Coventry City at Home – Cup Fever

Monday night and things are about to move as far away from Graham Kelly’s velvety ball bag as possible. Two asinine presenters are going about their business, which appears to be patronising their normal viewers in to submission. Outside in a car park there are a lot of people in replica shirts who are about to joyfully shake hands. It’s like a dystopian novel where man-made fibre has taken over the world and started to melt people’s brains. Welcome to the cup fifth round draw.

Who did we want? “Someone shit at home” wrote my running mate Darren on NSC. And so it happened, a League Two side at The Amex. Female Vacuous Presenter announced gleefully that “Hove Albion would play Coventry City” and found a Coventry fan to interview about it. His kid spent the whole time trying to throw up over a cardboard replica.

But Coventry weren’t always shit. Under the less than glorious reign of SISU they have become a League Two team, had to groundshare with Northampton, and seen more and more of their current ground given over to use by a “London” rugby team. Their Number 27, Josh Barrett, looked like he’d been borrowed from said rugby club’s front row instead of Reading. We may complain about the train service but at least we can use it on match days.

Yet this was a club who won the cup in 1987 and for most of my youth were as permanent a fixture in the top flight as Everton. The Boy was born in 2006. In that season Coventry finished 17th in The Championship. We finished 18th in League One. Yet, because if his age, he thinks of them as a little club. It has to be said I have a great deal of sympathy for them. They’ve been through very similar to us.

Not so much sympathy that I didn’t want to beat them in to the dust mind you. Thanks to the way the club sold tickets we were in the North Stand, The Boy for the first time. The sun was shining and we’d been pretty much promised Locadia would start. I had a genuine spring in my step on the ten yard walk to the car, since the Coastway West was shut to trains and Steve’s wife had kindly offered us a lift to Brighton Station.

From there a train to The Amex full of noisy Cov fans on the sauce, determined to enjoy their day out. I paused to buy a pair of blue home shorts to use in next week’s Brighton Half and then we entered the hallowed area of the North Stand, which looked like it had been taken over by a Farmer’s Market. A true eye opener for the WSU regular. These people have a SPECIALIST pastry area. They have artisan looking pizzas. They have tiny beer queues and yet EVERYONE is drinking. I considered asking for a permanent move.

Once out – and kick off was delayed for 15 minutes – the reason for picking the WSU again became obvious. The atmosphere where we were was excellent and I do love watching from an end. It was the default growing up, Goldstone North Stand at home and away “end” away. Only recently have clubs started to shunt the away fans in to a distant corner. Plus, when I played, I was a centre back – I’m used to seeing the ball come towards me. But still the view was not great. Some people standing, some sitting (make your minds up) and the crossbar sort of in the way. And it’s much harder to spot tactical changes and how close players are to the far goal. Which is why I’m blethering away. The game passed by in a pleasant but undiscernible mush of beer, song and pastry.

We did, though, have a lot of changes, but also a very strong side with Locadia and Ulloa starting up front. It took the Dutchman hardly any time at all to make his mark. From a corner he swung the loose ball on to a post, missing out on a debut goal by inches. Then Coventry nearly took the lead from a set piece, hitting the bar. But just 15 minutes in our man had his goal. Knockaert, who’d been wasteful up to then hit a low cross (did he mean it? – couldn’t tell from the NS) and Locadia was first to react, driving home from close range. Ladies and gents, we have us a striker.

He could have had a first half hat trick, air slicing a March cut back and sliding agonisingly wide from another low cross. It was up to Goldson to make the whole place relaxed though, adding a second with a header from a corner and stuffing the ball up his shirt in a manner that suggested his good lady may be expecting.

The game was put to bed with one of those moments that made me glad we’d picked exactly the seats we did. Knocky back to Bruno, an excellent diagonal cross and That Man From Argentina got another goal at The Amex, right in front of us with a trade mark header. A thing of beauty, The Boy loving it. After that we sat back and had the odd break but it was job done, despite a consolation goal from the excellent Clarke-Harris who’s bothered us all game, drilling a loose ball low in to the South goal sparking celebrations that saw a smoke cannister and one of their Neds being led out by stewards the way the bouncers at The Gloucester used to chuck out moshers during a Nirvana record back in the day. Baldock, on for Locadia, hit the angle of bar and post in return and that was that.

My reward, later that evening was a most excellent gig by the man himself Paul Weller. Our reward, as I was sat in the pre-gig bar, was a trip to Man U. Oh well, at least there was no walking female answer to Hello magazine calling us “Hove Albion”.




Hull City At Home – Unsatisfactory?

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.