City v Atherstone

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Saturday 17th August 2002
Meadow Park 

   CITY v Atherstone United

Dr Martens League Western Division

City's Team

Despite a string of injuries and suspensions City went into this game full of expectation and buoyed by the signing, all be it delayed, of Weston striker Jimmy Cox. Of course high expectations can often be frustrated, but the nature of this defeat was particularly disappointing for City supporters. 

We started by far the brighter of the two teams and dominated the first 20 minutes of the match. Playing former Manchester United youngster Neil Mustoe in central midfield we showed plenty of early quality with some slick passing and moving the ball comfortably out to the wings. Both Tom Webb and Lee Burby pushed up the flanks well and both had early opportunities to put over range finding crosses.

Both City's early chances fell to Karl Bayliss, playing alone up front with Steve Jenkins largely anonymous in a nominal forward role. After good work by Webb and Mustoe the ball fell to Bayliss on the edge of the box where he turned sharply to send a swerving shot just the wrong side of the post. His other chance was at closer range but from a tighter angle after the energetic Burby had galloped up the wing.

For all our possession when Atherstone did get themselves into our half they were presented with the game's clearest chance. A long clearance sailed over our back line and fell to their forward who ran clear through on goal only to see his shot touched over by Matt Taylor. The young keeper's save was denied by the ref who awarded a goal kick, neither keeper or the official were to have the best of afternoons. 

With that City seemed to slightly lose direction and the game became more and more bogged down in midfield. City looked the more at ease on the ball but lacked any real forward movement, our wing-backs now more anxious about covering back. Despite some neat passing there was little on up front and Atherstone began to test our defence a little more. Will Steadman, looking much fitter and trimmer than last season, was twice called on to chase back to cover alarming Adders forays into our area.

Captain Neil Griffiths was then booked for a misjudged challenge in midfield and City found themselves pushed further into defence. Bayliss was looking a more isolated figure in attack and City's entire side was strung out mid-way in their own half. Just to make sure the alarm bells were defintely ringing at half-time Chris Burns slipped and only an outstretched leg from Taylor sent the resulting Atherstone shot the wrong side of the post. The visitors then enjoyed a flurry of pressure with Steadman forced to head off the line and Webb then forced to head behind at the far post. 

The second half should have seen City come out all guns blazing having had opportunity for a re-think, but sadly we stuck with all our midfielders sitting deep and invited the Adders to push on to us. This they did and City's problems became more dire when Griff again missed the ball in a challenge and left the ref with little option but to send him off with a second yellow card. The free kick that followed made sure City were in deep trouble, poor Matt Taylor came for the cross and dropped it to Andy Rutherford who took a touch before smashing it into the unguarded net on 48 minutes.

Even a goal down City didn't seem capable of realising the desperate need to commit men forward. Steve Jenkins materialised from hiding deep undercover just long enough to latch onto a loose ball, turn and drill his shot into the advertising boards. He then retreated back to help cover the gap left by Griff's absence, and looked far more comfortable. However that did little to ease the defenders as we still had no forward outlet apart from the stranded Bayliss with which to relieve the pressure we were now coming under.

Atherstone were now able to play in a way that they had not seemed capable of earlier in the game. Burns did well to deal with one run, but from the resulting corner we fell further behind. The corner went short and we were too slow to close down the ball, Danny Martin firing in a shot from 25 yards that looped off a defender and left Matt Taylor stranded as it dropped into the net on 66 minutes. From the way the Atherstone scorer charged off you'd have thought it was goal of the decade - perhaps he doesn't get many.

At last City seemed stung into a bit of action and began to get forward in some numbers. Chris Burns pushed up to at last create a bit of forward momentum. Even Will Steadman had a decent canter up the pitch, his run ending in him being tripped and attempting to role into the penalty box 30 yards from the far touchline. The real quality came from Mustoe and Thompson though, both now able to thread through some clever passes. The other factor was sub Lee Smith at last being moved from the flank to a more forward role, his pace immediately giving Atherstone something new to worry about.

We managed to pull a goal back on 79 minutes through Chris Burns. A spell of concerted pressure saw us probing around the penalty area and then earning a corner that was only half cleared. Thompson sent over a deep cross that was headed across goal by Lee Smith. Bayliss then jumped highest to nod it back towards goal leaving Burns to stab the ball into the net from close range.

The last few minutes were all City pressing for an equaliser, but even with all the possession we were never entirely convincing as an attacking force. Marshall came on and scrapped hard down the left, Bayliss managed to hold the ball up and feed the ball back for Wilkinson to send a shot high and wide. Mustoe, now wearing the captain's armband, was still organising those around him and switching play around the park intelligently. However we only had one further chance to score, another Thompson cross being headed over from ten yards by Bayliss.  

This was a disappointing display, although you could not criticise the players for their effort or fail to be impressed by how fit we looked compared to a tiring Adders team, even with ten men. Our problems seemed all about making use of the players at our disposal. Surely it makes little sense to have a player of the quality of Neil Mustoe sat so deep in midfield when Wilko and Jenks can already do this role adequately enough. Without a striker for at least another fortnight there must be an argument for trying to put that extra bit of class up front where it can cause most damage to the opposition. Whatever we start with against Taunton, we must also get smarter about thinking our way out of a problem and changing things quickly on the pitch. 
All in all a disappointing defeat against a team that you wouldn't expect to be one of the best in the division and a performance that leaves plenty of room to improve.   

(HT: 0-0)




Griffiths (red)
Thompson 16th

(for 2; 59)
(for 3; 78)


not named

not named

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