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Question of the WeekWho will finish bottom?
A Numbers Game
By: Andrew Doherty
THE Euros are over, but it's Lincolnshire Cup time. The quarter-finals, to be precise, and we are away at AFC Stamford, giving me an opportunity to meet up with my friend Paul and have a first look at our signings.
Who was going to play is a mystery as Town were playing North Ferriby United the previous night, and in fact the staging of the game itself was a mystery, as Paul, who follows AFC Stamford religiously, kept telling me there was a game when there was nothing on the Town web site. But here we were, and perhaps ?game on? is a bit dramatic at this stage of the season.
My recollections of the Lincolnshire Cup go back to 1971, when we lost 1-0 in the final to Gainsborough Trinity. I have a vague recollection of losing by a similar score to Boston United and a spectator having a heart attack, but I can't imagine that the two events were related. I cannot say that this competition has imprinted itself in my psyche, but it cannot be accused of lacking history, having started in 1881. Now it's a pre-season workout, and a social occasion for the supporters.
We arrived at the neat Zeeco Stadium. Burger and chips flew out of the fryer to feed the hungry 272 spectators here tonight. It was a pleasant evening and it was nice to visit such a well run club as AFC Stamford. People were friendly here. Paul knows everyone and everyone knows everyone else. The announcer read out the teams. Silence followed to allow us time for solemn digestion of all the unknown names. I was particularly grateful that he knew Phil, the club secretary, who gave me a team sheet so that I could now decipher the player's numbers. It felt like holding the golden ticket.
Town's line-up tonight was: Warrington ? Mills, Hough, Pearson, Jones ? Bolarinwa, Disley, Clifton, Venney - Browne, Wright.
This was my first experience of watching Town since their hungover performance in the FA Trophy final. It may not have been important, but I still felt a slight residue of feeling aggrieved that it was such a waste of money and time. It was confirmation of my wife's view that watching Town is ?endless frustration?. I'm not sure what to read into the previous night's 4 ? 1 loss to North Ferriby United, other than improvements will be needed. This is the time of the season to make them and it was now great to see the players running around, passing the ball and doing the things that make the game occasionally worth watching. Both sides started brightly and openly. Clifton had a shot from outside the box but couldn't get the Ronaldo dip on it, then Bolarinwa hit a less impressive left-footed curler over the top from the same range. Stamford, in their all red kit, played their part and almost scored on 20 minutes after winning a corner. There was havoc in Town's defence and Warrington did well to block a close range shot.
The game got frenetic and with it more scrappy. Town were making mistakes. Robbins blasted wide for Stamford. Town's best movements were up the left side where Max Wright and Rhys Browne were looking lively and dangerous. The referee should have booked Dan Jones, if only to show ?this is what happens?, when the Town defender kicked the ball away, and when the referee had a word, launched a vitriolic rant. This ill-discipline could and should have led to an early season contender for the most needless yellow card. Stamford's keeper made a good save after Browne latched on to a through ball after about 30 minutes, then the same player wriggled through the back of the defence just before half-time but could not find the gap to score. The half ended goalless. There had been a lot of running around and the odd moment of skill but neither side was able to convert of the chances they created.
The second half started like a game of headball. Watching Pearson heading the ball into the sky reminded me of the halcyon days of Graham Rathbone. The game stopped for a serious-looking injury to Stamford's Luto, who to everyone's relief managed to stand up and stagger off before being replaced. Wright continued to look sharp. It appeared that Town's players had been instructed to quicken up their passing. After a trip on the edge of the box, Town won a free-kick but Browne struck it firmly into the Stamford wall. Bolarinwa showed off some trickery on the right but his cross was wayward. Town's build up was good but the final ball was always long or not finding anyone: a familiar tale. On 60 minutes Stamford had a rare attack. Robbins won a corner, resulting in Malone missing with Town's defence static. Town's defence was stretched five minutes later after a good run from Robbins. Lawis came on for Mills who pulled a muscle. Lawis wore the number 3 shirt but his name wasn't on the back - a ringer, Paul suggested. Chiellini, he wasn't, so I think we can discount that idea. Duffy then outpaced Hough, but the ball came back and Bolarinwa used his pace once again to run down the right before sending in a poorly directed cross ? is Bolinarawa the new Nathan Arnold, I wondered.
In the meantime Phil the Sec got into a tizz over Stamford's players wearing the wrong shirt. Come in, number 14. A ritual took place of changing shirts followed, and number 14 was now taller and more athletic-looking than the previous incumbent. Phil the Sec's number decoder was invaluable but this put it to the test. As a means of confusing the opposition, we could learn from this. Or maybe this is a little-known tradition in South Kesteven. Aside from the game of musical shirts, the cut and thrust continued to be matched by poor quality on the pitch. Stamford attacked. Browne won a corner for Town. The prospect of penalties loomed. Stamford's Wells was too slow, but a corner was won. A scramble ensued. Smith pounced and slammed home a low shot from 6 yards. Stamford 1, Grimsby 0. Town broke out and won a free-kick but Browne's delivery was poor. Town's play now had individual moments of promise but the link-up was ragged. On 88 minutes, Wright went on a dazzling run up the left side and broke through. Clifton and Browne were on hand, and it was Clifton who finished off to level the scores after the excellent individual effort from Wright. So penalties were once again on the horizon. But no. Stamford won a corner on the 90 minute mark, and The Player Now Wearing the Number 14 Shirt rose impressively above the Town defence and fired his header past Warrington to make it 2 ? 1 to Stamford. I believe number 14's name was Batchelor. Town were in the soup but had no time to extract themselves. Seconds later, the final whistle blew, so AFC Stamford find themselves in the semi-final, where they will face the winner of Spalding and Boston United.
Afterwards Paul and I looked round the main building and its impressive facilities, which included an indoor training area, physio rooms, a bar and a lounge where a group of ladies sat knitting. If all else fails, we could give up football and try that. But it's too early in the season to be judgmental. The conversation when I got home was economical: ?We lost?. ?No surprise?. In fact I felt no frustration tonight. It was a nice evening, good company and there were signs of quality from Wright, Browne and Clifton. Although the same score, this wasn't a loss on the scale of England v Iceland. AFC Stamford were competent and hard-working, and had some good players, particularly the number 5 Miller who seemed very composed, the pacy Smith, the powerful Robbins, and not forgetting the mysterious Number 14. It was a great header, whoever you are.
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