rok Kronaveter
Subs: Baird, Schwarzer, Longas, Gera, Zamora, Assou-Ekotto, Jones
Onto the game, and in the opening exchanges it was all Inter, Eto'o and Milito both going close. Eventually we cracked under the pressure, and midfielder Cambiasso gave Inter a deserved lead. Unlike in the 2nd leg of the Semi against Barcelona, going a goal behind didn't spur us on, and it was only some fine keeping from Joe Lewis that kept the score to 1-0 as we went in at the break.
We were lucky to only be one goal behind, and I told the players this at half time. I decided not to make any changes yet though, as I hoped the current crop of players would heed my advice.
It didn't take long for Inter to double their lead, Milito turning in an Eto'o cross, and we were now really up against it. I gave instructions for Zamora and Longas to get ready to come on, but just when they were waiting to enter the field, a header from Dempsey was spilled by 39 yr old Toldo, and Rosicky was first to react to give us a chance back in the tie. Just a minute after coming on, and 2 mins after Rosicky's goal, Zamora smashed the ball past Toldo, and we were all square again, GAME ON! Inter couldn't get near us now, Riise and Petrov both having good chances. On 82, Gera came on for the tired looking Dempsey, and within 5 mins he almost gave us the winner, his cross found Kronaveter in the box, but the Slovenian's header crashed off the bar
and so the game went into extra time.
I told the players they'd done amazing to come back to 2-2, but it would all be in vain if they didn't win now. Despite Inter still having a substitute left to make, they decided against it, and sent a very tired looking team back onto the pitch.
We carried on from were we left off in the 2nd half, Longas in particular unlucky not to hit the back of the net. But then, Inter hit us on the counter attack, Quaresma skipping past a couple of our defenders, and he was one-on-one with Lewis
his first shot was saved by Lewis but the rebound fell straight to him. Quite astonishingly with Lewis still on the floor, and no defence around, he hit a weak shot straight at Lewis who looked bemused. No time to rest though, as Lewis launched the ball upfield to Gera, who found Longas in space. Longas ran with the ball and then sent a delightful through ball to Zamora, who only had the keeper to beat. Could he? COULD HE? YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! He'd only sodding done it! I went mad on the touchline, and practically sexually assaulted Assistant Manager Denis Holmark with all the hugging and kissing I gave him. The whistle blew as we had won on the Golden Goal rule.
Newcastle (A) 2-3 (Hangeland 17, De Mul 85, Etuhu s/o 32)
Barcelona (H) 0-1
Man Utd (H) 3-1 (Diego 21, 45, De Mul 90)
Plymouth (H) 1-0 (Diego 75)
Inter (N) 3-2 AET (Rosicky 56, Zamora 58, 105)
Game of the Month:
Arsenal got some retribution on Wolves by beating them 3-0 in the FA Cup Final.
Roma won the UEFA Cup after overcoming Man City 2-1, coming from behind to win.
Ipswich finished the season in 9th, but Keane still has a job
What do I (or he) have to do for me to get the job?
Final League Table: