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9th April '05
League Premier Division
(36), Nicholls (50)
Smith, Harris (Reid 67), C.Thompson, Tomkins, M.Thompson,
Mustoe, Varnam (Burns 67), D.Addis, Webb, Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Knight,
T-Ender Man of the Match: Dave
Wilkinson: Looked impressive in the first half and kept working even
as we lost our way later on.
City will wonder how this
match escaped from them after enjoying a bright start and dominating
most of the first half we ended up well beaten and fortunate not
to lose by a greater margin. Rugby were a side suddenly breathing
the oxygen of confidence and from a team that looked like they'd
be lucky to end the match with nil next to their name, they accelerated
from a City side that looked lost and short of real ideas. All this
leaves us still looking a little vulnerable, and with tricky fixtures
ahead of us seven points between us and relegation means we cannot
afford to turn in too many more jaded performances like this one.
Burns has few options open to him with his squad depleted
by injuries, but at least managed to field a full subs bench even
if both he and Griff were under strict medical instructions to not
venture over the touchline. Lyndon Tomkins returned to the side
after his injury and illness while up front youth team skipper Andy
Varnam made his full debut after a string of brief appearances
from the bench. With the defensive line missing a few regulars Chris
Thompson made his 150th City appearance in defence; a shame as his
extra bit of class has made a telling difference in midfield in
Rugby had not won at home for a grand total of 12
games, or since 20th November if you prefer. Added to that the club
is still rocking under fan boycotts and general consternation over
the proposed merger and name change to Rugby Town. This was all
natural territory for a City slip-up, but that seemed unlikely in
the opening spell. We started much the better side and really took
the match to Rugby with a high energy attitude that the home team
couldn't or wouldn't match. In the opening minutes we could have
done better when Varnam showed his strength to win a high ball
from the back. Webb moved the ball quickly on to Addis, but he rushed
at the chance and his shot flew wildy out of the ground. We all
hoped it was just a matter of getting his eye in.
|Addis becomes the most watched player
of the day
Lee Smith had
recovered from a dodgy back complaint in order to play but any concerns
he would have to take it easy were soon allayed. He picked up a
short ball from Mustoe and was off down the right wing with a jinking
run towards the box. He slipped the ball in field to Addis who seemed
to think about a shot but thought better of it after his last effort.
Fortunately Harris was motoring down the left to provide an overlap
and when he received the ball he was unlucky with a low shot just
outside the post. A few minutes later Adie almost got on the score
sheet with another opportunity. This time another Smith cross cleared
the scrambling pack in the six yard box and found him lurking unnoticed
at the far post where he almost managed to nod in a not exactly
frequent opportunity to demonstrate his prowess in the air.
The match seemed to be all one way traffic but the
midfield was heavily congested and there were plenty of physcial
challenges to keep the ref busy. Andy Varnam is clearly not a player
unwilling to put himslef between the player and the ball and he
received some quite robust treatment in return. Rumour has it he's
contemplating a career in the army, but he'll need to show better
discipline if he's going to survive boot camp. The youngster showed
a bit of immaturity and was lucky to escape unpunished for a petulent
kick at Rugby's Gary Redgate after another shove in the back. Had
the ref seen it he'd have had little option but to bring Varnam's
full debut to a premature end.
City were playing some of the best football of the
season in the first half an hour of this game. Between them Wilko
and Mustoe had made sure the Rugby midfield found no space or time
to get hold of the ball, and with little self-confidence they'd
now capitualted to leave us running the show. Mustoe was looking
for all the world like a bustling midfield general, and his quick
sure passing were prompting all the moves ahead of him. Another
shuffle found him space to feed Smith on the right wing again and
Lee accelerated past a couple of defenders before whipping in another
fantastic cross to the far post. It simply begged for a touch but
neither Addis or Varnam had gambled on getting that far forward
while Webb and Wilko simply could not make up the space. For all
of our clever play we were looking distinctly blunt up front.
City kept ip the pressure with a string
of corners and when one was only half-cleared Smith was given the
time to chip in another cross to the far post which Addis hacked
at but the ball just wouldn't come down quickly enough for him.
There was then the first sight of Rugby in the City penalty area,
with Chris Thompson getting one good cross away only to see Rugby's
new signing Avun Jephcott fire in another good shot which Mustoe
did well to get off the line. The spell of Rugby pressure almost
cost them dear when another move was ended by Wilkinson's tackle
and Smith threatened to suddenly break away down the wing. A clumsy
but necessary trip from Rugby's Adam Hart earned him a booking.
Rugby's defence had shown themsleves to be robust but their positioning
wasn't too good and their fans were pulling at their hair when they
survived a scare after Redgate seemed to suffer a mental moment
and gave the ball straight to Darryl Addis. He closed in on goal
only to shoot a little early and see his drive go just wide.
City were playing some good football and Varnam did
well to hold off a challenge and find space on the left from where
he put over a good cross. The difficulty seemed to be that both
Varnam and Addis were dropping a little deep and neither seemed
to really want to attack the penalty area. The defence was then
almost unlocked with some slick passing as Wilko brought the ball
out of the midfield and exchanged passes with Smith before delivering
a perfect through ball for Addis. This time the striker was more
alert and strode on to it with great purpose. However, Rugby are
now on their sixth keeper of the season and Robert Beckwith, on
loan from Luton, looked the business as he rushed off his line with
great purpose and blocked off the chance. Bring back Mike Payne,
the Rugby keeper who entertained the T-End by punching into his
own net back in January.
City were still pushing for the breakthrough and it
looked as if it would come when a long spell of possession allowed
Chris Thompson to drift up from the back and make an extra man in
the attack. Addis and Varnam both held on to the ball well despite
strong challenges and the ball eventually found its way out to the
wing where Thompson became an extra man and was able to run into
space. The defence seemed to part in front of him but with little
option but to shoot his effort lacked any conviction or composure,
the shot of a man needing a goal after a barren season.
Top: Tomkins gets his head to the
ball but it goes the wrong way from there.
Left: Wilko sees Beckwith beat him to the ball. Right: Thommo
gets forward but his shot is just a little wayward.
You always have a bad feeling
with City when we dominate the play like this but don't get the
goal we need. We had a warning as we conceeded a soft free kick
and Tomkins and Chris Thompson were left looking at each other as
Redgate was left unmarked at the far post where fortunately he squandered
a free header. However the defensive problems weren't resolved and
some more rather tame defending led to us giving away a corner.
Once again several of their players seemed unmarked and this time
it was Rory Squire who escaped and got in another free header to
meet Nicholls' corner and open the scoring. All against the run
of play, but some how desperately predictable.
There are so many football cliches about goals being
important (uhuh Sherlock) but this one really seemed to suddenly
convince the home team they were world beaters. They had certainly
realised that this was not a defensive unit with a great deal of
confidence each knew what the other was doing. If it hadn't been
for the agility of Matt Bath and some good frtune it could have
got worse before half-time. Robbie Beard fought clear of Smith to
send in a vicious daisycutter from 35 yards that Bath did well to
get his body behind. A few minutes later we again conceeded a corner,
and this time the alarm bells were really ringing but we seemed
to have no ideas on what to do despite a lot of frantic pointing
and screaming from Mustoe. This time it was Jamie Williams who was
left unmolested to get on the end of the corner, but somehow Matt
Bath managed to pull off a fantastic reaction save to flick the
ball over the bar.
The half-time break should have seen a big shake-up, with City desperately
needing something more up front and the apparent answer being to
use Smith's pace in the forward line. However we made few adjustments
and soon after the break a mistake from Mustoe saw us cheaply surrender
possession Squire played in Jon Nicholls to smash in a low shot
beyond Matt. It was the former Team Bath player's first goal since
moving to Rugby, but if he's not a student anymore why has he still
got long hair?
City tried to rally themsleves but while we managed
some pressure on the Rugby goal this was now a lot more even as
a contest and we were still having trouble converting our possession
into good chances. Wilko was working hard and he did well to charge
down a clearance and send over a cross. It was telling that the
person who met it was Mustoe, running from deep in midfield rather
than either of our forwards who were just too anonymous. Mustoe
fired in a fierce drive, but again Beckwith showed what a fine keeper
he is with a flying save to tip over the bar.
|Smith up front,
if only he'd been there sooner.
The last thing City needed in this game was an opposition keeper
in good form as shots on goal from either side were becoming few
and afar between. Rugby were content to sit back and try and grab
another on the break, while we were finding it harder to create
any forward momentum. As always Smith provided the most likely form
of attack and Varnam did well to help one of his crosses along
the face of the goal with Addis blocked from reaching it. Things
were going wrong all over the pitch. Adie Harris gave the ball away,
and to his credit raced down the pitch to win it back, but the attack
was gone. Mustoe and Wilko were both now putting passes astray and
when Andy Varnam sprayed a pass straight out of play and a good
fifteen yards away from it's intended recipient it was all too much
for Burns. Sciatica or no sciatica he was warming up and both he
and Reid came on, pushing Burns and Smith up front.
It was a bold move but it was now late in the game
and our earlier polish had long gone, and Rugby were tackling fiercely
determined not to let the precious points go at this stage. The
new line-up had little chance to stamp any authority on the game,
our one late chance coming from another good move when Wilko's flick
sent in Smith. The efforts of the defender helped send him wider
than he'd have liked and although he got his shot away it only found
the side netting.
By the final whistle it was obvious that the City
players just wanted to go home and forget about this match. Our
recent record at Butlin Road has been pretty ropey and this was
just another disappointing showing. For Rugby, this was a big win,
can you imagine finally ending such a long winless run at Meadow
Park. The players were beside themselves, the points mean they're
much closer to safety. For us, we now need to get points from our
last three difficult fixtures - a situation we could easily have
avoided had we made more of our possession in the opening phase
of this game. What chance a point at play-off chasers Hednesford
next Saturday, or against the side in some of the best form in the
whole division when we take on King's Lynn. It's too early to plan
for next season just yet.
* City did get some relief with some fortunate results
meaning the table doesn't look quite as painful as it could have
done after this defeat. City remain in 14th spot, and are still
seven points above the dreaded drop zone. Hemel Hempstead kept up
the pressure with a home point in a bore draw with Tiverton, while
Team Bath ensured Histon's title chase continues to wobble with
the (kind of) students snatching a 2-0 win over the Cambridge side
at Twerton Park. That meant Histon failed to take advantage of Chippenham's
3-2 defeat at Aylesbury, with Chippenham not quite managing to complete
a late comeback having been three goals down at one point. Stamford
are already down but showed they can play when the pressure is off,
stuffing Chesham with a resounding 5-0 win. Solihull Borough are
down despite a battling draw with Cirencester earned with an own
goal from former City stalwart Alan Bird. Dunstable could still
escape from the trapdoor but will be disappointed after a late Craig
Steins equaliser got the Martyrs a point in a 2-2 draw. Hitchin
and Banbury must still sweat for another week after home defeats
to Bath City and Grantham respectively.
|| 14th (=)
||overcast and windy
with light showers
| by t-towel
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