Monday, February 26, 2007

Game 29: Stevenage Borough 3.0 Salisbury City 24.02.07 (FAT QF)

Having booked myself onto coach 3 before it sold out thanks to a quick lunchtime dash up to the Ray Mac I found myself in the coach park with a number of other gentlemen clutching Tesco's bags full of grub, drink etc for the journey upto Stevenage for this FA Trophy Quarter Final Tie.

The journey up to Stevenage was pretty uneventful and we got to the ground about an hour and a half before kick off. This gave us plenty of time to wander across the busy road to the bar where the FA Trophy was on display for supporters to get themselves photographed with it. After catching some of the Fulham v Man Utd game on Sky, wandered into the ground about 2.15 to take in the pre-match atmosphere. There were about 500 Whites fans in a crowd of 2,148 and most of the noise was coming from them.

Unlike last year's Quarter Final tie, we were allocated a seated end so the squeeze to try and find some space wasn't an issue. I headed over to the far side so the goal was to my right (old habits die hard!) and watched the teams warm up.

Before the game I felt that we had a good chance to get something from this tie but that feeling soon evaporated. Stevenage were playing some great one touch football on the ground and ex England International Steve Guppy was getting into some good crossing positions on the side nearest me. While the Salisbury supporters were in good song, the referee was cracking down on anything physical which suited Stevenage. Paul Sales was booked early on for putting his elbows up when trying to flick the ball on for Matt Tubbs and the Stevenage back four were mopping up anything that came near their box. However the referee did seem to be inconsistent in his decision making, favouring the home team on more than one occasion.

After a couple of early scares, Stevenage took the lead. Following a weaving run down the right wing, the ball was passed across the area and found Daryl McMahon unmarked at the edge of the area. His shot sped past Clarke into the back of the net, some saying that it had been deflected. The scoreline stayed the same to halftime although Tubbs did manage one spectacular shot it was always rising above the crossbar.

In the second half Salisbury continued to battle in vain for an equaliser. A few more chances were created but the killer pass was lacking. It reminded me of watching Salisbury play Chesham the previous season - except that day Salisbury were the ones playing ball to feet, getting into good positions and breaking with pace.

The second goal came as a result of pace - Ryan Clarke came out of his goalmouth to try and sweep up a long ball but was beaten to it. When the cross was delivered to the centre of the box it meant that Morison had an empty goal to aim out and from 6 yards he wasn't going to miss.

Robbie Matthews came on as a sub and almost immediately made a difference, his pace troubling the Stevenage team who had grown used to the high balls looking for Sales. Matt Tubbs was unlucky to see a ball cleared off the line from short range with a spectacular overhead kick.

The referee had shown that he was not going to allow the Salisbury players to make challenges that he felt were dangerous or to discuss the unpunished dangerous Stevenage tackles without granting a yellow card so when Matthews broke through the defence on the left but was given offside, it wasn't a surprise that he was given a yellow card for kicking the ball away. However moments later when he won a header in the box, the referee seemed to be indicating that any more contentious challenges and he would be off. That didn't sink in with Robbie and when he slid in for a 50/50 challenge from behind a Stevenage defender you could almost see the smile on the referees face as he ran towards him at full pace brandishing a yellow then red card.

At the time I was furious with the referee, possibly the most angry I've been at a non-league game since last season's FA Trophy game at Exeter. On reflection, perhaps the Salisbury players didn't adapt to the style of a "Fast Track - tick all the boxes in assessments apart from common sense" referee because they don't see that kind of refereeing week in week out. Mr Ward is already running the line in Premiership games but didn't seem to get into good positions to see challenges that ended up unpunished. Perhaps he was already thinking of his trip to Cardiff for the 5th official role at the League Cup final the next day....

The decision wound up many supporters around me, who were well placed to see the challenge. Some of them spilled down to the front of the stand and for a moment it looked as if there might be some trouble. It also wound up the Salisbury bench and Tommy Widdrington was banished to the stands for expressing his view - probably a few too many expletives for the referee.

Stevenage made the most of the man advantage and wrapped up the win in the 90th minute. Ryan Clarke made two superb saves at close range but couldn't keep the third shot out after his save for the second came back off the crossbar. Stevenage certainly deserved to win the game but the scoreline did flatter them in the end. Unlike last year, the defeat wasn't caused by a poor referee but you have to wonder what the result would have been if the referee had been consistent in his decision making.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Game 28: Salisbury City 1.1 Dorchester Town 20.02.07 (NCS)

A local derby under floodlights - you can't beat that for atmosphere and with the ground improvement works continuing, the far left corner of the stand behind the goal was reserved for visiting fans. They showed their appreciation by covering the area with balloons and the pitch in front with the entire contents of a Tesco Value megapack of toilet rolls before the game.

Looking at the programme, it appeared that Salisbury hadn't won for some time against Dorchester in a competitive game and sadly that fact still stands. While Salisbury started well, the main talking point was Matt Tubbs receiving a straight red card for a tackle after 30 minutes.

Tubbs had created the first goal, his 14th minute shot being parried up in the air by the keeper allowing Paul Sales to head into an empty net. This silenced the cries of "Magpie Reject" for a few minutes but it appeared that Tubbs was driven on by the chance to put one over his old team. On the half hour mark he went flying in for a tackle on the halfway line when it wasn't really necessary and caught the Dorchester player with a tackle from behind that the referee decided was dangerous. As it was his 4th red card this season, he no doubt earnt himself a rollicking from the management to go with his 6 match ban.

Salisbury managed to survive until the 78th minute without conceding, playing some good counterattacking football, Matthews replacing Sales earlier than normal to give the defence a mobile outlet. Dorchester thought they had scored earlier in the 2nd half but the assistant ref already had his flag in the air much to the annoyance of the Dorchester drinkers. However in the 78th minute, the ball came across from the left wing and David Town hit an exceptionally sweet shot straight into the back of the net. Despite being 30 yards out, the power and pace left Ryan Clarke no chance.

Salisbury created two good chances later on and both Bartlett and Matthews put shots agonisingly wide from positions on the far right of the box in the last 5 minutes. The draw was enough to put Salisbury top of the table but it would have a win if 11 men had stayed on the pitch.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Game 27: Salisbury City 2.1 Bognor Regis Town 10.02.07 (NCS)

A wet day at the Ray Mac - there was a late pitch inpection in the morning and the weather remained dry until I left for the ground at 2.30, when it started to chuck it down. Arrived at the ground and managed to get a parking spot just outside the turnstiles on the hardstanding.

Salisbury started the game brightly and the Bognor keeper made a spectacular flying save in the third minute to keep a Scott Bartlett header out. Both teams were trying to play a passing game but the downpour made playing conditions difficult. Salisbury had the most of the play but found it difficult to break down the Bognor defence.

Probably the biggest cheer of the first half came from a crossfield pass that hit the referee's feet, causing him to trip up and fall face first into the mud. With the far side out of bounds due to the ground improvement works, the stewards allowed the Bognor fans round the ground to stand behind the goal. I'm sure it's the first time that Scooby Doo, Lou from Little Britain, Homer Simpson and Superman amongst others have been in the away end!

Salisbury continued to pressure in the second half and the goal finally came on 64 minutes. Luke Prince sent in another cross from the left and Aaron Cook rose up to plant a looping header over the keeper. After seeing it go in, he span around and headed to the halfway line with a Channonesque windmill arm celebration.

However this spurred Bognor on and suddenly Salisbury found themselves under pressure. After a couple of corners a clearance found Ben Watson on the right side, he sent a cross in that missed everyone in the middle but curved towards the goal, deceiving Ryan Clarke on it's way to the back of the net.

Both teams continued to press for a winner but it looked as if the game was going to finish as a draw. Late into injury time, the referee pulled back play on the edge of the box after a foul didn't leave Salisbury with an advantage. Robbie Matthews stepped up and blasted the ball round the wall, past the keeper's outstretched hand and into the bottom left corner of the net - cue delirious celebrations on the eve of Salisbury's 60th anniversary.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Game 26: Salisbury City 2.1 VTFC 06.02.07 (Friendly)

With the lack of regular reserve team games, this game was arranged at short notice to assist with Tommy Widdrington's recovery from a dislocated knee.

Both teams fielded a mix of first team and reserve team players. On the VTFC team I recognised ex-White Tyronne Bowers and former Eastleigh player Ryan Ashford while Salisbury's team included Declan McGregor, Simon Browne, Alex Haddow and Matt Holmes.

Salisbury opened the scoring with a Nick Eastham header but VTFC broke down the right side and the ball broke to Bowers to slot in a shot from close range into an empty net. Tommy was replaced with a trialist after 40 minutes, looking a bit tired but none the worse for wear.

Alex Haddow scored with a tremendous volley from outside the area to make it 2.1 just before halftime. The second half was a disjointed affair and neither team really did much in front of goal so the score remained 2.1 at full time.