Well, at least we didn’t have to travel far this time. And there was a slightly happier outcome. And, err, that’s about it.
We speak, of course, about the Second Round of the League Cup – never more burdensome a proposition than when you’re in the Premier League. Last season it took us to the desperately unappealing south of Wales. This time, Southend were the unlucky ones, being compelled to travel to East Yorkshire to watch our reserves huff, puff and eventually progress into the Third Round.
We were promised changes, and we duly received them. Phil Brown, sporting his cup tie black shirt, made eleven in total, carding an XI made up of subs, reserves, youth teamers and Jozy Altidore: Warner; Doyle, Cooper, Mouyokolo, Halmosi; Cairney, Featherstone, Barmby, Atkinson; Fagan, Altidore.
And so the Tigers began attacking the eerily empty North Stand, populated by about 120 spirited Southend supporters. We scored early too, and it’s one that’ll stick in the mind. Tom Cairney had impressed in the pre-season jaunt to Beijing, and in his first senior start for City he chipped the visiting keeper Steve Mildenhall from twenty yards with a gorgeous twenty-yard shot.
Well done that man. City eased into a period of almost total dominance as the away team, triers to a man but hopelessly limited in some of the most basic skills, reminded us just how awful Third Division football is. However, it was unexciting and chance-free domination, and it gradually dissipated as the half wound down in front of a spookily quiet Circle.
Then stuff started happening: first, Jozy Altidore scored his first goal for City with three minutes to go until the drinks break, a low free kick from over 25 yards flying past Mildenhall at his near post. His first for City too, and those gathered warmly cheered it.
Then Southend scored, a loose ball dropping to Franck Moussa, who shot past the unsighted and out-of-position Tony Warner. Some interval cheer for our Essex guests.
The second was, well, rubbish. City sat back, content with a lead that you felt could have been extended at almost any point had the urge taken them, while Southend attacked gamely but without any real cutting edge. However, simply for trying to create something, they probably deserved more than their eager scuffling achieved.
There were a couple of alarms for City: with Halmosi looking terminally clueless at left-back it was a useful avenue for Southend to explore, and Warner was called upon a couple of times to repel dangerous crosses and even block a close-range shot from one of theirs. I’d identify the player, but conversation and attention had long since turned to who should play number three for England in South Africa this winter.
City made some subs – Geovanni, Kilbane and Ghilas all coming on, and it was the first of these who thankfully ensured that extra-time wasn’t required. A shot was blocked, it fell to Geo, and he cracked home a fine shot from the edge of the area. And that was that. Southend had to make the long journey back home with defeat but satisfaction in a good overall display, we avoided any embarrassing headlines and now enter Saturday’s draw for the Third Round.
Plaudits to Cairney, who looks as though he has a real chance of becoming the first City youth in about three hundred years to “make it”. Disappointment in the fact that so many of those on the fringes failed to impress despite the opposition. But let’s try to be upbeat. Altidore looked good again, we negotiated won the game, scored some good goals, and we head to Wolves in a generally good spirit. Given the diminished nature of the League Cup these days, it’s hard to really expect much more.