The romance of the F A Cup is with us at Layer Road for the first time in a couple of years. After being dumped out of the cup away at Barnet in last year's 3rd Round we were looking for something special to rekindle the memory of the season before that when we made it all the way to Chelsea in the 5th Round. Something special was on the cards too since we beat Charlton away in the Championship on New Year's Day to start 2008 off on a positive note.
I really expected a good turn out for this encounter with one of our East Anglian rivals, despite the fact they are in League Two, and especially because they have Ferguson Jnr in the managerial position. I took advantage of the automatic issue of tickets for cup games to keep my usual seats warm and I expected to see all the familiar faces around me.
I was in for a real shock on all fronts today. We only recognised two others in our area of seating. It seems that very few season ticket holders chose to buy their own seats for the Cup and there were huge gaps in the stands all round the ground - except in the away terraces which were full. I was shocked to hear that the total gate was just over 4000, our lowest of the season by a long way. What on earth has happened to the Layer Road 'faithful'?
What on earth has happened to the players yet again? Another abysmal performance only made worse by the fact that even the players know they are playing badly (post-match interview with BBC Essex) yet they don't know what to do about it. It seems they are happy to be dropped and replaced with new players if the transfer window should open wide enough to let through a glimmer of hope for us. I have to question who in their right mind would want to come and play for us at the moment. Most of the first team squad clearly don't.
I think it's time for Teddy Sheringham to re-evaluate what he wants to get out of this season. I really hoped that some of his experience would rub off onto the others, but I fear that it has worked the other way. Our shining star is beginning to fade and I'd much rather we let him go than drag him down with us the way we are performing at the moment. The difference in class between Sheri and the others is far too wide and there isn't a hint that anyone wants to match him. I'm glad he managed to snatch the ball quickly to grab the penalty kick and put it away with deadly accuracy.
That was the only good point in a match that again saw us give in to simple crosses and allow the opposition to run straight through us. We didn't compete, we didn't challenge for the ball, we didn't string together any meaningful passes, we didn't look like we were ever going to score. Losing 1-3 is what we deserved and I would have been tempted to say that we can now concentrate on our league position, but I fear that might be beyond a few of the players.
Perhaps it's just a passing phase. Perhaps we have hit rock bottom and the players will rise to the challenge. Perhaps there are a few players out there who fancy their chances at keeping us in the Championship for our new ground.
I read somewhere that football is the new religion. We're already on our knees. Perhaps if we keep our hands close together in front of us and we mutter some kind words of encouragement, and we promise to forget all previous transgressions, missed opportunities, bad passes, and poor defending, we just might, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, ...