Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Battle Of Hastings: A Walk In The Park? Well, Sort Of...

It's FA Cup time again.

And I have to admit, I was getting more than the odd uncomfortable shade of Hednesford Town or Burton Albion - oh God, Burton Albion - and those other narrow escapes or embarrassing cup defeats that you regularly and annoyingly associate with this club of ours. Our numerous injuries didn't help - one glance at the team sheet and I was already thinking "Who's Jordan Jones? Who's Bryn Morris?" - nor did the nature of the cup tie.

Here's a thought; if you are the Goliath facing the David in a cup-tie, you can't win. If the Riverside got so much publicity back in January 1997 (apart from anything relating to feuding, temperamental foreigners and a certain three points), it was because plucky Hednesford Town had come to visit. The neutrals would have loved to see a Hednesford win, or a replay at least; embarrassingly, the latter very nearly happened before Fjortoft and Ravanelli bailed us out.

The same, of course, was true when we played Burton Albion at their place in 2011, and suffered a horrifying but all-too-familiar late collapse. Did the national pundits single out that, or Burton's "heroic spirit" and "never-say-die attitude"?

Similar platitudes relating to the magic of the cup where wheeled out before The Battle Of Hastings (it's an overused headline by now, but you know I couldn't resist using it too) today. Every Boro miss or mishap, I feared, would pander to the FA Cup's romantic ideals, flattering the neutral's compassion for the underdogs.

Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Well, almost nothing.

Merouane Zemmama, who like Ledesma (and a certain Fabio Rochemback) is exhilirating and frustrating in equal measure, had one of his good days. His first ever brace for the club (even if one was deflected) helped set up what was an eventually comfortable win. Of course, the scoreline is slightly deceptive, and nothing to build dreams on; Ish Miller's feeble penalty, a handful of other first half misses and another great save from Jason Steele led one not to rule out a sucker punch of Burton proportions in the second half. This is Boro, after all.

Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened. Barely two minutes after the restart, Andy Halliday tucked away his first goal in what seemed like ages (since the 3-3 draw with Ipswich in April 2011, to be exact; that's nearly two years, then), and we could afford to relax. Or so we thought. Minutes later, Lee Carey forced Steele to tip his 20-yard chip onto the post before a header from the resulting corner was blocked. Then came Zemmama's second... and surely that was that? Not quite. There was still time for Hastings' Bradley Goldberg to score what was probably the goal of the game; academic though it was, it typified the battling spirit of a side who had given their all on the day but had fallen short. The applause from the Boro fans following the goal was both admirable and well-deserved.

Flattering though the final score of 4-1 may have been, there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Of note, to me, were Kevin Thomson managing at least two crucial blocks and an assist, and Ish Miller continuing to put himself about even after he missed that penalty, his eventual reward being the fourth goal. There's been a lot of unnecessary stick directed at both players; one has shown that when fit, however rare that is, he is a capable presence in midfield. The other, despite not being your typical prolific goalscorer, has contributed a lot to our promotion campaign. If Curtis Main is our Hernandez, Ish Miller is our Danny Welbeck.

Other positives? The return of Haroun, the continuing excellent form of Steele (which, paradoxically, may not be good news for us during this transfer window) and the debuts of both Jones and Morris! I'm especially pleased for Jones, a Northern Irish lad like myself... Dave Parnaby has described him as the next big thing too.

Let's now take these positives into the Watford match...

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As an aside, 1,068 Hastings fans turned up at the match; imagine how spooky it would have been had two of those fans stayed at home!

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