Saturday, 8 January 2011

Bolton Wanderers 2 York City 0

FA Cup, Third Round
Attendance: 13,120

The third round of the FA Cup is the last burp of Christmas. After that winter continues its inexorable descent towards its February nadir. It’s a round I haven’t experienced for some years so I felt a bit out of my depth at Bolton today. This is also the stage where the two halves of the competition meet and differing approaches to the Cup become all too apparent.

York were playing their fifth tie and their biggest match of the season in front of 4,900 travelling fans (roughly twice their average home gate). In contrast Bolton were playing their first tie and couldn’t really care less. At least, that’s the impression you got from the sparsely populated home stands and completely non-vocal support. (The total gate was by far the lowest of the season at the Reebok). Peculiarly then, there was only an atmosphere at the away end and, while good, it takes to tango and really make an occasion. It was as if Bolton had been told to host a party for a guest they didn’t know.

I suppose one day that a non-league club will again defeat top division opposition in the FA Cup but when they do I feel that it won’t quite ever be the same as Sutton overcoming Coventry, the last time this happened in 1989. Contest is all the keener and victory all the sweeter when both sides want the prize equally (just ask the England cricket team) and that just doesn’t happen in these potential giant-killing ties any more.

The stadium is impressive architecturally. It looks like a collapsing tent, the four flagpole-like floodlight stanchions in each corner leaning towards the centre of the pitch as if pulled inwards by guy ropes and in a manner that seems to defy the principles of structural engineering. Perhaps Qatar could adapt this design to look like a Bedouin tent for the World Cup. I can’t stand the name ‘Reebok Stadium’. Bolton’s Facebook identity is Reebokmen which is all the more unforgivable given they have a fine nickname, The Trotters, for this purpose. It won’t be long before clubs are even prostituting their names for sponsorship.

York started brightly and could’ve been two up in the first 10 mins. After that Bolton asserted their authority for the rest of the half without creating many chances which was a credit to York’s defence.

In the second half, Bolton manager Owen Coyle, brought on star strikers Davies and Elmander – which was a measure of how tight things were getting but, morever, an indication of the extent to which he didn’t want the nuisance of a replay a few days before hosting Chelsea. (Hospitality packages available from £85 by the way, folks). Barrett of York should’ve opened the scoring with a free header at the far post.

Then, with 10 mins remaining, he had a shot following a cross which brought a fine save from Bogdan in the Bolton goal. For us Minstermen it was a head-in-hands/‘argh!’/Keegan Spain ’82 moment … and soon became a classic ‘if only’. Moments later at the other end Parslow didn’t control a cross, the ball falling to Davies to blast home from close range. It was desperately unlucky and the resulting advantage unmerited. Elmander doubled the lead with a superb shot from the edge of the box. Plucky York were worth a replay at the very least.

After eight rounds, that’s the end of the FA Cup trail for me for another season. I’m already one station past my stop. I will return for Chorley v. reformed Chester and a perhaps some FA Vase action, two unlikely beacons in the February gloom. It’s time to get back to my grass roots.

Click here for the TV highlights.

Bad hair days: What the heck was York chairman Jason McGill thinking of when he coiffured his hair ahead of an interview with Football Focus. Did he go for the Jedward look as a bet?
A simple blowdry would’ve been more than sufficient – in the style, perhaps, of John Byrne, York marksman from the 80s, pictured in today’s programme. Well, perhaps not …

Over and out: Spare a thought for Dover, the only real minnows left in the competition. They get the worst possible sort of draw – away to a distant, unglamorous club (Huddersfield) they’re unlikely to beat – then go two down in the first eight minutes. Game over. Further adding to the anti-climax, the biggest game in their history is deemed by ITV to be worth no more than a minute of coverage at 11.30pm.

Pedant’s corner: There’s no such thing as a “potential” banana skin. All such slips – whether in an FA Cup or elsewhere – are potential.

Making a stand: I passed the home of Ripon City Magnets one recent Saturday. Sadly, no match was in progress but I couldn’t resist stopping to get a snap of the only pre-war wooden stand in the north - or something like that. (Must stop. Getting all dewy-eyed, now).