BASINGSTOKE TOWN – 1 [Fitzgerald 76]
SUTTON UNITED – 0
After a reasonable pre-season that got us all a little confident that we’d be able to progress further this season, fate has naturally delivered a nice swift kick in the spuds when the real action starts and we go into our opening day fixture at Basingstoke missing pretty much half a side, including all of the front line we’d been pinning our hopes on.
Oh well, only one thing for it I s’pose. Get pissed.
Being the first game, It’s a keen start for the mob and we’re all promptly assembled outside Sutton station for the train to Clapham. There’s even time to chat with our former midfielder and now black cabbie, Peter Fear, who’s parked on the rank out front checking on the racing form while he awaits his next fare.
The platform at Clapham is somewhat busy and it’s soon obvious by the number of red & blue striped shirts that Palace are on their way through to their opening game at Southampton. Strangely for Pararse fans, they seem more concerned with actually getting on the train rather than noting down it’s number in their notepads.
Our own train is a little quieter, but takes a considerably longer than we’d like and we end up stepping off at Basingstoke half an hour behind schedule and now gasping for a pint. Thank god the Queens Head is a moments walk from the station and we’re soon parked in the rather pleasant little beer garden enjoying our first beverage of the day.
With the lubrication process begun, we grab a cab down to the ground to take advantage of the lovely pre-match barbecue being laid on by the locals which provides some cheap and readily available soakage for the beer intake.
Our hope that we might find some miraculous cure for some of our injury worries is dashed when we find out the side. Watkins is definitely out, with McBean only making the bench. This means our front line will consist of Jason Henry and Ross Crawford. The defence is also a bit of a patched up affair. Still, we’ve got to work with what we have, even if it isn’t much right now.
Our start is reasonably bright as both sides look to find their feet in the early sparks of the new season. And after 5 mins, Greene’s good run out left finds Tanner. His cross into the centre is cut out before it can reach Montague towards the far post.
But from here on in, the lack of cutting edge really starts to show, with the midfield struggling to find it’s mark and the home side settling in more. Twice inside a couple of minutes, ‘stoke end up with efforts into our side netting, one from a left sided corner that’s headed back across the box and another left sided attack that ends with a shot from a narrow angle.
Our hosts are well in charge by now and on 17 mins, Pestle fails to cut out a ball down the right and the low cross into the box flashes across goal, just begging for a final touch. Things go a little quiet for a while before on 27 mins, Basingstoke have the best chance of the half. A deep left wing cross finds it’s target at the far post. His downward header is spot on, but Wilson reacts superbly, getting down to shovel the ball round the post.
Another good opening comes with half-time looming. A left sided corner is headed back across the box from the far post towards goal. But Charles is on hand to nod away the danger and the no5 then misjudges his follow up effort and heads over the somewhat inviting target.
So arrives the customary half-time wander into the bar along with the becoming-customary wondering of “Hmmm, not quite sure how we’re level here…..”
Our hopes are boosted a little when the sides emerge for the restart. Graham has been withdrawn and McBean replaces him. Hopefully, this should give us a little more firepower!
Again, we start the half brightly and a couple of minutes in we earn a corner. Greene delivers from the left and the flick on takes the ball to the far post. Henry is lurking, but he doesn’t quite realise how much time and space he has and instead of taking a touch, elects to take the first option and head on goal, but the effort is wide.
The introduction of Warren has the desired effect though and we certainly start to compete more, although chances are few & far between. On 52 mins, McBean drives at the left full-back and fires in a low cross. The ball deflects up off the ‘keeper’s outstretched leg and loops a fraction over the angle of bar and post. The resulting corner from the left also causes problems and Hudson ends up hooking the loose ball narrowly over the target.
Our purple patch continues a while longer, with McBean again providing the outlet with his running. This time, his progress is blocked, but Montague snatches up the chance and forces a low stop out of the ‘keeper earning a corner.
Unfortunately, we seem to lose our way a little from here and with the game seemingly petering out towards a really less than exciting stalemate, the home side pop up from nowhere and score with about 15 minutes to go.
A nothing looking ball from left to right seems to catch our backline a little bit unawares and the Basingstoke man gets in behind Palmer to fire a low ball across the box, which is met at the near post a couple of yards out and crashed into the roof of our net.
We keep plugging away, but without ever really looking like getting the goal back, but with time almost up, we really should be presented with a way back.
A late corner is won and as the players line up, Henry takes his spot in front of the ‘keeper. The same spot he’s taken from the start of the game for every set piece. But this time for some reason, he takes umbrage and starts a bit of shoving. Which then leads to Henry standing his ground and ending up treading on the ‘keepers foot. This he doesn’t like and throws first a fist and then an elbow at the tiny strike. Then as Henry himself looks to get involved, finds Mr Keeper in a heap at his feet.
Naturally, ref & lino have seen everything and….er…..dish out a yellow card each. Hang on a mo?
Of course, pissed off by this, we’re soon even more miffed when the cross comes in, the keeper comes off his line and finding a huge pack of players barring his way decides to sit down and have a sulk. This of course is enough for the ref to blow up for a foul and rule out Hudson’s otherwise perfectly good close range header.
Marvellous. Oh well, back to the bar I think.
A couple of beers later and we’ve cabbed it back to the station, finding enough time to indulge in a quick pre-departure drink at the shockingly poncy wine bar next door. Still, some Southampton fans join us in our slightly depressed drink, having had a proper going over from Palace that afternoon. Poor sods.
Before long, it’s time to go and we head off for the train, with PC leading the charge, clearly calling out “Platform 4!” as he legs it off up tunnel. Er,,,,,ok! We’re right behind you mate…..
Yet, when we dash up the stairs onto Platform 4, we’re lacking in 2 things. Firstly, the train that should be on that platform according to PC and is due to leave about…..now, is not actually there. And secondly, there’s no PC. But, there is a train on the next platform that people are boarding.
So, we leg it over there and just make it aboard before the doors close. Sadly, there’s still no sign of Chalmers. Still, a couple of minutes later, that mystery is solved when PC calls and enquires if we are “….on that train that just left”
Yes mate, we jolly well are. Sadly for him, he’s not. Fuck knows how he’s not, but oh well, see you back in Sutton!
And after a rather dull journey homewards, we wander into the Hood, order beers and thus officially signal the beginning of yet another 9 months of stupidity, drinking and most importantly, rubbish football.
Oh and stupidity. Did we mention stupidity?
MoM : Darius Charles. Looks a very assured figure at the back. Shame he’s not ours!
TEAM : Wilson, Palmer, Hudson, Pestle, Charles, Greene, Honey, Montague, Henry, Graham, Tanner SUBS : McBean, Bray, Martin, Williams