“Solid gooooold, solid gooooold, solid goooooo-oh-oooooold”. The crooning of some whiney twat, presumably trying to channel Paul Weller through some sort of rotting, fleshy bagpipe could mean only one thing. That's right folks, the magic of the FA Cup had thrown up a contest between some Hammers and some Potters and, as any parent who's left the toolbox unattended will tell you, there was only going to be one winner there.
ITV, being the televisual minge-teasers that they are, flashed us their unpalatable panel of Chiles, Southgate and John Hartson (who, for whatever reason, had come disguised as a gay, rugby playing bishop) for just long enough to have the teams read out. Presumably they had planned to provide some punditry but, realising how many people were probably on a strict diet of resolve and dry toast today, decided that watching some grainy archive footage was a safer option that exposing us to yet more of Adrian and Gareth's slow, visual transformation into Beavis and Butt-Head. “Oh look, there's a man with a beard”.
We weren't missing much though, we'd probably have just been told that West Ham are managed by Avram Grant, a man I've compared to both a dying frog and a despondent cushion in previous articles, and he's apparently really good at cup competitions, despite never having won one. But then again, Tony Pulis wears a cap, so literally anything could happen today.
Mercifully, the laws of space-time prevented this nose-blowing contest from out-staying its welcome and we kicked off. Wayne Bridge instantly showed us his England class by allowing Jermaine “10 gazzillion assists from wide areas this season” Pennant to get two crosses into the box in the first 90 seconds.
I suppose Bridge's performances in recent seasons have made us all a bit more understanding towards his ex-wife, although why she'd go after the England captain when there were 24-year-old, sarcastic journalism graduates just sat at home is beyond me.
Back to the matter at hand though and Stoke, presumably sick to death of everyone asking when they last scored from a long-throw, had Rory Delap wheel out his trademark elbow action and West Ham, presumably sick to death of their recent defensive solidity, allowed it to drop unchallenged onto the Bavarian bonce of Robert Huth. 1-0.
I occupied myself by trying to decide whose name, out of Demba Ba and Thomas Hitzelsperger, I found to be the silliest
Far from kicking the contest into life though, the goal seemed to signal the start of a scrappy contest in the middle of the park accompanied by long, hopeful balls towards the strikers, so I occupied myself by trying to decide whose name, out of Demba Ba and Thomas Hitzelsperger, I found to be the silliest. They're both pretty good in fairness. One sounds like a fictional, but probably delicious, German snack and the other sounds like he was named by two inner-city beat boxers.
Typically though, my Sunday afternoon snooze was rudely interrupted by West Ham having the audacity to level. Frederic Piquionne, racing clear to lob the ball over Sorensen and into the back of the net. Controversy ensued though as the 26,000 in attendance had all managed to spot that a hand had been used to control the ball. 1-1.
The goal stood though and became the main talking point of one of the most insightful and thought provoking too-and-fros this channel has seen outside of Loose Women. “There's no way the referees can give that, he's literally 50 yards away” declared Hartson at the exact moment a small graphic with “37 yards” appeared on our screens. “Give him credit for the finish though, even if it is a handball, he's done really well to get that up and down again”. Thanks ITV, maybe just stick to documenting Peaches Geldof taking a piss in a bus-top from now on though, yeah?
We commenced the second half and were almost instantly treated to Matthew Etherington demonstrating his command of Newton's law of universal gravitation by allowing his limp body to fall unassisted to the turf when Parker feigned to lunge in. Penalty.
What can be said about Scott Parker, women want him, men want to be him, even I; a chiselled, suave jack-in-the-box of positive qualities and seduction would consider adopting his hair-style and ball-retaining pirouettes if I felt my life needed a reshuffle. But yet his protestations fell on the deaf ears of referee Mike Jones and up stepped Etherington to take the thing, only to be denied the sprawling figure of Robert Green.
“Bobby Moore once saved a penalty against Stoke” Clive Tyldesley chimed in, causally snipping out the fact that Bobby Moore could have saved that Dempsey effort in the World Cup instead of rolling around on the grass like some pathetic, winded seal. The award itself was a shocking one and may well just have been given to balance up the Piquionne handball. We'll never though and, considering he missed it, we'll never care either.
Stoke didn't have to wait much longer to reclaim their advantage though. A harmless freekick that was probably going to end up nearer the corner flag was handled by Carlton Cole and moved right on to the edge of the box. Up stepped Danny Higginbotham who, after gazing long and hard into the compassionate pleading eyes of the ball, lashed it with enough force to make Ike Turner and Bobby Brown recoil in guilty discomfort. Quelle surprise, Green spilled it, 2-1.
The sound of sporting montage creators violently soiling themselves at the prospect of a “big club vs little club” final was audible only to dogs.
West Ham had chances to level though, an excellent penalty appeal for James Tomkins was turned down and moments later they managed to rattle the crossbar from a corner. Avram Grant threw on Zavon Hines as well, but if I'm honest, I'm not even sure who he is and the game wound its way down to the predictable Stoke victory.
All in all, probably a fair result. Headline writers will fill their boots tomorrow with Grant hammered, Pulis stoked and balls majestically cupped or something. But don't take my word for it, I'll leave you with this shining light of sporting comprehension from Mr. Chiles himself; “Well the referee certainly earned his money today, or perhaps didn't”. Thanks Adrian.
BUT WAIT! There's yet more footballing frivolity to be had in the clutches of ITV, as we were whisked off to a secret location inside Wembley where for a moment I thought Count von Count from Sesame Street was introducing us to this year's Eurovision entry. After a quick double take I realised it was actually Jim Rosenthal introducing the semi-final draw with Fabio Capello and Hope Powell, neither of which would be singing.
After they missed their chance to upstage Noel and Serge Gallagher by almost leaving one of the teams in the velvet bag, we found out today's victors Stoke got the honour of facing Bolton, while we had the prospect of another Manchester derby, should City see off Reading in the late kick-off. The sound of sporting montage creators violently soiling themselves at the prospect of a “big club vs little club” final was audible only to dogs.
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