How to pass your Hazard Perception Test
By Martin Bull (sorry for the lateness of this article about Chelsea and Southend – It doesn’t even mention rain…)
Although I hate the perception of being perennial ‘gallant losers’ to higher opposition in cup matches, I will stomach that phrase for the narrow loss at Chelsea because not only did we play very well against a team so vastly above us in wealth and silverware, but also because of the cold hard cash windfall it earned our owners.
Perhaps just as importantly for the long run, it was good for morale, and gave players, media pundits, and us fans a glimpse of what can be possible with investment and success. I’m not suggesting we will ever be at Chelsea’s level, but the dream of a decent stadium, an efficient website, a points based electronic ticketing system, and agreeable facilities for both players, staff and supporters, is not an impossible dream. Two years ago we weren’t even allowed into the Football League Cup, yet here we are with 4,000 tickets sold in less than a day and my Swindon postcode finally coming in handy to at least enter Stamford Bridge, even if it was to squirm for 90 minutes in a sweaty seat at the other end, suitably covetous of those in the ebullient away end.
It was also yet another spirited team performance with no-one a clearly weak link. Mildy made some smart saves, Ellis looked up for it (and thankfully no teams do their homework on his ‘blast it down the middle‘ penalty proclivity – shhhh! don’t tell anyone), Tom Lockyer yet again looked mature beyond his years, Peter Hartley got us out of a jam with another goal from a defender, and Chris Lines was exceptionally suited to being gifted a breather from lower league teams pressing you high up the pitch.
The fact that Pedro, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and 19 year old debutant Ola Aina were replaced by Eden Hazard, Oscar and John Terry, with 196 international caps between them, spoke volumes for the pressure a single goal lead and a rampant Rovers midfield put on the Pensioners.
With two more loan signings after the return from the Bridge, there is certainly more competition in the squad than ever before. Although both are still young, goalkeeper Kelle Roos has handled the pressure of Wembley, and last season Connor Roberts would have most probably joined Lee Brown in playing every minute of every League match if it wasn’t for missing one game in order to bag his debut cap for the Wales Under-21 team.
Meanwhile, a trip to Southend United has consistently been an exercise in futility for Rovers fans, with only eight wins in 58 meetings. A Pirate who has received their telegram from the Queen may have even endured the two colossal League defeats there in 1930, with the fickle fixture calendar offering up 6-0 and 4-0 defeats within six months of each other. The most momentous loss though was the 3-0 ‘game in hand’ demise in April 1993 that effectively ended our last sojourn in the second tier of English football. Afterwards the Championship was moved to a secret location in an alien land and we‘ve never been able to crack the shadowy enigma code ever since.
Personal memories of failure at Roots Hall include the anti-climax of the Southern Final of the Football League Trophy in 2005, and one of the coldest, and most badly timed, ‘let’s make a day of it’ trips of my life to endure an earlier round of that Trophy in late January 2001, in front of only 2,192 hardy souls.
Although I remember the minutia of the whole dreary day, I can’t remember anything about the actual match except losing 1-0 and sitting on a small plastic chair with my hands under my bum for 90 minutes. The away end refreshments were under the corner of the stadium, buried beneath thick walls of nuclear blast proof concrete, and were complete with cheap plastic communal seats which more resembled a Siberian death camp canteen than a hip coffee hangout.
A draw at Roots Hall last Saturday was therefore no disaster, but the bookies will be offering short odds on the Shrimpers finishing in the bottom six come May, and if fan forums are a fair judge then they are hoping Phil ‘Boring’ Brown will be an early managerial casualty of the season.