Diary of a Championship footballer
Hi, we're in the middle of another hectic week in the Championship and I'm trying to get my head around the topsy-turvy fixture list.
On Friday we take on Watford in front of the live TV cameras and that will be the third game in a week after a fortnight off.
It doesn't make sense to me. The international breaks interrupt the flow of the Championship. We go from three games in a week now to three games in the whole of November. Squads in the Championship are not as big as the ones in the Premier League so maybe there needs to be a rethink.
Michael Gray in World Cup qualifying action for England against Bulgaria in June 1999
A few years ago teams outside of the top flight had the option of playing during the internationals if they didn't have three or more players on duty. I think it's something we should look at because, yes, there are international players in the Championship but are there enough in every team to warrant this fixture congestion? I'm not sure, but I think it needs looking at.
It seems strange to me that players are being asked to play three times a week. It hurts the fans because they want to see players play at the highest level. With the stop-start fixture list that is very hard to achieve and may be one of the reasons teams in the Championship are so inconsistent.
I don't like to moan and you just get on and try to do your best. You need your recovery through the week, and not just if you're 35 like me. So what does my week look like in one of these busy periods...
We had the Coventry game and I thought we played really well. Wednesday won 2-0 and it was really nice to get a clean sheet. We've scored plenty of goals this season, but we've been leaking a few at the other end and that needed to be addressed. Overall, the game went really well for us and I was really pleased for our captain Darren Purse. He's come in for a bit of stick and a lot of it's been unjust, so for him to score our first goal and have it backed up with a clean sheet was great.
There was an incident in the second half when Aron Gunnarsson, was fouled and ended up in a heap on the ground. I thought he was making a meal of it at the time and in the heat of the game I tried to get him off the floor. Obviously, I didn't realise he had a suspected broken leg and I felt really bad when I realised he was hurt. It was a genuine mistake and one that I have apologised for. I certainly felt a bit silly watching it back on television. It also came out in the media a couple of days later that I had made sick jokes when he was waiting for the stretcher but that's just a load of rubbish so I'll leave that one at that. I hope Aron is back in action soon and I wish him a speedy recovery.
Usually a day off, but because of the fixtures we had to go in for a light recovery session which was a bit of a massage and a 'cool down'. I drive across from Manchester, where I live, but the hour drive doesn't bother me.
Back at the training ground for a light session. We don't have too much time to prepare for Preston but we work on a few set pieces. After lunch at the training ground you usually try and stay relaxed for the rest of the day so you are feeling good for the next day's match.
Matchday again and I have breakfast, chill out for a bit and then get ready for the game. I put my suit on and head over to Sheffield to arrive for about 4pm. I go to a hotel for something to eat and just relax with a nice cup of tea. For home games we don't meet up for a pre-match so you look after your own means. At some clubs they have you in a couple of hours before your pre-match meal but I have been to as many clubs that don't do it so it's second nature to me - I just make sure I eat the right things. Then it's down to the ground at about 6pm for a massage and to get kitted out.
Everyone felt sharp and we were confident of getting another good result. Even in the warm-up the lads looked really sharp. You get that feeling sometimes. We had trained on Monday so we didn't see the 2-1 defeat coming.
We came flying out of the traps and played really well in the first half. I put in a corner for Jermaine Johnson in the first few minutes and how he missed I don't know. The delivery was perfect of course but JJ headed it into the ground and over the bar from close range. If that had gone in it would have given us a tremendous start and we probably wouldn't have looked back, but it was just one of those days when we wasted chances and their goalkeeper, Andy Lonergan, pulled off some tremendous saves.
It was a frustrating first half because it was probably the best 45 minutes we have played this season. It would have been nice to top it off with three or four goals because the chances we had were that clean cut.
You're not going to dominate for 90 minutes but in the first half Preston didn't look like they wanted to be on the pitch. They had one attack on our goal after we'd had six or seven at theirs but they managed to make it 1-0. It was gut wrenching but we got ourselves level with a fantastic goal from a young lad by the name of Gray. My goodness, it would have to be one of the best free-kicks you'll ever see!
Darren Potter and I usually share the free-kicks between us but Potts had been nicking the ball off me when I've wanted to tale them in the last few games so I thought it was time to pull rank. If he'd stuck two away in the last couple of games I'd probably have let him take it but there was no way he was taking this one. I knew where I was going to put it and it was just nice to see it fly in the top corner. I take free-kicks in training, as I have been recently with our assistant manager Russ Wilcox, so when I scored I ran over to him to celebrate and of course I have had plenty of stick all the lads for that celebration.
We were still on a bit of a high at half time because of the equaliser despite the disappointment of not tucking away our other chances. But something happened in the second half and we seemed a totally different team. We sat back and seemed a bit naive. Teams don't seem to be working hard enough to score the goals we are conceding - we are making it a bit too easy for them. We've got to be tougher.
The gaffer came in at the end and said: 'I am gutted for you. You played well in the first half but your standards dropped in the second'. Our throw-in resulted in a goal for Preston and things like that can't happen. We ended up chasing the game so it was a disappointing and frustrating night.
Because it's three games in less than a week, Wednesday is a chill-out and recovery day. I don't do too much and just hang out with the family.
In the morning we will train ahead of the Watford game. It will probably be a fairly light session again with all these games coming thick and fast. We'll have a chat about the Preston game, looking at what we did wrong and what we did right. We'll then focus on the Watford game and get on the coach to travel down to the hotel.
We'll have breakfast then probably do something very light, just to get the legs moving and help get the journey out of our systems. We'll get a bit of sleep before the game too so we are as ready as possible for the match. Hopefully we will get things right so I can tell you about another win next week.
Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina is beaten by a combination of beachball and football against Sunderland
Of course, being a Sunderland fan I can't help but mention the beach ball incident and I have to say that I loved watching it on Match of the Day! Seeing that big red ball and Darren Bent's shot going in off it against Liverpool was fantastic. I'm told there's a ruling that there could be a drop ball in circumstances like that but because I'm a Sunderland fan I don't care. I admit I would have been gutted if it had happened to the team I was playing for but it's just one of those crazy things that happens in football.
It was a Liverpool fan who smacked the ball on the pitch and I'm sure his mates who went to the game with him weren't his mates anymore on Monday morning. You can't stop supporters bringing these things into the ground but I am sure there won't be many beach balls being sold in Liverpool in the next couple of weeks!