Question of the WeekWho should start in goal?
Avoiding the Prosecco Option
By: Andrew Doherty
I THINK I'm losing touch with modern reality. I received the following invitation recently from my rugby league team: "Join us for an exciting day. Before watching the team in action against Batley Bulldogs, get your glass of prosecco and enjoy delicious food with your friends and family”.
Prosecco? I don't remember any of this at Doncaster v Whitehaven in the mud and cold of Tattersfield, where the outlay of a halfpenny (this was 1968) at the fairground next door could result in the jackpot of a halfpenny – true Yorkshire thrift. The prophet Roy Keane had a point with his commentary about the prawn sandwich brigade. What's the world coming to? I despair.
Even with the prospect of a replacement bus, which I guess doesn't fit into the glamorous world of playing Batley Bulldogs, the decision to go to watch Town v Eastleigh was a no brainer. Along the way, I was asked about going to Brigg Town v Cleethorpes Town. The only way is Cleethorpes to watch Town, but not that one. I've been watching the Mariners longer than I've been watching rugby league, and I'm not going to stop now. It's always a pleasure to go to Blundell Park, and I don't need the lure of some exotic drink. At least that's what I think until 3pm. This season has been particularly agonising. We all thought that “this was it”, we got a great team which was capable of glory. We haven't done badly but we've stumbled along into third place, drawing games we should have won and occasionally losing badly. Until the Aldershot result I didn't share the general view that we were certain to make the play-offs, as every opportunity lay before us to mess it up. Today is another of those days.
While Town appear to be sitting comfortably, Eastleigh have the hunger to win games and propel themselves into the lottery of the play-offs. I simply don't trust this Town side to play consistently for three consecutive games, assuming that we actually make the play-offs. So here I was in the Main stand on this fine day, very much looking forward to the game but not without apprehension.
Town's line up today was: McKeown – Tait, Nsiala, Gowling, Robertson – Stewart, Disley, Nolan, Arnold – Bogle, Amond.
Town started brightly against the team in all red, with Stewart in particular looking slippery, and after 4 minutes, Nolan's cross came out to Amond, who forced a desperate save from Eastleigh's keeper Flitney in front of the 46 visiting supporters in the Osmond stand. The crowd today was 4011. An open game followed, with both sides looking positive and endeavouring to switch play and work the ball upfield. The next chance fell to Town on 14 minutes when Amond robbed the defender and crossed to Nolan whose drilled shot towards goal was deflected by Flitney's foot. A measured Disley volley on 18 minutes was pushed aside by Flitney and as Amond followed up, the keeper recovered and a corner was awarded as Town claimed a penalty for a foul. An Amond cross found Bogle soon after but the Town striker's shot was deflected by a defender from a corner, which resulted in Bogle's header being flipped over by the overworked Flitney.
A fierce Arnold shot on 20 minutes forced yet another save. At the other end Gowling's header back to McKeown on the half hour resulted in a misunderstanding with an Eastleigh striker lurking. After Town's impressive flurry, Eastleigh were getting more into the game and building attacks. On 34 minutes, Robertson found Arnold in space on the left but Arnold overran the ball, resulting in two successive corners for Town. A minute later, Tait supplied Amond whose shot hit the side netting. Town were not frightened to shoot and pack power into their shots. Tait surged up field again on 42 minutes and his opposite number headed the ball out for a corner. On half time Bogle had a low shot but it was too weak to trouble Flitney, and with players spare alongside him, it was a wasted chance. So in spite of all Town's attacks and endeavours, it was 0 – 0 at half time.
Both sides showed quality in their play but Town in particular took the game to Eastleigh and showed they were capable of creating chances. The only criticism would be that apart from Disney's volley, the shots were not angled and Flitney was able to block them each time. But those shots were plentiful and accurate, and although Eastleigh were showing resilience, there were encouraging and positive signs in Town's overall play.
The nature of the game changed on 47 minutes. Eastleigh's Payne and Town's Tait went in for a 50/50 challenge just inside Town's half. Tait went down under the weight of the tackle. Town's players reacted furiously. Scuffles took place. The referee hesitated and apparently having decided that Tait's injury was serious, pulled Payne to one side and sent him off. Nsiala and Eastleigh's Drury continued to argue and were booked. After attention, Tait hobbled to the sideline and was able to continue. Understandably, 10 men Eastleigh started to play with more caution, and so did Nsiala, prompting cries from the crowd to bring Pearson in in his place. In a replica of the first half, Flitney tipped over a header from Amond on 51 minutes after a Robertson cross, and followed this up with another great save after two further corners. Eastleigh showed intent and won a free kick 30 yards out after Disley made a tackle from behind. This came to nothing but Eastleigh's Reason then broke away, reminding us that Town' opponents could be dangerous. A sequence of fouls followed and the game threatened to become ill-tempered but both teams realised there was a game to be won and responded professionally.
Town attempted to wear Eastleigh down with a patient passing sequence, and Bogle went on a run through the centre on the hour mark, but Town were starting to show a lack of cohesion. Disley headed well wide on 64 minutes after his own skill had won a corner. On 72 minutes Bogle and Stewart were replaced by Hoban and Jennings. Town now lined up in 4 – 3 – 3 formation, as they pressed on to break the deadlock. On 73 minutes Flitney punched a Nolan corner clear to Tait whose fizzed shot from 25 yards out recalled the days of Sam Hatton. Jennings, Hoban and Amond then linked up neatly and Amond's shot from 6 yards was again repelled by Flitney. Eastleigh had made a substitution, bringing on Odubade who proved a real threat up front. On 76 minutes McKeown's concentration and composure paid off as Odubade tried to round him after shrugging off Nsiala on the edge of the penalty box. Town's Assistant Manager Chris Doig waved his arms frantically to signal that more width was needed, and Town responded with a ball out to the left. Jennings could only manage a weak shot from the cross, and so wasted a good chance. Town won two corners but Jennings was the villain again after floating in a weak cross to Flitney. Another corner resulted in Flitney being fouled, then Eastleigh's Odubade was fouled by Nsiala, who was now visibly struggling to run. Reason's free-kick was punched clear by McKeown. Arnold broke out to the left and saw Amond advancing, ready to run on to his pass, but in the event Arnold's pass was terrible and went straight to Flitney. As Town laid siege on the Eastleigh goal, the visitors' defenders show great resolution and were snubbing out Town's attacks with headers, desperate blocks and a well-worked offside trap. Four minutes were added on but apart from a purposeful run by Nolan, Town had run out of ideas and the game ended in stalemate: Town 0, Eastleigh 0.
Town worked hard and at no stage resorted to crude tactics to break the deadlock and score. Confidence remained after the excellent spell in the first half, where Flitney's heroics prevented Town from breaking through. But Fltney's 10 out of 10 performance and Eastleigh's resolute defending also need to be seen in conjunction with Town's poor finishing, as our strikers gave Flitney and the defence every chance to keep us out. The sending-off undoubtedly injected a defensive-mindedness into Eastleigh, who I thought looked a good team and were dangerous themselves both individually and when breaking out in numbers. If we're going to progress into league 2, this is exactly the sort of team we will have to break down. We can't just bemoan good goalkeeping. Tait was announced as Town's man of the match, and I'd go along with that, adding Robertson, Nolan and Gowling to the honours list but everyone played their part here. This was a hard fought and entertaining game. Bin the prosecco, the prawn sandwiches and the champagne – this is edge-of-seat football, Grimsby Town style.
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