FA3: F-f-f-freezing at F-f-f-fulham

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Intrepid explorer Neil Redpath continues his odyssey to see a game in every round of the FA Cup

January is the month when the big boys start, with the Third Round.

But for me, it's the start of the second half: eight rounds gone, six to go, and the ninth match is Fulham vs Swindon.

Through the wind and the snow, your brave blogger set out for the bright lights of England’s capital for what would surely be an afternoon of excitement from the Fulham and Swindon boys.

Well at least I've got your attention, as what really happened would put any reader to sleep in seconds.

Due to engineering works, I set off from Norwich at 9am by train, then coach, then underground, then blah blah blah... I finally get to my destination four and a half hours later.

But was it worth it? Hmm.

It could have been worse: the weather conditions across the country were postponing the FA Cup matches across England – but luckily not the one at Craven Cottage.

The walk from the station through Bishops Park was like a scene from Dancing On Ice without the Z-list celebrities.

The freezing wind bouncing off the Thames and straight into the ground: this was to be the coldest match of my FA Cup venture.

I got to the ground in time for a quick pre-match pint (which to be honest in this weather went down like a s**t sandwich) and took my place in the Johnny Haynes Stand facing the river.

With the icicles hanging from the girders glinting in the blinding sun (you can’t win sometimes), the players entered the fray with the 9,000-strong away support making most of the noise from the Putney End.

The kind of suit you need in this weather

This fixture being priced at £15 for any ticket was a nice touch and made for a better atmosphere with a near sell-out crowd.

Despite the hopes of the travelling fans’ vociferous support, Fulham started the brighter, and within two minutes Riise had laid the ball off to Zamora (future England striker in the making, I don’t think) who rolled his shot just wide of David Lucas’s goal.

Zamora made amends for this miss with a chip over the advancing Lucas after holding off desperate challenges by the Swindon defence.

One up and this surely would open the floodgates.

But fortunately for the Robins, Fulham seemed to ease off the gas and Swindon got to grips with the game, coming close to an equaliser from Hutchinson's low drive which Schwarzer took two attempts to deal with.

Low winter sun: Irking EastStanders since the 1800s

The game soon became an intriguing end-to-end battle, as Swindon looked to take the game to their Premier League hosts, and Fulham benefited from big gaps being left on the break.

Even the openness couldn’t disguise a poor match and we welcomed half-time like another goal had been scored, everyone running to the back of the stand for a warm drink and a browse of the scores on several TVs around the food kiosks.

Suddenly, the TVs showed two teams running at Craven Cottage. Ah, that'll be the second half then.

That was the quickest 15 minutes of my life and with no time to get warmed up, we're back out in our freezing seats for a half we can only hope is better than the first.

It wasn’t. Not much happened, despite us hoping that Fulham would get a few chances – if only so we could stand, applaud and keep warm.

One late incident summed up the half-interested, rusty nature of the game.

Andy Johnson, making a return from a long injury, ran into the box and was taken out by Lucas. Penalty.

Johnson dusted himself off to take the spot-kick himself, but his effort, low to Lucas’ left, lacked conviction and was saved easily.

Lovely sky, isn't it?

Joy, the final whistle goes and the thought of the four-and-a-half-hour journey home isn’t as daunting as first thought: at least we can keep warm.

The Fourth Round draw is made on the Sunday as per usual with quite a few either-ors, due to the abandoned games that are still to take place.

Forest Green, the only non-league team left in the cup, would play Wigan if they could win the rearranged clash with Notts County.

But they couldn't, and it’s now turned into a league cup competition with no second legs and – due to defeats for Manchester United and Liverpool – fewer reserve teams.

And so, for Fourth Round day, I shall be attending Reading vs Burnley.

Both reasonably-sized clubs, they will harbour hopes of winning the trophy while the big guns from Old Trafford and Anfield watch from their settees.

Previously, on The Long Road To Wembley:
FA3 preview: The Third man marches on London
FA2: South beats North with ease
FA2 preview: A North(ampton)m vs South(ampton) clash
FA1: Fire and ice at the Abbey
FA1 preview: Enter the big boys
FA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no pies
FA4Q preview: Ploughing through
FA3Q: A local affair at Lowestoft
FA3Q preview: All hail the 4x4ers
FA2Q: Coke, poodle rock & half a fence
FA2Q preview: Let's spend a night together
FA1Q: Lawro, ducks & a care home
FA1Q preview: The preliminaries are over
FAP: Dogs, daughters & dodgy tellies
FAP preview: Preliminary problems
FAEP: Dereham dreams alive and kicking
FAEP preview: The long road starts here More to read...
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