>The Cobblers crashed to their third straight 1-0 defeat as a Ryan Lowe screamer proved the difference between the sides at Gresty Road on Saturday. Stuart Gray’s side were unfortunate not to get anything from the game but remain in the bottom half of the League One table going into tomorrow night’s cup replay with Darlington.
You know when you’ve woken up early when you switch on the TV to find “Trans World Sport” beaming back at you before turning over to Sky Sports News and see that the title of their programme is still on “Through The Night”. The reasons for my early rising were, firstly, that I was silly enough to make the journey from Southampton to Crewe for a League One football match and, second, because I planned to make a random stop somewhere between my scheduled change at Birmingham and Crewe itself.
It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting it to be as I stepped out of my flat at around 6am but the layers were all on in preparation for a chilly afternoon up north.
There’s a certain charm, I find, about being out and about at this hour of the morning and it reminded me of student life a little. The difference being, being awake at this time of day as a student meant that you were walking all the way back across town after a night about because “it’s not that far to walk.” Indeed, I did spot a couple of students leaving their friends’ house clutching the remains of a beer crate as they went.
I boarded the train just in time and had to turn around immediately to avoid the deadly “Quiet Zone.” I settled into a window seat to catch up on some sleep as this seat would be my home for the next three hours or so.
I woke up somewhere near Guildford (still on the train, fortunately) and decided that it was time for the first coffee of the day. Purchased at the train buffet (it was the only place open round those parts), it took me about five minutes to drink, such was its distinct lack of heat- a vital element of the hot drink I find.
We rolled on towards Reading and I tuned into the Virgin Trains audio service, which presented me with a choice of a)Dick and Dom’s wake up call, b)What seemed to be a recording of the train rolling along the tracks, c) Silence and d) Annoying pop songs. Option C was the most appealing but instead of sitting in silence pretending to listen to music, I opted for my book before turning my iPod on until Birmingham.
At Birmingham, it looked like two choices in terms of where to make my lunch stop before Crewe, those being Wolverhampton and Stafford. Stafford seemed the best bet and I hoped it would provide for my growing hunger needs.
This hunger would soon be satisfied as I arrived in the historical town of Stafford. Five minutes into my aimless walk around town I stumbled across a quaint little coffee shop, the Grove, providing coffee and sandwich needs. If a little overpriced, The Grove makes up for it in sheer attention to detail in making you feel like you’ve just walking into a time machine that takes you back to the Victorian times. The house has kept all the charm of days gone by and was a genuine treat to get lost in the décor and style of the place and start my day in style.
Despite a large Christmas parade marching through the centre of Stafford, meaning hoards of children running about with papier mache Christmas characters, I found it to be a lovely little town. Stafford has kept many an old building sustained and some restored with some shops converted from old town houses. The main high street has, inevitably, been taken over by major shopping outlets but other than that there was a real cosy feeling about the place.
Bustling my way through two papier mache wise men (I presume the other was in Oxfam after mishearing about a “Fur sale”), I ambled around the town in search of Stafford Castle, signposted a while back. After realising that it was a bit far out of town to reach in the time I had and with the rain falling, I headed back to the station to make the final leg of my journey to Crewe.
I managed to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen since Swansea away back in March, in the “Clancy’s” pub over the road from the ground and we took in a couple of pints before just about missing kick off by five minutes due to sudden hunger needs.
We found a bunch of seats on the front row of the stand and the game immediately began to look like being a stalemate after just a few minutes. The Cobblers were without Chris Doig and Mark Hughes so started with a back four including Guy Branston making his debut.
The Cobblers started the brighter of the two teams but Andy Kirk’s flash shot over the bar was the closest we would come in the opening exchanges. Cedric Baseya, Crewe’s recent loan signing from Southampton, appeared to connect his elbow with Branston’s head early on and the new Cobblers loanee had to go off for stitches. No more punishment was given to Baseya despite the incident though.
Crewe hit the post mid-way through the half through a Julian Baudet free-kick before Gary Roberts forced Bunn into a good save as Crewe ended the half on top.
Guy Branston flicked a corner wide early in the second half but the game continued to be dominated by the midfields, meaning that it was likely to be a moment of quality or luck that broke the deadlock. It turned out to be a moment of quality as Baseya rose to nod a through ball back to Ryan Lowe who blasted a volley past Mark Bunn from twenty yards.
It was only through the substitutions when we really got going in the game as Sam Aiston and Daniel Jones came on and gave us more of an attacking edge, replacing Alex Russell and Andy Holt. Jones was creating things down the left while Aiston gave us a bit of urgency. Suddenly we looked able to get something from the game.
The third substitute, Brad Johnson, headed over before Liam Dolman was stopped by Crewe keeper Ben Williams. Ryan Gilligan then scrambled his way into the box but was also denied at the last by Williams. Andy Kirk and Sam Aiston had shots blocked while Dolman was denied with a volley but it wasn’t to be for The Cobblers and we went home empty handed.
The journey home was, in a word, long. I battled crowded trains (meaning I was crammed in a busy train corridor from Crewe to Reading), a mad dash for food in Birmingham including a “Millie’s Cookies” detour that nearly made miss the train (I thought a cookie would be nice treat for the journey home!) and a replacement bus service from Basingstoke to Winchester that I had to wait for twenty minutes in the cold for.
The journey from Crewe station to my front door took exactly six hours, meaning that I spent just seven hours in my flat on Saturday, the other 17 hours spent following the Cobblers. For five of those spare hours I was asleep, one hour I spent getting ready and the final hour relaxing at home with a well earned cup of tea and a very much forgotten about Millies Cookie, that was indeed a treat.
A day that sums up the toils of a football fan but ultimately I will look back on a good day out with a new town visited on the way and a good catch up with old friends.
Fair to say the day took it out of me but I’ll more than likely be doing a similar trip again soon!