Chester FC vs Barnsley FC
FA Cup Second Round Replay
Tuesday 16th December 2014
Deva Stadium, Chester, Cheshire
“Be careful with Chester. They get under your skin.”
That was the warning from one fan on hearing that The Underdog Blog would be returning to see Steve Burr’s men for this FA Cup Second Round replay. It certainly felt that way as I dashed across the rainy Pennines from work for my first ever visit to the Deva Stadium.
Selected for TV coverage by BT Sport, I was far from being the only one to brave the downpours over the comfort of my sofa. The visit of Barnsley was already Chester’s biggest home attendance of the season, surpassing September’s victory over cross-border rivals Wrexham, as 3,534 braved the elements in the hope of a shock. With Championship promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough visiting the winners in the Third Round, the stakes were high.
Joining me again was Tom, along with an old friend of his. Larry, an Ipswich Town fan, made the short trip from Wrexham to cheer on the home side. It’s considerably more convenient than the commute to The Tractor Boys’ home games.
We park on the edge of a neighbouring business park and meet Larry outside the ground. He’s stood near the entrance of a busy bar and has already observed one player leaving the stadium to retrieve something from his car.
We collect our tickets – a sticking point for many fans, who claimed the all-ticket arrangement on safety grounds would cost the club much-needed revenue – and make our way through the turnstiles into the curiously named Maxiflow Stand. Various suggestions as to what it is, exactly, that they manufacture result in several suggestions that shouldn’t be committed to print.
A correction to my previous blog was suggested by one Chester fan, who informed me that the ground actually IS in Wales. Google Maps shows the border running straight through the stadium, with the main office falling on the Anglo side, giving the ground an English address.
Our seats in the unreserved area of the East Stand fall just over the Welsh border, and we bask in our multiculturalism for a little while as we take in our surroundings across two nations. It’s hardly North/South Korea, but it’s still pretty cool.
A pre-match read through the excellent matchday programme provides several great features about tonight’s visitors, including a ‘Where Are They Now’ of Barnsley’s 1997/98 Premiership team. Arjan De Zeeuw is a forensic detective these days, while Matty Appleby is a commercial deep sea diver. Who knew? Probably Arjan De Zeeuw with enough evidence, I suppose.
The teams run out to Cleggy announcing the line-ups. After his name was uttered with affection by a Chester fan at Oakwell in the first blog, one reader made him aware, we made contact via Twitter and he enjoyed his cameo role.
Quarter of a century, spanning three clubs and three stadiums, (he enjoyed a two-year hiatus at Macclesfield in-between spells at the old Sealand Road ground and here at the Deva, both of which have been home to Chester and Chester City) make him a bit of a local legend in these parts.
“Your referee for tonight’s match is Keith Hill,” he booms, as a bald-headed assistant takes his place on our touchline. After the unorthodox refereeing team at Oakwell, Cleggy sketches over the fact that we’re being officiated by the former Barnsley and current Rochdale manager with Pierluigi Collina running the line.
Barnsley attack from England to Wales in the first half, with Jon Worsnop taking his place in the Chester goal once again. He’s sporting a protective white face mask following injuries sustained in the first match, giving him the appearance of a gloved Phantom of the Opera.
Leroy Lita, clearly heeding Tom’s final warning of civil action over unpaid debts, finds himself on the bench. His replacement is Devante Cole, son of former Manchester United striker Andrew.
The Underdog Blog discussed the phenomenon of the sons of 90’s players making their way in the professional game during Ilkeston’s FA Cup Qualifying Second Round game back in September, where we also developed a soft spot for the pacey, skilful Kane Richards. He joined Chester earlier this week, and should be a very useful addition at Conference level.
The opening ten minutes sees little in the way of chances. Peter Ramage slices an attempted long ball into the stands and receives a big cheer from the home support, followed by a few bars of “Football League, you’re having a laugh’.
It has to be said there’s more negativity in the stands tonight by comparison to the jubilant away support of ten days ago, although it’s largely directed at the officials in the early stages of the game. Our assistant referee seems a little behind play, missing what looked to be a clear offside from a Barnsley counter-attack. A couple of fans behind us are quick to let him know about it.
“You’re too slow, lino! You’re miles behind play”. Pierluigi ignores this, digging deep to remember the Champions League Finals he’s overseen.
There are signs of Chester’s determination to win every ball, not least when veteran Gareth Roberts runs around a nonchalant Cole to clear a ball up the touchline that the teenager clearly thought was going out of play. Some of the bite from that first game isn’t quite there, though. It could be nerves, but the difference in quality feels more apparent than it did at Oakwell.
Barnsley capitalise on this after quarter of an hour. Peter Ramage, finding himself in an unfamiliar right wing position, cuts inside and shoots towards goal. The tame-looking effort is blocked by Brown but falls kindly for Kane Hemmings, who finishes instinctively into the roof of the net. The modest band of travelling fans cheer the early goal their side have rewarded them with for the 150-mile round trip.
It feels like the wake-up call Chester need, and they’re on the attack from kick-off. Craig Mahon, who appears to be being double-marked after his excellent display in the first game, wins a corner with some skilful play at the by-line.
The ball finds its way out for a throw-in in front of us and Larry gives a wave to the TV cameras at the opposite end of the pitch. We repeat this a few times to the point where we feel it becomes possible that Devante Cole could request a half-time substitution, due to three fully grown men waving in his general direction.
The assistant comes in for more flack, at one point unfairly, when it appears that he’s about to flag for offside but retracts his decision when the referee gestures to play advantage. This causes the man on Larry’s right to call him a ‘turd rake’. Internally, Collina focuses on his appearance on the cover of Pro Evolution Soccer 3, then moves on.
Barnsley continue to threaten up until halftime, with Conor Hourihane forcing the best of several saves from Worsnop, but can’t add to their lead before the break.
As the lads head for a pie and a hot drink, I make my way down to the gents. A man reassures his young son that they’ll be better in the second half as we queue, while another man in an Ilkeston jacket washes his hands. I imagine he’s here due to the Richards transfer.
We can hear Cleggy introducing Club legend Michael Wilde onto the field through the walls and a big cheer goes up. The former striker scored 46 goals in 73 appearances in Chester FC’s first two championship-winning seasons and recently returned to the Club in a voluntary capacity as technical advisor to the youth academy.
Tom and Larry return with a cup of coffee and a ham and chicken pie for me. It is, quite honestly, one of the finest half-time snacks I can recall ever having at a match. Jam packed with large chunks of meat, we all agree it knocks spots off of anything Pukka have ever produced.
It’s so good that I barely notice the second half kicking off, glancing up once to see Barnsley goalkeeping coach Mark Crossley dejectedly trudging up the touchline in the rain from the direction of the catering area. His face suggests that they’ve run out of steak and kidney.
The game wrestles back our attention from the meaty pastry goodness just two minutes in, as Michael Kay loses the ball upfield and lunges in on Conor Hourihane. The Barnsley midfielder stays on the ground clutching his leg, only for Kay to attempt to lift him from the ground. Collina flags furiously as Keith Hill brandishes a yellow card, muttering something about preferring Rochdale anyway, as Hourihane gets back to his feet.
Chester continue to push, creating a couple of half chances, but with Mahon being marked out of the game and a firm defensive line from Barnsley largely succeeding at keeping the ball out of dangerous areas, they never quite manage to create a spell where the equaliser looks likely.
Barnsley, meanwhile, are beginning to find more space as the game opens up. It’s a gift for the excellent Dale Jennings who started to change the game as a sub at Oakwell and has looked good so far tonight. He finds his range in the 60th minute, seeing his shot from the left side of the box blocked by the trailing arm of Brown. It’s not a penalty, but Brown holds his left side in pain to display where he wants the referee to think it hit him, in a move trademarked by Steven Taylor.
Barnsley double their lead a few minutes later. A great dummy and turn from Devante Cole commits Brown and releases Hemmings. His simple ball out wide to Jennings is guided into the far corner with pinpoint accuracy and the away side take a stranglehold on the game that doesn’t look like it will be overturned.
The announcement of the attendance raises a cheer a few minutes after the restart, as the Barnsley fans taunt the home crowd by chanting “you’ve only come to see the Barnsley”. A hastily cleared ball from Peter Ramage hits part of the PA system high up in our stand soon after, and plastic shatters from it; Cleggy will be one speaker short of full stereo by full-time.
We begin to discuss unorthodox ways of putting the goalkeeper off while attacking a corner as the game begins to peter out. Larry suggests flicking Turnbull in the testicles, while Tom favours grabbing a handful and looking deep into his eyes to provoke the desired response.
“Come on Uncle Fester, get involved in the game!” screams one woman, as Pierluigi Collina tries to focus on the unprecedented six consecutive World Referee of the Year medals sat at home on his mantelpiece.
“Who’d be a referee?” ponders Larry. “It must be those blokes who like women in heels treading on their balls.” That was actually going to be my suggestion for Ross Turnbull until we became distracted.
The game has gone now, and it’s clear the fans around us have accepted it. Even the late introduction of Leroy Lita barely registers with us. Tom’s clenched fists and a throbbing vein in his temple are the only tell-tale signs.
Jennings finishes the job in the 88th minute with some style. His jinking run, mixed with a touch of luck evading the challenge of Rooney, sees him beat three men and place the ball in Worsnop’s far corner once again. It draws comparisons to Ricky Villa’s famous Cup Final goal although, perhaps with some irony, it reminds me more David Ginola’s mazy run in an FA Cup replay at Oakwell in 1999.
Worsnop’s late double-save in injury time denies Jennings a hattrick – while Barnsley have undoubtedly been the better side, a fourth goal would have given the scoreline an unfairly lopsided look.
As the final whistle blows, we linger to watch Jake Humphrey and Steve McManaman analyse the game from the dugout as the stadium empties. Barnsley’s professional display wasn’t perhaps as exciting as the record-breaking penalty shootout that would take place at Worcester the following evening, but I’ve enjoyed my ride on Chester’s big adventure.
It’ll be Braintree Town rather than Middlesbrough who’ll be the first visitors of 2015 to the Deva Stadium on FA Cup Third Round weekend. For Barnsley, a first win in five will hopefully see a rediscovery of some form ahead of the busy Christmas period and, perhaps, a run in the Cup to bring back memories of 2008 and 2013.
Like so many before them, the FA Cup has put Chester FC, a club still in its infancy, back on the map; there just happens to be a border running through it.
The Underdog Blog Record 2014/15
P 7 W 3 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 7 GD -3
Chester FC vs Barnsley FC
FA Cup Second Round Replay
Tuesday 16th December 2014
Deva Stadium, Chester, Cheshire
Chester FC 0 – 3 Barnsley FC
Chester FC: Worsnop, Kay, M Brown, Charnock. G Roberts, Heneghan (Greenop 67), James, Rooney, Mahon, McConville, Hobson (Winn 89).
Subs: C Roberts, Touray, Harrison, Menagh, Blake.
Barnsley: Turnbull, Holgate, Crainie, Ramage, Brown, Bailey (Digby 89), Berry, Hourihane, Jennings (Boakye-Yiadom 90), Hemmings, Cole (Lita 83).
Subs: Davies, Treacy, Abbot, Cowgill.
Goals: Hemmings 16, Jennings 63, 88.
Referee: Keith Hill