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1st April '06
League Premier Division
Bath, Miller, Harris (Noakes 27), Preece, Holland, Corbett,
C.Thompson (Eckhardt HT), Webb, Bevan (Varnam 81),
Subs not used: Reid,
T-Ender Man of the Match: Mark
Preece; another fine day for the City defence and no-one did better
than the young Bristol Rovers man.
City's defence held out
for yet another clean sheet to earn a valuable point against promotion
play-off chasers Bedford Town. Either side could have nicked the
game, but whilst Bedford enjoyed more possession it was Gloucester
who created the better chances and Corbett will be wondering how
he allowed the best chance to escape him just before half-time.
However the Tigers would have been happy enough with a point before
the kick-off, but will wonder if they've paid a high price for the
draw as two more key players could miss the final four weeks of
the season. First Adie Harris limped off in the first half with
suspected ligament damage, then stand-in skipper Chris
Thompson was also forced out of the match with what is feared
to be a broken wrist.
This match was always going to be the sternest test
yet of City's new found defensive solidity that has seen the new
look line-up record four consecutive clean sheets on our current
seven game unbeaten league run. Bedford seem to be set for a promotion
play-off place and in top scorer Rene Howe and strike partner Chris
Dillon have one of the most potent forward lines in the SLP. With
the Eagles still needing points to confirm their place in the top
five and our own need for further points to stave off the drop there
was plenty to play for. Bedford have a fairly settled side but City
were forced to make changes with Paul Stonehouse returning to Forest
Green after his loan spell at Meadow Park. That left veteran Adie
Harris making his 250th City appearance back on the left, allowing
Corbett to come into the side with Addis playing a little deeper
than usual to help in midfield. New veteran Jeff
Eckhardt, just signed from Merthyr, took a spot on the bench
along with youth players Jamie Reid and Michael Noakes. With the
atmosphere cranked up to full tempo with the tannoy banging out
stadium rousing anthem 'Stand By Your Man' (!?) we were ready for
a real storm of football action.
|Top: Corbett shoots wide from
a tight angle.
Bottom: Bevan harries the Bedford defence as City look for a
The opening stages saw both
sides testing the ball with a few thumping lumps forward which didn't
seem to bode to well, but Bedford were the team that settled the
quickest and they were soon enjoying plenty of possession. For all
of there bustle Bedford weren't really causing us too many problems
though, and Webb set the tone for the City resistance with a thumping
challenge to get City going forward again. Unfortunately the ball
fell to Addis and the ball ran away from him.
Bedford found their way through the City defence with a good move
but Dillon won't have appreciated how important this chance was
until later in the game. Rene Howe had twisted well at the far post
to head down a deep cross into the path of Chris Dillon. He was
briefly unattended in front of goal and as Thompson and Preece descended
he shot low, only to find Matt Bath
in the centre of the goal and the City keeper who was able to parry
with his foot. Really the keeper shouldn't have been given the chance.
A few moments later Howe threatened agin to get free only to be
stopped by the combined efforts of Thompson and Adie Harris.
City were able to put together some promising moves of their own
despite Bedford having more of the play and trying to take advantage
of playing with the blustery fitful conditions. Adie Harris was
in quickly to take the ball off the toe of the dangerous Rene Howe
and was able to nip away from him, accelerating into attack before
letting Luke Corbett free
down the right with a cross field pass. Corbett still had plenty
to do but once he turned the defender he had a glimpse of goal,
only to drag his shot wide across the six yard box from a narrow
angle. That City attack woke the T-End who suddenly found their
voice, the noise from the home end prompting a derisory response
from the travelling fans. Thing is that shouting "You what"
at people is a whole lot more impressive if you don't do it on your
own. Perhaps the Bedford fans do irony, but Matt Bath was making
as much noise as the Eagles fans as he tried to reorganise his defence.
Bedford continued to exert more pressure but were finding it hard
to break through City's ever more determined and professional looking
defence. What we seem to have developed is the happy knack of keeping
our defence simple and effective, getting rid of the danger instead
of trying to do too much too deep and equally importantly providing
cover for team mates so if one slips a second man is close enough
to still block the danger. Bedford wasted a couple of corners and
long throws, whilst at the other end City were getting closer to
goal from far less possession and saw a Corbett free kick from thirty
yards make the Bedford keeper move smartly to pluck the ball from
the top corner. However City's tactics could easily have started
to unravel as Adie Harris' 250th City appearance was cut short with
a ligament strain forcing him to limp from the fray.
Harris' replacement was youth team player Michael
Noakes, making his first appearance of the season for the
first team. The young left-back made a famous scoring debut last
season when he came off the bench to grab the winner against Chesham
and he came close to making a similar impact here. Addis did well
to chase down a ball on the right and hook it back across the
face of goal. The ball was too deep for Corbett but found Noakes
at the far post and although he did well to screw round and get
his shot on target it was easy for Ian Brown to gather in the
Bedford goal. City had an even better chance when Wilko managed
to prod the ball through to Jody Bevan. Even though the former
Cinderford forward wasn't quick enough to out pace the defender
he was persistent and at the last managed to get back at him and
prod the ball through Mike Ford's legs towards goal. Unfortunately
he couldn't quite get enough purchase on it and the shot trickled
towards the keeper.
Bedford were still getting plenty of ball but any
attacks were mopped up, all be it sometimes at full stretch with
Mark Preece again grabbing
the eye with a well timed stretching tackle to rob Dillon in the
box. Bedford got even closer to a goal as a cleared corner came
straight back in towards the City net with a swerving cross shot.
Fortunately Noakes was still on the back post and was able to
head the ball from under his own bar. The action was hotting up
at both ends now and City really should have taken the lead just
before the break. Noakes sent Bevan clear down the left and when
he flicked inside the Bedford left-back there was plenty of space
for us to attack. Bevan crossed well and found Corbett at the
near post, but with the goal gaping he seemed to stumble over
the ball and having over hit it the chance went as the ball trickled
over the by-line.
City were still cursing that missed chance when
our luck got even worse. Chris
Thompson was shepherding the ball from play when he was barged
over by a doubtless highly frustrated Rene Howe. The unexpected
shove sent Thompson to the ground and in trying to break his fall
against the preimeter wall it seems the City skipper succeeded
only in breaking his wrist. He was having a scan after the game
but the initial diagnosis from the club doctor was gloomy and
City faced the second half with two of their starting back-line
missing, and in the longer term possibly facing yet another player
ruled out for the rest of the campaign. The ref was apparently
lambasted for his performance after this game by the match assessor,
and this was certainly a bad foul to have missed. That said, this
ref was by no means the worst we've had this season. Perhaps the
assessor should come and see more Southern League football.
Bedford's Rene Howe
finds City defenders fighting each other to close him down.
That injury saw another
enforced defensive reshuffle with veteran defender Jeff Eckhardt
getting a perhaps unexpected early chance to make his City debut
at the ripe age of 40. Poor Thommo will be left comparing injuries
with the rest of our walking, hobbling and limping injured on the
sidelines. Injured loan striker Mike
Whittington seems to have struggled for space in the dugout
but went up another notch in my estimations when not only did he
show up for the game, but was even stood on the T-End chatting to
the City fans. Not bad for a player who could easily have washed
his hands of the club after his injury and simply returned to Whaddon
Road to reflect on a job well done. Ch#*tenham announced this week
Whittington is being offered a professional contract, and his prolific
spell at City must certainly have dispelled any fears the youngsters
not tough enough to cut it in adult football. He'd done so well
for us you can only wish him well, even if it has to be on the dark
side of the Golden Valley - hopefully he may yet get another chance
to come back to Meadow Park on loan next season.
Back on the pitch the second half continued much as
the first had finished. Eckhardt slotted in to the back three fairly
comfortably and City tried to
make the most of having the wind behind us with a few wayward shots
from distance. It was speculative but perhaps what the Bedford manager
would have been hoping his side had done when they enjoyed that
advantage. The Bedford forwards were putting in a strange fitful
performance, both forwards looked the part but as soon as a City
defender came their way they lost all interest. Dillon picked up
a great ball and shaped to shoot, but then allowed Chris
Holland to shepherd him meekly to the touchline.
|Top: Webb brings the ball
out of defence as City defend the T-End.
Btm: Corbett on the attack but on his own in the second half.
City were enjoying a period of real
domination but like Bedford were
struggling to find any real conviction in the penalty area. The
near chances created piled up. Noakes own a free kick on the left
and Webb's resulting cross saw Howe head over, going nearly as close
to putting the ball into his own net as he had the City net. Addis
almost got Bevan away with a through ball that just evaded him,
and Chris Holland's long pass looked for a moment as if it could
set Corbett free but Bedford's Gavin Hoyte stuck to him and kept
him away from goal.
It was just starting to look as if City might be gaining an advantage
in the match when we almost fell behind. a quick Bedford break left
Michael Noakes exposed and Chris Dillon bundled him off the ball
to leave the youngster in a heap. The ref didn't whistle and Dillon
found himself through on goal, but perhaps he wasn't really expecting
to be allowed to continue and he wastefully dragged his shot wide
as it scraped the near post. The match was certainly evenly contested
and moments later Eckhardt came close to marking his debut with
a goal. The former Merthyr caretaker boss ended up heading just
wide after Tom Webb's wind assisted
free kick had caused Bedford real problems and just evaded Corbett
and Wilkinson before reaching the big defender.
City were trying to turn the screw and Bevan's presence twice forced
errors from Bedford skipper Lee Howarth, but the match was getting
more bogged down in a frantic midfield contest where both Wilkinson
and Webb acquitted themselves with great effort if little guile.
The match was slowly drifting towards a draw and both sets of fans
were kept busy entertaining each other as the game did little to
distract. It was good to see Bedford had managed to bring a few
fans away with them, and the banter was in good spirits. Any attempt
to compete with the T-End was short-lived though, that drum might
not help much in the way of terrace innovation but it didn't half
silence any away noise. The T-End was getting an increasingly close
view of the ball, but even as Bedford pressed it just provided more
opportunity to admire our new defensive composure, with Miller easily
delaying Bedford down the right and Preece providing several good
clearances and effortlessly dealing with Bedford sub Ian Draycott
when he threatened to get clear.
The previous Saturday we snatched a late and rather undeserved
victory, and we almost snatched this match late on too - although
this would not have been as unjust as our win at Aylesbury. Noakes
did well to get around the outside of his opposing full-back and
his cross was met by Corbett who thumped his effort into the ground
and watched it loop agonisingly wide. Then right at the death City
could have grabbed it when Corbett threaded the ball in to the patch
of Webb only to see the linesman's flag raised for what must have
been the most marginal of offside decisions. Any argument was cut
short as the ref ended the match, leaving the City fans celebrating
what certainly felt like a point well gained.
Bedford now look certain for the play-offs,
but are well out of the title race. They'll need to raise their
game considerably from this performance to win a place in Conference
South. For us there must be a slight worry that without Whittington
we lack a cutting edge, although at least this game represented
a first 90 minutes for Corbett since the trip to Grantham in January.
With the injuries mounting we're also beginning to simply run low
of personnel. With the youth team still chasing glory on three fronts
they have their own fixture backlog to handle and the first team
will need to be sparing in their use of the likes of Noakes and
Reid. However there are still plenty of reasons to be increasingly
optimistic with an eight point cushion from the drop and a nine
game unbeaten league record, leaving the side on the verge of matching
the best ten game unbeaten league runs twice achieved under Chris
Burns' management in the 2003-04 promotion season. Even more impressive
is our five games and 464 minutes without letting in a goal, a record
better than anything I can find in the stat archives and certainly
City's best defensive run since moving to Meadow Park in 1985.
* This was a good point for City who now have an eight
point cushion from Northwood in the last relegation threatened position
of 19th. It wasn't a great day for City though as several other
results didn't go our way and leave us still anxiously looking over
our shoulder. Perhaps the biggest surprise came at Merthyr Tydfil
where bottom club Chesham raced into a four goal lead in just 26
minutes with both Joe Burnell and Steve Slade claiming braces in
a 4-1 win. Both of the other bottom three also won, Aylesbury beating
Halesowen 2-1 with an 89th minute Leon Gutzmore winner and Evesham
edging out Northwood in a real six-pointer courtesy of a brace from
Richard Ball. Cheshunt claimed a fanatstic point at promotion play-off
hopefuls Chippenham while ahead of City several of the clubs we're
chasing also posted good results. Former City boy Lee Smith is finally
starting to repay some of his transfer fee as he grabbed a vital
late winner to help Cirencester beat Tiverton 2-1, while Team Bath
sneaked a 1-0 win at Grantham. Hitchin survived a late Yate fightback
to win 4-3 having led 4-0 at half-time, Jimmy Cox getting one of
the Yate goals. The title race remains tight with new Salisbury
signing Luke Prince grabbing one as they edged out Banbury 2-1,
while Bath City and King's Lynn also won to keep the pressure on.
Elsewhere former City boss and new Shrewsbury Town first team coach
Leroy Rosenior is still doing his bit to cheer up City fans; his
new charges denting Ch#*tenham Town promotion hopes with a 2-0 win.
Travelling Lorry Count - 4
|| 17th (-2)
||sunny spells and
| by t-towel
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