BARRY PIKESLEY Devonshire Knows I'm Miserable Now

The following article is reproduced from "The Robins' Review" of 18 October, 2014.


I note that Alty have been drawn to take on the Canaries of Barwell FC in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round, so I can only sincerely hope that we don't find ourselves cast in the role of that hapless “puddy tat” Sylvester suffering yet another miserable failure in his doomed attempts to outwit that inordinately annoying yellow bird Tweety in one of those old Looney Tunes cartoons.

And I most certainly do not want to overhear Lee Sinnott muttering "Sufferin' succotash!" at the conclusion of next Saturday's tie.

Barwell FC's official website veritably licks its lips at the prospect of the Leicestershire club entertaining the Robins, proclaiming that, “This match will provide a mouthwatering challenge for the Canaries.”

By contrast, the reaction of some correspondents on the Alty Fans' Forum to this impending contest has been a trifle more circumspect. Such musings by an understandably jilted generation who are fearful that this tie constitutes an archetypal 'banana skin' are unquestionably coloured by last season's excruciating FA Cup capitulation at Trafford, a team who ply their trade in the same Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier division as Barwell FC.

However, to adopt a logical outlook, surely being presented with the opportunity to win prize money amounting to £12,500 by defeating a team who currently occupy 16th position in a league that is two divisions below us represents a far more inviting proposition than, say, having to overcome the likes of Gateshead; Wrexham or even the heinous Macclesfield Town respectively on their own turf?

Plus, for the many diehards who live and breathe Alty, there is the compensatory attraction of the chance to visit a new ground, as with expeditions to the likes of Newcastle Blue Star and Shildon in recent years. A friend who has experience of attending a match or two at the Canaries' Kirkby Road home reports that, whilst we can inevitably expect to face a robust encounter on the field of play, “excellent food” is available at the venue and “there is a good social club adjacent to the cricket pitch.” Let's hope that we are living off the fat of the land and safely heading for the First Round circa 5.00pm next Saturday.

Reflecting on last Saturday's 3-0 home reverse against Woking, well, all I can really say is that Garry Hill's men were just far too good for us on the day and comprise the best side that I have seen at the J Davidson Stadium to date this season. In fact, the only criticism I would apply to them pertains to their failure to convert a large proportion of the considerable number of goalscoring chances that they actually created, although some credit for this undoubtedly resides with Stuart Coburn, who produced several fine saves to keep them at bay.

In particular, I was impressed by their No. 32 Chris Arthur, who is presently on loan from AFC Wimbledon. He was simply immense; gave us problems down the left flank all afternoon and just seemed to be able to play the game entirely at his own discretion and without any palpable hindrance.

It was the classic game of two halves for the Robins. We did create some decent opportunities during the opening 45 minutes, most notably that incident when Damian Reeves and James Lawrie combined to fluff their lines and squander a glorious chance, not to mention Jake Moult's stupendous dipping long-range volley, which thudded against the Cards' crossbar.

Alty also failed to capitalise on two free kicks in promising situations on the periphery of the Woking penalty box. Rather disconcertingly, this does seem to be developing into an unfortunate trait of late and the solitary set piece in recent games that I can recall as having almost paid dividends comprises Shaun Densmore's effort which struck the underside of Welling United's crossbar three weeks ago.

The second half duly saw Woking move up several gears and I was ultimately somewhat relieved that, as our manpower decreased to 10 and then merely nine, our damage limitation exercise managed to keep the final scoreline down to just 3-0. Gradually outnumbered and most definitely outgunned, on this particular occasion.

I didn't harbour any misgivings pertaining to Adam Griffin's dismissal on the day and having subsequently viewed the customarily superb Alty TV footage of the game, I still don't have any qualms about the referee's decision to administer a red card. Equally, I don't believe that there was anything malicious about the challenge. Alas, the upshot remains that we will lose the services of Adam Griffin for three matches and I would contend that he has been performing as well as anyone for us during our recent fixtures.

On to this afternoon's assignment versus Braintree Town, which represents the first time that the two clubs have crossed swords. We are scheduled to conclude our season via our début at the Iron's Cressing Road Stadium on Saturday, 25th April 2015.

Our visitors from Essex are now enjoying their fourth consecutive season in this division and currently inhabit 14th spot in the Vanarama Conference league table, five points ahead of us whilst also possessing a game in hand (although that one is away at current league leaders Barnet next Tuesday evening). Their seven away games so far have elicited two victories (Alfreton Town and Aldershot Town) and five defeats (Macclesfield Town; Lincoln City; Welling United; Eastleigh and Gateshead).

The Iron arrive at the J Davidson Stadium on the back of a run of five league games without a win. However, as we know all too well, the Robins do have a distressing habit of being rather too altruistic towards teams who happen to be enmeshed in such a largely unprofitable sequence of results. Already this season, our philanthropy has been extended to the likes of Nuneaton Town (the first goal of their campaign after 485 minutes of the season had elapsed, in addition to their first win); Alfreton Town (their opening point of the season after seven straight defeats) and Welling United (their first away win of the season at the sixth time of asking). Please may we allow charity to begin at home this afternoon?

So, what do we know about the town of Braintree itself? Well, the Conservative MP for Braintree, one Brooks Newmark Esq., has, of course, recently become embroiled in a scandal regarding the sending of explicit selfies to an undercover reporter from his mobile phone and, consequently, he has found himself under fire; star turn electronic dance music act/pioneers of the big beat genre The Prodigy were formed there by Liam Howlett in 1990 and the English actor Rupert Everett became a regular at the former Braintree Embassy cinema in the 1960s, where he watched Mary Poppins 20 times.

Since May 2011, Braintree Town have been under the management of the erstwhile West Ham United, Watford and England midfielder Alan Devonshire. As far as I can ascertain, the only previous time that we almost crossed paths with him transpired over 34 years ago.

On Saturday, 5th January 1980, 7,844 spectators congregated at Moss Lane in order to witness the Robins and Orient contest a 1-1 stalemate in an FA Cup Third Round tie. On the following Monday, the draw for the Fourth Round saw the eventual winners of the ensuing replay awarded a home tie against West Ham United, the team for whom Alan Devonshire played at that particular juncture.

Alas, the evening of Wednesday, 9th January 1980 saw Alty bow out of the competition by virtue of a 2-1 defeat in the Third Round Replay at Brisbane Road. Second Division West Ham United promptly proceeded to overcome Orient 3-2 in their Fourth Round match and subsequently progressed all the way to a meeting with Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup Final, during which Alan Devonshire played a significant role in the build-up to Trevor Brooking's winning goal.

My hope is that the outcome of today's game will be as pleasurable as the gratifying sound that is created when I smack my ketchup bottle and a delightful dollop duly falls onto a beefburger. I can reveal that there is a prize of a Stubblemelt CD for anyone who can pinpoint the exact (albeit rather tortuous) reason as to why I wrote that last sentence!

Let us hope that today marks the day when the Robins debunk the utterly egregious assertion that the only way is Essex.

Finally, I trust that this afternoon's action will not be interrupted by a controversial incident involving the flying over the pitch of a drone carrying a banner which bears a provocative message demanding the immediate reinstatement to the Altrincham FC squad of a certain Michael Twiss.