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  • Writer's pictureJourneyman

Bag Drop

Manchester United 3-3 Coventry City (FA Cup Semi Final) *4-2 pens aet



This is the game of the weekend for me, the one ‘I have a feeling about’ as I tell Daz if ‘yesterday was all about the booze, today is all about the football’.


He’s been snoring for hours as I check my phone whilst lying in bed at 10am, we were in Soho until the early hours and are going to spend an hour in the British Museum after a spot of breakfast to sober us up. It’s London Marathon Day but thankfully we’re away from the mix, by 2pm we’re en-route to the stadium from our base at Russell Square, the only difference today we need to use the Wembley Bag Drop, which is the other side of the stadium to the train station, slightly annoying as we were planning an early get away to beat the station traffic ahead of our short train commute to Stanmore.


Coventry City are in the semi final and return to Wembley after their playoff final defeat last May, Manchester United we all know have been here before, it feels more blue than red as we make way off the train to the cheers and songs down Olympic Way, the atmosphere already feels better than yesterday, if Chelsea and City felt like ‘another’ game between the two… United and Coventry feels ‘exciting’ for one of these teams at least. The Sky Blues fans are in celebration mood and they want to be heard.


The Venue


We’ve had to walk miles to stick our bags at the ‘official’ drop where we are met by the most unprofessional team of people I’ve ever seen. Daz looks at me to ask ‘is my bag safe here’ as I reconsider my options, but we shove in our nights laundry and head for the Wembley turnstiles, the huge arch in view peering between the sky rises as we walk down past Wembley shopping centre.


No fancy food today, but into Club Wembley we go and up the escalators, we have a pint in the Lioness Bar which I’m disappointed doesn’t show Sky Sports as I instead watch bits of Everton v Forest in the early kick off on my mobile phone.


Just one drink today, so we are out a good half hour at our seats, soaking in the atmosphere which is electric, in front of us the Coventry fans are all in the stadium bowl, waving blue flags and singing ‘we live and die in these towns’ by the Enemy, it’s a song I’ve not previously heard, but over 30,000 fans singing, loudly, passionately, it’s incredible, I’m emotional to hear it and I’m not even a fan, a spine tingling unforgettable moment at Wembley for me, reminiscent of when my fellow Forest fans sung Mull of Kintyre during the Playoff Final, or when Liverpool sung You’ll Never Walk Alone after winning the FA Cup two years back, the Coventry fans are giving it, beautifully, one half of Wembley full, whilst the Manchester United section is still awaiting most of their seats to be filled, in fairness they go next with a rendition of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, we all know this one, and in fairness the Cov fans join in on that too, in fact they take over, a cracking couple of minutes karaoke, now I’m feeling the buzz for something special.


The Game


The two sets of teams appear to roars of the crowd and the game is under way and Manchester United immediately go on the attack. The Red Devils are dominant, they push, press, probe, they do it with pace, Marcus Rashford gets the ball and his ‘only’ objective is to run and take on his man, Alejandro Garnacho on the opposite wing does the same, but does it better, Rashford often loses the ball, but Garnacho draws fouls, he sometimes even plays it simple, I love Rashford’s ability but his IQ is so low, he doesn’t need to run through defences ‘every’ time… Especially when Coventry have ten set back.


City are deep and organised but they struggle to get out, so the ball keeps coming back, Casemiro at centre half puts a couple of big tackles in as he starts moves from deep, Bruno is popping up in areas to get on the ball, Hojlund busy running in between the lines, a slick move down the right sees Garnacho feed Dalot on the overlap who crosses low for McTominay who runs in late, a training ground goal, textbook and impressive from United who are simply too strong.


I’m ‘hoping’ more than believing Coventry can do something to get back in the match, Ben Sheaf looks neat in midfield, Haji Wright looks a player with ability, wing back Milan van Ewick is having a good game, but everytime the ball goes towards Ellis Sims upfront on his own, he’s surrounded by United defenders, too big, too slow, he has no pace to get away.


The Score


As half time approaches Daz nips for a piss and a shot is well saved and flicked over the bar for a corner by Collins in goal. Half the crowd have already gone in for their Bovril’s and Prosecco’s but thee following corner is headed home by Harry Maguire, another training ground goal, another routine finish, it’s more than deserved as United show their strength and ability.


At the break we discuss heading off early to beat thee traffic, we’ve had a good couple of days out and it’s not our intention to stay too late, getting out of Wembley and on to the trains is quite simply a nightmare, add to that we need to walk around half the stadium to get our bags.


But stay we do for the first twenty minutes of the second half and it’s more the same. United dominant, too good, today they’ve been very professional, very organised and very good in attack, Bruno Fernandes makes it three via a deflection, that’s our cue to go as we head out on 65 during a break for some substitutions.


The Stars


From what I saw, United were excellent, Bruno Fernandes was ticking things along, Mainoo and McTominay effective in midfield, the wide men a real threat, Wan-Bisakka asked to play left back, doing well, Casemiro making centre half look easy, whilst Coventry ‘tried hard’ they looked well beaten and out of sight, Ben Sheaf looks to be a player who can play Premier League football, as did Haji Wright, but as I walked away from the stadium, I did mention to Daz “Imagine if we miss the greatest comeback of all time, I suppose it’ll be something to tell the grandkids”.


No fewer did I mention that, walking down Engineers Way, did we hear a cheer of Coventry score. By the time we got our bags, another cheer and they had scored again.


The Verdict


Interestingly, there were lots of fans already on their way to the trains even with the score at 3-2, but we luckily made the rush, a carriage pretty much to ourselves as we got the Jubilee line to Stanmore, a couple of Arsenal fans watching the match on their phone, one of them saying aloud “they’ve got a penalty”.


Coventry did complete the comeback and take the game to extra time, and even I don’t need to tell you the rest, by the time the shootout was in effect we were almost at Newport Pagnall eating KFC, but what we saw, what I saw of Coventry, was enough to suggest that today was always going to be special. I’m glad I just saw half of it, because even I don’t think I could have brought myself to accept their remarkable late winner being chalked for offside. Manchester United will now face Manchester City in the FA Cup Final, again, for the second successive year. United will have to be at their best, and ensure the 60 minutes I saw, is continued for 90 minutes and more, because too often this season they have crumbled, and they are a very lucky team to be in with a chance of still winning this competition, a cup which they have won only once, in 19 years.


The Teams


Manchester United: Andre Onana, Diogo Dalot, Casemiro, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay (Omari Forson 103), Kobbie Mainoo (Christian Eriksen 72), Alejandro Garnacho (Antony 66), Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford (Amad Diallo 90), Rasmus Hojlund.


Coventry City: Bradley Collins, Liam Kitching (Luis Binks 63), Joel Latibeaudiere (Fabio Tavares 63 (Matt Godden 105)), Bobby Thomas, Jake Bidwell (Jay Dasilva 80), Josh Eccles (Victor Torp 63), Ben Sheaf, Milan van Ewijk, Callum O’Hare, Haji Wright, Ellis Simms.


3:30pm Kick Off. Sunday 21st April 2024, Wembley Stadium, London (att 83,672).

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