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Saturday 9th April '05

Rugby United

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at Butlin Road

Southern League Premier Division
(match 39)


Southern League logo



Gloucester City

city kit

Rugby United


Scorers: Squire (36), Nicholls (50)

Gloucester City


City Side: Bath, Smith, Harris (Reid 67), C.Thompson, Tomkins, M.Thompson, Mustoe, Varnam (Burns 67), D.Addis, Webb, Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Knight, Bennett, Griffiths.
City Bookings: Webb (foul 72)
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 recent matches.

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.

Daryl tries to find a way through

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.

City get nowhere from a corner
Wilko not close enough Thommo fires wide

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 gets Rugby worried
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.

Referee: P. Stanton (Bourne) League Position: 14th (=) Attendance: 289
Conditions: overcast and windy with light showers City Form: LWDWLW
Match Report:
by t-towel

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