the real fa cup

Higgins Double Snookers Robins

They disposed of Braintree in devastating fashion in the last round after having a man sent off but Carshalton Athletic’s FA Cup run was ended last night, despite a whole hearted effort and two brilliant goals.

The Robins will forever wonder what might have been after their late, late goal on Saturday was wiped out by a late, late, late equaliser by Rob Edmans, forcing them to travel to Essex for a replay when they really should have been sat at home in the warm, awaiting the names of their opponents in the propers.

After a sharp reminder of why I choose to cycle to work, rather than suffer the inhumane torment of London’s public transport system I arrived at Chelmsford, belly full of greasy, local fare which could have been purchased on the way to any football ground in England – why is that no town seems able of providing something even slightly better than kebab shops dressed up as fish and chip shops? A mercifully short bus ride, during which I had to listen to the intricate details of a weekend of table tennis lessons culminated in the discovery that Melbourne Park is, in fact, an athletics stadium with a football pitch in the centre. In order to prevent unruly football supporters from damaging the very new-looking running track (one suspects), the fans are kept as far away from the pitch as possible which is always disappointing in the lower leagues, as getting close to the action is one of the joys of watching football in my opinion.

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Carshalton struggled in the early stages, their hosts clearly wanted to make their mark on the game early on and made all the running. The final ball, which was so sorely missing from Saturday’s performance was much more accurate. Sami El-Abd’s header after 4 minutes required a save from Lock’s free kick after 4 minutes and it looked very much as if Carshalton were going to struggle against their loftier opposition.

The best chance of the opening period, however, fell to Carshalton – Chris Henry’s shot failing to hit the target after he found himself one on one with Clarets’ keeper Pullen on 11 minutes.

Chelmsford continued to press and their efforts were rewarded on 15 minutes when a quick adjustment of his very distant feet by Edmans allowed him to square the ball to Cook, whose shot found the net to put the Clarets ahead.

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The swift counter attacks that caused Chelmsford so many problems at the weekend seemed to have been replaced by speculative long balls over the top for Harrison to chase and the home defence, having suffered an afternoon defending against the Robins’ front man, were coping easily. Carshalton were defending as if their lives depended on it and some strong tackles had been flying in, causing one home fan to advise the referee to keep his eye on the number 6, adding “watch our number 8 as well” in a rather frank admission of John Martin’s ability to get stuck in.

Chelmsford looked much the better side and, midway through the first half, Higgins’ firmly struck shot from distance was spilled by Ross and a rash challenge by the recovering keeper brought a penalty, calls for a red card from the baying home crowd and a mini free-for-all in the Carshalton penalty area. The keeper was allowed to remain on the pitch but had no chance with Higgins’ spot kick which was duly dispatched to give the home side’s dominance the reward it deserved. 2-0 and, whilst the home fans began to celebrate what was clearly going to be an easy win, I was starting to wonder whether my two hours journey from hell had really been worth it. Carshalton had not really been in the game and it was getting cold. Why had I bothered?

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However, with less than five minutes to go until half time, Justyn Roberts reminded me that the game was nowhere near over when he thumped a shot into the back of the Clarets net, seemingly through the hands of Pullen who probably did well to make any contact at all with the well struck shot from outside the area. It had the air of a consolation goal as they had had so little of the play but, with the crowd wondering how long the interminable first half would continue for, the Robins thrust themselves right back into the game with a superb strike by Joel Ledgister. A long ball forward had seen Carshalton’s Harrison injure himself in a 50-50 ball with keeper Pullen but Chelmsford’s defence never seemed to recover, and the period of play was finished with aplomb when Ledgister side-stepped two defenders 25 yards out and smashed a shot into the top right hand corner to level the score at 2-2 at half time. It was much, much more than Carshalton had deserved but the two goals were both of the highest quality and at least we now had a game on our hands.

Carshalton took heart from their stunning comeback and looked a much more capable side in the early stages of the second period but Chelmsford continued to create chances; El-Abd had a header cleared off the line from a corner and Ross had to save another long distance shot from Higgins. The Robins came back into it though – Byron Harrison scuffed his shot after it was presented to him by a poor kick by Pullen and a free kick whistled across the Claret’s goal without receiving a touch from anyone.

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The home crowd were, by now, becoming agitated by the away side’s tough tackling – Justyn Roberts earned himself a yellow card, leading to an extended period of handbags on the halfway line and worse was to follow when Robins’ captain David Ray appeared to go in very hard in the midfield, winning the ball but producing a very ugly tackle in the process. It could well have seen the first appearance of the referee’s red card but it didn’t take long before the back pocket was required, Mbive Lokando receiving his marching orders for what appeared to be a more innocuous challenge.

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It signalled the end of Carshalton’s resistance and, to prove it, Chelmsford took the lead almost immediately when Higgins headed into the net after a goalmouth scramble. The flood gates opened at almost exactly the same moment as my hands became so cold that I could barely hold my pen and chances for the home side to finish the contest came at regular intervals of around 30 seconds for a few minutes – the closest of them falling to Cook who hit the post from a tight angle. The other chances will not be described here as that is the only note I have written which is even vaguely decipherable.

To their credit, Carshalton never gave up, despite their lack of numbers and in truth, if it was anyone other than defender Michael Boatang that had found himself with a chance to take the game to extra time, I may have been cryogenically frozen in Essex as he really should have scored when Oliver Rowe missed his kick from a long ball. But he thrashed the ball wide and the chance was gone.

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David Obaze was sent off late on to leave the Robins 2 players short and Chelmsford’s players and supporters will be very relieved to qualify for a 1st Round tie against either Hendon or the Metropolitan Police in a fortnight. Carshalton may well have been over-physical at times in the replay but their commitment and ability on the break was outstanding and they can count themselves very unfortunate to be knocked out.

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