GNP Leave Roman Alcester With the Spoils
Alcester Town 0-1 GNP Sports
This much anticipated encounter was played in very cold conditions, made more bitter by a cutting wind across the open expanses of the River Arrow’s valley. The game itself was a strange engagement, for although GNP looked the more dominant opening period team, they then missed three fine opportunities near the start of the second-half to add to Scott Hammond’s earlier goal. Once Town had seemingly decided to go for broke after that, at least there seemed to be more of a contest going on, although visiting ‘keeper Paul Lawrence was rarely troubled. This was in no small way due to the impressive performance of GNP central defender James Bryson, whose strength could not be underestimated. His surge forward and 30 yard belter against the home crossbar after the break would have been a just reward for his efforts, had it sneaked beneath the crossbeam.
|DOWNEY AND THE REF FIND THEIR HANDS ICED TOGETHER...|
|YEAH, REALLY COLD...|
The later periods of the game saw GNP play on the break but despite the occasional threat of Josh O’Grady’s often decent control, the rushes of replacement Jason Evans and the continued efforts of striker Tom Rawlings, little came of the attacks, partly due to some wayward left-flank crosses from another substitute, the elusive Charlie Cook in particular but again, that wind was so tough to deal with and I guess it would be harsh to criticise him, for his positional sense was otherwise strong. A late penalty claim by Alcester’s Chris Mills was waved away by the referee and Sports’ manager Shamir Alam leapt into the air when the final whistle signalled a hard fought victory for his league leaders.
|THE WOADIES KICK OFF...|
I had been ill for a while, I hadn’t seen a match for 25 days, my voice had been reduced to an impression of Burnley manager Sean Dyche’s but then after an hour, my camera’s batteries decided they were too cold to survive the remaining thirty minutes. However, a quick stroll round to my car, behind a goal, produced a substitute camera, smaller but almost impossible to manipulate in the extreme cold… At least I managed to film the important bits of the latter stages of the match, despite the wind screaming about me at a higher pitch than my own Sean Dyche voice…
|"...BUT HE LADDERED MY SOCK, REF..."|
Fair play to Alcester though for a making a fist of harassing GNP as the second period wore on but little in the way of intrusive offense really threatened the guests and the points went deservedly to the Coventry based team. I thought that this match was a bit like a skirmish between the Romans and the Britons, for GNP wore light blue shirts, as if dyed by woad, the extract this country’s ancients once covered their skin with to appear vile. Maybe nickname of the day for GNP should be ‘The Woadies'…
A scrappy opening to the game reflected the occasional snow flurries, whereby little pattern was discernible, possibly because of the adverse weather conditions. However, an early free-kick opportunity for the hosts arrived and it was striker Louis Bridges who attempted a 25 yard shot but it was deflected off the Woadie shield-wall for the first of two unproductive corners. O’Grady then managed to do what he does so well: he cut inside from the right flank but on this occasion the wind blew him off course and he fell like a reveller leaving a club on Birmingham’s Broad Street as his badly sliced shot drifted off target. Home goalie Alex Gretton then suffered a moment of falling too, as he attempted to collect an unchallenged left-wing centre by Hammond. It was like, unbeknown to him, someone had crouched behind him and another wag had gently pushed him over the bent fellow’s back, for in slow motion, Gretton dropped onto his goal-line and only just managed to prevent the ball from crossing it.
|DHALIWAL & BRIDGES...|
A smart O’Grady pass let in Rawlings soon afterwards but the willing forward was unable to do more than take the ball over the end-line, even though an offside flag was already waving. The opening goal served to dampen Roman spirits somewhat and it came after a what appeared to be a subtle defensive change by Town. Right-back James Robbins had begun to play more centrally alongside skipper Keiran Downey and the tough Centurion-like Dean Hay. A clipped pass forward by GNP’s Luke Swinnerton was flicked on by the head of Nathan Stoute, winning the ball too easily against the jump of the much shorter Robbins. Hay then seemed to misjudge the loose ball and before he could recover, Hammond had outpaced the bearded Will Beach to fasten onto it centrally and the left-sided forward beat the advancing Gretton with a low shot into the left corner of the net.
|COMPTON: NOT ONLY A LADDERED SOCK BUT MAYBE A SPOT OF MUD ON HIS CHIN AS WELL...|
HE JUST LIKES THE ATTENTION...
|GOAL BY HAMMOND...|
Stoute intercepted a back-pass towards Gretton but ran the ball out for a goal-kick, a fine pass from left-back to right-wing by Leigh Phillips, who unusually had the kind of game which could best be described as inconsistent, found O’Grady again, again watched by home left-back Courtney Sowe. Tricky O’Grady showed his mettle and clipped in a fine byeline centre right onto Stoute’s head but the striker couldn’t get over the ball and nodded his attempt over the target from 2 yards. Swinnerton’s next cross caused problems for the home defence but after a bit of a melee in which O’Grady fell over, rather a rare occurrence that, Rawlings shot into the side-netting, right side of goal. Another fine Phillips pass, left to right to O’Grady led to the wide-man cutting inside again but this time his poor shot trundled well past the near post. He didn’t fall this time though…
|LIKE A SUMMER'S EVENING...|
Half-time arrived as a low right-side centre by Rawlings was swept away from the home goal-line by the alert Beach, as Hammond lurked like one of Boudicca’s troops in an ambush. The interval was whistled for and I hastened to sit in my car for a short while, out of the biting, slicing, icing wind but soon the game was under away again and despite a hasty start to the half by the Romans, The Woadies began to create a few opportunities with the prevailing wind mostly at their backs.
|AN ALCESTER FREE-KICK...|
|2ND HALF TO START...|
A right-side free-kick by the busy Max Crisp for Town, whose crisp set-pieces had offered few crumbs of chances for his forwards thus far, stretched Lawrence and the ‘keeper could only touch the ball on but Downey’s half-volley at the far stick rose way too high. Phillips and O’Grady then combined on the Woadie left but Gretton gratefully clutched the left-back’s 22 yard drive, before fine vision by Rawlings saw him free Hammond in the right side of the 18 yard box but to his dismay the goalscorer’s drive rose well over the home goal-frame this time. Then came Bryson’s moment. He latched onto a Town clearance, stormed forward for the second time in the game but on this occasion he unleashed a superb straight drive from all of 30 yards but the ball smacked the face of the crossbar, as Gretton leapt high. I’m uncertain whether the goalie got a touch on that shot but he certainly did well during subsequent Woadie attacks.
|HAY & O'GRADY...|
First he got down to save a Rawlings shot, who had been cleverly set up by O’Grady, although an offside flag was blustering in the wind anyway, then Rawlings knocked the ball back for O’Grady to volley left-footed and low from 19 yards and only a touch by the diving Gretton turned the ball against his own left upright, all to O’Grady’s chagrin. He didn’t fall over though… Lawrence was tested by another Crisp free-kick from the right but striker Ellis Kalach, who had been rather quiet thus far drove a 21 yard shot way too high and it was at this point that my camera decided enough was enough and I was forced to grab my iPhone and film three attacks whilst retiring towards my car. My reserve camera was utilised but I stood on the opposite side of the pitch with the low sun behind me this time and of course the wind was now agin me and I felt like I was watching a game near Hadrian’s Wall, it was so desolate and cold…
|"...BUT REF, HE SAID HE DIDN'T LIKE MY TATTOO..."|
Roman Kalach made way for Mills, Evans replaced Woadie Stoute then on a break, the guests missed a chance to make the game safe. O’Grady and Rawlings made the opening, the latter’s low near post pass from the left was challenged for by Evans but when the ball rolled to Rawlings again, he fired low into the side-netting, albeit from an acute angle. The Romans were battling really hard by this time, with Crisp, Lewis Marston and Will Beach prominent but the one individual who had looked threatening for the hosts had been Jamie Bailey, right from the very start and he became more of a concern for the Woadie defence in the closing stages with some rushes. Marston headed wide, before at the other end a fine Crisp block prevented a low O’Grady drive from worrying Gretton. Ryan Watson joined the fray for the Romans, before Cook and then later Scott Lindley appeared for The Woadies, relieving Hammond and the industrious but hurt Woadie commander Matty Compton. A low Watson shot rolled weakly to Lawrence as the hosts simply could not penetrate the GNP barrier and when O’Grady fed Rawlings at inside-right at the other end, Gretton saved the striker’s sharp near post shot. Mills fell under a challenge from the ubiquitous Phillips, now wearing the skipper’s armband of course and naturally Alcester had to appeal for a penalty but even on the video clip, there seemed to be barely any contact.
One must applaud Bryson, backed comfortably by Manjinder Dhaliwal in the Woadie defence and supported by Phillips and Swinnerton but in midfield, the graft was done and untiringly so, by both Compton and the very effective unsung player Corey Jack Brookes. Rawlings led the attack well enough, Stoute was, well, stout, although O’Grady never really settled into any offensive rhythm on the day. Hammond was also indecisive on occasions and Phillips was kept quiet by the attentions of the Roman troops.
|SEE YOU AT THE CUP FINAL...|
Certainly Romans Downey and Hay defended capably for the most part, Bailey was fleet-footed, Sowe was effective on the left side at times, Crisp fought hard throughout but Beach really did have a decent second-half for Alcester…
All in all, a match was actually played, despite the aching cold and thus with little or no feeling in either hand, I returned to my car for the drive home.
By this time I must have sounded like Sean Dyche with a sore throat, a thought not to dwell upon…
ALEX GRETTON, JAMES ROBBINS, COURTNEY SOWE, MAX CRISP, DEAN HAY, KEIRAN DOWNEY (CAPT), JAMIE BAILEY, LEWIS MARSTON, LOUIS BRIDGES, ELLIS KALACH, WILL BEACH.
RICH LAYTON, RYAN WATSON, DANNY JANES, CHRIS MILLS, LUKE WILLIAMS.
PAUL LAWRENCE, LUKE SWINNERTON, LEIGH PHILLIPS, COREY JACK BROOKES, MANJINDER DHALIWAL, JAMES BRYSON, SCOTT HAMMOND, MATTY COMPTON (CAPT), TOM RAWLINGS, NATHAN STOUTE, JOSH O’GRADY.
CALLUM RAI, CHARLIE COOK, SCOTT LINDLEY, JASON EVANS.