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When Monday Comes #30
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 22nd Mar 2022 17:33

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] came and went without a match for the U’s, so it’s [i]When Monday Comes[/i] for this blog. No surprise to anyone really, given the build-up that tonight’s televised “[i]Game for Ukraine[/i] against table-topping Forest Green Rovers has been receiving. Well, I say table-topping, and they still are, but I suspect way back when Sky chose this game for broadcast they were probably thinking it might have been the match that clinched promotion for FGR? Since then, their form has absolutely tanked, their last win was eight games ago at home to Rochdale, and their unassailable 16-point gap from having to worry about the lottery of the play-offs has been whittled away to just [b][u]six[/b][/u] points, with the chasing pack closing in fast.

However, they are still the best team in the league, have only lost five games all season, and I’m sure will go on and gain automatic promotion anyway, so any complacency from the U’s and we’ll have our @rses handed to us live on the global TV stage tonight. Of course, we have the double-whammy potential that we’re likely to be playing in front of a very large crowd as well, and we all know how often that doesn’t seem to work out for us. That being said, it seems FGR have a bit of a hex over them when it comes to playing in front of cameras, so maybe those two negatives will balance each other out?

[b]Monday – will we not like it, or will it be so good to us?[/b]

Just under two weeks ago Robbie Cowling announced that this match would be a fund-raiser for the British Red Cross Disaster Emergency Committee, who are working tirelessly to help the Ukrainian refugees displaced by Russia’s invasion of their country.

The brave Ukraine armed forces continue to stand against their aggressors, and the might of the Red Army appears to have all but ground to a halt in many areas. Still though they creep inexorably towards their goal of capturing key cities such as capital Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol, though they are paying for every inch with the death of literally thousands of their own troops and the loss of innumerable tanks, trucks and other military vehicles – many ‘captured’ by the ever-resourceful Ukrainian farmers.

There is always a danger here that the courage of the Ukrainian forces drifts into becoming a gung-ho glorification of war. There is no glory in war, just broken people, lives shattered and cities battered. And it’s on both sides too – reports from captured Russian soldiers paint a picture of an army very much their against their will, with morale at a very low ebb, driven on more by a fear of their masters rather than any sort of ideological ‘de-nazification’ of Ukraine.

With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Jewish, and who lost members of his family in the Holocaust, that particular false-flag from Kremlin couldn’t be any further from the truth. But we sadly live in a world where facts are an inconvenience to be side-stepped wherever possible, and certainly not something to stop Putin’s warmongering atrocities.

[b]U’s World[/b]
Although the club are seemingly keeping a tight lid on releasing advance news of ticket sales, instinct says it must be going well, given we all know of people either coming along for the first time, or indeed (like many here) buying tickets even if they can’t be there. I awoke to a message from my nephew this morning with the graphic below showing multiple blocks in the East, South and West stands now sold out.

That could obviously be a bit of marketing gamesmanship, trying to ramp up interest to encourage others to be there, but I actually doubt it. With the efforts of the club to get this game out there in the local, even regional/ national consciousness, getting sponsors and local businesses and community groups on board, I have no doubt the sold out sections are genuine. This is obviously great news for the fund-raising, and coupled with the JustGiving page (link below), volunteers like our very own [b][bwildered[/b] out there tonight with collection buckets, and the shirt auctions to come, I have a feeling we won’t be too far off the £100k target once all the counts are in.
[b]Please spare every penny you can[/b]

As a brief footnote, it’s also worth noting that although he’s been struggling to get anywhere near the matchday squad in recent months, in fact even in the U23s, Armando Dobra has still earned an international call-up. He will be away with the Albanian U21s for two upcoming European Championship fixtures, both at home, against the Czech Republic on Friday and notably Lee Carsley’s Young Lions the following Tuesday. The irony that he can’t break into a struggling League 2 side, but might potentially still be playing against England isn’t lost on most I’m sure.

Tommy Smith has already played his first international for New Zealand, who got their World Cup qualification campaign off to a good start with a 1-0 victory away against Papua New Guinea, courtesy of a Ben Waine 75th minute goal. Tommy started on the bench, but did eventually make an appearance, albeit in the 93rd minute as a tactical substitution to run the clock down more than anything else. Still, a win’s a win, and a cap’s a cap, so well done Tommy.

[b]Good luck Armando and Tommy[/b]

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Going back to that “the U’s always choke in front of big crowds”, I thought I’d cast my mind back to some of our larger attendances in recent years, see just how true that particular urban myth is – turns out, not very true at all actually.

There are no hard and fast criteria in play here, I’ve just looked at the top 3-4 (or so) attendances each season in general, and yes I have included the three (so far) highest home attendances this season, even if they are woeful. Since season 2012/13 (so the last ten seasons, though of course there are no attendance stats for 2020/21) I’ve looked at 32 high attendance home games, of which we have won 14 (+1 for the post-draw Spurs penalty shoot-out), drawn seven and lost ten.

Okay stats I suppose but tempered somewhat by the fact these are all at home. However, you do also have to factor in the quality of the opposition for some of those defeats, and not necessarily the pressure of the occasion. Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur (the other match), Coventry City and Wolverhampton Wanderers all feature in our home defeats. Most of the victories have been sort of run of the mill games against fellow league opponents, even if we include t’other Spurs game and the last-day Great Escape against now high-flying Preston North End.

So, what does this all tell us? Nothing much really, other than there’s no evidence that we do actually choke on the big day. Looking at results in relation to attendance, by and large we’re in a better place in front of a mid-range c. 4.7-6.5k crowd, less so at the lower and higher ends of the spectrum. The trendline indicates a more positive result can be broadly expected at the lower end of the attendance range, but that’s lies, damn lies and statistics for you…

As for tonight, it’s difficult to be sure quite what the attendance will be, nor indeed how many of those will be real bums on seats. With no disrespect to FGR, I’ll be amazed if they bring more than 200 travelling supporters – it’s a long journey, it’s an evening kick-off, it’s a school night, of course it’s on the TV too, and their hard-core home support is only about 2k anyway. Given this is a U’sual Champions’ League Group of 16 tie-breaker attendance prediction, I will reserve judgement on speculating a number.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
24th September 2019
Carabao Cup (Round 3)
Attendance 9,481[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and given the occasion, a good reason to go for a special this time, and what better than our most recent big crowd, under the lights against Spurs in the 3rd Round of the Carabao Cup back in September 2019. This is the most recent largest crowd of the fixtures considered above, eclipsed only by the 9,920 who were there for the previous visit of Spurs in the FA Cup. Mind you, even that was topped by Spurs again when they came to the JobServe for a pre-season friendly back in 2013, attracting a whopping crowd of 9,988.

The journey to this point had already been one of derring-do and bravado, which had started exceptionally well in the 1st Round with a comfortable 3-0 home win over Swindon – or at least it looks comfortable on paper, but the reality was Swindon were probably the better side for most of the match. Ton Eastman’s 77th minute goal, although an absolute belter, was slightly against the run of play. Our second two (Senior’s in the 92nd minute and Comley with virtually the last kick of the game in the 97th minute) added a cherry on top that we probably didn’t deserve, but who cared – we were through to the 2nd round and a trip to Selhurst Park.

If we didn’t fully deserve the victory against Swindon, we more than made up for it against Crystal Palace, and as the game wore on really did take the game to our Premier League opponents. In truth we probably should have won the game in normal time, but it finished 0-0 and went to penalties. Gerken got us off to a perfect start, saving Andros Townsend’s spot-kick, an advantage we never relinquished that evening. Goals from Norris, Nouble, Brown and Cowan-Hall were matched by goals from Ayew, Benteke, Camarasa and Zaha, until up stepped young Noah Chilvers for our final kick to win the tie. Showing a maturity (and bravery) far beyond his years, Noah calmly slotted it past Scott Dann, sending the travelling faithful into raptures.

And so, the 3rd Round loomed, with the U’s drawn at home to another Premier League side in Tottenham Hotspur. Interest in this game spread far and wide, but fortunately as a Match Credit holder on the U’s ticketing system, it wasn’t too hard to get a couple for me and close fried Damian up the back of S4. Before anyone has a go at me, yes Damian is a Spurs supporter, but as soon as the draw was made it was nailed on we were doing the match together, and there was zero chance he’d get one of the 2,000 away tickets allocated to Spurs.

Taking no chances, I booked the afternoon as leave, leaving plenty of time to get a train from home over to Colchester and into a small B&B I’d used previously on Bergholt Road. There was no getting back from Colchester to North Wiltshire travel options that night, and I was buggered if I was going to miss this, so an overnight stop was demanded. Damian drove over, as he had to be back for an early start in the morning, but we had no problem meeting up at the ground for a few beers in the Fan Zone.

John McGreal’s U’s lined up that evening:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson (11. Paris Cowan-Hall 50’)
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
4….Tom Lapslie
24..Ben Stevenson (9. Luke Norris 78’)
26..Luke Gambin (10. Jevani Brown 68’)
7….Courtney Senior
45..Frank Nouble

There were three changes from our previous match, a 1-0 victory over Northampton Town, with Lapslie, Stevenson and Gambin recalled, partly because Theo Robinson and Brendan Wiredu were both cup-tied. Whilst, as expected, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino rested a lot of his regular first teamers (not least Harry Kane), his line-up still included Eric Dier, Delli Alli and Lucas Moura – plus Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertongen and Moussa Sissoko on the bench if he needed them.

Mind you, as the match got underway it really didn’t look like he was going to need them. It wasn’t so much that Spurs were in complete control (they were) but it was more the absolute gulf in class between one of the better League 2 sides and an average Premier League side. We see someone pull off a cracking 50-yard pass straight to feet, and the receiver brings it under control like it’s on a string around his ankle and we think they’re a world-beater and worthy of a roar of approval. In the Premier League just the accepted minimum standard.

For the first 15 minutes all we could do for the most part was watch Spurs pass the ball around like we weren’t there, and just defend like Trojans if and when they had a serious attempt to get through, or behind us. Nouble was doing his bit too, making a big ugly nuisance of himself whenever he faced up to Dier, but although the U’s faithful were doing their bit from the stands, most were probably thinking not if but when were Spurs going to score.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, although the U’s were actually playing really well themselves, from about 15 minutes in Spurs really started to find their rhythm, with Alli and Parrott both going close, and Moura starting to show sublime class in midfield. It was Moura who had the first really serious attempt on goal (as if all the others had just been larking about), a 30-yard scorcher of a free-kick which Gerken did fantastically well to keep out. However, despite possession stats which at one point were just ludicrous, the mighty U’s stood up to their illustrious opponents and just about managed to keep them at arm’s length for the first half.

No chance of even attempting to get some concourse fare at half-time, so myself and Damian reflected on the first half performance. Yes it had been all Spurs, but he was starting to worry somewhat. He’d obviously seen Spurs far more than I have, and was worried the signs were there that they’d start to run out of puff (and ideas) and that frustration and mistakes would creep in. I could only pray that would be the case.

Into the second half, and it started pretty much how things had finished before the interval, with Moura putting on the afterburners to nearly get around the U’s backline, but for a last ditch block. On 50 minutes the U’s had to make an enforced change, with Cowan-Hall on for the injured Jackson. That wasn’t quite the kickstart we needed, but as we approached the hour mark, the U’s were slowly getting a small foothold in the game, holding up better when we had control, and finding a few passes of our own.

Spurs however were still comfortably in control: Parrott had blazed one narrowly over the bar already, Walker-Peters’ cross had evaded everyone and bounced back off the inside of the post, and a few moments later Gerken did well to palm away a genuine goal attempt from Walker-Peters. With echoes of the U’s at Stamford Bridge, on 66 minutes Pochettino decided he needed to dip into his star-studded bench, bringing on Son and Eriksen for Tanganga and Parrott. McGreal responded by taking off the struggling Luke Gambin for the more attack-minded Jevani Brown.

The fresh legs (and talent) of Eriksen and particularly Son kept the pressure on the U’s, but still we stayed resolute and strong, throwing everything on the line to keep Spurs out. With just over 10 minutes to go, the last two substitutions were made. Lamela came of for Skipp, whilst McGreal made his second attack-minded change, bringing on Chuck Norris for midfielder Stevenson – what was he thinking, does he think we can actually win this?

Well, yes actually, and so did the crowd, with 8,000 U’s fans genuinely sensing we could snatch it. The Spurs dominance almost evaporated, with wave after wave of U’s attacks penning them back deeper and deeper – the Spurs team now more desperate than the U’s it seemed just to get to full-time and take their chance in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. For all their trickery, for all their skill, for all their talent, they simply couldn’t unlock the U’s, and now they had the fear. At one point during those final ten minutes Damian simply muttered to me “[i]you’re going to win this you know[/i]”.

In the dying minutes Cowan-Hall drilled a 25-yarder just wide of the post, likewise one for Senior after he’d just tore at the Spurs defence, who could do nothing but back off. Norris, Nouble and Brown were making a real nuisance of themselves in the final third, but we couldn’t quite get the goal that our 80 minutes of determined defence (MoM was Tom Eastman) and ten minutes of attacking intent deserved, and so it went to penalties.

Eriksen was up first, Gerken guessed perfectly and dived to his right to save, and the stadium erupted – the perfect start. Norris, Dele Alli, Nouble and Lamela all converted to make it 2-2, albeit Nouble’s attempted straight down the middle struck the ankles of the diving Sánchez and only just bobbled over the line. So up stepped Jevani to capitalise on Gerken’s save and give the U’s a 3-2 advantage after three kicks each.

Only he didn’t, instead he tried a Panenka. Now, I’m not doubting that there’s a time and a place, and such penalties can have inflict terrible psychological damage to a goalkeeper bereft of confidence, but was this the situation to try one? No, not at all. His execution was poor, so poor in fact that Sánchez basically had time to dive to his left, see the flight of the ball, stand up and nonchalantly punch it to safety – and he didn’t look too impressed with Brown either.

Advantage had shifted slightly now, and although we were all roaring the U’s on, in my heart I sensed our chance had probably gone. That feeling wasn’t helped when Son stepped up, arguably the best player on the night, and he’d only been on for 24 minutes, did a little bit of fancy footwork to send Gerken the wrong way and then just rolled the ball into the opposite corner. Mind you, Cowan-Hall clearly hadn’t read the same script I had, and just a nonchalantly sent Sánchez the wrong way to bring the U’s level again on 3 a-piece, with just one kick left each before sudden death.

Now, it’s not like I had a premonition anything like that, but as Moura took the long walk from the centre-circle he really didn’t look confident at all. His body language was of a man already defeated – whether he was feeling the burden of responsibility for missing chances during the game to avoid this situation. As he took his run-up Damian just muttered “[i]he’s going to miss[/i]”, and sure enough Moura’s attempt smacked off the top of the crossbar and high into the South Stand.

The roar was felt as much as it was heard, right down in the pit of your stomach, and amidst the chaos here care Tom Lapslie to take the final kick. The smallest player on the pitch, but with a heart as big as a lion’s, if Tom was nervous he didn’t show it. Tom drilled his effort into the bottom left corner, and although Sánchez went the right way, the kick was placed perfectly and no chance he’d reach it – and the JobServe exploded!

[b]Tottenham Hotspur 0 Colchester United 0 (U’s win 4-3 on penalties)[/b]

The delirious scenes of celebration after the game were something to behold, with thousands pouring onto the pitch in euphoria. There was no sour grapes from Damian either, although Spurs probably should have made their dominance count, they had only themselves to blame for not doing so, and on balance despite the ridiculous match stats, he agreed that the U’s deserved their victory on the night.

By way of reward, our 4th round draw was away at Crawley, probably one of the easiest that could have come out of the hat if I’m honest. With 1,800 of the faithful making the trip to Crawley, the 3-1 victory never really seemed to be in any doubt, despite going behind early on. Our magical journey finally came to an end in front of 5,000 U’s at Old Trafford, but what a journey it had been!

There are loads of highlights out there on YouTube from the game, but here’s Sky Sports coverage of the penalty shoot-out for you to enjoy ahead of this evening’s match – try and not have another heart attack for Nouble’s attempt.

Up the U’s!

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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