Thursday, 11 November 2010

Sheffield Wednesday 4 Hartlepool United 1

As winter’s icy grip began to take a hold on Sheffield, it was time to dig the big coat out and see if Wednesday could continue their progress to Wembley. With the high drama of the last round epic against Chesterfield still fresh in the memory and the promise of bargain basement £2.50 football marginally more attractive than a dour Manchester derby, I’d managed to coax a little group together to brave the elements and watch this quarter-final, northern section tie.

I think this is the cheapest live match I’ve ever watched and at 50p a goal certainly represented excellent value for money. Hartlepool seem to be Wednesday’s bitch this season, having been spanked 5-0 at Victoria Park in the League encounter back in August, and, although they briefly offered resistance at 2-1, never had the offensive quality to win the game. Meanwhile, a couple of cup matches have offered a very welcome break from league travails for the Owls and the nine goals should spur them on to reassert their promotion credentials.

Perhaps it’s a sign of how far Wednesday have fallen that a comparatively irrelevant match such as this attracted a near-11,000 crowd but, on the other hand, this competition does represent an excellent chance of silverware and the atmosphere was again superb. Sadly there was no scope for verbal jousting with the travelling fans - unlike the last round, when Chesterfield brought 4,000; the Pools probably numbered a hundredth of this – but the band played on regardless and the empty seats in the Kop only amplified the tootling. It made my night when they played the Wallace and Gromit theme music – for reasons unknown – in the second-half.  

On the pitch, Wednesday dominated the first 40 minutes and established what appeared to be a solid two-goal lead through Neil Mellor. His first was a peach, bent home from the left-hand side of the box, and his second was opportunistic, converting Gary Teale’s deep cross. But old habits remain and five nightmare minutes at the end of the half almost overturned all Wednesday’s good work. The defence, as happens all-too-frequently went missing in action and Fabian Yantorno curled home a lovely goal to give the away support something to get excited about. They also missed a sitter in injury time with the home defence pretty much dead to the world.

So cheap, even a student could afford it...
Thankfully, Alan Irvine’s coarse tones knocked some sense into them and, within moments of the restart, Mellor’s swashbuckling run was ended prematurely by Gary Liddle in the penalty area. Mellor snatched the ball from Clinton Morrison and slotted it home for the hat-trick. The red-booted Teale, who never seems to have a bad game, made absolutely sure by racing goalkeeper Jake Kean to a loose, bouncing ball and producing a lovely lob into the unguarded net.

Sterner tests, not least Huddersfield Town, who played Wednesday off the park last week, await in the area semi-finals but, on this bitterly cold night in November, the warming prospect of a stroll down Wembley Way in the sunshine of spring remains a distinct possibility.

Next Match: Droylsden vs. Boston United on Saturday

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