I don't there is a competition that I enjoy watching more than the FA Cup. It is thrilling, it's exciting, and the opportunity that a lower league team might pull off a giantkilling is exactly why I picked out today's game. The fact that it was near to me was also a factor.
It was West Yorkshire side Emley who were on their longest run in the competition for over 20 years. They came into the tie as the lowest ranked side left in the competition and faced National North side Alfreton Town.
I was on match-reporting duties for today, so I arrived early. Misjudged, one might say, as the turnstiles weren't open for another 30 minutes. Instead, I went and sat in the bar and grabbed a Pepsi. No alcohol for me when reporting. The best bit, as well as speaking to supporters, was sitting in the bar being constantly approached by a very excitable King Charles (the dog, that is. As good as Alfreton is, I doubt there will be a royal visit anytime soon). He spent about 5 minutes just running around the tables in circles and clinging to anybody that gave him the slightest bit of attention.
As I left the bar, and the very cute dog, behind me, I went to the turnstiles. Now, common sense would think that after last week's entry shenanigans (see Total Waste blog for more details) I would probably remember to bring cash. That's the thing. Sometimes I have a bit of a lapse in common sense. I did have cash with me, but was still adamant on paying by card. Then as the turnstile attendant called for the card machine from somewhere else once again, I figured I might as well just give him the £10 I had in my wallet. So then I was in. Never mind, eh.
It was straight to the food bar, as I hadn't eaten properly. I was in for a surprise, but a welcome one. I ordered a cheeseburger as usual, but it was only £3! For those of you who are unfamiliar with football prices, that is a nice, unique touch. It was also lovely, too. The food rating, which is clearly the most important part of the day, will definitely be high on the leaderboard.
The rain was a bit of a downer, as it started spitting as soon as I walked in, but I managed to stay under cover most of the time whilst watching Emley's warm up.
Seeing as I was on media duties, I had a quick chat with the Emley manager to organise a quick interview after the game, and then headed up into the press area. I don't know why there is a misconception that all the press areas are lush and comfortable, because I doubt any of them are. Alfreton was the first one I had been to, so I can't judge it by what the others do or don't have.
Before we knew it, we were all seated and ready to go for kick off. The masses of Emley were packed into the terrace behind the goal and were in full song for the majority, including an air horn. I'm pretty sure there was a drum at some point too. They weren't messing around.
Neither were the players. Let me remind you, this was an FA Cup match. If you'd have told me that this was a match between two teams that were three leagues apart, I wouldn't have believed you. Neither team were particularly hanging on by a thread, and both teams had equal amount of chances in the first half. Alfreton's long throws were a weapon that was dealt with really well by Emley throughout, and when they did get the chances from open play, Lambton in the Emley goal was extremely effective.
About a quarter of the way through the game, the rain got heavier, so my condolences to those that were in the seating area behind the goal, without cover. At the same time, one of the people sat behind me in the press area was found to have blocked something with his car, so had to go and move it. While it gave me a small chuckle, I was so engrossed in the football, and the chance of an upset, that I wasn't really that bothered about what happened afterwards and didn't even see him come back. To be honest, I completely forgot about it until I looked at my notes and began this blog.
Another interesting moment was when one of the Emley staff said "watch the ball and do both men" which is not something you particularly want to hear out of context, I'd imagine. Whatever he meant ended up working, as they nullified a lot Alfreton's threats and went into the break at 0-0.
Excellent first half. Both teams in it, well contested, brilliant performances, and an exciting second half ahead. I was in the middle of writing the start of my match report at half time, whilst also laughing at Manchester City and Manchester United who were both losing. Turns out that the Premier League just went bonkers, really. Villa 6-1, Luton finally won, Arsenal scored four, and both Manchester sides lose.
Half time came and went, and it was still pissing it down, which resulted in pretty much every player slipping over at some point after the restart. Steven Gerrard would be proud.
Moments later, Alfreton got their breakthrough. Their 22, Fewster, picked up the ball in his own half, ran with it all the way into the box and curled it into the back of the net. It doesn't get much better than that. What a solo goal that was. We all love a screamer, but that was one of those underrated goals that seems to always slip under the radar.
20 minutes later, the hosts had a clear penalty and a chance to double the lead. I always love an underdog story, so this would be gutting for Emley if this went in. If it did, I couldn't see them getting back into it. Lambton put a strong save in down to his right though and turned it away, and keeping his side in it.
That spurred them on too, with a sudden burst of energy that looked to me like they were about to score. It looked like they would get their luck too. A (very questionable) penalty was given to them on 88th minute, as Walshaw stepped up... and it was deja vu from the other end. Low to the keeper's right and saved to keep it at 1-0 to Alfreton.
After that, Alfreton were just pulling out all the stops and using every trick in the book to just tick the clock down. It worked, and the ref blew the whistle on 94', and that was that. Alfreton were in the hat for the final qualifying round, whereas Emley's best FA Cup run for years was over.
As I said, though, it looked more like a league game than a cup game. They were never out of it, both teams fiercely competing to the end, and on another day, Emley could have won that with the penalty. It could also have ended 0-0.
The Emley manager, Richard Tracey, was class. Really nice interview with him post-match and managed to get a good insight regarding his thoughts on the game and performance. He said he was "really proud of the lads" despite the defeat and I don't blame him. Their FA Cup run has come to an end, but it's been a really good run, winning twice at higher opposition. Let's be honest too, it wasn't far off from a replay in this game either. A close game, but that's football.
Now I'm off to catch up on the rest of the day's action. And a beer.