City will be delighted to see their season start with such a solid
professional performance to record a convincing 3-0 win at Cheshunt.
The team never looked as if it needed to hit top gear and with all
the goals coming in the first half this was a display that bodes
well for the rest of the campaign. City created a host of good chances
and rarely seemed truly ruffled by a home side that included players
with enough pace and power to have caused us problems in the past.
City actually started hesitantly and took a few minutes to get
into our stride and get the confidence to pull the ball down and
try to play. However it wasn't long before Alex Sykes was picking
back up where he left off last season, latching on to a half cleared
corner kept alive by Marc Richards to smash a half volley goalward
and whistling narrowly wide of the post. That should have given
Cheshunt some idea of the attacking threat but they didn't cope
at all with City's next corner. This time Sykes swung in a high
hanging ball to the far post where Pitcher emerged from a crop of
City players to knock a header back across goal. With the defence
static Matt Rose was the player
to react and steal across goal to nod in City's first goal of the
season - not a bad way to mark your return to City colours.
City kept up the pressure and as the game settled into a bit of
shape it was our visiting Tigers who were the smarter, soaking up
Cheshunt possession and counter-attacking with speed from midfield.
Mustoe saw a 25 yard drive speed just over the bar after a Luke
Buttery run and cross was half-cleared. The left-back was having
an accomplished game and was getting forward well in addition to
performing his defensive duties by shackling the impressive Harry
Hunt drifting from wide in the Cheshunt attack. Another Buttery
forward ball almost led to a Pitcher debut goal, his clever touch
taking him inside past the defender but the ball just got away from
him and his effort to lob the advancing keeper lacked enough power.
Cheshunt were finding it tricky to get much space in the City area,
but came closest when Hamblin conceded a free kick near our left
hand touchline and from the resulting deep ball Darrell Cox found
space but planted his header well wide. That miss proved crucial
as Gloucester were keeping things very tight and with the half drawing
to a close we looked like extending our lead. Richards and Pitcher
worked the ball well down the right and the City striker slipped
beyond the full-back, his low cross just eluding Webb's out-stretched
leg and then catching Syko out as he fluffed his shot with a mis-kick.
The second goal was coming though, and it resulted from a strong
Webb run down the left and a clever pass inside to Pitcher who turned
and found his ankle swept from him by Adam Norman. Pitcher might
have gone down like he'd been fed off the Morrisons cold meat counter,
but the ref was right to point to the spot. Alex
Sykes stepped up and took a cool confident penalty kick to drive
low past debutant Ambers keeper Bobby Smith.
Things were already going far better than most City fans could
imagine, but the best goal was still to come. Luke Buttery stepped
up to take a seemingly routine free-kick near the halfway line,
but when the ball came in to the Cheshunt box the defence stood
off. The delay was fatal and Marc
Richards powered in to fling himself at the ball and the resulting
diving header flew past the keeper for a memorable strike. The home
defence had a lot to answer for, but it was a cracking finish and
the angle and flight of the ball in helped carve open the gap.
The second half was a hell of a lot quieter, after last season's
defensive calamities there's little doubt City were wise to protect
the lead. Cheshunt enjoyed more of the ball but still found themselves
facing stern resistance if they threatened. The Cheshunt forward
line couldn't get any chance to turn and this was looked a far more
confident and solid defence than we saw last year. Kevin
Sawyer had little need to exert himself, but he dealt very competently
with the high balls that came his way and the one time he was called
into action he made a fine stop. Hunt had been fouled by Buttery
and the resulting free kick found a late run into the box from Cheshunt
skipper Steve Obeng, but his header was well held by Sawyer despite
coming through a crowd of players.
City still managed to break forward with Cheshunt's increasing
frustration leading to some of the dirtiest tackles this side of
the Heathrow climate camp, but there was little damage done beyond
three yellow cards. City's best second half shot came from Rose
picking up another half-cleared Sykes cross, thumping in a smart
volley that was well saved. Jack
Pitcher's speed and touch impressed all game and he also produced
a smart turn before accelerating down the wing and crossing into
the path of a Richards run. This time the cross was looping and
Rico couldn't get enough power on his stooping header to beat the
keeper. With the clock running down both Griffin and Welsh got run-outs
from the bench, but Tim Harris must be delighted to have earnt all
the points without his side having to be overstretched or indeed
even throwing Whittington into the fray.
T-Ender Match Snaps
|City's back post corner routine sets
up Rose for City's opener.
||Pitcher goes sprawling as Norman gets
too close. It's a penalty!
|Marc Richards flies through the air
to thump in the third.
|| Pitcher feels the pain as a second
half tackle flies in.
With Tim Harris suddenly overwhelmed with selection options this
was always going to be a fascinating first team selection. Kevin
Sawyer was one figure sure to start as he made his debut in
goal, while Jack Pitcher
also made his bow up front. The surprise was perhaps Sykes getting
the nod up front, Webb filling in on the left to allow Marc Richards
to play at right midfield. At right-back Reid got the go ahead,
with Thommo joining Allard, Whitts, Griffin and Welsh on the bench.
" I don't think he got tripped."
"I don't think I care."
Football morality in a nutshell as Pitcher's penalty award is
debated amongst the traveling support.
Harris obviously isn't the kind of guy to have his head turned
by an array of attacking options, and he went with a side that seemed
built to deliver an away result. The tactics worked impressively,
and although City looked a little narrow in midfield it was Pitcher's
pace and work rate that enabled us to still carry a threat. The
defence looked comfortable even when threatened and the midfield
was industrious and combative. To win so convincingly whilst keeping
many of your attacking options up your sleeve is all very heartening.
City had not won an away game on the opening day of the season
since beating Ashford Town 3-0 back in August 1996. And if your
looking for omens that season we finished third.... this time
we'd get a play-off spot for it.
The opening game of
the season is always crunch time, and all too often we've seen pre-season
promise frustrated when it comes to delivering once the points are
up for grabs. This time around we put in a commanding performance
that the players can be very proud of. Whilst it was good to see
us chalk up early goals it was perhaps in keeping a clean sheet
and defending our lead that we can be happiest. Cheshunt have lively
forwards and won't lack for goals this season, so to limit them
to scraps in our penalty area suggests a certain strength throughout
the side. After last season when even a 3-0 half-time lead wouldn't
lead to over-optimism from the fans this was a significant improvement
and we never looked like losing concentration or allowing our grip
on the game to slip.
City's victory was enough to take us second - and when we're
that high up the division I don't buy this 'meaningless league
table, marathon not a sprint' rubbish. The side above us are newly
promoted Bromsgrove Rovers who produced the real shock of the
day to destroy newly demoted Bedford 4-0 at their own place, courtesy
of a first half brace from Gary Hay and two late goals giving
the table-topping gloss.
Both of the pre-match big games ended in draws. Reigning Southern
Division champions Bashley will be delighted to see Richard Gillespie
picking up from last season's free-scoring form to put the New
Forest side ahead before a late equaliser from Michael Frew rescued
a point for pre-season title favourites King's Lynn in a 1-1 draw.
Hemel seem set to score by the bucket load again with Drew Roberts
getting a brace, but a 3-3 home draw with another fancied side
Halesowen suggests those defensive issues haven't been solved.
Veteran Scots international forward Paul Devlin also picked up
a brace for the Yeltz.
Another shock at Top Field where Hitchin beat Adie Ming's Chippenham
1-0, and Clevedon will be boosted by winning what even on the
opening day could be a relegation six-pointer with a 3-2 win against
Rugby United - Scott Hendy's goal proving the winner. Frank Gregan's
first fixture as Mangotsfield boss ended with a late Scott Brice
goal causing a 1-0 defeat at Yate, while Cirencester will be lifted
by a highly credible point in a 0-0 home draw with big-spending