FA CUP 5th Round weekend and we lost 3-0 to Premiership Stoke. Yes it was a disappointment but it wasn’t a surprise. Those three goals came in the first 40 minutes so in my opinion we at least won the second-half!
It was a special day for Sussex’s football fans journeying out of the county for their Cup venues. Crawley fans were off to Manchester to take on mighty United, Brighton fans up to the slightly less glamorous Potteries.
It was an early start for us Seagulls from a grey, damp Withdean. I patriotically dressed in my Palookaville Lycra, the traditional long-sleeved personalised blue and white shirt and lucky underpants. Sorry, I was joking about the underpants!
We were, unusually, massive underdogs. Stoke are nicely placed just in the top half of the Premiership, 35 places above us in the league structure. Their home record at the Britannia Stadium is impressive with very few sides coming away with points. The mood on our coach was sober, though one fan assured me we hadn’t ever lost a 5th Round Cup tie!
Motorway service stations on a footballing Saturday are strange places. There’s a mixture of colours. Ours was predominantly RED. The cowboy vendors were selling Man United/Crawley scarves and red and white flags!
A Southampton supporter wished us luck and said he hoped to see us, Saints, Bournemouth and Portsmouth in the Championship in August! We may be able to add Crystal Palace and West Ham to that list!
Then we were off again to grey, damp Stoke.
Motoring up through the Midlands you can’t help thinking how lucky we are to live in Sussex. I was glad not to be driving in the endless stream of motor vehicles on the congested motorways. The coach experience was good, taking us just a few yards from the Away Stand turnstiles with plenty of time for food, drink and soaking up the atmosphere of a Premiership ground. Not that it will compare with our AMEX stadium of course!
Gus Poyet played two of his reserve “Cup” squad in Peter Brezovan in goal and Agustin Battipiedi midfield. Tommy Elphick came in for Adam El-Abd to provide more height in defence.
Poyet wanted his team to play their brand of passing football. This was admirable but possibly never going to succeed against a bigger and uncompromising Stoke. Aston Villa, Blackburn, Birmingham, Liverpool, Man City, Everton, Bolton, and Sunderland couldn’t beat them – neither could we! Their defence all seemed well over six-foot. Robert Huth is huge. Their captain Ryan Shawcross is very tall. But their central striker John Carew is possibly the biggest of the lot. Then there is their not-so-secret weapon Rory Delap! Stoke were desperate to make the quarter-finals and had their big guns out.
We knew Delap’s renowned long-throws could hurt us – and they did! Right from the start as soon as the Potters had a throw-in in our half over would go Delap. The ball boy would give him the ball AND a towel.
Meanwhile, the big six-footers would come up from defence and join Big John. Another forward would stand in front of Brezovan to bloke his movement. Ball wiped, Delap would fire the throw-in on a flat trajectory to the crowded area in front of the keeper.
We survived three but fell to the fourth on 15 minutes when the Delap missile found the top of Carew’s head to touch over the flailing hands of Brezovan.
Do I sound bitter? Well, yes it was predictable and boring and I’ve no idea how it can be countered! Ban towels? Have offsides from throw-ins? At least you could take your defensive back-line out of the area and let your keeper see the ball and move! OR get yourselves a Delap?
To be fair the Potters’ second eight minutes later was a good goal. Marc Wilson was too quick for Marcos Painter and sent in a near-post cross. Jon Walters got in front of his marker and glanced in his header from close range leaving Brezovan flailing again.
The third goal was another Stoke set-piece. Jermaine Pennant sent over the corner with all the Stoke big guys up. Walters flicked on and Shawcross powered home the third headed goal. Could our keeper have done more? Would another have commanded the area? Possibly but better keepers have also failed against this Stoke bombardment.
Albion had chances. Ashley Barnes fired over after good work by Glenn Murray. We had two penalty shouts. Elliott Bennett was blocked and grounded by Huth but ref Howard Webb waved play on.
“World Cup ref, you’re having a laugh!” we chanted. Barnes was the meat in two big Stoke defenders sandwich. Both “offences” would probably have been given as fouls outside of the area but Webb failed to be convinced they were penalties.
As I said, we “won” the second-half. Liam Bridcutt had a lot of the ball in midfield and Albion strung together their passes to “ole’s” from us. Our goal attempts were thwarted, however. Thomas Sorensen blocked a Fran Sandaza shot and saved well from Jake Forster-Caskey. These two came on for Murray and Battipiedi.
Forster-Caskey (stepson of ex-Albion’s Nicky Forster) is one for the future. He is 16 and Poyet said that he deserved his chance.
So another year before we win the FA Cup! We had our day out against a Premiership side. There were 3,500 Seagulls supporters there.
We enjoyed the singing. “What’s it like to see a pass?” went down well.
At half-time a Stoke supporter publically asked his girlfriend to marry him! “You don’t not what you’re doing” from our supporters was meant to be helpful!
Tuesday night it was back to the business of winning League One! At Withdean our Seagulls outplayed struggling Plymouth Argyle, notching up a 4-0 win.
Two goals from Glenn Murray, one from Chris Wood and the fourth at the end from Francisco Sandaza gave Albion three points and a further improved goal difference!
And all the chasing clubs could only manage draws! Second-placed Bournemouth are four points behind, Huddersfield are third seven points adrift, and Peterborough fourth nine points behind – and all having played more games.
It looks good, very good.
We ARE going up!