Date: 27th August 2010 at 2:20pm
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2010/11 season v Palace in the league cup at Fratton, Tuesday 24th – Wednesday 25th August 2010.

A welcome distraction from the league, or just a distraction?

That was the question being asked by many before the Palace league cup game on Tuesday – for me, and the travelling party, it was a welcome game, cup games always are as far as we go. Speaking of ‘travelling party’, Richie had already been in touch earlier in the morning to inform me that he would not make it as the cyst on his neck was playing him up, I just think its his head that needs removing, so he needed to sort that out.

Rob collected me from the usual spot at the top of the hill, just round the corner from my house, doing so straight from work, which meant he had to work through his lunch break to get away on time. He did this at 2.30pm, which was ideal really as it was not too early, but not too late either and meant it enabled me time do to some work before setting off. I had not seen him since Coventry, not really that long ago but with all the hours and miles put in since it seemed an eternity ago! We exchanged the usual pleasantries and talked the usual football, and talk of life in general, on the journey to Exeter and the usual meeting place where we would meet Ken at 3.30pm. The plan was to jump in his car and then make our way to Digby station to pick up Betsy, also coming straight from work, en-route. We arrived some 15 minutes early, although it is always best to be early than late, right?

Ken must have arrived around 3.25pm, so he too was a little early. Having said hello he would then go on to say ‘do you want the bad news or the bad news?’ I, and Rob, of course knew that the one piece of bad news was the fact that Richie was not coming, so we immediately knew that this meant Betsy was out too – and sure enough he was. Something with work meant that he could not make it. Of course this was a blow financially, as it meant petrol costs went up as a result, although it was also the quality company loss to the journey that was disappointing…

Nevertheless we set off. We got caught in a little bit of traffic, mainly around Dorchester way and just coming into Pompey – rather than rush off just before the game Ken decided to collect tickets from the ticket office on the way through before the pub, so Ken and Rob sorted them, mine was already done having been loaded onto my season ticket card when Tony sorted his and Gill’s along with mine a week or so before. Money was safely transferred into his account in payment.

So, with tickets safely sorted it was pub time, it must have been around 6.40pm by the time we arrived in Smiffys – nothing was on tap, which if you know Smiffys is not unusual. That meant it was either Bud or Stella, not being particularly keen on either in all honesty, although preferring Bud to the wife beater, a bottle of Bud it was…As we were waiting for Pam, despite wanting to move on to The Rutland, it would have been rude not to have another though, so we had a quickie before setting off to The Rutland a little after 7pm.

Upon arrival John (pompeyyong) was waiting at the bar so we had a chat and I managed to get my first ‘proper’ pint – Ken, Pam and Jo, who had been spotted just ahead of us as we went into The Rutland and flagged down, would talk ‘Trust’ business until around 7.35pm when we decided that we really should make a move, so we did. Kick-off was easily made as I was in my seat before the first ball was kicked, Ken and Rob ended up a couple of seats along from me having picked up some vacant seats, although I stayed with Tony and Gill in my usual.

The 1st half, on the whole, saw us basically carry on where we left off on the Saturday before against Preston – anyone that had gone to Preston would know how bad that was! That said we were not quite as poor, thank God. We did actually work the Palace keeper, something we had failed to do in the entire 90 minutes at Deepdale! Although pretty much for the whole of the season to date that had been the case really, as we either scored giving the keeper no chance or missed the chances in the early part of the season. The break saw us go in level 0-0, to be honest I could not really recall Jamie Ashdown having to make a save?

It was almost like a different side in the 2nd half though, we came out fresher, more determined and with an apparent better belief about ourselves and our play, which was rewarded by a fantastic Dave Nugent goal where he beat a few players before finishing neatly into the corner. Sadly, although typically really in many ways, he got injured either in scoring or celebrating the goal, I am sure it was in scoring though. This eventually, after he tried to run it off, saw him taken off but the growth in confidence this goal gave him was evident and he looked like a man possessed, despite this injury, for a few minutes. Tommy Smith really should have killed the game off, but he put over from 6-yard, then again Palace had chances too and had missed some sitters with Ashdown saving well from Zaha.

Thoughts of being able to get home for a reasonable(ish) hour, not to mention being able to get to a chippy for fish and chips on the way home were dashed though by a poor own goal from Ibrahima Sonko late on – who was still, all in all, looking a liability. It looked as though clearing with his left foot was the option but he went with his right and this saw him slice the ball horribly into his own net past Ashdown, who could do nothing. Extra time was inevitable, if we even managed to get through to that, although there was still time for Zaha, the man that Richie had tipped me off to put down as my ‘one to watch’ – to be fair he started very brightly and caused some problems, to be given a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident, but extra time it was…

Basically, and in spite of the fact that Palace only had 10-men, we carried on where we left off in the 2nd half, looking lively and dangerous, certainly the team most likely to win but we could not force the breakthrough so that meant a penalty shootout – the first ever, well bar the charity shield against Manyoo a few years back that did not count, that I had witnessed from within the ground. I was not at the FA cup semi final in 92, nor was I in Hong Kong for the Asia cup or the shootouts in Portugal last pre-season.

If anyone is anything like me the tension of a shootout is unbearable when watching or listening on TV or radio, being around me makes it even worse. I am a real nervous wreck, completely out of control with nerves although the atmosphere, I found, was much different being in the ground. I felt much more at ease, relaxed and without this nervous energy, dare I even say that I ‘felt confident’ that we would win! Perhaps it was the positive energy of the Pompey fans, and having so many in close proximity, maybe it was the text I got from Trina wishing us luck, that relaxed me – who knows?

Before anything the advantage was ours as this was taking place at the Fratton End…

The first guy that stepped up for Palace did that whole ‘no run up’ thing, something that often results in a miss and sure enough Ashdown saved, although for me he was someway off his line so technically it should have been retaken? Step up Michael Brown, who did the business. Palace then scored, as did Marc Wilson – playing what was ‘probably’ his last game for the club. 2-1 up with 2 each taken a dreadful miss, with the ball skied into the Fratton End, left it very much in our hands although Smith saw his penalty saved when he could have made it 3-1. This soon became 2-2 with the pressure then on youngster Marlon Pack, who showed no nerves at all dispatching a blinding penalty, Palace scored again to make it 3-3 but even so Nadir Ciftci was left with the chance to win it – having sent the keeper the wrong way he saw his effort came back off the post! Sudden death it was…

Ashdown saved again and that left Carl Dickinson with the chance to win it, but he too saw his penalty saved, but wait the referee said the keeper was off the line so he was given a second chance, again though the keeper saved, this time with his legs. Ashdown saved again to leave Richard Hughes with the chance to win it – in all honesty I was not that confident he would, but a calm penalty, and a good one too, saw him put us into the 3rd round of the league cup, a ‘plum tie’ at Fratton would be what we hoped for surely?

The extra time and shootout meant that we missed the chippy, although we did find a ‘make do’ with one that Ken said he had used before, which was not that great but needs must – he said it was better this time, but I would say it had to rank among the worst I had used, but when you are hungry you take what you can get, so we did.

A smooth journey home saw us get back to Exeter for around 1.40am, which left the final journey back to Ivybridge where Rob would drop me off before heading back on to his home in Plymouth – by this point I was fading as the travelling seems to be getting harder and harder, and for the past few years I literally have been on the road most of the time so when my head hit that pillow at 2.15am I was out like a light!

Yet it all starts again on Friday evening when I leave for the Cardiff game at Fratton, the traditional stop over in Cosham for the weekend applies against Craig Bellamy’s side, bloody Bellamy he ALWAYS does well against us no matter who he plays for, so no doubt he will again on Saturday…


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