Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Game 4: Laverstock & Ford 0.3 Andover (Friendly) 28.07.09

I decided to visit the Dell for the visit of the “auld enemy” – no, not Scotland but for those like me who remember watching Salisbury in their Southern League days, Andover was the fixture that we used to look out for first! Although it was cloudy and overcast when I left home, the rain stayed away so this was the first July game this season where I didn’t need an umbrella!

Since my last visit to Laverstock, a ticket entrance has been installed and I paid the £3 admission before wandering round the ground to my usual spot to the left of the dugouts. As I walked round the teams came out on to the pitch and the game was soon underway. The referee was a familiar face and he handled both sets of players well, explaining his decisions and maintaining discipline while using common sense.

Andover had the best of the possession in the first half but the first clear cut chance fell to Laverstock. Their right winger was extremely quick and managed to keep the ball in at the far goal line when the Andover defence had assumed that the ball would go for a goal kick. He ran along the goal line, cut back past a defender and had a shot that went over the bar.

The game was flowing from end to end. Andover had a corner and played the ball to the edge of the box. The resulting shot was low and on target until the Laverstock keeper touched it wide. From the resulting corner Andover took the lead after 20 minutes. The ball was crossed from the right touchline into the centre of the box where the unmarked centre half rose and firmly headed it in.

Five minutes later and it was two nil from another defensive error. This time a Laverstock player ignored his goalkeeper’s instructions to leave a ball and played a header to where he thought the keeper would be. The keeper had moved out further to the edge of the area to collect the ball and left an open goal so when the header went past him, the oncoming Andover striker just had to collect the ball and knock it into the net which he duly did.

Laverstock rallied towards the end of the half and put another shot low past the post. Just before half time they had another chance from a well taken corner. The ball was played with pace from the left side of the pitch and the striker had a free header but almost seemed to connect too well when glancing his header towards goal which took the ball over the bar instead. They had time to earn another corner, this time from the right side, but the header again ended up over the bar.

This pattern continued in the second half. Laverstock continued to create some good chances but the shots and headers rarely threatened the Andover keeper. One of the best chances was in the 46th minute when a Laverstock striker volleyed the ball over the bar from a cross when it looked easier to score. They came even closer in the 53rd minute when a shot from distance went over the keeper, hit the underside of the bar and bounced down and back into play. Laverstock managed to keep the attack alive and the Andover keeper was forced to make a good save.

The game continued to be end to end as both teams were giving away possession in midfield. Former Salisbury youth player Eddie Perrett had a good chance for Laverstock in the 60th minute but the Andover keeper came out quickly to smother the ball at this feet. Andover created a couple of chances and almost added a third midway through the half with a shot that the Laverstock keeper did well to get a hand to. His wrist strength was sufficient to push it away from goal and the ball was cleared.

Andover scored a deserved third goal in a breakaway attack after 80 minutes. A Laverstock pass was intercepted on the halfway line and two Andover players ran forward. The player without the ball on the left wing was unmarked but his team mate decided not to pass to him and took the defence on by himself. After a few turns he managed to deceive the defender long enough to get into the box and hit a shot past the keeper and in. It was a good job that he did score, as the bench was up in arms about him not passing a few seconds earlier!

Laverstock almost scored a consolation goal in the 86th minute thanks to some slack Andover defence. The keeper received a pass back that didn’t have enough pace on it. This forced him to play a low clearance and allowed a Laverstock player to run in to challenge. The ball bounced back of his legs but luckily for the Andover keeper it didn’t rebound on target and the defence were able to clear the ball away.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Game 3: Salisbury City 5.4 Southampton (Friendly) 21.07.09

Arrived at the Ray Mac at 7.30 just as the rain started to fall again – a third summer game played in wet conditions! The car park was free today and when I went through the turnstiles there was a free teamsheet waiting. Reading through the line ups, I noted that it was a strong Southampton line up with some of the regular first team players involved.

Southampton were sporting their new grey and yellow away kit and had brought their new manager Alan Pardew up the A36 with them. He would not have been happy to see the way that his team started as Salisbury made the best of the opening exchanges. Flood had a good run through the centre of the defence and his shot from the edge of the area was deflected for a corner. A couple of minutes later Robbie Matthews was put through and curled a great shot round the keeper but over the bar.

Salisbury were playing with a lot of confidence and took the lead after 15 minutes. A freekick was won on the edge of the box and was floated in for Robbie Matthews to strike home. Southampton had their first effort from the kickoff when Pulis put a shot over the bar. Southampton then won a corner and from that Stern John’s shot was well saved by Bittner, who got down quickly at his near post. The play was now end to end as Chris Flood was played in and his shot was pushed over the bar by Poke in the Southampton goal.

Flood took the corner long and high into the penalty area and found Matthews again. This time he headed the ball superbly past the keeper to give Salisbury a 2.0 lead after 19 minutes. Southampton were being outplayed and it was no surprise when Matt Tubbs gave the Whites a 3.0 lead on 27 minutes. He was played in by a great throughball, ran through the right side of the defence unchallenged and drifted a shot to the keeper’s left and in.

A brief chorus of “Going down!” summed it up – the non-league team were outplaying their illustrious neighbours. Tubbs almost made it 4.0 with a shot that was cleared off the line by a defender. Stern John had a good chance after 40 minutes to pull a goal back when the ball was crossed into the box but his chip from close range cleared Bittner and ended up over the In-Excess stand.

After sending a round of texts to the usual suspects to fill them in on the surprise half time score line, I waited to see if the half time team talk would improve the visitor’s performance. The referee certainly seemed to be sorry for them as he awarded a soft penalty for a push on Stern John in the box in the 54th minute. Paul Wotton took the kick and blasted it just off centre past substitute keeper David Bevan.

Salisbury came close to extending their lead on 60 minutes with a header that hit the post and was cleared from the line. Southampton were starting to use their pace and the width of the pitch to stretch the defence and pulled another goal back on 63 minutes when Patterson strode down the right wing, cut into the penalty area and fired a shot across Bevan and in. Salisbury had a couple of half shouts for penalties but neither was given.

They didn’t stop pressing for a fourth goal and it arrived in the 72nd minute. Substitute Marsh-Browne took the ball down the left side and played a superb cross to the back post where Matthews rose up above his marker and forced the ball past Forecast with a strong header for his hat-trick. The celebrations from the home fans didn’t last long as a minute later Southampton scored another goal at the far end. A cross came in from Thomson and as Bevan went to save it, the ball span off him and across the goal to Mills who was unmarked and had a simple job to tap the ball in.

Two minutes later and the game was tied at 4.4. A cross came in from the left and should have been cleared by the Salisbury defence. The defender slipped and missed the ball, allowing Stern John to receive it and place an accurate low shot past Bevan.

The spectators around me were convinced that there would be a winner and they were right. As the game drew to a conclusion, Robbie Sinclair was showing his stamina with some good runs. In the 85th minute the ball was cut back to him at the edge of the area and he took a shot that went between the keepers dive and near post to put Salisbury back in the lead at 5.4.

An exciting match with a scoreline to match Normally it takes me until mid September to see 21 goals but this season my goal average has reached 7 after 3 games!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Game 2: Downton 1.7 New Milton Town (Friendly) 18.07.09

An unexpected visit to Downton today as Amy's swine flu isolation meant we couldn't attend Gary's wedding. I arrived at the ground at 2.58 and as I walked through the entrance the whistle blew for kickoff. There was a torrential downpour - typical July weather! - so I headed for the main stand to take shelter with the rest of the spectators.

The Downton ground hasn't changed since I've been going up there but there is a new housing development being built behind the dugouts on the far side of the pitch which used to be wasteland.

Downton had a couple of early efforts wide and New Milton were on the back foot for the first ten minutes. New Milton then created a very good opportunity with a spectacular attempt at an overhead kick going just wide of the post, due to a last second intervention and deflection by a Downton defender.

After 16 minutes New Milton were awarded a freekick about 30 yards out after a late sliding tackle caught one of their players. The freekick was hit along the ground and looked to be gathering pace on the wet surface. I thought that the Downton keeper would have it covered but as he dived down he seemed to lose the flight of the ball and ended up missing his catch and deflecting the ball into the net.

Downton had a great chance to equalise after 21 minutes from a free kick that was played high into the box. It looked like a straightforward opportunity to head in but the player made the wrong decision and attempted an overhead kick which he mistimed and ended up missing the ball completely.

The rain was getting heavier and the conditions weren't helping the game. A number of rusty limbs were making mistimed tackles and in normal circumstances the cards would have been flying out of the referee's pocket. He seemed to be content to talk to the players instead and remind them that it was just a pre-season friendly.

New Milton won another freekick, this time to the left of the penalty area. The ball was tapped to the right and a shot flew low towards the near post. On this occasion the Downton keeper was able to get behind it and prevent a goal. Two minutes later he had no chance with a cracking shot from 25 yards out that flew from the right side of the pitch towards the far left post. A great goal to give New Milton a 2.0 lead at half time.

I had been a little worried that some of the players had numbers above 11 and that perhaps the kick off had actually been at 2 instead of 3. It was a relief to see that there wasn't a mass exodus from the stand at 3.45!

Five minutes into the second half and New Milton went 3.0 up from a corner. The ball was played high to the far post and an unmarked player got up and headed it across the keeper and in. Downton managed to pull a goal back three minutes later. A freekick from the left was played in to the six yard box where a Downton player beat the keeper to the ball and glanced a header over him and in.

The game settled down as the weather brightened up slightly and both teams had chances to score. After 67 minutes, the Downton keeper made three saves - one from a long shot outside the box and two from close range as he was only able to push the ball away. New Milton then had a goal disallowed for offside.

Downton made a number of substitutions and this gave New Milton the upper hand as the Downton subs were a young group of players. This inexperience led to New Milton's fourth goal after 70 minutes. The ball was played back low from the right touchline and it looked like the defender would clear it for a corner. Inexplicably he decided to leave it and when the ball ran behind him, it allowed the New Milton player he should have been marking to tap it past the keeper with ease.

Downton almost scored an own goal on 74 minutes. One of the defenders tried to clear the ball at the edge of the box only to see the ball spin backwards with pace off his boot and towards the goal. Luckily for him the keeper was in the right place to scramble across the goalmouth and save it. New Milton then had another goal disallowed for offside but it wouldn't be too long until they scored again.

On 82 minutes New Milton put a shot just wide. As their players ran towards the halfway line, the Downton keeper decided to take a quick goalkick to his teammate who was stood near the penalty area. This was a very poor decision as the player was soon surrounded by two New Milton players who won the ball, crossed it in to a team mate and gave him the simple task of tapping the ball into the net at the far post. Downton then brought on a substitute keeper for the last ten minutes.

New Milton were well on top of the game and used their experience and physique to take the ball through the Downton defence with ease. In the 88th minute one of their players ran into the penalty area unopposed and put a shot low to the keeper's right side. The keeper managed to get a hand to it but his wrist was not strong enough to deflect it wide and the ball ended up in the goal. In the last minute New Milton made it 7.1 following a good run down the left hand side. The ball was played across and when the shot came in, the keeper could only parry it to a New Milton player to tap it past him and into the net.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Game 1: AFC Totton 1.3 Salisbury City (Friendly) 11.07.09

With all the speculation about the future of Salisbury City and the potential for administration and expulsion from the Conference, I decided it would be a good idea to head to this friendly and show some support to the team.

My last visit to Testwood Park was with Alan and Chris back in 2001 and the ground hadn't changed much since that visit although the weather had! Instead of bright winter sunshine, we had grey clouds and heavy drizzle throughout the afternoon. I decided to wander round to the main stand to watch the game from the comfort of a dry seat. While I could hear the crackle from the nearby electricity pylons, I could hardly see the high buildings in Southampton through the cloud cover.

Salisbury's squad was a mix of trialists, out of contract players from last season and the four remaining players still under contract. The coaching drills before the game reflected the 'getting to know you' nature of pre-season, with the defensive unit practising clearing the ball together in one corner while the midfielders and strikers practised pass and move in front of us.

When the game kicked off, the first chance fell to Salisbury after 9 minutes. Robbie Matthews closed the keeper down so when the ball was cleared, he was able to jump up and get his body in the way of the ball. It bounced back off him, over the keeper's head but ended up going just wide. Totton looked quite dangerous on the break and their left winger was giving the Salisbury defence a tough time. One of his crosses into space almost found a blue shirted team mate but Cox was able to gather the ball and clear it upfield.

The slippery surface and the rusty techniques meant that there were a few sliding tackles flying in. However the first injury was from an accidental clash of heads and meant that trialist Micky Burn had to be substituted, Danny Webb replacing him in defence.

Salisbury took the lead following a corner after 13 minutes. The ball was played into the centre of the box and headed towards the far post, finding a Salisbury player who turned and shot low for the corner of the net. The Totton keeper got down well to make the save but the ball came off his arm and straight to trialist Bradley Gray who had a simple task to tap the ball in from close range.

Gray created another chance for himself on 20 minutes. He won the ball on the left hand edge of the area and attempted a chip over the keeper which went just over the bar from the acute angle. Totton started to put some pressure on the Salisbury back four and on 26 minutes only a superbly timed sliding tackle by Webb prevented a free run on goal. Webb stayed down after the tackle and it looked for a couple of minutes like he would also have to be substituted - luckily for him the magic sponge did the trick and he was ok to continue.

Totton equalised after 29 minutes with their first on-target attempt. The ball was on the left side of the box and despite having three defenders back to cover, they were hesitant in making a challenge for the ball. This allowed the Totton player to pull the ball back to a team mate who placed a pacy shot across Bittner and into the net to the delight of the home fans.

The tackles continued to fly in and both sets of supporters in the stand were tutting when a challenge on one of their team was mistimed. One or two of the tackles were very late and there was a flash point just after the equaliser when Webb reacted badly to a tackle on one of his Salisbury team mates. The referee was in quickly to defuse the situation.

Salisbury were finding it difficult to get forward and the Totton right fullback was playing really well, reading the game and stopping any attacks down the Salisbury left. On 34 minutes Totton had a good chance to take the lead but Bittner was out quickly to smother the ball as the striker found himself one on one with the keeper.

Just before halftime, both teams had a good chance to score. Totton had a shot that took a slight deflection and was heading towards the bottom right corner. Bittner was able to correct his position before diving down to save the shot. At the other end, a deep cross from the right wing found Gray by the penalty spot but his on-target header was straight at the Totton keeper.

Salisbury made a good start to the second half and hit the post from a corner. Several experienced players had come on for the Whites at half time and this helped with the attacking options. The first 25 minutes of the half saw both teams create some chances without really testing the keepers. Salisbury were getting the ball into good positions but lacked the final ball while Totton were good at counter-attacking with pace but weren't allowed to take the ball close enough to get a shot in.

Salisbury retook the lead after 70 minutes. An unmarked Matt Tubbs picked up a high ball into the box and tapped a shot across the goal. The keeper couldn't re-adjust his position on the wet surface and watched the ball as it trickled past him in what seemed to be slow motion.

The game now entered pre-season territory with a substitution every couple of minutes breaking up the flow. It was good to see former Whites favourite Craig Davis get a five minute run out for Totton after breaking his leg last season. Tubbs managed to get a good shot on target from the edge of the box but the Totton keeper was able to push it round his post.

On 88 minutes Salisbury wrapped the game up. The ball was played into the box and Rob Sinclair ran clear down the right side. His first cross was cleared back to him but his second cross found Toby Osman who blasted the ball in as he ran into the box. The away support had been shouting "Rambo" when Osman got the ball due to his black headband and the tannoy announcer picked up on this - crediting the goal to "Rambo" Osman. An entertaining match for the crowd of 306.