3rd Round Proper
Saturday January 5th 2008
Kick Off 2:00pm
Weather: Cold and dank
Distance travelled: 272 miles
In the end I could not let a bout of illness prevent me from going to this game, although my body was trying it's hardest to tell me otherwise. My wife could not understand my desire to leave the warmth of the house and it was futile to even attempt to explain.
On this, we agreed to disagree.
I doubt if I would have made it to the game if it hadn't been for the support of my mates. As determined as I that I should continue this venture, they offered to share the driving - I was certainly in no fit (nor legal) state to drive - and for that I am most appreciative. I was joined once again by Mackem and PB (who did most of the driving) and a "Road to Wembley" virgin, Captain Beaky (who did some of the driving early on but mysteriously succumbed to some kind of nasal virus halfway up the M40). PB and Mackem have shared a good portion of this venture with me and fully understood that non-attendance at the game was simply not an option.
Attending a game of football drugged to the eyeballs is a rather peculiar experience, something I don't recall ever having done before. It was almost like watching the match from inside a bubble. An almost total detachment from reality. All my senses were numbed. My taste buds were shot to an extent that the pre-match Meat and Potato pie could have contained Pedigree Chum for all I knew, although I must say my friends approved of the Chicken Balti offerings. My hearing was muffled which wasn't such a bad thing as we were sat in front of a small group of "kids for a quid" spectators who were keen to make the most of their free miniature horns. I was thankfully quite immune to their high pitch tooting.
Although at times I wondered if I was the only one on the medication. As the Wolves mascots left the pitch just prior to kick off, I was drawn into a bizarre conversation between PB and Captain Beaky who were sat either side of me. One of the mascots was evidently male (outfitted in trousers) whilst the other was female (skirt). PB and Beaky quickly agreed that they were the strangest looking bears they had ever seen. Bears??!! We were about to watch Wolves and these mascots had big pointy ears (all the better to hear with), big pointy noses (all the better to smell with) and big pointy teeth (all the better to eat you up with). Good grief. It was at that moment I realised that there was an advantage in being totally desensitised.
And for the first time in this FA Cup run, I felt a real detachment from the actual game and from the host club, Wolves. Prior to the match, I had had no contact with club officials. There was no mention in the match day programme. No tannoy announcing my presence. I was simply one of 15,340 at the game. This was also the first time that we had no choice as to how we watched the game. We had to sit and stay in the same seat for the duration. Our seats, although offering a good view of proceedings, were physically quite removed from the pitch. The close involvement with club and game that I had become accustomed to on this run had suddenly, and quite abruptly, come to an end. I had anticipated this happening at some stage, but I was still not prepared for it. I'm now not sure if that feeling of involvement will ever return in this season's FA Cup.
As for the game, it was an enjoyable ninety minutes of cup action, and for a not insignificant time it looked as if we were going to witness an FA Cup shock.
Cambridge brought with them an excellent following and, if anyone still questions the beauty of the FA Cup and what it means to fans, I would simply point doubters in the direction of the travelling support from Cambridgeshire yesterday. Over 4000 United supporters occupied the whole of the Steve Bull lower stand and part of the Jack Harris stand and their vocal support for their team was one of the highlights of the day and a credit to non-league football. As the team emerged onto the pitch, a barrage of tiny pieces of yellow paper were cast into the air for a magnificent paper storm reception. The Cambridge fans had actually spent hours shredding numerous copies of the "Yellow Pages" prior to the game. Well worth the effort. Boca Juniors eat your heart out.
By contrast, the Wolves fans were rather muted. The attendance was well below average. They are having a tough time at the moment, and for long periods of the match Mick McCarthy did a very passable impression of an awfully lonely man in his technical area.
The hosts almost scored within the first minute of the game when Jay Boothroyd found space only for his weak effort to be blocked by Albrighton. Within minutes Cambridge had their first chance when Convery forced a save out of Wayne Hennessey in the Wolves goal. These two early exchanges set the pattern for the remainder of an entertaining first half. Both sides had a number of reasonable chances only for poor finishing to stifle any chance of reward. Gibson and Ward for Wolves should have scored openers but tame shots straight at the United keeper quickly became the the order of the day.
Then just before half time, a breakthrough came for Cambridge United with a soft penalty decision. The ball appeared to strike the arm of Wolves defender Neill Collins but the referee wasted no time in pointing to the spot. Scott Rendell, as he had done in the previous round of this competition, comfortably converted to send the travelling support into mass frenzy. 1-0 to the visitors after forty two minutes and a cup shock appeared to be taking shape.
Into the second half and one could sense the agitation and frustration amongst the home support. McCarthy continued to prowl from his controlled zone, but his Wolves, in all honesty, did not have any bite. Michael Gray (three England caps) was awful with his distribution. Boothroyd was both greedy and wasteful in equal measure. Things only really began to turn in the home team's favour with a couple of substitutions. Freddie Eastwood's arrival lifted the crowd and possession swung in favour of the men in black and gold. But this merely led to more wasted chances with Ward (again) and Eastwood guilty of missing the target.
On the hour McCarthy brought on local favourite Michael Kightly; within nine minutes of his arrival he had scored to level the game, sweetly turning in a cross by Matt Jarvis. And then in the dying minutes of the game Kightly provided the centre which was headed into the back of the net by a (no doubt) relieved Neill Collins. Wolves sneak into the next round.
To sum up the game I think Cambridge were a tad unlucky not to get another bite at the cherry. Wolves were simply very poor at times and there were spells in the game when one would have been excused for thinking that both teams played their league football at comparable levels. McCarthy's substitutions appeared to have worked but will this cut any slack with an increasingly unhappy home support? Would a draw have been a fairer result? Perhaps, but that may well be my FA Cup heart ruling my head.
And talking of my head, it still feels as thick and as heavy as a bucket of mushy peas. My wife thinks I have more than a simple cold and I'm off to the docs tomorrow to get checked out. And as all married men know, but rarely admit, the missus is always right.
I won't be surprised if the diagnosis is cup fever.