This match report may be slightly more impressionistic than normal,
brought to you as it is through the marvel of beer-a-vision. Sadly
there was nowhere near enough festive spirit to disguise the return
of our home demons as City first destroyed Merthyr's much-vaunted
defence and then self-destructed our own. Never has the threadbare
phrase of a game of two halves been better illustrated than here.
City looked lively from the first kick and a few early exchanges
of passes showed plenty of attacking flair. City fans didn't have
long to wait for a goal. Merthyr's keeper Ashley Morris is highly
rated by many including City boss Tim Harris, and has earned a place
in the Wales under-21 squad and an extended trial spell with Coventry
City. You have to wonder why - the young keeper played a good part
in City's fantastic first half showing. Having ventured off his
line into no-man's land he was caught out by Jamie
Reid. His dipping cross shot lobbed over the stranded keeper
to find the corner of the net from only a yard in off the right
touchline. Many thought it a fluke, but it looked deliberate to
me and if we have one player who'd back himself to score from that
point of the pitch it would be Jamie 'swagger' Reid.
If that suggested Merthyr's defence may have been a little lucky
to concede just ten league goals all season the next City goal suggested
they'd been lucky not to concede that in each game. Tom Webb was
having a blistering match and his run was halted by a crude trip
that earned a free kick on the edge of the box. Mike
Fowler, playing against his former club, stepped up and curled
a low shot inside the post for City's second. Fowler hasn't always
had the best of times since joining us so it was great to see him
claim a goal that obviously meant a lot to him. That doesn't detract
from the fact that the Merthyr wall was a shambles and Morris the
great keeper fell in a way that suggested a gut still full of Christmas
Things got better still for the break with Merthyr comprehensively
outplayed in the middle of the park by Mustoe and Webb, and the
Valleys side were reduced to a string of persistent fouls to try
and keep City at bay. They had no chance minutes before half-time
when City broke quickly after a Merthyr attack. Reid's clever pass
found Tom Webb in full flight
as he cut through the ragged defence. Webb is often criticised for
not getting the goals his talent should create, but this time he
made no mistake and kept his poise to drive past the keeper as he
entered the penalty box.
With City three up at the break there was a lot of foolhardy optimism
at the bar of how many a rampant City might run in during a second
half attacking the T-End. We should have seen enough City games
to reign ourselves in, but even the most experienced City pessimist
can rarely have seen such a complete second half turn around and
capitulation from our frustratingly inconsistent side. Merthyr had
obviously had a well deserved rollicking and came out full of determination
whilst our lot seemed a bit surprised by the newly reinvigorated
As so often recently it was a high ball that was our undoing, with
Barnes and Hamblin both caught ball watching as a deep cross sailed
over and found Steins in space in the box. He cushioned the ball
for strike partner Gary Sheppard and the skipper drove the ball
past a lonely looking Matt Bath.
The worst of it was that as soon as the single goal went in no-one
in yellow and black, fan or player, truly still believed we could
hold on. Confidence is a fragile thing and the worst fears of the
fans seemed to be picked up like a virus by those out on the pitch.
You couldn't criticise us for a lack of commitment, Mustoe leading
the way with some charging tackles, but our players had lost all
shape and discipline. There was none of the control or passing ambition
which had helped us tear the visitors apart in the first half. Merthyr
sent on young striker Rhys Carpenter and within a minute his extra
pace had already made a difference as he latched on to a clever
reverse pass to nip into the box and drive the ball past Bath at
his near post.
The equaliser seemed all too predictable and came when Ollie
Barnes fluffed his clearance and presented the ball straight
to the Merthyr attack. They took full advantage with another deep
cross which was headed back across goal where Carpenter claimed
his second with an acrobatic twisting volley. It was a good strike,
but it was simply sickening for the T-End. Another bout of hapless
defending had cost us dear. You couldn't have been surprised if
we'd completed the job, and indeed we very nearly did present all
the points to Merthyr. Steins twisted clear of Hamblin a little
too easily for comfort, but having got free and with time to pick
his spot the striker slotted his shot the wrong side of the post
to the mighty relief of the home support.
T-Ender Match Snaps
|Welsh tries to make things fair by playing
on his knees.
hammers the ball clear.
Harris kept faith
with the side that had performed so well in three good unbeaten
away performances, with Welsh returning to a lone striker role and
Sykes playing just off him in a roaming attacking role.
"If you're the best young keeper in Wales I guess the others
must be missing an arm?"
Merthyr stopper Ashley Morris fails to live up to his billing.
We still look vulnerable
in defence when placed under pressure. Ollie Barnes doesn't have
the physical presence of Tomkins when placed under pressure, and
we still look too easy to get past on the flanks, especially down
the right. When we needed to get a grip on the midfield Harris tried
to revert to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Wilko's graft replacing
Folwer's guile, but the switch failed to damn the gaps.
This was the classic half-full or half-empty glass performance.
To smack in three goals against the side with the tightest defence
in the league was a huge boost, but after such a spectacular collapse
this was a draw that felt like a defeat. We do need to keep things
in perspective after some fantastic away perofrmances, but this
game did demonstrate that we have yet to exorcise our defensive
demons. The home match against Yate on Saturday will be a good
opportunity to show we can close down games and get ugly if we
Bath City fired themsleves back to the top with a 5-0 demolition
of tenants Team Bath at Twerton Park, former City loan star Mark
McKeever amongst the scorers for the Romans. Stamford cemented
their place in the play-offs with a 1-0 win over fellow hopefuls
King's Lynn. Cirencester's miserable spell continues with a 3-1
home defeat to Chippenham, a Griffin scoring for each side and
Paul Milsom netting the opener for the visitors. We're looking
down the table at the moment and there the results all went well,
Corby and Cheshunt both losing 3-0 and Northwood fighting out
a 1-1 draw with their tenants Wealdstone.