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2nd January '06
League Premier Division
(26), Turk (67)
Bath, Harris (M.Thompson 69), Sykes (Mansell 69),
Griffiths, Tomkins, C.Thompson, Burns (Corbett 81), Webb,
Addis, Knight, Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Reid.
(elbow 2), Griffiths (foul 13), C.Thompson (foul
39), Tomkins (push 41)
T-Ender Man of the Match: Matt
Bath; a string of fine stops including a miraculous double save
in the first half that kept us in touch.
Even at their very best
City were always going to struggle to get anything against league
leaders Salisbury City, but this match had ceased to be about the
result for most City fans after the news this morning that the game
would be the last in charge for manager Chris
Burns. The departing gaffer had demanded that his players show
him that they would fight and scrap for everything, and they certainly
did that in a tough contest that City were a little unlucky not
to end with a point. Salisbury looked an accomplished side in attack,
but their much vaunted defensive record must have been built on
more impressive displays as City found gaps in their defence. Salisbury
could easily have been out of sight had it not been for some fantastic
saves from keeper Matt Bath, but at least the spirit and effort
of the City players made a welcome return that brought back memories
of some of the best days of Burns four and a half seasons at Meadow
Park. After disappointing displays at Yate and Halesowen at least
this was a good display for Burns to sign off on, and the players
will feel they didn't let their mentor down on an emotional day
for everyone who has stuck by City through the trials and tribulations
of recent years.
In a strange way we went into the match a bit more relaxed than
we had in other festive matches. The motion of the occasion made
it a one off, and a break from looking at the league table. Playing
a side like Salisbury also took away any pressure of expectation,
with their vast playing budget and commanding lead at the top of
the table most City fans fully expected our side to be swept off
the pitch and to be impressed by the team that have made themselves
practically champions elect by the half-way point of the season.
Burns' team selection showed that the match was as much about farewells
as it was about the result, with both Burns and Knight back in the
starting line-up - in Burns' case his first league start since November
and for Knight his first since September. Surprisingly one of the
players to make way to the subs' bench was Luke Corbett, City's
top scorer and main goal threat. This may not have boded well with
Salisbury featuring their prolific strike partnership of Paul Sales
and Matt Tubbs with former Southampton and Port Vale player Tommy
Widdrington supporting from midfield. For all of their money and
ability there's something nice and homely about seeing our old friend
Kevin Sawyer, the 'big-boned' former Ciren keeper, in the top side's
|Top: One last huddle before
the last match of the Burns era
Bottom: Burns bids farewell to SLP officials as he's booked
for a stray elbow
Burns and Knight took to
the pitch through a guard of honour from their players and there
was a good turn out on the T-End to give them a vocal welcome for
their last game. There was certainly an extra charge to the game
and for all of his years of experience Chris
Burns has never really coped very well with channeling his emotions
once on the pitch. I think one of his main problems has been almost
caring too much, and you imagine his desire to help the club descends
on him like a mist. He certainly seemed pretty charged up in the
opening minutes as he opened up with a flying elbow on Salisbury's
Wayne Turk. The City boss escaped with a yellow card but was perhaps
fortunate his last match didn't end in painful embarrassment.
We expected much from the Salisbury side and they certainly opened
the match looking like a confident and well drilled outfit. They
moved the ball around fairly well but didn't really have a great
deal of sharpness or gloss up front. It looked as if we were to
concede an early goal when Matt Bath slipped as he came out to collect
a fairly tame shot, but Griff trudged back into the mud to get rid
of the ball before it threatened the goal line.
Sykes returned to the City side after his strange sudden absence
from the team that lost at Yate a couple of days ago. After a bright
start his impact in his loan spell from Bath City has diminished
and he's looked particularly vulnerable when asked to carry out
defensive duties as a left wing-back. He was caught out in the first
few minutes and Lyndon Tomkins
had to be alert first to head away the resulting cross and then
to also block the next follow up attack. Salisbury were finding
our defence just a bit better than perhaps they'd expected and they
were also already putting passes astray. Perhaps their desperation
accounted for Matt Tubbs going down like a big girl when Griff tackled
him, but his strike partner Paul Sales had no excuse at all for
one of the worst affronts to hairstyling seen at Meadow Park in
many years. There were things you could really not like about this
over-paid bunch of prima donnas as well as revelling in sheer green-eyed
jealousy of their inflated wage bill.
For all of their pressure you could see the Tigers players suddenly
almost instantly have an Emporer's new clothes moment. This lot
aren't that good! In a few minutes we started getting forward ourselves
and the Salisbury midfield seemed to take an age to changing their
forward runs into defensive work. Addis picked up a ball out wide
having drifted out to the wing and his pass picked up a sharp Adie
Harris run and his low shot wasn't too far off. A few minutes
later City could have really shocked the top team. Burns may have
been forced to adapt the way he plays as he ages but he still has
a great eye for a pass and as sweet a left foot as has ever graced
the SLP. With Webb winning the ball Burns looked up and sent over
a fantastic pass that picked out Dave Wilkinson's run behind the
Salisbury defence. He drove his shot well but Sawyer uses his size
well and got enough on the shot to rob it of much of its pace, and
with the ball limping agonisingly towards the net a defender was
able to get back and clear.
Salisbury responded but were not anywhere near as
fluent as perhaps we'd expected. They were being harassed in midfield
and their slowness in reacting seemed to be typified as Widdrington's
late attempt to clear the ball saw him catch poor Adie in the
chops. Even when the most dangerous strike force in the division
did manage to break through our defence they were to find Matt
Bath in his best form. Sales turned quickest on to a ball
over the top of the City defence but he was foiled by a fantastic
double save from the City keeper, beating his first shot out and
then scrambling back across goal to smother his follow up effort
from the rebound. Sales went close again a few minutes later but
this time he saw his looping header hooked off the City goal line
by Neil Griffiths. You felt that the City goal was living a charmed
life but the Wiltshire side got their goal eventually. It came
from a low driven free kick that some how sneaked right through
the City defence. Matt Bath again parried the initial shot but
this time there were plenty of attackers on hand to pick up the
loose ball and Craig Davis tapped the ball into the net.
On another day that could have been the end of the
Gloucester challenge but the Salisbury side had done little to
really intimidate us. Webb saw a well driven free kick smack into
the wall just wide of the far post but within six minutes we were
still level. Sykes was playing his last match of his loan spell,
and he too wanted to sign off with something more memorable than
his defensive frailties. He headed off on a strong run down the
left carving his way through the away defence before prodding
in a low ball across the Salisbury goal. Dave
Wilkinson was playing further forward than his normal role
and looked to have got ahead of the ball, but as he turned and
fell he still managed to hook the ball from behind him and lift
it over the keeper and into the net. It was a great run and a
wonderfully improvised bit of finishing and for a little while
we could hope for a result the occasion deserved.
The Salisbury side seemed stunned by having been
pegged back and the rest of the half saw City easily match their
more expensive rivals. We did pick up a couple more bookings for
tackles the ref judged to be too robust, but we were certainly
not being over ran. Chris Thompson
produced a string of solid tackles to frustrate any Salisbury
attacks down the right and again Matt Bath was equal to anything
they did manage to get in terms of shots on goal. Griff got caught
out and he surrendered the ball it looked like we would still
go into the break behind but Matt Bath again made a superb diving
save to keep the ball out. At the other end you felt we were just
a frustrating touch away from finding that last touch that would
unlock the leaders' defence. Addis was getting a lot of the ball
and holding it up well, but whilst he could pick up clever passes
from Sykes and Webb he wasn't quite getting himself clear to go
Matt Bath prepares to
make another great save as Salisbury attack in the Somme,
sorry - the T-End goalmouth.
The first half saw Salisbury trying to impose themselves on the
game far more, presumably having been on the end of a tongue lashing
from their manager. A good early attack saw the ball flicked onto
the mullet from hell, Sales must have been starting to despair of
ever finding the net and again Matt Bath was on hand to clutch the
ball with another good stop. City were actually quickly on top and
creating pressure but we were having the same problem we've had
for much of the season, especially with Corbett missing we didn't
look like our forwards could get into scoring positions or had any
great desire to even shoot. A great move involving Burns and Knight
found Webb but his deep cross found no team mates running into the
box. Unsurprisingly Salisbury were starting to get a little anxious
and it was now Burns' turn to be on the end of a nasty clattering
challenge that got Matty Tubbs into the book. It was ironic it was
the Salisbury number 10 putting in that kind of challenge as from
his earlier inability to stay on his feet you can't imagine how
long he'd have stayed down if he'd been elbowed like that. Burns
got unsteadily to his feet, probably astonished any player could
be daft enough to try and start a vendetta against him of all people.
Tubbs wisely spent the rest of the match avoiding going anywhere
near the ball. It was the City old stars who were making the most
impression on the match, and Knight was unlucky to see a fierce
shot charged down on the edge of the box.
The match seemed to be gradually drifting to a stale
mate and hit a bit of a flat spell. City seemed a little blunt up
front, whilst Salisbury had lost their way and were finding City
difficult to break down. Gradually you had the sense that we were
being pushed back and we suddenly found ourselves defending far
too deep and all but inviting Salisbury on to us. This wasn't a
good tactic and eventually we paid the price. The Salisbury strike
force was having an off day and it was Wayne Turk, one of their
central midfielders who stole in to get the Lillywhites their winner.
The ball was lobbed in over the City defence and with our players
back-pedaling he seized on the ball, turned Griff and squeezed his
close range shot past Bath at the far post.
|Knighter finds some space
in a crowded midfield.
That goal actually sparked the match
back into life and it was only fitting that the last 20 minutes
of Burns' time at the City helm should see his side pressing for
a goal in front of the T-End. Slowly the atmosphere built up and
for this last spell of the game the casual observer would have been
had pushed to tell it was Salisbury on top of the table. We were
playing some great football and a good move across the opposition
box ended with Sykes' sweetly struck shot skimming just wide.
It was now Salisbury's turn for their keeper to prove
his worth with Sawyer making several good saves. His big framed
bulk also produced one of those moments of T-End inspiration as
he got a re-worked rendition of the Kaiser Chiefs song with "I
Predict a Diet" helping his goal kicks reach the half-way line.
None of that stopped him getting to a screaming shot from sub Richard
Mansell who suddenly found dynamite in his boots to thunder
in a real belter that Sawyer did well to reach. Wilkinson's follow-up
volley was also blocked on the line.
Burns went off with 9 minutes to go, and received
a huge ovation from all corners of the ground. Only now did Corbett
get a chance to stretch his legs but it was too late from him to
make any real impact on the match. We were creating chances now
but too many of our shots lacked any conviction. Addis was guilty
of a complete air shot while Chris Thompson and Wilkinson did little
better as they produced tame shots when given the chance to shoot.
City had one last chance when Knight was tripped on the edge of
the box and the veteran lined up the dead ball. He produced another
accurate dead ball and after Wilko's flick on Chris Thompson almost
managed to squeeze it in at the far post, but it wasn't to be.
This wasn't one of City's greatest performances
but given the quality of the opposition the City players will fell
they acquitted themselves fairly well and with a little bit more
quality we could easily have snatched a point. For all of our determination
though it is perhaps easy to forget the side's debt to Matt Bath
for a string of great saves. Salisbury were disappointing today,
and on this show they'll need to be careful not to run out of steam
on their title challenge. Of the sides we've already played Chippenham
and King's Lynn looked more impressive and even Aylesbury offered
more in their attack.
Of course this match wasn't really about just a result,
it was about saying goodbye to Chris
Burns and an opportunity to thank him for all he's done. While
there have been moments where his tactics have infuriated and some
strange comments carried in the local press there is no doubt at
all about the effort he's put into his job over the last five years.
Given the lack of funds the club's progress has been incredible,
and to take the club into the Southern League Premier and the FA
Trophy quarter-finals are memorable achievements. All of that was
at the forefront of everyone's minds as both Burns and Keith
Knight got an extended reception from the City fans before a
tearful Burns retreated from the Meadow Park pitch for the last
time. Perhaps he'll be back at some point, but in the meantime we
need to all try and pull together and find some resources for likely
caretaker successor Neil Mustoe to try and keep the club up.
* Down at the bottom most of our other fellow strugglers
didn't make any ground on us. Aylesbury and Evesham lost at home
to Bedford and Bath respectively, while Cirencester's problems deepened
with a 3-1 home defeat to Yate who've been struggling to win away.
Neither Northwood or Chesham will be pleased with a 1-1 draw although
Northwood will have been relieved to grab a last minute equaliser.
Hitchin's return to form continued with a thumping 4-1 win over
Cheshunt courtesy of a Josh Sozzo hatrick.
|| 16th (=)
||overcast with occasional
| by t-towel
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