The Exile

Wednesday 3 March 2004

Good weekend, wasn't it? Mine started, football-wise, in very unusual fashion. It's not often you see a 9-0 victory and an away win of that size is even rarer. The Sky Sports team must have been hugging themselves last Friday evening as they watched the goals pour in.

The hapless victims were Dagenham & Redbridge and the high scorers were Hereford, currently second in the Conference and aiming for a return to Division Three. The Daggers' problems started when they conceded a penalty and had a man sent off after only 15 minutes.

By half-time it was 3-0 and after the break the floodgates really opened. Towards the end, it seemed that Hereford scored every time they attacked. Great fun to watch (unless you're a Daggers fan) and the small band of travelling Hereford supporters must have thought Christmas had come early.

A repeat on Saturday was unlikely, but I did fear a few more goals when Louis walloped that shot past Edwin at Loftus Road. But we held out, regrouped and in the second half certainly gave as good as we got.

I listened to the match on Radio 5 (a treat, as our games rarely feature on that channel). When Boa scored I was actually driving, and how I kept control of the car I'll never know. The last ten minutes were definitely sweaty palm time, and the final whistle was greeted with both relief and jubilation.

There was another treat in store for the exiled fan later as our game was first up on ITV's The Premiership. The penalty that wasn't, was the big talking point. Actually, having looked at it carefully, Mr Wiley was right. Edwin was naturally following the direction of the ball and Louis cannoned into him. To my mind there was no intent. But of course we've seen them given, many times, so thanks to the ref for being brave.

It sets us up very nicely for the Cup game on Saturday. I don't see why we can't get a result at Old Trafford. Louis won't be playing for United, but we can expect van Nistelrooy and Giggs to start.

With the league slipping away from them, the Cup becomes more important in terms of overall achievement for the season, especially as they haven't won it for five years. This could help us, as they may well show signs of over-anxiety. We need to be strong, play calm, composed football, and as at Loftus Road, grab a chance when we get one.

Sunday's viewing focussed on the Carling Cup final, won by the worst penalty I've seen this season that didn't actually miss the goal. But good luck to Middlesbrough. It must be nice to win something after trying for 128 years.

After that one, I switched to Dundee Utd-Rangers. My younger daughter's partner Charlie is an avid Gers fan so I have a vested interest. I phoned him afterwards to commiserate. Rangers were dreadful, and if they lose to Celtic in the Cup this weekend they will be facing a trophyless season, which at Ibrox is simply unacceptable.

Mark Hudson was involved in an unusual incident on Saturday. Playing for Palace, our on-loan defender was sent off and then watched as Gillingham's Nicky Southall contrived to miss the resultant penalty, not once but twice. The retake ordered by the ref proved fruitless as Southall hit the bar both times (a clear candidate for What Happened Next? on A Question of Sport).

If you believe in lucky mascots, perhaps we should leave Steve Kean in charge so that he can defend his unbeaten record and give Cookie time to recover fully. Just getting to the Cup Final will probably mean a place in Europe, as I can't see Arsenal not getting there.

Every player in the squad will want to be involved on Saturday, and those who get out there will need to fight every inch of the way. The effort needed will be colossal, but with the big man at the back in such commanding form, another super strike from Boa or Brian could be enough.

Roger is always pleased to hear from other fans. You can contact him at roger@smithwalk.demon.co.uk