the real fa cup

Cray Wanderers 1-2 Dartford

DSC_0071.JPG Cray Wanderers 1 – 2 Dartford
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round 2011/12

This won’t go down as a great or bad game, it also won’t go down as an upset.  Those two things put this tie firmly in ‘mid table’ as far as therealfacup is concerned. Plucky underdog plays the better football, which Cray did; the more organised side, Dartford, picked them off.  Result as expected after early promise.

That pattern is very common and, perhaps, not unsurprising. After three and a half years, though, we really haven’t seen many shocks, which is a shame – but illustrates their rarity and emphasises the joy when they do happen. More of a shame was watching several players throwing themselves to the floor at the drop of a feather. We were looking for refreshment following the tedium of watching Gerrard, Adam and, of course, Suarez throwing themselves to the floor when anywhere near the United penalty area but we didn’t get it.

IMG_1093.JPG Refreshment did come in the form of some vibrant running, swift one-touch passing and movement from the home side that belied their status a league below the Darts. They lacked the final ball to really punish the Blue Square Bet South side but they certainly had the best of an engaging opening half hour.

First though, to the pub. The Bricklayers is becoming a bit of a regular haunt and we had to fight our way to the bar through a gaggle of bloody hangers on and fan boys. Well, no, actually it was The Mysterious Tangerine’s 30th birthday, eschewing a trip to Upton Park to watch his Blackpudlians, and a few hardy footy types had joined us for the game, including Two Footed Tackle’s Gary Andrews.

DSC_0021.JPG Dartford have come a fair way since we saw them battered by Chelmsford in the FA Cup two seasons ago. They played very well in that game, despite what the scoreline suggests, indeed they probably played better in that 4-1 defeat than in this 2-1 win. What’s changed is organisation and efficiency, they now have it in abundance. In Sheringham they have an able fulcrum around which the late arriving midfielders can work.  Although, at the game there were rumours of an approach by Bournemouth, rumours that were this morning confirmed. Sheringham’s last notable contribution to the Darts was a booking for what appeared to be diving (Ed – not entirely sure about though]

Cray deservedly took the lead when Jack Clark swerved in from halfway on the left, jinked past, seemingly, about 15 players, saw his shot saved and then watched as Whitnell bundled it in. It was no more than they deserved and that kind of run was the only way they were going to get through a sturdy Dartford backline.  The goal prompted a rather dismal 15 minutes of both teams hopefully punting the ball upfield, across field and out of defence, the home side in increasing desperation to fend off attacks, the away side in the mistaken belief that direct = goal.

DSC_0042.JPG In the last 20 minutes the Darts won a game they perhaps should have lost, thanks to that organisation, a little slice of luck and a bit of persistence. A free kick 40 yards out was swept into the box, the keeper came to claim but was baulked by about six players, some his team-mates but mostly Dartford players and the ball sailed past him and into the net.  He looked to have been fouled, such events normally lead to one. He certainly thought he was and so did the Cray bench, who imploded.

Dartford sub Danny Harris compounded the misery with a weak shot that took a deflection and nestled, the keeper wrong footed. Cray manager Ian Jenkins was sent off for his continual, angry protestations and he was made to make the lonely walk across the pitch to the main stand.

DSC_0066.JPG Cray had been suckered, we felt a little deflated. But not too much. We were led to believe that the last round, two weeks ago, marked the end of summer. An early autumnal heatwave that left skin pink and eyes weary then gave way to 14 days of cold greyness.

But, no, summer’s death throes carried on until yesterday, although crisper than two weeks ago the skies were again cloudless and Hayes Lane’s beautiful green pitch was accessorised with an ice cream van. Five yards from the side of the pitch it was a glorious view of non-league football, it’s just a shame that the huge queue snaking past it was for the burger van and not for ices, wafers or lollipops.  Between us we scoffed a handful of screwballs a number of oysters and several ice creams.  Oysters, eh? Never come across them before?  Me neither.  A wafer shell stuffed with cream and ice cream and embellised with a crust of chocolate and a sprinkle of desecrated coconut. Nom.

Cray are well placed to join Dartford in Blue Square Bet South next season but, ultimately, our search for a cup shock goes on.

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