Monday, March 14

We just couldn't take any more…

Stoke City 2 West Ham 1 (FA Cup)

There’s a nervous wait from the team that meets in caffs (Nigel, Matt in his Dukla Prague away shirt, Lisa, Fraser and myself) for Mike and his daughter Isabel at Euston’s Café Nero. Mike has the match and train tickets, but finally makes it from deepest Gerrard’s Cross. So we’re on our way to Wemberley via Stoke.

We arrive at 13.10 in a sunny Potteries and walk along the Morrissey-esque canal past the local sights — an old pottery kiln, Same Day Beers, gravel pits, flattened factories, iron bridges and the incinerator.

We’re in the Britannia by kick-off but there’s one absentee from the away team. Having secured all our tickets, Big Joe is marooned near Cannock. There’s empty seats in some parts of the stadium, which is pretty poor for a side vying for Wembley. Ba is rested and O’Neil cup tied so Obinna stars and Cole and Piquionne play up front.

Stoke start well and look much more purposeful than last Saturday. Bridge allows Pennant too much space to cross and Green makes a brilliant reaction save from Etherington’s header. Where did Matty learn to head the ball?

The Stokies in the corner next to us spend the whole game gesturing at us, making throw-in gestures, singing that we’ve got one song and saying they’re going to have the cockney in the Dukla Prague away kit.

Stoke take the lead with a thoroughly predictable goal from Delap’s long throw. Upson is blocked off by Walters and Robert Huth strolls though to score with a free header.

Obinna challenges high with a Stoke player. Victor writhes on the ground and rolls over eight times hoping his cunning plan will fool the ref. It doesn’t and he’s booked.

Even our easy passes are going astray and apart from a tame Noble effort it’s one-sided in the first half hour. Etherington is the best player on the pitch and Pennant is causing problems on the other flank.

Bizarrely we then equalise. Hitzlsperger plays a great through ball, Piquionne controls and lobs over Simonsen into the net, getting injured by a defender as he scores. TV replays later show that he’s controlled the ball on his arm. Pulis goes mental. Still, one shot, one goal, not bad.

There’s even a new Freddie Piquionne song from the West Ham fans, as Freddie limps off and is replaced by Specs.

“Where’s your famous atmosphere?” Suddenly we play with more confidence. Half time arrives and there’s still no sign of Big Joe. Even DC isn’t this late.

Pulis has clearly bent the referee’s ear at half time. Fifteen seconds into the second half Parker challenges in the box and Etherington goes down as if he's just seen his one-time 800k tab from the bookies and come over all faint. It's a dive but the ref points to the spot.

“You won’t beat England’s number one from there,” I tell Matt, and justice is done when Green springs to his left to make a great save from Etherington's spot kick.

But we keep giving free kicks away and the ref gives everything to the Potters.

The ref awards a second kick on the edge of our box after it strikes a raised arm in our wall. Two Stoke lumps stand in the middle of our wall then scarper and Higginbotham shoots through the gap and if off the post even though Green gets a touch. Bugger.

To our credit, it’s all West Ham at the end. Parker breaks on the right but passes straight back to Etherington, seemingly forgetting that he now plays for Stoke.

Hitzlsperger dinks the ball to the previously anonymous Obinna, who turns quickly and has a powerful shot brilliantly tipped over by Sorensen.

Keane comes on for Victor and at least looks angry, haranguing the ref with a penalty appeal for handball, shouting at Carlton for not playing the simple ball when he’s in space and then having a near post shot tipped round the post.

“We never score from corners,” says Mystic Matt, as Hitzlsperger takes a corner and Upson thumps a header against the bar. Great effort.

Da Costa loiters up front and Tomkins is incensed after he’s bundled down by Walters in the box and gets nothing.

But as the Stoke fans sing, “We’re all going to Wemberley!” the four minutes of stoppage time ends and there’s a huge chorus of Delilah as they reach their first Wembley appearance in a major cup since 1972. Big Joe hasn’t missed much.


Our passing game has never really got going and we need Ba, O’Neil and Jacobsen back for Spurs. The buses to the station never materialize. So we walk along interminable Stoke roads past the drifting tumbleweed and eventually make the station. Mike puts a brave spin on it by claiming that a replay would have been disastrous for our survival hopes. And Matt can now look forward to the family holiday his exiled brother has organised without missing Wembley.

At least the train is quick and Matt produces the best piece of trivia of the day revealing that Huth is Stoke’s top scorer with seven and if he finishes as top scorer he’ll be the first defender to do so since Julian Dicks in 1995-96.

We stop for an excellent pint of Snake Slayer in the Doric Arch at Euston. Stoke have drawn Bolton in the semi. Still, we never beat bloody Notlob anywhere.

And with the foolish optimism of the eternal fan we wonder if we’ll need to go to Wigan away for our penultimate game. Yes, we can now concentrate on the league.


matt said...

Nice Dexy's reference there - but you seem to airbrushed Fraser from history. The ref has come in for a right mullering in the papers today, quite rightly as he had an absolute shocker. For their second goal, from the free kick that shouldn't have been given, he missed the thuggish Huth wrestling Hitz out of the wall and to the ground, creating the space in the wall for the shot to go through. Wembley's wide open spaces may really find Stoke out, if there's an even quarter decent ref.

Pete May said...

Whoops, I'd better airbrush Fraser back in to history...
Yes, on TV the Tomkins penalty shuold have been given and their second disallowed...

matt said...

Interview with Kieron Dyer in the Guardian today in which he sheds light on some of the shocking medical treatment he has suffered at WHU since his original leg break - confiming all my suspicions. He also says he wants to reward us, the fans, by scoring the goal that saves us from relegation....