Hot on the heels of last Saturday’s 2 nil reverse at the stadium of light, the Swans were on their travels once again this week with a visit to Premier League rivals Bolton Wanderers in FA Cup 4th round.
With prices slashed for the tie to just £15 for adults, I took the opportunity to do a recce of the Reebok Stadium prior to the Swans league visit in April.
In order to add a bit of spice to yet another away day, Conker Jack and myself decided to have a Ford v Vauxhall, motorway v mid Wales race to Bolton.
With both parties departing at approximately 07:30 and allowed only one 15 minute refreshment/toilet stop each – it was sure to be an interesting duel.
Conker Jack (who’d give Jenson Button a run for his money) and his crew of NFL Jack, NFL Jack junior and Financial Adviser Jack – whom incidentally is the Jack formerely known as Porn Jack – were clear favourites with the bookies odds-on at 4/5.
However despite an extended stay in Chester services (due to toilet troubles) Hank the Jack and myself parked up at the Reebok stadium at 11:20 and were duly crowned the winners of the duel – beating the favourites by over 25 minutes.
I’ve always maintained that the pheasant run through mid Wales was the quickest way to away games ‘oop north’.
For any Jacks planning on doing the Bolton trip in April, it’s fair to say that you probably won’t find an easier premier league ground to get to or park at. You can see the ground from a few miles away as you approach it on the M61 and it’s literally just 2 mins from junction 6.
There is ample parking at the ground (for £6) although you can also park in the nearby industrial estates for half that price.
If you intend taking the family/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/lover/friend or whatever, then the large Morfa x 4 style shopping area and on-site DeVere Whites hotel (complete with rooms overlooking the pitch) will prove exceptionally handy. Similarly there’s also a Premier Inn just a goal kick away from the ground.
One word of warning for anyone wanting a drink on their visit though, all of the bouncers on each of the local drinking/eating establishments pointed us firmly in the direction of the Beehive pub as the ONLY drinking establishment for away fans.
My advice would be to simply head into the ground when the gates open at 13:30 and have a beer there, as the prices were – from what I was told – the going rate, i.e. £3.30 for a Magners, etc.
The professional drinkers amongst you might also want to take advantage of the ‘Queue buster token’ that is offered for £1.50 – which basically means you can go to the front of the queue to get your HT beer(s)!!
Despite the grandeur of the ground on the outside, it wasn’t as impressive on the inside – with the seats being cramped. This was rather odd given the apparent size of the stadium and the wasted potential seat space in each of the 4 eliptical shaped upper tiers.
The news of Ashley Williams – making his his 31st consecutive appearance this season – being the sole survivor from the team that faced Sunderland, meant that this was essentially the Swansea reserve league team. Although it did mean that Josh McEachran made his full Swans debut.
Come to think of it, this was the furthest I had ever travelled (to date) to see Swansea reserves play. I think I’ll stick to going to Parc y Scarlets in future – it would be a darn site nearer (and warmer) than these far flung places in north west England that’s for sure!
And so onto the game and my take on proceedings.
- The 10 changes obviously impacted on the team’s balance and continuity in terms of our play and consequently, the opening 20 minutes were pretty much a full on aerial bombardment from Bolton – with David Ngog and David Wheater being the main targets;
- On the subject of Ngog he really is just a shit Aidan Newhouse and I suspect that he’s still in Ashley’s pocket (as he was in the game at the Liberty in October)!
- Tremmel made a couple of decent saves early doors, but he does appear to make his saves late – which isn’t good for one’s ticker. He also showed glimpses of Dorus DeVries when it came to taking goal kicks;
- When the Bolton aerial assualt proved unsuccessful, they resorted to mid/long range shots – which usually ended up in Row Z or corner flag. The Scott Sinclair haters from last week, will no doubt assume that the Bolton players had attended Scotty’s shooting camp course in mid-week;
- Whilst Fede Bessone did well at left back both he and Luke Moore offered very little down the left flank (unsurprisingly perhaps?) – meaning most of our attacks came via Routledge down the right… when he wasn’t infuriatingly getting caught offside!
- Ex-Swans Pratley and Ricketts were well up for the game and both showed an eagerness to get forward. Pratley in particular was a busy bee and reminded me of his days in a Swans shirt during the Martinez era;
- After a rare attack we thought we’d taken the lead against the run of play when Routledge put the ball in the net – but our celebrations were short lived as he was flagged offside (again)!!
- This non-goal was (from memory) our first clear cut chance in an otherwise forgettable opening 43 minutes;
- Shortly afterwards we did take the lead after a nice move between Lita and Luke Moore whom finished with a delicate scoop over the keeper – cue a dodgy goal celebration from the man himself and pandemonium in the away end;
- This brought a rousing rendition of ‘1 nil to the sheepshaggers’ and the inevitable ‘Pratley what’s the score’ closely followed by ‘You only went for the money’. Needless to say these sorts of chants usually come back to haunt you and bite you on the arse;
- We all know what happened next! My rose tinted spectacles detected a hint of offside (I’ve not seen the goal on telly) but regardless of that it was a very poorly defended free-kick anyway. In fairness to Pratley he didn’t celebrate the goal and merely chose to offer a polite hand wave as if to say ‘sorry’. Respect;
- The irony of the Bolton fans taunting us with ‘There’s only one Darren Pratley’ can’t have been lost on him (or us) given that they’ve been slagging him off all season!
- It’s fair to say that at half-time the fans were happy with the scoreline – as we really had been under a lot of pressure for 75% of the half. I did feel however that if we played to our strengths and style – and got some width to our play – we would go on to win the game;
- We started off the 2nd half much brighter and the game (thankfully) started to feel more and more like an end to end cup tie, rather than an away team looking for a point on the road;
- After a slow start, McEachran was now starting to show his class and played several inch perfect slide rule passes through to our strikers, whilst splitting the Bolton defence;
- The game was there for the taking and you always felt that there were more goals in the game. It was therefore extremely frustrating that we gifted Bolton the winner when Tremmel spilled the ball. Grrrr;
- The introduction of Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham (replacing Routledge and Lita respectively) added more structure, balance and purpose to our play but we were continually thwarted by some last ditch defending and the woodwork. Inevitably you had that feeling that it just wasn’t to be our day;
- On the subject of Lita, he didn’t have one of his better games – which I accept as everyone has an off day. However, one thing that does grind my gears however is when a player leaving the field – regardless of their disappointment – doesn’t acknowledge the away fans, especially when they are chanting his name. In my opinion, it shows a lack of appreciation and respect;
- Given the two starting line-ups and the overall pattern of play, I think I would be a little worried if I was a Bolton fan. Despite the result, they were playing a Premier League reserve team for the best part of an hour and for all their dominance, they far from outclassed us. Does that say something about them or our strength in depth? I suspect it’s the former;
- A word on the officials – or rather the linesman (Charles Breakspear or Andy Halliday?) running the line along the West stand – what a homer! I don’t recall him giving us anything so he was never going to give Pratley’s goal as offside (even if he was offside!). It’s little wonder that players, fans and pundits berate such individuals;
- The Bolton fans did at least make an effort to sing – albeit being the highly original ‘Sheep, Sheep, Sheepshaggers’ chant. Although in fairness 80% of them looked like they were still going through puberty – which was probably testament to the £5 entry fee for kids than the usual demographic of Bolton fans?!
- The 1,300 or so Jacks in attendance weren’t their usual boisterous selves – which I sense had more to do with the occasion than anything else. Personally for Premier League teams, the FA Cup doesn’t hold the magic it once did – which I feel is a sad indictment of how money has spoilt the game;
- Having said that, the reaction of the players – Kemy Agustien and Ashley Williams in particular – at the final whistle, illustrated that regardless of what some people might think, EVERY game is important and you play to win regardless of the opposition or competition;
So we left the ground disappointed about our exit from the FA Cup but far from despondent. After all we’d scored for the 9th consecutive time in an away FA Cup tie, even if we don’t reach the 5th round very often!
On a brighter note personally, the Reebok stadium was the 55th (current) league ground I’ve visited following the Swans. I’ve racked up almost 1,200 this week alone, so I’d best not calculate how many miles (or the cost!) I’ve covered doing the 55!!
By 17:30 we were back on the M61 and without a stop on the return journey, we duly arrived home by 21:30 and had just about thawed out.
Whilst it is always disappointing to be knocked out of any cup, I couldn’t help but think back to January 2007 when we stuffed Sheffield United 3 nil in the FA Cup 3rd round and Neil Warnock reminded everyone that the priority was to stay in the premier league.
For once, I actually agree with him.