Monday, 7 April 2008

Trampled Tykes echoes of shattered Palace

Barnsley's brave run in the FA Cup came to a sad, but predictable end last night as they fell out at the penultimate hurdle at the hands of fellow tier-two Cardiff City. Having climbed death-defying twin peaks to knock off Liverpool and Chelsea, the Tykes lamentably stumbled on the gentler hills of North Wales.

For Barnsley, the balance of the season becomes no longer a quest for fame and glory but a grim struggle to stay in the Championship, for when Sheffield Wednesday grabbed a point at Scunthorpe on Saturday, Barnsley quietly slipped into the relegation zone on the eve of their semi-final.

I'm reminded of 32 years ago, when my team Crystal Palace became one of few third division teams to reach the semi finals of the Cup. A glorious, breathtaking run had brought unlikely away victories at Leeds, Chelsea and Sunderland, and the Eagles soared into the giddying heights of the last four, where they met second division Southampton, with a real chance of a Final berth against Manchester United or Derby. After playing well above their station in the previous rounds, third division Palace put on a semi-final performance worthy of a ... third division club. A straightforward 2-0 win for the Saints, who subsequently proceeded to cause a boil over and beat Man U at Wembley.

For Palace, the Cup run inflicted great damage to their Div.3 promotion aspirations. The Eagles had soared through the first half of the season, and turned into the New Year of 1976 with a comfortable buffer at the top of the table. The distraction of the Cup saw their league form falter, and by the time of their cup exit they were in a gritty race to grab the third promotion spot. Notwithstanding huge Division Three crowds at Selhurst Park to watch their run in, a series of stumbling home draws and away losses condemned them to another season in the third tier.

I hope Barnsley can pick their season up, and for their heroic efforts in the Cup translate into status-saving league success. But like Palace 32 years ago, I'm afraid that the suffocating anti-climax they will now undoubtedly suffer may work against them with potentially miserable consequences.