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29th January '05
League Premier Division
(30), Hawker (38, 73)
(26), Wilkinson (53), Addis (65)
L.Smith, Noakes (M.Thompson 34), Griffiths, Burns, C.Thompson,
Mustoe, Cox, Addis, Webb, Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Reid,
T-Ender Man of the Match: Chris
Thompson: made several crucial tackles and interceptions with useful
runs from the back.
Once again we put in plenty of effort
and showed real bravery and guts in this vital showdown with Solihull,
but yet again the same demons came back to haunt us and a defensive
fragility and lack of strength at the back cost us dear as having
twice taken the lead we again come away with a single point from
a match that should have been ours. This was a crucial game for
City with the league table settling down and our inability to turn
good performances into victories starting to increase the pressure
and talk of relegation at Meadow Park. Assistant manager Keith Knight
called for his side to show more mental strength, but again a lack
of concentration and organisation proved our undoing.
Solihull have struggled for consistency this season having started
the season with a much reduced wage bill which was always going
to condemn them to a difficult campaign. Despite this though they
still seem to have been able to attract some proven players at this
level and with our usual lack of timing we were facing them on the
back of some much improved results including a recent win at Bath
City. Burns is looking for some magic ingredient to spark our side
back into the form we know we are capable of, and 16 year-old Michael
Noakes got this chance to start a game for the first time in the
left wing-back position. His performance from the bench against
Aylesbury last Saturday had clearly impressed when he seemed to
add more natural attacking balance to the team.
Borough's ground is a slightly barren two-sided affair and the
bleak surroundings hardly seemed to lift the spirits of either side.
The game got off to a fairly muted start with a lot of hopeful long
balls and a fair bit of time spent watching the ball flying aimlessly
around as no-one was able to get their foot on it. It was nervous
stuff, and both teams seemed very aware the game could prove vital
at the end of the season. Mustoe had recovered from his hamstring
strain to take his place at the centre of the midfield and was in
all the right places, but even he wasn't managing to find any of
his team mate's in any space.
|City see another corner cleared at the
side creating too much space it came as something of a surprise
when a fairly turgid opening 15 minutes was ended when Webb burst
from midfield. He barely seemed to have the ball under control as
he stumbled towards the area but never the less he poked it towards
Cox who was able to play it back to him in a classic one-two that
carried the midfielder in to the box. Webb has been off his best
but this looked more like his old form and he was unlucky to see
his shot lifted just over the bar.
We were having our usual problems of getting forward
in sufficient numbers and instead of trying to use the flanks we
were lumping balls up field to Addis and Cox, and too often seeing
them come straight back at us having been easily cleared by a taller,
stronger defence. We were having our own work to do in defence,
but we looked (whisper it) comfortable. A dangerous cross was met
by a firm Griffiths header and another tricky through ball found
Chris Thompson smartly across to make a near and decisive tackle.
Solihull seemed devoid of ideas and what was coming our way looked
easily dealt with.
Our hopes lifted further when Noakes flicked through
a probing ball down the left and Cox raced onto it, turning Andy
Smith one way and then the next before cutting in field and beating
another defender. The final shot was a foot outside the near post,
but none the less the frantic Solihull shouting and pointing showed
how they felt about being attacked at pace by a dribbling forward.
We then took the lead with an attack that had looked
like it was going nowhere. Smith had managed to beat one defender
but had seen his cross beaten away. However the ball fed back to
Addis got the attack going again and found Solihull short of numbers
at the back. With Cox making a more determined run in to a central
area the home side looked exposed and Addis' cross was whipped across
the face of the goal. With Cox battling to get their first Peter
Barry had too much to do and in his determination to prevent Cox
reaching the ball he helpfully flicked it past his own keeper. (The
goal was later credited to Cox, presumably he wanted it more than
All too often we've struggled to concentrate having taken the lead
and yet again we went to sleep at a crucial part of the game. Solihull
suddenly managed to press us and found our defence opened up when
a diagonal ball from the left of midfield wasn't cleared after a
soft header by Lee Smith. That allowed another dangerous cross from
the right and before we knew it the ball was flying around in a
hectic congested six-yard box. Thommo looked to have hacked the
danger clear but it only went as far as Peter Barry who had crept
on to the edge of the penalty area to drive home an equaliser. It
was a good finish and he must have been relieved to cancel out his
own goal so quickly, but you have to ask how the ball was able to
fly around for so long in our box without someone getting the emphatic
thumping clearance that was needed.
Bad then went to worse for City as we got bogged down
in a series of central midfield scraps as neither side could could
settle. In the middle of one of these battles young Michael Noakes
tried to turn and was on the receiving end of a fairly innocuous
looking tackle that caught him on the ankle. It was clear straight
away he was in trouble as he lay prone on the pitch, and before
long we had the sad sight of him leaving the pitch on a stretcher.
Not exactly a dream full debut for the 16 year-old and a sight which
certainly upset our players and left us with some hasty re-organisation
as Marvin Thompson came on to the left-flank to replace the youngster.
Left: Addis line dances past Solihull
Middle: Cox reminds Andy Smith why he should have come to
Right: Webb gets his head to yet another midfield aerial
We tried to settle but
visibly lost our way for a short while although Cox enjoyed another
good run, but this time his in field ball found Wilkinson who was
smartly closed down. We escaped one near miss as fairly weak cross
down the left was missed by Chris Thompson and then found Marvin
who initially did well to recover and bring the ball out only to
sloppily give the ball away and allow Solihull to attack again down
the left. The cross was eventually dealt with by Burns and Griff
and Matt Bath was able to clear the lines, but we had been warned.
A few minutes later Solihull attacked again down the left but the
danger was partially cleared by Burns and then Marvin did well to
close down space for the cross and conceded a corner. We had plenty
of people back but some how the deep corner found Matt Hawker unmarked
on the edge of the box and he powered a strong header into the top
corner from around 14 yards. It was a spectacular header from that
distance but how was a player left with a clear run to attack the
ball from a set piece?
City needed to get back some shape and discipline
after a second half-break that involved the sad sight of Noakes
leaving in an ambulance. Fortunately we did seem to rally and started
the second half brightly, even recovering from a kick-off that seemed
to involve kicking the ball as hard as possible out of play. A few
minutes later a superb long ball from Burns found Smith in space
and his clever ball inside enabled Webb to make the by-line where
his cross was cut out for a corner. From the deep out swinging cross
Burns managed a strong header that narrowly cleared the bar. City
looked hungry and it seemed we were back in business.
It was far from being one way traffic though and Solihull
looked lively without really creating much in the way of clear opportunities
as Griff and Thommo kept close to their main strikers. Marvin Thompson
also had a good spell, with much to prove having found himself back
on the bench and doubtless eager to recapture the form and confidence
he showed at the start of the season. He certainly made a couple
of vital interceptions and a few clever body swerves helped him
bring the ball out of defence on several occasions.
One of these blocks helped see off another Brummie attack and with
Marvin and Mustoe helping to tidy things up Burns had time to heave
forward a far from delicate up and under towards the Solihull back
line. Addis raced on to it and having knocked it clear of the defender
the young Forester showed great bravery to go in for a header with
keeper Mark Gayle rushing out. Addis got his head to the ball but
inevitably collected a heavy knock in the process. He'd done his
job though as the header left the keeper beaten and Wilko was on
hand to drill the ball into the net and past the covering defender.
City were level, and Addis must have been pleased with his effort
as he groggily got to his feet with the help of Ade's magic smelling
|Webb shows Marvin
how to get the ball back.
For all our vulnerabilities we still
look an exciting and dangerous attacking side when we get the bit
between our teeth. With Addis' bravery having given us a much needed
lift the match looked as if it could only go one way now. The yellow
hoards pillaged down both flanks and even at the back our tackles
suddenly looked crisper. Smith has struggled for his best form recently
and particularly seems to have been reluctant to get over those
fierce right wing crosses that created so much damage last season.
This time he got his head down and resisted the temptation to cut
inside, hitting the by-line and seeing his short cross cause chaos
in the Borough defence. The ball fell to Wilko but this time he
seemed to get the ball caught under his feet, but still had the
presence of mind to find Addis but his shot was blocked.
At the other end City survived a bizarre scare as
Griff and Mustoe confused themselves and lost possession, allowing
Solihull to try a shot from distance. The speculative effort cannoned
off the bar and everyone seemed to freeze, as if expecting a whistle.
Eventually Solihull responded first and tried a follow up effort
but it was tame and the ball ballooned upwards for Matt Bath to
clutch gratefully to his chest. City responded quickly with perhaps
our best move of the match. Cox got free of his marker and pushed
past one defender before sliding the ball to Addis on the corner
of the box. He delivered one of those instant turns that make him
so dangerous and his instant snap shot was destined for the far
corner. Former Walsall and Worcester keeper Mark Gayle has been
around a while and he produced a typically sharp save to push the
ball past the post. So good was the stop that the ref awarded a
goal kick, but the keeper actually did do that well!
City were looking dangerous and the Borough defence
had the look of a rabbit in the headlights now. They're morale can't
have been helped as Mustoe jinked his way out of the midfield and
sent Cox racing clear of the defence down the left. He cut inside
and went past two, then three, before sending in a shot from a narrow
angle that was gratefully kicked out of play at the near post. The
corner was wasted though, and Mustoe still needs to find more consistency
with his dead ball delivery.
It was only moments before he had chance to redeem
himself. Wilkinson stepped clear of a few challenges in the middle
of the park and then exchanged passes with Addis as the pair of
them picked their way through a seemingly impossibly congested penalty
area. When the move broke up Marvin picked up the ball and charged
for the by-line with sudden pace that forced a corner. This time
Mustoe delivered a much better ball that hung in the area and caused
chaos as Burns and Wilko threw themselves towards the high ball.
Wilko seemed to get a touch and then Addis supplied a final scuffed
touch as the ball seemed to roll down the back of the defender and
into the goal. It wasn't the cleanest finish in the world and Addis'
claim to the strike may be a little dubious, but whatever, City
Any optimism amongst the traveling City faithful was
diluted by the terrors of our previous experience and no-one was
counting the points before the whistle. Despite all of our previous
troubles we seem entirely incapable of keeping ten men behind the
ball and grinding out the result. If anything we tense up and our
distribution and marking become careless and sloppy. Webb was a
prime culprit this time as his wasteful pass almost created an opening
up and he was rescued by a great tackle by Griff on the edge of
the area. That was just a warning though and after an attempt to
move the ball across midfield fell apart we suddenly found we had
surrendered the ball cheaply again and Hawker ran in to tuck the
ball past Matt Bath who seemed to move desperately slowly to what
had not been the fiercest hit shot.
We tried to come back and find a last late killer
goal, but those have been in short supply this season. We managed
a good counter attack on the break but Cox delivered a poor pass
to Lee Smith that meant he had to check his run to collect the ball
and some of the impetus was gone. When the shot came from Smith
it lacked power or conviction and seemed the effort of a side that
believed it would not get the win. A further effort almost yielded
a scrappy winner, with Addis and Cox combining down the left to
get a throw in which Griff hurled towards the penalty spot. The
defender was all over Coxy as the high ball came in but the ref
wasn't going to risk a late penalty decision and Thommo's shot was
on target but lacked any punch.
The final whistle was a relief. In some ways an away
point is never a bad result, but we needed to pick up more here
to lift the concerns and to avoid a few weeks of worry as we now
go a fortnight before our next game, the tricky trip to Aylesbury.
Hopefully the time will allow us to get the much missed Lyndon Tomkins
fit enough to get back in the side for that trip. There are plenty
of things to be worked on in training in that time too, in fact
you can't see this side working enough on dealing with defensive
situations. If you get three goals you should not be left with just
a point, as we now have been three times this month.
* This point actually lifted us one place to 16th,
but no-one should be under any illusions that we are now firmly
in the relegation mire. We are a mere three points from the dreaded
19th spot, and of the teams below us three have a match in hand,
one has two in hand and Hemel Hempstead have three more matches
to play. Our blank weekend next week should help settle the position
but we're now in a position of anxiously watching the form of others,
not a position we should have found ourselves. Rugby United's terrible
run came to an end with a 2-1 win at Aylesbury, and we all know
how impressive we thought they were last week having beat us 3-0,
and of course we thumped Rugby 6-1 a few weeks ago. The results
just illustrate how topsy-turvy the division is and how difficult
it is to predict the final positions. Stamford held Halesowen after
an equaliser from Rushden loan striker Rob Duffy at The Grove, while
Team Bath moved out of the relegation places with a crucial 3-2
win over Dunstable who remain bottom. At the top Chippenham confirmed
their pole position with a 2-0 win over Merthyr with former Ciren
striker James Constable grabbing both goals.
|| 16th (+1)
||dry and overcast
| by t-towel
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