Somehow, Sunderland maintained their record of scoring in every league game this season and rescued a point that their play barely merited – but their spirit certainly did. In a game where the tone was set early on by a piece of refereeing as weak as a Chimbonda tackle, and Wycombe took that as a signal to play their brand of football, which we should have been able to rise above – but did only in short spells. As it is, we might have lost important players to injury and/or suspension – let’s see how that pans out.
Having decided against stopping off in a small village (population 600-odd, one pretty pub) we took cocktails in Thame, along with several other coaches, finding plenty of time to discuss the problems, or otherwise, encountered in obtaining tickets for some game in London at the end of the month. Some of us had experienced no problems, some – usually those who’d tried to get groups of tickets, had had an awful time, and a few others were still confused and angry about the way ticketing had gone so far. Ah well, Cup Finals, eh? Anyhow, Thame was a nice place, very like Bicester, which we’d visited on the way to Oxford, but a whole lot more moneyed.
We arrived at the end of the road in the industrial estate, for which some nutter had granted planning permission for a football ground to be built, just in time for the marquee bar to close – ah well, it was a sunny day, so a wander around outside and then a stroll into the ground was the order of the day. We had two sides of the ground, which is set in rolling countryside (on two sides at least) from which dog-walkers watched the proceedings as Red Kites floated above the stadium, rising gracefully on the hot air generated by the crowd.
We lined up:
O’Nien Flanagan Dunne James
Morgan Honeyman McGeady
They kicked off, with us defending the goal in front of our fans in the Lords Stand, and quickly showed their intent by pushing up and denying us space to play it out from defence, and also being entirely unafraid to give us a kick, or to roll over when tackled. Or to splatter their own keeper, which they did within five minutes, and the reserve, a massive bloke, was warming up immediately. Despite wearing an all-yellow kit that clashed only with the bloke he looked likely to replace, he was made to put on a bib - which was red and thus clashed with……all or our outfield players, when viewed from the rear. Marvellous.
With O’Nien returning to the club that made him a footballer, we expected him to get a bit of a rough ride, but the challenge on him ten minutes in by Bolo Zenden wanabee Samuel wasn’t just designed to hurt, it looked designed to damage. As on so many occasions this season, the ref showed weakness by not producing the red card that the foul merited and waving just a yellow. That’s not just me being my usual, blatantly biased self – watch it, along with all the shenanigans that followed, and make up your own mind. That was their game plan endorsed by the ref, so they continued to push and pull and get away with it. However, we should have been able to play through that and impose ourselves on the game, because we’ve got the players, but perhaps the strain of being everybody’s cup final every week is taking its toll on those players.
A decent challenge in our box by O’Nien saw a dive so embarrassingly obvious from their man that I can only assume the ref didn’t speak to him because he was laughing. After having a fair amount of the ball in the opening part of the game, we seemed to get penned back near our own box and should really have gone behind soon after Catts took a bang to the head that needed treatment. A run down the left saw a cross go over our defence to Bolton at the back post, but he swung his leg and sliced it wide when McLaughlin would have stood no chance. Morgan took a few hefty wallops as they doubled up on him and McGeady on the other side every time either got the ball, restricting their contribution to a shot from the latter that didn’t curl in enough. It didn’t help that Dunne produced his now customary daft pass straight to an opponent to put us on the back foot when a break looked likely. Not good, Lads. Bolton, presumably still embarrassed about the sitter he’s missed, or suffering from sitting on damp grass wasting time to break up play, was replaced by a double-barrelled lad.
However, not long after the half hour, we missed a couple of chances to get tackles in on halfway, and they broke down their right and played it across, via non-existent marking, to Samuel coming in from the left, and he planted it firmly low to Big Jon’s right for the opening goal, and we couldn’t say they didn’t deserve it.
Couldn’t, but did anyway. Bugger.
The remaining ten minutes, plus the added five, were more of the same as Wycombe kept pressing us back and stopping the game at every opportunity, only getting up after a challenge when a Red Kite looked like it was about to start feeding on the presumed carrion. We spent the break wondering what Ross would do in terms of tactics and/or personnel to get us back into the game, stating hopefully that the home side would surely tire allowing our class would show, and watching as a fight threatened to break out in the row in front.
As it was, James - injured, tired, or just needed replacing? - made way for Matthews and the formation remained the same, save for McGeady and Morgan swapping wings in the early stages. The foul on McGeady out on the right wasn’t the first of the half, so the ref saw fit to get both captains together and tell them to stop it. Which instruction Wycombe faithfully ignored. Anyway, Leadbitter slung in the free-kick and Flan thumped a header off the bar with the keeper nowhere, and that seemed to fire us up a bit, with O’Nien bursting into the box but being crowded out. Grigg was seeing little of the ball, so had to drop a bit deeper to get a touch. Honeyman was the next to get clobbered, and he had to leave the field, replaced by Watmore on the hour – and the ref gave a bounce ball! Five or so minutes later we made our final change, with Gooch coming on for Morgan who’d got precious little joy all afternoon apart from a couple of runs in the second half and a decent shot after McGeady had opened up the defence just before the substitution.
After McLaughlin had produced a decent save, Dunne got his head to a corner and the ball got tangled in the keeper’s feet as he made the save low down (‘cos that’s where his feet are), offering Flan the opportunity to try and get his toe to the ball – which the home side didn’t like. If you can’t take it, don’t give it out……
That was with five to go, then Flanagan caught a high boot (that Samuel again, although this was looked unintentional) and after lengthy treatment left the field asking where he was and could he have some candy floss. Then an added six were announced - a meagre compensation for the amount of time that ball had been inactive – it all went a bit crazy. A couple of minutes in, McGeady left a couple of defenders for dead and laid it into space for Leadbitter, 25 yards out, who touched it forward and smashed in a shot that the keeper could only push back in front of him – and Watmore was always going to win the race to it, even if only just, and he gleefully smashed it into the net to spark scenes of pandemonium in two sides of the ground. How long have we got? Can we do it again? The Lads were certainly fired up, and found speed and movement – why hadn’t it been there at three o’clock? Dunc burst across the centre-circle, looking to fire it out to Gooch on the right, but was caught late by Bean, drawing a second yellow – and damaging Duncs ankle to the extent that he had to leave the field, meaning there were only nineteen players on it.
We won a throw near the benches, Honeyman picked it up to throw to Matthews, and Nathan Tyson, who’d also been subbed, decided to stop that happening. Within seconds, their reserve keeper had waded in, along with most of the other players and it looked like something really daft was going to happen – and it did. Honeyman was shown a red, and jogged down the tunnel pursued by the sub keeper, then Tyson was shown a red, then their physio was shown a red (I think) and someone on our bench was shown a yellow (I think). I’ve seen a replay of it, and my opinion, for the nothing that it’s worth, is that George did nothing wrong and we should appeal – which should almost certainly see their sub keeper get a retrospective red. Either that, or both clubs will get fined and George will miss the cup final – unless the Fleetwood game is postponed for international call-ups, which is less likely now that Flanagan’s got a lump on his head.
There you go then. Barnsley on Tuesday is a game we probably have to get something from to avoid another potential Wembley trip, and we made our way to the coaches to sit in the traffic for an hour. On the way a Polis asked if someone had been sent off. “How long have you got?” I asked.
Man of the Match? Difficult today, as the opposition didn’t let any of us play, but McGeady managed to wriggle his was free and set up the goal, so he gets my vote.