Sunday, 22 February 2009

York City 2 Havant & Waterlooville 0

FA Trophy Quarter Final
Bootham Crescent, York
att. 1,679

In the FA competitions since our formation in 1998, we have played 22 sides from higher leagues, the vast majority of whom have been professional. Of these we have won seven, drawn five and lost ten. A 55% record of not losing to these types of outfits is, I would guess, quite high; the 75% record we had last season particularly good, of course, especially with sides two, three and five divisions higher in amongst that stat.

As a result we often go into many games of this type these days with a confidence bordering on expectation. We have become almost fearless, building up an increased immunity to that feeling that says “cripes Ted, we might take a real pasting today.” Well, that’s what the feeling might say if it appeared in a 1950’s comic strip anyway.

However, all that fearlessness can take a wobble, depending on the previous performance. It has been that kind of a season, little sparks of form meaning there has been a stuttering oscillation between depression and delight all year. Given that I perhaps get a little too giddy about progress in the knockouts, then suffer a major morale collapse when we then follow up with a lost league game, it’s been a strain on the ol’ mental health. To borrow a line from the great John Shuttleworth), I’ve been up and down like a bride’s nightie since pre-season.

Going to Crawley in October we had just fallen apart at the hands of AFC Wimbledon, and thus the fear returned. Playing them last Monday, our form had been wobbly, and our league positions and postponements meant that part of us may have thought that we could do without the extra games, given that the relegation zone can have a quicksandish quality when you’re playing an elongated game of catch-up.

Yet, big games increase the focus and, arguably, the intensity of interest in the FA Trophy goes up several notches at the de facto quarter-final stage, perhaps not in line with the Cup 1st round exactly, but closer in relative terms. So, with that and those performances against Crawley in mind, we’ve gone into the games against Brentford and York this season with more confidence than ordinarily we might, particularly on the terraces.

However neither performance has lived up to that over-expectation. Perhaps we need that belly-fizz to achieve the big stuff. A neutral watching a tie between sides a level apart might predict a relatively comfortable but not emphatic win for the higher placed outfit and in both our cup exits this season, that’s what’s gone on. As such there is no real disgrace in losing 2-0 at York, we need the A* game to win ties like this and we turned up with a B+, as will often be the case in this scenario. We have been rather spoilt in the recent past.

It was two good goals that did for us too, both from striker Daniel McBreen who is soon to return to Australia apparently. He was announced over the tannoy as “the Wizard of Oz” after his first goal, a powerfully graceful diving header from Mark Robinson’s pinpoint cross, and “Crocodile McBreen” after his second, a handsome dipping shot over Kevin Scriven’s head from 25 yards out which killed the game with six minutes to play; a couple of fine ways to sign out.

We stuck at the task in the most part, without causing keeper Michael Ingham much in the way of trouble, and we applauded our side off for their efforts to get to this point but with the tacit acknowledgement that, well hey, today wasn’t our day; Wembley will have to wait for another year. Whatever will be will be. This season’s two wins over Crawley in the Cup and Trophy perhaps made us believe that lightening always strikes twice. Having returned from York for the second season in a row, but this time without the same rictus smiles on our faces, we can appreciate that that it doesn’t always work that way.

For the remaining two months we have an even bigger mountain to climb. At the plateau near the top is a flag that reads ‘safety’. We’ll want to claim that as quickly as we can. If we can make the actual top where there’s another flag that says “sufficient run-in form as to give plenty of confidence in the team and management for 2009/10” then so much the better, but let’s take it one step at a time.

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