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16th April '05
League Premier Division
(4), McSweeney (5), Brindley (23), Teesdale
Smith, C.Thompson, Griffiths, M.Thompson, Burns, Reid (Knight
78), Varnam, D.Addis (Cox 63), Webb, Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Harris.
T-Ender Man of the Match: Chris
Thompson: Never let his head drop and was a consistent attacking threat
with his runs on the left.
This was never a fixture
that filled us with a great deal of optimism, but none the less
the first half whirlwind that ripped through our defence threatened
to turn this into a total embarrassment. It is to the credit of
those playing that they managed to recover themselves to ensure
we fought back and avoided complete humiliation, but it would be
hard to pretend the home side didn't deserve their convicing win.
While our players struggled to adjust we were taken apart by a Hednesford
side that was stronger, sharper and perhaps most importantly seemed
to want to win far more than our slightly jaded, tired and depleted
With Mustoe and Tomkins now missing for the rest of
the season Burns had no option but to reshuffle his pack. Neil Griffiths
returned from injury in defence and regained the captain's armband,
while youth team skipper Andy Varnam continued up front alongside
Addis. Chris Thompson won the short straw at left-back while Jamie
Reid came in to the centre of midfield to make his first league
start for the senior side. With so much reshuffled you could expect
us to look a little disjointed, but with the Pitmen still chasing
a promotion play-off spot and anxious to set right a couple of poor
recent results we looked entirely surprised by the initial few minutes
of the game.
A horrible sinking sensation started from the kick-off
as Burns hoofed the ball forward and out of play, leaving Addis
and Varnam looking dispirited from the first moments. The early
exchanges saw plenty of scampering about from our players, but all
the time on the ball belonged to the home team. Hednesford had little
reluctance in smacking the ball straight up to the forward players,
but once it was in the final third they could play a bit and certainly
got the ball wide well. The game had barely settled when the home
side instantly got the break through. Few of our players had any
chance to get comfortable, and perhaps the poor state of the pitch
in the centre of the ground played a part, but we were giving the
ball away cheaply. Reid's short pass fell short and was seized uponm
by the white shirts who quickly pushed it forward. The middle of
our defence fell away and Griff seemed to slip, leaving Andy Bell
to slot the ball past Matt Bath.
|Thommo tries to find some space on the
If that goal suggested all might not be well at the back then what
happened next was nothing less than a sucker punch. From the kick-off
Hednesford mopped up at the back and pushed straight back at us,
again running straight through our midfield with minimum resistance.
The ball was pushed down the right and a few quick passes left Smith
and Webb trailing and Leon McSweeney picked up possession. He cut
inside and ran across the edge of the penalty area. Our defence
were all there, but all stood off him and with little to distract
him the player had time to pick his spot and drill a crisp shot
into the corner of the net.
You had the sense that given the importance of the
match to the home side a solid start from City could have had the
nerves of Hednesford fans and players begin to jangle. It's not
as if these players can't defend, we've withstood plenty of pressure
from Histon and indeed this same Hednesford side when we beat them
at Meadow Park. It's the inconsistency that frustrates. With only
five minutes gone we already looked like we could now only opt for
In fairness we didn't simply cave in, and a few minutes
later things were looking a little more even. Reid's confidence
visibly lifted as he won a vital tackle in midfield and Burns' passing
found its range with a good ball out to Chris Thompson on the left.
It looked for a moment as if were going to reply with a carbon copy
of the Pitmen's second goal. The one advantage of having a right
footed player on the left is their natural instinct is to cut in,
and Thommo slipped between two defenders to close in on the opposition
box. He tracked across the penalty box, and like our won defence
a little earlier they stayed off him, giving him plenty of opportunity
to fire in a shot. However Thommo hasn't found the net all season
and his lack of confidence in front of goal weas telling. Instead
he looked for the pass and found Wilko inside the box and the midfielder
found the net, but he was well offside and the goal was disallowed.
City were still showing some signs of stress but at least when we
got forward we looked like we could still cause the home side problems.
For every fluffed pass and missed tackle there was now a good run
or a few good passes that shifted the home defence around. One particularly
promising moment saw Smith get forward on the right and pick up
a clever one-two from Addis on the touchline whose clever back heel
split the defence. Smith made for the touch line and his cross was
met at the near post by Vanrham who was unlucky to see his header
crowded out. City then enjoyed a rare spell of pressure as Hednesford
struggled to clear a string of corners, but we couldn't make them
count. With Burns taking the kicks there were too few targets to
aim for and it was too simple for the Pitmen to protect their goal.
Had we managed to get something back from that short spell of pressure
things could have still been different. But our problems at the
back hadn't been solved and Hednesford sealed the match after just
23 minutes. This was even wrose than the previous two goals as it
owed little to any particular talent from the home side and far
more to our own frailties. Hednesford again made good progress down
the right, but this time Smith seemed to have caught back up and
delayed the attack but we didn't clear our lines. The ball ricocheted
around the box with forwards and defenders taking it in turns to
prod it back and forth. Marvin could have cleared but his timid
kick was charged back down, Burns and Griff both tried to hack it
away with little effect. Eventually, Chris Brindley popped up to
lash the ball into the net and put our back five out of their misery.
We were now starting to look a little desperate and
spent a few minutes trying to smack the ball out wide to Lee Smith
in the hope he'd create something. The ball was too easily spotted,
and even when it wasn't cut out he was surrounded by several players
and the old trick of simply kicking the ball ahead in the hope his
sheer speed would take him clear wasn't working. We were falling
into the trap of trying too hard to beat the entire defence with
one pass and there was no patience to our play. We weren't keeping
the ball and with little movement up front the ball out wide to
the right was all to predictable. We weren't convincing at all and
Hednesford still seemed to be the more likely side to score.
Things were to get worse before they got any better.
Marvin has steadily improved during the latter half of the season
but it's harder for a young defender to learn their trade than an
attacking player. His positional sense is improving and he brings
the ball well out of defence and can pass well when he doesn't try
to over complicate things. At times though he looks like he needs
to add some power and strength to his game, and this was shown when
McSweeney pushed past him too easily and we were rescued by a good
stop by Matt Bath. That brought only temporary relief though, and
the pressure was back on when Thommo was a little harshly penalised
for a challenge that looked fairly innocuous. The resulting ball
int othe box lacked any real venom, but we managed to leave Hednesford's
number 4 unmarked at the far post to send a dangerous header back
into the goalmouth. Griff did well to get back and head the ball
away for a corner. This time though we couldn't deal with the cross
at all. Matt Bath missed it as it came across goal and Richard Teesdale
was again unmarked as he crashed in his header from close range.
Top: Wilko's first shot smacks back
off the post but we still go on and score
Left: Reid looks for help in midfield. Right: Hednesford
enjoy the freedom of Key Park.
That was the final straw for Burns who was by now
very red and very angry. He must have been bewildered by how things
had suddenly gone so wrong and a few players got a swift on pitch
dressing down. At first his words didn't seem to have had much effect,
as we were a little lucky to survive without going further behind
as Hednesford failed to capitalise on more slack defending with
several high balls won again without being contested. The Hednesford
fans behind the goal were by now chanting 'easy', and it was hard
to argue. We were staring into an abyss and it was hard to see how
we could prevent this turning into a cricket score. The defending
was an embarassment and certainly not what you spend £40 and
travelling 325 miles hoping to watch.
If the rollicking at the hands of our beloved leader
did not have an immediate effect it certainly did after a few minutes,
with several players getting gentle reminders as the game went on.
We managed to grab our way back into the match, and enjoyed the
better of the last ten minutes. Wilko helped enormously on a couple
of occasions by dropping back to provide a bit of a shield for the
defence, and his height got rid of one dangerous cross. We then
managed to mount a few attacks of our own, one going close. Addis
had a quiet game, but he latched on to a ball from Webb and span
from his marker, pushing the ball on down the right flank towards
Varnam. The youngster did well to hold off a challenge and cut
the ball back low across the goal, narrowley and frustratingly elduing
both Wilko and Chris Thompson.
That gave us a bit more hope, and Burns was now playing
a lot further up the park and beginning to get the ball moving around
a little more. His long ball out wide to Thommo on the left instantly
stretched the Hednesford defence and he was unlucky to see his cross
charged down. We put together a few good passing moves and one was
only halted by a trip on Webb, and the pressure continued with a
corner that was poorly cleared and fell invitingly to Smith whose
shot flew just over the bar.
|Wilko finds Ryan
Young can jump too.
You had the sense that Hednesford were beginning to lose interest
in the match as a competition and we grabbed a goal back just before
the break. Addis flicked on a Burns pass and suddenly Wilko was
through on goal. His shot beat the keeper but his the face of the
post, bizarrely running along the goal line back towards him and
this time he made no mistake and tapped in from close range. It
wasn't much, but at least it gave us some consolation during the
There was much less of note in the second half, but
that was certainly a releief to the shellshocked City support. What
there was of excitement largely came in front of the Hednesford
goal, and while we were never going to claw the match back it was
at least testament to the character of the players out there that
we managed to dig in and defend our three goal defecit.
Some of our best moments came when Smith or Chris
Thompson got the ball at their feet and began to run at the Hednesford
defence. While often these runs led to us getting free kicks neither
could quite find the space or encourage a team mate to make the
defence splitting run they needed to get us back into the game.
The Pitmen proved quite adept at shepherding us into harmless in
field cul-de-sacs. For all of our struggling, there was comfort
in the simple fact that at least we weren't struggling in our own
penalty box so much. We could and should have pulled one more back
when Thommo finally evaded a defender and found himself behind the
defence down the left. His cut back found Wilkinson and his shot
flew past the keeper, but found Hednesford's Lee Barrow in position
to flick the ball from the line. The ball then bobbled its way to
Andy Varnam, but with the keeper grounded and the goal gaping the
18 year-old delivered a nervey airshot and the chance was gone.
The youngster could play for the next twenty seasons and won't have
a better or clearer chance to find the net.
There was scant good news from this
match so we should make the most of the return from injury of Jimmy
Cox, coming on as a sub for Daryl Addis, himself struggling with
thigh ans hamstring problems. Cox showed little sign of his recent
ligament lay-off, although we were never really in a position to
fully unleash him at full pace on the Hednesford defence. However,
he could have scored with nearly his first touch. A good pass from
Burns sent Smith away down the wing and this time he delivered an
early cross that gave the Pitmen little time to sort out their defence.
The cross was too far ahead of Webb but found Cox on the edge of
the box and he had chance to take a touch before firing in a low
shot that went under the keeper, only to find that pesky Barrow
again in position to scrape the ball off the line. The home team
then enjoyed more good fortune as the clearance hit the back of
the keeper, but he recovered quick enough to grab the ball before
it ran loose towards the goal line. If the scores had been closer
it would have been agony.
The rest of the game was a lot more even than the
first half, with Reid equipping himself a lot better as the match
wore on and Webb playing a more important role having been almost
entirely anonymous in the first half. Griff also improved as the
match went on, perhaps being most vulnerable to the early pace of
the game as he returned from injury. Hednesford still pressed when
they had the opportunity, but their earlier hunger had been satiated
and at least they could now rely on a City defender trying to cause
them problems. The closest they went to a fifth was when a soft
back pass looked to have let them in, but Bath was quick off his
line to put the ball into the stand. The only other threat to our
goal was in the closing minutes when Branch got forward well to
exploit a gap left by Smith, but his shot flew across the face of
There were few moments of rela controversy in the
match, but Knight almost made a sensational impact on the game soon
after coming on as a late sub. The City assistant manager reacted
angrily to a late challenge, and having lashed out at the offender
almost caused himself real problems when he had a second careless
swing that almost connected with the ref. At least the man with
the whistle seemed to have the good sense to realise he hadn't been
the intended target and Knighter escaped with a yellow. Even more
fortunate was the Hednesford number 10 who suddenly made a Lazarus
like recovery from lying prone in the centre circle to spring to
his feet and dive in late and from behind on Wilko. Some how that
only merited a booking as well, although a sending off wouldn't
have been a fair reflection on what was never a close enough contest
to generate any real heat.
For Chris Burns this must have been a sobering display,
rarely has the lack of depth in our squad been so clearly demonstrated.
Addis and Varnam again looked like a striking partnership unlikely
to yeald goals, while those who question what Mustoe brings to the
side can look at that first half hour at Keys Park for their answer.
Without him providing the shield across the middle of the park our
defence was horribly exposed, we've not won a game this season without
him in the side and we need to put that right. His absence means
other players must work harder and think smarter, which didn't happen
today. It's difficult for players like Reid and Varnam to make
the step into the first team straight away and we must be careful
not to judge to quickly, as Smith has shown that with confidence
and time players can flourish. However some of our other players
are no longer making their first steps at this level and must show
more poise and willingness to show some leadership.
* Whilst the result was pretty dispiriting other
results in the division actually mean we had a good day, somehow
holding on to 14th spot for a further week. The crucial team to
watch is still Hemel Hempstead, still in the last relegation spot
and seven points behind us with three games left to play after a
2-0 defeat at Bath City. Defeat for Hemel at home to title chasers
Chippenham this Tuesday night would leave City safe from the drop.
Dunstable can no longer catch City, but kept their
mathematic hopes of survival alive with a point at Banbury United
who still have their own relegation concerns. Hitchin will have
been pleased to have taken a point at Merthyr but it's not enough
to make them safe, while Rugby United's win against us last Saturday
looks even more important for them in the light of their 5-0 thumping
at the hands of Tiverton. At the other end of the table Histon finally
overtook Chippenham for pole position, Histon coasting past alreay
relegated Solihull with a 3-0 win, while the Wiltshire side stumbled
with a 1-1 draw against play-off hopefuls Bedford.
If City can survive in the Southern League Premier
we can look forward to renewing our friendship with Mangotsfield
United, whose 1-1 draw with Ashford yesterday was enough to secure
the Western Division championship.
|| 14th (=)
||overcast but dry
| by t-towel
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