Sunday, 4 January 2015

Jim's column 3.1.15

In the days when the FA Cup was seen to be the greatest football competition in the world, today, Third Round day, was the most exciting day in the football calendar, when the big clubs joined the cream of the smaller clubs including a few non-league minnows. Every year the draw paired Davids with Goliaths & invariably there would be shocks. Giantkillers such as Yeovil, Hereford United, Blyth Spartans, Altrincham &, of course, Sutton United, would grab the headlines & massive crowds would watch the 32 ties played in all sorts of weather & pitch conditions, often involving snow & ice. For many, especially Premiership clubs, the competition has lost some of its glamour, with big clubs fielding weaker line-ups & fans shunning the Third Round, mainly because of exorbitant ticket prices. But for teams outside the top flight there is still a lot of magic in the competition – the chance to get the scalp of a big club or even just get a big cut of a large gate but often just a good day out for the fans. I haven't done the research but I reckon the away followings of teams travelling to a team from a higher division in the FA Cup are amongst their biggest of the season. For instance in the last two seasons City took large followings to Tottenham, Barnsley & Arsenal, and if you go further back there were great numbers who trekked to Blackburn (twice), Portsmouth & Birmingham City since we left the Premiership in 2001. Similarly clubs of a lower status have brought substantial followings to the Ricoh in recent years including Millwall, Kidderminster & Worcester City this season. I think this illustrates my point that the FA Cup may have lost some of its glamour for the 'big boys' but not for the smaller clubs & their fans who relish the chance to topple a giant & get that 'day in the sun'.

Sadly this weekend the Sky Blues are not involved in the Cup – the first time they haven't played in the Third Round since 1964 when City fans at least could bask in the fact that their team were eight points clear of the field in the old Division Three.

The Christmas results were disappointing, especially defeat at Doncaster, a side with the worst home record in the division with only one win and six goals to their name. The double sending-off of Adam Barton & James Maddison didn't help of course & it was the fifth time in the club's league history that they have had two players dismissed in the same game. Four of those five incidents have occurred in the last 20 years when dismissals have become far more common place. Prior to the 1980s it was rare for players to get their marching orders for anything other than fisticuffs & City had their share of wannabe boxers. George Hudson, Maurice Setters, Noel Simpson, Ian Wallace & Jimmy Holmes all saw red for striking an opponent, albeit that a number of them were severely provoked.

The first double sending off happened at Hull City's Anlaby Road ground in February 1920 when Billy Walker & Jock Blair got their marching orders, along with one Hull player. Nine-men City managed to hang on to a 1-0 lead to record only their fourth victory in 31 games of a miserable season. According to the Midland Daily Telegraph, courtesy of fellow City historian Mike Young, it was 'the roughest (game) seen on the Hull ground this season'. The home crowd felt Coventry were very much the aggressors but Nemo in the MDT said that 'it was Hull who had commenced the dirty business'. Walker was ordered off for a foul before Blair & Hughes, the Hull left-winger, clashed, there was an altercation, and the referee ordered both players off. City were reduced to eight men shortly afterwards when Copeland was carried off injured but City held out to inflict only Hull's second home defeat of the season.

Fast-forward to November 1995 & Highfield Road with Wimbledon the visitors. With City leading 1-0, Paul Williams was shown red by referee Robbie Hart after 27 minutes for handling the ball in the area. Vinnie Jones converted the penalty & the Dons took advantage of the numerical advantage & went 3-1 ahead. City pulled one goal back but with 10 minutes left Richard Shaw was shown his second yellow card & was off. Somehow nine-men City levelled through David Rennie & should have clinched the victory in the last minute but Peter Ndlovu missed a good chance.

Just over two years later the Sky Blues had two men ordered off at Villa Park in a 3-0 defeat. Paul Williams was the villain again with two bookings before Gary Breen was unlucky to get a red card from Graham Barber in the last minute, for pushing Gary Charles. Villa's scorers were Stan Collymore & substitutes Lee Hendrie & Julian Joachim.

The fourth instance of two red cards was in 2003 at Preston. With an hour gone & City 1-2 down but making great efforts to gain their first ever league win at Deepdale, Patrick Suffo landed a right hook on Marlon Broomes & referee Eddie Evans showed a straight red. Preston increased their lead before Michael Doyle threw a punch at Lee Cartwright & saw red. Preston ran out 4-2 winners.

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