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Saturday 4th March '06


Northwood chestnut tree

at Chestnut Avenue

Southern League Premier Division
(match 33)


Southern League logo



Gloucester City



Scorers: -

Gloucester City


Scorers: Whittington (50)
City Side:

Bath, Miller, Stonehouse, Preece, Holland, Harris, C.Thompson, Webb, Bevan (Corbett 79), Whittington (Addis 86), Wilkinson.

Subs not used: Reid, Mansell, Randall.
City Bookings: Stonehouse (foul 11)
T-Ender Man of the Match: Chris Holland; in a game of few chances his defensive presence proved crucial.


This may have been one of the worst matches City have been involved in for many months, but both of these clubs are locked in a dire and grim struggle for Southern League survival and what the footballing purist made of it will be of little interest to fans of either side. On a day where all that mattered was the result City did just enough to edge out Northwood and take the precious points that see the Tigers leap-frog the London club and climb out of the bottom four. A solitary goal from new striking hero Mike Whittington sealed the points, but all over the pitch we showed just enough extra strength and quality to deserve the result. The match might not live long in the memory, but in terms of the 2005-06 City campaign this may just be the day that we reflect on as being where we pulled our heads out of the water.

City were missing the suspended Lyndon Tomkins in defence, so stand-in skipper Chris Thompson moved back into the centre of a back three, still sporting an impressive black-eye courtesy of that stray elbow in the Hitchin match the previous weekend. His place in midfield was taken by Adie Harris, rapidly moving into the super veteran category as he approaches his 42nd birthday. Whittington and Bevan continued their partnership up front, but with Addis and Corbett both approaching full fitness and on the bench after recent injuries the City strike force is starting to look to have some depth and give some tactical options for the City coaching staff. Northwood featured the dangerous Peter Dean up front but recent goalscorer Shayne Demetrious remained on the subs bench. For the home team this match was every bit as important as for City, for the winners lay the prize of 18th spot, crucially a place above the relegation threatened bottom four in the SLP league table.


Adie gets forward down the left

Preece defends City line.

Top: Adie Harris looks for space on the left.
Bottom: Preece gets to the ball first as City defend.

The match was simply one you couldn't miss and I'd dragged myself to the ground despite feeling totally crap with a thumping brain-splitting headache. Imagine my joy when the City travelling support trooped in with not one drum, but two, for stereo effect banging. Oh, and an air horn, bloody brilliant! As I slipped away to nurse my head and escape from the low sun I at least had the opportunity to really enjoy the strange pleasures of Chestnut Avenue. It's a strange ground, set in between a public park and a cemetary, down a narrow access road carved through allotments. You can tell you're in London though - the club can't secure the ground and every stand, building and pitch barrier is plastered in graffitti. Nice to see that the vandals had the decency to make sure at least one bit reads NFC - good to see the spray painters getting behind their local team.

Both teams had been in decent form over the last few weeks, City picking up points at Hitchin and beating Grantham, while the London side had just recorded a fantastic win at Mangotsfield. You'd expect both teams to have some confidence but instead the two sets of players showed every sign of nerves and appreciation of just how vital this match could be for their clubs' survival prospects. The opening exchanges were scrappy and neither side could keep the ball down for long on a rutted and bobbley playing surface. The long balls from the back set the tone for the rest of the game and it was clear this wasn't going to be a game to lighten the heart, but it didn't stop it being a match that took an iron grip on your gut and squeezed.

City were definitely the stronger side in the opening 15 minutes but we couldn't keep the ball down long enough to really create chances. Whittington looked lively but was struggling to get into the box even when Jody Bevan once managed to beat the Northwood left-back and get a cross over. For the most part though Bevan was finding it difficult to hold on to the ball long enough to bring others in to the game. Adie Harris was operating down the right and trying to cut in on his left foot, but despite showing his usual determination and enthusiasm he was also finding the crucial final ball hard to come by.

City's left-back Paul Stonehouse found himself in the book as early as the 11th minute after a flying crunching challenge down the flank. It was a reckless challenge that didn't need to be risked so far up the pitch and got him a booking for his third consecutive match. The Forest Green youngster has done well in his time with City but he does need to watch this tendency to fly in wildly before he becomes a player refs look out for.

When City did create chances they were only half glimpses of goal. Defender Chris Holland had a good chance at the far post but snatched at it to send it high over the bar, while both Whittington and Bevan tried to turn on snap-shots at close range but both put their efforts well wide under close scrutiny from the home defence. Whittington has been in such great form in recent games we must be careful not to now expect too much of him. He showed some good touches but it was a bit of a shock to see him spurn a chance as he snatched at a shot when the ball suddenly fell to him in the box only for him tp prod it straight at Northwood keeper Liam Watson.

Northwood had little to cheer them but as the first half began to draw to its conclusion the London outfit were beginning to stretch the City defence a little more. Part of this was down to some frustration in the City midfield who were finding their inability to carve out a gap in the opposition penalty area frustrating and both Webb and Harris were guilty of giving away possession as they attempted near impossible passes through to the forwards.

In the City back-line the impressive Chris Holland was more than capable of dealing with most of Northwood's high balls, with Preece also acquitting himself well under the physical test presented by Peter Dean and Darren Grieves. However City did survive one scare when a hooked Miller clearance fell to Grieves who smashed his effort well over the bar and into the cemetery behind the goal. There were Northwood locals on the other side of that wall who could have finished better... and Grieves was to spurn an even better chance before the half was out. Dean Clark managed a strong run from the centre circle that left both Wilko and Thompson floundering. He cut the ball out wide to Peter Dean whose cross fell beyond Preece and to Grieves who found himself in front of goal with Matt Bath looking pretty exposed in front of the City net. Fortunately for the Tigers the Northwood forward still seemed to think he was aiming at the tombstones and again put his shot well over the cross bar.


City attack the Northwood goal.

Where it lands no-one knows. Wilko waits for a City corner to come to earth.

Northwood chucked on a sub at half-time, presumably looking to get some forward momentum of their own, but instead Tim Harris' half-time talk seemed to give City a little more shape and confidence to get forward. City began to press the Northwood defence and were now trying to commit extra players forward into the box when we won possession. This made all the difference as Michael Whittington hit the crucial goal in the 50th minute, and while it lacked the sheer beauty of some of his recent strikes it was every bit as important as any of them.

The on-loan Cheltenham reserve striker simply reacted first to a good low cross from Webb on the City right that Northwood failed to clear as it zipped low across their goalmouth 10 yards out. Bevan reached it first but he couldn't control it, allowing the ball to bobble through to Whittington. The striker didn't get a clean strike on it but managed to scuff it in exactly the right direction to edge just inside the post. Recently Whittington's been good, now he's managing to get lucky too and his fifth goal in four league games are proving invaluable to the City survival cause. This was hardly a goal to remember, but it was more than enough to set off the traveling City fans in a good few minutes of relieved jumping around. The battle was far from over though - could City hold on to such a slender lead for 40 minutes away from home? Having twice lost a lead at Hitchin the previous Saturday the fans' nerves were jangling even more now than when the match had been level.

That goal gave the City players the confidence to string together a few much better passing moves that really emphasised that we just about deserved our lead. In fact we created the best chance of the game just a couple of minutes later when Jody Bevan again did well to steal across the Northwood right-back and meet a low Wilkinson ball to the far post. Having done the difficult bit in reaching the ball Bevan just seemed to lose his concentration and he flicked his effort the wrong side of the post with the goal gaping.

Stonehouse loses out.

City press the Northwood goal.

Top: Stonehouse scraps for the ball as Northwood close ranks.
Btm: Bevan wins a header as City press for a second.


The match was beginning to get a little more lively with Northwood pressing forward a little more as they tried to get back into the game. The impressive Holland provided another solid block on the edge of the area but the next attack saw the home team finally make Matt Bath warm his gloves as the City keeper had to come to beat out a in swinging corner from under his cross bar.

Northwood threw on a couple more attacking players with midfielder Shayne Demetrious entering the fray and soon joined by Alistair Heselton who replaced the wayward Grieves in the London side's attack. Hesleton had been struggling with an injury but even half-fit he looked more of a threat than his predecessor, immediately forcing Chris Thompson into a stretching tackle in the box that needed to be as well timed as it was.

City were now finding some extra space being left behind by the Northwood midfield and the home team were plainly not good enough to have fewer numbers at the back. The lively Mike Whittington again saw a much better effort blocked after he'd raced clear of the Northwood defence only to seem to check back and allow the defenders to catch back up with him as he tried to get a shot away.

Jonny Miller, Bevan and Dave Wilkinson all also went close with headers. Northwood sub Courtnage went into the ref's book after charging down Whittington as the striker raced through for a high ball. The striker is doing well to learn how to also be the target of some rather physical targeting by some Southern League defenders.

The Northwood attack was largely predictable and they seemed to have little in the way of plan B as the City defence simply booted clear all their hopeful punts towards the City goalmouth. Our latest loan signing Chris Holland certainly provided a comforting figure in the back-line this afternoon. It is refreshing to have a City defender who knows that sometimes less is more, and you don't need to dwell on the ball in your own penalty area. His solid blocks and uncompromising willingness to stick the ball into the allotments frustrated Northwood and relieved the tension at the away end on several occasions.

The last few minutes saw Tim Harris try and spin out a few minutes and freshen up his attack with two very slow substitutions. Corbett came on for a quick run out, replacing Bevan who'd looked out of sorts all through the game. He did play a blinder on leaving the pitch though, in one of the slowest exits ever recorded in modern football. Whittington also stopped off with a few minutes left, being replaced by Addis in another remarkable feat of slow movement for a player who'd looked so full of running just moments earlier.

Despite our determined defending it seems an unwritten footballing law that any side holding on to a one goal advantage should suffer a late scare. Northwood came horribly close to grabbing a largely undeserved equaliser as a clever trick created space for a dangerous cross that fell into the City six yard box. Dean Clark's late run hadn't been picked up and he had chance to head for goal from close range but fortunately he placed it straight at Matt Bath and the City keeper clutched it gratefully to his chest.

That was enough for City to hold out for all three points and how important they might be we'll only know at the end of April. Right now, they feel like a lifeline. Some of the Northwood fans seem to be hoping for the drop so they can play more sides local to them, but in fairness their players didn't show the same lack of spirit and for all their efforts they must have had a bad day today when you look at some of the results they've achieved in recent months. It was good to see some delirious smiles on our impressively sizeable and loud away support. The players also seem to understand what this is all about, and you have to applaud their commitment - and especially that of the several loan players who seem to have quickly bought in to the City cause. It was also good to see Tim Harris enjoying his victory, with what is now becoming a trademark air guitar sweep into a triumphant punch into the air to show the fans just how pleased he is. The new boss certainly seems to have lit a spark under the club, and you can feel the enthusiasm and hope starting to surge around the camp. We might not be playing the prettiest football but the necessary grit is there, and we all know this is about short-term survival so the club still has SLP status on which to build over the summer. If you're a bit of a part-time fan this is a cause that does deserve and need your support.

* As mentioned above theis vital win means City leap-forg Northwood to move up to 18th and out of the bottom four. Our own record is improving and our unbeaten league run now extends to five games, but unfortunately other sides around us are also picking up points to keep the pressure on. Of the clubs we're still taking an interest in only Chesham lost, their 2-0 defeat at King's Lynn helped Aylesbury to move off the bottom at Chesham's cost, the Ducks managing a 2-0 home win over Banbury United. Cirencester continue to finally find some form with a Gareth Hopkins brace helping them to a 3-1 win at Hitchin that will provide some revenge for Ciren's seven goal mauling from Hitchin in the league cup a few weeks ago. Cheshunt's incredible run ground to a halt with a 2-1 defeat at Mangotsfield. At the top of the table things are getting interesting as Salisbury stumbled again with a 1-0 home defeat to Halesowen with Bath City going top with a win at Tiverton, and Chippenham slipped up with Bedford coming beck after conceeding an early goal to win 2-1 at the New Eyrie.

SLP Table; Southern League website.

Referee: A.Osborne (Hertfordshire) League Position: 18th (+1) Attendance: 182
Conditions: clear, cold & sunny City Form: WLDWDD
Match Report:
by t-towel

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