Wednesday, 27 March 2013

England Under 21s 4 Austria Under 21s 0

In yet another international week where the England senior team made a mockery of their status as the world’s fourth best team by failing to turn up in the second half in Montenegro, what a pleasure it was to watch an exciting and successful English side.

Stuart Pearce’s Under 21s have won their last nine matches, scoring 22 goals without conceding, and have lost just one since the summer of 2011. These young Lions play with a joie de vivre not seen for many years in the senior ranks.

They aren’t scared of keeping the ball, they aren’t frightened of taking opponents on, particularly the livewire Raheem Sterling, they look more technically gifted, and they gobble up chances like a fat kid gobbles crisps. Three against Romania last Thursday, three different scorers, four here against Austria and four more different names on the scoresheet.

Fast forward 24 hours and the senior side are lumbering another few metres down the Road to Rio, just about earning a point in Montenegro. They look destined for the play-offs, the B road, and there’s no guarantees they’ll be seeded and avoid the superpowers like Spain, France or Portugal. 

Never mind, there’s something to cling on to, although the Under 21s were being matched by an enterprising Austrian team until Swiss referee Adrien Jaccottet offered a helping help by sending off two visiting players. After that the floodgates opened and four-nil was a let-off for the opposition. 

Mr Hallgarth had been out in San Marino for the weekend, watching England stuff eight past what is the equivalent of a Sunday League team (we do seem to be able to manage that), but with this Monday night match being at a ground neither of us had visited, he was willing to put back his recovery sleep by a few hours.

So it was to the seaside and Brighton, somewhere I hadn’t been to in a good 10 years. I’ve watched and listened to Quadrophenia a good few times in the meantime, so I’m sure that makes up for it. 

Their new AMEX Stadium is simply immaculate and the opportunity to watch the next generation of England stars drew a crowd of over 20,000 - mainly families too, which was good to see. Tickets were an affordable £10 each and only a couple of sections of the stadium were closed. 

Someone designing the ground had a Eureka moment and decided to position a train station right next to it which, I don’t about you, strikes me as a very good idea for all new football grounds! 

Pearce made six changes from the side that brushed aside Romania at Wycombe’s Adams Park four days earlier, which robbed us of the chance to watch the wonderful Wilfried Zaha, who was apparently undergoing root canal surgery. 

The new-look team was perhaps a bit unsure of themselves, because Austria dominated the first half-hour. They had some players with amazing Alpine names like Simon Piesinger, Raphael Holzhauser and Lukas Spendlhofer and they were half decent as well. 

Holzhauser, the captain, forced Jason Steele into a good save and Danny Rose cleared a Florian Neuhold shot off the line. A team of loan rangers, Rose was one of 12 players in the England squad currently borrowed by someone else. 

The game changed on 40 minutes - goalkeeper Richard Strebinger came out to close down an England attack and slid out of his penalty area with the ball. Adjudged a little harshly to have prevented a goalscoring opportunity, he was shown a straight red by the over-officious Jaccottet. 

Jonjo Shelvey, a player I’ve never rated but is growing on me after this performance, made things worse by smashing the free-kick past replacement goalkeeper Cristoph Riegler. 

Austria were in for a long second 45 and so it proved when Patrick Farkas handballed. Already booked, he too was heading for an early shower. Chelsea’s Josh McEachran made no mistake from the penalty.

The remainder of the match was all-England, which was a bit annoying because they were shooting away from us. More joy followed as Marvin Sordell, one of a number of substitutes, converted a cross from Connor Wickham. 

There was a lot of buzz around Wickham and a number of big clubs keen on him at one point, but it’s never really happened for him since he moved to Sunderland. However, he showed some of that potential late on when bursting past tired defenders, rounding Riegler and finishing nicely. 

Having avoided some of the stronger sides in the group stages, England look a promising bet for this summer’s European Championships in Israel. What a wonderful achievement a win would be for English football and the future.

Next Match: The NextGen Series finals in Como, Italy this Easter weekend

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Boston United 0 Bradford Park Avenue 4

I’ve been to a lot of football matches in my time, and I’ve been quite cold at a fair number of them. But I don’t think I’ve ever been THIS cold at a football match before.

With ten minutes to play and blankets of snow blowing into my long-since-numbed face, huddling together for warmth with those remaining hardy folk on the Town End, I would have happily given Bradford Park Avenue as many goals as they desired if I could only go and get in the warmth a little quicker. 

Annoyingly, they took the goals anyway and still left us all shivering. 

Britain’s perma-winter shows no sign of thawing yet and my 24th birthday weekend - a weekend on which we’ve held BBQs in previous years - brought gale-force easterlies, drifting snow and Siberian temperatures. 

Fortunately, no aspect of my plans for a weekend at home was ruined by the elements - south Lincolnshire was spared the full force of the ghastly weather that had blocked roads, rails and knocked out power elsewhere - but at five to five, I was kind of wishing the match hadn’t happened.

Four-nil flattered the Yorkshire side immensely but the history books don’t contain that footnote. The truth of the matter is that Boston didn’t have the stomach for a physical match in these testing conditions and their lack of fight was exposed. 

I don’t blame the players - if I was sat in a dressing room in my shorts and staring out the window at a blizzard knowing I had to go out and run around in it for the afternoon, I wouldn’t fancy it either. 

It was a piss-steamer of a day and worse. Unprotected by my smart but inappropriate footwear, my toe tips lost contact with the rest of my body about 15 minutes in, and after making the mistake of buying a curry and chips at half-time, and taking my gloves off to eat it, communication with them was lost too. 

When I walked out of the bar and realised just how cold it was, I popped into the club shop and bought a woolly hat. It was the best £6.95 I could have spent. Also, it has a very prominent Boston United crest which will confuse Londoners immensely.

Anyway, on to the game and it’s fair to say the result has ended Dennis Greene’s honeymoon. Old weaknesses were exposed, especially at the back. The two unused substitutes were Nathan Stainsfield and Tom Ward, two of the men you would definitely suggest would be up for a scrap like this. 

After I’d gone to great trouble to praise his recent performances in my programme column, Dan Haystead looked shaky again. 

Park Avenue, who always seem to win at York Street anyway, knew they were stronger physically and proceeded to bully our players by leaving the foot in on every tackle. I lost count of the number of minutes wasted by our players rolling around in the deepening snow. 

The visitors, cheered on by 25 travelling fans who’d doubtless had quite a treacherous journey, took the lead on 27 minutes when Haystead misread a cross in the swirling wind and Jordan Deacey teed up Alex Davidson for the first of a hat-trick. 

Davidson then missed a great chance to double the lead. He lived on the edge throughout, sometimes beating the offside trap, often not. He did on this occasion but then missed the one-on-one opportunity. 

United hit back when Ben Fairclough, our best player, struck the crossbar from 20 yards with portly Bradford goalkeeper John Lamb nowhere near it. 

But after the break there was nothing at all from the Pilgrims and the game was there on a plate for Park Avenue. Davidson scored their second in controversial circumstances, with United believing Ben Milnes had been fouled in the build-up.

Davidson didn’t do his popularity any favours by celebrating right in front of the Town End. “Number seven , you’re a c***”, came the response. 

C*** or not, he was clinical and curled his third past Haystead on 81 minutes. That was the cue for half of the 851 crowd (I’m sure it would have been the four figures David Newton asked for, but for the weather) to walk out but those who remained saw Davidson quarrel with Richard Marshall to take the penalty awarded two minutes later. 

Marshall won the argument and fired right down the middle to give the scoreline an even more lopsided complexion. I wasn’t too bothered, just glad to restore the feeling in my fingers and toes...

Next Match: A look at England’s Under 21s when they play Austria at Brighton on Monday evening.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sporting lisbon 5

(After Extra Time)

This match had already given us plenty of unpredictability and excitement to warm the cockles on a chilly East London evening - seven goals, two penalties and lots of flair - but we still hadn’t seen the best of it. 

In the second period of extra time in this thrilling NextGen quarter-final, out of absolutely nowhere, a young Cameroonian defender by the name of Atud Fokobo strode forward onto a dropping ball 45 yards from goal and, without allowing any other possibility to enter his mind, let fly. 

Usually in this situation, the defender would launch the ball into the nearby canal and the whole stadium would have a hearty laugh. But not Fokobo - he leathered the ball with flawless techniques and precision, it ripped through the air and left Spurs goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux gawping as it sailed clean over his head. Not bad for a centre-back.

For those not in the know, the NextGen Series is like the European Champions League but for under-19 sides. It is played all over the continent just like the real version but unlike it’s bigger brother this year, still has some English interest.

At present, two of the four sides through to the semi-finals, to be played on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy next weekend, are English - Chelsea and Aston Villa - and there could be another when Arsenal host CSKA Moscow this Monday. 

Spurs will be absent though, beaten by a technically accomplished and, in the end, fitter, Sporting Lisbon side at Brisbane Road. 

Like the Youth Cup, we’re going big on the NextGen (it is an exciting competition after all, with scorelines of this nature pretty common) and so I was in the press box on match report duty. It couldn’t have been better practice for the hair-pulling, keyboard-battering fury that football journalists often experience when meeting their deadlines.

The Champions League final of 1999 it wasn’t, of course, but I did write three versions of my online match report. The first from about the 75th minute when it looked a certainty that Spurs were heading out; another in the early part of extra time when the hosts, having come back from 3-1 down, suddenly seemed the only winners; and the final whistle version seen here.

Sporting Lisbon are the magical conveyor belt that produced the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, and while nobody shone quite like they did at this age, there were a few decent talents on the teamsheet.

Number seven (of course) Ricardo Esgaio was one of them, blessed with pace, imagination, vision, crossing and the expected sackful of tricks, he gave the Spurs defence a torrid evening until he ran out of steam in the extra period. 

The London side didn’t help themselves, in fact their dodgy defending cost them any chance of getting through. The pattern for the evening was started after six minutes - a high ball from the Sporting right had goalkeeper Vigouroux looking like a frightened rabbit in the Orient floodlights and the lively Alberto Coelho improvised with a lovely lob into an unguarded net. 

I’d only just made a note of that when Spurs equalised through right-winger Nathan Oduwa, who pounced on an uncleared ball in the Portuguese defence and hammered it home. The dye had been cast for a memorable evening. 

Esgaio then showed one of his many breaks into space, surprising given his side of the pitch resembled a sand pit, and crossed on a sixpence for Coelho to poke home his second at the near post. 

Gareth Bale-lookalike Kenny McEvoy had a couple of chances to equalise for Tottenham, but they lacked any cutting edge and looked dead and buried when Vigouroux clattered Joao Palhinha in the head after again misjudging a high ball. 

My goodness, with everyone expecting Sporting to come with flair, trickery and intricate passing to play their opponents off the park, they were at least intelligent enough to realise that straightforward long-ball was equally as effective. Ruben Semedo converted the penalty immaculately and I was looking forward to an early night. 

HOWEVER. From nowhere, Tottenham remembered what was at stake and got a second wind. They were awarded their own penalty when Shaquile Coulthirst was hacked down from behind and Laste Dombaxe converted it.

Then, with the last kick of the match, substitute Roman Michael-Percil was alert to tuck the ball home after goalkeeper Mickael Meira did his own dodgy keeper impression and dropped the ball at his feet. 

The press pack braced themselves for another half hour and the consensus was that Spurs, with the momentum of the late fightback, would prevail. Wrong, five minutes in, Alexandre Guedes turned and fired a shot from outside the box that Vigouroux seemed to misjudge and Sporting led 4-3.

Fokobo’s thunderbolt from the blue settled it and they’ll now play Aston Villa over in Italy on Friday. Phew, what an exciting one. 

Next Match: Returning home for my birthday this weekend, so Boston United against Bradford Park Avenue in the Conference North at York Street. 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Basingstoke Town 2 Maidenhead United 0

Fifty not out. That’s the number of football matches I’ve now watched this season. A half century. 

This one, which rung up half of the grounds in the Conference South to add to my near complete set in the Conference North, wasn’t one of the more memorable from this season’s Odyssey, but it was passable entertainment for a bitterly cold evening. 

Winter has returned with a vengeance and I liaised through the day with Mr Hallgarth to make sure the match was going to go ahead. The wind had been whipping round with gale-force intensity in my part of London overnight, but mercifully it hadn’t brought any fresh snowfall. 

He lives in Basingstoke, which adds at least an extra hour to most of his journeys north to watch Boston, but it is quite a nice place. First impressions count in many towns and the local authorities have clearly realised that passengers stepping off trains for their first visit, like me, will base their entire judgement of the place on what they first come across. 

So, the thriving shopping mall opposite the station passed the test and since the place produced Liz Hurley, it really doesn’t have anything else to answer for. There was also a very attractive girl from Basingstoke on my course at Sheffield but that’s another story...

“Watch out - Basingstoke has a horrendous one-way system,” warned Mike at work, as though I’d never escape the place. Good job I didn’t take my car then!

The Camrose, adjacent to a retail park heading out of town, has seen happier days and Hallgarth informs me they have been trying to relocate for several years. It has terraces on three sides and a seated main stand, with four slim floodlight pylons along each touchline and a clubhouse opposite the turnstiles out in the car park. 

As mentioned before on here, the Conference South is ludicrously tight as we enter the final stretch of the season. 15 points separate the final play-off place and the relegation zone and, off the back of a harsh winter, we have the usual uneven pattern of matches played which has the potential to shake everything up some more.

Basingstoke and Maidenhead was a meeting of 14th against 15th, which hardly promised much entertainment, but given how close the league is, there’s always the potential of using games such as this as a springboard for an improbable late play-off surge. 

Basingstoke made a rip-roaring start, to the delight of the 300 or so hardy souls who had braved the temperatures and occasional flurries of light snow. On four minutes, Simon Dunn and Manny Williams combined on the edge of the box and Wes Daly stormed through the away defence to fire home. 

A few minutes later, Williams headed home from Daly’s cross, returning the favour, and putting Basingstoke firmly in charge of the game. 

They had much the better of the remainder of the half and perhaps they would have scored a third with a better final product. Delano Sam-Yorke, who has a great name, looked their main threat after the break and it took a great challenge from Maidenhead’s Devante McKain to prevent him getting a goal. 

I was nattering away to Adam for most of the game and was paying less and less attention to the action as it faded to a natural conclusion. I don’t really recall many efforts of note at either end and was only snapped out of my slumber when Maidenhead started sending their goalkeeper Billy Lumley forward for corners with five minutes still to play.

He darted up the field about five times as the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the game, with the subs and coaches on their bench finding it hilarious and doing nothing to deter his lunacy. It was certainly the earliest I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper start going up for corners and, sadly, he was unable to get a goal for his lung-busting efforts. Maybe he was just a bit cold. 

Basingstoke, then, extended their unbeaten run to five games and, given how close things are, perhaps they could still avoid mid-table mediocrity.

Next Match: Not entirely sure, but soon! 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Brackley Town 0 Boston United 2

There is no such thing as a quiet week at Boston United Football Club. 

It’s a long-standing fact and one that isn’t always fair for everyone. On Monday evening, chairman David Newton took the swift and decisive action befitting a Roman Emperor watching a gladiator contest. It was the Caesarian thumbs down for the flagging Graham Drury, dragged out of the lion’s den and sent off into exile.

I was taken by surprise at the news, having been out that evening, but soon all hell was cutting loose on Facebook and Twitter. The consensus was that Mr Newton had made the correct decision. In fact, I didn’t see a single, daring voice of dissent in the chorus of relief. 

Like Jason Lee before him, I’m sure Drury had done his best. He was not helped by the heart attack suffered by his assistant over Christmas and he was not helped by the postponement of games at times when we might have gained a bit of momentum. 

But the cold hard facts of his regime were that he achieved just two victories in 13 attempts. When he took over we were hardly in rude health, but we were at least within touching distance of the play-off places. There was a slither of optimism that the end of the season might not be a total write-off. 

By the time Drury was relieved of his responsibilities, we were staring a relegation battle straight in its cold dark eyes. Following the 1-0 home defeat to Vauxhall Motors, a result that meant embarrassingly they had done the double over us and scored five goals without conceding, we were left in a situation where we were relying on the teams below us being worse. 

In an obvious sign that his sacking had been on the cards for some time, Drury was replaced within two hours by Dennis Greene. The former Histon man had come a close second in the interviews for the vacancy after Lee was sacked and I understand Drury had given a better presentation on the day. Like AVB did at Chelsea.

On the Tuesday morning, I again found myself on Lincs FM talking about the decision. Unlike last time, I wasn’t freezing my balls off outside the American Embassy after interviewing Julian Dicks. I explained why Drury had to go to the people between the Humber and the Wash in the comparatively normal surroundings of the our office atrium. 

I commended Newton’s decision, saying we were slipping backwards like a learner driver trying their first hill start. I questioned the inconsistencies in team selection - mainly why Tom Ward, so strong so often, was always on the bench - and tactics - where had all the width gone? I have’t heard it, but Lincs FM apparently used the whole interview.

Greene couldn’t have done much better on his first appearance. 24 hours later, United beat Gloucester City 4-0 at York Street to ease slightly their relegation fears. Drury must have squirmed when he heard the news. 

So on to Brackley on Saturday to see what, if anything, had changed. The Northamptonshire is quaint enough but it isn’t exactly blessed with good transport links. There was no train station, so me and Hallgarth took a train to Banbury and then a rural bus service (paying £6 for the privilege!) to Brackley. 

St James Park (yes, another one) isn’t the best ground in the league and, given their rapid rise to third in the table in their first season after promotion, one end was a construction site as they scrambled to build a new terrace to meet the stricter Conference ground regulations. The two JCB diggers positioned behind the goal gave a pretty surreal backdrop, but everyone was friendly and glad to have us. 

About 50 Pilgrims fans travelled and most were positioned in the one end open to us. We were in a more upbeat mood and very vocal. Amazing what can happen in a couple of weeks. The terrific eighties megamix blaring over the tannoy before kick-off inspired us to run through our repertoire of old player songs, from Mikel Suarez to Paul Ellender. 

United were twice saved by the linesman’s flag in the opening period, though we were in a poor position to see if the decisions were correct. There certainly didn’t seem to be any loud appeals, just a wake-up call for our defence. 

Otherwise, United enjoyed a lot of possession and seemed to be capable of things which were lacking last time I saw them at Solihull... like passing and crossing. Greene would have been satisfied with the way Boston had matched their high-flying opponents. 

Now to go out and score. We moved round the ground to what was essentially an open patch of concrete, next to the mums selling 50p cupcakes for the under 13 team fundraiser. It was harder to make some noise, but we soon had plenty to cheer. 

Two minutes after half-time, Marc Newsham escaped his marker on the left, swapped passes with Ben Milnes and then teed up Ben Fairclough to slam the ball home via aid of a deflection. We jumped around as best we could given the lack of stand. 

Ben, if you’re reading, when we sing “One decent Fairclough”, we do mean that you are the decent Fairclough and that your namesake Jordan, who was quickly ushered out of the club last season after some shocking errors, is rubbish. 

Brackley chased the game well, but couldn’t find a way past Dan Haystead, who had one of his best performances of the season in goal. Nathan Stainsfield, out of position in midfield, was deservedly man of the match. 

In the last few minutes, it was Spencer Weir-Daley, who has been in invigorated form of late, who made absolutely sure of the precious points. Ian Ross delivered a corner and, with a little deflection, Swizzy forced it into the net. Job done.

Greene did all the right things - he demanded all the players went over to the fans at full-time and then after the whistle, he came out of the tunnel to wish us a safe journey home. I shook his hand firmly, looked him in the eye and said: “Keep it up!” 

Next Match: Basingstoke v Maidenhead in the Conference South on Tuesday evening with Mr Hallgarth.   

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Derby County 1 Chelsea 2

In its 60 years of existence, the FA Youth Cup has been the proving ground for everyone from George Best to Wayne Rooney, John Barnes to Steven Gerrard. It is the greatest and most prestigious showcase of those young lads who have designs on being the player you hero worship in five years’ time. 

The competition can’t boast the attendances, television coverage, revenues or often the big stadiums of senior Cup competitions, but for those who participate, it offers invaluable experience of playing in the cut and thrust of knockout football. It is, after all, a mini replica of the greatest knockout tournament in the world - the FA Cup. 

You might have the finest coaching set-up in the world, but you can’t teach how to cope with the mind-crushing pressure of stepping up to take a penalty in a semi-final shootout, or how to drag yourself through 30 minutes of extra time when you’ve conceded a last-minute equaliser. The Youth Cup can offer all that, or at least a decent simulation.

And fans of every club want to know - or rather, should want to know - who will be in their first team in a few years’ time. That up and coming, rough and ready 16-year-old who caught the eye that cold night you went down to watch the Youth Cup be polished up to become the best player your club ever had. 

So at a time when football is monitored and written about with such saturation, it’s a surprise that the competition, and other youth football, is so neglected. We’re trying to do something to rectify that, hence why I found myself at Pride Park on Friday night. 

Their tie with Chelsea, the competition holders, was the stand-out of the quarter-finals. The Rams had already eliminated top calibre Premier League opposition in Manchester City in the previous round and fancied their chances again, giving the match a primetime billing and plenty of build-up.

It was my first Youth Cup match since I watched the first leg of the 2011 final between Sheffield United and Manchester United at a sold-out Bramall Lane; my first visit ever to Pride Park, and the first time in a while I’d written a live match report. 

The stadium is pretty generic, a spaghetti of metal cantilevers and steel stanchions, but the planners do seem to have given a little bit of thought to the needs of the visiting football fan. So many new venues are just plonked like a spaceship in the middle of nowhere, miles from any food outlet or hostelry in order to maximise profits inside the stadium. 

Not so Derby, which is a 15 minute walk from the railway station - again in contrast to many modern venues -   and had as many fast food outlets in its orbit as your cholesterol-clogged arteries can handle. Most striking was the branch of Greggs built into one corner of the ground - what a way to embrace the football fan’s love affair with baked pastry products! If I were PM, I’d pass a law saying all new grounds had to have a Greggs. 

Full credit to the football public of Derby, if I hadn’t have been in press box, I would have struggled to find a seat. As I took my place 20 minutes before kick-off, the main stand was full all the way along, with many fans cheekily taking advantage of the empty spaces in our section. In the end, the stewards opened the stand behind the goal as an overflow. 

The crowd was just a dozen under 4,200 - an excellent investment of faith in the future of Derby County. There were plenty of Chelsea fans among them too - both local and up from London for the evening - with one group singing “One Di Matteo” in the first half. Poor Rafa. 

The home faithful had plenty to enthuse about - Derby were excellent, particularly in an energised spell early in the second half in which the outstanding Mason Bennett claimed for them a deserved equaliser.

Bennett isn’t exactly an unearthed gem - he’s the club’s youngest senior debutant and youngest scorer, and he’s currently pulling up trees for England’s Under 17 team. A bright future awaits the winger, whose readiness to take on the Chelsea defence provided Derby’s most potent attacking threat. 

As Derby’s coach Darren Wassall acknowledged afterwards, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep Bennett for his own purposes. Nigel Clough is all-too-well of his potential and has him heavily involved in first team affairs. Derby may find it hard in a year or two to keep him for their own purposes full stop. 

His equaliser, 10 minutes after half-time, was all his own doing. As Chelsea’s Fankaty Dabo tried to clear the ball down the line, Bennett pickpocketed him from behind, spun and tore down the left touchline. Looking for options in the middle, he fired a low ball from near the byline which deflected off a Chelsea heel and into the net. 

At that point in the match, with Chelsea rocked, extra time looked a certainty and an upset a possibility. Moments later, Andrew Dales struck the crossbar for the hosts following more Bennett improvisation, and the  England man had earlier headed a cross against the post. 

So what of Chelsea? Well their class told in the end and their progression to a semi-final with either Hull City or Liverpool would, on another night and with another referee, been much more serene. 

The game hinges on an incident in the 15th minutes when Reece Mitchell burst between Derby’s centre-halves and was clattered in the box by goalkeeper Ross Etheridge. As we have seen on many occasions, officials can ruin the spectacle of a game by sending someone off in the opening minutes, but there wouldn’t have been many complaints here. 

But Chris Sarginson showed Etheridge clemency and produced just a yellow card. Chelsea’s Lewis Baker made no error with the penalty though. 

Alex Kiwomya, nephew of the former Arsenal player Chris, wasted two excellent chances in the first half to settle the game. Ironically, it was Etheridge who performed heroics on both occasions to deny him. 

But, with nine minutes remaining and a later night beckoning, Kiwomya did find the target. A fine strike it was too; as sub Charlie Colkett slipped a ball through, the striker twisted and then found the bottom corner with a shot of great power and accuracy. It probably ensured the right result just about on the balance of things. 

So, who to look out for? Well, Kiwomya obviously, and Baker has a real talent for working chances from tight spaces in and around the penalty area. 

In defence, Nathan Ake showed the composure on the ball that has already been recognised by Benitez with a first team debut over Christmas and a first start against Middlesbrough in the Cup. The Dutchman was certainly employed a lot, since goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney had obviously been instructed to play the ball short from every goal kick. 

On the right of defence, Adam Nditi was the most ridiculously attack-minded right-back I've seen in a long while - but he was very good at it. 

It was something Derby could have done more to exploit, but they certainly gave an excellent account of themselves before higher class eventually prevailed.

Next Match Boston United’s visit to Brackley Town on Saturday