Thursday, 22 March 2012

STOP PRESS: TORRES SCORES! Chelsea 5 Leicester 2

On a weekend when the whole footballing world was craving some good news following Fabrice Muamba's tragic collapse, how fitting that it should fall to Fernando Torres, a man who hadn't scored in light years, to come up trumps. Leicester of course must have fancied their chances at the Bridge, but Chelsea have suddenly fallen in love with the game again over the last few weeks and on Sunday it showed.

I must admit I didn't really know what to expect from the game given that Chelsea had been relatively abject during the previous two occasions I had watched them, but a glance around the stadium minutes before kick off hinted at a change in fortunes; there was a tremendous buzz around the ground, no doubt a reaction to Chelsea's sudden change of form after AVB's exit. Leicester to be fair also played their part, a strong 6,000 odd crowd full of life throughout the game.  Moments before kick off a round of applause was held in recognition of poor Muamba's plight, with fans chanting his name.

The football matched the fantastic atmosphere from the start. Chelsea immediately looked strong, getting the ball on the floor and prancing around the pitch as if in some kind of communal ballet dance. At times their movement was terrific, attacking together as a team and then immediately moving behind the ball when they lost it.

Though Leicester tried, they simply couldn't match the movement, skill and speed of their London opponents, and it wasn't long before Stamford Bridge erupted in a spontaneous explosion of delight as Cahill, their bright new centre back, scored his first goal for the club from a corner. Chelsea were in full control, which was increased by a second goal minutes later. It was a superb team affair, whose main contributor was a flying Spaniard down the right wing, Torres escaping the defender then cutting the ball back to set up Kalou who slid the ball past the onrushing Schmeichel.

Game over. For Leicester fans, it seemed they had nothing but their pride to sing for, and determined they were to keep singing. The flowing ballet style display Chelsea had thus far maintained suddenly began to unravel as the half went on; there was a 20 minute period when Chelsea merely kept the ball, without creating any further decent chances of note, and Leicester maybe sensed an opportunity to establish themselves. Of course, they did no such thing, the game belonged to Chelsea and I was genuinely disappointed to hear the half time whistle.

And Chelsea deserve credit for maintaining control in the early stages of the second half, other teams may have baulked under the pressure of a 2 goal lead in such a high tempo game. Midway through the second half came the game's showpiece moment; the point of no return, the twist in the tale as Torres, who had been lively and pretty damn superb in his role on the shoulder of the last defender all day, finally got the goal he had been waiting for....well, for a bloody long time. And to think it was merely an innocuous flick of the boot, on any other day, in any other game, it could have gone anywhere. For Fernando, however, after leaving his boot, the ball did something it hadn't done for months..cross the line. Instantly, the whole stadium, save 6,000 Leicester fans, exploded in celebration. I am no Chelsea fan, but I must admit I was genuinely delighted for the guy.

Within seconds, a whole host of events took place that probably hadn't happened for a long time; Torres smiled, he was hugged, his fellow players groped his hair. The stadium announcer announced shouted his name. The poor guy hadn't had this kind of adulation since the glory days at Anfield. It was almost emotional.

Torres' goal turned the game from being a Chelsea walkover into a spectacle, a delight to behold. The Bridge was rocking, cheering every touch of the newly revered Spaniard...and then there was Leicester, eleven players who no one seemed to really care about but who could still have a huge impact on the outcome of events. That became immediately apparent when in the 77th minute, a Leicester attack resulting in a close effort hitting the post, bouncing towards the lively Jermaine Beckford who tapped in to score in front of his own fans. It was a bolt from the blue for Chelsea.

But the game remained theirs.

The last 20 minutes were characterized by end to end football, both teams throwing caution to the wind in the search for glory. In the end, glory came to both teams, but more prominantly Chelsea who were just too much for Leicester. The celebratory atmosphere was given further fuel by the occasion of Fernando's second goal of the game, a neat near post header from a corner that sent Stamford Bridge into delirium. It was a sight to behold..and much credit should be given to Chelsea fans who had stuck by the lad for so long, now enthusiastically applauding his sudden return to the scoresheet. And he deserved it. Torres was at the heart of almost every Chelsea attack from start to finish, looking lively; his first touch was exquisite, his awareness of the team around him admirable.

Yet incredibly, despite Torres' heroics, the award for the best goal of the game must definately got to Leicester's Ben Marshall. Cutting in from the right, Marshall drove at the Chelsea defence before unleashing a tidy strike from 30 yards that left Cech standing aloof. Once again, another testament to the unpredictability of this great competition.

And there was more. With just minutes left, Torres ran down the left wing, lashing onto a throughball, urged on by the crowd who no doubt had visions of a magnificent hatrick. Unfortunately for the fans, Fernando disappointed them by cutting inside, and sliding the ball across to Raul Meireles who in turn shot neatly passed the hapless Schmeichel, who must have by now been wishing the full time whistle to come early.

It was a fantastic cup tie, a genuinely enjoyable game to watch, a buoyant atmopshere, some superb attacking football, the theatre of Torres' performance and goals, and even the Leicester fans were in full voice throughout. And so, rather predictably it seems, Chelsea have booked their place at Wembley for the semifinal, a dramatic turnaround of events considering the mid season loss of form they had. I am no Chelsea fan, but it is pleasing to see a group of players playing for each other, and playing for the manager, and I have lots of admiration for the way in which Torres has dealt with his loss of form in recent months. He deserves his turn of good fortune, and so do Chelsea. Question is, will their semi-final at Wembley be their first and last appearance this season? More importantly, will I be there?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 2

I am a big believer in doing things out of the ordinary, thinking outside the box, going the extra mile. In all fairness, it is highly unlikely that I will ever enter St Andrews Kop corner ever again, so in that respect alone it was a momentous occasion. I couldn't help but be occupied by the hilarity of the situation however, sitting alone in McDonalds before the game, surrounded by Birmingham fans, I felt like I was going undercover. Back in the day of course, in August, I never thought that the FA Cup run I had embarked on at Boldmere would take me anywhere near Small Heath, yet this is where I found myself. In St Andrews. In the Kop.

Birmingham City is a weird little club, I have decided. Their fans have long been viewed as more passionate and vocal than their Birmingham based rivals; and more committed. Yet I didn't see this while watching highlights of their recent league game against Derby. All I saw was empty seats. Further alarm bells rang as I began reading Chris Houghton's programme notes. In his first sentence, he suggested that the replay tie was 'a welcome distraction from the npower Championship'. Why? True, a home tie against one of the biggest teams in the country is a big deal, but Birmingham are playing in arguably the most exciting and entertaining league in the country, and have a good chance of being promoted.

And then of course you have the stadium. St Andrews is an old ground, and looks it. The Kop swings round to the Tilton in one tier, while the Garrison Lane end has a huge lower tier below a comparatively small upper one. The whole stadium looks out of proportion. But then I am biased. The Tilton is no Holte End after all.

And so to the football. Chelsea were coming into this game having lost their manager, and looking like losing their season if they couldn't get anything here, and they immediately set out to gain an advantage, their lively forward Mata unlocking the Blues defence after barely 3 minutes. Birmingham soon recovered after this initial scare, and appeared to be carrying on from where they left off in London; tight at the back, determined and focused in midfield. Trying hard not to allow Chelsea room to play. The result was a bleak stalemate at halftime after a first half of little note.

If the first half had been bleak, the second half transformed the game into a tantalizing tussle that quickly developed into an end to end spectacle. I am not sure what Birmingham's bright young manager said to them at half time, but it certainly didn't work as Chelsea came out storming, their pressure gifting them first blood. Minutes later, a superb solo effort from Meireles all but ended Birmingham's hopes of creating a cup upset. Chelsea maight have gone to hell and back over the past few weeks, but a devastating 6 minute episode showed us all what they are capable of.

And it was all over.

Well, maybe not. You see, for Birmingham's fun loving fans there was one genuine moment of celebration to be had, and even if it didn't win them the game, it was worth seeing. Shortly after going 2-0 up, Chelsea were awarded a penalty in front of their own fans. From where I was, I couldn't see if it was a dive or not, but seconds later, Juan Mata was stepping up to increase the lead. As we all watched and waited for the inevitable, Birmingham fans began chanting for Torres to take the spotkick. It wasn't Torres, it was Mata. And it was saved, saved by the hero of the original tie, Colin Doyle.

The save sparked Birmingham back into life and gave them confidence to play for the last fifteen minutes. It was of course, to no avail. When Blues were crying out for some ingenuity, some creativity and flair, they had Nikola Zigic. They bright young star Nathan Redmond, was hardly given enough service throughout the game, and must have been furious.

In the end, it was all too much for Birmingham who had tried hard but failed miserably. For Chelsea, this victory is hugely significant as it gives them genuine hope of winning a trophy this season, after the disaster of the last few weeks. They will surely fancy their chances now of beating Leicester at home, and making Wembley for the semi final. For Birmingham, their 'Road' ends here...for me and Chelsea... Blue is the Colour!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1 FACR5

Back in August 2011, when cooking up this adventure with lifelong Villa fan John Burns, never did I foresee a situation where I would be actively following the fortunes of my big local rivals. However, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in London, this is where I found myself. The draw had meant I would be following Chelsea following their lucky defeat of QPR in the previous round, and fate had demanded that they play Birmingham City at home. In recent weeks, I had visited the Chelsea website to research tickets and membership options, only to be immediately informed that membership for this season was closed. Hence, my best chance of getting a ticket to this game was in the away section, which meant watching the whole game surrounded by Birmingham City fans. I consoled myself in the days leading up to the game that, at least, it would be an experience.

And so it proved. I had acquired a ticket with my uncle, and met him at the top of the upper tier, right at the back of the Shed End, the view allowing us to survey the narrow Stamford Bridge pitch, and speculate on the chances of a Birmingham victory. As I looked round nervously at the Birmingham supporters, it suddenly occurred to me that I had an old Villa ticket stub in my coat pocket.

Certainly, as far as the football was concerned, it was hard not to hope for a safe passage to the next round for plucky Birmingham, who came to the Bridge with a game plan and a determined and focused attitude. Their aim, it was clear from the start, was to stifle Chelsea and restrict the space, preventing them from playing their normal fluid football. Thus Chelsea effectively moved from right to left, but found it difficult to make any inroads towards the Birmingham goal. Chelsea unfortunately, came with baggage; a world class striker who hadn't scored for years, a manager dramatically losing the support of the players, a Russian owner who is probably becoming increasingly disillusioned with the fortunes of his club.

And for Chelsea it showed. They dominated possession in a way which you would expect, but lacked a cutting edge going forward. Their lone ranger Torres, looking increasingly forlorn, was almost invisible.

Birmingham's plan, though untidy, was working. The result was a messy stalemate which took hold of the game until midway through the first half when Birmingham, incredibly, gained a remarkable advantage, thanks to some woeful Chelsea defending. They had threatened a couple of times already with corners, and  with Chelsea failing to deal with yet another, it was left to David Murphy to smash in from close range for the Blues. Cue hysterical celebrations. For the neutrals among us, there was more, as Chelsea gained a penalty barely minutes after Birmingham's goal, this time Sturridge going down after a sloppy challenge inside the area. As he does. The penalty was saved however, to the delight of an increasingly jubilant set of away fans, and it suddenly looked like Birmingham's day.

They did well to make it to half time, though the substitute of Torres for Drogba was an ominous sign that things were going to change. Chelsea predictably began the second half with more verve and pace going forward, pushing Birmingham back, leaving their only attacking threats of Rooney and Redmond isolated. Midway through the second half, the inevitable happened.

And so the game ended as it had began, both teams had had a go, both had cancelled each other out. The last twenty minutes returned the match to its stalemate-like status. It should be noted that Birmingham had chances to win that were hopelessly squandered, with their young star Nathan Redmond being the guilty party, shooting tamely at Cech just minutes before the end.

The tie is indeed delicately poised, for Chelsea their recent troubles seem to continue, the last thing they would want is the prospect of a replay on a Tuesday night away in Birmingham. For the Blues however, they must surely view this game as a job well done, and will relish the prospect of taking on the London club at home in front of their own fans. As for myself, as if an away tie with Birmingham wasn't punishment enough, my next move in this FA Cup adventure sees me, as a lifelong Villa fan, go to St Andrews on the 6th March. And with the way the competition is going this year, with Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Arsenal all out, a Birmingham City victory is probably my best chance of getting to a Wembley final.

Friday, 3 February 2012

QPR 0 Chelsea 1

HAHA! Gotchya! Bet you didn't think Id be writing this little number did you? As it happens, just acquiring a ticket for this game was a drama in itself. Days of emails to the FA and phone calls to QPR had yielded no results, 3 days before the game I was almost giving up.

In the end, I have Rebecca, of the QPR ticket office to thank, though why they chose to send me my ticket to my home address, when I told them I would collect it from the Box Office I don't know.

And so there I was, just after 9am on Saturday morning, taking a gentle walk along South Africa Road, to pick up my ticket. To say that I was excited for this tie was a complete understatement; despite QPR being incredibly lucky in both games against the Dons, they now found themselves facing their formidable local rivals, Chelsea of Kings Road. To add even more spice to the mix, it was the first meeting between Mr Terry and Mr Ferdinand since allegations of racism had marked the last match between the two clubs.

The atmosphere was extremely tense, police vans, and dogs, everywhere, blokes hanging around shouting for tickets. Half an hour before kick off, the Chelsea team ran on to warm up, to a chorus of jeers and boos from the majority of the crowd. Cries of 'SCUM, SCUM' ripped through the midday sunshine like lightening, with special treatment reserved for the Chelsea captain. It is definitely the most violent atmosphere I had seen at a football match. Fans had been speculating about whether the 'handshake' would happen or not, and in the end we were robbed of finding out, as the FA cowardly decided to forget about fair play, conveniently disregard the anti racism campaign, and cancelled it. To the astonishment of both sets of fans, the 22 players merely ran onto the pitch and took up their positions.

The football, then, was always a secondary event. When it did happen, it was clear to all that Chelsea were by far the better team. QPR had a game plan, namely, to get men behind the ball, to restrict space for Chelsea to move, to prevent them from getting near their 18 yard box. Credit then, to QPR because for the entire first half, the plan worked. Chelsea, for their part, were content to get the ball on the floor and play from left to right, maybe to take the sting out of the atmosphere. Up front, their lone ranger, Torres, cut a forlorn figure.

It has been suggested by many in recent weeks that El Nino should leave Chelsea, that he isn't good enough, that he is not worth £50 million. I actually feel rather sorry for him. Its not his fault Chelsea spent £50 million. Its not his fault that he was offered the wages he is on. Its not his fault that he plays for a team who seem unable to give him the service he so badly needs. Torres huffed and puffed, but he was, as he so often has been this season, largely ineffective.

QPR on the other hand were bustling with talent, desire and great organisation, spearheaded by the return of their captain Joey Barton. Say what you like about JB, the fact is that he was pulling the strings for QPR throughout the first half. Everything the Hoops created consisted of a Barton pass or move; almost every chance created was from a Joey assist. He was their midfield general, their motivator, their engine. I am no fan of Joey, but it was great to see him play such a positive role in QPR's fortunes, so focused on the game, so calm on the ball.

Yet despite all of the classy possession by Chelsea and the verve and organisation of QPR, the first half ended in stalemate, the crowd amusing themselves with chants of 'We know what you said, we know what you said, John Terry we know what you said'.

The second half began in exactly the opposite fashion. Gone were the shackles of the first 45 minutes, gone was the nervous anticipation, gone was the fear. Both sets of players were up for it and it showed, the game quickly turned into attack v defence as Chelsea's monopoly on possession had given way to a more even game. That said, Chelsea still looked the better team on the ball, and as QPR began to lose discipline at the back, the Blues began to make more incisive runs, more telling crosses, forcing more hurried clearances from the Hoops defence.

Such a shame that the goal that would ultimately separate the two teams came from a blatant dive, an attempt to con the referee and rob the game of its hitherto respectful style of play. I couldn't see from where I was if it was a penalty or not, but TV replays show that Sturridge cheated, dived, it what you will. It has no place on the football field. It was left to Chelsea's best player, Mata, to convert the chance and give advantage to blue half of West London.

Though QPR had barely created anything meaningful, I did feel sorry for them. The game quickly became a scrappy affair as things started to turn ugly. The fans were also doing their bit with chants of 'John Terry, your mum's a thief' and '1-0 to the racist scum' filling the air with hatred and anger. Ironically, it was in this moment of increasing bitterness, that one of the more humorous stories of the day took place:

The Loftus Road end has 3 gantries potruding from the upper tier, one on the left, one on the right, and one in the middle. The left gantry was occupied by a cameraman, the middle and right gantries empty. While Ramirez lay injured on the pitch for 6 minutes, one QPR fan decided to climb down from his seat, onto the right gantry, and, jumping up and down waving his Cockney hands in the air, began to lead the Loftus Road end in chants against Terry, Chelsea and the like. Stewards quickly tried to persuade the fan to climb back up, he ignored them. This bizarre situation only ended when a steward eventually climbed down onto the gantry with him, remonstrated with the plucky fellow, and then lifted him up by his legs, while a colleague pulled him back up by his arms. The fan was promptly escorted out of the stadium, to the cheers of thousands.

In the end, QPR could not find a way to equalize against their rivals. Chelsea had huffed and puffed, and when that failed, cheated their way into a Fifth Round tie. For John Terry and Anton Ferdinand though, things could have been a lot worse...imagine if they had had to shake? The result leaves QPR hopelessly dumped out of the only competition that could have bought them some success this season; instead they lie stagnant, close to the edge of the abyss of the Premier League.

Chelsea on the other hand, rightly or wrongly, now have an intriguing tie against Birmingham City to look forward to. Which leaves me, as a Villa fan, with the terrifying prospect of having to watch the fifth round of this great competition, in a stand full of Birmingham City fans...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

QPR 1 MK Dons 0 - the end of the dream?

This was a day I was secretly hoping would not come, the moment when I would have to suddenly break free from the safe routine of the working week to travel to some dark football ground in search of a conclusion, an ending, a termination of a tie that would propel the FA Cup from the non league to the Premier League 'business end' of the competition.

A late change to my travel plans was a telling example of my uneasiness about the game, which I had had to take a days annual leave for. Originally hoping to take the train to London, I realised that should the game go to extra time or penalties, I wouldn't make the train home. I drove. Into Central London.

Loftus Road lies at a jagged angle to the long boulevard South Africa Road, its exterior facade almost jutting out onto the road itself. Either side of the road are apartment blocks, a pub, and behind the stadium is a local school. The inside of the stadium is not much better. Loftus Road is mainly famous for being the only ground in top flight English football to have a synthetic pitch,apart from that, it is a truly unremarkable stadium. Away fans enter through the turnstile and walk along a narrow corridor, which opens up onto a long concorse, to the left of which are the stairs outside into the terraces. Lets get something straight. Loftus Road is like a 1970's football stadium with seats. While QPR have been under the leadership of a new wealthy owners for some time now, the School End lower tier remains a place of ugliness, of  pokey piss stained concrete walls and cramped stairways.

One MK fan observed to me that 'no one was sitting in their right seat, so just sit anywhere.' Great. The lower tier were buoyant, and one thing I immediately observed was how claustraphobic it all was, with the roof of the upper tier very close to your head. To my right was an MK fan who can't have been much older than 20, with a mouth that suggested that he had been one of Mick Jagger's lovechildren. On my left was a fan of similar age, wearing a burberry scarf, who looked on the whole far too Joey Essexlike to be seen near a football stadium. To make matters worse, they had Buckinghamshire accents.

The football was predictable. QPR, as the home side, barely touched the ball inside the first 10 minutes, it was a good 20 minutes before they had their first serious chance. MK began the game as they had left off, full of running, eager to establish their slick passing style on the home team. On the whole I was impressed with the Dons, I honestly thought they would struggle away against a Premiership team but QPR did nothing to suggest that they knew what they were doing or where they were going as a club. They looked, to all intents and purposes, like a team struggling to justify their Premier League status. MK, however, were full of confidence, their busy centre forward Ibehre backed up by a busy midfield who knew how to play the ball on the ground.

Once again however, just like in the original tie, MK displayed a punishing weakness in the final third, often wasting a chance by playing one too many passes. They were occasionally guilty of being too casual when trying to play the ball out from the back, modest intentions cut short by a telling reminder that they are after all, no Barcelona. QPR DID go close themselves in the first half, and they have Shaun Wright Phillips to thank for contriving to miss a great chance to put them 1-0 ahead. For the most part though, QPR were pretty dire.

With a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, I was left contemplating the possibility of spending an extra 45 minutes in this rotten poor excuse of a stadium, when I caught sight of a member of the general public, frantically running around an illuminous yellow pole potruding from the ground between the centre circle and the 'D'. The man, after running around the pole 10 times, then attempted to run back towards the penalty spot where he would then try to score past the QPR mascot. The first fan fell over after 3 steps, to the delight of the home fans. The second fan incredibly made it all the way to the ball, slipping over as he made contact. Finally, the last fan managed to overcome the forces of giddiness, scoring a sublime effort. Say what you like about the Premier League, you can't knock half time entertainment.

Soon, the game resumed. MK were on top. Yet again. This was exasperating me, as I was honestly hoping for an end to end game in which both teams would play their part. Instead, MK looked even better after the half time interval, creating several good chances in the first 15 minutes. My evening changed however, as QPR somehow scored a goal from nothing, seemingly condemming the brave Dons to defeat. No one in the grotty lower tier could believe what we were seeing. Rangers had played so poorly in both games, yet were winning with barely 10 minutes left. Their professionalism alone was enough to see them through if nothing else.

In the end, it was a heartbraking, if not ultimately predictable finish to an eventful cup run for the Dons. They can take heart from the fact that they played so well throughout, and national TV audiences have had the pleasure of seeing their own brand of attractive football, that will no doubt see them well through to the end of the season.

 For myself however, this result represents a severe change in my own FA Cup fortunes. QPR are due to play Chelsea in the 4th Round. Of all ties, not only is it in London, but it is also a local derby, and initial inquiries suggest that the game will not even enter general sale. A grotty, cold, piss poor night in Central London, could this be the end of my FA Cup dream?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

MK Dons 1 QPR 1

Sitting on the train travelling towards Britain's most famous 'new town' it suddenly hit me that I really could be at the scene of an FA Cup giantkilling. MK were in hot form in the league, 4th in the table and playing some great football, well placed to challenge for a promotion place to the Championship. QPR on the other hand, had lost the momentum they began the season with and they had also lost their enigmatic captain Joey Barton the previous week. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they would be soon to lose their manager as well.

Of course, the giantkilling didn't happen, but it nearly did. What struck me about the game was that both sets of players played their part in making it a spectacle, a superb end to end 'proper' cup tie, evoking the finest traditions of English football. Also surprising, was the appearance of an unlikely 12th man. In my previous visit to the Stadiummk, merely 5,000 fans had bothered to make the journey from the surrounding towns and villages. Today however, Milton Keynes had bizarrely managed to acquire about 10,000 extra fans for this tie, and the stadium was nearly full to capacity and boasted a record attendance of 19,508.

MK were well up for this tie, and wasted no time in taking the game to the London outfit, controlling the midfield, and had a goal disallowed in the first 10 minutes. QPR by contrast, looked like a team who were struggling big time. Warnock had made some pre match excuses by suggesting that he wouldn't be able to field a full strength side anyway, but even so, it was a team containing Manchester United striker Macheda, experienced first team players in Luke Young and Shaun Derry. If they had wanted to win, surely they could have.

In the end however, it was left to the home side to turn on the quality, creating chances left right and centre, If there was a criticism of MK, it was merely that they were trying to walk the ball into the net, often playing one  pass too many instead of taking a shot at goal. It came as no surprise then, when their talismanic striker Dean Bowditch put them ahead in the second half. MK were flying, the stadium was rocking and even at only 1-0 with over 20 minutes to play, it seemed a foregone conclusion. A fact embellished by the injury to Faurlin, which left QPR having to finish with 10 men after using their subs. QPR were so bad that at one stage, their own fans were mimicking the home fans taunts of 'Premier league, you're having a laugh'.

Enter MK Dons goalkeeper, David Martin.

Two minutes from time, as a long ball came hurtling towards him, Martin committed an error that even Peter Enckelman would have been proud. Running out of his box, Martin failed to deal with the long ball, which fell to the onrushing Helguson, who then dispatched it into an empty net. Two minutes from a memorable giantkilling. A million miles away from everything they had worked so hard for in the previous 88 minutes.

For Dons fans, it was such a cruel end to a totally enthralling cup tie. For Rangers fans, a chance to take the Dons back to Loftus Road for the replay for which they will surely fancy their chances in front of  a home crowd. Back in August when I started this blog, I wondered what it would be like to get down to London for a midweek replay. This time next week i'll be finding out.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Barnet 1 MK Dons 3

It was cold. It was wet. And worst of all, it was at Barnet, some backwatered shithole in North London. Yet this tie was something I was extremely excited about, because it presented to me exactly the kind of experience I have been craving since I began the cup run.

I am a child of the heath and safety generation, an age which roughly began as the terrible events unfolded on an April afternoon in Sheffield in 1989. The consequences of the disaster have changed football stadiums forever in this country, something superbly demonstrated by the stadiummk.

This tie however, gave me a chance to experience life on the terraces for the first time ever. Barnet's stadium is the epitome of the old fashioned football ground, the away terrace is accessed via a long passageway, a couple of seating areas sit uneasily with the open air terraces along the length of the pitch. There is actually a slope. The away terrace hosts one small refreshments 'cupboard'.

After purchasing my meat pie, I decided to perch myself at the back, assuming the further towards the back I was, the better the view I would have. I was wrong. Seconds later I dropped my plastic fork down the other side of the railings and the grim reality of no seating was starting to hit me. I had to spend the rest of the game in a cold terrace up close and far too personal to some idiot mk fans (how funny, I thought, that they can barely muster a 4,000 attendance for a home game, yet when away they suddenly find their voice). Towards the end of the game I had had enough of standing and perched myself on a metal bar running the length of the terrace. Old school indeed.

As for the game, I consider Barnet to be extremely unlucky, on virtue of a spectacularly missed chance in the first half; the front man hitting the ball on the turn and, with nothing but an own goal to aim at, shooting wide from 10 yards. It was clear to all that MK were the better team on the ball though for the majority of the game there was little to speak about; neither team being able to open up the other. Cruel then, that the Dons should score first literally minutes after Barnets wasted chance.

The second half was a great deal more entertaining, as the weather turned colder, darker, and both sets of players seemed to have woken from their first half slumber party. Barnet however seemed unable to break down the solidity of MK's defence, and it wasn't till MK were comfortably 2-0 up that the Bees seriously began to threaten. Getting a goal back late in the second half threatened the prospect of a dramatic comeback, only to be cruelly swept aside by the fluidity of the Dons passing, and at 3-1 it was all over. Thankfully, time to exit a freezing stand and get the hell out of there.