Updated: Aug 4
I'm really looking forward to tonight's match even though I've been doing my best not to think about it till now. It's looking like McGeady, Maguire and Watmore will all be available and with the first two in particular we know that they're capable of scoring spectacular goals from dead-ball situations and open play. 1-0 is a very slender lead but if we can manage to score first, then I think we'll get through. I was delighted to see Ozturk vindicated and all we need now is for him to power in a header to help us on our way. For a player who was almost universally slagged after his initial appearances he's worked hard and put in some good shifts for us so he deserves some credit. I was planning to watch the match with members of the London Branch again but after a long day's work I called in at my favourite subterranean bar just off Oxford Street on the way and the barstaff said they'd put the game on for me. So, having had a packet of crisps for tea, I'm all set to be the sole representative of the faithful in the bar as the forty-five minutes to kick-off tick away. I'm sure it's going to be a rollercoaster ride but, as I said, I think we'll get to the final. Match prediction: 2-2...
When the team-news came through we were playing 4-3-3. Maguire was in and so was Leadbitter while Morgan and Gooch were on the bench. Watmore and Grigg were also subs but McGeady wasn't taking part due to a continuing injury.
There was no sound on the telly and 'Once In A Lifetime' by Talking Heads was playing on the bar's sound system as we kicked off. Leadbitter had a decent long-range shot in the second minute and next thing Evans was yellow-carded for doing the Can Can in the vicinity of Catts' head. We did nearly all the pressing in the opening ten minutes and that's all we had to do really. Naylor followed Evans into the book after stotting the ball off Maguire's head after they'd both taken a dive over the corner flag. The bar manager chuckled and said, “This is not going to end well, Ian.” It didn't look like Portsmouth would end with eleven men on the pitch at any rate. We won the first corner of the match in the fifteenth minute but it was easily cleared. Maguire was booked too for a bad tackle and then Portsmouth put the pressure on around the half-way mark but we charged down three goalbound attempts and battled on. Pompey continued to be in the driving seat and won their first corner but we were looking solid enough at the back and after half an hour things were looking ominously good. This wasn't exactly total football and both sides were hoofing balls here, there and sometimes nowhere. Not for the first time Maguire slipped in their box after he'd tipped the ball over MacGillivray's head and the chance was cleared for a corner. McLaughlin made a great save from an Evans header five minutes before the break and that was their best chance yet. Shortly afterwards McLaughlin was there again to run out of his box and boot it away after the ball had landed in Their Man's Land. We won another corner as three minutes of stoppage-time were announced and Pitman was booked too in the dying moments just to complete what had been a rather pleasing first period for us.
I got involved in taking a few photos of a group of people next to me and so missed the restart but was pleased to see that it remained goalless. Seven minutes in, Solomon was replaced by Lowe and next thing McLaughlin made another great save, this time from a Hawkins header. I was glad that we began to slow it down and started passing it around in midfield, frustrating Pompey as the time ticked away. I was wondering when we'd make a change as the hour-mark came and went. Those home fans were certainly looking glum and there was some argy-bargy when O'Nien took an unplanned stage-dive into their midst but he seemed unscathed anyway despite it looking like he might have taken a boot from a local. We entered a great period of possession and were passing it around in their half very confidently. With a quarter of the game left, could I dare to dream? In a word – no. Next thing Gooch was on for Maguire and if he played like he did on Saturday, I'd be very happy. Another great McLaughlin stop kept us ahead and the whole team was battling with sometimes three of our players really harrying one of their attackers. Fifteen minutes to go and O'Nien joined the yellow card club as we conceded a free-kick in our half and five minutes later Vaughan was booked too as he fouled Power, who was promptly replaced by Morgan. We were definitely on the receiving end but we continued to cope well and with McLaughlin in goal we looked secure. Eight minutes to go and Grigg replaced Wyke. The home fans looked like they were shitting barbed wire and I probably didn't look much better but with four minutes on the clock we were in the stronger position. Six minutes of stoppage-time were announced, which did little for my equilibrium, but as we won a free-kick near their corner flag our fans looked well happy. The ball was going from goalie to goalie and that suited me till the whistle finally blew and we were at Wembley again.
We deserved this and it was a much better display than we'd managed in the last series of League One matches.