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18th February '06
League Premier Division
(31 pen), Whittington (45,80), Wilkinson (78)
Bath, Miller, Stonehouse (Randall 84), Preece, Tomkins,
Addis (Harris 29), C.Thompson, Webb, Bevan, Whittington,
Subs not used: Rimmer,
(trip 36), Tomkins (foul 72), Stonehouse (dissent
T-Ender Man of the Match: Mark
Whittington; hard to argue with two quality finishes and getting a
keeper red carded. Match winning.
At long last Tim Harris
and the new look City team had a win to celebrate. Count off what
this result meant. A first win under Tim Harris. A first win of
2006. A first win after eight games. And perhaps more important
than any of that, City out of the bottom four, by goal difference.
This relegation scrap looks so tight it could easily go right to
the last Saturday - we needed to win this match and you could see
that the players and the fans knew it equally as well. It could
all have been so different and this match looked as if it would
be close until Grantham keeper Mario Ziccardi paid the full price
for a bit of petulent behaviour. In the end it was his stupidity
that decided this game as much as some fantastic finishing and a
much improved City performance.
Harris has had few opportunities to really make team
selections so far as injuries have taken their toll on a City squad
that may be feeling the strain of training sessions that are a little
more full on than they've been used to. Today the loss of Luke Corbett
and return of Lyndon Tomkins gave the new boss a few choices and
he went for a bold line-up that was a clear statement of intent.
Tomkins came in for Jorge Ferro who dropped to the bench, while
Addis came in for Corbett as City lined up with three forwards in
an attacking side. Grantham inadvertently gave City a bit of a lift
as they dropped forward Michael Sneddon to the bench after he'd
proved the match winner when the teams last met in Grantham a few
|Top - Preece and Tomkins go
for an early City corner
Middle - Silly Boy. Grantham's keeper punts the ball away as
Bottom - Whittington hooks the ball as Matthews scampers to
his goal line.
In that last match City
had ended up 2-1 losers after Grantham had literally out-muscled
a rather fragile and brittle looking Gloucester side. It looked
as if the same could easily happen at Meadow Park as the first few
City attacks saw Grantham's large solid defenders put in some thumping
headers and clearances that gave us a little to think about. More
encouragingly though the visitors were not getting their own way
further up the field either and were struggling to make any impact
on our goal.
Despite City looking marginally the more likely side to score it
was Grantham who opened the scoring after Matt Bath spilled a high
ball. The high cross hadn't looked too threatening when Matty came
for it as it was hung up near the penalty spot. It looked a whole
lot worse though as he seemed to get tangled up with both Lyndon
Tomkins and Grantham striker Jason Turner. As Bath spilt the ball
Turner reacted first and seemed to initially scuff the ball goalwards
where Matt Preece just managed to prod it away, but only back to
Turner who this time crashed it into the net. After having enjoyed
slightly the better of a fairly scrappy match City were now in the
all to familiar position of being up against it.
There was no need for panic though, Grantham were more than capable
of contributing to there own downfall with a string of niggly trips
and pushes that gave us a steady supply of free kicks. The Grantham
defence was more than capable of dealing with anything in the air,
but on the ground the pace of Adie Harris and Tom Webb was upsetting
them. City won another corner and this time the Grantham skipper
Grant Brown met his match with City's own man mountain as Lyndon
Tomkins came up for the corner. Sometimes when you see Lyndon challenge
for a cross you can't understand how he doesn't get more goals from
set pieces. As he hurtled towards a good Jonny Miller cross Brown
had seen enough and decided desperate measures were called for,
hauling Tomkins away and bringing him crashing to the ground. At
least this ref seemed to be willing to look into the penalty area
as the corner came across, and he had no hesitation in pointing
to the penalty spot. It was a foul in the area, but the initial
confusion from both sides tells you much about how often those get
given in the Southern League.
What followed was then a shameless bit of gamesmanship as Grantham
tried to unsettle Jody Bevan, who had picked up the ball and planted
it on the spot. For most City fans the guts were already churning,
for Bevan, looking for his first City goal since joining from Cinderford
this was hardly what he needed. First the Gingerbreads keeper wandered
around and tried to re-spot the ball, then Fabien Smith was caught
trying to shove Whittington into the penalty area as they jostled
on the edge of the box. None of that seemed to actually get through
to Jody though. His penalty was sweetly struck and high into the
corner. City were level and back in the match, sparking much relief
from the Tigers fans behind the goal. The Grantham keeper had been
biting to a bit of baiting from the home fans already, and he promptly
picked the ball out of his net and kicked it out of the ground.
Ooops - big mistake. He was promptly booked for time wasting, much
to the hilarity of the home fans. More fun was to come.
Had the idiot keeper Ziccardi not already been booked what happened
next would not have changed the game, but he had been and it did.
Whittington was proving a handful with some smart turns and he
escaped from the cumbersome Brown as he turned deftly on to a
low ball from Chris Thompson. The forward was spinning to face
goal and seeing the keeper rushing out of his goal decided to
knock it wide to try and get round him. The keeper was already
committed and seeing his target wriggling away he promptly clipped
his ankles. The youngster could have stayed on his feet, but whilst
he might be young he ain't stupid. Having been fouled he fell
to earth and left the keeper in deep, deep trouble. It was a stupid
challenge, but out of the area with several defenders behind him.
He wasn't the last man so would not have earned a straight red
card, but having already been booked for kicking the ball away
his second yellow was followed by a red. How the City fans laughed,
and how the Grantham players fumed. The keeper was loudly being
hailed as an "imbecile" by his coaching staff, and if
I was the Grantham boss I'd have told him he could use the extra
time he now had to begin walking all the way home to Lincolnshire.
Of course City promptly wasted the free kick, but the away side
were down to ten men and with no keeper cover on the bench their
defender Martin Matthews took on the gloves.
When City were able to take advantage there was little any keeper
could have done to stop it. The move came down the right with
some good movement from Chris Thompson and Miller helping nudge
the ball through to Tom Webb down the right wing. For all his
class and hard running sometimes Webb is accused of lacking the
final product and wanting to take too many touches. On this occasion
he was direct and dangerous. He took a touch, pushed past the
full-back and whipped over a cross into the box that was pure
venom. It begged for a quality finish and that was exactly what
it got from Michael Whittington. The youngster got across his
defender on the six yard box, brought the ball down on his chest
before twisting to slam in a fantastic volley past the stranded
keeper. With the half-time whistle just seconds away any Granthma
hopes of packing the defence to hold on for a point were finished
and Lee Glover faced a tricky team talk in the away dressing room.
Bevan first goes close
with this header (top) and then gets his first City goal
with this equalising spot kick (bottom).
Just when City looked as if they might let Grantham back into
the game the extra volume and support of the anxious T-End seemed
to rouse the players. All of those chances that had been spurned
didn't matter a jot once the ball was back in the Grantham net and
when the crucial goal finally arrived it didn't matter if it was
hardly pure art. Adie Harris still has the pace and verve of a player
half his age and he simply left two defenders trailing as he latched
on to Paul Stonehouse's ball down the left wing. Adie spotted a
gap in the stretched Grantham defence and put his cross behind the
stretching defenders. Wilkinson still had plenty to do as he arrived
at the far post, and it looked as if the chance would be swallowed
up as Wilko improvised to bring the ball down with his midriff.
As the defenders closed on him it looked as if he'd be crowded out.
Wilko kept his head and barged and bustled his way to find half
a yard and was then able to emphatically smash the ball into the
roof of the net from close range. At 3-1 the victory looked safe.
The T-End had been building the atmosphere and now there was as
much bedlam as a few hundred people can enjoy. It's incredible what
a bit of hope can bring and this was more like the good times, only
with fewer people.
|Top - Grantham captain Grant
Brown was a pain all afternoon.
Bottom - Whittington seeks his fortune as Brown back pedals.
With the match over it was to the very
great credit of the Grantham players they still tried to come straight
back at the City defence. Having looked a little anxious and lacking
in confidence before the Wilko goal the defence now looked a lot
more sure of itself. The Grantham attack found Tomkins not afriad
to put in a vital block and Thompson prodded the ball back out into
midfield. There's no better player to take advantage of the gaps
created by Gratham's exposed and depleted defence than Adie Harris,
so it was to their misfortune that the veteran winger picked up
the loose ball and found time to assess his options. His neat pass
found a slicing run from Whittington that suddenly found the loan
forward racing clear of two defenders with just the keeper and yards
of empty pitch to contend with. The young player didn't panic and
finished in style. The keeper may not have been a regular, but there
was something very convincing about the way Whittington looked one
way, gave a little shuffle, and then confidently chipped the ball
over the advancing keeper to find the net from 25 yards. For City
fans starved of anything much this kind of finishing and this kind
of scoreline was heady stuff. It was good to see the striker seeming
to enjoy it so much and celebrate for the T-End to share his moment
with the fans. There are always doubts about the commitment of any
loan player to the cause, never mind if they hail from the wrong
side of the Golden Valley. We plainly have nothing to fear here.
It was nice to see Tim Harris getting into the action too, gambling
down the touchline to congratulate his players much like an excited
ball of waving arms and legs.
This was at last some tangible evidence of a renewed optimsim that
Tim Harris' arrival has brought to Meadow Park. We mustn't kid ourselves
that the relegation battle will be easy or that this victory provides
a quick fix. The keeper's dismissal changed a tight match and swung
the balance in our favour, but even before that point we were at
least competing with a tough Grantham side. A few goals and a few
good touches will have done a lot for many of our players, and suddenly
eight games without a win now looks a lot better as three games
without defeat. More than anything it was good to see some smiles
back on the faces of City fans and players, and the mutual love
in at the final whistle suggests little of that team spirit we had
under Chris Burns has actually gone. Tim Harris is a brave man whose
decision to come to City in these circumstances deserves some reward,
at least his delighted waving punching of the air as the T-End sang
his name may suggest he wil at least enjoy the rest of this weekend.
* Our first win since before Christ mas sees us move
back out of the bottom four and reach 18th spot in the table, all
be it only on goal difference from Northwood. The side that had
once been bottom fought back for a remarkable point against league
leaders Salisbury City who must have thought they had taken the
points when Tommy Widdrington restored their lead with just 3 minutes
left, only for Northwood's Shayne Demetrious to nick a last minute
equaliser and make it 2-2. The two struggling sides who have recently
sacked their managers enjoyed mixed fortunes. Evesham's new boss
Paul West will be delighted with 1-1 at promotion chasing Bedford
courtesy of another last minute leveller from Adam Blake, the player
who left Mustoe in plaster a few weeks ago. Chesham's new manager
is former Watford and Milan striker Luther Blissett and he will
have no doubts of the size of his rebuilding task after Chesham
slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Chippenham where former City forward
Matt Rawlins got a brace. Aylesbury also sneaked a point with a
1-1 draw at home to Rugby Town that took the Ducks off the bottom,
but Cirencester are still in trouble after squandering a half-time
lead to lose 2-1 at home to in-form Bath City. The other in-form
team are Cheshunt who have now won 5 of their last 6 to open up
a small gap between them and the relegation scrap after a highyl
credible 1-0 win over Tiverton.
|| 18th (+2)
||misty and overcast
| by t-towel
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