One final away trip to complete the set. On the Party Train from Boston dragging our crates of lager between our legs. Yeah, go on then.
Except there was nothing at all final about Nuneaton away. For starters, we must (in all likelihood) return there next Tuesday for the play-off semi-final. Nuneaton Redux. It doesn’t have much romance about it. The party train will be replaced by party bus, or in my case the Party Rover from Sheffield. And if Boston bring as many supporters and make such a deafening racket as they did on Monday, then the Conference Premier surely beckons.
On the field, there was nothing finite either. Two evenly-matched teams and the correct scoreline of 1-1. Nuneaton were superior in the first-half and broke the deadlock inside the first ten minutes but after the interval, United roared back, equalised through Lee Canoville, saw a legitimate goal chalked off and missed a couple of good chances. There were no psychological edges gained here, no early blows landed in this first course of three.
A few strokes of the station clock past eight thirty and a group of lads bedecked in amber and black stand over a mountain of beer on the platform, waiting for the Party Train to draw in. The savvy passengers not associated with said group move down immediately to the other carriage as holiday makers returning from Skegness look on in bemusement. They are the wise ones – by Grantham, the supply is effectively dry, the automated toilet doors are prompting endless entertainment, a St George’s Flag flaps about in the open train window and the two groups at either end of the carriage are boisterously trading songs. No one is disputing the Party Train idea, many weeks in development, has been a fantastic one.
Between Leicester and Nuneaton, Pickwell and I share a knowing glance. We are precisely the nobheads that ruin rail travel for EVERYONE else! One lady in particular has a face like thunder, a Chinese couple look puzzled as the Yoof push past in conga formation. The ticket inspector glances down the carriage, sees the throng knocking seven bells out of the roof and thinks better of it. Just as well, because nobody bought a ticket for that portion of the journey.
At Nuneaton, we’re met by a single DCI on the platform in plain clothes, who gives us a quick chat about the local ‘hardcore’ who have attacked Alfreton and Telford fans this season, and mentions the pub which has been set aside for us. Everyone’s ears prick up. Unsurprisingly, nobody fancies getting a Stanley knife scar on such a beautiful Bank holiday Monday and we all shuffle along into taxies. Kudos to Warwickshire police for the low-key approach – I fully expected a legion of riot police to jog us from station to stadium with a helicopter circling above, dogs, horses and the full works. Since it was a good three mile walk, I’m glad this wasn’t the case.
One bargain carvery dinner (couldn’t resist) later and we’re at Liberty Way, Nuneaton’s newish home which is really a rugby ground and pretty inadequate for an ambitious club. There was no atmosphere from the home fans, which was unexpected. The taunts of ‘Nuneaton library’ from our fans during the second-half were bang on the mark. Disappointing really.
No such issues in the away end, where just under 400 had travelled from Lincolnshire and created probably the best atmosphere of the season so far. Not bad for what was essentially a dead rubber. Both sides were assured of their play-off places after Saturday and both showed why they’d got there. A close-range finish from Guy Hadland put Nuneaton in front and was reward for their enterprising start.
Both teams traded chances for the rest of the half, but United emerged from the break the livelier. The equaliser came just after the hour, when another pin-point set piece from Jamie Yates (how many times have we said that this season) was met by Canoville just in front of Nuneaton goalkeeper Danny Alcock.
Bizarrely, United had a goal disallowed when Gareth Jelleyman’s floating cross evaded both defenders and attackers. The referee through Marc Newsham had clattered Alcock when in fact it was Hadland and the chance to atone in scoreline from the defeat at York Street back in August was denied.
The away fans serenaded the players for a good ten minutes after the final whistle, many climbing on to the advertising hoardings and waving flags and scarves to salute another fine away performance which bodes very well for the post-season. A phalanx of riot police was waiting outside but this wasn’t a day for trouble.
See you next week then, Nuneaton.
Next Match: The final fixture of the regulation season, at home to Vauxhall Motors, on Saturday