This was never a thrilling
match and the crowd found little excitement to warm them against
the biting cold. City will view this as at least a point thrown
away with one careless and uncharacteristic error from Chris Thompson
which gifted the home side the crucial goal in a match where neither
side created many clear chances on an icy and slippy pitch. Having
enjoyed a good first half City seemed stunned by going behind and
from that point the second half saw us struggle to get back into
the match with the Brummies more than content to try and close the
game down. Lee Davis could have rescued a point but he spurned a
late chance and for the travelling fans the overwhelming memory
of today will doubtless be the frostbite.
The match had been in some doubt after predictions of overnight
frosts, but despite the bitter cold and a few morning snow flurrys
Halesowen were able to keep the fixture on. The short journey up
the M5 was complicated for many City fans by huge traffic jams,
for us on the train the only problem was finding our way across
Birmingham city centre and fighting off the hordes of sales shoppers.
You don't realise just how hilly this area of the West Midlands
is until you've tried to haul yourself up a few steep roads that
are rapidly developing a wonderful frozen sheen of bone breaking
ice. By the time we got to the ground I think we were all just glad
to be in one piece and on flat ground.
|Top: Adie Harris hooks the
ball through the snow.
Middle: Tom Webb is out jumped in the midfield.
Bottom: Some welcome warmth at Halesowen - but no Balti pies?
After all the pre-Christmas
paper talk of reduced budgets and everyone leaving it was a relief
to get back to action on the pitch, and an even bigger relief to
see familiar faces in the City shirts. Although injured Neil Mustoe
was still with the side, hoping to stay although the financial situation
looks bleak and it seems he is the player to be pushed out. Addis
was also in the side. According to the local paper Darryl
Addis the shot shy Forest-based forward is due to leave in the
New Year, but rumour had it that he'd been persuaded to stay. The
City side had a now familiar look about it as contrary to suggestions
that he'd put himself back in the team Burns limited himself to
recalling captain Neil Griffiths to the defence. A settled side
is fully justified, incredibly we were pursuing our fourth consecutive
away league win.
This isn't going to be the longest or fullest match report in the
history of the website. I'm a self confessed soft southerner and
I wasn't taking my hands out of my pockets in that temperature,
not to take notes and not for anything else either. Despite the
cold we actually got going quite well and took the game to the Brummies
in the opening stages. In fact, the freezing chill was probably
enough to motivate even the laziest work-shy player to run around
a little. At least if you did that the snow might not settle on
you and single you out as being a lazy git.
The first minutes could actually have seen City go behind as former
Stourport and Redditch winger Alex Cowley showed some fantastically
quick feet as some clever sidesteps took him past Tomkins and Marvin
Thompson but having done so well he wasted his shot, dragging it
well wide with just Bath to beat.
City were enjoying the better of the midfield and Adie Harris was
enjoying some space down the flank, encouraging the Yeltz defenders
to slip on the difficult pitch. He threaded in a good ball to Dave
Wilkinson who went sprawling in the area. I think the ref presumed
he'd just lost his footing but actually his standing foot had been
clipped and it was probably a much stronger claim for a penalty
than the referee realised.
City were looking quite well balanced, even with Sykes' presence
down the left forcing Adie Harris
out to the right where he was our main attacking threat. Neither
side seemed to find it easy to keep hold of the ball for any length
of time, understandable in the circumstances. Both teams were playing
carefully and the game seemed to be played in a decent spirit as
the game could easily have become nasty if either side had chosen
to fly in at each other on this surface.
It was definitely cold and you'll have to guess at the next few
minutes as the call of the Grove's pie shop proved too alluring,
it was mainly a chance to get your hands on anything warm. The food
was good as it always is, but the trademark much anticipated and
unnaturally orange stained Balti pies were missing. A shame, but
nothing an old-fashioned chicken n' mushroom substitute didn't help.
By the time we got back on the terrace we seemed to have missed
little, but with the snow now falling quite thickly the home team
seemed to have got a firmer footing in the match. In the snow city
were struggling to clear a succession of corner kicks, with both
Tomkins and Griffiths each getting their head to a couple apiece.
We were struggling to clear our lines, but when we finally did get
a proper boot on the ball we almost caught Halesowen - well, cold.
Webb hared onto the loose ball and fed Addis who did his usual
trick of holding up the ball well in front of the defender. This
time though he managed to not hold on to the ball quite as long
and played in Luke Corbett with an angled pass. Corbett took the
defender on but took perhaps a touch too far and found himself crowded
out without properly getting his shot away. City went even closer
a few minutes later when Alex
Sykes had another go from distance. The winger had tried a few
digs earlier in the game but they'd either been well wide or a little
lacking in oomph. This shot had both, and the keeper was struggling
as it curled and dipped, dropping just the wrong side of his bar.
This was actually a good match and the first half almost justified
that hellish walk up an ice rink. Neither team were on top for long
and we soon found ourselves back defending, with Griff making a
fantastic challenge on Halesowen's Simon Forsdick just as the Brummie
forward looked to have got himself clear on goal. Lamey also went
close with a curling free kick from just outside the box, but Matt
Bath did well to pick it out in the low sun. He grabbed at the
first effort but managed to gather the ball at the second attempt.
The half finished with another switch of fortunes and City attacking
goal. Another good move involving Harris and Addis moved the ball
inside to Corbett who unleashed a fierce shot into the side netting.
And with that half-time, and the pure misery of the cold with
nothing to distract us apart from Lee
Randall impressively curling the ball in from 35 yards. The
City fans were now at the far open end of the ground where it
was, unbelievably, even colder. In fact you had to be really careful
on the terrace as it started to ice up. Fortunately the City players
are ever considerate of the suffering of our fans and were careful
to produce little of any interest in the second half, presumably
concerned any excitement could have caused a spate of broken bones
amongst the travelling support.
Matt Bath prepares his
wall for a first half Halesowen free kick - don't panic,
it went over.
Before we'd had chance
to settle in our frozen locked positions the crucial moment of the
match came, and it was a cruel blow for City who had done nothing
to deserve to fall behind. The normally reliable Chris
Thompson simply had one of those horror moments that can sometimes
make defenders try to dig a hole in the ground, sadly for him nowhere
near possible in Siberian south-west Birmingham. Thommo didn't seem
under any pressure as he chased back to pick up a fairly aimless
Halesowen long ball, but he didn't seem to check on Matt Bath's
position and what was happening around him as he tried to tap a
back pass towards his keeper. Matt Bath was simply too far away,
but Howard Forinton was on hand to seize on the misjudged pass.
With Bath now stranded the former Banbury striker had plenty of
time to crash the ball into the net to give the home fans something
to warm their toes.
That goal really seemed to deflate City and having
managed to trade attacks before the break we now found ourselves
really struggling for any of the ball at all. In fairness the goal
also lifted the home side and Simon Forsdick was a constant threat
and he seemed to be the most likely source of the next goal. Several
of his runs looked dangerous, one of his attacks ended by a desperate
trip from Tomkins that earned the defender a yellow card. Despite
Halesowen's attacking play the dangerous Forinton was still being
well shackled by Neil Griffiths
who always seemed to be a step ahead of him. That left Halesowen
with few actual shooting chances despite their increased possession
and pressure, on several occasions Forsdick had shots from outside
the box but Matt Bath was comfortably equal to them all.
We weren't really looking very inspiring but a few substitutions
gave us a bit of last minute forward momentum. Jamie Reid came in
and was almost instantly booked, but at least his enthusiasm gave
us a bit of bite in midfield and we did manage to finally get forward
and look like we might just grab the point our first half display
just about deserved. However when the chance did come after it was
spurned. Mansell and Reid helped find space for Lee
Davis but his shot from the edge of the box was well wide and
seemed to sum up a very disappointing second half.
|Corbett gets City on the attack
amidst the ice and gloom at The Grove.
For City this was a dispiriting match
that just seemed to slip away from us having hinged on one unfortunate
individual defensive error. Halesowen will be cheered by the points
but can take little comfort from having edged the match without
really having shown enough to earn it. For City anxious glances
at the league table are only matched by equally anxious at the weekly
wage bill. Players need to be released but the management team seem
to be delaying the inevitable and after all the suggestions that
Chris Burns would quit seem to
have been put off there still seems little new fire coming from
the management bunch. For City fans this isn't perhaps going to
be the happiest or most optimistic of festive seasons.
That just left us to negotiate a long and cold journey
home. Having been well cheered and warmed at the Brummie hostelry
behind the ground we tried to battle our way back home through the
ice and snow. The first bit went well enough, but then we found
ourselves stuck in the godless wasteland of Worcester Shrub Hill
waiting for the next train going further south. And waiting, and
waiting, as another train disappeared from the screens without explanation.
Realising nothing was coming for another hour we took refuge in
the bar of a nearby B&B, the only signs of life and hospitality
within sight of the station. It should be against the law to have
a station with no pub or cafe within sight. By the time we stumbled
on to the platform at Gloucester station we were only just getting
back the feeling in our extremities. Pointless and frozen, it was
hard not to feel sorry for yourself, there was more chance of feeling
that than your fingers. Surely the New Year's Eve trip to Yate can
only be better.
* The matches at Bedford and Cheshunt fell victim to frost and
heavy snow, so at least City didn't lose ground against all the
opposition clubs at our end of the table. The Chiltern derby between
chesham and Aylesbury ended with a point apiece after a 1-1 draw
and the only side in the bottom few that will be happier after yesterday
will be Cirencester. They thumped struggling Evesham 4-0 at Common
Road, largely thanks to a hatrick from Mark Danks. The largest bank
holiday crowd of the day saw Chippenham beat Bath City 2-0 in front
of an impressive 1,612 packed inside Hardenhuish.