Stade De Geneve – May 17th 2014, 15.00
A match report by Alex Patterson
Scorers: Graves, Hughes (2)
After a mixed season amongst the upper teams of the club, many would have been surprised to see AP secure European qualification. Whilst there wasn’t the opportunity at UEFA HQ to clarify if it had been achieved through the Fair Play rankings, the personal workload I have given Alex Jeater in the secretary role probably suggests otherwise.
The AP tourists travelled to the Stade De Geneve, the third largest stadium in Switzerland and home to Servette FC. Swiss champions a rather substantial 17 times, it would probably be fair to say they were the more historically successful of the two on display.
Billed as ‘the Fourteen derby’, we faced a Servette Legends XI, meaning we had the benefit of youth and…..not an awful lot else. On the other side, we were up against a team whose players who had pretty significant experience in the Swiss top flight and beyond. Anecdotal examples were the just retired number 6, who had hung them up after spending most of his career in Serie A, their number 8, still playing and described as comfortably Servette’s best player of the 13/14 season, Pascal Zuberbühler with 51 international caps to his name and of course…..big Yves Miéville. Due to a couple of cry offs their side (clearly happens to the best of us), they were also forced into what the tabloids would call a ‘triple swoop’ to bolster their squad. Pat McClogan, Tony McGilvary and Chris Thurston joined the Servette squad for an undisclosed fee.
On an absolutely glorious Saturday afternoon, we lined up 4-4-2 in an attempt to put on a textbook European away performance. Keep the raucous home faithful quiet over the first 20, earn the right to play and come into the game from there. I have to be honest, it was all a bit surreal. The Stade De Geneve is a fantastic, modern arena with a pitch like a carpet. I have spent the last couple of games negotiating the front pitch slope and struggling to locate enough pegs to hold the nets in place. It was enough of a contrast to admittedly get the nerves going a little.
We started off ok, if slightly conservative on the ball. As players who are used to be being charged at by SAL strikers, our back four seemed a little perplexed by the extra time we were being afforded in possession. We inched forward from the back like elephants trying to negotiate a creaky rope bridge, as if it was some sort of ingenious trap in the waiting.
We did however settle into the occasion and began to grow in confidence. Boosted by the roars and ‘oles’ of the AP Ultras in the stand, we started to work our way into the game. This wasn’t quite Tiki Taka but as somebody whose pass completion percentage this season must be in single figures, it certainly felt in that bracket. Nana and Les out wide were flying forward, spurred on by undoubtedly the best two songs of the afternoon…
‘Les, Les will tear you apart….again’ and ‘Oh, Nana, what’s my name’ (to the tune of the Rhianna hit)
It was a brave move for the lads to bring Rhianna onto the terraces, but one that I felt paid off in a big way. I would like to see more of it in football.
After a period of pressure, Jay Hughes hooked home, only to have it ruled out for offside. AP piled on the pressure and then, a bolt from the blue. AP gave the ball away just inside the Servette half, something Andy Townsend would certainly have put down to ‘inexperience at this level’. A few passes later and an outrageous 50 yard effort sailed over Stu, who was so far off his line he was halfway to Coppet. In his defence, the scorer was somebody who had the Swiss League/Cup double on his CV. On the negative, that was an achievement gained whilst playing in goal. 1-0 Servette.
Not to be deterred, AP came battling back. Richie Hancock delved into his box of tricks and pulled out to what to the untrained eye, may have looked like a skyward sliced shot from 30 yards. However, the ball hung in the air, dropped in play for Mike Graves, who flicked home a delicate volley from an acute angle. A lovely finish, the quality of which was probably not acknowledged due to the sheer surprise of the ball staying in play.
Despite factor 50 running into the eyes of many, AP continued the charge, actually playing some good stuff. We switched the play really well, moved the ball pretty sharply and would go as far as saying looked like a ‘decent outfit’. We took the lead following an incisive move, Ozan with a lovely reverse set Jay away and following a sharp turn of speed, he very adeptly clipped past the onrushing keeper. 2-1 AP. A video of the goal is available on the AP facebook page in glorious HD.
We had looked vaguely threatening from set-pieces throughout and extended our lead shortly after. Les stood up a corner into a good area, Patterson headed down onto Maccas shin, and Jay swept home his second from close range. Straight from the training ground. We went into the half with a 3-1 lead.
More of the same was the order from Keith, Jay Hughes gave some profound advice at half time that rang in the years of the AP X1 ‘We are doing well out wide, but you know, we are doing well through the middle as well, so…..yeah….keep it up’
Servette however came out with a renewed sense of purpose. Our spy in the camp, Pat, a fluent French speaker relayed to us after the game that the underlying message of their team talk was ‘we can’t lose to this lot’. Fair play.
Their number 8 was growing in influence, probably to be expected of a current pro who has played over 180 games for Servette. The movement of their front 2 was also a very clever and AP began to drop deeper and deeper. We still had a threat on the counter, Les and Nana’s performances will likely see Swiss scouts flocking to the Racecourse next season. However, after Jay had fired just wide the deficit was narrowed once more. A well worked short corner saw their number 6 steal a march at the near post and arc a superb header into the far corner. It’s the sort of flick header which if attempted in the SAL would almost definetly hit a large percentage of ear. 3-2 AP.
We were hanging on as the half progressed, the heat proving to be more of a thorn in the side to the pale of the AP, than the veterans of Servette. On a side note, I have literally no idea how they expect to play a World Cup in Qatar. I talk as if it was tropical heat on Saturday, it was probably a little over 20 degrees and I was in bits. Lee Carlin’s hydration levels were all over the shop.
We tried to soak up the pressure but were under all sorts. In what would have been the biggest moment of betrayal since Judas himself, ‘Swiss’ Tony McGilvary, off the bench for Servette, surged down the right and fizzed an absolutely corking effort off the inside of the AP post. I actually felt for the lad, within a whisker of a goal for Servette legends.
We were giving away an increasing number of free kicks, most of which being challenges that would have barely been acknowledged on English shores. However, on the continent they stacked up and were eventually are undoing. A 25 yarder was curled up and over the wall, Mike Bardgett somehow clawed out an unbelievable save, only for the rebound to be tapped in. 3-3, but still, what a save.
That was about that, and the referee blew up for full time. 3-3, all in all, probably a fair result. Some would point to APs inexperience in Europe for surrendering a lead, I would point to a Keeganesque attacking display that saw us give a good account of ourselves. In all honesty, I was a little worried that with the ability they had in their locker, we might get battered. I was glad we were able to compete and actually play some neat and tidy stuff. A good game played in the right spirit.
It was, all in all, quite simply an unbelievable experience. I was just a bit awe struck throughout the whole thing and I can’t help but smile when I think back about it. I would like to personally thank Ray and Dave for help bringing this together, Servette for giving us the opportunity to play in their wonderful stadium and obviously Phil Wick/Fourteen for a weekend we will be talking about for a long, long time.
AP: Pennycook (Bardgett), Carlin, Patterson, McGlouchlin, Hillier (Smith), Kadua (Mcmeekin), Gunes, Hancock (Hubbard), Manu, Hughes, Graves
MOM: Nana and Jay can split it.