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12th February '05
League Premier Division
(64), French (75)
L.Smith, C.Thompson, Griffiths, Tomkins (M.Thompson 87),
Burns (Harris 71), Mustoe, Cox, D.Addis, Webb, Wilkinson
Subs not used: Knight.
(foul), Griffiths (persistent fouling), Mustoe (foul)
T-Ender Man of the Match: Neil
Griffiths: made some excellent interventions in defence but even he
lost his way as City folded.
For some reason a fortnight's break had
persuaded everyone we had some cause to look forward to this return
encounter with Aylesbury with a sense of optimism. For an hour there
were some reasons to think there was hope. Gritty defending and
some moments of magic from Addis lit up an otherwise uninspiring
but competent City display. However, just when it seemed a point
or more might be within our grasp some careless passing and another
lapse in concentration saw us a goal down. And from there it was
all too much for a side that no longer looks like it believes. The
relegation quicksand is beginning to suck at our feet and the spark
to reignite our season seems beyond us.
It didn't seem as if the afternoon had to be this hopeless, but
then it never does by the time kick-off comes back round again.
Following City seems to require some constant suspension of reality
and suppression of the memories of our last dismal collapse. The
bliss of a fortnight off had allowed even more of the cold grip
of realism to be fought from the mind to such an extent that we
almost dared to dream of a second away victory at Aylesbury, despite
the Ducks having done for us 3-0 only a few weeks ago. Excited whispers
in the bar spoke of a home side weakened by suspension and struggling
for form. This forgets of course that we are exactly the side you
want to be visiting when you're looking for a morale boosting home
result. By the time our fearful favourites trooped out onto the
pitch the welcome sight of Lyndon Tomkins back in the side lifted
City to such an extent that it seemed our triumph would just be
a formality. And then dear reader, the match started...
The match hardly set of at an electric pace with the players looking
as if they'd rather be in the stands, away from the wind and the
rain which sporadically drenched the pitch. The people in the stands
wished they were in the bar. You can only guess that those in the
bar wished they were at home. It was that kind of afternoon. Aylesbury
tried a few forays forward, doubtless looking forward to the kind
of red carpet welcome we rolled out for them at Meadow Park. This
time things were certainly different, and we smashed back their
advances with some convincing blocks early on. Webb then got a rude
awakening as he tried to launch a counter attack down the left.
The ball had long been punted hopefully towards Cox, but that didn't
stop Aylesbury captain Andrew Hodges from cracking into the youngster's
standing leg and sending him flying. Some how the referee Stephen
Phipps didn't feel it deserved a booking, presumably under the law
of the game stating no-one can be booked for anything short of murder
in the first five minutes of a match. This is written in a secret
code at the bottom of the rule book and can only be read by those
with special powers, like Mr Phipps.
|Top: Webb gets a warm welcome from the
Bottom: Addis puts Cox clear on goal.
At least the foul gave us an excuse to jump up and down a little,
while the free kick helped us gain some territory at the right end
of the pitch. We were struggling to create all that much, but a
succession of free kicks and corners made the Ducks a little uncomfortable.
Burnsie's new midfield role meant he could take more of the dead
ball kicks and a swirling corner almost got a vital touch from Griff,
with the cleared ball dropping to Lee Smith who volleyed just wide
from the edge of the area.
At the other end Aylesbury must have been astonished
to find we were fielding a defence. Alongside the physical presence
of Lyndon Tomkins everyone seemed more confident. His sheer bulk
proves a more formidable obstacle for forwards who try to take liberties
and he pursues his prey deep into the midfield as they try to escape
his clutches. Griff benefited hugely from his return and this was
one of his best games for some time, in the first twenty minutes
he made a string of good blocks and strong headers. Matt Bath would
have been glad not to have too much to do in the difficult conditions
but he did well to punch clear one troublesome cross that was headed
towards the head of the Ducks centre forward.
The match must have hit a pretty slow phase as I could
tell you more about the weather over the next few minutes, possibly
because the mixture of pouring rain and bright sunshine was more
exciting than the turgid midfield head tennis on the pitch. Lee
Smith had obviously had enough because he suddenly slid in on one
of the Aylesbury players and ignited a fearsome blood curdling bout
of muttering and stern glances between the two sides. We struggled
to get the ball clear for a while but a dangerous attack came to
an abrupt halt when Griff got back to smartly nick the ball off
an opponent's foot, a top rate tackle inside the penalty area.
At the other end we were able to further
ponder the enigma that is Jimmy Cox. What can you make of a forward
who shrugs his shoulder as a perfectly serviceable pass into his
feet rolls beyond his languid trailing leg, and then chases down
a speeding ball that is flying towards the touchline and slides
20 yards into the hoardings in a desperate ill-fated to salvage
something from nothing? It is not as simple as to say Coxy doesn't
try and doesn't make an effort, he looks far more interested than
he did in the Autumn, but he is still not firing on all cylinders.
He went close to giving City the lead as Lee Smith skipped free
and sent over a cross that Cox met at the far post only to see the
Aylesbury keeper instantly on to him and able to block. Burns sent
over another couple of searching corners, the problem being that
you wish he could also get on the end of them. Wilko almost got
his head on one and then a second effort ended in a near post scramble.
Aylesbury were having slightly the better of the midfield battle,
but City were doing a good job of stopping Aylesbury from playing
- ably assisted by a referee who wasn't happy if people didn't notice
him every few minutes. Things got a little close for comfort late
in the first half though. Smith lost possession in midfield after
we'd taken a corner and suddenly we were facing a swift counter
attack with initially just Chris Thompson on hand. He was joined
by a charging Tom Webb whose tackle at least delayed proceedings
before two excellent bits of defending by Thommo finally smothered
out the threat.
We then enjoyed our best few minutes of the match
as the first half drew to a close. Addis produced a sublime moment
of skill as he looked to hold on to possession whilst being crowded
out by two defenders on the touchline. Suddenly he rolled the ball
under his foot and with a quick shimmy and turn he'd changed direction
and was gone, leaving the two defenders trailing as he headed off
towards the centre of the pitch. Unfortunately, as so often in this
game, there were no options and his eventual shot seemed more in
hope than the belief he would find the net. Addis must wonder what
he has to do to get his side winning again, it's not for any lack
of effort on his part. A few minutes later he showed his strength
to get on the end of a long punt from Matty Bath that had been flicked
on by Wilko. Addis held off a defender and as he fell managed to
prod the ball in field towards Jimmy Cox. A year ago he'd have taken
it in his stride and chipped it over the keeper, but he snatched
at the chance and drove it wide. With City creating so little in
front of goal we can't afford for chances like that to be wasted.
Left: I can't believe how stupid
Daryl Addis just made me look....
Middle: City try aerial bombardment
Right: A rare second half attack
Half time was spent in
the long queue for food, presumably the caterers were caught out
by the unusual surge in demand. The waiting lost souls were further
entertained by the service from a bandana clad teenager whose attention
to detail confused his customers. "Do you want you hot dog
with your chips or separate?" No wonder for the poor kid clutching
his coins was confused, was he really expected to come back for
it later? Could a massive order of two cheeseburgers and two teas
be produced in the mere ten minutes remaining. The tension was captivating,
but sadly the players came back out and we had to return to the
The second half was not a patch on the first, and
you might remember that was hardly a footballing rhapsody. There
was little clear action to mention, and nothing of note at all happening
in front of the Aylesbury goal. we were showing all the signs of
a team low in confidence and lacking in real belief. Our players
seem reluctant to offer themselves for the ball, meaning that even
when in possession we have no options for them an on the ball. Burns
and Mustoe both looked poor by their own standards today, but they're
not helped by the lack of movement off the ball when they're looking
to pass. Addis also gets caught in possession simply because there's
a limit to how long you can hold off two defenders while screaming
While not looking like scoring we were at least giving
a passing impression of a side with a defence. Wilko made a few
good blocks and Griff was superb covering behind Tomkins and picking
up anything that ran loose. Given our record and the lack of meaningful
action at either end you'd have been forgiven for writing this off
as a goalless draw and heading off early. The footballing fates
had other ideas for us though. We made a rare foray deep into Ducks'
territory and looked to get forward in numbers. The ball went out
for a quickly taken throw which Burns couldn't collect as he lost
control. Within moments Aylesbury swept the ball wide down the right
and we were caught with plenty of players suddenly out of position.
Chris Thompson and Lee Smith seemed unsure of who was going to get
the man on the ball and when Thommo was easily nudged aside there
was no-one else to cover. Matt Bath was stranded and Garry Cook
had plenty of time to pick his spot.
to dazzle again.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of us a bit
and we didn't seem to really believe we could now get anything from
the game. Things did open up a little on the pitch and we tried
to step things up a gear, but we looked as if we were trying to
get more out of a motor when the pedal was already pressed to the
metal. Wilko went into the book for a challenge that carried him
through an Aylesbury substitute, but whilst the booking was deserved
it seemed inconsistent with the lenient treatment the ref had produced
Smith managed a few half runs down the right, but
in common with many of our players he still looks a little out of
sorts. Every run seems to end quickly and all too often he insists
on cutting in rather than getting wide and trying to produce the
crosses that have proved so profitable for us in the past. As the
opening failed to come we threw on something of a surprise sub as
Adie Harris trotted on for his first game since October. The diminutive
left winger has been sorely missed this season, but hopefully this
is a sign that his persistent back problems have eased. Burns made
way and is not happy at the way things are going, hurling his shirt
into the dug-out in frustration. You can imagine the post-match
team talks are not too pleasant at the moment.
Adie quickly showed the balance an attacking threat
down the left brings as his first touch saw him cut inside one defender
and then beat another. He then produced a low cross along the six-yard
box, by my reckoning only our second of the match from open play.
It was a dangerous ball and Wilko seemed set to connect it but seemed
to get his studs caught and the chance was missed.
Within moments that miss became even more vital as
we conceded a bizarre second. With the ball pinging around midfield
the play seemed to stop as both sides either heard a whistle or
thought the player had hand balled. As it happened the ref had thought
neither and the first player to react was Aylesbury debutant Daniel
French. This was especially unfortunate as not only did he have
the ball he also had a 35 yard clean run on Matt Bath and our goal.
He kept his head and crashed a shot off the bar and into the net
for a strange but decisive goal.
That was the result decided and we really went to pieces for ten
minutes as all our previous good defensive work was undone in a
circus of errors that somehow Aylesbury contrived to not convert
into further goals. Thommo gave away the ball only to recover and
manage to win it back while Mustoe sliced a clearance straight to
an opponent who was so surprised he in turn lashed it straight at
the corner flag. Matt Bath made a smart save from a low drive after
Webb was caught in possession. Griff then went into the book as
he tripped up one player too many as we tried to regain some sort
In the last few minutes we did come close to grabbing
a consolation goal. We showed some very welcome tactical imagination
to throw Lee Smith further up the field and switch him to the left
wing. He immediately had an impact as Adie Harris fed him a low
ball and he slipped inside one defender. Both Addis and Wilko were
waiting inside the area for the cut back but from a narrow angle
the youngster inexplicably tried a shot which went tamely into the
side netting. A few moments later Adie Harris went close to crowning
his return with a goal as some clever passing by Mustoe sent Addis
away down the right and his deep cross found Adie beyond the far
post. He had space to turn and close in on goal before rifling in
a low shot that forced their keeper to make his first real save
of the match.
That was it apart from some frustrated fronting up
by Jimmy Cox that got no where and a flying tackle by Mustoe that
got him a yellow card. The challenge saw him take the ball before
the man and he clearly led with one foot so the booking was harsh,
but he hardly needed to be making that kind of tackle deep in Aylesbury
territory in the final moments of a game where we trail by two goals.
The bookings seem to raise the spectre of Griffiths, Wilkinson and
Mustoe all missing the same match through suspension, not a prospect
our fragile squad can readily handle.
Little then for City fans to smile about. Fans will
anxiously wait in the hope that Adie Harris' rehabilitation continues
as even as he approaches his 41st birthday he still adds an extra
attacking threat to our side which could yet be a crucial difference
in the tense weeks ahead. We did defend a lot better today and look
harder to beat with Lyndon Tomkins in the side, not only is he a
formidable obstacle in his own right but Griff and others look more
comfortable alongside him. However, we look a side down on their
luck and looking for a lucky break. Where it's going to come from
is anyone's guess. This is where managers and coaches show their
worth, time for a smart bit of headology from Burnsie, or we could
be playing Slimbridge next season.
* City's league position remains unchanged at 16th,
but our situation is slowly deteriorating weekend by weekend. Stamford
looked set to cause an upset after going ahead against leaders Chippenham,
but the Wiltshire side stayed top of the pile after coming back
to win 2-1 thanks to second half goals from Dave Gilroy and Ben
Kirk. Halesowen went back up to third place with a convincing 4-0
thumping of Solihull who are still in deep relegation trouble. However
the shock of the day came at Dunstable Town who lifted themselves
off the bottom with a 4-1 derby victory over Hitchin. Banbury remain
just below City after losing 3-2 at home to Grantham, despite a
brace from John McKay they lost out to a late winner. Hednesford
Town ensured that Merthyr's slump continued with a 2-0 win at Penydarren
Park courtesy of late goals from Leon McSweeney and Lee Barrow from
the penalty spot. Naturally the Pitmen are running into a bit of
form... their next opponents are us.
|| 16th (=)
||breezy, heavy showers
| by t-towel
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