GILES SMITH: A DECADE ON
Season ticket holder and experienced sampler of football in west London, Giles Smith, reflects on draws and trips to Griffin Park in this week's column…
2-0 up at Reading, 87 minutes gone. Final score: 2-2. Who saw that coming?
Answer: all of us, of course. It was Wednesday night, after all - now firmly inked into the Chelsea follower's diary as the regular slot for pantomime-style turn-ups, comedy pratfalls and anything else that can be filed uner 'More Than Faintly Ridiculous Outcomes That Are Just A Touch Depressing'.
That's the way Wednesday is. It's brought nothing but trouble of late. It's not just the night we go 2-0 up against Reading and end up drawing 2-2. It's the night we go 2-0 up against Juventus and end up drawing 2-2. It's the night we go 2-0 up at home to Southampton and end up drawing 2-2. (Is anyone noticing a mild sub-theme here?)
It's also the night we win 6-1 and yet go out of the Champions League. It's the night we contrive to lose at home to QPR and the night we fail to take all three points off Fulham. It's the night we entirely turn over Swansea in a Capital One Cup semi-final and yet somehow lose 2-0. And it's the night one of our players gets sent off for attempting to toe-poke the ball from beneath a recumbent ballboy.
It's the night when simply nothing makes sense.
People will be blaming last night's result on all sorts of things: injuries, tiredness, a stretched squad that's likely to have to play 70 games this season, defensive uncertainty, managerial frailty. But it's nothing to do with any of that. It's just Wednesday. That's what it's like. And if it wasn't clear already, it's certainly clear now: there's nothing we can do about it, except hope for other, better days.
Which was the better 2-2 draw? Last night's against Reading or Sunday's against Brentford?
Tough call. Obviously a point away from home is always useful - even if it looked like it was going to be three points with a couple of minutes to go. Three points which would have reduced the gap between us and Manchester City to four points and (perhaps more importantly) left us two points more secure in third place.
On the other hand, a 2-2 draw away from home in the FA Cup gets you a replay back at Stamford Bridge, and those are always valuable, especially in a season where none of the ex-players responsible for yanking the balls from the FA's plastic salad-spinner-style tombola device seems to be able to pull our number out first.
And, in fact, much though it attracted honks of derision, I actually thought a draw at Brentford wasn't a bad result, in the circumstances. And by 'circumstances', I mean, mostly, the pitch. To say the pitch was 'a factor' on Sunday is somewhat underestimating it. It looked as though it had recently been harvested for potatoes using a machine pulled by a horse. It wasn't a surface for football, it was a surface for battle re-enactments. You'd say the best thing for it would be for someone to dig it up, but it seems that someone already has.
So, the pitch, a penalty given that probably ought not to have been, and a penalty not given that certainly ought to have been… This is what people mean when they talk about 'the magic of the Cup', and if you can hold steady and earn yourself a replay somewhere slightly more civilised, then I'd say you're doing OK.
So I'm going with Brentford. Both had their charms, but the 2-2 at Brentford was better than the 2-2 at Reading, definitely.
The last time I had been to Brentford was almost exactly a decade ago, on a Friday night, when they played Colchester United. (One of my brothers is a supporter of the latter.) The famous Brentford micro-climate was up to its old tricks then as well, and so was the Brentford pitch. It was a cold night that only got colder, with the result that, as the first half wore on, the playing surface froze over like a village pond. At half-time, the referee abandoned the game, in the interests of health and safety, and also in the interests of going home for cocoa and not being in Brentford on a cold night for any longer than was strictly necessary.
So we left, and let me tell you: if there's one thing more disconcerting than travelling to Brentford and seeing your team draw in the FA Cup, it's travelling to Brentford to see someone else's team have their game abandoned.
No refunds, of course - although, if memory serves, it only cost sixpence to get in in those days, and we still had change over for fish and chips and a tub of Brylcreem on the way home.
But ever since then, Brentford has owed me 45 minutes of football. And now - on Sunday 17 February at the Bridge - I'm going to get 90 minutes. Maybe even more than that, if we let a two-goal lead slip in the final three minutes and send the tie into extra-time. Repayment with interest.
Interesting words from Brendan Rogers, once of this parish, after his side contrived to lose at Oldham Athletic, thus kindly withdrawing much of the newspaper heat that might have been generated by our draw at Brentford earlier the same day.
The Liverpool manager questioned the attitude of some of the young players that he had picked for the occasion, darkly warning that, without a change of approach, 'they might find themselves playing in League One.'
Well, it's a fair point, I suppose, though a little on the pessimistic side. Liverpool are in decline, clearly, but personally I can't see that downward spiral sinking them as far as League One. Down to the Championship, quite possibly. But no further than that. They're not too good to go down. But surely they're too good to go down twice.