These are the hardest reports to write: defeats certainly but particularly those that can’t be easily explained. Yet on the surface, for anyone casting a half-interested eye in our direction, it’s simple. Rowley beat City 4-2 five or so weeks ago in a competitive game and today on the same pitch the score line was 2-5: something must have changed. And on the surface it did. We arrived this morning to the manager’s nightmare: our goalkeeper Lee had ricked his back and unable to play any part. Matt Williams was our only viable replacement, taking a leader out of the centre of our defence and into the bargain Haydon overslept and Mark went off injured after fifteen minutes. And this was a cup game (and we’d already disposed of the always dangerous Zion): sometimes things all go wrong at the worst times!
And yet all of these if I simply presented them would merely be excuses: in fact Mark’s injury was perhaps the most significant blow as until he left the field we’d pretty much played the whole of the game in City’s half and come close on a couple of occasions. Shortly after he left the field their first shot (scuffed as it happened to deceive the stand-in keeper) put them one up and settled the pattern for the whole game. We had most of the attacking intent and they scored most of the goals and fair dues to them it was a perfect away performance. The early set-back didn’t deter us and we continued to harry and press and they defending purposefully and bravely. Josh broke down the right and drilled a shot wide when he might have taken it in further and before we’d had time to regret it they had a second. Joe was probably obstructed in the build up but it was well taken.
Of course it was concerning to be 0-2 but our dominance promised a recovery at some point and I was frustrated rather than down-hearted. Christie forced a save and then Josh’s back post cross was forced in by Fowler despite the keeper best efforts to keep it out. At last 1-2 and time to get an equaliser before half time. Ben Smith’s free kick, Christie’s powerful header: seemingly 2-2 but ruled out for offside: not Christie but two others trying to get the ball. Again I was frustrated but took it in good part, so sure I was that it would come.
Second half the job was simple: score the next goal. For fifteen minutes we laid siege to City’s goal but their defending was heroic and it just wouldn’t go in. Suddenly it begun to feel like one of those days. On a rare sortie they forced a corner and we could not match their defensive endeavour and conceded a sloppy third. Even then I felt we still had a chance though it was beginning to look like we’d need another week to score two! It just wouldn’t go in for us and the final proof for me at 3-1 was when a great volley from Olly through a packed goalmouth was somehow keep out by a combination of keeper and defenders but sat up for our centre back Matty Stanton (a terrific performer this season) a foot or so out and he managed to hit the only fraction of the goal that was guarded.
When they scored a fourth I was bemused. Both sides then had penalties to leave us 2-5 and out of the cup having played well enough to get something. It’s a funny old game!