So what was the biggest game of our season to date, the semi-final of the AFA cup became our biggest nightmare. Before I launch into more excuses than Louis Van Gaul after failing to beat Cambridge United (yes I did have to get that reference in) I have to say this was by far the best side we’ve played all season, they would have given our 1’s or 2’s a run for their money, so either they have an extremely strong club or they are not so hot on moving players up.
The game started badly, getting steadily worse and ended miserably. Everything that could go wrong pretty much did. Our bad luck started in the first minute when in the first challenge I went for my ankle buckled and I couldn’t continue. Despite this set- back the early exchanges were fairly even. Just when I was hoping we were starting to grow into the game, a quick throw-in and an untracked runner into the box gave them the lead. It was a soft goal but one that indicated we were playing a team who knew each other’s game well. Minutes later our problems doubled, and again it was a simple goal from a set piece, a header wasn’t defended and it was in the back of the net, 2-0. Before we could catch our breath we were 3 down, this time from a good Parmiterians move and a great finish that Dan was helpless to stop. Parmiterians were clearly much more used to playing on the plastic pitch than us and were knocking the ball about with ease. Banny and Tris had barely seen the ball up front, so we tried to tighten things up, withdrawing a forward for a defender. I came hobbling back into the action and almost immediately ripped my knee open on the surface. I should have learnt from Mike’s earlier slide challenge that had left him bloodied. Still we soldiered on. We started to look a little more balanced and Duane and Terry were working hard closing things down in the middle, while Robin made several attempts at taking on their full back. But unfortunately just before half time our hard work was once again undone by a set piece. This time it was a free kick on the edge of our box, which was hit sweetly and curled round the wall. It was 4-0 and it looked a pretty steep hill to climb. To make matter worse Dan had got himself injured and as the half time whistle blew we were all concerned as he struggled to get to his feet. It didn’t look likely he would make it back, but he bravely tried to continue.
The second half looked like a case of damage limitations, still we were always going to give it our best shot and go out with our heads held high. For a while we were competitive but any mistakes were ruthlessly pounced upon by good opposition. After the 5th went in Dan’s leg gave up and he was carried off. I looked around for someone to step up and much to my relief Harrison did. Fair play to him, as there were very few others willing to don the gloves and to everyone’s amazement he did a pretty good job. Granted he did concede a further 2 goals, though neither were down to the goal keeping and he pulled off some good saves as well. Though I do have to mention his failed attempt at dribbling past their striker, you can take the midfielder out of midfield… To be fair we were being torn to shreds at times, with holes big enough for an A380 to fit through opening up in our back line. Though I still don’t know how they scored the last goal from an impossible angle. Still I was pleased that no one gave up, everyone kept fighting and we did at least get a consolation goal, Banny firing in and providing what was probably his most low-key celebration ever.
All in all it was a bad day at the office, one in which we were thoroughly out-classed and our dreams of reaching the final were over before they really got started. I do wonder if the gulf between us would have been so great had we played on grass. There has been a lot of talk about 3G pitches in recent rain-soaked weeks, but if this game convinced me of one thing, it is that football is meant to be played on grass, and if we have a choice I would take the mud any day of the week!
MoM: Oli Pugh