Sunday, 24 February 2008

Match 16 - Bristol City

The worst possible situation for me this week. Work prevented me from getting to the match and I was away at Milton Keynes. Bad luck or bad organisation? Fortunately my son did get there, and kept me up to date with major events by text. The first thing worth reporting was the half-time score of 0-0, followed by the sad news that the ‘Over the Wall’ board fell over while (bored?) waiting for a lengthy penalty competition to complete. In the end it seems the Wall wasn’t needed since there’s only so much time available between the halves for such riveting entertainment. That’s down to bad organisation again.

In the second half I was in my car and heading back home and the news on Radio 5 Live was that the U’s had taken the lead. This was followed within about 20 seconds by a ‘bleep!’ on my mobile to tell me a text message had arrived. I couldn’t stop to read it at this moment, but a minute later … ‘bleep!’… another text had arrived.

It didn’t need a brain surgeon to realise that probably meant there had been another goal, but who had scored it? I have to confess to a bit of pessimism here and it’s been true of the U’s this season that we are extremely vulnerable immediately after we have scored a goal. Today was no different and the BBC soon confirmed the fact that the scores were level. I got stuck in traffic for a few moments at this stage and managed to retrieve the two text messages from my son to further confirm the position. The first described in detail what had happened, while the second just said ‘1-1’.

I guess the scores were equal now between the BBC and my son in their efforts to get the news of Layer Road goals to me first. For the next five minutes I was anticipating a further update at any moment and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a bleep! or the BBC that took the honours.

I didn’t have to wait long before the radio commentary reported, “… and now back to Simon Mann at Layer Road …” ‘bleep!’ “… and Bristol City have taken the lead.” The text message was as short as the previous one – ‘1-2’ and that’s the last I heard from my son.

The BBC did return to Layer Road a few times and raised my hopes of a redemption but there were no accompanying ‘bleeps’ from the mobile to lift my hopes. As I neared the Essex border I was able to get BBC Essex on my car radio and listen to the post-match-analysis and interviews. I think Neil Kelly was more disappointed than one of the players he interviewed, and that was also reflected in the response of the manager who confessed to being ‘annoyed’ at the way the players froze after taking the lead.

We can blame it on injuries, we can give credit to Bristol City for their hard work, we can look for any number of excuses, but in the end it probably comes down a simple case of bad organisation in defence.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Match 15 - Preston North End

I've had this feeling for some time that we are on the verge of a turnaround in fortunes. Whenever I've told anyone about it they've looked at me as if I was bats! Now I've been looking for a sign for ages and it happened tonight. Just before the game started a bat appeared, yes a real bat with pointy ears and mouse-like facial features (any similarities with Mark Yeates are purely coincidental), from the dark regions under the roof of Block A. It darted back and forth a few times on its way to Terrace 2 (again - any similarities with a ball at Yeatesy's feet are not intended), where I guess it enjoyed an uninterrupted evening. Come to think of it - where was Mark Yeates this evening?

Fresh from the
battle of Turf Moor where we shared the spoils for the thirteenth time this season there was an air of expectancy right from the off. Even the public announcements seemed clearer tonight - was it just the night air? Despite some rousing words from the stadium announcer and some extra noise from the batside (sorry - that's Barside) the first half was spectacularly uneventful. It was completely overshadowed by the junior penalty kick competition at half time where we won a thrilling encounter 3-2, despite some dodgy goalkeeping by Eddie the Eagle who seeemed to favour the away team this week.

In the second half it was an early
bath for one of Preston's men after battering Doogie in the penalty area and Scott Vernon blasted the ball home for a deserved lead. We feared the worst after Preston equalised with about ten minutes left and prepared to batten down the hatches for a final onslaught.

But it was the superheroes of Layer Road who stepped up to the plate and sent in a
battery of charges which resulted in a series of amazing events. I swear it all happened in slow motion . . . a cross from the right which found its way perfectly onto a blue and white head . . . a directed header down to the feet of a U's team-mate . . . and the ball struck first time with such sweetness . . . into the back of the net for what turned out to be the winner . . . but wait, the scorer was Jacko . . . and the shot came from his right boot! I'm sure he flew through the air during his celebration - the caped crusader. Three goals in three games - that's our first bat-trick this season.

Some frantic plays by the opposition couldn't breach our defensive
battlements in the dying moments of the game and before we had filed out of the ground the announcement we had all been waiting for wafted through the airwaves - we are no longer bottom of the championship.

Onwards and upwards lads. Maybe we saw
batman tonight, next up must be robin - which reminds me - Hull did a bit of that last summer, robbin' two of our players. Now it's our turn next Saturday.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Match 14 - Sheffield United

It's been a long time since we played a home league match (last year) and our performances have been variable since then. Three away matches in which we have won, drawn and then lost (a close encounter 0-1 at Barnsley in midweek) leaving us still the strongest team in the Championship - holding everyone else up.

Discussion before the game centred on whether the away team would wear a change strip since both clubs wear stripes and it might be difficult for those with black and white TV sets to tell the difference. Check it out for yourselves!

Today's opponents have brought a veritable who's who of former top flight players to the most intimidating ground in the football league - 'The Management' of Bryan Robson and Brian Kidd with players Gary Speed, Ugo Ehiogu, James Beattie and Keith Gillespie. Beattie was good natured enough to share some humour with the home fans at one stage while warming up.

It was 'Welcome to Layer Road' for three new players making their home debut after some frantic activity by our own management during the January transfer window. Chris Coyne was dominant in defence, Phil Ifil was rugged at right back and Scott Vernon made his second appearance here this season as substitute (his first being for Blackpool when he scored both goals that beat us 2-0).

The most impressive thing today was the fact that the whole defence looked more confident for the most part. The midfield didn't have to stay back as much and started to get creative in their own way and it was great to see Duguid back in his right wing role. Even the guys up front seemed to be playing with more enthusiasm and it was a team performance that gave the fans a great afternoon's entertainment.
OK there were a couple of slip-ups that cost us two goals, but that's for George to deal with in the changing room and on the training ground.

Our two goals were taken with small measures of opportunism and luck and a 2-2 draw was probably the right result. No-one was really upset at this, except that I found it really strange that there were a few dozen home fans leaving the ground a good ten minutes before the end with the scores level. Didn't they want to see us score again and win it, or had they seen the future and they knew it was all over?

There was a lot more noise and enthusiasm from the fans today and I realised that we will be lacking a major voice in the new stadium. I guess I have to call it 'Woody' - the wooden boards in the stands. At corners and free-kicks we have our own drumbeats to regulate and build up the heart rhythms of the players and strike fear into the opposition. How will we manage without the wooden boards? What are the alternatives - CUFC drums on sale in the club shop? Or maybe just slap the seat in front of you?

We left the ground today with the feeling that we have it in us to beat the drop. It's not going to be easy, or even pretty, but it will be gritty with performances like today. Bring on the Burnley.