|When Saturday Comes #18|
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 12th Dec 2021 14:48
A little later than usual today I’m afraid – ‘tis the season to be jolly and all that, so I have just been out for the obligatory Xmas tree – bah humbug. Mind you, I was treated to the sight of literally hundreds of Santas (and the occasional elf) on a charity fun run through Calne on the way, which for want of a better expression was certainly surreal. Officially entitled [i]Santa’s Scamper[/i], the entry fee for participants goes to charitable causes, and to date the organisers have raised nearly £8k for charities such as Wiltshire Air Ambulance, Dorothy House, Hope for Tomorrow, Barnardos and of course their main charity every year, Hannah’s Trees – well done Santas!
[b]Santa’s Scamper 2020[/b]
Let’s be clear here, on 16th December 2020 Boris put London on Tier 3 lockdown, banning mixing indoors between households. Whilst the vast majority of Londoners got on with cancelling plans to be together over the festive period, two days later the Conservative Party ignored its own rules (no surprise there, I’m amazed they didn’t decide to hold it in Barnard Castle), stuck two fingers up at the electorate, and partied on. The video of Allegra Stratton and colleagues laughing and joking about it on 22nd December makes this all the more galling.
[b]Not fit to govern[/b]
Of course, it’s not just about them following the same rules we must, it’s about setting an example – a test they seem to fail time and time again. The real damage, and recent surveys back this up, is that a whopping 77% of the general population now feel far less inclined to follow any further Covid restrictions, and with the omicron variant surging through the population at a rate of nearly 50k new cases every day, heaven knows what this will mean in our struggle just to be rid of this fecking pandemic.
[b]Closer to home[/b]
No matter, I took to Twitter to keep tabs on progress, and despite what looked (through the fog of the match analysis camera feed) like a very talented Arsenal academy side, the U’s took the lead virtually on half-time with a Ryan Lowe penalty, after regular 1st teamer Samson Tovide was brought down in the box. Easily holding their own against their illustrious opponents throughout the second half, Tovide put the result beyond doubt with a delightful glancing header from a Lowe pinpoint free-kick with ten minutes late, and in injury-time Kaan Bennett put the cherry on the cake with a third goal drilled into the bottom right corner.
The U’s already know their fourth round opponents, away at Newcastle United – not sure if that’ll be at St James’s Park or not, but I think (?) I read somewhere it wouldn’t be – not sure. For those that sometimes question the benefit of our Category 2 academy, it is worth pausing to consider that teams already through are dominated by Premier League, Championship and a smattering of League 1 sides (including academy officianados Crewe Alexandra). We join Cheltenham Town as the only League 2 representatives through so far, which is a fantastic performance.
[b]Who are ya?[/b]
Hence, like the U’s, Walsall have spent most of their existence in the bottom two tiers of English football, and hence are a common opponent for the U’s. Since we joined the Third Division South back in 1950, we’ve met each other 70 times, including once in an Associate Members Cup fixture back in March 1985 – a game we lost 1-0. Anyone now wondering therefore how come that leaves an odd number of league fixtures, Walsall was one of the fixtures we lost because of the Covid curtailment of the 2019/20 season.
As for the stats, it couldn’t really be more even, with 25 victories, 25 defeats and 20 matches drawn. Notable results include a 6-1, 5-1 and 5-0 victories at Layer Road, the last one under Phil Parkinson in January 2005. More recently, there was of course the epic 4-4 draw at the Jobserve under Tony Humes in October 2015. On the receiving end, Benny Fenton’s U’s were spanked 4-0 at Layer Road in March 1961, and there have been two 4-2 and one 5-2 drubbings, all at Fellows Park. Probably of greatest note, and with reference to the article earlier about longest sequences without defeat, Walsall were our 20th and final opponent in Benny Fenton’s record-breaking streak of games without defeat, a 2-1 victory at Layer Road in April 1957.
A bit like Griffin Park for users of the M4 elevated section in West London, the Bescot is a familiar sight for long-suffering users of the M6. Invariably, given the area is usually snarled up at the junction of the M5 and M6 just a few hundred yards to the east, they get a chance for a long careful look too. The Bescot is a relatively new ground, built in 1988/89, and opened in 1990 by the late great Sir Stanley Matthews. I never visited their previous ground Fellows Park, but the Bescot is an awayday I’ve made on more than a few occasions since opening – though sadly not today (Christmas tree etc.).
[b]Match of the Day
[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC18 and the random match selector has chosen another victory (I can hear the cheers from [b]Durham[/b] from here). This is one of those matches that I have no memorabilia archive for, other than a scribbled entry on the family calendar “[i]Last game of the season – Home to Brizzle Rovers[/i]”. I’ve already mentioned my preference to always try and get to the first and last games of each season, and this was one of those, as the curtain came down on the 2010/11 season.
It had been a difficult week for me too, after finally persuading Mum that she needed to move out of our family home on Greenstead and into something a bit more manageable for her at Highwoods, and in the middle of the week I found myself in Essex helping my sisters clear and clean our old home. Quite emotional really, we’d all been brought up there by Mum on her own and had watched as our edge of estate house with fields stretching off into the distance was engulfed in more and more housing. Still, as a young boy, building sites were excellent playgrounds, so I wasn’t complaining!
For the day of the match, Em was on an early shift at the hospital, so me and Alfie took the train over from Warminster, a pretty easy trip by any measure, undoubtedly helped enormously by the existence back then of the shuttle buses. At Liverpool Street we met up with a fair few of the Gas supporters, many in fancy dress and all out for a good day despite relegation for Rovers already confirmed. They were friendly good-natured bunch, in fact I’ve never encountered any animosity from Bristolian football supporters, whether red or blue.
With leading goalscorer loanee David Mooney side-lined (can’t remember why), John Ward’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
Rovers were already relegated, but it had been a reasonably solid season for the U’s, and although the play-offs were now beyond us, a credible upper mid-table finish beckoned for John Ward in his first season in charge. Always well-supported anyway, Bristol Rovers fans had arrived in very good numbers (and voice) to swell the crowd to nearly 5k and jammed into the East stand for this game.
As for the match, you could have been forgiven for not realising neither side had little to play for, as the U’s put Bristol Rovers under pressure right from kick-off. Very early on Gas ‘keeper Conrad Logan did well to save efforts from both JJ and Andy Bond, with his defender Charlie Clough coming to his rescue to clear an effort from Ian Henderson off the line. It only seemed a matter of time before the U’s would take the lead, and that moment finally arrived just before the half-hour mark.
Bursting down the wing, Lloyd James swung in a deep cross which, climbing highest, Odejayi headed back across the box, to be met by a sweet and unstoppable volley by Ian Henderson, and the travelling supporters were silenced by the JobServe roar. We weren’t done either, and barely had the celebrations settled down when Henderson, latching on to a blocked shot by Vincent and twisting and turning his marker Ben Swallow inside out, drilled home to make it 2-0 with his second after just 30 minutes.
It remained 2-0 through to half-time, but credit where it’s due, Bristol Rovers didn’t give up on the pitch, nor on the terrace, and roared on by their travelling support, took the game to the U’s into the second half. Although we were still making our own chances, with Clough clearing another effort off his line – this time from John-Joe O’Toole – and Logan dealing with a decent long-range effort by John White, much more of the action was now taking place in our own half.
On the hour mark Gas manager Stuart Campbell made the first change, bringing on Eliot Richards for Wayne Brown (no, not that one), and less than ten minutes later Rovers got the goal back their efforts probably deserved, with Richards rising highest to head home Gavin Williams deep free-kick. Now the U’s really were in a battle, and with less than ten minutes to go John-Joe O’Toole’s attacking threat was sacrificed for Jordan Sanderson’s more defence-minded capabilities. Still Bristol Rovers pressed, yet despite a flurry of additional substitutions as the 90th minute approached, they couldn’t break down a resilient U’s, who finished the 2010/11 season with a 2-1 victory.
[b]Colchester United 2 (Ian Henderson 28’, 30’) Bristol Rovers 1 (Eliot Richard 72’)[/b]
Bristol Rovers, given their vastly inferior goal difference, were relegated to League Two. It was actually quite a bad season for the South West in general, with Plymouth and Swindon joining them, alongside our local rivals Dagenham & Redbridge.
The U’s finished 10th, four places and nine points from the play-offs, which all things considered was not a bad start for John Ward as manager. Ward would go on to repeat the feat the following season, again finishing 10th, before a disastrous run of nine games without a win in 2012/13 saw him sacked by Robbie Cowling. Ironically, he left Colchester to re-join Bristol Rovers as manager, a team he da originally manager back in the mid 90s.
David Mooney was released by his parent club Reading in the summer, and although we were very keen to sign him, John Ward had already admitted he was concerned we’d be priced out of the inevitable bidding war for his signature. That turned out to be the case, and Mooney eventually signed for fellow League One side Leyton Orient, who had missed out on the play-offs by just one point – that signature no doubt assisted by the chequebook of then chairman Barry Hearn.
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Blogs by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #23 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #22 by wessex_exile
It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.
When Saturday Comes #21 by wessex_exile
Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.
When Saturday Comes #20 by wessex_exile
Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.
When Saturday Comes #19 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.