I thought about a subtitle for this post but so much was going on I couldn’t decide which to use. What to focus on? That the work commitments that stopped me getting a ticket annoyingly disappeared when the railway line at Patcham flooded? That, in any case, by then I had invited one of our new generation of fans round from crisps and the game on TV in my continued, successful, efforts to brainwash them? No, these are personal. The big debate at the end of the game was around our use of a ‘weakened team’ and the end result, another unwanted Monday night game.
So. Declaration of bad fan-ness first. I watched the game on TV. Yes, I know it’s not the same thing but as soon as the game was moved to a Monday there was enough doubt about me making it to Falmer in time because of work commitments that I didn’t bother getting a ticket. A shame as Reading had been one of my favourite games of the season so far and I had taken the boy and his friend for a very reasonable cost indeed. The same pricing was repeated for Hull but then the game moved to Monday and Monday night football really does stink like a dead tramp’s balls.
Instead I invited the boy’s friend and his mum over to ours for the game on TV. About five minutes after they accepted the news came through that the Preston rail tunnel had flooded and the trains the next day would be diverted and cancelled. Inevitably I worked from home and inevitably the meeting I was worried about disappeared. Never mind. The crisps and beers were bought and arrangements made. At least I wouldn’t miss kick off.
Another thing that happened the day before kick off was the 6th round draw and the result gave us, at least in the fans’ minds, a massive incentive to win. Not only would we be in the Quarter Finals but we would be at home. To Sunderland. Gus Poyet’s Sunderland. Unless he hits the roof in the meantime.
Now no disrespect to Hull. They are a division above us having deservedly been promoted last season. But they are also not Manchester United (mind you, neither are Manchester United these days) or Chelsea. At home they represented a reasonable chance of us getting in to the next round. But when the teams were announced we had made several changes. Had we selected a weak side and blown our chances of progressing? Not for me. Apparently others didn’t agree, including Robbie Savage. I’ll tell you why I take that view.
Brezovan came in for Kuszczak. The P.I.G. is a better keeper overall but Brezovan has been excellent whenever I’ve seen him deputise and his distribution is better. Calde and Bruno have been vying for the right back slot all season. Dunk is a former Championship regular who had an excellent game. The midfield three almost picked themselves with Orlandi having had a shocker there last time out, Agustien moody and out of form, Stephens cup tied and Bridcutt sold. KLL and Buckley playing just behind Ulloa is about as attacking as we get. Only Chicksen for Ward looked seriously weaker and yet he had excelled against Reading and is an excellent prospect, rapid and organised. He has to play some time. But the point is that it is a squad game. Rotation is vital in an overall season and no one – no one – plays the same side week in, week out these days.
The game itself certainly didn’t look like a Premier League team against a weakened Championship side. The Albion started the brightest though without carving out a really good chance. Then we got lucky. The woodwork has been our enemy all season but, as Sagbo wasted a great chance by hitting the bar, it became our friend. On half an hour we took the lead with one of the best goals we’ve scored all season. Magical interplay between Ulloa and Buckley sent the former scampering clear and Huddlestone knew he couldn’t foul if he wanted to stay on the pitch. A cool finish put us 1-0 up and the cheers from the front room probably woke up our sleepy new street.
The two sides then missed a good chance each. Curtis Davies should have equalised for Hull before Ulloa missed a free header from about six yards out.
Probably the worst result for both sides would have been a draw. So of course Hull pushed on for the equalizer and we sat back. We also tired. Buckley lasted only 45 minutes but was replaced by March who had started the last two league wins. KLL started to exaggerate his falls and got less change out of the referee as the game went on. The centre backs, who’d been excellent all game, came under more and more pressure. And eventually Hull scored. Both sides went for it in the last few minutes but neither could push on and that was it. A (result wise) totally unsatisfactory draw, but an excellent game in which we acquitted ourselves respectfully against the sort of side we will have to match or beat week in, week out if we ever go up.
Was our team selection unsatisfactory? No. Is it unsatisfactory that a TV channel with very few subscribers can make us play an FA Cup 5th Round tie on a Monday night when the trains are wrecked? Yes. Is it unsatisfactory that UEFA rules dictate the replay is again on a Monday, just 48 hours after a big league game against Wigan? Yes. Is it unsatisfactory that the magic of the cup has deteriorated to the point where the semi can be at Wembley but the final is no longer the season finale at the traditional time? Absolutely.
We will undoubtedly play two very different teams against Wigan and Hull. And yet we will give it our best shot possible. After all, Gus still awaits the winners.