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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Arsenal v Leeds Utd FA Cup 3rd Round. Jan 8th 2011

The magic of the FA Cup was alive and well as the London bound train filled up at Selby.  The Happy Chocker, the Quiet One, Beer Monster and yours truly joined the optimistic throng of expectant Leeds fans on route to the Emirates to see if Leeds could repeat last year's cup heroics. Our seats were reserved in the quiet coach.  Somehow I didn't think it would be that quiet on today's journey. Sure enough once we'd left the sunny climes of Donny behind the first of many choruses of Leeds favourites songs drifted down the carriage.  The carnival atmosphere reflected the feeling that this was more a day out to be enjoyed rather than one where we were expecting to win.  With the exception of my rash prediction of a 3.2 win to the mighty whites the best anybody was prepared to wish for was a draw.  Thing is we knew that even with a "rotated" team Arsene's charges would still have more skill on the pitch than we could ever dream of.  We debated potential horror scenarios.  "What happens if Hughesy has to mark Walcott"?  "Will Bradders be able to cope with Arshavin"?  "What happens if we concede early"? A dark cloud descended on the quiet coach as the enormity of the task facing Leeds hit home.  The cloud was duly lifted with the help of some alcoholic lubrication but the possibility of a real good tonking from Arsene's foreign mercenaries played on my mind.

The Emirates is an impressive sight and as we reached the end of the causeway leading up to the stadium this was emphasised as myriads of Leeds fans blocked the route while they took pictures of the imposing entrance.  While I was lining up my best shot the sounds of "There's only one Alfie Haaland" began to increase in volume and sure enough the blonde ex Leeds favourite passed straight in front of my lens.  An opportunity too good to miss we delayed his dash to his seat to get a quick snap with our merry band of brothers.

8,500 Leeds fans filled the Clock End and were soon raising the decibel level as we prepared for kick off.  Bruce was preferred to Collins at the back due to his speed and better tackling skills and Watt came in for McCormack.  Lord Larry changed the formation back to the 4.5.1 with both Watt and Snoddy given the task of supporting Luciano.  Nearly 60,000 fans were packed into the ground as the game kicked off.  "Please let us get through the first twenty minutes unscathed.  Then we might have a chance".

The atmosphere was crackling like a big log fire as Leeds went head to head with the footballing aristocrats from North London. Their neat, swift inter-passing was as intricate as it was impressive as the ball pinged from one red shirt to another.  But as the first 10 minutes passed Leeds were hanging in there with Howson, Watt and Johnson snapping at the heels of the Premier superstars to good effect.  Leeds certainly weren't overawed by the occasion maybe the experience of Jan 3rd was helping their confidence. I looked at HC and  we swapped approving glances. Then just as I was daring to think we might get something out of the game we were rocked as a pin point through ball released Arshavin and he was one and one with Kasper.  The big Dane stood up well and made the first of many important saves he would make in the game.  There was a ripple of noise from the home fans.  I assumed they all had been stuck down by some horrible throat bug that prevented them from shouting? Either that or they just don't have any passion for football?

Bruce and O'Brien had started well and looked rock solid in the face of the Arsenal onslaught and Nicolas Bendtner.  I used to think he was a half decent player as he always seemed to score when he came off the bench but he was seriously fluffing his lines having been given a rare starting place in the Arsenal team.  His running reminded me of Woody from Toy Story and when he tried to kick the ball it appeared some of his joints weren't receiving the correct signals from his brain.  In between the whizzo passing from the home team we had a half chance.  The fantastic Snoddy won the ball in midfield and then drove at the home defence before slotting a ball through to Becchio whose shot was just blocked by the Arse goalie.  Shades of Beckford's goal at the Theatre of Shite.  20 minutes passed with the game still at 0.0.  Leeds' goal was coming under severe pressure though.  Kasper saved well from a corner before an almighty scramble in the box saw a Leeds boot clear the ball off the line. The back line was creaking but every man in a blue shirt was working overtime to keep the Arse at bay.  I began to get some positive vibes.  Maybe this could be our day?

Arsenal's passing was sublime but time and again at least one or two Leeds boots would break up the play as the Yorkshiremen battled as if their lives depended on it.  The game crept to half time with Kasper on permanent high alert.  Woody so nearly got one past him just before the break but a big Danish hand just got down in time to stop the ball going in the net.  Half time 0.0.  How it was still 0.0 I wasn't quite sure but Leeds trotted off to a standing ovation whilst  Aresnal were left scratching their heads over how to break down the resolute visiting defence. The gents debate was buzzing.  "We can do this"  "Bruce has been brilliant" honest I did hear that! and "how shit is Bendtner" were just a few of the views from the urinal philosophers.  You could feel the anticipation and belief surging into the Leeds hordes as the remains of the southern alcohol was dispensed with.

The 2nd half started pretty much the same as the first as the Arsenal passing machine cut through the Leeds defence with apparent ease but as in the first half there always seemed to be a leg, head or body in the way of the final pass or shot.  When Leeds did get the ball they themselves moved the ball impressively and from one of these moves the impossible happened.  Snoddy as ever was at the heart of the move that attacked the Arsenal left flank............the ball was flicked to Gradel who danced into the box turned one way then the other but an Arsenal leg brought him down. Penalty!  Bedlam around me was quickly replaced with nervous tension.  Snoddy stepped up to take the kick. The 8,500 Leeds fans held their breath as he smashed it past the despairing Goalie. One nil to the Super Leeds!  The roof came off the Clock end as the Leeds fanatics danced in unbelievable joy.  I do love football.  The Arsenal fans just lowered their heads and stared at their Chicken and Rocket Paninis in disbelief.

Minutes later we should have been in dreamland.  The mercurial Snoddy slotted a ball right onto Becchio's head but his bullet header went too near the Goalie. I along with thousands of other Leeds fans were already 5ft in the air in anticipation of an unlikely 2 goal lead as the ball has turned away from the goal by the desperate hand of the Polish goalie .  The forever smiling Mr Wenger had seen enough and a certain Mr Fabregas came onto to try rescue the Gooners FA Cup ambitions.  For the 2nd year running Leeds were slugging it out toe toe with one of the main contenders in the Premier League and not looking out of place. Fabregas was soon followed onto the field by Walcott as Wenger threw on his big guns to try and prise open the stubborn Leeds rearguard.  The clock on the big screen showed there were just over 20 minutes left.  That seemed a hell of a long time to me.

In the distance Arsenal attacked Leeds but either Schmeichel, Bruce, O'Brien or Johnson repelled the red waves of attacks.  It was beginning to resemble a scene from Zulu in the Leeds penalty box as the gutsy Leeds men resisted the foreign invaders.  All of a sudden we had another chance to pinch a second goal as Becchio was flattened 25 yards out.  Snoddy lined up the free kick and swung a teasing shot just inches wide.  "We could win this" I suggested to HC.  "I'd take a draw right now" the guy in front conceded.  "No chance we're gonna win this now" I defiantly responded but all the action was in and around Kasper's goal.  Time and again the Arsenal got round the back only for the cross to be whacked away.  8 minutes to go.  We can do this.

Arsenal were now resorting to long balls into the box as they tried everything they knew to get the all important equaliser.  Arsene Wenger was looking in his book of 101 excuses ready for the post match press conference.  8,500 mouths were nibbling at their fingernails as the clock showed 5 minutes to go.  Suddenly Leeds were on the attack though..............Gradel jinked round his full back and pulled back a ball to Becchio who so nearly steered it past the home goalie. 2 minutes to go.  Walcott got free from the tiring Parker and hit a volley goalwards but Kasper plucked it from the air with utter contempt.  "We are going to win this" HC nodded his approval.  Then disaster...............a scramble in the box and an Arsenal player goes to ground.......the ref blows his whistle and the Arsenal fans celebrate..........but too soon..... he's given Leeds a free kick for offside.  The away fans celebrated as if they'd just scored.  Lord Larry sent Hughes on as a second left back to try and stop Walcott as the clock showed 1 minute to go.  Please good let Leeds hold on.

The incessent bombardment of the Leeds back line finally paid off as Walcott went to ground again but this time referee Dowd had no hesitation as he pointed to the spot. 8,500 hearts sank in the crowd.  Kasper's gonna save it I thought grasping at a final straw.  Alas he didn't and the other 51,500 fans in the ground cheered in relief.  1.1 with another 4 minutes of added time to go.  Football can be a cruel game.  The heroic Leeds team were out on their feet but somehow survived another 3 good chances with the help of a world class save from Kasper and a shot from Woody that went horribly wide.  At the final whistle the Leeds fans rose to salute their battling hero's.  A magnificent effort against a superior footballing side.  We had defended as well as I have seen them this season.  O'Brien and Bruce were immense in front of the impressive Kasper.  Snoddy did his reputation as a class player no harm whatsoever as he turned in another stellar performance whilst all around him the team lifted their game to new heights.  Arsene won't be happy at coming to the Theatre of Hope for the replay me thinks.

As the fans streamed away from the game the initial reactions were not what you'd have predicted at the start.  Leeds fans, me included, were disappointed we hadn't been able to hang on for a famous win and had "only" got a draw and the home fans were just glad they'd pinched an equaliser to live to fight another day.  The atmosphere and banter  between the fans was in the main part good natured which is always pleasing in a big game like this and this continued on the walk back to Finsbury Park.  The Leeds fans were still singing and the home fans were still quiet.  As we passed the old Highbury ground I sneaked into the entrance of what used to be the Arsenal offices and are now expensive flats and I was surprised to find the bust of Herbert Chapman still sat there in the marble hallway.

The train home was like a war zone as alcohol saturated bodies were strewn about the carriages whilst those who could still string a sentence or two together debated the "what ifs" scenario.  "If Becchio's header had gone in" or if Snoddy's free kick had sneaked in.  Nobody doubted that Arsenal are a very good team and a Leeds win would have been harsh on them but we were so near to that illusive win it almost hurt.  The final conclusion was that we would have taken a draw at the start of the day so all's well that ends well.........and of course we're in the 4th round draw.  Now who do we want............Man City away? That'll do nicely.
Can't wait.

Arsenal 1 v 1 Leeds 08/01/11


Anonymous said...

That's a fantastic blog mate, i'm a Hearts fan and it's good to know the romance of the cup is still alive and kicking south of the border!

Andrew Butterwick said...

Hearts Fan,
Appreciate your comments and glad you enjoyed my musings on my team.

Andrew Butterwick said...

Hearts fan,
By the way, why Snoddgrass is not playing for Scotland is a mystery to me. He is a class player who can torment any full back and when we do get back to the Premier League will be our stand out player.

Simon said...

Excellent report - good to see that these kind of games still mean a lot to some fans.

I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the Leeds fans yesterday. They made the game worthwhile.

Great stuff.

I even wrote about them on my website, feel free to check it out:-

The Cup Tradition That Must Remain

I'd say good luck in the replay but that would be a lie! Let's hope we can take as many up there as you brought down to London and make it a decent night.

Mark Billy said...

Excellent blog post that somehow managed to make me forget that we did take the lead, and then lose it so cruelly!

I too ended up feeling disappointed with just the draw.

My niece (21 months old) was utterly bemused when we got the penalty because me and my other sister thought early on there might not be much to cheer so were cheering throw-ins and claiming penalties when Leeds players were fouled on the half-way line!

A few seconds of nervous walking up and down before Snoddy put it away... and I revealed to my sister that my optimistic prediction was 2-1 Leeds, Snoddy then Becchio, my realistic(ish) prediction was 2-2 with the same goalscorers!

A few minutes later when the corner came I shouted, 'ON BECCHIO'S HEAD!' Then 'DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE PREDICTION, ON ANYONE'S HEAD!' We all thought it was in! But Szczeszsenyscnyecyenyęsny (or however it's spelt) pulled out an excellent save.

The heartbreak of the last 5 minutes is summed up brilliantly and is exactly what I felt!

Excellent post!

Andrew Butterwick said...

really appreciate your comments. BTW the away support is like that at every match and in recent years trips to Yeovil, Hereford, Exeter have been "interesting". As for the replay....may the best team win and no diving! I'll have a look at your website aswell.

Andrew Butterwick said...

Mark Billy,
Thanks for your comments Mark. Football is a game of emotion as far as I'm concerned and I am just glad my musings capture the emotion of the day.

timmygadget said...

Love your blog, I went to the Arsenal match but was sat with the Arsenal fans in Club Class so had to refrain myself from cheering too much when Leeds scored the penalty. Was a great day topped off with an invite to drink in the Drayton Arms private bar with all the Arsenal Fans :)

Andrew Butterwick said...

Thanks for the comments. We walked past the Drayton Arms on the way back. certainly weren't many Leeds fans frequenting that hostelry!

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