North End supporters were proud and disappointed as they watched their team run the Gunners close in the FA Cup
The script for this cup tie ran very similar to previous ones in recent times when top class opposition have visited Deepdale in the world’s premier knock out competition. It has usually ended up with us picking up the tab as gallant losers as a major FA Cup shock eluded us once again.Eighteen years ago on their last cup visit at the same stage, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said afterwards that we had played like world champions in the first half and it was a case of “la meme chose” or the same again as we put the Frenchman’s side under the cosh for the majority of the first period. The creativity of Aiden McGeady, who linked up well with Robinson and Cunningham on the left flank, proved to be troublesome for the Gunners as we created a wave of attacks.The first half performance was as good as anything I’ve seen at Deepdale this season and we deserved to go into the break with much more than our one goal lead. Almost immediately after the interval, our slender lead was wiped out but we did not buckle and defended resolutely. As the game was drawing to a close, we looked to be heading for a well-deserved draw and I was just contemplating on what might possibly be the best way to pull a sickie from work a week on Tuesday for what would have been our first ever visit to the Emirates.However a minute from time Chris Maxwell who had a fine game in goal was beaten for a second time and Arsenal closed the game out as we tired in the closing stages.There was no shame in this narrow defeat and it provided great entertainment for the paying public.
After more disappoint-ments than I care to remember watching North End, I genuine believed I could handle any result that is thrown my way. I have to say, though, that it has been a very long time since I was as disappointed as I was on Saturday evening. Not disappointed at North End’s performance but just rueing the fact that we had a real giant killing in the palm of our hands and didn’t go on to finish the job. North End were rampant in the first half and if the score had been 3-0 to the ‘Original Invincibles’ at half-time then the modern day pretenders could have had no complaints. A goal from Robinson was fantastic but there were agonising moment as Hugill just failed to reach a cross from Robinson, a disallowed goal and a header off the line saw the Gunners shell shocked. Ben Pearson gave a masterclass midfield performance particularly in the first half. Arsenal got back in it just after the break but we looked fantastic value for a replay until Giroud broke North End hearts with a late winner. So it wasn`t to be for North End on a night when the club did itself proud in front of the nation with an outstanding performance against one of the top 16 clubs in Europe. The atmosphere inside Deepdale was absolutely fantastic and an obvious reason why the aspiration and intention of this football club must be to get into the Premier League. It was a different atmosphere and it was a different quality of football and one which motivated the fans to give one of their best displays in encouraging the boys for many years. Let us just hope that this performance encourages some of the casual supporters to come to Deepdale more often because on the evidence of Saturday evening the dream of Premier League football is not quite as far away as people might think. Yes it was a cup tie but North End have some fantastic young players who will develop and go on to play at the highest level.
Ben Pearson and Callum Robinson head that list and we must now build on what we have to try and reach that promised land.
Deepdale witnessed an early evening game full of drama and incident as a packed ground played host to the only other team to ever be ‘Invincible’. By the end of 90 minutes this fan, amongst others, left the ground with mixed emotions. On the one hand the team had given their all and could hold their heads high with pride at the way they took the game to their illustrious visitors. On the other, it felt like a real opportunity had been missed of pulling off an upset with key opportunities going begging. At times it felt like the man in the middle was far too lenient, with some of the spoilt millionaire men of North London behaving more like boys. They protested far too much and fell to the ground far too easily and often for my liking. I for one could not see any foul on the Gunners’ keeper as what looked like a perfectly good second goal was ruled out. Within a minute of this, all the rumour around me was that the BT TV pundits agreed. What a pity that the slender half-time lead was almost immediately undone in the opening stages of the second period when a top-flight strike unpicked our otherwise solid defending. However, as the veteran of many a cup-tie against Premier league clubs, I knew deep down in my heart that we would probably rue those missed chances of the first half … and so it proved to be in the closing stages of the game as Giroud hit the winning goal. Still, with pride intact this should now be seen as an opportunity to kick- on in the league. There is no reason why it should not instil belief in the squad.
An evening in which every North End fan can be proud of the effort their team put in against an Arsenal side that for large parts, were made to look very ordinary. As the fog swirled around the floodlights and the ground filled up to just about its capacity, Deepdale was ready for Wenger and co. The first-half performance that we put in was nothing short of magical at times – one of the very best I have ever seen us play. It was simply magnificent. Robinson got North End’s goal seven minutes in after fantastic work from McGeady in the middle before a deflection off Hugill left it rolling in to his path, and he finished it well to make the ground erupt. It could easily have been 3-0 by the interval, a Hugill chance in particular that will give supporters and himself nightmares for months to come.He is not having that luck in front of goal. A special mention has to go to our little diamond in the middle of the pitch. Ben Pearson. He absolutely ran the show in the first half, up against Xhaka and Ramsey in the middle. At 22, he is a class act. As a few North End players tired, Arsenal pushed and pushed in the second half and the winner really did come at the cruellest of times, a matter of minutes from a money spinning replay and a trip down to the Emirates Stadium.