Manchopper in….Salford (AJ Bell Stadium)

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Result: Manchester City EDS 1-3 Derby County u23 (Premier League Cup)

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium (Wednesday 25th January 2017, 7pm)

Att: 200 (approx.)

After experiencing the bonus of a free League 1 game at Oldham the previous evening, Wednesday night threw up the opportunity to double up. Yes that’s right, two free games in two nights! Crazy scenes all over the shop. Following the late move of the game to the AJ Bell, home of the Salford Red Devils & Sale Sharks, Man City announced it would be free admission and I’m not one to miss out on such an offer!

I decided to walk the three-plus miles to the ground and was soon to discover this was a great choice. The reason? The traffic. The traffic was awful, so much so that blog regular Dan, who’d set off an hour earlier than me, didn’t even make the game due to the backlog of public transport. No such issues for me luckily and I arrived at the ground with around 20 minutes to kick-off. As such, I took advantage of the Barley Farm pub on the lane leading to the stadium itself for a quick pint of Strongbow (£3.50).

The Barley Mow

The Barley Farm

Arriving at the AJ Bell

Arriving at the AJ Bell

The Barley farm is a nice, carvery-style pub and has a more than comfortable feel to it. Alas, I had to move on swiftly and after a further few minutes walk finally arrived at the turnstiles where I was granted entry along with a complimentary team-sheet. Nice.

This was to be the second time I was to witness a football match at the ground, following a u21 game a few years back between United and Fulham’s up and comers. I have also been there for my one and only (so far) club rugby game as I visited for a Sale Sharks game around a year ago. The ground itself is a new-build, but one I feel has a bit of character to it. It’s large main stand (the only one in use this evening) is all seater, with a smaller seated stand facing it. This also houses the scoreboard. Both ends are covered terracing.

I exited the other side of the gate to find the players out on the pitch and set to get underway. I quickly headed up into the sparsely populated stand and soon saw misfortune, with City’s left-back Erik Sarmiento going down on the far side without contact from another player. You could immediately see he was in strife and the Spaniard was sadly stretchered from the field.

City were the dominant force in the first-half, with sub Joe Hardy going close after entering the fray, forcing a save from Henrich Ravas in the County net before he soon made amends by slotting an effort into the far corner. It did, however, take around 20 minutes for the scoreboard to record this moment!

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Red seats. Awkward.

Red seats. Awkward.

To be honest, though, chances were at a premium for both sides, despite City looking comfortable and the game being a decent watch. However, towards the end of the half, Derby should have been level when Alex Babos got his head on a fine Jayden Bogle cross but only found the woodwork. Bogle looked a really good player by the way, always posing a threat down the right and defending well when called upon too. Half-Time, 1-0.

The break meant a chance to finally test the food on offer here in Salford. A Chicken Balti pukka-pie was the taken option (£3.30) and it was the standard issue as you might expect. One thing to point out is, if you want to keep a bottled drink for later, don’t buy one here. Your lid will be removed as one woman found out, much to her chagrin. Anyway, no such worries for me and the second half was soon underway as the air around Barton got steadily chillier.

On the concourse

On the concourse

The Derby ultras arrive

The Derby ultras arrive

Derby came out for the second half and looked a completely different side to the team who’d contested the first period. Taking the attack to City and showing bags of confidence, it was little surprise when the Rams levelled. Following a swift attack a left-wing ball in found the head of the impressive Emil Jakobsen, whose effort was well kept out by Daniel Grimshaw, only for the loose ball to fall at the grateful feet of Kellan Gordon and he slotted home.

Derby were now well and truly in the ascendancy and soon went ahead through Jakobsen. The striker got on the end of a chipped through-ball and flicked it beyond Grimshaw, the ball slowly rolling into the bottom corner. Surprisingly, on the evening’s evidence, that was his first of the season!

Match Action

Match Action

Bennett nets from the spot!

Bennett nets from the spot!

Main Stand at the close of the game.

Main Stand at the close of the game.

City just couldn’t get a foothold back in the game and their chances of a result were killed off with ten minutes remaining when Babos was hauled down in the area and Mason Bennett stepped up to confidently smash his spot-kick beyond the City stopper and complete a fine showing from the Rams. Full-time 1-3 to the visitors, which surely sent their one fan with the flag home happy.

As for me, it was another hour’s walk home and the end of something that hadn’t truly been seen yet this season. Multiple mid-week games! Needless to say, it won’t be a common theme. As it is, I always enjoy a visit to the AJ Bell, especially with Barton Bridge towering above in the background giving it something a bit different. Just the Reds to go to complete the set…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: Teamsheet.

Value For Money: 7

 

Manchopper in….Leicester

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Result: Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City (Premier League)

Venue: King Power Stadium (Saturday 10th December 2016, 5.30pm)

Att: 31,966

As the mid-season mark rapidly approaches for most sides in most leagues around the country, which seems strange as it seems only a few weeks since the season got underway in earnest, I also had the conundrum of quite where, and indeed how, to mark my 200th ground. Having had the 100th pass in pretty mediocre (I think, I haven’t checked) fashion, I had already decided it had to be somewhere a little special. So, when my City supporting pal Ashley came up with the idea of heading to Leicester, I was pretty up for it. The only thing left was to get it to tie in with the bicentennial home.

It turned out that the schedule worked pretty kindly, but did require a double game the previous week, hence the two visits to Tempest United and, latterly, Port Vale over the weekend. So with 199 grounds in the book, it was time to head for Leicester and the King Power Stadium, home of the Foxes; the champions of England!

After being picked up (yes, it’s a rare non-public transport blog) at just before midday, it was a quick and pretty uneventful journey down through Cheshire, Staffordshire (Der)Byshire as one sign announced it with the bracketed letters obstructed before finally negotiating Leicestershire. All this was done without truly hitting a red light, leading to Ashley having many aborted efforts to remove his coat. When we did eventually catch a red, we were just seven miles from the city. Unlucky, mate!

After a while of negotiating the, admittedly not too pretty, streets leading into Leicester, we eventually pulled into some matchday parking (£6), which far undercut the “official” price and set off back into the city but not before being given some directions going along the lines of “there’s a pub and a Nando’s, lots of choice” by the car park guard. I don’t think that was said in sarcasm either strangely. Anyway, off we headed passing the Leicester Tigers ground as we went, as well as the Nelson Mandela Park, Ashley regretting visiting the public facilities here. That last part may even be an understatement. I wasn’t going near.

Leicester Tigers' ground

Leicester Tigers’ ground

Nelson Mandela Park

Nelson Mandela Park

Heading towards the centre itself, it has to be said that, at that point, we weren’t too enamoured by Leicester. All that, though, was changed as we arrived at the pedestrianised centre and a quick walk through the festively decorated streets showed that there is everything and more that you could need here. Another big plus, for myself at least, was the large amount of watering holes available! Sadly, I was on a cut-back for today, so these would have to wait for another occasion. For now, though, it was off for some culture!

Firstly, we headed to the castle gardens where we found no castle, but we did find some grass and a canal. There was the motte still visible but the bailey had long gone. Next up on the list was the cathedral and a quick 10 minute walk back towards the centre was undertaken. Once here, a quick picture of this and the statue of King Richard III, who I still believe has little in common with the city bar being found there in not too good off a condition, and we headed off to find some fast food to keep Ashley sane.

Leicester

Leicester

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight...

From the Motte. No Bailey in sight…

King Richard & Leicester cathedral

King Richard III & Leicester cathedral

Ashley reckoned a Subway would suffice, so after a quick stop, it was off to the Last Plantagenet Wetherspoon’s for a quick Punk IPA (for me only, the ever reliable driver remained on the softs) and a catch up on the scores of the day on the poor man’s Soccer Saturday. The ‘spoons was fairly full, with a mix of both club’s supporters in here, but the place was a bit bland, to be honest and I wasn’t too disappointed when it was time to head for the ground. What I was put off by was the steady rain that had now begun to fall.

After a fair soaking while walking the 25 minutes or so towards the King Power, we were soon inside the, surprisingly empty, turnstiles we’d been allocated, with the others being pretty full with fans filtering through. With programme already secured and a good feel up encountered, it was into the concourse and for a Chicken Balti pie (£3.70). The pie was your bog-standard PL-style cuisine, but nothing to complain about, as I reckon I’ve done that a fair amount over the course of this blog already!

The Last Plantagenet

The Last Plantagenet

Arriving at the King Power

Arriving at the King Power

With food bought, we headed up the #Fearless stairway and into the stands in earnest, finding that we were on the segregation line, which promised some fun, though this would be tempered somewhat by the fact it appeared he family area was the side directly opposite. This is both a good and bad idea, I think, as it keeps trouble to more of a minimum, but doesn’t create too great an atmosphere for the youngsters and families who don’t want that sort of stuff. Pros and cons and another moan there. Anyway, the King Power is a smart, new-build ground, fairly basic in terms of description with all stands fairly similar. Penchants from loads of clubs line the top of them all too, which is a bit different, so a plus there. We quite liked it, so the 200th ground wasn’t a damp squib. Well, apart from the weather…anyway, here’s a bit about Leicester City FC…

History Lesson:

Leicester City Football Club was founded in 1884 by a group of Wyggeston School Old Boys and took on the name of Leicester Fosse, with the club joining the Football Association in 1890. The club played at five grounds during their formative years before moving to Filbert Street in 1891, when the club moved into the Midland League. Leicester were then elected to the Football League’s Division 2 in 1894, after finishing as the Midland League’s runners-up.

In 1908, Leicester achieved promotion to Division 1 as runners-up, but were relegated after just one season in English Football’s top division. Here they remained through to WWI and after the cessation of hostilities, the club folded and reformed as Leicester City FC, following the borough’s recent awarding of city status. They went on to win the 1925 Division 2 title and finished runners-up in Division 1 in 1929. They remained in the top-tier through to 1935, when they suffered the drop, only to bounce back up (1937) and down again (1939) within the next four seasons.

After being losing finalists in the 1949 FA Cup, the club did ensure survival a week later to remain in Division 2. They went on to win a second Division 2 title in 1954, but were relegated again the following year. After returning to Division 1 in 1957, they remained there through to 1969, the longest period of time the club has spent, uninterrupted, in the top flight, which encompassed three further FA Cup Final appearances, a League Cup Final win over Stoke City in 1964, but a further Final defeat in 1965.

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

In the concourse. Nice funfair font!

1971 saw City back in Division 1 and they also won the Charity Shield for the only time to date, playing in it due to Arsenal’s European commitments. They were relegated once more in 1978, but again won the Division 2 title in 1980 but their stay was again to last just one season. However, 1983 saw the club again return to the top-level, as their slight yo-yo existence continued and 1987 saw the club back in the second tier.

Following the creation of the Premiership, Leicester found themselves in Division 1 for 1991-’92, losing in the play-off final to Blackburn Rovers, following this with another play-off final heartbreak the next season. But it was to be third-time lucky for the Foxes, as the 1994 play-offs were successful and the club overcame Derby County to take up a place in the Premiership, but again one campaign was all they could manage before suffering the drop.

1996 saw Leicester back in the Prem once more, following a late winner in the play-off final and this time Leicester were able to consolidate a place in the top division. With Martin O’Neill in charge, the club went on to win two League Cups (1997 & 2000), qualifying for the UEFA Cup on both occasions and were runners-up in 1999 too. After O’Neill’s departure, a downturn in form followed and 2002 saw Leicester return to Division 1.

The club moved into the ‘Walker’s Stadium’ at the beginning of 2002-’03 season and despite administration, the club returned to the Premiership at the end of the season, only to return back to the newly named Championship for the ’04-’05 campaign. After a tumultuous period concerning the managerial position whilst the club transitioned through ownership, the Foxes dropped into the third tier of English Football, League 1 for the first time at the end of the ’07-’08 season.

Just in case you didn't know...

Just in case you didn’t know…

They did manage to return to the Championship at the first attempt, though, finishing as League 1 Champions and reached the play-offs at the end of their first season back in the second tier, only to lose out in the semi-final. Following another take over and Sven Goran Eriksson’s managerial tenure, Nigel Pearson returned to the club and led them to the play-offs once more, only to miss out in the semis again, however they were promoted the next season ’13-’14, following a 10-year absence, as the winners of the Championship.

After a 14th placed finish under Pearson in their first season back in the Premier League, he was sacked in favour of Claudio Ranieri. In what some have called a fairytale season, Leicester went on to lift the 2015-’16 title after starting off at 5,000-1 outsiders. This season has seen them struggle to recreate the magic of the last campaign, with the club currently sitting just above the drop zone.

After an informal touch for Chapecoense, involving inviting some applause for the club in a show of support, the teams came out of the tunnel to the traditional fox-hunting bugle call. This definitely seemed to resonate with the champions on this occasion, as they flew out of the blocks, swiftly blowing away the visitors in a matter of minutes and leaving the majority of the travelling support in a state of disbelief.

First, a swift attack saw Jamie Vardy get clear of the static City three-man back-line and fire across Claudio Bravo and into the far corner, sending the fans across the way from us into raptures and clappers flying to all parts. This quickly became two, Andy King unleashing a fine, curling effort into the top corner, past the despairing dive of Bravo and the home fans, who’ve had something of a disappointing season thus far, were entering delirium by this point.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Vardy celebrates his second

Vardy celebrates his second

If they were at delirium by the second goal, then when Vardy added his second just minutes later to make it three-nil to the home side, then I don’t know what adjective they were at! Inside twenty first half minutes, Leicester had taken Manchester City apart and stormed into what looked an unassailable lead. Surely, they weren’t going to throw this away?!

Indeed, the visiting City showed little signs of coming back into the game and the half fizzled out somewhat, with fans behind us largely having and back and forth with one Leicester fan clad in orange, who therefore became many different words, followed by the suffix “in orange”, just to make everyone certain who the barbs were directed at. Indeed, this eventually escalated to involve burger vans, but the stewards seemed to find it all fairly amusing. Ashley and I were also regaled with one fan’s story of a trip to Highbury in the ’80’s and how its bad start reflected this game. Or something like that. Oh and back on the pitch, the half ended 3-0, before the “Jester from Leicester”, Mark Selby, paraded his new UK snooker title on the pitch following his recent defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan.

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

UK snooker champ Mark Selby shows off

The second half got underway, with the visitors showing a little more life, but definitely seeming to struggle without the dynamic style and pure threat of Aguero and the control of Fernandinho in the middle of the park. Leicester, therefore, were able to control the game a little more, with skipper Wes Morgan and Robert Huth winning most that was put in front of them. Despite this, when the Citizens did break through, they found their own finishing skills lacking, with De Bruyne and Gundogan both pulling shots wide.

Eventually, though, Man City’s push for a goal back fell away and Leicester again became the force in the game, this despite the introductions of Yaya Toure and Nolito into the fray, though I did tip Nolito to net as he made his way onto the field. Indeed, Vardy completed a fine hat-trick, as he intercepted a poor pass-back by John Stones before finishing from a very acute angle, the goal-line technology confirming the goal to Michael Oliver. 4-0 and considering the last time I’d seen Jamie Vardy score was for Stocksbridge Park Steels in 2008, he’s not done too badly.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Kolarov finds the net

Kolarov finds the net

Despite being four down Man City, to their credit, did battle on and pulled two goals back. Firstly, Aleksandar Kolarov bent a free-kick from the edge of the box past German stopper Ron-Robert Zieler, before Nolito showed I am, clearly, a football predicting genius by cleverly finishing Kolarov’s low ball in. (NB: I’m not a predictive genius, please don’t ask for tips, you will lose).

So, the full-time whistle went to signal Leicester’s fine 4-2 win and we quickly exited the arena, eventually finding ourselves on the right track back to the car, after finding ourselves heading the wrong way when we popped up somewhere near the club’s old stomping ground, Filbert Street! Soon and mercifully out of the non-abating rain, Ashley created a decent exit strategy and we were, fairly swiftly, on the way back up North and onwards back from whence we came.

Arriving back at just after a quarter-past ten, Ashley dropped me back off before going off in search of some more deep-fried goodness, whereas I headed off to indulge myself in some more of that beautiful stuff with alcohol in it. You know, alcohol. That was that, then. 200 grounds have been and gone and in fairly quick time too. So then, where for the next 200?

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RATINGS:

Game: 8

Ground: 7

Food: 5

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Tottenham

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Result: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Manchester City (Premier League)

Venue: White Hart Lane (Sunday 2nd October 2016, 2.15pm)

Att: 31,793

Following last seasons trip to Chelsea and on the late-evening coach journey back from London, the subject of our next venture was quickly brought up. Unsurprisingly I didn’t hesitate in bringing up, the soon to be lost, White Hart Lane for the trip and with my City-supporting pal Ashley in agreement with the fact that this would be a good outing, it was set in stone that we would be off here, if circumstance allowed, during Season 2016-’17.

Fast-forward to September and with tickets and travel sorted and with thanks to my Dad on getting us there for 6.30am, we once again found ourselves waiting in the lovely surroundings of Manchester Shudehill, alongside a number of “other football” fans heading to Wembley for their strange version and the odd-drunk still making their way home after a heavy outing over the previous evening. Our Megabus (more on them later) arrived and we were soon whisked onwards towards the Capital.

After having the morning’s journey ably passed with help from the Malaysian GP, we were soon into the winding streets leading towards Victoria coach station. Eventually, we pulled into the station and were swiftly making our way over to the rail interchange of the same name, where we would catch the tube through to Seven Sisters station. After a 5-hour trip down, I was in desperate need of some sort of liquid to quench my thirst and oh, how luck would have it (obviously, there was no research into this), there was a Wetherspoons right in front of us. I was soon joined by a 5AM Saint, in lieu of a lack of Punk IPA, with my phone gaining some much-needed energy, following the amount I’d forced it into using on the way down.

Heading to Victoria

Heading to Victoria

Wetherspoons!

Wetherspoons!

Soon enough, we descended into the underground station, along with the masses, with my railcard coming in more than handy, to ensure an all-zone ticket for £8.00, over Ashley’s return of just under £10. For a 20 minute journey. How does anyone afford this regularly?! Anyway, payment complete and ticket in hand, we were through the gates and swiftly onto one of the regular trains over to Seven Sisters.

After being mistaken for a girl’s Dad upon reaching the top of the escalator, much to their amusement (though I hope I don’t look so old yet), we undertook the 30 minute walk down the bustling street, heading for the large white and blue-clad cranes tasked with the sad mission of demolishing the great, old stadium. Having arrived with time in hand, we agreed on heading straight for the ground as to beat most of the rush and to secure some food without the requirement of a queue. After purchasing a bog-standard programme (£3.50) from directly outside the turnstile, we were soon inside, after a search of both body and bag (happily not together in one word). A quick shout here for the Spurs stewards, who were really courteous and friendly towards the tasks. When you can share a quip with a steward, you know they’re good.

En route...

En route…

Arriving at the Lane

Arriving at the Lane

Through the turnstiles with success, we were into the concourse and after a quick visit to the facilities, it was to the food bars for a pair of Steak & Ale pies, complete with printed logo on top, for £4.00 a pop. They were ok, nothing too special though, as to be expected I guess. After finding our seats, we soon found ourselves in the midst of a conversation between two City fans, berating the fact that a foreign fan had got a ticket for the game, thus robbing it off an “actual” fan. “Head down, head down” I thought. Would I survive two hours? Well, you know the answer, unless this is all being written by a ghost…on that note watch the film with Ewan McGregor in by that name. It’s great. I did, however, sort of like City during their time in the lower leagues and Paul Dickov’s goal against Gillingham still sticks in my mind, so let me off here guys!

Anyway, as most of you know what the make-up of White Hart Lane is (seats, lots of seats) with a gaping hole in the far corner to the away end, where I was excited to be under the futuristic-looking police-box, let’s move straight on to the history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club…

History Lesson:

Founded in 1882, Tottenham Hotspur first competed in the Southern League from 1896, winning it in 1900 and remained here through until 1908 when they were elected to the Football League’s 2nd Division. Their first major success came in the form of the 1901 FA Cup, making Spurs the first non-league club since the formation of the Football League to win it. 1909 saw Spurs promoted to Division 1 as runners-up, where they remained until relegation in 1915.

Upon resumption of football after the war, 1920 saw Spurs back in Division One as Division 2 champions to prior season. 1920-’21 saw a second FA Cup lifted as well as being league runners-up. Relegated again in 1928, they were promoted again in 1933 as runners-up, but a short two season stay back in the top division is all that followed. The end of WWII thankfully arrived and 1950 saw Spurs again back in the top division as Division 2 champions, but this time with much more success, as Spurs took their first Football League title.

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

Clubs faced by Spurs at WHL

Spurs won the League & Cup double in 1961 and successfully defended the Cup the following season. 1963 saw Tottenham become the first British club to win a UEFA club competition, in the shape of the Cup Winners’ Cup and 1967 saw the FA Cup lifted for a once again. The 1970’s featured a UEFA Cup win in 1972, with Spurs becoming the first British club to win two different major European trophies. A pair of League Cups (1971 & ’73) also arrived during the decade, though a low note came with relegation in 1977, promotion was again quickly attained the next season.

The 1980’s proved a highly successful period for the club, with two more FA Cups (’81 & ’82) joining the trophy cabinet, alongside the Charity Shield and the UEFA Cup in 1984. The 1990’s saw the club become founder members of the Premiership, but also less silverware. An 8th FA Cup win in 1991, along with the 1999 League Cup was all that came to fruition during this time, the ’99 League Cup being their last trophy win until the 2008 competition.

The latter success did however mean that Spurs became only the second club, along with Manchester United, to win a major trophy over each of the last six decades but is their last silverware so far, though Spurs did record a Premier League-best 3rd place last season.

Filling up before kick-off...

Filling up before kick-off…

...in more ways than one

…in more ways than one

The sides came out to the strains of Obi-Wan (oh, look McGregor gets another shout) and Anakin’s final battle in the Revenge of the Sith Star Wars film and they were soon underway and Spurs quickly took on the role of the aggressor, with City taking on the “You underestimate my power” over-confidence that the soon-to-be-Vader played host to. It was little surprise, therefore, when the hosts took the lead; Aleksandar Kolarov putting Danny Rose’s cross into his own net, via the underside of the cross-bar.

Spurs were all-over the visitors and the optimism that filled the away support’s ranks at kick-off quickly changed to one of apprehension, especially when it came to anything to do with Kolarov or indeed Claudio Bravo, who is the proverbial rabbit-in-the-headlights when he has the ball at his feet under any pressure. He was helpless when Christian Eriksen bent a free-kick inches wide of his right-hand post, following a rash Nicolas Otamendi challenge, but Dele Alli soon added the second, as he broke the offside trap and slotted unerringly past Bravo, following good work by the outstanding Heung-Min Son.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

City did have the odd chance during the first period, usually coming in the guise of Sergio Aguero, though they never truly threatened Hugo Lloris. Half-time and a very convincing 2-0 lead to Spurs and by now the atmosphere in the fans had changed from one of apprehension to quiet acceptance and resignation of how this one was going to end. There was still a bit of optimism and why not, look at the team and the manager, but this never looked like being anything other than a first defeat of the season for City from here.

The second half was soon kicking-off and, to be honest, there was still a good pact to the game, as to be expected in the PL, but little in terms of pure goalmouth action. The best chances came with Aguero striking the post via Lloris’ unorthodox save, where he almost let the ball escape his grasp and cross the line, before Spurs had the chance to well and truly take the points, as Dele Alli was taken out in the box, but Erik Lamela’s spot-kick was well stopped by the Chilean Bravo.

Bravo's pen save...far away

Bravo’s pen save…far away

Close quarters

Close quarters

Match Action

Match Action

With Rose getting more and more grief as the game went on for his OTT theatrics, including a miraculous recovery from one challenge, thus City also began to take the game to the hosts for the first time, the only issue being there was only around 10 minutes remaining in the game. Kelechi Iheanacho’s weak effort was comfortably saved by Lloris, before Spurs’ French glove-man brilliantly tipped over Aguero’s dipping efforts, whilst back-peddling while off-balance. Great save! This pretty much ended the game, as Tottenham held out fairly easily for a fine win and to cue the sounds of “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur” to fill the Lane again.

Heading back out the ground, we swiftly made our way back towards Seven Sisters and once again jumped immediately onto a train heading back to Victoria. Upon our arrival back at the station, Ashley had decided that he needed some food and this turned into a bit of wild goose chase, involving seeing a number of supercars lining the streets and the house where Mozart created his first symphony, or so the plaque claims. Anyway, we eventually found ourselves back at Victoria and the station’s Burger King outlet, before heading back for our coach at 6.30. OH AND HERE THE FUN BEGINS!

On the way out

On the way out

Mozart. Culture.

Mozart. Culture.

So, we arrived back at the coach station for 6pm, only to see the word “Delayed” plastered upon the screens above our gate. Not to worry, particularly, as the coach prior to ours arrived with a 15 minute delay and was soon on its way. So, we waited. And waited. And waited. Oh, and waited. Now, I like to think I’m…fairly patient, but once it approaches an hour with next to no information, I begin to get a bit pissed off. Then I get sarcastic with comments and generally, I guess, be a bit of a dick. But, its deserved when this happens, so MegaBus, I want our £25 taxi reimbursed. That obese cartoon conductor with his thumb up and smiley-face was rubbing it in even more and….

OK, I’ve had half-an-hour off, so can complete now after getting that rant out of my system! Anyway, that’s about it. It was great to tick White Hart Lane off before the end of the historic ground’s life and everything about the day up until about 6.02pm was great. Cheers to Ashley for sorting out the tickets and there may be another trip in the future, so long as no-one links my blog to my appearance and robs my ticket for a fan. Fingers crossed…

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RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 4 (thanks to Megabus. Never again to London!)

Manchopper in….Manchester (Manchester City FC)

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Result: Manchester City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion (Barclays Premier League)

Venue: City of Manchester Stadium (Saturday 9th April 2016, 5.30pm)

Att: 53,920.

After a fairly long sojourn away from the upper reaches of the English football pyramid, I was to return to the highest of the lot: the Barclays Premier League. Despite having been to the City of Manchester Stadium on many previous occasions, I’ve never really gone into the day in depth, so when City fan Ashley contacted me with the chance to join him at the game on this fine Saturday, I didn’t take too long to agree. The 5.30 kick-off time also meant a late start and no rushing about, so positives all round!

Anyway, with the trains being affected by the Grand National at Aintree, my carriage of kings was delayed by around 15 minutes on its return from Liverpool, but having given myself a little over a couple of hours in which to head, eventually, over to the CoM, I was in little panic over this one. You have to pick and choose your battles on days like this and it seemed as though the City game was, indeed, an inspired choice to attend. *Blows own trumpet unashamedly*.

Eventually the train arrived and whisked me into town for a bit of a foray around. With plans slightly changed from where my itinerary was originally looking to take me, I arrived into the packed Piccadilly Tap for the usual Tap tipple of my own, Bitburger. Being so full, it was a bit uncomfortable and so I rushed it down slightly and headed over towards Piccadilly Gardens. However, the Gardens weren’t to be my stopping point, but rather Back Piccadilly a small road hidden away to the rear of the bustling interchange.

Here, I found Mother Macs, one that had taken my interest for two reasons. One, that its doors are guarded by large metal rails and, two, that it is apparently haunted. Spooky. Unfortunately any ghostly ambiences were thrown out the window due to Macs being seemingly very popular with the home support and even a ghost would have found it hard to find space in here, with standing room only being the order of the day. Again, after a rushed Corona (which I seemed to be looked upon with suspicion for not having something from a glass, I released myself onwards back into the Mancunian air and to Stevenson Square.

The Tap

The Tap

Mother Mac's down the road

Mother Macs down the road

Mother Macs

Mother Macs

Here, the plan was to head into a hidden “speakeasy” type bar. I won’t ruin the illusions here as I’m not sure if the place likes to maintain some sort of mystique, but all I will say is it has the façade of a sort of shop. Unfortunately, the bar was shut until later in the afternoon, meaning an earlier than planned divert to the Castle Hotel, which was to be my last stopping off point before heading over to the ground and meeting Ashley.

The Castle is one of the older establishments in Manchester, dating back to the 1700’s, though it has been updated since then. The thing that I was most happy about here, though, wasn’t the age, the ambience or the beer, oh no. It was the pure fact there was actually space to move! Thank the Lord. So, after a more comfortable final drink alongside the injured City skipper Vince, I headed back out to walk the 20 minute journey to the home of the Citizens.

Stevenson Square

Stevenson Square

The Castle

The Castle

Vince enjoying a pint

Vince enjoying a pint

But, just as I had exited the Castle, the rain began to fall and so I wimped out and headed back to Piccadilly Gardens for the Metro towards New Islington (the edge of the Central Zone), where my ticket allowed me to get to without paying more. The stop is only 10 minutes from the Etihad, so not too taxing a walk, though the main battle was fighting through the crowds on the tram just to get off.

Having negotiated this successfully, I made my way along the roads leading to the ground, which looms over the surrounding area. Having been told to watch out for a tram while crossing, despite having about 5 seconds until it even got anywhere close, I eventually found myself at the gates to the Etihad Campus and walking alongside the Manchester Regional Arena, current home of the mystifying Northwich Manchester Villa. Programme bought, I headed towards the CityStore, where Ashley was awaiting my arrival.

The Etihad looms

Heading to the Etihad

Arrived!

Arrived!

Look Out

Lookout

After spotting him miraculously quickly through the crowds, I was given my ticket and we headed round to the South Stand and our seat in the top tier of the ground, the newest part since its refurbishment and extension. After climbing the stairs to the concourse and finding amenities, I purchased some chips for £3 from the kiosk, before heading out to the seats.

Climbing up through the rows until we began finding double letters after row ‘z’, we eventually got to our row exactly three from the rear of the stand. But, I always find that views from the Gods are better than those lower down, so I was more than pleased with this view and another plus was the fact we were well out of the rain which was now falling rather steadily on those back on Earth.

As the players got through the final stages of their warm-ups, Ashley was getting more worried than anything by the impending beginning of the City pre-game “We will fight for you” video, which flashes up on the big screen. However, he was to be delighted when the sides came out of tunnel with the pure cringefest nowhere to be seen. Seemingly, others must have had the same thoughts! Anyway, without further ado, let’s delve into the history of the Citizens…

History Lesson:

Manchester City FC was founded in 1880 as St Mark’s (West Gorton), before two swift name changes in 1887 (to Ardwick AFC) and 1894 got to the name of Manchester City. They won their Second Division of the Football League in 1899 and with it promotion to the First Division. After winning the FA Cup in 1904, financial issues saw the suspension of most of the squad and a later fire at the club’s Hyde Road ground in 1920 saw further problems hit the club. Three years later, they moved into Maine Road.

In 1934, City broke the English club attendance record with 84,569 filling Maine Road for an FA Cup tie with Stoke City. The league was won three years later, but the club was then relegated the next year, despite being league top scorers!

Guess what pun could be used here?

Guess what pun could be used here?!

On the concourse

On the concourse

After winning the 1956 Cup final (the Bert Trautmann broken neck game), and playing back in the First Division, the club were relegated once more in 1963. 1966 saw the club win Division 2 again and just two seasons later they were First Division champions for a second time. These pre-ceded another FA Cup win (1969) a League Cup (1970) & a first European success the same year, the Cup Winners’ Cup.

After relegating rivals United in 1974 via Denis Law’s back-heel, the 1976 League Cup win saw the end of this golden age for the Blues and a period of, mostly, decline began throughout the ’80’s and ’90’s. After suffering two relegations in 1983 & ’87 from the top flight, they returned again in 1989 before becoming founder members of the Premier League in 1992.

1996 saw City relegated from the Premiership and after two seasons in Division One, they dropped into the third tier. After promotion at the first attempt in a dramatic play-off vs Gillingham (Dickov, anyone?), a second successive promotion saw City return to the Premiership, only to be relegated again in 2001. An immediate return followed as Division One Champions and in 2003, City moved into the Commonwealth Games home, the City of Manchester Stadium.

After the high-profile take-overs, City began to become a force again and be real challengers for honours and broke the British transfer record in signing Robinho. 2011 saw City win the FA Cup, their first major silverware for 35 years. Then came the famed “Aguerooooooo” moment as City whipped the title away from under arch-rivals United’s noses for their first title in 44 years before winning it again in 2014, alongside the League Cup, which was again won earlier this season for a fourth time.

Pre-game

Pre-game

Here come the teams

Here come the teams

The game got underway, and the game’s first real effort saw its first goal and it was to be the visitors from the Midlands who were to take something of a shock lead, with Stephane Sessegnon’s rocket of a half-volley flying past the statuesque Joe Hart and into the back of the net. Sessegnon’s posing celebration showed just how much he enjoyed it too and Brom were ahead. 0-1!

As it was, the lead didn’t last all that long, as City got on the attack and the mercurial Sergio Aguero was, once more, their focal point of the attacks, alongside the ineffective Wilfried Bony. I do feel a bit for Bony, who just clearly doesn’t fit into the playing style of City’s and so looks much worse than he is. As it is though, Aguero definitely does fit into their style and a clear trip on Aleksandar Kolarov provided him with the opportunity to bring the Blues level from the spot. Unerringly, he thumped the ball past Ben Foster for 1-1.

Aguero nets

Aguero nets

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

The game sort of fizzled out throughout the rest of the half from then, and the sides went in at the break level. With next to nothing to speak of during the break other than catching up on non-league scores (as you do) and realising a kid in front of us kept turning round and staring for a few seconds at least once every two minutes, the game was mercifully back underway with City on the front foot.

But, both teams were still largely cancelling each other out, but when City brought on more of their heavy artillery in the shape of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure, they began to threaten more. But it was the returning Samir Nasri who’d grab the eventual winner, picking up the rebound from an earlier shot and placing it beyond the man on the line and into the net from eight yards. 2-1.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Aguero was then denied well by Foster after a clever quick free-kick by Toure had released the Argentine, but West Brom began to counter-act the City attacking subs with one of their own, 16-year-old Jonathan Leko being introduced into the fray. And from there, Brom really should have had a point. Two great late chances were spurned, with Berahino firing wide and then, with Foster up in the last minute, James McClean whistled his effort inches past the post, whereupon the referee brought the game to an end. 2-1 City.

So, after letting the crowds disperse somewhat, Ashley and I headed down and out of our lofty perch and out into the drizzly Manchester evening (shock, horror). After walking back to Piccadilly, Ashley headed off to get the tram back over towards Stretford, whereas I stuck to my guns and headed over to Oxford Road for one more drink in the Paramount ‘Spoons close by the station before heading off for my train back.

Down we go

Down we go

Into the sunset

Into the sunset

So, that’s probably that for me in terms of Premier League action for this season and with everything else going on at the moment, it could be the last for a good fair while. But, it was a good game and at least it wasn’t a 0-0 to sign-off on for a while. Next week sees a return to the usual non-league action. Of course it does….

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- Decent contest, with both sides in it right to the whistle.

Ground: 9- Even though my persuasion should say otherwise, I do like the CoM.

Fans: 6- Fairly subdued today especially, more so than other games I’ve been to of late.

Programme: 9- Packed with articles and other sorts of data etc. Good read for £3.

Food: 7- Chips were alright, and a decent amount for it too. When I say decent I mean about 10p a chip!

Value For Money: 6- Was an ok day overall, and can’t complain for a £20 ticket. It’s plenty, after all.

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Chelsea

500px-Chelsea_FC.svgMcfc

Result: Chelsea 5-1 Manchester City (FA Cup Fifth Round)

Venue: Stamford Bridge (Sunday 21st February 2016, 4pm)

Att: 41,594

If I do miss anything out from this day, I sincerely apologize. I write this only slightly intoxicated, so there may be a few missing links from the Sunday five days prior to writing, but let’s see how we get on shall we?!

Getting up early and intending to meet City fan Ashley who had bought the tickets and arranged travel earlier that week, I was surprised slightly later that morning to have a series of missed call alerts and a series of ever more panicky messages on my phone. It turned out that I’d misread the texts and thought we had a half-hour extra in hand to get the coach down to London. With this not being the case, a mad rush ensued.

Thanks to my Dad, we arrived dead on nine-o’clock and with the Megabus running ever so slightly late, we made the coach. But only just. The spectre of having to shell out God knows how much in reparations from missing it would have been too much to handle. But, thankfully, this was averted and onwards to London Victoria we headed.

After a very uneventful journey, we eventually arrived in the outskirts of London, passing Wembley on our way in. After passing other famed landmarks such as Marble Arch, there were also a number of flash cars dotted here and there, none more so than a Bugatti Veyron and numerous Ferraris and Lambos.

Upon arriving into Victoria Coach Station, Ashley and I headed out into the city’s streets, but not long after, we encountered another guy looking for the way to the game. After telling him the best way, he u-turned and disappeared. Strange. Anyway, Ashley had requested a food-stop, so we ended up in the flashest of Chelsea’s restaurants. Yes, you guessed it, a McDonalds.

Brand new Ferrari

Brand new Ferrari

Chelsea

Chelsea

Before long, it was time to head back onwards to the ground and it wasn’t until we reached the streets once more that Ashley pointed out our friend had followed our lead and ended up two tables away. This wasn’t to be the last spotting of the mystery man that we would make on the day!

After a further half-hour’s walk, we eventually came up upon the World’s End section of the high street and soon cut up to Fulham Road and Stamford Bridge itself. Upon reaching the ground, the usual steps of buying a programme (£3) and being subjected to numerous security checks were undertaken. I felt uncomfortable when I took a picture of the outside of the Bridge and a steward approached.

“Big ground to take a picture of isn’t it? Nice ground!”

“Yes, yes” I replied.

“Can I have a look?” said the steward seemingly gesturing to my camera. Visions of ending up in an MI5 room filled my thoughts as he said this, but it turned out he just wanted a quick look through my bag, as usual and didn’t suspect me of anything more sinister. At least, not that he said!

After a further two checks, I was eventually allowed in to the Bridge and Ashley and I rekindled our alliance inside the concourse. With no alcohol available, I plumped for food and a Chicken Balti Pie, which was pretty good in terms of the filling but lacked in pastry quality. Having said that, the customer service of the staff at Chelsea was second to none I’ve encountered so far this season at such a level, with the small things all adding up so fair play.

Arriving at the Bridge. Note the steward!

Arriving at the Bridge. Note the steward!

In the Shed

In the Shed

Eventually we made our way into the away end in the corner of the Shed End. Yes, once again I would infiltrate the away end. Don’t judge me. Soon enough, news of the City team filtered through and optimism in the travelling support fell away. When the Chelsea team news also reached the eyes and ears of the Citizens, all hope seemed gone, though one guy seemed highly excited and continually shouted for either Willy Caballero or Joe Hart to “give him a wave”. With no such action forthcoming, he moved to the ‘keeper coach. He wasn’t one to fulfil the guy’s request either…

After a 40 minute wait, the unveiling of Matt Mizaga and Alexandre Pato and a show on the big screen of Chelsea’s smashings of City, the teams made their way onto the field of Stamford Bridge ready for what, on paper, was a heavyweight clash. The two sides on the day were poles apart, though, and only one result seemed likely. Could Chelsea add to their successes and add another few clips to their big screen history reel? Well, speaking of history….

History Lesson:

Chelsea FC was founded in 1905 after Gus Mears bought the Stamford Bridge athletics ground, failed to lease it to Fulham and so began his own club. Success was almost immediate, with Chelsea achieving promotion from Division 2 of the Football League in their second season, having been elected straight in and went on to have a yo-yo period throughout their early years.

The League Championship, the club’s first major trophy, arrived at the Bridge in 1955 and despite qualifying for the newly created European Cup, Chelsea were persuaded by the League and the FA to withdraw. 1965 saw the League Cup appear in the trophy cabinet and five years later, a second FA Cup arrived before they achieved their first European triumph, the Cup Winners’ Cup, with a win over Real Madrid.

After a period of struggle through the ’70’s and early ’80’s after the redevel0pment of the Bridge caused star players to be sold and other monetary worries, the arrival of Ken Bates as owner seemed to change the fortunes of the club and 1984 saw them return to the First Division as champions. After a quick return to the second tier in 1988, they were again promoted after winning the division the following year. The club also won two Full Members’ Cups in 1986 & 1990.

Flags

Flags

Tour de Youth Cup

Tour de Youth Cup

After securing the ground in the early ’90’s, further success followed with the 1997 FA Cup and the ’98 Super Cup & Cup Winners’ Cup plus a further FA Cup in the Millennium year. 2003 saw the club sold to Roman Abramovich and this, in turn, provided more funds and therefore more silverware.

Jose Mourinho guided Chelsea to back-to-back titles in 2005 & ’06 as well as two League Cups (’05 & ’07) and an FA Cup in the same year as the latter League Cup win. After Mourinho was dismissed in animosity, Chelsea reached the Champions’ League Final in 2008, but lost on penalties. I won’t go into why…

2009 saw current (and then) caretaker manager Guus Hiddink win the FA Cup before Carlo Ancelotti moved in and led the Blues to their first Premier League and FA Cup double. 2012 saw, arguably, Chelsea’s finest moment as former player Roberto Di Matteo led them to Champions’ League glory (on penalties) and added the club’s seventh FA Cup.

After Rafa Benitez ensured the Europa League reached the Bridge meaning that Chelsea became the only club to hold two major European titles and the only British club to have won all three, Mourinho returned to the club in 2013 and achieved a League and League Cup double. But this season saw Chelsea struggle enough to flirt with the relegation zone briefly, meaning the Portuguese was relieved and Hiddink returned for a second spell as caretaker boss.

Here come the teams...

Here come the teams…

...who are made to pointlessly walk over the pitch

…who’re made to pointlessly walk across the pitch

The game got underway at a good pace, with both sides really going for it. The first true chance fell to Chelsea and to their Spanish winger Pedro. The ex-Barcelona man received a clever return ball to fire past City custodian Willy Caballero, but the effort rebounded against the upright and away from danger.

After the first 20 minutes, Chelsea gained control of the game and it was little surprise when Diego Costa opened the scoring, stooping to head home from inside the six-yard box. It seemed the first of many.

But City struck back almost immediately from the kick-off, a ball out to the right found debutant Manu Garcia. His low ball across was deflected into the path of fellow  youngster David Faupala, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net, before celebrating in front of the home fans and riling them up.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Costa celebrates his opener

Costa celebrates his opener

Pedro almost restored Chelsea’s lead, but was denied by a fine save by Caballero, and despite large amounts of pressure from the home side it remained level at the break, with the young City side had shown good resilience to hang in there. With next to nothing of note happening at the break bar Ashley spotting the mystery man in the away end and the appearance of the FA Youth Cup and the Chelsea pitch announcer guy getting needlessly annoyed as the City fans booed at the players who beat their youth team in that final, the second half was soon underway.

Straight of the bat, the Blues restored their lead through Willian’s low drive, before Gary Cahill all but ended the tie with a low half-volley from the edge of the area, his effort going under City’s Argentine ‘keeper. By 70 minutes, people in the away end were beginning to leak out the ground, largely due to the fact that Eden Hazard had struck a free-kick in for four.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Hazard nets

Hazard nets

Even then, Chelsea showed just how strong their side was on this day bringing on the likes of Oscar, who missed a penalty, Bertrand Traore and Nemanja Matic. It was to be the middle of the trio who was to round off the scoring, looping a header over Cabellero and sneaking it into the corner via the post. 5-1 and that was that.

So, we headed back out into the Capital’s early evening, with the highlight of the walk back being an announcement by a mother to her young daughter:

“Don’t worry darling; When I get back from skiing, we’ll go to H&M.”

City players acknowledge the away support

City players acknowledge the away support

Chelsea high street

Chelsea high street

Arriving back at Victoria some 40 minutes later and were pretty much straight on the National Express coach back up North. After a sleep interrupted 5-hour journey, we eventually pulled into Manchester again at just before midnight and grabbed a black cab back home as our only possible course of action. Though after a long trip, the sight of the taxi was most welcome.

And so ends a second trip to the country’s capital city this season and especially happy to have ticked off another target of mine before the threat of the rebuild looms large. Next up, Scunthorpe…

DSC01710

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Good game, one sided though.

Ground: 8- Good view and facilities.

Fans: 7- Much better than I expected for the competition especially.

Food: 6- Nice filling, average pastry. £4.50 rather pricey too, though not unexpected.

Programme: 9- Good issue and well worth the purchase.

Value For Money: 8- Ground I’ve wanted to do, loads of goals. Coach nothing to repeat soon!

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Everton

Everton_FC_logo.svg Mcfc

Result: Everton 2-1 Manchester City (Capital One (League) Cup)

Venue: Goodison Park (Wednesday 6th January 2016, 8pm)

Att: 35,314 apparently. Cheers to “Tom Foolery”!

Another day, another Premier League ground. Living the high life of late aren’t I? This fine Wednesday evening saw me heading off to Goodison Park (following a visit to Old Trafford the previous Saturday), but due to getting a lift of City fan Ashley, I was avoiding the usual pre-match ventures and heading straight to Goodison itself.

A couple of weeks prior, Ashley had contacted me and asked if I was interested in going. Of course I was, but there was a condition. I had to go in the away end. After much internal battling, I eventually decided to tke the plunge and head into the other side. Such is life, such is groundhopping.

So, at just after six, my lift pulled up and we were soon rattling along the motorway and into Liverpool after a surprisingly easy and traffic free journey, despite the Fiat 500 we encountered at the end of the highway that seemed determined to be smashed in the rear by someone. But, our traffic free journey wasn’t to last too long, as we soon found ourselves crawling along Queen’s Road towards Walton.

Eventually Ashley found a spot to just about pull into and 10 minutes walk later and with a programme in tow we arrived at Goodison Park and headed down Gwladys Road and off into the away end in the Bullens Road End. This goes without mentioning the fact we went past the “Liverpool Taxi Drivers Sports & Social Club”. What a place that sounds!

After heading past the club shop which gets a good shout for being named as the Toffee Shop(!) and a second good pat down in four days I was eventually in though the turnstile did seem a little against the idea and I actually had to be let in manually but nonetheless I was into Goodison Park!

DSC01357

What a place this sounds!

Heading down Gwladys Road

Heading down Gwladys Road

Goodison Park

Goodison Park

So we were into the pretty overcrowded away concourse under the Bullens Road stand and it was something of a relief to actually get out of the area. Our tickets had us six rows from the front and, to my mind, the closest I’ve been to a game at such a level.

Goodison Park is a good old ground, with the Main Stand towering over the other stands. The Gwladys End is where most of the noise resonates from and opposite this is the Park End Stand with its stantions to the front. The Bullens Road stand sits opposite the Main Stand, with the away end located to the Gwladys side.

10 minutes after we ventured into the stand itself, the players made their way to the field from under the main stand to the famed strains of Z-Cars, or what is apparently a traditional Liverpool song about a love spurned sailor. And carrying on the historic theme…

History Lesson:

Everton FC was founded in 1878 as St Domingo’s so people from the parish of the church of the same name had sport to play all year round. As people outside the parish wished to play, the name change was undertaken a year later to become Everton. Originally playing at Priory Lane and then Anfield, the club left the ground in 1892 after a row over rent, with John Houlding splitting with the club and attempting to gain full control. Failing to do so, he tried to take the Everton name, which too was denied and he eventually formed the club that would go on to be the Toffees’ bitter rivals, Liverpool.

A founding member of the Football League in 1888, Everton won their first championship in 1891 before winning their first FA Cup in 1906, before winning the league title for a second time in 1915. In 1925, Everton signed Dixie Dean from Tranmere Rovers and he set the record for goals in a season in 1928: 60 in 39 and aided Everton in their quest to a third title. 1930 saw the club relegated to the Second Division but they returned two years later to the top flight as Division 2 winners and won a fourth title in their first season back. 1933 saw the Toffees win a second FA Cup, before they became champions in 1939, meaning that Everton were champions on both occasions when World Wars broke out.

Upon resumption of football after WWII, Everton weren’t the side they were and were relegated in 1951, spending three years in the second tier before achieving promotion again. Ever since this 1953-’54 season, the club have competed in the top flight in its differing guises.

Lining up pre-game

Lining up pre-game

1963 saw another title arrive at Goodison Park and a further FA Cup joined the trophy cabinet in ’66. 1970 was another championship winning season but this was their last silverware until 1984 when, under the late Howard Kendall, Everton lifted the 1984 FA Cup, the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup and two further titles in 1985 & ’87. The club then became founder members of the Premier League in 1992 and won their fifth FA Cup in 1994.

Under David Moyes, Everton reached the Champions’ League in 2004-’05 but the club are yet to win any further silverware since their ’94 Cup triumph, though they did finish in a highly respectable 5th place last seasons under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez who amassed the club’s best points tally for over a quarter of a century.

The first 15-20 minutes or so was poor and it wasn’t any surprise that we both agreed on this! But then something clicked and both sides really started going for it and despite City dominating the ball and most of the play, it was Everton that had the ball in the net on two occasions, only to be denied by the offside flag on both occasions. But it was to be third time lucky for the Toffees as a left wing corner fell to Ross Barkley whose powerful drive was wonderfully saved by Willy Caballero, only for his parry to find Ramiro Funes Mori to fire in on the turn. Right on half-time, 1-0.

Cabellero makes the save...

Cabellero makes the save…

...but can't deny Funes Mori

…but can’t deny Funes Mori (26)

Match Action

Match Action

Nothing of note at half-time and so it’s straight onto the second period, but I think there needs to be a shout here for City’s “Sheikh Mansour went to Spain” song. It’s so wonderfully shit it’s brilliant. On the basis of this song along, Manuel Pellegrini should never leave. Ever.

The second half began at as good a pace as the first ended and it was Everton, rather than City, who continued to create the better chances. Both Mohamed Besic and Gerard Deulofeu went close but it was City who were next to score. Soon after Kevin De Bruyne had seen a low shot somehow tipped wide by Joel Robles, a swift counter from an Everton corner saw sub Jesus Navas released inside left and he placed his shot past Robles and into the far corner to spark scenes of mayhem in the away end and continue the fun and games between the two sets of supporters.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

But it was the Toffees’ fans who were to have the last laugh just minutes later as a hobbling Romelu Lukaku found a second wind to sprint onto the end of Gareth Barry’s left wing cross and nod in from close range. That was to be the Belgian’s last contribution as he was immediately replaced by Arouna Kone.

Despite ending the game with 10 men after Seamus Coleman went off injured in the last couple of minutes, Everton comfortably held on to ensure they head into the second leg with a one-goal advantage to take with them to the Etihad.

So, Ashley and I quickly departed Goodison and headed back through the night but not before I paid him in a shady suburban street in what must have looked like a dodgy deal. Certainly Ashley thought as much! But, we returned without further alarm, though I did manage to leave my phone in his car and drag him back round to me. Sorry pal!

Two out of three Premier League grounds done this week then, with just the Boleyn to go on Saturday to complete the trio. Until then…..

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RATINGS:

Game: 7- Slow burner, but exploded eventually.

Ground: 7- Nice old ground, concourse a bit shit though.

Fans: 8- Created a good atmosphere throughout the game.

Programme: 7- What seems to be the standard at Prem Level.

Food: N/A

Value For Money: 7- Cheaper ticket than usual and for a good game and ground. All in all, a good evening.

Manchopper in….Manchester (City Football Academy Stadium)

Result: Manchester City u21 1-0 Norwich City u21 (Barclays u21 Premier League)

Venue: City Football Academy Stadium (Sunday 8th November, 4pm)

Att: 300-ish?

Backing onto my trip to Coventry the day previous was this very trip right here. A short hop over to the Bradford area of Manchester to watch the City u21 squad under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira for the last time before his appointment to New York City. Dan Watkinson had picked up two tickets previously on account of his Citizenship and, as such, I headed into the City Centre to meet with Dan and catch the bus for the short trip to the Etihad.

Disembarking at the Etihad, I made it a priority to head for the Corner Shop pub, after hearing and reading good things about it, especially from the Lost Boyo himself, Matt Harrison. Could I find it though? No. Until I did a full circle round and came across the pub in all its splendour standing directly in front of me, no less than 2 minutes from the road we’d got off the bus on. We’d been walking for 15.

The Corner Shop

The Corner Shop

Arriving at the Academy Stadium

Arriving at the Academy Stadium

CFA

CFA

After a “splash & dash” stop here to catch the final throws of Aston Villa vs City, we headed back outside and, after feeling exceptionally lazy, caught the bus for a grand total of two stops from the Etihad to the CFA. Upon arrival, we were straight into the North East section of the stadium and upon entering through the turnstiles, we were all issued with a team-sheet for today’s game. City’s side was featuring the much lauded Thierry Ambrose and Norwich’s keeper was Ben Killip, who I’m almost certain I saw play a couple of years ago in non-league, possibly for King’s Lynn?

We headed for seats around the half-way line and the game was soon underway, with next to nothing happening during the first period, bar Ambrose striking the post with a header and a shot passing just wide of Killip’s right-hand post. Norwich rarely threatened the City goal in the first period, looking to break on the counter when they did attack, which was very rarely witnessed as City dominated possession, but failed to break down Norwich. It was raining at the break but, sadly, it wasn’t raining goals at the CFA. 0-0 and it was pretty dire.

Teams enter the field

Teams enter the field

Underway

Underway

Match Action

Match Action

The second period got underway as the rain eased somewhat, but the game never really improved as a spectacle. The fact that Killip’s bright pink kit & that every Norwich player seemed to have been injured at some point  are “highlights”, tells you all you need to know.

Norwich did look a bit more sprightly, as City began to get sloppy at the back, with a couple of weak passes almost putting them in danger, with a great last-ditch tackle denying a Norwich attacker a one-on-one when he latched onto a poor, under hit back-pass. Ambrose was unlucky again soon after, as he curled a wonderful effort against the bar, before City won a free-kick. Bersant Celina stepped up and whipped a free-kick perfectly into the top corner. If it was anywhere else, it was likely Killip would have kept it out, but it was on a penny and left him no chance. Celina definitely enjoyed his strike, sliding on his knees in front of us in the main stand. 1-0 and that was it in terms of chances.

Match Action

Match Action

On a postage stamp

On a postage stamp

Celina celebrates his strike

Celina celebrates his strike

Scoreline

Scoreline

So, full-time arrived and we dodged the rain again for the most part, as we bussed it back into Piccadilly and onwards back home. Sadly, for the second time in two days, the game was pretty poor overall but at least there was a goal which stretches my run of no 0-0’s to….actually, I have no idea, I’ll have to check. Dan’s record reached 100 he informed me afterwards, so Celina has definitely become a bit of a favourite of ours I’d say.

As for the City Football Academy Stadium, it really is a fine ground to watch a game in. I’d been once previous, to watch England v China in a Women’s International when it was pretty full, so I can base it on that, rather than today and the sparse crowd. With only the Main Stand in use and the two covered terraces behind each goal and opposite stand out of bounds, it wasn’t great for atmosphere, but it’s to be expected and it’s cheap football, so who really cares?! The only negatives was the wet and cold. What happened to 17 degrees?!!

Academy Stadium, after dark.

Academy Stadium, after dark.

Underway

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Poor on the whole, little entertainment.

Ground: 8- A really good ground to watch a game in.

Fans: N/A- Doesn’t really count here.

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 7- Just the £6.60 travel & earlier drink, so a cheap day.