City v Merthyr

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Monday 26th August 2002
Meadow Park 

   CITY v Merthyr Tydfil

Dr Martens League Western Division

City's Team

After Saturday's debacle at Cinderford City could only improve, and they did - but not by all that much. The visit of Merthyr was opportune as they've had a disappointing start after their relegation. Their fans were a welcome reminder of what travelling support looks like too. I'm sure our chairman will have been pleased by the takings behind the bar.

Burns shook up the team and started with Adie Harris, Craig Hampson and Matt Bath all coming in to the side. However City's day started in typical chaos as Steve Jenkins pulled a muscle during the pre-match warm-up. Fans were then treated to us farcically belting the ball straight out of play from the kick-off, allowing Wilkinson to come on from the sub's bench. 

With City now up to full strength they set about testing the visitor's defence with some quick passing through the middle of the park. Mustoe and Burns seem to be able to ping the ball about the park with ease when things are going well. A fantastic move saw play switched twice from flank to flank and end with Adie Harris accelerating to the by-line and sending in a cross narrowly eluding Smith and Thompson.  

Merthyr had their moments too though, showing just enough pace and muscle to cause a few worries to the re-shaped City defence. Their first real foray into our half saw a good Griffiths block fall to a Merthyr forward, his shot strongly side footed clear by Matt Bath. However the City keeper, returning from a three game ban, was less lucky in the 10th minute. A long ball over the City defence seemed easy for Bath to mop up, but he seemed to lose the ball on the edge of the area and it spilled out for the striker to roll into the net.

After Saturday you'd have been forgiven for expecting City to cave in, but not this time. Instead for most of the remainder of the first half we looked like a very good side. We passed the ball well and kept possession while switching play and probing for gaps and weaknesses. No-one ran harder than the unstoppable Adie Harris, he popped up all over the left flank and made some great runs into the area. Thompson was also finding space on the right, and one of his crosses looked destined for Bayliss at the far post until a Merthyr defender flicked it beyond him with his arm. Responsibility for the spot kick went to Neil Mustoe, but his penalty was weak and too close to the keeper who made a comfortable stop.

City's disappointment was short lived though as the equaliser came just a few minutes later. City were still pressing consistently and with the pace of both Harris and Smith to worry about the Martyrs were struggling. Another right wing cross looped beyond the defence and was bundled over the line by Neil Griffiths, the goal awarded by the linesman who judged a clearance had been after the ball crossed the line. It was not too long before City went ahead, This time clever play by Mustoe and Harris found Thompson in space on the right side of the area. His lob beat the keeper and was then forced in by Dave Wilkinson from close range.

City were now looking comfortable and at this point it really seemed the only question was when City would extend their lead. Vulnerabilities at the back still appeared, but Griff looked back to form and Craig Hampson was imperious in his ability to ghost past attackers with a simple drop of the shoulder. The return of Wilkinson in midfield also helped stem most of the pressure with a lot of the play broken up before we were threatened. Such was City's dominance that even Karl Bayliss picked up the mood with a sudden turn followed by a vicious dipping shot that the Merthyr keeper did well to tip over the bar. City also had a good claim for a penalty when a Merthyr defender flattened Harris as he raced clear, it seemed the man had been played rather than the ball but the ref disagreed.

How City would rue the missed chances they'd had during that spell as the visitors leveled with all but the last kick of the first half. City had been on the attack when a long ball caught us a little flat footed. Marshall got back and tackled only for the ball to ricochet off Mustoe and into the path of a Merthyr forward. Instantly he turned on the ball and hit the sweetest of shots past Matt Bath.

It was difficult to tell if it was the half-time break or the second Martyrs goal that had thrown City off course, which ever it was we didn't look a shadow of the side that had performed so well for most of the first period. Suddenly the space on the pitch was nowhere to be found, our passes went astray and the whole match became scrappy and at times niggly. Merthyr put some pressure on our goal with Bath forced to save well and then have Griffiths to thank for covering behind him to head clear from the line.

A match that was already running out of steam for City then became even more difficult after an individual bit of lunacy. Gary Marshall finally persuaded the ref to book a player after a two footed lunge, especially needless as it was in the opposition half. It was obvious Masher was wound up, but no-one spoke to him or tried to sub him. After all of five minutes the all too predictable happened as he crunched his way through another Martyrs player and got his second booking. Our second red card in four games, how well our new disciplinary drive is going! This was reckless though, and it effectively ended our hopes of regaining our rhythm and winning the game.

The remainder of the match was largely City rearguard action with only errant Merthyr finishing allowing us off the hook. In fairness though some of our defending was more solid, and several players improved on Cinderford's abysmal showing. Burns and Griff were individually more effective, although as a unit our defence still looks shakey. Wilkinson made some exceptional block tackles and Mustoe covered back well as we tried to hold on to what we had. City's attack was now entirely carried by the ceaseless energy of Adie Harris, although we now looked forward more in hope than expectation. the only other distraction was the increasingly bizarre decisions of the ref, booking Lee Smith for handball after not booking the Merthyr offender for the first half penalty incident. 

When the ref finally ended the game City will have been relieved to take a point from a game that at one point looked won. Having played so badly on Saturday this was a definite improvement, but we still look like a team that will blow hot and cold. We are vulnerable at the back and lightweight up front - hopefully Tomkins and Cox will address that to some extent. Some more will come with confidence, but Burns and Cook have work to do on the training pitch this week.

(HT: 2-2)





Burns Marshall
Marshall (red)

(for 8; 1)




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