the real fa cup

Fog On The Cam

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Only the third least offensive match this round, according to voters in our poll for Round One ‘Proper’ of the FA Cup. In aesthetic terms, however, this should have been the winner. Weeping willows, dreaming spires, the smack of leather on willow and the wake of a million oars on the Cam.

First port of call, a functional footy pub on a main road, we could have been in any provincial town. Paulton Rovers 0 Norwich City 3 when we left. Second port, after crossing the wrong bridge, the Green Dragon, a fine establishment. Busy too. A riverside venue, ducks, boats, tourists … and a more ‘English’ pre-match setting you’d struggle to find, it would only have been more English if we’d been off to watch cricket or whichever blue hue is popular on the river in this part of Oxbridge.

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“We’re not going to win the FA Cup but it’s a chance to make some money and give the fans and the players the feel-good factor, and we’ll be doing our best to get into the second round” said Cambridge manager Martin Ling. Ilkeston aren’t going to win it either and we’re not sure what manager Kevin Wilson thinks about it. However, his week was interrupted by the sad death of his father. As an Ipswich fan, who remembers Kev fondly, my heart and condolences go out to him. FA Cup or not, reality cuts through, it’s just a game.

It’s just a game but it is still a game and that game needed to be played and both sets of fans were up for it. Ilkeston fans were thin on the ground, surprisingly, we thought, but their drummer was highly active and had his top off in the East Anglian sunshine.

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It’s just a game but, for the first time this season, our photography was compromised. “No photos during the game” said the steward. “Eh?” we replied. “Only pre-match, half time and after the game”, he qualified. Is this a legacy of a recent league side? Are these the simple restrictions fans can expect from now on in? The spectre of IP rights looms. We kind of thought this might happen but IT IS JUST CAMBRIDGE, this is not the Emirates, and it’s not as if we’re making money out of this. Thankfully, an anonymous, kindly dark lord of photography was present and provided us with a few match shots. The luck!

Cambridge Utd 1 Ilkeston 0

Sloppy goal. A few shots came in and were blocked, the ball broke loose and alleged Norwich target Chris Holroyd (below, right) was by far the quickest to react and tucked the ball home. As far as the tie, as a contest, was concerned this was probably the worst start possible. The Blue Square North side then had to come out and seek a goal.

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Ilkeston huffed and puffed, they got forward a bit but, in truth, Sam Duncum (below, left) on the left was the only player at the races. He looked a quality player, quick feet, good control and a decent cross on him but his team mates couldn’t find the spaces that his threat created.

A Cambridge fan was escorted out of the ground by the police, for some reason. He went peacefully so we weren’t sure if he had to move his car or something. The half was fairly even in general terms but Cambridge looked in first gear whereas Ilkeston couldn’t overcome the one league deficit they were carrying into the game.

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Cambridge graced the R Costings Abbey with some good football at times. Jai Reason fell in the box when well placed, Courtney Pitt beat several men but failed to get a shot in. Holroyd was brought down theatrically but perhaps not as badly as his nasty and awkward-looking landing suggested. Potter in the Cambridge goal was not troubled.

Cambridge have been in free fall since the 90s when they briefly graced the Championship, in fact they were a few games shy of challenging for the play offs to the Premier League at one point. The team and the fans have been in decline ever since. We noticed that, in the Abbey stand we were in, the average age of fan was probably pushing 40-50. There were younger fans in the North stand but Cambridge’s decline seems to have attracted few new fans and the future of the club has to be in limbo if they don’t climb out of this league quite soon.

The only other notable moment of the first half was a U’s clearance that hit the front of the stand we were in. A significant amount of rust cascaded down in front of us. The locals chuckled, we looked up wondering if the structure would last the game.

HT Cambridge Utd 1 Ilkeston 0

The old skool skyscraper floodlights were on, a very pleasing classic football sight that left a warm glow. Cambridge didn’t start the half well and Ilkeston had a short spell that had us pondering previous realfacup games where a 1-0 lead and dominance has so quickly turned into undeserved equaliser. Ilkeston had their first meaningful shot, after 53 minutes,which served as a warning and two minutes later another. no4 arrowed a shot that seemed to float not dip and grazed the top of the crossbar with Potter stranded.

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At around the same time the previously competent ref was “starting to enjoy himself”, as Simon pointed out. Reason got booked for a shoulder to shoulder challenge, Holroyd had a penalty appeal turned down for something very similar and the natives were getting restless. “The ref’s gone mad” I added. Both sets of fans voiced their displeasure.

Cambridge’s increasing nerves were settled on 65 when Reason picked the ball up 25 yards out, set himself and drove a ball past the keeper’s despairing left hand.

Cambridge Utd 2 Ilkeston 0

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From there on in Cambridge relaxed and started playing as only sides in yellow (sorry amber) can play with the pressure off. Much pressure proceeded but Cambridge also let Ilkeston have more time on the ball and, as a consequence, we got some more glimpses of Duncum down the left.

Holroyd broke down the left with some nice close control, he cut inside but the ball was cleared. A few pings later and an Ilkeston defender handled the ball just outside the area. The Cambridge fans had been a little harsh on Courtney Pitt all game but he convinced Willmott and Reason to let him take a free kick 20 yards out and slightly to the left. He stepped up, casually, and curled the ball over the ‘keeper and into the corner (above, right). He was immediately substituted.

Cambridge Utd 3 Ilkeston 0

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It was all Cambridge now and Holroyd missed the second worst sitter (left) of the season, skying a riser from 3 yards out. He was immediately substituted, as was his strike partner Crow, clearly with league games in mind.

Carden and Reason were solid and efficient in Cambridge’s midfield, Pitt and Holroyd looked dangerous and Crow had worked hard. As the game was winding down Gleeson made an urgent foray from right back and moved it on to Challinor. His exquisite ball across the box had looked to be heading for a well-placed Willmott but Marriott stretched to reach the ball and, fortunately, just managed to control it before stabbing past the unfortunate Lowson in Ilkeston’ goal (below, right).

DSC_0146Cambridge Utd 4 Ilkeston Town 0

In injury time the Ilkeston fans remaining picked up their banners and flags and started singing with increased, defiant fervour. It was a good show from both sets of fans and a decent game aesthetised (is that a word) by some very well taken goals.

Onwards. Round 2.

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