London Calling

Chesterfield (1)
Doyle 54′

Peterborough United (3)
McQuoid 7′, Brisley 38′, Assombalonga pen 78′

The 2013/14 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final had really crept up. It had been more than a month since the nail-biting second leg at home to Fleetwood that had seen us book our place in the bottom two divisions’ showpiece fixture, but to be quite honest I hadn’t really noticed the time passing by at something of an accelerated speed. Perhaps it was to do with the heavy university workload I had been enduring, or perhaps it was because the fact that I was off to watch Town at Wembley for the second time in two years had served to nullify a great deal of the anticipation. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t been calendar-watching in the weeks building up to this one.

I very nearly didn’t end up making it to the game at all, as it happened. In what I can only (somewhat generously) describe as a genuine triumph of the human spirit I was able to cover the distance between my house and the train station on foot, leaping onto the train a mere two minutes before it departed. Sweaty and breathless, I sat down in first class for a pleasant journey down to the capital. Upon arrival in London it really didn’t take too long at all for me to realise that I had effortlessly accomplished whatever the polar opposite of “dressing for the weather” is, wearing two coats over my Chesterfield shirt (with a sweater and a hat in my bag) despite the fact that the temperatures in the capital were touching on 20 degrees. Oops.

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After wandering down to South Bank in the sunshine to kill some time, I finally decided to head out to Wembley, although my crippling lack of understanding with regards to how the underground works cost me dearly. I actually missed the kick off (double oops) and ended up taking my seat with some 4/5 minutes on the clock. And that was when a day that had, up until that point, been going oh so very well (my good fortune with the train, the weather, finding £10 on the ground outside the stadium) all began to go so horribly, horribly wrong. Grant McCann whipped in the corner from the right onto the head of Shaun Brisley. His effort was limply palmed away by the normally reliable Tommy Lee for Josh McQuoid to poke the ball into the net and send the hoardes of Posh fans into fits of jubilant ecstasy. Not the ideal start, but there were still more than eighty minutes left to play.

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The early setback really seemed to fire up the Spireites, who threw wave after wave of attacking pressure at their League One opponents. To the supreme disdain of the assembled Town supporters, though, we were unable to convert any of these chances into that all-important equaliser. Shots were hit softly and straight at Bobby Olejnik. Sam Morsy sliced the best opportunity of the half agonisingly over the crossbar with the Peterborough net at his mercy. It was an attempt that encapsulated the Spireites’ performance in front of goal for the whole afternoon. As we attacked and attacked, I began to get that uneasy feeling that sooner or later we were going to get sucker punched, and on 38 minutes my worries were realised. Another corner, another goal. This time it was from the left, but once again it landed on Brisley’s head. Lee didn’t even get close as the powerful header flew past him to all but seal the victory.

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As half time arrived, I was quick to take to Twitter and voice my frustrations at the performance of Eoin Doyle, so it was perhaps little surprise that eight minutes after the restart the Irishman restored a glimmer of hope. Morsy made up for his earlier gaffe by driving purposefully through the heart of the Posh defence before squaring the ball across the penalty area. Doyle made no mistake from all of six yards, slotting the ball home to bring the travelling Spireites faithful to their feet. There was a small child who kept hitting me in the face with his scarf during the celebrations, but I didn’t even care, such was the utter elation that this goal had brought about.

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Hopes of a comeback were buoyed even further soon after. Morsy was once again the man at the centre of attention, as a clumsy late tackle brought down Joe Newell. That should have been that, but the Posh midfielder kicked out petulantly. Andy D’Urso wasted no time in producing the red card, ensuring that Newell’s afternoon was brought to an early end and truly firing up the men in blue. I dared to dream. We had just under 25 minutes left to play against ten men, and we had been in the attacking ascendancy for some time. The game was well and truly in our hands. And yet, five minutes later, it all evaporated into nothing. Rash challenges at the back have haunted us all season; we can’t seem to go ten minutes nowadays without conceding a penalty and sadly the fact that this game was being played out on the national stage did not make it an exception.

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Mark Little’s jinking run into the far side of the box was swiftly ended as Liam Cooper slid right through him. Even from my seat at the opposite end of the stadium I could tell that Mr D’Urso had called it right. Peterborough’s goal machine Britt Assombalonga stepped up and made no mistake from the spot, sending Tommy Lee the wrong way and capping off a professional – if somewhat uninspiring – performance from the Posh. It was the 28th goal of what has been nothing short of a banner campaign for the Congolese forward, who is doubtlessly going to have the eyes of bigger clubs on him come the end of the season. For the Town fans, it simply capped a miserable afternoon. The mercy of the final whistle came some 15 minutes after that and we filed out of the stadium.

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Had I not seen us win the competition on an equally sunny day back in 2012 then this defeat would probably have hurt a lot, but as it was I was frustrated more than anything else. It was a long journey back to Manchester with nothing to show for it, but hey – at least I got to have a nice day out in London. Onwards and upwards, with all fingers crossed that we manage to keep above the playoffs and avoid another trip back to Wembley come the end of May.

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That’s What She Said (2012)

When it comes to terrible movies, they tend to fall into two categories. There are the TWSSterrible movies that are objectively awful yet you watch and enjoy them anyway because it’s hilarious how bad they actually are (1994’s live action Street Fighter movie is the perfect example of this kind), and there are the terrible movies that are just legitimately horrible pieces of cinema with no enjoyment value whatsoever. Can you guess which category That’s What She Said falls into?

Thinking back, the fact that the poster proudly proclaims “Directed by Carrie Preston, star of HBO’s True Blood” should have been the indicator that I wasn’t going to enjoy this, but – perhaps somewhat naively – I didn’t think that Alia Shawkat was capable of starring in a movie that was anything less than “alright”. What makes TWSS such a uniquely terrible film, however, is that it manages to fail on multiple fronts, for reasons that will become apparent later on.

That’s What She Said is a story about three women. The central protagonist of the movie, the kind and homely Bebe, is its main focus, as we follow her throughout the course of a day as she prepares for a big date in the evening. She is accompanied by her bitchy and jaded best friend Dee Dee (real imaginative naming), and the two are joined relatively early on by the more than a little unhinged nymphomaniac Clementine. We follow the three leading ladies throughout the day as they amble from place to place around New York City.

That’s perhaps the most glaringly obvious problem in a superficial sense. Nothing really happens. There isn’t even a remote semblance of a proper overarching plot. Seinfeld showed that you can build a media vehicle on the premise of it being about nothing, but the difference between the two is that Seinfeld was witty in its dialogue and observational humour. That’s What She Said, on the other hand, is not. The conversations are Seinfeldian in that they are banal, but they are also completely devoid of any witticisms. There are no smart laughs, and no dumb ones either.

However, the lack of anything vaguely resembling genuine cinematic quality is not the only reason why TWSS was not an enjoyable watch. You see, in theory, it is the perfect movie for women. There are three men who appear on screen throughout its duration, and none of them have any lines. As the excellent documentary Miss Representation (and to a lesser extent, Anita Sarkeesian’s highly divisive yet nonetheless very valid Feminist Frequency series) showed, realistic positive portrayals of women on the silver screen are few and far between. And to be fair, the three main ladies in TWSS are not your stereotypical movie women.

They’re all real people with real problems and offer at least an indication that even if the movie itself isn’t exactly going to sweep the Oscars, it could at least be commended for daring to challenge the antiquated movie gender roles that are sadly still so prevalent in contemporary cinema. This, however, is not the case either. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Bechdel test, but the general gist of its purpose is to analyse the presentation of women in a given piece of media based on conversations they have that don’t revolve around men.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where That’s What She Said really collapses in on itself. As I’ve already mentioned, there are no speaking males in this movie. And yet, despite this, even though it completely defies any kind of logic, MEN ARE ALL OUR THREE LEADING LADIES DISCUSS. That’s right. From the very beginning to the very end of its pitifully short 83 minute runtime, Bebe, Dee Dee and Clementine do not have one single meaningful conversation that isn’t centred around a man.

That a movie featuring no men that was also written and directed by two women can fail the Bechdel test so shockingly really tells you all you need to know about this piece of garbage. Avoid avoid avoid.

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The Football After The Night Before

Bolton Wanderers (2)
Jutkiewicz 35′, Mason 45′

Watford (0)

After the excitement and drama of the two JPT semi-final legs I attended earlier on this month, I felt that some neutral viewing was needed so that I could take in a game without really having to worry about what the score was going to be. I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning with that all-too-familiar frailty that is indicative of a heavy one the night before, and decided after a small amount of deliberation that yes, I could be arsed to go to Bolton. The Reebok is the perfect hungover tick, really. With the obvious exceptions of City and United it’s the ground that requires the least overall effort to get to – a brisk walk to Oxford Road station for a train to Horwich Parkway and I was outside Bolton’s stadium just over an hour after leaving the house. Easy.

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I wandered round to the back of the stadium and picked up my ticket in the North Stand Lower (sat right in the middle about three quarters of the way up) before seeking food from the KFC in the retail park behind the ground. With the hangover seen off, I headed back down to the ground where, to my confusion, I saw that the turnstiles were still closed despite there being only forty-five minutes until kick off. Apparently it was due to a fault with the ticket reading system, and as such it was probably close to half past two by the time they started letting people in. I grabbed a coffee and went out to sit down, admiring a stadium that makes it very clear Bolton were once a Premier League outfit. The ground gradually filled up as kick off approached, and the two sides eventually took to the field. Bolton were playing in their traditional white, Watford in their maroon away kit.

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A quick glance at the league table had lead me to predict a comfortable win for the visitors, and the opening exchanges supported that completely; Giuseppe Sannino’s men started brightly with the Trotters’ rearguard finding the pace of Ikechi Anya difficult to handle down the left flank. It was the home side, however, who went closest early on – Joe Mason breaking free of the Watford defence only to see a poor shot kept out by Manuel Almunia between the sticks. The visitors had an even better chance to open the scoring shortly after, as some great work from Anya lead to a delightful cross right onto the head of Troy Deeney. The Hornets’ leading scorer had the goal at his mercy but directed his weak header straight at Adam Bogdan when he really should have been celebrating his fifteenth of the season.

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This back-and-forth continued throughout the half, as it quickly became apparent that neither team seemed to want to score. Both sides spurned a slew of gilt-edged chances, with Mason especially guilty of profligacy. When the breakthrough finally came, there was an initial element of confusion about it. The ball was whipped in from the right and eventually forced home after a rebound from the crossbar (not wholly sure who by, could have been Neil Danns), only for the referee to have already stopped play to award Wanderers a free kick following a foul on Medo by Alexander Merkel. Thankfully though, there was no real cause for consternation, as Jay Spearing’s set-piece pinged around the box before falling kindly for Lukas Jutkiewicz to slam the ball home in front of the travelling Watford fans for his third goal in four games.

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The game was settled just before the interval as Mason at last managed to tuck away one of his chances. The impressive Neil Danns rose highest to flick the ball on and set the on-loan striker free, and this time he made no mistake, confidently firing the ball across Almunia to send the men in white into the dressing room with a two goal advantage. And that was it, really. The second period passed by largely without incident, with Bolton in full control of the match. Their forward line pressed for a third goal to really kill off the Hornets, whilst their rearguard was able to keep out a thoroughly uninspiring Watford attack that offered little more than repeated long balls up the pitch. Bolton could have had three or four in the second period alone, but a series of dangerous wing attacks only led to some ineffectual cutbacks across the six yard box, with an acrobatic effort from Danns the only thing to force Almunia into anything beyond a routine catch.

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The final whistle went after six minutes of stoppage time incurred from various injuries sustained by players from both sides throughout the half, and myself and the majority of the 15,179 in attendance filed out of the ground happy with what they’d seen. The journey back to Manchester was a painless one as I had around twenty minutes before the train, and I even got to sit in First Class too. All in all, today was the ideal hangover remedy.

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Que Sera Sera

Chesterfield (0)

Fleetwood Town (1)
Parkin 90′

Chesterfield win 3-2 on aggregate

It felt odd to be celebrating a 1-0 defeat – especially at home – but as the final whistle went at the Proact on Tuesday night rapturous cheers went up from three quarters of the stadium. The fact that the Cod Army had only managed to put the ball in Tommy Lee’s net on one solitary occasion meant that the Spireites had done enough over the two legs to secure their spot in the final of the Football League Trophy, ensuring a second trip to Wembley inside three seasons.

After the incredibly enjoyable outing to Fleetwood two weeks prior, I couldn’t not make the trip back to Chesterfield for the second leg. My mind was more at ease this time round than when we were put through the torture of defending a one goal advantage against Oldham in the 2011/12 semi-final, but only marginally. Despite a two goal cushion and being by far the better team over both legs (contrast that with facing 47 shots on goal over the two fixtures last time round!) my nerves were well and truly jangled from start to finish; I’ve never known time pass as slowly as it did during last night’s match.

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A smooth trip from Manchester got me into Chesterfield in plenty of time (though not before having to run back home because I’d forgotten my railcard, so typical), so I was able to grab some food from the big Tesco before taking my seat just before kick off. The match may have remained goalless right up until the death, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t an entertaining spectacle; Fleetwood were obviously going for it right from the off but to their credit Chesterfield were not content to sit back and defend their first leg advantage. It was a very open-ended attacking affair right from kick off, and on another night could have gone very differently indeed.

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Fleetwood were pressing and pressing from the very first minute but it was the Spireites who went closest during the first 45. First choice goalie Scott Davies had been dropped since the match at Highbury (little surprise there, really), and his replacement Chris Maxwell was in fine form all night, denying both Jay O’Shea and Marc Richards from close range when the pair looked certain to have put the tie beyond any real doubt. Fleetwood thought they’d won a penalty towards the end of the half, when big Jon Parkin appeared to have been felled in the area by Tommy Lee. From where I was sat on the South Stand it was clear that there was contact between goalkeeper and forward, but it was so minimal that someone of Parkin’s not-inconsiderable stature would not have gone down as easily as he did; as such there was little surprise when David Webb waved away the Cod Army’s spot-kick appeals.

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Half time came and went, and with the score still set at a less-than-ironclad 0-0, I returned to my seat for what would be a very shaky final 45 minutes. We needed a goal, and we needed one quickly. Just the one would have been alright, as despite all of their attacking urgency you really would have been hard-pressed to picture Fleetwood scoring three times – and that would have only taken it to penalties. However, this all-important tie-deciding goal did not come. Thankfully though, Fleetwood weren’t really threatening either as the game – still very much a contest – descended into a tough midfield battle with neither the home side nor their visitors from the coast able to fashion any particularly clear-cut chances.

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As the clock ticked on towards that magical 90 minute mark, I was pleased to see that time seemed to be moving at something that more closely resembled a normal speed – everything was looking peachy-keen on a not-too-unpleasant night in Derbyshire, and the tentative chants of “We’re going to Wembley!” began to emanate from the packed-out South Stand. We moved into single figures in terms of remaining minutes, and then we saw the first indicator that maybe everything wasn’t set in stone just yet after all. A cross from the right flashed across Maxwell’s box, evading the young Welshman. The flight of the ball was arced beautifully towards the head of Eoin Doyle – a 76th minute replacement for O’Shea – who was arriving unmarked.

Silence fell over the Kop as the Irishman leapt to meet it and seal the Spireites’ place in the capital come March 30th.. Only, he didn’t. Somehow the striker – very much on a resurgent run of form of late – miscued his header completely, sending the ball flying over the crossbar from all of two yards out. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was when I knew. That was when I knew that this final stretch of the game was going to be a veritable rollercoaster of tension and panic. By this point in the game Fleetwood were playing a formation akin to 2-4-4, and eventually it did pay dividends. Liam Cooper gave the ball away needlessly – the only blemish on an otherwise faultless performance from the centre half – and the ball was eventually played across the six-yard box for Parkin to slot home.

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Unsettling, sure, but it was right at the death. All we’d have to do was weather the storm for the inevitable 2-3 minutes of stoppage time and we’d – SIX. SIX MINUTES. Even now, two days later, I am completely devoid of any intuition as to why the fourth official felt the need for six additional minutes. As Fleetwood threw wave after wave of attacking pressure at the Spireites’ rearguard, the men in blue kept their backs to the wall, hitting the corner flag at every opportunity until finally, after what felt like an eternity, Mr Webb blew his whistle for the final time. We’d by no means made it easy on ourselves, but we had got there in the end.

It was clear from the celebrations on the pitch just how much it meant to the players, who had by all accounts deserved it over the 180 minutes. The Spireites will face Peterborough at Wembley on Sunday March 30th as they bid to lift the Football League Trophy for the second time which, coupled with some impressive league form, could see the 2013/14 season being one of the club’s best ever.

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Live: Childish Gambino @ Gorilla

The clock ticks on to 9, and the excruciating build-up is finally over. The music stops, and the lights go down. Raucous cheers go up from the assembled masses and the silhouetted figures of Gambino’s backing band come striding out. I’m stood on my tiptoes now, neck craned and… Yes. There he is. I let out an involuntary girlish shriek as Donald Glover emerges from the darkness. It’s a surreal feeling of excitement and it takes a second for me to properly realise that yes, Childish Gambino is indeed stood on the stage in front of me.

Beforehand I’d been harbouring ever so slight concerns about what this gig was going to be like. In the past, I’ve found live rap to be a bit hit and miss; Dizzee Rascal at Leeds Festival in 2010 put on a good show, but Odd Future on that same stage two years later were by all accounts utterly forgettable. It takes approximately thirty seconds for these feelings of trepidation to be assuaged, as Bino launches straight into I. Crawl from 2013’s new album Because The Internet. His enthusiasm is like nothing I’ve ever seen in a live show before as he leaps around the stage, barely staying still for more than a few seconds at a time as he implores the eager fans to bounce with him.

The crowd is loving every second as he leads into I. The Worst Guys and II. Shadows. His vocals are absolutely on point and the band are top-notch as well. The atmosphere inside the tiny sold-out Manchester venue is electric and we’re only ten minutes into the set. The three new tracks are followed up by a medley of older tunes, as Glover effortlessly rips through extracts from Freaks and Geeks and Fire Fly (taken from 2011’s debut full-length album Camp), before a brief freestyle (the first of two, but more on that later) that leads into fan favourite Bonfire. As soon as those siren sounds begin echoing throughout the room, the building practically takes off from the combined force of the jumping crowd.

Camp is represented once more in the 12 track set in the form of Heartbeat, with tracks from BTI filling out the rest of the spots with the exception of set-closer Lights Turned On (from 2011’s succintly-named EP). Glover and co. leave the stage but the sweaty, heaving masses assembled before him aren’t done yet. Chants of “Bino! Bino!” and “Wooooorldstaaaar!” resonate through the smoky enclave. Of course the show isn’t over yet, and in some respects Glover has saved the best for last. He returns to the stage minus the backing band to introduce a special guest; his brother Steve has joined him on the mic and the two reward the patient crowd with an excellent rendition of One Up from 2012’s bumper Royalty EP.

There are a couple more tracks belted out by the brothers Glover before the encore’s showpiece is bestowed upon the awestruck crowd. The two of them launch into a glorious 5 minute freestyle (see, I told you there’d be more on this later) that serves to properly demonstrate the wit and writing talents that they both possess in spades. However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and we’ve unfortunately reached that point in tonight’s proceedings. The finale of the generous 5 song encore is the penultimate track from BTIII. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night). It’s a hauntingly beautiful performance that caps off a truly one of a kind show.

I generally believe that when it comes to reviews, scores of 10/10 are somewhat hollow – can anything really be that perfect? Well, for what I’m sure will  be one of a very select few times, the answer to that question is yes. I can find literally no fault with what I witnessed at Gorilla on Wednesday night, and as sad as it may seem I genuinely believe I will never witness anything quite so special again.

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I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Fleetwood Town (1)
Ball 45′
Chesterfield (3)
Evatt 21′, Morsy 24′, Ryan 65′

Back in December, I attended my first Chesterfield away game of the 2013/14 season, as we beat Oldham 5-4 on penalties after a nervy 1-1 draw at Boundary Park to reach the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. I had been banding the idea of travelling to Fleetwood for the first leg about with one of my housemates for some time, and although we left it until the night before we did manage to get a hotel booked in Blackpool and committed to the trip. I still can’t really believe how smoothly it all went to be honest. We had no issues catching the train to Blackpool, checking into the hotel (which was run by a very friendly couple, would recommend if you’re ever stopping in Blackpool overnight) and eventually hopping on the tram for the 8 mile journey out to Fleetwood.

We arrived at Highbury with probably about half an hour to go before kickoff, and headed to Jim’s Sports Bar which both the Football Ground Guide and my stepdad had stated was accepting of away fans. The atmosphere was very calm inside as fans of both the home side and the visitors mingled freely. Me and Andy sunk a quick pint in there before heading round to the away terrace, taking up a spot on the far right side that offered a good view of the pitch. Highbury is an interesting stadium to say the least – on three sides it’s obvious that Fleetwood haven’t been in the Football League for too long, but then on one side there is a big new stand that I must admit looks fairly out of place.

fleetwood4The game itself, quite simply, was a cracker – although there’s obviously an element of bias there considering that unlike the previous two games I’ve attended I wasn’t there as a neutral. Fleetwood thought they’d gotten off to an incredible start as the ball was nodded in by Alan Goodall, only for the referee to rule it out for reasons that even after watching the highlights video a few times are still not entirely clear. Huge sighs of relief were breathed, and then I suppose that there was something of an air of inevitability when the Spireites took the lead on 21 minutes. Gary Roberts delivered the free kick from some 30 yards out, with the ball dropping kindly (thanks in no small part to the ferocious winds blowing in from the Fylde coast) for Ian Evatt to poke it beyond Scott Davies and spark wild celebrations in the away end – the goal was made even sweeter by the fact that the centre back is, of course, a former Blackpool player and he no doubt took great pleasure from being able to do the “I can’t hear you anymore” celebration in front of the Cod Army faithful sat down the left hand side of the pitch.

We barely had time to catch our breath after that, as just three minutes later the ball was in the Fleetwood net again. A cross from the left by Eoin Doyle (who, incidentally, was playing probably his best game in a Chesterfield shirt) was poorly dealt with by Davies; Ollie Banks tried his best to force it home and despite the best efforts of Fleetwood skipper Mark Roberts the ball eventually broke to Sam Morsy on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder made no mistake, confidently placing the ball into the top corner for his second goal in as many outings, creating even more delirium on the terrace behind the net.

fleetwood1Fleetwood were well and truly rocked by this quick double whammy, and their misery could have been further compounded shortly afterwards. The wind was once again a huge factor as Davies completely misjudged the flight of the ball. It dropped nicely for Doyle but unfortunately the Irishman’s prodded effort landed just the wrong side of the post. What followed soon after was a moment of genuine controversy. As the men in red and white pressed and pressed for the goal that would give them a route back into a tie that was rapidly slipping away from them, they thought they’d bagged one – Roberts (Mark, not Gary) poked one towards goal from 6 yards following a corner, and the man they call “The Beast” – Jon Parkin – flicked it in with his heel from pretty much on the line.

We couldn’t really see too well from where we were stood, but straight away I knew something wasn’t right when Tommy Lee charged straight over to the linesman to remonstrate with him about something. During this time the Fleetwood players and fans were celebrating and their – shudder – goal music had already begun playing. It probably took close to 2 full minutes before referee David Coote ruled Parkin’s goal out, absolutely incensing the home crowd. Having watched the video back I think he made the right call but the fact it took him so long to make it is what stung the Cod Army the most. Nonetheless, their pressure did pay dividends before the opening 45 minutes as up, as a long ball up to Parkin (Fleetwood’s only real attacking “strategy”) was flicked on to David Ball, who directed a powerful header past Tommy Lee. Game on.

fleetwood2The second half played itself out at a much less frantic pace, with neither side really able to carve out any clear-cut chances. Paul Cook finally made the change that had been necessary all night as he pushed Tendayi Darikwa up to RM, with Drew Talbot taking his place at RB. Dan Gardner was the man sacrificed, and to be fair he’d had a pretty quiet game. Talbot’s introduction served to really shore up the Spireites’ back line, keeping the hosts at bay well for the remainder of the match. Despite the slowed-down nature of the second period, the game would go on to produce one more goal – and what a goal it was. Picking up the ball some 25 yards from Davies’ goal, Jimmy Ryan unleashed a ferocious half-volley that flew beyond the helpless keeper, nestling in the back of the net after brushing the inside of the far post on its way in.

That pretty much killed off Fleetwood to be honest, with a missed header from a corner late-on the closest they came to pulling another goal back. There was however still time for Tommy Lee to be booked – completely ludicrously I might add – for time-wasting. Mr. Coote showed the Spireites’ shot-stopper a yellow card because apparently retrieving the ball from out of the 6 yard box as the wind repeatedly blows it off the line is time-wasting. Whatever. The referee had a pretty awful night in general, really – I’m still convinced (although Andy disputes this) that Parkin shouldn’t still have been on the pitch by the final whistle. He had talked himself into the book following his disallowed goal, and then conceded a free kick by catching the ball before it went out for a throw-in. Hmm.

fleetwood3And so that was that. A convincing and deserved first-leg victory that puts us in a very favourable position for the return leg at the Proact in a fortnight’s time. Andy and I headed back to the tram stop and journeyed back into Blackpool, where many beers were consumed long into the night in celebration of a match that was unquestionably well worth the trip.

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“Who Are They?” “Exactly.”

ImageIn the entirety of 2013, I managed to visit two new football grounds. Two weeks into 2014 and I’ve already matched that total. Things are looking good for my goal of being at 20/92 by the end of the season. Despite initially waking up Saturday morning reluctant to leave the warmth and comfort of my bed, within an hour I was on the train pulling out of Manchester Oxford Road. I generally have a pretty appalling record with public transport and this rang true once again in Preston, as I somehow managed to miss my connecting train despite being sat right in front of it.. Yes, I don’t know either. It didn’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things anyway as I was making good time, and it just meant I had less time to kill once I arrived in Accrington.

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Thankfully, The Crown Ground (or The Storefirst.com Stadium as it now appears to be known) is situated quite close to Accrington train station, meaning I avoided a repeat of last weekend’s mammoth three and a half mile trek to make it there. It’s a short enough distance to walk, but if it wasn’t for a helpful signpost on the street I probably never would have found it – the ground is nestled deep in the heart of a housing estate and isn’t particularly visible until you’re right outside it. I had initially pondered standing with the away fans as I felt that the atmosphere might be a little bit more enjoyable (Newport were sitting much higher up the table, and won the reverse fixture at Rodney Parade 4-1 on the opening day of the season), but ultimately decided against it. I paid a very easy-on-the-wallet £6 with a student card to enter the Sophia Khan Stand, opting to stand on the terrace for the truly authentic spectating experience – this was definitely the right choice, as the stand faces out into the surrounding hills giving you some terrific views.

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The visitors started the game much brighter than the home side, and to be honest it was little surprise that it only took them 11 minutes to take the lead. Their calm passing football was proving too much for Stanley to deal with, resulting in a fairly cynical challenge on Ryan Burge by Luke Joyce. Robbie Willmott stepped up and rifled the ball home from 25 yards out, low to the left-hand side. It was then that I was taken by surprise by the sound of raucous cheering from nearby. There were two Newport fans who had, for whatever reason, opted to sit on the home terrace – they managed a quick rendition of “Sheep shagging bastards, we know what we are!” before they were shepherded (no pun intended) by a steward down to the away end. If Newport’s early goal was no surprise, what was surprising was the effect that this had on an Accrington Stanley side who have been miserably lacklustre so far this season. They were galvanised by going behind, and took all of 12 minutes to level the tie. Ex-Leeds United striker Danny Webber split the Newport defence with a wonderful pass that Peter Murphy was happy to run on to before lashing a right footed shot across Lenny Pidgeley and into the far corner.

The game settled down somewhat after a frenetic start, and frustratingly for me as a neutral (and also no doubt to both sets of supporters) was very stop-start thanks to an exceedingly whistle-happy referee. There was still time for another goal before the break, though – a promising Stanley attack was dealt with very poorly by the Newport rearguard, and David Pipe’s poor clearance led to a Peter Murphy cross from the right. Pidgeley came out to claim it but not very confidently at all, and Kal Naismith rose highest to head the ball home. Poor defending from the Welsh side, but take nothing away from the excellent leap and header from the young striker. At half-time I was once again pleased to see that the gates had been opened to allow smokers to step out (two grounds in a row now!), and then paid a very reasonable £1.50 for a cup of coffee.

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I had sort of expected Accrington to come charging out of the gates for the second half having gone ahead just before the whistle, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth – instead they seemed content to sit back and invite Newport to attack. To be fair to them, they repelled the barrage of long balls for 26 minutes before their resistance was broken. Conor Washington hooked the ball on and into the box, where Ryan Burge had all the time in the world to bring the ball down and poke it beyond the advancing Marcus Bettinelli. Going 1-0 down might have fired up the home side, but being pegged back to 2-2 didn’t have the same effect – if anything, it only seemed to spur on Newport who were unable to carve out any clear-cut chances. With the home fans urging on the men in red, Stanley thought they’d pinched all 3 points with one minute left on the clock. The corner was delivered toward the near post by Laurence Wilson, and Peter Murphy (yes, that man again) leapt highest to loop his header over Pidgeley and into the far corner. Delirium. It wasn’t to be, though – a lengthy break in play earlier on in the half due to an injury to Washington meant that we were facing 4 minutes of stoppage time. As it happened, Newport only needed the first of those 4 minutes. Another long pass into the box picked out the unmarked Lee Minshull to tap the ball beyond Bettinelli, with Stanley’s defensive frailties exposed once again. The full-time whistle went shortly after, and although the home side will surely be disappointed not to take all three points in the fashion that they did, I think they did very well to earn a point against a side much higher in the table who (at least initially) also played much better football than they did.

So, another excellent game from a neutral standpoint, then – six goals (including a direct free kick) is certainly nothing to scoff at. It’s always a niggling worry when travelling to attend games that it’s going to end 0-0 and make the trip something of a waste of time, but luckily that wasn’t the case today. In fact, looking at the other scores from the division, I probably ended up at the best game of the lot (except, of course, for the mighty Spireites’ 4-0 dismantling of Bury at the Proact). It was a brisk walk back to Accrington station and I actually had 45 minutes to spare before the train back to Preston – 45 minutes which I spent, for the most part (and I take very little shame in admitting this), wandering absent-mindedly around the big Tesco to stay out of the cold.

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