Tigers down Spitfires

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Sunday October 7th 2012, Kick Off 3pm, FA Cup Third Qualifying Round.
Gloucester City 1 (Amber/Black Stripes/Black) Eastleigh 0 (Sky Blue/Sky Blue) 
at The ‘Abbey Business Stadium’, Whaddon Road, Cheltenham Town FC.
Admission £12, Programme £2, attendance 432.

And so, onto game six of my FA Cup ‘Path to Wembley’. With my attendance being required at Selhurst Park the day before (4-3 win, great stuff!), I had the choice of two games today or midweek replays.
I decided to go with my original plan of a ‘bracketed’ tick of Gloucester City at Cheltenham Town, having seen Cheltenham here in 1997 (non league) and 1999 (league).

In 2007 Gloucester City’s Meadow Park ground was flooded under the water from the Gloucestershire floods, and was deemed not fit for purpose, and over recent seasons they have ground shared at Cirencester Town and Forest Green Rovers, and now they have settled at the home of their arch rivals.

As their programme touched on, negotiations with Gloucestershire council are ongoing with plans to return home, but currently there is nothing concrete in the pipe line. All very unsettling for their long-suffering loyal fans.

An easy painless Sunday drive down to Cheltenham, having first dropped Ros at the Cotswold wildlife Park in Burford. I arrived early to take advantage of the burger outlet just to the right of the turnstiles. The previous day Cheltenham had played in front of 2,700, today 432 had made the effort, and it seemed both sets of fans were a pretty committed and passionate bunch.
Two sides of the stadium were opened for use. The pleasing to the eye old-fashioned main stand, a looky likey to the old stand at Christie Park home of Morecambe FC, and the new seated end which is used as the away end for Cheltenham Town games.

I settled in the back row of the away stand behind the goal, which affords very nice views of the local rolling hills, in contrast to the ground itself which is set plumb in the middle of what was called in my youth a ‘council estate’.
What I hadn’t expected at this game, and indeed my first on this seasons ‘Path to Wembley’, was an atmosphere. Fourty or so Eastleigh fans had plonked themselves in the middle of this end behind the goal, and were soon to be joined by 100+ Gloucester fans who sat/stood side by side with them as their team attacked this end in the first half.
Both indulged in some pretty impressive singing, without any hint whatsoever of animosity. I really do feel at this level, that there is a general mutual respect for following ones team, and that rarely does one get the problem encountered sometimes at professional grounds.

Eastleigh settled best, but soon Gloucester were on the front foot and attacking our end. Already I was aware that these two teams had more about them than the previous ten clubs I’d seen so far in the cup run. It’s been well documented that Eastleigh have had one the biggest budgets in the Conference South this season, and promotion is an expectation rather than a hope. Because of their indifferent start to the season, their manager Ian Baird had already paid for this. Recently he had been replaced by Richard Hill, who’d made a fairly decent start, although the 6-2 defeat at Farnborough in the week might have been a severe wake up call to him!

On eleven minutes, Tom Hamblin put the Tigers one up, with a nice finish by the right hand post after a 25 yard free kick was parried by keeper Jack Dovey, it was quite a tight angle, and a nice finish, Hamblin wheeled away with a big grin on his face!. Throughout the game I was struck by the decent refereeing display from Sarah Garrett, an apparent twenty something, who ref’d the game with calm assurance, good fitness, and I made a mental note to keep an eye on her progress up the football pyramid.

The game was ultra competitive, without there being an enormous number of clear-cut chances. As the game ebbed and flowed, City’s Jordan Goddard was booked for a nasty looking two footed challenge was caused the expected normal case of hand bags near the half way line. 1-0 HT.

As the second half progressed it was clear that the Spitfires (aeroplane engines made in the town apparently) from Eastleigh were intending to try to put City under some sustained pressure. Although they did at times achieve this aim, again, little in the way of clear-cut chances came their way. When the ever impressive Jai Reason headed over from five yards out when unmarked on 58 mins, I did wonder if this was not to be their day? Sub Ademola did impress down the right, replacing the disappointing Damien Scannell (brother of ex Palace, now Huddersfield Sean), who hadn’t manage to really get round the back of the City defence.

It was not an enormous suprise that City managed to hold out. Eastleigh to my mind, with the squad they have were rather poor, and I suspect an FA Cup exit was not on the agenda so early for them.

City who probably will enjoy some much-needed extra revenue were drawn at home to local Wiltshire rivals Chippenham Town in the next round, when I expect they may get close to double the gate seen today, I hope they do.

Path to Wembley, hmmm, Where next? Well, as Palace are at home on October 20th, it’s Sunday games or replays again for me. So I will be at either Slough Town v Gosport Borough (at Beacsonsfield SYCOB FC) or Hayes and Yeading v Boreham Wood (at Woking FC), on Sunday October 21st for more FA Cup action 🙂

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