Like the previous instalment of my 'Road to Wembley', my partner Ben was with me and therefore did not need to take the train. This afforded us time to take in my 114th bowling alley in the form of Superbowl UK Warrington, the second bowling alley in the town, which opened earlier this year. I won't bore you with *too* many details, but as a chain, it was quite nice, if slightly overpriced. That said, we didn't take advantage of any of the online offers and didn't pre-book, so it was always going to be a little inflated. Despite me losing both games, it didn't put a damper on spirits and after a quick lunch, we continued down the M6 for Crewe. Cumberland Arena is not only the home of Crewe Alexandra Women, but also Crewe FC. The youngsters of this club were also the mascots for this game.
Cumberland Arena is not much more than an athletics track, with a small clubhouse and various all weather pitches housed on the same complex. The pitch in the centre of the running circuit is a grass pitch, which despite all the recent rain, was the one they were using today. Like some grounds in athletics arenas, there is usually a stand or at least some terracing, though today, just a couple of benches. It could have done with a more distinct backdrop, though aside some trees and a large industrial building, there was little else. The day was crisp and bright and the sun shined on the leaves of the surrounding trees, bringing out a selection of lovely autumnal colours, which made up for lack of anything notable in the ground.
Unfortunately, as it was free entry, there was not an official attendance, though a brief head count had us approximate 120 spectators. This diminished as the almost three hour game progressed, but more on that later. We also bumped into fellow groundhopper Martin, who we've seen previously at matches in the surrounding area. It was nice to catch up with him and he told us there was a team sheet for this game, which we hastily obtained a copy of.
As it was remembrance Sunday, a wreath was brought out on to the centre circle prior to kick off and a one minute silence was held, followed by a round of applause. The players wore poppies on the fronts of their kits.
We started watching the game with the sun behind us along the long side near the entrance and clubhouse. Unlike some athletics tracks used as grounds, you were able to go pitch side, rather than having the running circuit separating spectators from the match action. This was very welcomed.
Despite the first corner being awarded to Barnsley, there was a lot of end to end action between both teams in this half. Clearly the hosts and the visitors wanted this equally, with Crewe doing well to stave off the away side and their attempts. As the underdogs playing a step below Barnsley in the women's pyramid, it was a pleasant surprise to see Crewe score from a header shortly before half time. After a pause in play for a head injury, the referee signified the half being up with several blows of the whistle and by then, we had completed our lap around the pitch and off we went to get a coffee.
The usual tea bar was in fact a machine inside the clubhouse. This was most disappointing because neither of us had much change, though between us we had just enough for one each. This was lucky, because we were really starting to feel the temperature diminish and a hot drink was definitely needed!
We started watching the second half amongst a group of enthusiastic and vocal Barnsley fans. Barnsley came out for this half almost a different side than going in, holding the majority of possession throughout. Firing plenty of shots on target, they gave Crewe's keeper a platform to display her keeping skills and skills they were: pretty much nothing was going past her. Despite Crewe's efforts, they couldn't fend Barnsley off for the whole half and Barnsley scored an equaliser shortly before 90 minutes.
Neither team got another and before long we were into extra time. By this point the floodlights were on as we were clearly heading for a late finish. The drama was no way near over and despite Crewe having a penalty saved, the visitors ended scoring the winning goal towards the end of extra time. When the referee blew, it was 16:55, so a much longer day out than anticipated.
Crewe put up a fantastic contest with some competitive play against a team a step above. Barnsley now go through to the Second Round Proper and face Sheffield FC Women, one of the new teams added in the next round on December 1st.
Follow Crewe on Twitter here and Barnsley here.