Tonight’s delayed fixture will bear no relation to the League Cup victory when Sam Allardyce gave his squad players a run out. Their preparation for this evening’s game will have been very thorough as they seek to stop our club completing a hat-trick of cup victories over Bolton this season.
Sam has done extremely well at Bolton, learning much no doubt from difficult times at Notts County and his gentle introduction of centre-forward Michael Ricketts, after he signed him from Walsall, has been quite brilliant.
The winners have an attractive home draw against a team that have been perennial giant-killers. Indeed, very few big clubs like to play at Prenton Park.
It is ironic from our point of view that should we succeed tonight and defeat Tranmere in the next round, we will have achieved two cup ‘doubles’.
Last weekend, when the cancellation was made correctly and prevented us from seeing our regular ‘fix’ of football, we probably retreated to the armchair to watch other clubs battling in the cup. During those games, although the viewing figures were not too great for the BBC on the Sunday, we saw some very skilful play by several players which lit up a miserable weekend, what with the gales and the rain.
The highlight for me was the Saturday evening game when I saw Real Sociedad with a man advantage go down to Celta Viga who are challenging Real Madrid for the top spot in Spain. The midfield performance of a player called Wagner was absolutely tremendous as he ran the ball from midfield, going past opponents at speed.
Later that evening Paul Gascoigne showed that when the mood takes him, and he looks fit at the moment, he can still be a fantastic talent. He surged past Orient defenders at will and laid on vital goals for Everton. I am sure that if he could do that every week at Premiership level Sven Goran Eriksson would take him to the World Cup. Unfortunately, though, time may have finally caught up with Paul.
A further glimpse of outstanding midfield play came from Manchester City’s pair of bright and breezy midfield players Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic. With Kevin Keegan gambling and releasing these two players from normal defensive duties, every time Man City regained the ball they were able to supply these two crafty performers.
Although small they played some fantastic football and Ipswich never got to grips with the problem of controlling them. The previous week I had seen the same two players play superbly at Watford in the first half but were nullified in the second when Gianluca Vialli made sure they were marked.
It is interesting sometimes to watch the same team play in successive weeks and see how clubs cope tactically with outstanding players.
Our very young reserve side had a good result against Charlton last Monday at Stevenage. As the minutes ticked away and we held on to our one goal advantage there were seven youth team players on the field of play. Defenders Ronnie Henry, Paul O’Donoghue and Stephen Kelly, midfielders Dean Marney and David Galbraith and forwards John Sutton and Jamie Slabber.
It is only when players coming out of youth football show that they can cope with men’s football that we can begin to truly assess their abilities. The pitch at Stevenage was in superb condition and the hospitality, as usual, was first class.
I counted a record number of 18 club scouts or managers and we even had the privilege of guesting the controversial Cardiff City chairman Mr Sam Hamann who just came for a night out to watch ‘football’. He is a massive enthusiast and I was very disappointed with the way most of the press treated his walkabouts at Cardiff in their cup tie with Leeds.
I have known Sam a long time and I do not believe that he should have taken advantage of his chairman’s role to walk around the pitch. When he was at Plough Lane and Selhurst Park his genial personality helped his club win a special place in people’s hearts; as leader of a club that achieved the ultimate dream of taking a minnow club to glory.
The hysterical criticism of his action were a reflection of our times but misplaced. It was not Sam’s fault that the Wimbledon style of play and one or two of the player’s actions over the years attracted negative comment.
It is sometimes a good therapy to consider what is going on elsewhere in football in order to take a detached view of one’s own problems within a club. It is also fascinating to watch team’s tactics and personalities on and off the field in other clubs.
Let us hope our players are on song tonight and they can take us on to more cup success.
Enjoy the game.
Another Tuesday, another Cup game in a furious spell of football.