Wednesday 24th February, 2010
Unfortunately a European away game usually sees me return for just one day's work and as a result it is often difficult to pen my thoughts when the next game is already almost upon us. The last few days have very much seen one such occasion and at the end of them we find ourselves with a first-leg deficit to overcome and three precious Premier League points in the bag.
Rarely does a short-haul flight arrive at its destination half-an-hour early but ours from London's Heathrow to the northern Portuguese city of Porto did just that early on Tuesday morning and with the weather both bright and unexpectedly dry, it started a highly successful, thoroughly entertaining and ultimately very messy first day for the 17 of us Maidstone Gooners that had made the trip.
The city is totally based around the impressive River Douro and consequently much of the entertainment involves watching the hours go by relaxing on the shores in one of the sun-drenched pavement cafes and restaurants. Very pleasant and lacking that all-important stress factor.
Our early start however, certainly took its toll in the latter hours, reports of strange dancing and a severe lack of body control being high on the agenda come matchday discussions!
In the stadium & ready for kick-off
The Champions League pre-match scene
A port fuelled lunch....we're still in this tie!
Matchday proved equally relaxing with the travelling Gooners amassed on the river banks and with the city's metro system providing easy access to the stadium, it wasn't really until the players came out and the Champions League music played pre-match that any serious PMT started to kick in.
For me it was a pretty good away performance unfortunately graced with a couple of silly and farcical goals.
Fab's error was unfortunate and just one of those things that happens to all goalkeepers at some stage in their career. Fortunately our response was excellent and Sol's headed equaliser was thoroughly deserved. The reaction from the red and white section was noisy and colourful!
We started the second period in total control and had a stonewall penalty turned down right in front of us. You win some and lose some in that situation but how the lino couldn't see it when it happened right in front of him is beyond me.
What happened shortly after just seemed to kick us even harder. Firstly I believe Sol's 'backpass' was an unintentional mistake but that is down to interpretation so I am prepared to accept the referee's opinion can be different to mine.
For Fab to then do the 'right thing' by the rules of the game and give the ball to the official and it result in the ball being handed to the opponents to literally walk it into an empty net cannot be right surely!
Of course we can argue that Fab could have wasted time and held on to the ball but that is supposedly against the rules. To be punished in the worst possible way for obeying them does not seem right to me.
Overall then a strange and disappointing night but that away goal is absolutely crucial and gives us all something to be extremely upbeat about going into the big, big second leg.
A few post-match beers to discuss all the talking points before waking up to another sunny day, a trip round a port lodge (including the free samples that go with it of course!) and a fantastic, long and lazy meal in a favoured restaurant from previous visits completed a thoroughly enjoyable few days.
It was certainly a far cry from another freezing cold day in north London come Saturday and the visit of Sunderland!
Three points are always the very first priority and if that was the only reason, it was a good day. For me however, although we didn't tear our visitors to shreds it was an extremely hard-fought and satisfying victory. If I was a Sunderland fan I would be delighted with the incredible work rate and desire my team had shown. Time after time we had shots blocked by last-ditch tackles.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the game and was happy to enjoy the three points with the many, many post-match pints down Islington's Upper Street!
The reason... I reach 'naughty' forty on Thursday and as a result 60 of us are heading to a party house in the Peak District for the coming weekend, our trip to the extremely difficult away day at Stoke being very much part of it.
And of course the very best present of all would be three more points.
Come on you mighty Gooners!!
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