Liverpool Yth 1 Arsenal Yth 2
It turns out I am exactly the type of person that goes to Liverpool to watch the Youth Team, on a Tuesday night, on my birthday. I was always warned I would turn into one of those old gits that mournfully hangs around reserve games on his lonesome, vaguely lingering in the crowd and awaiting my next victim as I proceed to chew his ears off for the whole ninety minutes about irrelevant reserve fixtures from the mid 1990s. That I have apparently achieved this on the day I reached a quarter of a century is probably quite damning for my future prospects of domesticity. I hadn`t intended to go until the day before the first leg was played, in the Civil Service the second May Bank Holiday weekend yields an extra day off, so there would be no precious annual leave to eat into. (I`ve already begun hoarding my flexi time for the away leg of the Champions League Qualifier in August. Try telling your missus that`s why you`re not going on holiday this summer). But with the prospect of two barren months ahead and the irresistible opportunity to see Thomas lift the trophy at Anfield on the 26th May, I was press ganged into booking up the coach. A couple of birthday pints in the Arkles precluded the match. It was not so much a case of spot the WAGS on this occasion as guess the MADS (Mums and Dads). It soon became apparent that Thomas Cruise`s mum was sitting to our left (either that or she really, really rates our young left back) and the families Watt and Ayling were nearby too.
The sight of Mickey Thomas punditing for Setanta pitchside in front of the Anfield Road End obviously set some voices going as there was a predominant theme in the singing from the 500 or so Arsenal fans. The game started and it was quite clear that Liverpool did not believe they could overturn the deficit having been so comprehensively beaten by the all conquering Young Guns in the first leg. I expected at least some home pressure from the first ten minutes, but when Liverpool did eke out a chance, it was courtesy of a self inflicted wound. Cruise played a sloppy ball to Bartley (cue a rather worried looking Ms. Cruise), Dalla Valle latched onto the loose ball and went through one on one but James Shea (ole, ole, ole) pulled off a smart stop to his right. But the chance did not invigorate Liverpool with any kind of life and Arsenal, still in second gear, were soon in the lead. Thomas` arcing left foot ball evaded Sunu, but Sanchez Watt showed a true striker`s instinct to latch onto the stray ball, with Ayala meandering towards Sunu like a dog in the park that has just caught sight of a tantalising canine anus, Watt made a beeline for goal and slotted underneath Bouzanis. "You Watt? You Watt? You Watt? You Watt? You Watt?" came the chant from the away end. Meanwhile, Sanchez`s baby sister to my left looked a little perplexed as mum tried to explain the vagaries of what had just happened.
The match was already a procession and this merely confirmed that Arsenal would again lift a trophy at Anfield on the 26th May. Thomas Ince, that`s son of the Guv`nor, sent a fierce low shot to Shea`s left, which he saved well at the second attempt. Liverpool did help themselves to a consolation seven minutes after half time, Amoo`s through ball found Dalla Valle and he dodged a couple of half hearted challenges from Lansbury and Ayling before slotting the ball into the bottom corner. The home side briefly flurried and flirted with the idea of some sustained pressure with a few set pieces. Amoo fired a shot into the side netting which the Centenary Stand had momentarily mistook to be a goal. But after five minutes or so, the mojo had gone and Arsenal once again resumed cruise control. Sanchez Watt had a vicious drive tipped over by Bouzanis. Before the imperious Wilshere, once again the jewel in the crown with his ducking, weaving style, sprayed a beautiful curved pass behind the Reds defence, Watt raced to the by line and attempted the pull back, but Ayala unwittingly directed the ball into his own net. From there on, it was a case of keep ball for the lads (take note first team, you don`t always have to make a beeline for the goal like a randy teenager when you can see a game out with some possession). Jay Emmanuel Thomas had a resounding shot tipped over by Bouzanis but the final whistle sounded amidst scenes of jubilant celebration. Champagne not quite the order of the day for these young lads, but a few water bottles were squirted in celebration as the players came to celebrate their achievement. Steve Bould, something of a surprise selection on that fateful night twenty years ago, was none too keen to hog the limelight, choosing a swift wave to the away fans that chanted his name in earnest. I don`t think he even laid hands on the trophy, preferring to allow his fledglings their hour in the limelight. The ease with which this time passed and moved the ball over two legs, orchestrated by the imperious Wilshere, was a pleasure to behold, Coquelin ably assisted with Flamini style steel, whilst Bartley and Ayling might just have won every single header I can remember over the two legs. So what do you know, I saw Arsenal play at Wembley and win a penalty shoot out in Rome this year, events I would have signed for back in August! Yet to see some silverware, I once again had to journey to Anfield on 26th May to see a man named Thomas lift the trophy. It might have been a frustrating season, but that was a very apt way to bring the curtain down on it.LD.