If you are late to this, do not fret – you just have a lot of catching-up to do…
Chugger splutters and clunks his way around the M25 as we prepare to visit the good old Withdean, where we’ll be greeted by Brighton & Hove Albion in the Vans Trophy South quarter final. Fellow League Cup semi-finalists Wycombe Wanderers are still in the competition too, and are firmly on course to take the honour of losing two cup finals to me in the same season.
We’ll start with the same team that graced Old Trafford and showed Man Utd’s reserves how to snatch an equaliser in the last minute. I feel good about this. We have a settled squad, a strong
starting team, and trustworthy reserves. Brighton have a functional and capable team, spearheaded by the odd duo of 21-year-old Bobby Zamora (13 goals this season) and 30-year-old fellow ‘star’ striker Dirk Lehmann, whose scoring rate this season is slightly less impressive with just one goal in 35 games. Other than Zamora, Brighton are decent, but not great. They’re 18th in Div 2 and we’ve certainly beaten far better teams this season. I rouse the players with current UK number one Hero by Enrique Iglesias (Spanish version) and send them out to advance us through yet another cup competition.
The first half is a complete mauling that I assume manager Mickey Adams is rather embarrassed about. We restrict Brighton to zero chances and not even any mentions in the commentary, apart from on-loan goalkeeper Glynn Thompson, who is going to need 15 minutes with his therapist at the break. First, Sir Les converts a Mustafa cross after 17 minutes – his 20th goal of the season already. Then, Underwood swings in a corner, Gough powers a header at goal which is saved by Thompson, but Bubb gobbles up the rebound for two. And on the stroke of half-time, Chris Brandon comes wobbling forward unmarked and hits a savage right-footed shot for 3-0 at the break.
There’s absolutely nothing worth changing, so I send the lads back out for the second half, and our big hunk of Danish Bacon, Peter Møller, immediately puts us 4-0 up. Lehmann and Zamora are getting on the ball more and more for Brighton, but considering our lead unassailable, I decide to put Ronaldo and Convery on in place of Møller and Gough and start to pour myself a nice drink.
Lehmann immediately scores for Brighton, and good for him, frankly. He needed a goal, the lad. Then, Nardiello hits an effort into the top corner to make it 4-2. I raise an eyebrow and go to put my bottle down, but in response, Mustafa collects a ball from Bubb, advances down the right, jinks past two players, and spanks a shot home from just inside the box. I resume my pour and return the cork just in time to see Lehmann pick the ball up on the halfway line and beat my entire team on the way to scoring what must be one of the greatest goals in Vans Trophy history. He’s doubled his tally for the season in this game, and to be frank, we didn’t defend him well. The game finishes with Convery on a 7, but he was noted in the commentary as being responsible for both Lehmann’s goals so I’m not sure how that happened. However, at the end of the day, this game has finished 5-3 after two pretty absurd halves. We lost the second half 3-2 there, but our firepower bailed us out yet again. Long may it continue. I might wait until full time before reaching for the drinks cabinet in future.
We are into the Vans Trophy Southern Section semi-final, and in possibly the most unimaginative tie of all time, we’ve got Queens Park Rangers again. It would be nice to play some different teams, but I suppose I should be grateful – we’ve already stopped them in the FA Cup, so we know we can take them. Our march to the quadruple continues unabated. We then learn that we’ve got Premier League Southampton at home in the fifth round of the FA Cup…so perhaps not.
We welcome Mansfield to Nene Park next, who did a job on us earlier in the season and snuck a 1-1 draw at Field Mill. Our game against Southampton is next, so it’s rotation time – despite Mansfield being 8th in the league and potentially still dangerous, we need everyone fit and firing for the cups. I start Daniel Talbot, my youth left-back, and also decide it’s about time for Martin Andersson to show us what he’s made of. Let’s see what he, Ronaldo and Darby can put together.
It’s a very even first half, but Mansfield are giving us problems yet again. Danny Bacon, who scored against us last time out, is sizzling up front and gives them the lead after half an hour, following in on a Wayne Cordon effort that Pinheiro can only parry. Darby hits the post and all our chances are falling to him, but he can’t put any of them away – most of them are off target, in fact. At half time, I think about hooking him, but decide to give him the first ten to see if he can make it up to me.
He doesn’t, and on 65 minutes (classic) I switch Darby for Møller and Jamie Davies for Chris Brandon. Instantly, Farnerud gathers the ball, looks up, and swings the ball into the box, where our Great Dane has run onto the pitch and instantly launched himself through the sky to connect with a diving header that makes it 1-1. I love this man. Following that, Brandon pulls some strings and Ronaldo has a couple of chances, but the Mansfield defenders seem to have him covered – and then suddenly, in the 81st minute, Corden flicks a ball over our back four, Danny Bacon trots through and thumps an effort past Pinheiro – but it’s ruled out! The sound of an entire village sighing in relief fills Nene Park as the game comes to an end, though there’s still time for Bacon to have two more efforts on target that Pinheiro is forced to stop, and eventually, another arduous game against Mansfield reaches a familiar conclusion. We did a lot better in the second half after my subs came on, but once again, we can’t topple the Stags. However, in happier news, Swansea have also drawn their game, so we remain 16 points clear at the top of the league.
So, Southampton. They had a pretty good squad in 2002, as I’m sure many of you will remember. 21- year-old Wayne Bridge and 23-year-old James Beattie are their standout players, and they have some reliable old gunslingers alongside them in Claus Lundekvam, Jason Dodd, Rory Delap, Dan Petrescu and Paul Jones. Jo Tessem and Marian Pahars are also on the south coast, and we are glad
to hear that Anders Svensson will miss out through injury. I once met him at a cash machine on Above Bar Street. True story. Hopefully, the story of this one will be that Mark McGhee picks a reserve side so that we can continue our march to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
I imagine you can guess my team by now. I prefer Gough to Plummer since he’s basically a mountain that we can install onto any pitch in the country, and the rest of my side pretty much picks itself. I’m not totally convinced by Kah at DMC yet, but McKinlay is deteriorating, so I’d like to give him until the end of the season to prove he’s up to it.
Four minutes in, and I swear to God I wrote this chronologically, Kah goes down injured. I guess that settles that. McKinlay comes in, and we restart well. Bubb sets up Ferdinand to test Jones first, then gives him something to think about himself with a low drive that the Welshman turns around the post. Risp has pocketed James Beattie, as noted by the commentary, while his central defensive partner is marauding further upfield. Gough sets up Pflipsen inside the area, he fakes, turns, and slides a ball across the penalty area for big Peter Møller to smash the opener! We’re 1-0 up, though Oakley and Murray, both in CM for the Saints, are nipping forward occasionally and are hitting shots on target that test Pinheiro, but he’s equal to everything. We go in at half-time a goal up and we’re looking pretty good, though I have my customary concerns. Oakley has made far more passes than anyone else on the pitch, so I tell Mad Dog to target him and send a pre-emptive warning text to a local knee surgeon. Otherwise, we’re looking good here. Another Premier League scalp is ours for the taking. Knives out, lads.
Instantly on resuming the game, Byron Bubb – who has quietly been one of our best, most consistent players of the season – chests down a pass from Mustafa and lays the ball on a plate for Sir Les to nod home a second, and from that point on, we keep control of the match. Despite my reservations about McKinlay, he completely ends Oakley for the rest of the game, to the point where the Saints midfielder is hooked after 68 minutes. Well done, Mad Dog. Meanwhile, James Beattie puts a shot out for a throw-in, Rory Delap has to go off injured in the last minute, which leaves Southampton with ten men, and Chris Brandon summarily collects a McKinlay pass and waffles a low drive past Jones to secure the game. A relatively straightforward 3-0 win against Premier League opposition. I feel like I’m living on Mars.
The quarter final is drawn, and it’s potentially a doozy. West Brom managed a draw with Liverpool, so they’ll go to a replay, but whoever wins will come down to Nene Park. Michael Owen vs Freddie the Fence? Sign me up.