Sunday, 27 March 2011

Solihull Moors 1 Boston United 0

The week had brought many interesting things – including my 22nd birthday and a boozy, educational department trip to London – but I’d still been thoroughly looking forward to this match. Firstly because I’d gone without live football the previous Saturday (shock, horror) and had been forced to watch Final Score, which is hardly the same. Secondly because it seemed ages since I’d seen United in action (it had, in fact, been 18 days. Hardly a lifetime).

Solihull were unbeaten in 17 matches, a run which had seen them rise from relegation candidates to the brink of automatic promotion. This was a formidable achievement in any division, but particularly in a niggly annoying one like ours.

A tough assignment for the Pilgrims, then, and me and Andy were under no illusions as we boarded the Rover Sauna for the latest of what are becoming pleasantly regular away trips. He assures me that the heating will be switched off in time for the summer. Maybe he’ll treat us all and replace it with air conditioning.

And to compound matters, the week had been rather eventful. The departure of Rob Scott and Paul Hurst to Lincolnshire neighbours-to-the-north Grimsby Town had cast a pall over my journey to London on Tuesday morning, but optimism had been restored with the announcement of Lee Canoville and Jason Lee as their (temporary) replacements. The whirlwind of journalistic debate and tequila shots in London meant I hadn’t been able to mull over how far our season was now FUBAR but Andy and I agreed that all was not lost.

Scott and Hurst have come in for a lot of criticism from certain sections of our support in the last few days, with some suggesting that they were essentially flaunting themselves to Grimsby when Neil Woods was dismissed the other week.

 Personally, I beg to differ and, frankly, I can’t do anything but wish them well in their new role. Some football supporters have short memories and it’s worth remembering that when the duo arrived at York Street, we’d just escaped relegation to Unibond Division One south on the final day of the season. To leave us, 20 months later, second in the Conference North is nothing short of phenomenal. Is it really any wonder bigger clubs came calling? Thanks for the memories and good luck.  

Anyway, the Jason Lee Canoville era began in the quaint surroundings of Damson Parkway, Solihull, where a misdirected defensive clearance gives air traffic control headaches at the adjacent Birmingham International Airport, and the board had recently installed 250 new seats after suddenly realising: “Shit, we might actually be going up to the Conference.”

I did like the log cabin effect in the clubhouse, where the sloping roof was covered in replica shirts from all over the world. Now, I’m pretty certain Solihull have never played Man. United or Brazil, and I don’t recall their European campaign against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus, but there was a fine collection of strips which are best consigned to the fashion dustbin. Personal favourite was a dark blue Stoke City away shirt from god knows when which had the word STOKE emblazoned across the front in size 66 font and ClipArt drop shadow. Presumably, they couldn’t find a sponsor that season.

And in tribute to the planes rumbling about through the mist on the other side of the perimeter fence, I’ll describe the match in planespotter style.

The players emerged as the 14:55 BMI flight to Malaga prepared for take-off and United welcomed club legend goalkeeper and local window cleaner Paul Bastock back into the starting XI. Bazza clearly wasn’t content at merely 625 games for United so, at the age of 85, had come back for some more. His distribution remains laser-sharp and had the flightpath been slightly different, he might have been able to kick one of his booming goal kicks off a plane fuselage.

By the time the 15:16 Easyjet flight from Dublin had received permission to land, United had asserted their superiority on the game. Jamie Yates, Ryan Semple and Spencer Weir-Daley regularly found themselves manoeuvring in acres of space and, but for the paucity of some deliveries, United might have opened the scoring.  Adam Boyes came closest in the first-half with a glancing header which narrowly went wide, while the striker also turned Weir-Daley’s low ball past the post.

Having waited for the 16:01 to Riga to pass over, David Gray and I tried to do a personalised version of this. It failed miserably. Obviously people in Boston don’t have a great knowledge of early 1980s electronica or my improvised lyrics are just too hard to remember. Either way, I expect it to be sung at Telford so learn the fucking words!

“When I see you Boston I go out of my head/And I just can’t get enough, I just can’t get enough/
All the things you do to me and all the ways you play/I just can’t get enough, I just can’t get enough/
We slip and slide as we fall in love/And I just can’t seem to get enough
[Bounce and twirl scarves] Du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du, du

United’s dominance continued after the break, but, as the 16:24 Lufthansa flight to Dusseldorf was taxiing, our best chance went begging. Home goalkeeper Jazzy Singh (who later yelled at a ball boy for giving him the ball too quickly) blocked Yates’ shot but the ball fell to Weir-Daley six yards out. I was already celebrating but the net inexplicably didn’t bulge. Junior English came from nowhere to clear the ball off the line.

It wasn’t looking like our day and, just after the 16:35 to Moscow had rumbled past, Solihull took the lead. English saw his shot deflected onto the bar and, with Bastock helpless, Matt Smith pounced to score from close range. Bugger. It was their first good chance of the game.

United surged back and had their lifeline within three minutes. Yates crossed and Phil Midworth handballed in the box. But, Weir-Daley, usually so reliable, fired his penalty at Singh, who blocked. Weir-Daley looked skywards and the 16:54 to Ibiza would have seemed a good idea to him. Not our day.

Next Match: Not sure but plenty of local fixtures this week.  

Friday, 25 March 2011

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Notts County 1

Since I've totally forgotten about this game and there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day at the moment, I've cut and pasted the match report I wrote for JUS News. Normal service shall be resumed for the next game!

One consolation for Sheffield Wednesday fans in this season of perpetual misery has been the mouth-watering prospect of Steel City derbies returning next year.

But could Wednesday, like their cross-city rivals United, also be facing the ignominy of relegation?

This defeat to Notts County extended their barren home run in League One to over three months and left the Owls dangling precariously just seven points above the drop zone.

What’s more, the bad news is that seven of their remaining 12 fixtures are at Hillsborough. Instant improvement on home turf is essential if less attractive local affairs against Rotherham United, Bradford City and Burton Albion are to be avoided.

Manager Gary Megson had justifiable cause to question the award of County’s 27th minute penalty, converted by Alan Gow, but he couldn’t hide his displeasure at his underperforming players.

“It was a coming together and the referee has given a penalty but if that is a penalty, there could have been three penalties in the game,” he said.

“We haven’t done enough to trouble their goalkeeper. It was an insipid performance. We played 4-4-2 but still didn’t create the chances. It’s about the players, not the formations.”

The truth is Wednesday lack guts when they get into advanced positions. Time and time again on Saturday they found space on the wings, but instead of crossing into the penalty area chose to retreat.

The wing-back support from Tommy Spurr and Michael Morrison was good but Wednesday more often than not failed to push on, opting to pass sideways or backwards. The result was a measly one shot on target in the entire match.

County’s physical approach to defending led to a series of penalty appeals early on, but official Mark Brown was unmoved as Clinton Morrison and Neil Mellor were grappled in the box.

And these incidents made the game’s defining moment all the harder to stomach. Gow surged through on a rare County break and clashed with Mark Beevers. The coming together seemed innocent enough, but Brown pointed to the spot. Gow dusted himself down to beat Nicky Weaver.

The Nottingham side, themselves in the relegation dog-fight, were visibly lifted and would have doubled their lead but for Weaver’s excellent reflex save from Njogu Demba-Nyren on the stroke of half-time.

Megson threw on Jermaine Johnson and Daniel Jones for the second-half and Wednesday looked a little more direct and threatening. Clinton Morrison was inches away from connecting with Spurr’s deliveries on two occasions and his namesake Michael nearly scored from a Gary Teale corner.

County continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack and livewire Demba-Nyren tested Weaver again, before Ivan Sproule sent an effort narrowly wide.

Jones, Clinton Morrison and Tommy Miller all wasted half-chances in the final ten minutes as Wednesday searched in vain for an equaliser.

Next Match: Solihull Moors vs. Boston United on Saturday

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Stafford Rangers 0 Boston United 4

The teamsheet featured
Spencer Weir-Dudley and Lee Conoville!
We set off for Stafford safe in the knowledge that the day surely couldn’t go any worse than our last attempt to go there. Had there been a second postponement, goodness knows where we would have ended up. It would have been £40 to drive 80 miles to watch the Barcelona-Arsenal match in a pub.

No such trouble thankfully. And no problems for rampant United, who shoved hapless Stafford a little closer to the Evo-Stik while cementing their own play-off aspirations. Ahead after 32 seconds, Boston didn’t look back, and led 4-0 at half-time. Disappointingly, they slipped into cruise control in a second-half reminiscent of Harrogate back in August and failed to boost the goal difference further.

Such midweek cross-country treks for rearranged fixtures, having set out for the original game only to suffer heartbreak when it was called off, are football’s greatest loyalty test. But United’s fans answered the call – I’d say we had in excess of 60 at Marston Road which, when you also factor in the attraction of televised Champions League football, isn’t at all bad.

As mentioned last time, Andy’s girlfriend hails from Stafford, and came along for the ride to visit her parents while we went to the match. A pretty sweet arrangement. I commended Andy on his choice of woman – I don’t know what the odds are of finding someone who lives down the road from one of our Conference North opponents but he’s done very well! We ran through the possibilities – Guiseley, Blyth, Worcester etc. – and quickly eliminated Gainsborough. Not really worth it.

Marston Road was a decent little venue though the weather was nippy. A choir of local chavs were the only ones who had answered the call for a better atmosphere following recent hidings. They were pretty gobby in the first-half but I swear they slinked inside to watch the Arsenal game during the second! Boston were heavy favourites and the steward near us didn’t mind admitting he’d wagered a cheeky fiver on a SEVEN-GOAL Boston win.

His gamble was looking a good one as United opened the scoring within a minute. I turned around just in time to see Adam Boyes slam an effort against the crossbar, before Jamie Green converted the rebound. Perfect start.

United attacked at will but couldn’t score again until the half-hour, when Anthony Church headed in Green’s corner. Miles Hunter sprung the offside trap three minutes later for 3-0, producing a cool finish past Lee Evans, who was looking more and more like his comedian namesake by the minute.

Hunter was a menace throughout the game and I’m delighted to see him being given a regular starting place, albeit only because of Danny Davidson’s suspension. Hopefully the form he’s shown recently will mean he becomes a more regular fixture in the starting XI. He worked especially well with Boyes here, who’s come on brilliantly since his move from Scunthorpe United.

The fourth goal was hilarious. Shaun Pearson hassled Evans and Martyn Naylor as James Cullingworth’s free-kick came over and Stafford defender Jermaine Johnson, in attempting to clear, just slashed the ball into the net.

The highlights of the second-half were few and far between. Namely, they were my steaming cup of Bovril at the start and the drunken antics of three of our younger supporters, apparently from Milton Keynes, towards the end. Their obsession with Gareth Jellyman is touching but just weird.

Still, drab second-half or not, we’re marching on.

Next Match: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Notts County on Saturday

Monday, 7 March 2011

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Plymouth Argyle 4

Another boring afternoon down at the Wednesday. It’d been a while since I’d got myself a Hillsborough press pass and I certainly picked a fine game to cover. The last time I’d watched them, they’d been shit against a team from the West Country who play in green. Here, they were shit against another team from the West Country who play in green.

Given the week Plymouth had endured – the ten-point deduction for entering administration leaving them dangling by their fingernails over League Two – you really had to admire their gumption in coming up here, trotting out before the largest crowd in the division with a bench full of kids, and well and truly outplaying the big club.

After a fit of uncharacteristic long-term planning in light of our first ‘news day’ on the Monday, I’d secured a press box view for myself and MA Print Journalism Guitar Hero Zarif. The beef pie remains excellent but it’s indicative of Wednesday’s slide down the table in recent months that Soccer Saturday hadn’t bothered to send anyone famous. Windass was probably at Rotherham or something. His absence did mean more pie however.

Wednesday’s Wi-Fi was as calamitous as their back four and the updates, which consequently were tweeted from my phone, told a tale of woe. It took just eleven minutes to raise Gary Megson’s blood pressure – Karl Arnason made a fool of Gary Teale on the right and spotted Bondz N’Gala loitering with intent on the edge of the penalty box. The Plymouth player, who has a pretty damn good name it has to be said, crisply curled a shot into the bottom corner, leaving Nicky Weaver flapping.

The visiting fans could hardly believe their luck. This was a light at the end of the tunnel if ever there was one. Their defiant belief that, despite all the muck slung at them, they will be a League One club in August was heart-stirring and, as much as I’d like Boston to be the bigger of England’s two ‘Pilgrims’, I sincerely hope they survive.

On the half-hour, it got even better. Skipper Carl Fletcher pinged a ball to the back post which was nodded back across, allowing the highly-rated Joe Mason to ghost in through Wednesday’s hopelessly porous defence and head home unmarked. Megson looked incredulous as the positives from last Saturday’s well-deserved 1-0 win at Carlisle were destroyed one-by-one.

He gambled at half-time, introducing Jermaine Johnson, Clinton Morrison and Giles Coke in the football equivalent of sending for the cavalry. Only Coke made an impression and his 61st minute strike certainly didn’t look out of place in a game of brilliant finishing.

Could they maintain the momentum and go on to win the game? No, don’t be daft. This is Wednesday. Mason scored the best of the bunch two minutes later, half-volleying in from the edge of the area. Sadly, I suspect Mason, clearly a burgeoning talent, will be preyed upon by clubs with a more secure financial footing in the close season.

Yannick Bolasie made it 4-1, advancing totally unchallenged from his station on the left flank to sweep a low shot past Weaver. Another impressive goal which added to the mounting evidence that Plymouth’s FA-influenced position of rock bottom is really a fallacy. Reda Johnson, who was appalling, scored a late consolation but the Green Army would embark on the return leg of their long ‘ol poke with smiles on their faces.

Unsurprisingly, Megson flipped. There was a nice role reversal in the post-match press conference. Booze-swigging, chandelier-swinging (allegedly) Plymouth manager Peter Reid was a study in intelligent management as he reflected on a memorable performance in adversity. Megson, normally calm and measured, never appeared (at least before we left, at ten to six). Behind a locked dressing room door, we heard reports of bollockings being administered and airborne crockery. I doubt my ailing shorthand could have coped with his words of fury when he finally confronted the press pack and I’d forgotten my stenograph. Drat.

Next Match: Stafford Rangers – Take Two. Tuesday night. I mean, who wants to watch Barcelona-Arsenal anyway...