SO we’re into the business end of the season – squeaky bum time as Sir Alex Ferguson calls it – and there aren’t many Yorkshire clubs who’ll be able to take their eye off the ball.
Yet again an enthralling finale is vindication for whoever it was who decided it was time to award three points for a win.
So what’s going to make the difference between success and failure?
Managers have to be bold in their decision making, players have to stay cool in the hottest of kitchens, and fans have to realise their teams can’t win every game and try not to let their tension affect those on the pitch.
Last Saturday I witnessed a master class in management from Arsene Wenger, whose astute brain helped Arsenal overcome an uncharacteristically diffident first-half performance at Wigan.
Guus Hiddink has reignited Chelsea’s season by making underperforming players regain self-belief, no-one more so than Didier Drogba.
Another defining aspect can be the discovery of a new star at this most important stage of the season, so how lucky have Manchester United been to unearth Federico Macheda ?
The teenage Italian is writing his own fairy story and who knows what the next chapter will bring?
The impetus has been with Kevin Blackwell and Simon Grayson at Sheffield United and Leeds respectively, and play-off finals at Wembley are probably the least they expect right now.
That really is crunch time as Blackwell in particular knows only too well. He took Leeds to a play-off final against Watford and looked on in horror as his players froze and put on their worst display of the season.
Psychologically some footballers do that – probably aware that promotion will coincide with them being told they’re not good enough to play in a higher division.
If it’s tough at the top, imagine what torment the players of Hull City, Barnsley, Grimsby Town and York City are going through though.
It would be shocking if the Tigers were relegated from the Premier League – they were talking about getting into Europe not so long ago – while for Grimsby there’s the grim prospect of dropping out of the league altogether.
I mention York City because it’s becoming increasingly likely that a Wembley appearance in the FA Trophy final will coincide with a drop into Blue Square North alongside the likes of Solihull and Kings Lynn.
Keep calm at Kit Kat Crescent. It might not happen but the very thought must send a shudder through the boardroom.
Why Shankly had fit striker carried off!
AN incident in that aforementioned Wigan-Arsenal game revived memories of a story about the late, great Bill Shankly.
Legend has it that during a match at West Ham, Liverpool striker Tony Hateley went down in a tackle and Shankly (right) ordered his trainer to rush onto the pitch with a stretcher.
Hateley was bemused to say the least as he wasn’t badly injured, but the trainer did as he was told and the Reds’ No9 was duly carried off the field of play.
Hateley quickly shouted to Shanks: “I’m ok. boss,” whereupon came the reply: “You’re not, you’re having a stinker. We’ll be better off without you!”
Just as huge a deal for Guiseley as United
COMING up to 10 years ago I was fortunate to be in Barcelona to see one of the most amazing finishes to a Champions League final.
You may remember Manchester United scored twice in added time to snatch the trophy when Bayern Munich already had one arm wrapped around it.
Well last week I thought lightning had struck twice – except this was at Curzon Ashton on the outskirts of Manchester rather than the Nou Camp.
With a minute to go in extra-time in the Unibond League Challenge Cup final, Ilkeston Town led Guiseley 2-1.
Then former Rotherham stalwart Paul Hurst handled an awkwardly bouncing ball and was aghast as Guiseley scrambled an equaliser.
The fourth official held up a board indicating one minute separated the teams from a penalty shoot-out.
Guiseley won a corner and Adam Muller dramatically won the tie to spark a Guiseley pitch invasion.
For Sheringham and Solskjaer read Cotterill and Muller.
I assure you the moment meant just as much to them and Guiseley’s jubilant band of followers as it did to United and Fergie a decade ago.