A game where City started more in fear than expectation ended with
a glorious win as Tim Harris' team executed a superbly executed
smash and grab raid on King's Lynn to condemn the promotion hopefuls
to their first home league defeat since the opening day of the season.
After a recent dismal run of form the Tigers showed great nerve
and energy to first stifle a dangerous Linnets attack, and then
to create several good attacking openings before snatching all the
points when a well worked counter-attack found the fresh legs of
sub Aaron Wilson in the right place to smack in a memorable winner.
After last season's
4-0 drubbing here there could be little reason for optimism
after City's dreadful form, but the line-up suggested at least some
courageous decision making that showed some intent to give the Norfolk
FA Cup darlings a bit of resistance. It proved to be rather more
than that in the opening minutes as an apparently rather defensive
City line-up went at the Linnets in a way that suggested it was
anything but. Alex Sykes set
the tone for the evening with a nearly effort, cutting inside from
the left and hammering in a swerving shot. The keeper seemed caught
unawares and did well to get back across goal to tip the ball wide.
We weren't just here to keep the score down.
As the game progressed there was even more reason to be pleased.
After the first ten minutes City had shown more resolve and made
more tackles and blocks than the side managed in the whole match
on Saturday. Space was closed down and life was made hard for Lynn
when they were in possession and City looked lively when breaking
forward with Sykes, Reid and Webb all doing well to get beyond Welsh
and offer him some support. Jamie
Reid tried his luck with a 30 yard low swinging drive that was
gathered in by the keeper but led to further heated debate amongst
the King's Lynn defence. The fraying nerves of the home team weren't
helped by early rumblings of dissent from the stands, and the players
almost lost the plot when City tried to take a quick free kick with
one of their men down needing treatment. If the tactics had been
intended to throw the pre-season title favourites off balance it
was working, and the keeper was booked for dissent after losing
the plot over a disputed corner decision.
The new City energy and determination was exemplified in just a
few minutes that saw Michael Noakes chase back to the dangerous
O'Halloran on the wing and take him out as he prepared to cross
on the by-line with a stretching tackle. Within moments Mustoe had
switched play and Tom Webb was
surging out of midfield and beyond two players before finding Welsh
who shimmied to find a yard of space and was unlucky with a crisp
shot from the edge of the box. City were defending well and managing
to get numbers behind the ball and keep a far more disciplined shape,
only once really stretched when Hamblin did well to head clear from
under our crossbar. Lynn were enjoying far more of the possession
but failing to hurt us, and despite having less of the ball we could
point to more shots on target and better chances. In fact in the
dying moments of the first half big Jack Defty planted a firm header
wide of the post and it was notable as it was the first time the
home team threatened the City goal.
By the break we already had restored a lot of pride, but things
were to get better yet for the City contingent. The home team were
now clearly rattled and were pushing forward with far greater intent
that bordered on recklessness. The City defence weathered the predictable
early storm and with Mustoe and Webb cleverly picking out passes
that launched a string of quick breaks which often sliced through
the home defence. Webb exchanged a one two with Welsh and the forward's
nod down took the midfielder into the box and his shot from a tight
angle clattered into the away team's stantion. City were still having
to work very hard to keep Lynn at bay, but the midfield was busy
and the City back line held up well under a bombardment of high
crosses into the box.
The extra space being left behind the Linnets attack was starting
to show and City started to get a feeling that the draw wasn't the
best result they could hope for. Alex Sykes looked as bright as
he's ever been in City colours and playing in a free role pushing
forward from midfield looked far more comfortable than when asked
to defend. It was Sykes who sent in a low driven 30 yard free kick
that whistled through the Lynn wall and was spilt by the rather
fragile looking Shaun Marshall in the home goal. With the ball loose
Webb was closing in at the near post only for left-back Charles
Defty to produce a fantastic stretching block tackle to deny him
on the line in a brave goal-saving act that saw him limp out of
the action a few minutes later. City were not to be denied for long
though and Reid was soon back on the attack, skipping past a tackle
and into the box. His pull back was timed to perfection and found
Alex Sykes eight yards out
with the goal gaping only for the attacker to sky his shot high
over the bar.
It was hard to believe City could afford to spurn a chance like
that but the game was running in our direction now. A pattern was
emerging with Lynn probing and sniffing in and around the penalty
area until finally repelled when we would break at speed and each
time we got forward we looked dangerous. Wilko was back to his best
and shuffled through the entire midfield before his forward pass
unluckily clipped the heels of Welsh. Another break saw Sykes pestering
and hounding the defence after a long ball, Grant Cooper panicked
into a weak back pass that was dropped by the keeper and Cooper
seemed to slap the ball away in a shambolic defensive mess that
would have got a home team a penalty.
The City breakthrough came with a pacey counter-attack led by Tom
Webb who stormed out of defence and through several tackles before
running into trouble deep in King's Lynn territory. The attack was
picked up by Cox and then by Michael Noakes who showed fantastic
stamina to make a strong run down the left and take the ball beyond
the full-back to the by-line. His low cross into the six yard box
panicked Marshall in the home goal and he could only flap at the
ball which fell invitingly into the path of Aaron
Wilson. The young City sub showed great composure and hammered
the ball high into the net. The small but select City away support
were delirious in ecstatic disbelief while Wilson was swamped on
the touchline by team mates and coaching staff alike.
Could we hold on, at least the goal was late enough to leave the
agonising wait for the final whistle to just a few minutes. Even
those dragged on an age but while Lynn came back at us the hopeful
high balls were now comfortable for Hamblin and Barnes. The home
side's spirit had been broken and when the final whistle came the
stadium suddenly seemed very empty with only a few but very happy
City fans left to enjoy the moment. The home side must fear this
is a further dent for their title ambitions and the result may hasten
the appointment of a new permanent manager. For Gloucester this
was right up there with those other unexpected and hard won victories
- those at Histon, Redditch and Woking come to mind. The players
looked rightly delighted and emotional, this was a big victory for
them that spoke highly of character and strength. How different
and difficult to choose a man of the match when all of them could
lay claim to it, as opposed to Saturday when no-one really did.
It's a special club where the manager can be bothered to come and
thank the traveling supporters (admittedly it didn't take long!),
but then this was also a special night.
T-Ender Match Snaps
|City emerge from the gloom at The Walks
The City boss has
shown himself unafraid of tough decisions and today he put out a
team that would be reliable, hard working and difficult to get past.
It takes guts to drop the most talented player in the squad in Mike
Fowler, the newly signed striker in Jimmy Cox, the rising young
starlet in Aaron Wilson and the recent loan signing Shab Khan. Tim
Harris did all four and it proved to be the right side to get
the result in the match. Sometimes you make your luck.
"Oi Olly, I know your Dad"
A series of master
strokes from Tim Harris who really should have silenced anyone who
thought he might have lost the plot. Not only was his team selection
brave, the busy City midfield stifled King's Lynn and gave us a
platform to attack from. Sykes was impossible for them to mark and
as King's Lynn pushed forward to try and break the packed City defence
a series of attacking substitutions enabled us to take full advantage.
This was City's first
clean sheet at The Walks since winning here 2-0 in May 1989 in the
last match of our title winning Southern League Midland Division
This was a match won by some clever tactics, but also by a team
that despite being drained of confidence showed the guts and faith
to go out onto the pitch and execute the plan to perfection. Saturday
was an exercise in disappointment and surrender - this could not
have been more different. We were first to challenges, there was
movement off the ball, players covering others and we played with
heart and passion. King's Lynn were a dangerous side but they
quickly became frustrated in the face of some rigorous hard-working
defence from all 11 City players.
The win also gives Tim Harris something to chew over as he has
an interesting decision to make on if such tactics can be deployed
again, especially as they worked not just in closing down opposition
space but also in creating scoring chances for us. At least this
result restores some pride, hope and belief in the club after
a few dismal weeks. After feeling embarrassed and depressed on
Saturday it was so good to leave the ground of the promotion favourites
with not only a win, but a deserved win. The players looked desperate
to avoid a repeat of Saturday's horror show and their manager's
assessment that was forthright they had let people down. Their
reaction to the goal and the final whistle showed not only relief,
but what looked a lot like a bunch of players who had worked hard
for each other, their manager and for the (blue!!) City shirt.
Those who saw us on Saturday may find it hard to believe, but
we may just look a bit like a football team.
But really - the sensational nature of the result isn't reflected
in a seismic shift in the league table although a win puts us
back in touch with the mid-table pack and up one place, rather
sweetly above Cirencester.
The other big result of the night shows our next opponents are
in good form as Hitchin pushed up into third spot with a 2-1 home
win over Maidenhead courtesy of a late winner from Scott Orphanu.
Merthyr's luck seems to be on the wane as a Jason Tuner goal edged
them to a 1-0 defeat at Stamford while Hemel Hempstead are still
scoring with abandon, this time a 3-1 home win over bottom club