Ah well, ne'er mind, it was fun whilst it lasted. The good ol' LDVs has given us some fine entertainment this season: a comprehensive victory over Bye in the first round in which we hardly broke sweat; an Alexander hat-trick in round 2; and victory over (supposedly) superior opposition in round 3 having gone a goal down. Last night the rollercoaster was halted, not by classy opponents, nor by any lack of skill, effort or passion from the Tigers. No, there was just one thing lacking that has denied us a place in the Northern final and that was a little bit of composure in front of goal.
Yes, Huddersfield looked a decent side but, from the amount of possession we had and the chances we blew, they must surely have tootled back westwards last night happy to have stolen a victory.
Musselwhite was retained in goal. Petty and Holt lined up either side of Goodison and Whittle at the back. The midfield of Beresford, Sneekes, Whitmore and Williams gave a big indication that we intended to be busy going forward. Alexander and Dudfield up front.
We started a bit slowly to be honest and the visitors had a good ten minute spell in which they passed the ball around purposefully and hardly let us have a look in. Our midfield looked a bit light defensively, particularly on the right, and it was a strong run out of defence by one of theirs up their left flank that almost brought about the opener. He advanced to the edge of the area almost unopposed, exchanged passes with a colleague and worked space for a shot that looked to be creeping inside Musselwhite's left-hand post but our No 1 got down sharply to smother it.
Happily the impetus was soon to be wrestled off the Udders and we began to take control. Whitmore was in one of those moods, at his trickiest and magical best. The last 30 minutes of the half were the best I've seen from him ever in a City shirt. And, unlike a lot of his performances earlier this season, he was doing it all much further up the pitch. But if only he was prepared to have a pop at goal now and again. We should have taken the lead when a weaving Jamaican run punctured the heart of the Town defence from where he unselfishly laid the ball off to an unmarked Williams to the right of goal. His first touch was poor and it allowed the full-back and keeper just enough time to get to him and block the shot away for a corner.
Our set piece plays were disappointing again last night. Short corner routines and quick free-kicks were preferred to a simple high ball into the mixer. Admittedly we lacked a bit of height without Johnsson or Greaves to push forward but Alexander had one of his more productive games in the air (although generally he was below par). He won an awful lot of headers throughout the match but the flicks-on to Dudfield or supporting midfielders never quite worked. And so it was with the ball on the deck and at Whitmore's feet that we looked far more potent. More slinky footwork and an impressive burst of speed took him past one Udders defender, then anudder, then anudder and, having chosen not to shoot again, his pass into the box was not read by any Tiger and was scrambled away.
The pressure continued but we just couldn't carve open as clear a chance as the one Williams had wasted earlier. Long shots rained in from partial clearances, Sneekey being one who at least had the willingness to have a go, but the visitors' defence stood firm. Two more decent chances went begging. Williams hit a low rasper from the right edge of the area that was destined for the bottom corner (the keeper would have seen it late and struggled to get anywhere near it) but it flicked off one or two of the forest of legs in the area and flew a foot or so wide. And then Holt pushed forward and hit a strong low shot that the keeper fubled badly, but he was able to recover and get enough of a block to deny the on-rushing Dude. Sadly it was to be a similar incident at the other end that brought about the only goal. It seemed that Musselwhite had plenty of time to get into position to cover a long-ranger but it took a bit of a deflection and bounced just in front of him, so he actually did well to get a hand to it at all. Unfortunately the rebound fell straight into the path of Booth who slotted it home from ten yards out. Other than one good full-stretch tip-over from Muzz halfway through the half, this was the only other time he'd been called into action.
And it was a bit of a shame really because we had done enough to go into the interval at least on equal terms. But the mood was still bouyant on Kempton. The effort from our boys had been much more encouraging than the grim display at Kiddy and we had had one more piece of pure Whitmore magic that I really want to share with you all. It happened on the halfway line over by the Kempton flank. Whitmore took a pass from Petty with his back to goal and with little space available. A shimmy, a dummy, a body-swerve, a half-turn and a dropped shoulder later (without even so much as a slight touch on the ball) and he had sent a couple of theirs wandering off in a daze wondering what week it was and had left himself facing infield with Andy Booth just inches away. The whole body went right, every single torso on Kempton swayed to it's right in perfect synchronisation, Booth went left. Whitmore's balance was switched and he, and we, glided left. Booth, again choosing to ignore the big clue from the fans on the terraces in front of him, staggered to his right. And then back again to the right we waltzed like a huge chorus line in the shadow of Fred Astaire. Booth ? Well you've guessed it, he tumbled left. And, within the time it takes to blink and to confirm that what you think might just have happened actually did, Whitmore was strutting away to launch another attack. All done within the space of about three yards and with the ball seemingly glued to the top of his right boot. Pure Genius. But the image that will live with me for a VERY long time was the expression on poor Booth's face as he glanced around in sheer disbelief at what had just occured. The look was part 'unsuspecting victim of an elaborate TV hoax' part 'rabbit in the headlights' and a big dollop of 'what the f*** was that ?'
The second half then. Well, we bossed it and created chances and had long spells in their half of the field but we just could not find the killer touch. The first bad miss came from an attack that seemed to have been quashed but Ian Goodison won the header, about 30 yards out, and knocked the ball back to the feet of Alexander. He got a bit of a touch as he tried to turn and it fell straight into Dudfield's path. His low shot beat the keeper but flew agonisingly wide of the far post. Whitmore was nowhere near as influential as he had been before the break but he continued to lay off great touches to set our wingers on their way. Unfortunately the quality of crosses was generally poor and, on the few occasions it was good, the chances were squandered by strikers who both looked a bit short on confidence. Changes were made; Dudfield and Sneekey giving way for Johnsson and Greaves.
Whitmore pushed up a bit but both subs also got forward to support Alexander in an attempt to force golden goal extra-time. One perfect cross from Williams was header over by Whitmore and we had a good claim for a penalty turned down when Williams appeared to be tugged back after getting free at the far post. Still we pressed and finally the best chance of the night. A cross from the right wing looked to be falling perfectly for Whitmore in the centre be he failed to get a touch. The ball managed to elude the rest of the Udders defence and came through to the far post where Alexander AND Beresford were clear, unmarked, free, all alone. Our top scorer strode up and hit a side-footer wide of the target with the goal at his mercy.
The last five mins (and another 5 added on) produced half chances and scrambles in the goalmouth, and Greavsie latched onto a good through ball only to be denied by a brave dive from their keeper, but it wasn't to be. Good night LDV and cup football for another season.
So, in conclusion, this was far better stuff than we had seen recently. Goodison and Whittle were both excellent and should be kept alongside each other whenever possible. Holt was pretty solid but still looks the weakest link in the defence. Van Blerk to make his debut on Sat'day ? The midfield, a very attacking one, kept the pressure on our visitors and off our back four but I suspect Mr Little will pick a far more cautious foursome for the trip to Plymouth. And the strikers ? It's a shame because the two of them have been star performers for most of the season so far but they both look in need of a rest or a sudden surge of confidence. We don't have many options though so it looks like it will have to be the latter.
Report by: Keith Dean