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23rd August '05
League Premier Division
C.Thompson, Harris, Griffiths, Mansell, Burns, Mustoe, Webb, Addis,
Davis, Knight (Lewis, 67).
Subs not used:
(foul), Griffiths (foul), Webb (persistent fouling),
Mustoe (time wasting)
T-Ender Man of the Match: Matt
Bath; a string of fine saves that deserved to seal three points for
It doesn't matter how you
shake things up, if you lose good players or bad, sign better or
worse replacements. What you can always count on is however deserving
or undeserving the City performance the thing that will always undo
us is simple damn, bad luck. It's almost as if at some point part
of the initiation as a City fan is to smash a mirror, curse a magpie,
flatten a black cat or move to number 13 in Bad Luck Avenue. Perhaps
Meadow Park was built on Gypsy land? In truth our second half performance
hardly merited a win over a tough battling Merthyr team, but that
hardly seems to matter with us and a luckier side would have held
on another few moments for the win. The only thing you can take
for granted following City it seems is that the disappointment will
be as painful as possible, and so it proved as for the second year
running the Martyrs escaped from Meadow Park with a point courtesy
of a last gap equaliser.
The drama to follow seemed unlikely when the match
kicked off. Merthyr are always a strong side and in new boss Tim
Harris they have a manager who is as familiar with our team as any
rival manager in the Southern League. We could not really have expected
much from the match, but home advantage still counts for a lot and
the return of Chris Burns after suspension certainly had a galvanising
effect. We weren't afraid to set the early pace with Webb lively
in midfield and Davis twinkling up front with a few sharp runs.
One good interchange created an early chance for Addis who fired
in a good shot only to see the Merthyr keeper save well.
Merthyr have some strong players though and our patched
up defence got an early test. A long ball from the back would have
been routine for an experienced defender but poor Rich Mansell must
wonder how he's suddenly fetched up being pressed into service as
an emergency centre-back. He fluffed the header and with his back
to the forward an overly cautious header back to the keeper left
Matt Bath stranded as Steins bore down on goal. Mansell had plenty
of reason to add Bath's name to his Christmas card list as the keeper
rescued him with a fine save, rushing out to smother the ball under
his body as the striker closed in on goal.
City were enjoying the match and in the first half
we could probably lay claim to having enjoyed the best of the possession.
Mustoe looks livelier and fitter than last season and his running
was ensuring the Merthyr players could never settle. Between them
he and Webb were providing vital cover for the defence and the Martryrs
players were struggling to make their runs. Knight was also being
given space to pass the ball and when he is given the opportunity
he can still run a game, and his prompting was helping Addis and
Davis sparkle. Morris was the busier of the two keepers. Addis went
close having turned inside his marker and curled a shot just past
the post, and moments later he laid a good ball off to strike partner
Lee Davis whose fierce drive brought a good stop from the Martyrs
keeper. The creaking Welsh defence looked to be in real trouble
when Davis nipped in behind them to latch on to a weak defensive
header and Morris was forced to produce a carbon copy of Matt Bath's
save at the other end a few minutes earlier.
This was a remarkable start for us after such a disappointing few
weeks, and for a short time it was possible to imagine that better
things could happen. Chris Thompson had been moved to the right
side, and his availability further up the field made a big difference
as he added a bit of extra quality and poise on the wing. It was
a good move between him and Webb that led to the latter being tripped,
giving City a free kick in a dangerous position. We're well used
to seeing these sail into the car park, but Knight stepped up to
send a wickedly curling effort over the wall and it needed another
fine save from the Merthyr keeper to push it around the post.
We were playing well going forward but Merthyr had their own chances
and when exposed our defence looked to have its own problems. Burns
had mopped up plenty of headers and loose passes around our box
but when he slipped Merthyr's Dane Williams raced in on goal and
Bath needed to produce another sharp save to beat out his shot.
City then had a real let off when the follow up shot was sliced
wide when Merthyr seemed to have the goal at their mercy. City were
determined to get back on the offensive and were fighting hard,
in Thompson's case literally as he and Merthyr's Paul Keddle went
into the book as the ref tried to clampdown on a series of individual
pushing matches that were bubbling along in several parts of the
pitch. The ref could have done well to look a bit closer to home,
as his mistakes in awarding free-kicks and throw-ins were starting
to cause their own problems.
|Pretty sky, pretty lights,
same old rotten luck....
One of our problems so far this season
has been failing to capitalise on our chances and having managed
to unexpectedly exert so much pressure on the Merthyr goal it was
vital we converted that into a lead, and finally we did. Webb had
gone on another charging run and just when he was running out of
ideas he was tripped and Knight took the free kick. Thankfully we
resisted the temptation to try another one of our bizarre and over
complicated free kick routines and instead put over a good cross
that Burns was able to muscle on to. He was unlucky to see his near
post header come back off the post but Davis was first to react
to the rebound and snapped up his second of the season from close
range. Davis looks sharp and if he's allowed to continue up front
he looks like he could get in the region of 20 goals during the
campaign. That finish was the kind of six-yard box poachers finish
we've lacked for a while.
A 1-0 half-time lead is always a fragile thing but on our earlier
form you'd be forgiven for looking forward to the second half. It
was an ugly second period for our players though, as inexplicably
we simply lost our way against a resurgent Merthyr team. They came
out as fired up as you'd expect, presumably having been told to
do much better or not bother coming back in to the dressing room
at the end of the match. We should have been expecting the Valleys
side to rally, but as they closed us down we simply seemed to sink
under the pressure. It was a strange first ten minutes of the half
with our midfield simply forced back. The space was now gone and
under pressure passes no longer found yellow shirts and the forwards
stopped making the same sort of sharp runs that had helped give
the man with the ball the options he needed.
As the Welsh hordes began to close on the goal Matt Bath became
a one man defensive wall. First he flew across goal to meet a swerving
effort hit from the edge of the box, and then the keeper was able
to get behind another fierce drive hit from 20 yards as he fell
on Williams' shot. An even better save came a few minutes later
as City struggled to stop the danger coming down either flank. A
free kick was dropped into the City box and Eckhardt rose highest
to plant a firm header downward towards the far corner. It looked
a certain equaliser but Bath produced a show-stopping fingertip
save to stop it crossing the line. It was a shame that the entirely
unmerited decision to segregate the match had put off many Welsh
fans from traveling as this was now a good attacking display by
their team. At least the local constabulary were out in force to
see some football for a change. Strangely, both police and the club
seemed to think that the other had asked for the segregation and
high-vis police presence. Something strange going on.
The match was becoming scrappy and we were being forced
into errors. Both Griff and Webb were booked for fouls as the City
side were forced into constantly stretching for desperate tackles.
Lewis came on to provide some fresh legs and his pace certainly
seemed to give us something on the break, but on one of his rare
opportunities to run at the Welsh defence he frustratingly got the
ball caught under his feet and the chance went begging. With Davis
back in midfield we seemed to have all but ran up the white flag,
but for an agonising half hour it seemed as if we might just weather
all the Merthyr pressure. They threw on a big forward, but Burns
and Griff combined to stop his headers falling to team mates.
The one City player who seemed to keep
going throughout was Mustoe, and there were occasions when he emerged
from midfield carrying the ball only to find himself with little
around him and only Addis to aim at. He's also a wily campaigner
now and it seemed he would manage to help the clock tick down as
he kept the ball in the corner flag area, but the ref was alive
to that and booked him for time wasting as he tried to sneakily
kick the ball away when Merthyr were awarded a free kick. It seemed
as if the 90 minutes were up, but the ref was determined to add
time one and it cost us dear. The long ball pumped up into our box
was half-cleared but fell to Dane Williams who crashed a huge volley
into the net, a shot that even Matt Bath could not get near. Cue
wild celebrations from Merthyr, and that familiar unbelieving anger
from City fans. Many blamed the ref. Perhaps I'm just out of practice
at this, but while the ref was undoubtedly poor his decisions had
not cost us the game - we'd simply allowed ourselves to get brushed
aside in the second half and Merthyr deserved at least a point.
After the game Burns was fuming in the bar and made
no secret of his anger, apologising to fans and threatening a wholesale
clear out if the players went "hiding" like that again.
Certainly some of our players faded badly as the match went on,
you'd expect Thommo to have more influence, even from the right
flank - while Mansell and Webb also made less impact against the
blue wave we faced. In this kind of match the presence of Dave Wilkinson
is sorely missed, and hopefully he'll be back fit soon. On this
showing he could find himself playing alongside some new team mates
if Burns doesn't get the reaction he's demanded over the Bank Holiday.
* City's draw may have doubled our points tally to
date, but we are still floundering in 20th spot, although the season
is well known for being a long run rather than a short one, or something.
The more bitter type of City fan (it's not just me surely?) may
find some slight comfort from seeing Ciren's promotion aspirations
being firmly put in their place with a 3-0 defeat at Salisbury,
although it may say more about the quality of the Wiltshire team
than of any Cirencester faults. The other Wiltshire side in the
division lost last night, with Chippenham surprised by the Team
Bath students in a 2-0 defeat. Aylesbury's good start continues
with a Drew Roberts goal enough to see off King's Lynn, while Bath
City's 100% record ended at Lodge Lane where they needed a Scott
Partridge equaliser to hold Yate Town to a 1-1 draw. Our next opponents
Tiverton face an intriguing and hopefully draining match at home
to Mangotsfield tomorrow night.
|| 20th (=)
||dry with broken
| by t-towel
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