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14th January '06
League Premier Division
(27), Sneddon (73)
Bath, M.Thompson (Randall 77), Mansell, Griffiths, Tomkins,
Mustoe (Davis HT), C.Thompson, Webb, Addis (Rimmer
84), Corbett, Harris.
Subs not used: Noakes.
T-Ender Man of the Match: Chris
Thompson; did well on his return to midfield with some smart turns
of pace and never gave up chasing.
Tim Harris' first match
at the City helm ended with a fifth consecutive defeat for a side
that battled hard but were ultimately out muscled by another strong
direct and more physical team. The pre-match optimism created by
Harris' surprise arrival at City shouldn't disappear after one setback,
but after going into an early lead through a coolly taken Adie Harris
strike City found it hard to compete with Grantham's long-ball approach
and after losing Mustoe at half-time the second half was disappointing
with few ideas and little sparkle. At least the new manager will
have plenty to think over in the next few days with many of the
side's shortcomings laid bare - especially the problems created
by having a squad that simply needs more quantity perhaps even more
than it needs a boost in actual quality.
This game was always set to be a close affair. The two sides are
just one place apart in the table and both last season's meetings
ended in draws. This time of course there was more at stake, at
least for City. This was the first match under new management, with
the players bound to be keen to make a good first impression with
new boss Tim Harris and his
assistant Chris Smith. The
new coaching duo had few options available to them when it came
to team selection as our tiny squad had been reduced further by
one match bans to both youth team skipper Jamie Reid and recent
scoring hot-shot Dave Wilkinson. At least Neil Mustoe was fit after
a month out, no doubt glad to get back on the field after a month
that first saw him being levered out of Meadow Park, then staying
on as temporary player-manager before having his playing career
rescued by the arrival of the new manager. Grantham meanwhile are
a side whose hopes of pushing on into mid-table and promotion challenging
positions seem to have run aground. Despite some good results here
and there they've struggled for form. With the boost in spirits
provided by a fresh start City must have hoped they could arrest
their recent run of four straight defeats.
|Top: Adie shapes up to put
City into an early lead.
Bottm: Another first half attack as City jostle for space in
the Grantham box.
There had been plenty of
speculation as to what Tim Harris would do with his first line-up,
but despite some suggestions he would revert to 4-4-2 straight away
City kept their now familiar 5-3-2 formation. However there was
some change with Chris Thompson
restored to a central midfield role, although that did leave Marvin
still trying to fill in on the right of defence. At least it did
give the players less to think about, although we took a little
while to get going as the home side dominated the opening minutes
of the match. Their approach was uncompromising from the start,
a good hard boot from the back that by-passed midfield and got the
ball forward early.
This of course is exactly the kind of route one aerial bombardment
that we tend to suffer under and it was a relief to see both Griff
and Lyndon get under some of the early high balls with some thumping
headers of their own. None the less Matt Bath was called into action
early on and had to make a good stop after Grantham's Sneddon fired
in a shot from distance. At least that seemed to galvanise us a
little and we gradually settled into our own pattern of play and
began to look quite comfortable. With the ball finally down on the
turf Webb was able to clip a nicely weighted ball over the top that
just eluded Corbett. Even though that City attack was swept up by
the Grantham defence we were soon back, this time Corbett did reach
the through ball and managed to flick it inside to Rich
Mansell making a good run from the left flank. He got into a
good position but his shot was too weak to scare the Gingerbreads'
Grantham had been warned but when we moved the ball around quickly
they seemed to be struggling. City went ahead as Tom Webb managed
to produce a fantastic turn deep in our own half and produce a break
down the right flank. Chris Thompson picked out Adie
Harris as he broke forward and the veteran winger did the rest.
He still had plenty to do and there was little support for him as
he cut in to the box, but Adie turned one defender and produced
a cool finish low to the keeper's left. City were ahead. It was
a grey dreary day in a miserable soulless stadium but suddenly for
the City fans it looked like a new dawn. There was a nice little
twist that the first goal of the Tim Harris era came from a man
nearly 42 years-old. Can I also be the first to point out Adie only
gets a game cos his Dad's the manager?
This triggered our best spell of the match and another goal now
could have really buried Grantham. Rich Mansell enjoyed another
good run into the penalty area and he looked to have sent over
a good cross but Grantham's Adrian Speed got a vital flick to
put it away from the goalmouth. Corbett also had a great run after
picking up a neat pass by Chris Thompson. The City forward had
the Grantham defence in retreat and he managed a shot that slithered
into the side net. Corbett's earned a right to shoot on sight
but he missed both Mansell and Addis in the box and a good square
pass could have opened up the home defence.
Grantham were in trouble when we actually got the
ball down on the ground but we were equally struggling when they
were in possession. Marvin Thompson gave away possession down
the right but did well to track back and get in a vital tackle
at the cost of a corner. Our troubles deepened when Bath couldn't
get a firm grip of the corner, but fortunately Neil
Mustoe blocked the resulting shot fired in from the edge of
the box. That didn't solve our problems for long as Grantham began
to realise the high cross wasn't our strong point. Another high
ball from our right saw Matt Bath flap a couple of times at a
ball that strayed close to the corner of our goal. We didn't deal
at all well with the resulting corner and again conceded a soft
goal to an uncontested header. The corner simply flew across the
face of goal and Grantham skipper Grant Brown was unmarked to
run in from the far post and thump his header beyond a stranded
City could easily have regained the lead before
the end of the first half. Webb was given a free kick for a foul
on the right wing and from Harris' free kick Corbett pushed through
a crowd of players only to see his header flash just wide of the
post. Addis could have won a penalty for us when he managed a
clever turn and was looking for help arriving inside of him when
his legs seemed to be clipped. It happened just inside the box
but the linesman managed to miss it entirely from only a few yards.
The ref had a decent and almost entirely anonymous match, but
his assistant missed nearly everything and if it had been a big
match or the weather better then there would have been a suspicion
he's snuck in with the flag to avoid paying at the turnstile.
Another good City move broke down in midfield after Chris Thompson
won a great tackle in midfield and got Mansell away, but as he
found Adie Harris a firm block ended the move.
Corbett gets forward
and finds himself alone under the glittering lights of the
South Kesteven District Council Welcomes You stand.
City suffered a serious
setback at half-time when Neil Mustoe suffered a recurrence of his
hamstring problem and it was decided to take him off to avoid risk
of more serious damage. Lee Davis came on but the change meant an
enforced reshuffle with City trying to revert to a flat back four.
With Wilkinson and Reid already missing the loss of Mustoe left
the side now looking seriously lightweight and the lack of any ball
winner had already caused us problems in the first half. In the
second half it proved decisive and disastrous. We still managed
to get forward a few times, once Addis got in behind the defence
but his pass didn't find Corbett, while a few minutes later Corbett
picked up a loose ball down the right but he in turn couldn't thread
the ball through to Addis. Those few chances were just about all
the meaningful opportunities we created as we ran out of ideas,
and then out of steam.
Grantham were a distinctly ordinary side but they
did still keep coming at us and it was their strength rather than
any great flashes of footballing ability than undid us. The long
ball tested our rather fragile defence while even when the ball
did fall in midfield the pairing of Chris Thompson and Lee Davis
were struggling to disrupt the Grantham attack. Their striker Jason
Turner spurned one great opportunity when he shot wide having bundled
his way on to a ball over the top of Neil Griffiths. We looked entirely
flat and with Grantham now piling forward we were struggling to
find any way of relieving the pressure. The vital breakthrough came
when Davis gave the ball away and Michael Sneddon was able to run
on to another ball over the top that turned our defence entirely.
It looked as if Sneddon had been several yards offside, but that
wasn't an end to City's bad luck. Lyndon
Tomkins got back but his challenge only helped Sneddon wrong
foot the keeper and flick the ball past Matt Bath to put the Gingerbreads
City were not looking as if we really had a plan to
get back into the match. Grantham continued to simply pile forward
and try to keep the pressure on with a series of high balls, another
long looping cross almost caught us out but Tomkins managed to smuggle
it wide at the far post. Another Grantham attack was only broken
up by a smart challenge by Rich Mansell, but we were only able to
keep Grantham at arm's length. We were along way from managing to
mount our own attacks.
|Davis and Noakes model new
subs training kit.
Expect even more City errea sports kit soon!
In midfield we were now misfiring terribly.
Neither Corbett or Addis were finding much space up front and with
little to aim at our midfield passes were going astray with a horrible
regularity. Normally reliable players like Chris Thompson and Tom
Webb were giving the ball straight back to Grantham and we couldn't
find any chance to reorganise. It was all a little depressing after
what had been a fairly good first half performance.
One of the criticisms made of Chris Burns was that
often substitutions weren't made to try and change the game. At
least Tim Harris seems willing to try a few things, but he didn't
have a lot of cards to play. Marvin Thompson limped off, possibly
again struggling with his ongoing thigh problem, and City fans were
treated to the sight of Lee Randall
heading to the right back slot. He was unsurprisingly almost caught
out for pace on a few occasions, but at least his long ball back
up to our forwards did offer some brief periods when we managed
to clear our lines. Harris also threw youngster Eddie Rimmer on
for Addis to try and liven things up in attack, but by then the
match was slipping away from City.
Our best chance to equalise was squandered when Corbett
stepped up to take a free kick 25 yards out. Having seen his dead
ball strike at Yate there was some expectation when he lined up
the ball, but the shot was disappointing and there was something
horribly predictable when we were caught miles offside as the follow
up ball was played back in. If anyone was going to add to the score
it would be the home side, and they had two late chances to add
some gloss to the scoreline but their forwards wasted chances as
they twice lobbed the ball over Matt
Bath but also over the bar. The City keeper got a final chance
to remind City fans why they'll be hoping he doesn't leave for Cinderford
when he saved well from Turner.
It was a hugely disappointing end to
a match that had seemed to promise more. At least Tim Harris has
had an opportunity to see some of City's strengths and most typical
weaknesses. We are a good passing side that can play most sides
in the division off the park when we get the ball down. Unfortunately
we are too lightweight and lack the players who can provide the
necessary muscle to give us a platform that allows our talented
players to attack teams. The squad is also simply now too small,
and with Wilkinson, Reid, and then Mustoe missing we were simply
brushed aside. Ideally Harris must want to bring in a stronger player
up front, and a tall commanding centre back to try and solve our
vulnerability to the high ball. We also have a continued problem
with no defensive right-back option at the club, with a strong left-sided
bias to the squad and both Marvin and Adie Harris struggling to
fill that gap in recent games. The new boss will recognise these
problems, but his first aim must be to try and keep as many of the
current squad as possible and then just count the pennies to see
if he can add a few extra people to start to give himself real options.
The whole match had a fairly surreal feel to it and
that only continued with the train journey back to London. The crowded
Hull train seemed to have gone through some sort of reality warp
simply from being so crowded and going back to London via Cambridge
for no apparent reason. That the train was full of Palace fans on
their way back from Hull was not surprising, when it turned out
that it was also full of the Palace first team it seemed as if the
world of strangeness was complete. Not even our first team are stuck
on public transport, and here were the entire squad of a promotion
challenging Championship side - and not even in first class! Surrounded
by their fans and desperately trying to listen to their DVD players
while their fans clustered around them and chanted at them for a
couple of hours. A return ticket from King's Cross to Grantham -
£25.90, several hundred Palace fans chanting "We hate
Cheltenham" without really knowing why, priceless. And Tim
now has probably the only Gloucester City shirt signed by an England
international while they sat on a train. All pretty weird...
* Despite having lost our last five matches we amazingly
still find ourselves in 19th spot in the league. This may give us
a slightly false sense of comfort though, if other clubs pick up
just a few points from their many games in hand we will find ourselves
quickly plunged deep into relegation trouble. Just two points separate
us in 16th place with improving Northwood down in 21st. The battle
Northwood's revival is causing real concern and they got another
good away win today with a 3-2 win over Team Bath and surviving
a come back from the students who pulled two goals back to make
the visitors work for their points. Several other struggling sides
fought out draws, with a Richard Ball brace earning Evesham a 2-2
draw at Aylesbury while Rugby and Yate drew 0-0. Chesham's slide
to the bottom deepened with a comprehensive 4-0 defeat at Tiverton,
while Cheshunt also came away with nothing losing 2-0 at King's
Lynn. At the top of the table Chippenham gained ground on Salisbury
City with a strong 2-1 win at Halesowen. Salisbury did the SLP proud
in the FA Trophy, a Mark Haddow goal enough to earn a 1-0 win at
Conference side Canvey Island and a place in the 3rd Round.
||P. Barnes (Peterborough)
|| 16th (=)
||grey, dull and persistent
| by t-towel
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