The Woodford 15

WOODFORD UNITED – 0   SUTTON UNITED – 2    [Watkins 76. 85]

FA CUP 2nd QUALIFYING ROUND REPLAY  |  ATTENDANCE : 147

Hello. And welcome to part two of the delightful tale that is Sutton United versus Woodford United in the FA Cup. Brought to you live from the 18.10 Virgin Trains service from Reading to Banbury (Stopping at Oxford only) in association with West Cornwall Pasties and Incrediblyshitfootball.com.

Jesus wept. What the fuck am I doing? Really, I need help. It’s a rather grim Monday evening, I’m a moderately sane (Don’t laugh!) 33 year old adult and I’m on a fucking train to Banbury for an FA Cup replay.

Not so strange I hear you say?

Well, then there is the small matter of the game not actually being in Banbury, but a 12 mile fucking cab journey away when I do eventually reach Banbury, as yes dear reader, tonight’s oppo are of the ‘in-the-arse-end-of-the-arse-end-of-nowhere’ variety. I mean, 12 miles? From the nearest station? For fucks sake people, get into the 19th century! You make places like Heybridge look positively well connected to the outside world! Christ, if you were never important enough to have Beeching cut you off from the outside world back in the 60’s, then you probably never really deserved to be connected to it in the first place.

It’s ok. I’m fine now. Just had to get that off my chest.

Still, the journey goes without a hitch thankfully and I even have time to grab some much needed scoff when changing trains at Reading. So, I step off my rattler at Banbury and go looking for Chalmers, who should be lurking somewhere nearby as his own train should have dumped him here about 10 minutes ago.

Thankfully, I don’t have to go looking far as I find him slouching around in the ticket hall, looking like a Big Issue seller. But then he always looks like that. Right, better go sort out a cab to the middle of nowhere then I s’pose!

At this point, PC complains that he needs cash and the one machine in the station is out of order it seems. Hmmm, strangely enough I doubt we’re likely to pass hundreds of those along the winding B-roads we’re about to take into the dark depths of the countryside mate.

Thankfully there’s a cab office outside the station and the wait for a sherbert is only a short one, so we’re soon on our way to somewhere called Woodford Halse. Wherever the fuck that hell that might be.  Naturally, the driver hasn’t the faintest fucking idea where the ground is, as it’s 12 miles away in the arse end of nowhere and nor do two of his colleagues he speaks to on the radio. So in the end, I give Windy a shout, as he’s driven up and is already comfortably nursing a soft drink in the bar at the ground, to find out what the name of the road the ground is on. Fortunately, having obtained this crucial nugget of info, the cabbie does know where this is and we trundle off into the black. Our driver’s rather obvious Brummie accent is also a reminder of just how far bloody north we are this evening.

After a good 20 minute journey along the predicted windy, unlit road surrounded by feck all but fields and unsurprisingly not a single cashpoint for PC, we finally spot the familiar glow of floodlights on the horizon and are soon being dumped in the car park next to the England team coach we’ve borrowed again for the evening.  Right, there’s still 25 minutes to kick off. More than enough time for a pint! And with the way we’ve been going this season, that’s an absolute bloody necessity.

Sadly, Guinness is the best they can do for a beer drinker like me, but it’s adequate for the purpose of ensuring I’m at least not 100% stone cold sober for the match and it goes down nicely.

Whilst imbibing, a fellow sufferer points to an article in the programme relating to the opening of the nice, shiny new clubhouse we currently inhabit. Apparently, it’s official ‘gala opening’ was actually only held about a week or so previously and our hosts celebrated with a very special match, inviting a former FA Cup winning XI no less, from a club not far up the road.

Coventry City to be precise.

Unsurprisingly, the side contains at least 7-8 names quite familiar to us from a certain game 18 months after that famous cup win of theirs. Hmmmm, bet that went down well when they found out who their hosts were playing on the following Saturday….

“Ah! Mr Ogrizovic! Welcome to Woodford, we hope you enjoy the evening! Whats that? Oh yes, we are still in the FA Cup actually. Who are we playing? Oh, some side in South London, Sutton United? Have you heard of them? It’ll be a tough one for us….er, why are you crying Mr Ogrizovic?”

Windy also reveals with a somewhat pained expression that Tanner is out for tonight, but Mr Pestle has been dropped to the bench and Hudson restored to right-back, with Lewis returning to the centre. Also out of the first XI is Watkins, although he at least finds a spot on the bench. Malik will start, presumably alongside Warren up top. Hmmmm. This is all hardly filling me with confidence at the moment.

Still, we’re here. So we sink the last of our pints and trudge outside into the cold to get things over and done with. Pleasantly, the entrance fee of 6 quid is most welcome, especially to Chalmers who has had to ponce a grand total of 4 quid off myself and Windy to get in, having spunked most of his remaining tenner on getting a round in back in the bar. Just the important things eh PC?

The ground is a pleasant little affair. With a small raised stand on the bar side and the only other cover being down in the corner to our right as we come in. One small ‘stand’ populated with what looks like the plastic type chairs I used to sit on in school and then a little covered standing area, which for some reason starts at the corner flag and stops about several yards short of the near post. Most strange.

It’s towards this end that the lads elect to shoot in the first half and we head over to stand in the corner of the Woodford ‘Kop’ nearest the goal. Then crane our necks to the right so we can see the goal. All 15 of us that is. It seems Woodford is so arse end of nowhere that a lot of even the most reliable U’s away supporters have found this one a step too far. It’s properly one of those games where you literally know everyone there. By name. First and last.

The game is a scruffy affair from the off and an early ‘marker’ is laid down by the Woodford number 6 in the first minute, scything down McBean from behind in midfield. Naturally, a free-kick is all we get and the perpetrator ticks off “No fucking chance whatsoever of getting booked” on his ‘Rough and tumble midfielders match checklist’. In an unrelated note, we get the impression at this early juncture that we’re possibly in for a long, trying evening.

Such is the ‘action in the opening few minutes that following McBean getting hoicked into the night sky, it’s not until the 14th that I actually get something worthy of noting down for this report. And naturally, it’s a slightly more adventurous home side who provide it. Yeah, cheers.

A ball from left to right catches AJ slightly out of position and allows a wide man to get in behind him down the left. He plays the ball inside on the edge of the box to a man up in support. He’s in acres of space and we all take a sharp intake of breath like we usually do when an opposition goal is almost inevitable. Fortunately, matey’s first touch is poor and the ball gets away from him a little. This allows Gareth that precious extra couple of moments to get off his line, narrow the angle and block what turns out to be a fairly hurried effort with his legs.

Disaster averted, but it’s a big early alarm call.

We proceed to huff and puff a lot from here, pumping long aimless balls into the channels that just skip off the slick surface and rocket out of play for a goal kick or failing to find our men with straightforward passes. Thus we create not very much at all until the just before the half hour and even then it has more to do with luck than good judgement on our part.

Taiwo makes a big blocking challenge in midfield and the ball ricochets back into the right hand channel, perfectly finding Malik. He carries it a few yards before clipping a teasing ball to the far post, but it’s shade behind McBean and despite his best efforts, he can’t contort himself into a sufficiently unnatural shape to guide his header onto the target and it flies just high and wide of the mark. More rubbish then follows for a few minutes before Nick Greene is presented with a very good opening. A quickly taken corner from the left picks out the midfielder on the edge of the box. He skips past one man, then another into the box, but delays pulling the trigger until the angle is utterly against him and his resulting shot inevitably hits the side netting.

It’s really quite frustrating stuff to watch and shortly after, another hefty challenge out on the far touchline that of course goes unpunished brings Paul Honey’s evening to a premature end. Craig Watkins being introduced to replace him. This allows Malik to go out right and Craig joins Warren in attack.

But, despite this, it’s the home side who finish the half the stronger. Several minutes before the break and a free-kick from the left is whipped in and bounces across the box, skidding off the surface at pace. To our relief, no one pops up unmarked somewhere in the box to turn it into the goal. Which is a pleasant surprise to be honest. Present a chance like that to a Conf South attack and not a county league one and chances are you’ll be 1-0 down.

Then as we go into stoppage time, we allow Woodford one more chance to build up numbers on the right and the ball is worked in behind the defence. But their man finds the angle a little too acute for his lower pyramid abilities and he flashes a shot across the face of goal and eventually out of play down by the opposite corner flag. Another escape. We really need to be better than this in the second half.

Naturally, the performance has us a little grumpy and we head round to the other end to await the restart. As repayment for getting him in tonight, Windy gives the boy PC some pocket money to run an errand and go get us some cuppas in to keep the chill countryside night air at bay.

Admittedly, we probably couldn’t get much worse than we already are and we at least show a flash of life almost immediately after the restart. With Haze having rejigged the line up to a 4-5-1 with Malik the lone striker supported by Warren and Watkins out wide as wingbacks, the change in formation pays off immediately.

Watkins bursts down the right and shows good determination to get into the final third and deliver a good cross to the near post. Malik in turn arrives perfectly on time, but his powerful close range header thumps back off the crossbar rather than into the back of the onion bag.

Oh for fucks sake.

Still, it’s a start. And about 5 minutes later, McBean cuts in from the right and leaving his man for dead, opens up a great sight of the target for himself, but his shot is more wild lash than the composed finish required and it flies high and wide instead of snuggling itself into the bottom corner. Again, fucks sake.

There’s a scare on 56 minutes when a rare cross from the right curls in dangerously towards goal and has Gareth back pedaling to palm it away from under his crossbar. We’re all naturally relieved that AJ is then on hand to sweep up and clear the danger sharpish whilst our stopper untangles himself from the goal.

The game certainly has a little more tempo about it now, but decent football is still hard to find in a slightly bitty contest, where the hosts continue their ‘scream at the ref for a free-kick after every challenge’ antics from Saturday afternoon, whilst dishing out a bit of John Deere\Massey Ferguson standard stuff themselves. Just after the hour though, another surging run from McBean, this time down the left after Scooby’s lofted pass over the full back, is wasted when he pulls a teasing ball back across the box and finds Malik all alone at the far post about 12 yards out.

Sadly, the only net he succeeds in hitting is the big one suspended above our heads to stop valuable match balls flying off into the depths of the Northamptonshire countryside never to be seen again rather than the square one into which the ball needs to be deposited to register a goal. Mutterings of rude words can be heard under breaths from just over a dozen unimpressed Sutton United supporters behind said goal.

Of course, following this, Woodford create probably their best chance of the tie after 64 minutes, when AJ makes a poor pass infield when under pressure and succeeds only in finding an attacker, naturally in acres of fucking space. He bears down on goal, but Gonsalves manages to make up enough ground to pressure and force him a little wider of the target, his eventual angled shot flashing wide of the mark and into the side netting. Right lads, they’ve had their chance, can we please get this lot put to bed now??

Small signs that the home side are perhaps starting to tire a tad start to show and after 70 minutes a long clearance forwards is allowed to bounce whereas before some big clodder would be busting every sinew to be underneath it nutting it clear. McBean pounces on the opportunity and scampers in on goal pursued by a defender. He and the ‘keeper rushing off his line do enough it seems though to put the striker off and he prods an effort agonisingly wide of the target. This is starting to get a tad frustrating.

But just as nerves start to fray and thoughts begin turning to another 30 minutes of this crap, possibly freezing to death or being burned in a large wicker effigy or even both, we finally manage to fashion that desperately needed deadlock breaker from somewhere.

With about 15 to play, a free kick is won around 30 yards out from goal in a central position. Nick Greene aims it to the far post on the left and AJ gets up highest to loop a header back into the area. This causes problems for the tiring defence and Buari’s little nod down in the middle to the far post finds Watkins having evaded his marker and he pokes a shot across goal into the far corner. Thank fuck for that! The 15 of us behind the goal celebrate a little more wildly than you’d expect when you’re out in the middle of nowhere stood on a concrete path at a county league side on a chilly Monday night, but hey. Magic of the Cup and all that.

Having been dropped for tonight, Craig looks understandably pleased to have broken the deadlock. Although not as pleased as our beleaguered management team it seems, as they jump about like loons in celebration on the touchline like we’ve just taken the lead in the final itself, making our own joyous bouncing look positively restrained in comparison.

From here on in, things start to get away from the home side a little. Where before they were winning a lot of free-kicks in and around the final third, their painful and repeated cries of “Ref ref!” after every challenge now either go unheeded or with a foul awarded the other way as they tire and arrive in challenges a fraction later than they were earlier. Amusingly, shouts of “Get on with it!” now greets each of our goal kicks, the irony of their own stopper spending 2-3 days lining up each of his own efforts from about the 5th minute onwards now clearly lost on the locals. Also the goal has given us a little more confidence and with Woodford starting to commit their tiring numbers more to the attack, gaps start to appear.

God I hope we can nick another one before the end. One isn’t enough and we’re shitting it here!

Watkins almost makes it 2 with a little under 10 to go when Buari hooks a ball over the defence and into space behind them. But again, the ‘keeper is off his line sharpish and once more in a 1-on-1, saves with his legs. But, with 5 just minutes to play, the Sutton man makes amends.

An attack breaks down on the right and a ball up the line sends Buari clear. He gets a bit of luck getting past the last defender when the ball runs kindly for him and he advances towards the box before squaring the ball for McBean. Warren proceeds to make a pigs ear of a tap in with a poor first touch and then collides with the ‘keeper in trying to retrieve the situation. Fortunately the ball squirts free to the far post and Watkins crashes a shot in off the underside of the bar from 6 yards out to kill the tie.

And relaaaaaax. Well, after some bouncy bouncy on our bit of concrete path that is.

The last few minutes pass without any real further incident as the hosts know they’re done and simply don’t have anything more to give anyway and the final whistle is greeted more with a collective cry of relief than any great  joyous celebration amongst the travelling few.  Right, can we get the fuck out of here and back to civilisation now please Mr Windy?

We give it legs to Millers motor and load up in Non-League losers before heading off into the slightly parky Northamptonshire night towards the M40 and homewards. We’re so far out that any chance of making the Hood for closing time is a non-starter sadly, so there’ll be no celebratory pints waiting for us on the bar back on home soil. On the way, we have the last few minutes of the Sperz – Villa encounter on the radio. Sadly, Villa toss away a 4-1 lead to draw 4-4 with everyone’s favourite London club. How disappointing. And 8 goals, in one game, imagine that eh?

Still, once the game is over we’re then kept, er, entertained by Frakey’s somewhat odious bout of county league burger and onions powered belching. Some are so bad that they warrant the windows coming down at speed on the motorway to ventilate the MX8 cabin as rapidly as possible, a maneuver normally only reserved for the foulest of farts. For Miller, PC and myself, it also provides horrible flashbacks to the Newport away trip a couple of weeks back and the redecoration of the dashboard in PC’s car.

Ick!

So, Lewes away next round then. They’ll be a bit different to some county league side in the middle of nowhere, that’s for sure. Ho hum. I wonder if they’ve finished that bloody ground of theirs yet? Probably not. They certainly won’t have stopped spunking fortunes on the squad, guranteed.

MoM : Craig Watkins. Two goals. Can’t argue with that.

TEAM : Williams, Hudson, Gonsalves, Scarborough, Bray, Greene, Honey, Buari, Alimi, McBean, Taiwo.   SUBS : Pestle, Watkins, White, Graham, Wilson

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