Sorry for the brief hiatus in proceedings, but I’ve been away in the north for a couple of days, so everything has gone a bit wonky. I feel a little bit guilty after promising you the greatest FA Cup first round in the entire history of football at the end of last week, only for the non-league masses to largely collapse in on themselves. Having said that, though, the Cup is like that, isn’t it? I wrapped little Dotmund up in warm overcoat, gave him a warm flask of Bovril, pinned a rosette on his chest and sent him to The Withdean on Saturday to Brighton play Northwich Victoria, so hopefully we’ll get a report of some sort up on here at some point this month. Other than that the congratulations go to Basingstoke Town, who won 1-0 at League One Chesterfield, and Rushden & Diamonds, from the Nationwide Conference, who beat Yeovil Town 3-1 at Nene Park. Rushden and Yeovil are curious examples of very different non-league club types. Rushden (which, for those of you – and I’m guessing that there are many – that don’t know, are based on Northamptonshire) were an enforced creation – a merger between Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds, who were bought out by the Dr Martens owner Max Griggs in the early 1990s. He built them a rather spiffy little ground, and they shot up the non-league pyramid and into the Football League, but Griggs’ own company hit the rocks, and he pulled the plug on the money. They were relegated at the end of last season, and have struggled to adapt to life back in the Conference, but they’ll have made a tidy little pot from their cup run so far, and have drawn fellow Conference side Tamworth at home in the Second Round, so have a great chance of meeting a big club in the Third Round.
For the first time this season, the Premiership top three consists of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Don’t expect too much to change before the end of the season. United’s 1-0 win at Blackburn was notable largely for the three extraordinary misses by Wayne Rooney in the first half – nice to see him getting his shooting boots on ahead of England’s trip to Amsterdam to play Holland on Wednesday evening. Chelsea’s win against Watford was about as predictable as could be expected, whilst Arsenal looked ominous against an admittedly woeful Liverpool team yesterday afternoon. Watching the highlights on BBC2 last night, I was struck by success that Arsenal have had in transferring the “Highbury Library” atmosphere to Ashburton Grove. The second and third goals were accompanied by a polite round of applause rather than cheering. Apparently, when they moved in, a special “singing section” was put behind one of the goals to liven the atmosphere up a bit. Perhaps Arsenal fans have just forgotten how to sing.
Considering their win against Chelsea last week, Spurs looked surprisingly blunt against Reading on Sunday lunchtime. They had the vast majority of the possession for the first half an hour, but only created one clear chance prior to their goal. Once Reading levelled things up, there was only one way it was really going to go. Considering their recent form, it should surprise no-one that Newcastle and Manchester City could only play out a limp 0-0 draw at The City Of Manchester Stadium, and every time it starts looking likely that Gareth Southgate’s unlikely tenure at The Riverside is about to end, his players pull a rabbit out of the hat for him. This time, it was a late Maccarone goal to give them a 1-0 win against West Ham United. No such joy for Bolton, though, who chucked away a two goal lead away at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United (although El-Hadji Diouf continued his unique mission to be the most disliked player in the Premiership by grabbing United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny’s, umm, undercarriage and squeezing it like he was trying to juice a lemon, only to claim his own innocence somewhat theatrically when Kenny, with good reason, complained).
Finally, a little sympathy for supporters of Southend United. Four days after their team’s historic win over Manchester United in the League Cup, and the news that they had been paired up with Spurs in the quarter-finals (which, if you think about it, gives them a pretty decent chance of progressing even further), their supporters were treated to… a 0-0 draw against Preston North End, which keeps them four points adrift at the foot of the Championship. I think that this qualifies as something of a reality check.