Rolando Bianchi Update

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If you’re not following Rolando Bianchi – and who could blame you – you might not have noticed his arrival at Pro Vercelli. I worried for Rolly; he didn’t seem to have settled at Perugia, so this didn’t seem the most obvious move.

I’ve been involved in conversations about Pro since his arrival, and the signing wasn’t the most obvious one for the club either. Happily for both, he has started well.

Indeed, he opened the scoring against high-flying Hellas Verona, though the Bianche Casacche found themselves pegged back late on in a 1-1 draw.

Five games is an admittedly small sample size (and there may be other aspects at play – Bianchi is unlikely to be solely responsible for the defensive improvement) but I thought it worth mentioning.

17-03-19 - ProV

Header image taken from Pro Vercelli‘s Twitter feed.

The Worst Game I Ever Saw.

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When you attend a lot of football matches, sometimes you struggle to find a reason to go to a different one. That is the situation I found myself on the afternoon of March 21, 2006.

It was a cold day, which worried me for postponements – the grounds of Lancashire are not averse to freezing when there is ice around; not for nothing do they call Boundary Park ‘Ice Station Zebra’.

I looked through the fixtures at lunchtime, and nothing jumped out at me. Looking back, Harrogate Town were at home, Rochdale were at home (I’ve never been to Spotland to this day) and even Bradford City were at home. They were all possibles, but none of the games leapt out at me.

During the course of the afternoon, the football rumour mill started to churn and the appointment of Jim Smith as the new Oxford United manager was cranked out. The Bald Eagle himself, in a new job, in a game just down the road. I wasn’t the biggest Jim Smith fan in the world, but it seemed a good idea. Likely to be his last job as a manager, and we could be there at the outset. Welcome Bald Eagle, and fare thee well.

We hopped in the car and went to Gigg Lane for Bury v. Oxford. Gigg Lane is a ground with mixed memories for Huddersfield fans. We have secured some memorable results there (mainly draws) and I once saw our brand new Belgian goalkeeper not only get sent off within 10 minutes of the start of the season, but he seemed to express his frustration by cupping his hands.

To Gigg Lane it was, a haven of memories and excitement.

It was cold. Did I mention this? As we approached the ground, the tickets were in excess of £20 and we both recoiled at the price. Even for Jim Smith, it seemed a lot, but we paid, and we made our way in, two of just 1,882 who attended.

The game, when it began, was abysmal. There was some former Terrier interest – Paul Scott was playing, as well as Jon Newby, and future Premier League winner Kasper Schmeichel was in goal. He was just ‘Manchester City loanee Kasper Schmeichel’ back then.

At half time, after lamenting the action on our way to the tea bar, we sat down with our hot drinks. There is something comforting about a boiling hot cup of tea on a cold night, and we returned to our seats to absorb some of the warmth. Not long afterwards, we decided to put our tea bags on the seats in front to see how long it took to cool down.

They were frozen solid within five minutes, and by full time we couldn’t peel them off the seats (sorry to Bury FC for that – perhaps that extra cleaning time is why the tickets cost more). Soon after that, the second half started, though there was just as little action as in the first.

After an hour, I declared it the worst game I had ever attended (out of around 500) in the hope that it might improve. Soon after that, Bury won a penalty. Tom Kennedy converted it and I turned to my mate.

“Oxford are going to score now,” I said, “because nobody deserves to win this game.”

Three minutes later, they did, a bundled goal from a nothing chance. Two poor teams cancelling each other out and boring nearly 2000 people to tears in the process.

We left the ground knowing we had at least an experience to look back on, though never to repeat.

Jim Smith was unveiled as Oxford United manager the following day.

A Moment in Time: Huddersfield Town v. Norwich City

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Norwich City 1-1 Huddersfield Town, January 10th 1987.

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First Division Norwich City hosted struggling Division Town outfit Huddersfield Town in the  FA Cup in 1987, in what was one of the Third Round’s more uneven fixtures.

The Canaries were flying high in the top flight at the time sitting sixth after 24 games and with a formidable record at Carrow Road, having lost just once at home all season. They had even enjoyed a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford over Christmas, though there was no little anger from East Anglian supporters about a festive period that saw them travel to both Manchester and Sheffield in the space of a few days.

By contrast, the West Yorkshire side’s form on their travels was abject – Mick Buxton had been relieved of his post just before Christmas and it was Boxing Day before then caretaker manager Steve Smith led his side to their first away win of the campaign in his first game in charge.

With a Manchester derby on the same day, not to mention Fourth Division Aldershot knocking out top tier Oxford United, it was perhaps inevitable that East Anglia was not hosting the match of the round on the foggy January afternoon, but 11,254 did turn up – no doubt most expecting to enjoy a home win. The two sides had faced each other as recently as the previous season as Norwich, under Ken Brown, stormed to the Second Division title.

Brown put out a strong side against Huddersfield despite his side’s expected superiority, leaving only forward Robert Rosario out in favour of David Hodgson. This meant there was still no place for ex-Ipswich man Trevor Putney who was struggling to make his mark in Norfolk after joining in the summer, with injury not helping his cause.

Supporters had on Putney’s back, to the extent that his name was booed when it was read out on the tannoy, leading to an appeal by Steve Bruce for supporters to get behind their former rival. While his stint at Carrow Road wasn’t the most productive of his career, Putney stuck around for another two seasons after this, so Bruce’s words must have hit some somewhere.

Steve Smith also made only one change to his expected line up as well, with David Cork coming in in midfield in place of Paul Raynor. This meant in-form Duncan Shearer starter up front, looking to add to the ten goals he had scored in his last 12 games, including a stunning four in a 5-2 thrashing of local rivals and fellow strugglers Bradford City.

The man from Fort William was to make his mark on this tie, as well, opening the scoring during the second half to give Huddersfield a shock lead. With an upset on the cards, he had an opportunity for a second as time ran out, taking the ball round a prone Bryan Gunn only to stumble before he was able to convert what would surely have been a decisive chance.

As it was Kevin Drinkell still had time to settle matters, a top class run and finish in the 89th minute ensuring City came away with a squeaked draw and that both sides went into the hat for the fourth round.

What Happened Next?

Immediately afterwards, the country was struck by a torrent of snow and gripped by ice as one of the coldest winters in living memory all but cancelled football for the next couple of weeks, but when it did resume, the two sides faced off again at Leeds Road.

With the victors of the replay drawn against third tier Wigan in the next round, Norwich showed their strength and emerged as 4-2 victors. Unfortunately, any hopes of making it a memorable cup run were dashed at frozen Springfield Park as the unprepared Canaries fell to a 1-0 defeat. (You can see that game here)

Huddersfield rallied after the draw, winning three of their next six league games before drawing a club record six in a row throughout March and April. The steady accumulation of points saw the Terriers climb to safety, with little indication of the humiliation that was to follow the next campaign.

Norwich, meanwhile, went on to finish a then club-record 5th in the First Division, missing out on the chance of doing even better by virtue of their home record dropping off in the second part of the season. Entering this cup tie, Norwich had won seven of their twelve league games, but they were to triumph just twice more at Carrow Road, drawing six of the remaining nine.

This tendency to draw games not only affected this cup tie, but had become apparent during the Christmas period – wins against Manchester United and Nottingham Forest being complemented by draws at Sheffield Wednesday and more disappointingly, at home to struggling Charlton Athletic.

Biggest name from the game?

Bryan Gunn is still fondly remembered in Norwich, but the influence Steve Bruce was to have as a player and manager means he is probably the biggest name on the teamsheet of either side. Indeed, he went on to manage Huddersfield in what was the closest they have been to returning to the top flight since before this fixture in 1987.