2011/12: FA Cup 2nd Round – Sheffield United v Torquay United

Friday 02 December 2011 (12.45 pm)

Whilst some quarters of the football community will have their thoughts on the UEFA 2012 European Championship Finals draw later today, for the fans of Fleetwood Town and Yeovil Town, tonight is all about the FA Cup. Yes it’s FA Cup 2nd Round weekend – the final Round of the FA Cup before 2011 becomes ‘last year’. Seven Rounds gone, seven to go.

Fleetwood Town are currently flying high in the Blue Square Bet Premier (BSBP) League and are second in the table. In midweek they overcame Kettering 3-0 so are in good form coming into the game. In the 4th Qualifying Round, Town overcame fellow BSBP opposition Mansfield with a convincing 5-0 win in a replay at Highbury. In the 1st Round, Fleetwood were one of the Rounds ‘Giant-killers’ as they beat Npower League One Wycombe Wanderers 2-0.

Town’s opponents tonight, Yeovil Town (like Wycombe) are struggling at the wrong end of the Npower League One table. Their 3-0 win at Edgar Street over Hereford United in the last Round provided some relief for Yeovil from their relegation battle. The team from Huish Park will not be relishing this tie and I’m going with Fleetwood to again create a Cup upset and put out League opposition for the second consecutive Round.

Friday 02 December 2011 (10.00 pm)

Fleetwood Town                (2)       –           (2)       Yeovil Town            

Just as in the 1st Round the Friday night Cup fixture ended in a 2-2 draw. Yeovil looked to be heading into the 3rd Round draw as they led 2-0 at Fleetwood with ten minutes to go. Edward Upson and Conor Clifford put the West Country team in the driving seat, but goals from Kieran Charnock and a penalty on 89 minutes Jamie Milligan earned the Non-League side a replay.

Saturday 03 December 2011 (08.30 am)

It was my intention to go to Valley Parade today for the fixture between Bradford City and AFC Wimbledon, but after the tragic news last Sunday of the death of Gary Speed, I wanted in some way to pay my respects and so it is off to Bramall Lane for the Sheffield United v Torquay United tie. Gary Speed ended his playing career at Bramall Lane and had a short spell managing the team. He may be more likely to be remembered for his time at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers, but today the Bramall Lane faithful will get their chance to pay their respects. It will no doubt be a sombre occasion today.

There are occasions when certain news just leave you stunned, last Sunday was one of those instances. The reaction from the football community has been one of utter disbelief and the subsequent tributes from across the country have emphasised that Gary Speed was indeed a respected football figure. I had on this site, been critical of his move from the Blades to take charge of Wales, but recent results showed that Gary Speed was indeed turning around the fortunes of the Welsh National team before his tragic death.

Saturday 03 December 2011 (08.30 pm)

Under a dark sky and pouring rain, the flags on the stands at Bramall Lane fluttered at half-mast. Dismal weather for a sad occasion. The Blades players wore tops in the warm-up bearing the squad number and name of Gary Speed as the crowd slowly filtered into the ground. There was an air of solemnity as the players emerged for kick-off as the Red and White part of Sheffield paid their respects to ‘one of their own’. The minutes applause rang round the stands and the travelling Torquay fans were magnificent in their support of this mark of respect to ‘Speedo’ as they also chanted the former Blades name.

With wreaths laid at the side of the pitch, the focus turned to the action on the Bramall Lane turf. The Gulls made a flying start and within three minutes were ahead. A Torquay free kick found its way to Rene Howe who clinically  finished to give the visitors the lead. Sheffield struggled to get into the game and it wasn’t till nearly the half-hour mark that they had a serious attempt on goal, when Ched Evans had a free-kick brilliantly tipped over by Robert Olejnik in the Torquay goal. Evans was again denied by the Gulls keeper later in the first half from another free-kick. However, Torquay could easily have added to their lead in the first-half. Danny Stevens was put through by Rene Howe, but screwed horribly wide with only Sheffield custodian, Simonsen to beat. Rene Howe also had a chance for a second, when he rounded the Blades keeper, but was forced wide. The resultant cut-back to Billy Boden was gratefully gathered by Simonsen and the teams went in at half-time with the visitors still in front.

In the second half Sheffield came out brighter and were creating more. Robert Olejnik was being kept busy by the Blades attack and he carried out a magnificent double-save on fifty-two minutes. The Torquay keeper parried a Michael Doyle shot and then brilliantly pushed the rebound from Ched Evans onto the crossbar. With an hour gone, Danny Wilson brought on Kevin McDonald and Lecsinel Jean-Francois. However, it seemed to have little impact and the Blades appeared to be running out of ideas, with Olejnik dealing with everything that was pumped into his penalty area. Football can be a cruel game and with sixty-eight minutes gone Matthew Lowton’s hopeful cross into the box was sliced into his own net by Mark Ellis. The visitors were stunned and in the very next Blades attack, Ched Evans raced through to give Sheffield the lead. The Gulls were on the ropes and the Blades went looking for a third. This duly arrived on seventy-eight minutes when Torquay keeper Olejnik (who had been outstanding up to this point) unfortunately put a clearance kick straight to Ched Evans, who gratefully slotted home for his second. It was ‘game-over’, but credit to the visitors, who didn’t capitulate and in the fourth minute of time added-on, scored their second, with Danny Stevens lashing in. It was too late however and the final whistle soon went.

The Blades had got the result and topped off an emotional day in the right way. As the matchday programme said, “…Gary Speed enjoyed his time at Sheffield United…and Sheffield United enjoyed Gary Speed…” 

Sunday 04 December (11.00 am)

And so the FA Cup 2nd Round weekend comes to an end with the ‘televised’ games, both featuring a non-league against league team match-up. The first game features one of my Cup ‘Trail’ teams, AFC Totton who take on Bristol Rovers on ITV1. This is the first time the club from Hampshire have reached the 2nd Round. Totton destroyed Bradford Park Avenue in the last Round 8-1, whilst Rovers progressed with a 3-1 win over Corby. Will this be a game too far for The Stags? Later on ESPN, Sutton United play Notts County. United beat Kettering 1-0 in the last Round, whilst County were convincing 4-1 winners over Accrington Stanley.

Sunday 04 December (7.00 pm)

So how did the ‘trail’ sides get on this weekend? Yesterday I saw the Blades emerge 3-2 winners. Elsewhere, in the first televised game of the day, AFC Totton were essentially ‘down and out’ within the opening fifteen minutes as Bristol Rovers took a three goal lead, but The Stags did at least steady themselves to not concede anymore before half-time. However, Rovers found the net with three more in the second half, with a consolation goal for Totton on seventy-one minutes from Nathaniel Sherborne. Npower League One leaders Charlton Athletic overcame Carlisle United with two second-half goals from Matty Robson and Jason Euell. Chelmsford City of the Blue Square South drew 1-1 with Macclesfield. City led through a Max Cornhill goal in the first-half, but were pegged back on sixty-four minutes by a goal from Tony Diagne goal.

For the 3rd Round the ‘trail’ fixtures are as follows:

Bristol Rovers                                                v          Aston Villa

Chelmsford City/Macclesfield                v          Bolton Wanderers

Fulham                                                             v          Charlton Athletic

Sheffield United                                            v          Salisbury City/Grimsby Town

The final action of the weekend was between Sutton United and Notts County. Ultimately, there was to be no fairy-tale ending to the weekend for non-league Sutton United. However, the result could have been different if, in time added on in the first-half, Leroy Griffiths had converted the penalty awarded to the men from Gander Green Lane. Instead Notts County retained their 1-0 advantage at the break from a Jeff Hughes goal on thirty-five minutes. An equaliser in the second-half eluded Sutton and their fate was sealed in time added on when Hughes scored his and County’s second.

Congratulations to all those who got through this weekend – see you in January 2012!