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Question of the Week

Who will win the National League?

Wrexham
Stockport
Notts County
Chesterfield
Grimsby
A N Other

Hope springs eternal
Hope springs eternal

Average Fare

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 03/08/2021

LAST week Town advertised for a chef, whose remit is to offer "healthy, cost-effective, high quality" food for players and supporters. Expecting supporters to forego haslet buns for salads is a tall ask, but this is the era of optimism. We have new owners, surveys, players and even pre-season fixtures.

I like to get to at least one pre-season game to see at first-hand how it's all progressing. I didn't however fancy a 250-mile round trip on a Tuesday evening to Alfreton, so I took the streaming option. The heady day of returning to be with people at Blundell Park and elsewhere will have to wait.

If the new chef is going to provide something healthy, it is to be hoped that the same will apply on the pitch. The last few seasons have given us raging indigestion. So Mr Hurst and his team spent a bit of time at a complex in Cheshire last week, honing their skills in a training camp before going to play at Hyde. We lost that 0 - 2, and Mr Hurst's comments about players being incapable of passing the ball 10 yards and generally not showing some interest in winning suggests that the boundless optimism may soon be tarnished. Tonight's fixture at Alfreton could be the chance to redress the balance.

Town started with: McKeown - Efete, Longe-King, Pearson, Revan - Clifton, Fox, Coke - Adlard, McAtee, Essel.

Town had their first move on 5 minutes after an early Alfreton corner. Intelligent work from Pearson found space coming out of defence. More good work by Coke set up the attack. Revan supplied McAtee who ran clear and from the edge of the box slotted home. 1 - 0 to Town. A poor header from Pearson on 10 minutes resulted in a good long-range shot from Grice who fired just over. The rain lashed down and after a brief bright spell of passing from Town, the quality went down the drain. The game became a desperate battle with each side relinquishing the ball to each other as Town went long. Alfreton moved up with the pitch more efficiently but Longe-King and Pearson were more than up to the task. Revan committed a foul on 25 minutes, and the referee had to speak to Longe-King when Town's defender swiped out at Alfreton's Lund after McKeown was bundled into the net. Coke then got away with just a booking after a scything tackle on Molyneaux. Town showed determination but after an impressive start by Fox and Coke, apart from Efete who looked to run everywhere, Town were lacklustre and lacking in quality. Things picked up towards the end of the half when McAtee had a good long-range shot, then the impressive Efete did well to switch, with the ball falling on the left to Revan whose dangerous cross couldn't be headed home. Then Fox found space and Essel crossed into the 6 yard area but no-one could get on the end of it. This was a promising end to a languid first half.

Town started the second half with a couple of bright attacks. The previously invisible Adlard set up McAtee who fired his shot straight at the goalkeeper. "We're having sound problems. If you can't hear us, we apologise", announced one of the bumbling Alfreton commentators. Town passed nicely and at pace. On 56 minutes Pearson lost control and gave away a throw in Town's half. Alfreton attacked and set the tone for the half. Pearson cut out two attacks, first with an interception, then with a block. Alfreton won a free-kick in the corner after a tussle between Revan and Molyneaux. Reeves should have bundled the ball after shaking off the defence. This was the first real lapse by Town's defence tight. Town just weren't getting a grip of the game. McKeown mislocated Pearson and gave away a throw. Town's attacks were infrequent but Essel was tripped on 71 minutes 40 yards out while working up the middle. Spokes came on for Essel. McAtee won a free kick on the left but Revan wasted it by putting his free-kick directly out of play. The on-pitch swearing, which Alfreton's streaming service captured vividly, was now more notable than the football. The tiring Coke was dispossessed on 75 minutes before racing back and fouling Johnson on the edge of the box. Johnson's shot was straight at McKeown. Longe-King was then Town's saviour. Town were all at sea, as Alfreton brought on the evergreen and master wind-up merchant Matt Rhead, with Tuton working well on the right side. "Grimsby came and gave us a real game", observed Hinge to his Bracket in the commentary box. Hang on, Town are in the higher division. But they were right as Town hung on desperately. In a rare attack, Fox was fouled 30 yards out. McAtee's free-kick was good, curling round the wall but comfortably gathered by the Alfreton goalkeeper, whose identity was in doubt as Hinge and Bracket debated who might perchance be standing in goal with the gloves on. Little wonder then that they had no idea who came on or off for Town in the 80th minute. Coke and Revan came off, Goundry came on, Efete moved to the left and I'm going to take a stab and say it was Sears who came on. The pattern remained the same. Alfreton attacked. Town defended. With 4 minutes to go McKeown made a brilliant save from Rhead who was then adjudged to be offside. Alfreton huffed and puffed, Town defended and hung on. Alfreton 0, Town 1.

This was average fare. Town's midfield went missing in the second half after a promising start. McAtee looked dangerous up front, and I was particularly impressed with Efete's commitment, speed and versatility. The most positive aspect was the defence. Pearson and Longe-King looked like they could be a formidable partnership, both showing experience in cutting out attacks and ultimately earning a clean sheet. Town's passing quality wasn't great other than in patches and while Fox, Coke and Clifton each had brief moments of creativity, but a lack of composure or maybe fitness and too many inaccurate passes meant that we gave up ground and spent the second half under siege. I can't say I'm overwhelmed with optimism. But ultimately this was a friendly. The proof will be in the pudding, and the first course of that will not be until 21st of this month at Bromley.

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