Gutted to lose fantastic derby
After all the hype in the week leading up to our Steel City derby game against Sheffield United it was time to lace up our boots, get out there and sample the atmosphere.
We started our day by meeting up at Hillsborough at about 4.30pm for the pre-match meal and you could sense the tension in everybody; not only the Sheffield Wednesday players but staff as well. We just couldn't wait for the game.
It turned out to be a really long day for me. As soon as I woke up in the morning all I could do was think about the game. I kept checking my watch to see if it was time for me to leave to go to the ground. Every five minutes it was being advertised on TV so I ended up sticking my tracksuit on and leaving early.
Not ideal preparation for the second-half
The lads all have different stuff to eat before games and the fitness coach, Tom Little, puts it out for us. It's all carbohydrate food to build up your energy levels along with some energy drinks. Not my favourite meal of the week but I still try to get something down me.
Then we have a team meeting when you find out if you are in the starting XI - I was in so I was buzzing. The gaffer shows us clips of the opposition and how we can stop them playing and what is the best way of breaking down their system. The room is silent when we are watching and all you hear is the gaffer pinpointing what he wants from us, individually and collectively.
You work on things during the week as well but when you have three games in six days it doesn't give you much time to prepare so the video is a reminder of what he expects from you.
We start our journey to Bramall Lane and all you see are fans from both sides making their way to the ground, either jeering or cheering at the coach. We arrive about 90 minutes before the game and make our way into the dressing room, all the kit laid out for you and your boots gleaming.
Everyone has a different pre-match routine. Jermaine Johnson is the dressing room DJ. His music is pants but it's nice to have some kind of music on just to keep everybody in a relaxed mood. Oh, and he's the worst dancer I've ever seen - no rhythm in that boy!
Darren Potter is sat in the corner grooming his 'tache, which he's been growing from birth. You can nearly see it now if you get close up to him!
Then about 30 minutes before kick-off we get ready for our warm-up; where we get our first taste of what the atmosphere is going to be like. This is when you really start to concentrate on what's in front of you.
After warming up it's back into the dressing room to get your shin pads on and your shirt then another motivating speech from the gaffer. Not that we should need one for a game like this but it was all about the bragging rights and what it meant to the blue side of the city and, most important of all, there were three points up for grabs and a chance to creep into the top six.
I felt quite relaxed in the tunnel and had a bit of a laugh with my old team-mates from Blackburn, Keith Treacy and Andy Taylor, asking if they were nervous. Keith looks like he's just got out of bed every time I see him so I asked if he had brushed his hair with a toffee apple, to which he replied: "Shut it, old man."
We walked out there and I must admit I was taken aback a bit. The atmosphere was fantastic. It was so loud from every side of the ground. There were 3,000 Wednesday fans all in their blue and white shirts, singing as loudly as possible, then the rest of the ground red and white of United, cheering their team on to get one over us.
The game started and you couldn't hear yourself think, so it was just a case of doing what you thought was right when the ball arrived at your feet. Looking at the 3-0 half-time score you would think we were awful in the first half but I didn't think that was the case. Yes, we made some terrible errors for the goals they scored but overall we played some great football. Two own goals and a close-range finish from Ward but, in saying that, you should never come in at half-time in a derby 3-0 down, or in any game for that matter.
I was gutted and just draped a towel over my head for the whole 15 minutes, while the gaffer went to town on us. I'm not one for ranting and raving at half-time. It's easy to talk in a dressing room but you need to do your talking on the pitch and then if there is something on your mind after the game by all means let it out. Good or bad.
Talk about a game of two halves. We came out of the blocks brilliantly after the break, this time much more clinical. They knew they were in for a backlash and we didn't disappoint them. Marcus Tudgay hit a fantastic volley from the edge of the box within a minute of the restart and it flew in the bottom corner and got our fans jumping. They could sense an amazing comeback and so could the team but we weren't finished there.
Etienne Esajas came on as a second-half sub and made a great impact. We got a free-kick about 25 yards out and I knew he wanted to take it. He fires them in from all angles in training so I was quite confident when he placed the ball down. He ran up and just smacked it in the bottom right-hand corner - just like Roberto Carlos.
Now we had a game on our hands and we just needed to keep our heads and find another way through them. We tried and tried but to no avail. We had chances, they had chances - it was end to end.
As we went looking for the equaliser we had to take risks but unfortunately just came up short. The final whistle blew and United had beaten us 3-2. Every one of the lads went over to our fans to say thank you for their support. It's never nice losing games but if you know you have given your all you can come off the pitch with your head held high. And that's what the manager told us in the dressing room afterwards.
If you were a neutral watching the game I'm sure you were on the edge of your seat. It had everything; passion, great goals, atmosphere and a fantastic game of football. From talking to people after the game it will be one of the derby games that will be remembered for a very long time. Not in my eyes. I only like to remember the ones I win.
After the game you have got the media to do: TV, radio and papers. Never nice when you have lost but part and parcel of our job to do it if asked. I had to do a couple so got away lightly.
Then it's back on the coach and back to the ground. Jump in your car and see you on Monday. It was strange playing on a Friday night. I had all day Saturday and Sunday to think about the game, which was a bit strange. Maybe I wouldn't be saying that if we had won, although I have my 18-month-old son Lucas, who takes my mind off football very quickly. He doesn't have a care in the world and just wants to play in the garden or go swimming. He loves the ball though and he's not bad already. So maybe we will see the next generation of the Gray family gracing football grounds up and down the country in 17 years time - or less the way the youngsters are coming through now!
Monday came around very quickly and it was time to reflect on the game. The gaffer had made a short video picking out the bits he wanted to show us. Some of our play was great so it was good to see it back. We use a match analysis system called ProZone, which shows you everything about the game; how far you run, how many sprints you have made, how many times you received the ball and how many times you give the ball away, just to name a few. It's really interesting if you use it in the right way and look at it positively. Our stats were fantastic from the game so it was a shame we didn't get the result to go with them.
Then it was out to train. Mondays used to be a bit of an easy day when I was younger but that's all changed now. Straight back into the swing of things and starting to prepare for our next game against Cardiff City. Another big game for us and this time we are in front of our home fans where we lost our last game so we want to put that right as soon as possible.
It would be nice for me to talk about winning rather than losing the next time I write my blog so keep your fingers crossed for me please.
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