Redditch United v City

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Redditch United


Saturday 24th April 2004 at Valley Stadium

Dr Martens Western Division

City's Team

Sometimes football isn't a beautiful game at all. Sometimes it is about grit, grim determination, hard work and putting your head in where it hurts. This wasn't a game of wonderful flowing moves but it is a match where City's young players confirmed their right to play at a higher level next season. Manager Chris Burns hadn't scored at all in the season so far, but he chose the moment to break his duck to perfection. What followed was a smash and grab raid that keeps City's title dreams alive on the last day of the season - and denied Redditch the chance to claim the championship on their own patch.

The pre-match concern for City's mass of travelling support was how the players would pick themselves up after the disappointment of the midweek defeat at Evesham. The fears of psychological surrender deepened with the news that City's Jimmy Cox would have to miss out as his swollen knee failed to respond to treatment. With Webby also missing it looked as if City had decided to climb the highest of mountain peaks in a pair of flip-flops. The omens did not look at all good and the DML management committee must have been confidently tying the red ribbons on the divisional trophy before the kick-off.

City faced an early onslaught from Redditch whilst fans were still streaming into the ground and the usually cavernous stadium actually looking somewhere near well filled, around a third of the crowd being City supporters decked out in yellow and black and chucking fistfuls of yellow paper everywhere. The ref made it clear from the start that he wasn't going to let very much go, and City survived an early scare from a low free kick curled around the wall. As Howarth missed his clearance Richard Leadbetter was free to clip a shot goalward and it cannoned back off the post before being hacked away by Burns. It was to be the first of many bitter disappointments for the unfortunate Leadbetter.

With Cox not playing Lee Smith got a rare chance up front and at least his pace still provided City with some direct threat in attack. He had several opportunities to stretch his legs as City started to settle into their stride. While Redditch are a strong physical side and clearly well drilled their defence still looks vulnerable to pace down the flanks, as it had done in the game at Meadow Park. On one occasion Smith was unceremoniously hauled to the floor, on a second he managed to free Thompson but his cross was well cleared before it could reach Hoskins lurking with intent at the far post.

Lee Smith looks for a way through the well organised Redditch defensive line 







The crucial breakthrough came on 14 minutes as City forced a corner and sent up all the tall players for the high ball. Mustoe sent over a curling effort which stretched their defence and was only half cleared for Lee Smith to send over another tricky cross. The defender could only flick the ball away and as it ballooned up in the air Chris Burns was able to push himself forward and unchallenged had time to calmly and deliberately plant a firm header a few inches below the bar and into the net. Cue delirium from the City support behind the goal, the manager buried under his delighted players and a stunned silence from the home support. Moments later a City fan sneaked quietly onto the pitch to retrieve his mobile phone, thrown high into the air amidst the excited celebrations.

City were elated but quickly had to refocus as Redditch poured forward in search of an immediate response. They are a robust physical side and the long ball was easy for Jeffries and Howarth who relish those thumping headers back into midfield where the industry of Wilkinson and Mustoe made it tricky for the home team to settle. However Redditch do have a few players with some extra craft about them and Alex Cowley made life difficult for Thompson who had to work hard to keep him from finding too much space. On one occasion though Cowley flicked past him and having cut in he sent over a wickedly bouncing cross shot which seemed to take attackers and defenders by surprise. With no-one reacting the effort clipped the post and the home fans were again left howling in frustration. 

A few minutes later and a smart turn and shot by Leadbetter for once wrong footed Lee Jeffries and again Matt Bath's post was rattled, but this time the effort would not have counted as the linesman was flagging for offside. The power of the Redditch attack was stopping City from really getting their foot on the ball and establishing control of the game, but at the same time the City defence were soaking up the pressure with some accomplishment. Jeffries made a particularly impressive block as he hurled himself in front of a fierce drive which was destined for the net before his interception.

We came, we saw, we made a hell of a mess.
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Ten minutes of the second half gone
 and Hosky is heading for the corner flag

This was not simply one way traffic though and City could have extended their lead before the break. Wilkinson was the victim of a flailing high challenge by Mark Gardiner and was lucky to escape with all his teeth. The ref was unafraid to give free kicks but markedly reluctant to book players, on this occasion a frustration but something which Gloucester would be grateful for later in the game when our own challenges were getting increasingly ragged. The free kick caused little problem for Redditch but did enable City to mount some pressure of their own. Hoskins then went close with a half volley from 20 yards after he had impressively brought down a long pass from Burns with a sublime controlling touch. A few minutes later a cross from Smith put him clear, but the ball was at an awkward height and as he struggled to control it the burly forward ran out of space at the far post and he succeeded only in bundling it out of play for a goal kick.

By the second half Redditch had the benefit of an uplifting team talk and they duly came out pumped up with the desperation of a side watching their grasp on the title loosening at least temporarily. The red shirts swarmed all around the Gloucester box and it was difficult for City to gain any forward momentum at all, or for fans to distinguish one heroic bit of defending from another. The long balls came constantly and City heads must have been sore from the pounding defensive headers that were being put in. With Griff, Mustoe and Wilkinson in midfield we had players who are not afraid to graft and cut down space but even they were finding it difficult to withstand the constant pressure.

For all the actual crosses and charges down the flanks the home team were finding it difficult to create clear cut chances as the yellow wall stood firm. If the ball was not met by a City head or a thumping clearance it tended to drift harmlessly into the waiting arms of Matt Bath in the Tigers' goal. When City were not good they were lucky. One cross seemed to evade everyone after Adie Harris had for once been beaten on the left flank. Burns was caught in no mans land and as the ball flashed across the face of the Gloucester goal it seemed as if Leadbetter must score. However he simply tumbled over and the danger passed for another brief moment.

Adie Harris suddenly finds time to enjoy the wide open spaces of the Valley Stadium 

At the other end City were finding few openings, but this wasn't for the lack of trying. Both Hoskins and Smith were running their hearts out after lost causes and never has a City side better portrayed the virtues of defending from the front. We chased and harried every ball and no Redditch player had a moment to settle on the ball or think too deeply about where their pass was going. The crunching tackles were ceaseless and the effort frightening. For all that Redditch were on top and you doubted if it was possible for a side to keep up this level of defensive concentration without a single lapse that would lead to the all important equaliser. In one frightening moment Mustoe cleared off the line and then Matt Bath followed up to scoop the ball away from danger.

Perhaps the game turned on one minute of end to end action in the 71st minute. Another barrage of Redditch pressure looked to have been cleared but soon again the red wave was back and this time Howarth was beaten and the player bursting from midfield could not be caught by either Thompson or Griff. His cross flashed past the City goal and Leadbetter was again in the right to place to smash in the shot that he must have thought would finally clinch his team the title. Many forward lines have had reason to curse Matt Bath this season but this time the stop he made was simply miraculous, scrambling to his left to beat out the shot from point blank range. The ball was hacked away and helped out to Adie Harris on the left who suddenly saw acres of empty pitch ahead of him. The winger scampered clear with Redditch trailing in his wake, defying his 40 years to surge deep into the opposition half. Lee Smith was keeping pace with a diagonal run into the penalty box and Harris squared to him with the keeper looking stranded. With the goal yawning Smith's tired legs could only scuff the ball towards the line allowing Manton to clear. The chance for a sensational break away goal that would have saved a lot of stress had been blown and more fingernails were needed.   

Adie Harris limped off soon after with a hamstring strain and Adam Hemming came on to replace him. His direct pace going forward continued to cause Redditch concern, but nothing could break up the ceaseless pressure. This was a brave rearguard action that could only be likened to a football equivalent of the Alamo, but Redditch were now beginning to feel that awful sensation that nothing would get the ball into the Gloucester net. City began to enjoy just a little more of the ball and the Redditch pressure was now as often relieved by sliced crosses and wayward hopeful long distance shots as City defending. The home fans ebbed away as more and more sensed it was not their day and the only voices you could now hear in the stadium were those of nervous but vocal City fans.

The City victory could have been sealed late on as Adam Hemming carried the ball again down the left wing, slipping past one challenge and cutting inside towards the penalty area. It looked as if the youngster could settle the game but a finely judged sliding tackle from Redditch left back Gardiner nicked the ball away from him and once more City were racing back to defend their lines. Mustoe limped off a few minutes early having gone down with cramp but now City were looking anxiously at their watches. The ref was the only person in the stadium truely enjoying himself though and he continued giving free kicks for challenges that were tired more than they were malicious or deliberate. The minutes ticked on as City booted the ball away, long since given up on the idea of managing to put together passes.

City's triumphant players contemplate the meaning of it all 

Then, at long last, the final whistle. The City players sank to the ground exhausted before pulling themselves up to go and join the ecstatic travelling support. Such was the joy amongst the Gloucester fans that the handful of Redditch goons who had stood amongst the City support in the hope of provoking trouble found themselves overwhelmed by happy excited City fans jumping all over each other and everyone. The players huddled to reflect on what they had achieved and what remains to be achieved, and then celebrated with the fans. Regardless of what happens next Saturday and the final destiny of the championship this was another good day to be a City fan. This home defeat was the first Redditch have suffered in 2004 and their first in the league since October. The players never gave up and battled to the end and even if Redditch do come away with the title they will know they have been pushed all the way by a side that matched them. 

After the game Burns was full of praise for his players as he spoke to The Citizen. He said, "I felt we deserved to win. We were more controlled and although we were on the back foot for a lot of the time we soaked up the pressure and defended brilliantly." He also recognised the contribution from the City supporters saying, "They were fantastic and the noise gets the lads going. They have been unbelievable all season."

* City's win cuts the Redditch lead at the top of the table to just two points, with Redditch needing at least a point from a difficult trip to Cirencester. city must play in form Ilkeston and win to have a chance of pinching the championship, but at least those dreams are still alive on the last day of the season and should guarantee a bumper crowd at Meadow Park for what promises to be another nerve wracking day. 

The title chase maths has been made a lot simpler as Cirencester lost 2-1 at Rugby United. All the goals came in the first half and the win ensures Rugby's place in the new DML Premier next season. A controversial late penalty was missed by Ciren's Gareth Hopkins and means Ciren can no longer win the title and drop back to third spot behind City. Ilkeston kept up their worrying form with a 1-0 win over Solihull who are now tied with Sutton Coldfield on points as they fight for the last automatic DML Premier and to avoid a play-off with the 8th placed side in the DML Eastern division.  

Won 1-0
(HT: 1-0)



Griffiths (c)


Mustoe none (!)

(for 7; 88)

(for 3; 75)



not named

not named

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