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Review - Game 11: Kingstonian 2-1 Horsham
Our second visit to Kingsmeadow after seeing AFC Wimbledon triumph against Salisbury City back in August. We got to the ground early and went to the bar for a pre-match pint and it was here that my suspicions of having a stalker were proved correct. Let me explain, I have seen the same gentleman at four games I have now attended, these being Fisher, Fulham, Bromley and now Kingstonian. The teams are fairly well spread geographically so I don`t think it is just chance. The gentleman in question can be seen in the picture of me outside Dulwich Hamlet`s ground to the far left. He has a pair of crutches, long greying hair, glasses and is around 55/60 I imagine. I can only assume he has taken up the M25 challenge too, if he is reading this then well done and feel free to say hi one day.
Admittedly the confirmation of a stalker had me ruffled but we were soon sitting in the main grandstand and watching a dire first ten minutes. I am now petrified that one day I will have to endure an awful 0-0 so whenever there is a passage of poor play I find myself on edge. Horsham, and I am sorry to say this, have the most vile kit I have seen for a long time. A dirty yellow half with a correspondingly disastrous green half. Not for those with weak constitutions. Still they were generally in control and K`s, although industrious in midfield, were having a hard time countering the more experienced team. Hard work started to pay off however as Horsham lost there early impetus and started looking like a team that had won once in six games.
K`s had some decent chances but their shooting from outside the box was terrible. First Matt Gray then Dean Lodge and Karl Beckford all failed to trouble the Horsham keeper managing instead to scuff their respective shots yards wide of the visitors goal. On 20 minutes however a decent corner was met by midfielder Simon Huckle who headed the ball past Horsham keeper Rob Tolfrey. Their good work was almost undone however when Horsham immediately went up the other end in attack but a Kingstonian boot scooped the ball off the line. Five minutes later and K`s had doubled their lead, another good piece of work by Matt Gray on the right as he floated in a cross which was headed in by Beckford, relatively unchallenged in the six yard area.
We sensed a rout but to their credit Horsham didn`t panic. They still retained the ball better than Kingstonian and it did look that the home team had already decided to defend their lead in numbers rather than press home for a third. An occasional counter attack saw Horsham in trouble but Tolfrey was in the right place at the right time when called upon. For all their possession Horsham found it hard to achieve a breakthrough, despite K`s central defensive pairing not looking too clever the midfield was doing a lot to break down attacks and to spare their team mates any blushes.
At half time we wandered down to sample some of the fare on offer. At the AFC game and at this one we had seen people carrying a half french stick loaded with onions and meat which we subsequently referred to as 'the beast`. At £4.50 it was dear but with two full size sausages and two large bacon rashers it was definitely worth it, although watch out for the women selling them as she has trouble with numbers, a hazard for anyone based in sales I would imagine.
Munching contentedly on my recommended calorie intake for the day the two sides kicked off the second half. Horsham tried again and again to penetrate the K`s defence but looked a little toothless up front if truth be told. On 61 minutes however that was all to change as the Hornets pulled one back from yet another corner. Ben Andrews rose to head the slow lofted corner and the K`s keeper reacted as if it was going wide, I was just turning to Mac to say that Horsham were getting closer and closer when the ball hit the back of the net. I`m not sure who was more shocked, K`s keeper Luke Garrard, the K`s defence or me! How and why he didn`t stick his arm out to save it is beyond me.
Kingstonian were looking tired after their constant pressing all game and Horsham looked to capitalise on their opening goal but K`s opening scorer Huckle pulled off two goal saving tackles which wouldn`t have looked out of place at international level. With time running out and K`s with their backs to the proverbial wall Horsham threw everything including the kitchen sink towards the Hoops but were thwarted at every turn. Then right at the end, a seemingly innocuous clash of heads left Horsham defender Mark Knee prostrate on the ground. The worried actions of the players around him alerted everyone that it was far more serious than originally thought and the player was eventually stretchered out with possible concussion and had apparently swallowed his tongue whilst unconscious. The ambulance quickly arrived and took him to Kingston hospital and hopefully he makes a full recovery.
K`s held on for another win which has lifted them to 11th in the league, a far cry from shipping 19 goals in their opening four games. Hopefully they can get back into the Conference soon and improve finances in order to re-purchase their ground from AFC.
Review - Game 12: Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
My first trip to the Emirates and apart from Wembley the largest venue on the M25 football tour. Having visited K`s the day before and previously 14k being the highest attendance experienced it was a shock to the system to be confronted with so many people at a football game. It definitely makes you appreciate going to lower league, even Championship, clubs. There are fewer queues for toilets, beers and food, you also can generally move around between halves and can always change your seat if you fancy a different viewpoint. The stadium itself is very impressive with facades of some of the great players of the past on the outside walls and on the inside it is just as imposing. However you don`t get a brilliant view unless you are in the corporate sections in my opinion. The lower tier isn`t banked up sharply enough and the upper tier is obscured by cloud and passing aviation. I and Mac were in the lower tier behind and to the side of the goal six rows back. We had a great view of the goal at our end but pretty limited of the far end. There are two huge screens within the ground which occasionally do replays which was definitely helpful. Other novel experiences for me was the amount of leg room available, always handy for a tall fella like me and that the seats were cushioned. Normally at QPR my legs go numb from the seat in front cutting off my blood supply but strangely enough I actually missed that non-feeling, I am obviously a glutton for punishment.
Wenger had picked a fairly youthful team, as is his wont in the Carling Cup, the exceptions to this were defenders Mikael Silvestre and Phillipe Senderos the latter playing in his first game since returning from a season long loan at AC Milan last season. West Brom made a fair few changes themselves but the table topping Championship side looked keen to put themselves in the draw for the first round. Arsenal started the better with Senderos going close twice with almost identical salmon like leaps from corners. But as much as Arsenal were moving the ball well West Brom unsurprisingly had greater strength and tactical know-how and were able to scrap and battle their way out of any predicaments the young Arsenal side put them in. A year ago Arsenal had beaten Sheffield United 6-0 in the same fixture and a much anticipated goalfest almost became a reality as Sanchez Watt hit the post with a scuffed shot and veteran keeper Dean Kiely gratefully held on to the rebound.
West Brom then started peppering the Arsenal goal, summer signing Simon Cox`s shot was laboriously saved by debutante keeper Wojciech Szczesny, say that after a few beers(!) and then a Robert Koren shot which went for a corner. The young keeper flapped at the corner and Arsenal were lucky to survive a goal mouth scramble unscathed. Jerome Thomas has been superb for West Brom this year since leaving Portsmouth (who hasn`t?!) and he was starting to get into the game. Utilising his pace and causing problems on the left, he had a cross/shot well saved but it was to prove the highlight of his night as he was sent off minutes later after pushing Jack Wilshere in the face. Wilshere, already on the floor, went down like a sack of spuds but Thomas was stupid and had no defence for his actions. The red card put pay to whatever attacking ambitions West Brom had had and they dug their heals in in an attempt to last the 90 and force penalties.
The second half saw West Brom defending our end and could well have scored in one of their few attacks of the half after Cox headed just over from open play. Despite the man advantage Arsenal were unable to sneak a goal with Albion defending in numbers and Arsenal not having enough presence in the box. This changed when Carlos Vela and Mark Randall came on midway through the first half. The change was what the game needed and Vela stretched a tiring Albion defence to breaking point. He dribbled across the edge of the area before firing a low shot which was well saved by Kiely, but West Brom`s defence was asleep and the ball dropped to the feet of Watt who passed the ball in from four yards or so. A mere seven minutes later Randall attempted a great lob over Kiely and when it bounced back off the bar defender Leon Barnett foolishly attempted to chest it back to his keeper but only succeeded in allowing Vela to nip in for Arsenal`s second. Kiely didn`t stand a chance and Barnett must have had a brain transplant go wrong prior to kick off.
Arsenal passed the clock down and some strange but inspired banter between some fans behind us and Kiely became the highlight of the remaining minutes. Kiely even turned round at one point to give a big grin and a thumbs up which was nice to see as it hadn`t been aggressive or rude banter and I imagine that he enjoyed the day despite the defeat as his career is now winding down. Although not a glorious 6-0 romp the crowd and the club will be more than satisfied, especially with the emergence of yet more decent youth players which will become ever more important with the introduction of the home grown quota next season. And at £10 a ticket it was good value and a lesson to other clubs on how to sell a game of little importance.
Build Up - Game 13: Chelsea v QPR
A proper West London derby tonight, the Superhoops travel barely three miles to the home of their hated rivals Chelsea. Chelsea now list Arsenal, Liverpool and Man U as bigger rivals despite the fact that they were often inferior to QPR sides in the 70`s and 80`s. However the older Chelsea fans will want to see a win tonight although ex-QPR legend Ray Wilkins has said that Chelsea will field an inexperienced team, a little like Arsenal yesterday. However I have heard that Joe Cole, Belletti and Yuri Zhirkov are all possibly playing.
The teams last met in the FA Cup third round in January 2008 when Rangers were unlucky to lose 1-0 to a Lee Camp own goal. And with their much maligned league form improving as well as the return of Captain Magnificent Martin Rowlands, this will surely be QPR`s turn to impinge on the consciousness of the prawn sandwich brigade at Stamford Bridge.
All ideals of being unbiased have gone out the window, C`mon you Supaaaaaaa…Hoopsaaaaaa!!!!