Friday, 29 December 2017

Doncaster Rovers 2 v Rochdale 0 - EFL League 1

Friday 29th December 2017
SkyBet EFL League 1
at the Keepmoat Stadium
Doncaster Rovers (2) 2
Ben Whiteman 4, Alfie May 27
Rochdale (0) 0
Admission £10. Programme £3
Attendance 7,997 (inc. 364 away)
When these two sides met at Spotland in the reverse league fixture back in September, Rovers
appeared to be on their way to a narrow win when John Marquis put them ahead with a quarter of a hour of the game remaining; but Rochdale carried out a smash and grab raid in stoppage time and turned final outcome of the game on it's head, when Mark Kitching thumped a ninety second minute volley past Ian Lawlor, moments before Steve Davies turned the ball over the line from close range after 'Donny' had struggled to clear their lines from a Joe Bunney corner.
Last month Dale, who return to the Keepmoat Stadium for a FA Cup Third Round tie next weekend, knocked Darren Ferguson's side out of the Checkatrade Trophy on home turf, by means of a penalty shoot out win, after Liam Mandeville had cancelled out Matty Gillam's penalty strike for the home side just after the hour mark.
Anyway, fast forward to tonight, which marks the occasion of my final game of 2017 (my total amount of games attended during this calendar year is 192, I really need to get out more) and it's a bargain at the Keepmoat Stadium, where, for one night only, you could watch League 1 football just for a tenner, as Rovers adopted a generous and sensible price structure in the midst of all the seasonal over the top financial burdens and excesses elsewhere.
Tonight's saw Rovers claim their third win in a row and their fourth unbeaten league game in a row, to move up to tenth in the League 1 table, on place behind local rivals Rotherham United and five points away from the team who are currently in the last play off berth, namely: Peterborough United, Doncaster's next opponents, away at London Road on Monday.
Rochdale are only one place off of the foot of the table, but in spells, showed glimpses of being a half decent side, who move the ball around well and get forward quickly, but on this showing, good fortune seldom favours teams who are struggling at the wrong end of the table.
The game was just four minutes old, when Ben Whiteman connected with the ball in the D on the edge of the Dale area after John Marquis set up the opportunity from Alfie May's sideways touch, and swept a sweetly struck half volley, just inside the right hand post and into the top corner of the net, giving the visitors keeper Josh Lillis no chance.
James Coppinger forced a save out of Lillis and both John Marquis and Mathieu Baudry had efforts charged down by the visitors defence, before Coppinger fired wide with an angled shot from eighteen yards.
But besides absorbing some early pressure from Rovers, Rochdale were also advancing into the Rovers half and finding their rhythm, Matt Done and Joe Bunney both had chances to pull the game level, suggesting that a one goal margin wasn't going to be enough.
Ian Henderson danced past two challenges on the right hand side of the hosts area and delivered a great ball across the face of the goal that Andrew Cannon somehow put over via the bar.
And to rub it in, Rovers responded immediately to their let off and were two goals ahead within thirty seconds of Cannon's miss, when Jordan Houghton played in Alfie May whose shot clipped Kgosi Ntlhe and looped over Lillis into the Dale net, in the twenty seventh minute.
Just before half time, Harrison McGahey did well to see off the attentions of two Rovers players before threading the ball through to Cannon whose shot as blocked by Tyler Garratt.
HT: Donny 2 v Dale 0
The visitors upped the ante after half time, but could only reiterate the point that there is an unwritten  law that teams near relegation zone aren't allowed to have any luck whatsoever.
Dale captain Ian Henderson ad Calvin Andrews were both denied in quick succession by Lawlor, while Bunney diverted the ball wide of the post after good work by Done on the left.
Cannon's delivery from Callum Camps free kick was cleared before it could reach Andrews, as Rovers continued to frustrate their lively opponents.
With the visitors committing to chasing the game, Rovers had the opportunity to kill the game off on the counter attack, but in spite the home crowd willing them to put the game to bed once and for all, they were going tohave tosettle for the brace of first half goals tonight.
With time running out for Rochdale, Oliver Rathbone tried his luck from the edge of the area, but Lawlor comfortably gathered his shot.
Inside the last two minutes of the scheduled ninety, Cannon advanced on Lawlor's goal, but shot wide, which just about signalled the end of Rochdale's spirited second half comeback attempt.
FT: Doncaster Rovers 2 v Rochdale 0
Rovers picked up their third win in a row and to be fair, still seemed to have plenty in reserve in doing so, but maybe they could have asserted themselves a bit more after the break to put the game beyond the visitors lead, but in the final analysis, they had done enough. Keith Hill's Dale side gave a good account of themselves, but need to start finding the net as well as putting in a great amount of work and playing some aesthetically pleasing football.
Donny Rovers have a car park named after the Comedian Charlie Williams, who used to play for them (and Skegness town) mi' owd flower!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Grimsby Town 1 v Mansfield Town 1 - EFL League 2

Tuesday 26th December 2017
SkyBet EFL League 2
at Blundell Park, Cleethorpes
Grimsby Town (1) 1
Mitchell Rose 10
Mansfield Town (0) 1
Lee Angol 80
Admission £18. Programme £3
Attendance 5,704 inc. 682 in away end
Seeing that it is the season to be jolly, let's break with tradition, just this once, and commence this overview of a bright and breezy day by the east coast with some fascinating trivia, that you can impress/bore* all of your mates with the next time that you're down your local imbibing in a few festive tipples of your chosen poison.
Only five clubs have ever played in the top five divisions of English football. And to clarify which five divisions I am referring too, I mean: the FA Premier League (formerly First Division, formed 1888), the Football League Championship (Second Division, 1892), League One (Third Division, 1958), League Two (Fourth Division, 1958) and the Football Conference (Alliance Premier League, 1979).
Those clubs are, Carlisle United, Oxford United, Luton Town, today's hosts Grimsby Town and earlier this year, Leyton Orient claimed the 'accolade' of being the fifth one to reach this milestone, when they were relegated from League 2 after a 112 year stay in the Football League.
So don't you ever try telling me that Grimsby Town have never been famous for anything, apart from playing in Cleethorpes (not Grimsby) and being one of Mike Bassett (excellently portrayed by Ricky Tomlinson) the fictional England manager's former clubs.
Last season's Mariners v Stags encounter was a lively affair, both on and off the pitch, and in the labyrinth of streets around the ground after the game, on an afternoon when the Mansfield manager, Steve Evans, who isn't exactly popular among the Grimsby faithful (it stems from the time that he was in charge at Boston United), was sent to the main stand for verbally abusing the match officials and was subsequently manhandled by several home supporters while watching the game (which finished three-nil to Grimsby) from his new vantage point. By all accounts it wasn't the first time that Evans had been dismissed from the bench at Blundell Park. He received a verbal rebuke from today's match referee Darren England at one point, but nothing more, in spite the home crowd demanding that he should be thrown to the lions, before having his carcass dumped on the beach for the seagulls to pick at. Incidentally, former Stags player Chris Clements had given the Cleethorpes based club a half time lead in that aforementioned game, and Callum Dyson scored two more goals after the break, the second of which was from a spot kick.
When the two sides last met, back in September of this season, Russel Slade's side limped out of Field Mill after being on the receiving end of a four-one reversal, Lee Angol netted a brace of penalties for the Stags and Krystian Pearce weighed in with two more goals, including one that took a heavy deflection off of Karl Osbourne as it passed James McKeown in the Mariners goal, before Sam Jones netted a consolation for the visitors from the third penalty kick of the afternoon.
Of course, a Mansfield Town side have already won at Blundell Park this term when the Stags U18 side beat Grimsby Town's youngsters one-nil in the FA Youth Cup, when Sam Jackson scored the only goal of the game with a long range shot, after Aiden Walker had won the ball in midfield and teed him up with a forward pass.
Russell Slade's Mariners just about shaded the first half percentages wise, though there wasn't a great deal in it, even though they did go into the break with one goal to the good, after Mitchell Rose had given them a tenth minute lead, pouncing to grab possession when Hayden White had tried to be over elaborate inside his own half, showing too much of the ball to the former Mansfield Town player (isn't that always the way of things), who powered forward, got the rub of the green when Johnny Hunt inadvertently played (M) Rose clean through on goal, as the ball bobbled awkwardly and bounced off of him at an angle, and fell straight back into the path of  the Grimsby number eight, who calmly planted the ball past Conrad Logan from ten yards out.
The Pontoon Stand end of the ground broke into a chorus of "Fatty, fatty, what's the score!?".
Hey! Have a heart you lot, I've got feelings you know.
Oh! My mistake, they were aiming their cruel and heartless abuse at another cholesterolly challenged person down by the touchline.
White and Alex MacDonald fed a regular supply of crosses into the Mariners midriff as the Stags looked to get on level terms off the second ball from Paul Anderson and Danny Rose's flick ons, but the home side were defending well and their keeper, James McKeown was dealing with most things in the air. However McKeown struggled after taking a knock and though he tried to carry on, he had to be replaced in  the thirty third minute and young Ben Killip came on in place of the injured keeper to make his first team debut.
Questions need to be asked about Siriki Dembele, who plays out on the right for the Mariners with the most pertinent enquiry being: how the 'effing hell is this talented individual only plying his trade in League 2? He's far too good for this level of football. Dembele needs to change his barber as a matter of urgency, but he caused chaos and panic in among the Stags ranks whenever he ran at them with the ball at his feet.
Mansfield continued to probe for an equaliser, but Killip soon got up to speed with the pace of the game as his defence continued to frustrate the visitors strike force.
Meanwhile, on the stroke of half time, White conceded a free kick out on the left wing after he tangled with Jamille Matt, Grimsby's big handful of a target man striker.
Luke Summerfield took responsibility for the dead ball and delivered a great knock into the visitors six yard box, that (M) Rose headed wide from close range
HT: Mariners 1 v Stags 0
The first chance of the second half fell to Anderson, but Killip was well placed to get behind his header from Rhys Bennett's cross.
(M) Rose was in the thick of things again, but when he went one against one with Logan from Matt's threaded pass through the Stags defence, the Mansfield keeper won the stand off and the ball bounced back off (M) Rose and went behind for a goal kick. The ex Stags man was still proving to be a thorn in their side when Kane Hemmings came to the rescue with a goal line clearance after Danny Collins header fell to him and a nodded the ball towards the goal from five yards out.
As the game entered the final twenty minutes, Mansfield began to grow in stature and were taking the game to their hosts with the bit between their teeth.
CJ Hamilton picked out Anderson with a dipping cross to the back post, but though his shot had power, it lacked a bit of precision and ended up in the side netting. Danny Rose teed up an opportunity for Hemmings with a glancing flick on, but Killip moved out quickly to get in the way of the resulting shot.
Hamilton broke free on the left and his cross was completely misread by the Mariners right back Ben Davies, who mistimed his block and helped the ball on into the path of Lee Angol, who scored via the left hand upright with his first touch after coming on from the bench just moments earlier. I wonder if the Grimsby fan who shouted: "You like wasting money don't you Evans!?" when Angol was coming on, felt a bit daft now.
Obviously going two goals behind after (M) Rose's strike would have been a real problem for the visitors, who'd had to be patient and keep things tight since Grimsby took the lead in the tenth minute, but they were finishing the game strongly now and the Mariners defence had a let off, when (D) Rose fired over from close range after Anderson's right wing cross sat up abruptly in front of him.
Alfie Potter's angled ball across the face of Killip's goal fell wide of the right hand post and Krystian Pearce was only a few inches away from heading a winning goal for the visitors from MacDonald's delivery. But despite finishing the game and in the ascendancy, Mansfield had to settle for a draw, which as a reflection of the whole game, was probably a fair result.
FT: Grimsby Town 1 v Mansfield Town 1
Elsewhere, Accrington Stanley, Coventry City and Exeter City all lost this afternoon, meaning that the Stags have edged up the table one more place and finished the day in eighth, one point off the play off positions and three points behind third place.
Grimsby now face Accrington Stanley at home on Saturday, before travelling to Crewe Alexandra on New Years Day, while the Stags are on the road at fourth placed Wycombe Wanderers at the weekend before entertaining Carlisle United at home in their first game of 2018. Buckle up and hold on tight!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Mansfield Town 2 v Morecambe 1 - EFL League 2

Saturday 23rd December 2017
SkyBet EFL League 2
at Field Mill/the One Call Stadium
Mansfield Town (1) 2
Kane Hemmings 8
Danny Rose 88
Morecambe (0) 1
Callum Lang 50
Attendance: 3,058 (63 away)
Mansfield Town:
Conrad  Logan, Hayden White, Rhys Bennett, Zander Diamond (C), Malvind Benning, Alex MacDonald, Calum Butcher (Jacob Mellis 54), Paul Digby (Will Atkinson 70), CJ Hamilton, Danny Rose, Kane Hemmings (Paul Anderson 54)
Unused subs - Bobby Olejnik, Krystian Pearce, Lee Angol, Jimmy Spencer.
Barry Roche, Aaron McGowan, Max Muller, Steven Old, Sam Lavelle, Michael Rose (C), Alex Kenyon, Luke Conlan, Vadaine Oliver (Adam McGurk 72), Callum Lang (Kevin Ellison 72), Adam Campbell (Garry Thompson 81)
Unused subs - Danijel Nizic, Mitchell Lund, Andy Fleming, Elliot Osborne.
Last weekend's goalless draw at Field Mill, between Mansfield Town and Yeovil Town, saw the Glovers finish the afternoon in twenty first place, just a point above the bottom three clubs: Barnet, Chesterfield and Forest Green Rovers, and one behind today's visitors Morecambe.
After putting together a decent unbeaten run, the Stags have lost one (at Crawley Town) and drawn two (both at home, against Chesterfield and Yeovil) of their last three league games, prior to today; meaning that they had slipped to tenth in League 2, level on points with Grimsby Town, who they have a better goal difference than and who they play against at Blundell Park on Boxing Day, before heading to fourth placed Wycombe Wanderers four days later.
Mid table Carlisle United visit the 'Wonk Hall' on New Years Day, to complete the holiday period schedule of games, before the Stags travel to Cardiif City in the FA Cup Third Round on January 6th.
Anyone with a glass half full optimistic view of today's hosts recent form might well be content with the statistic that they've only lost once in their last fourteen outings, but a more cynical observer could point to the fact that, all but for .09%, Mansfield have actually drawn 41% of their games thus far this term, before taking to the field of play against Jim Bentley's side this afternoon.
In his live press conference earlier in the week, Steve Evans said: "I think we should be seven or eight points better off than we are, no more than that. We've always said we'll be better in the second half of the season."
We live in hope then.
When asked if I'm an optimist or a cynic myself, I would have to say that I am too busy visiting A&E on a regular basis, having the splinters removed from my backside, as a result of sitting on the fence so often, to join in any rational debate on the pro and cons of both mindsets.
It is common knowledge on the football grapevine that funds are available and Evans is looking to bolster his squad in the January transfer window, in an attempt to make a real fist of an impending (or at least expected/anticipated) push towards completing the second half of the season in a more convincing manner than the stop/start kind of way that they've approached the current campaign with so far.
Of course, any prospective new signings, along with their clubs and agents, know that the Stags chairman John Radford is prepared to bankroll his manager with a decent budget and as a consequence they will be looking for more money from any dealings with the club than they might otherwise have been asking for elsewhere.
A home victory... of any sort, was vital today to keep Mansfield in touch with the teams at the business end of the table as they enter a busy festive season.
And you would imagine that some of the players who were selected for this game, could just as well be playing for their futures at the club as much as their place in the team, with talk of a central midfielder and another striker being cited as the main targets that are on Evans radar, there is the distinct possibly that a couple of the current squad are potentially being shown the exit door next month too.
Football is a magical and wondrous game, but it is also a results based and particularly ruthless business entity at times too, where traits such as patience and sentiment are seldom considered to be even slightly virtuous, in a winner takes all industry, where the meek shall inherit 'nowt.
In the event, this wasn't the most convincing kind of victory that I've ever witnessed, but three points is three points, even though Morecambe will justifiably feel that they deserved something more out of this game.
Because overall, the Lancashire based visitors were, in my humble opinion, the better side on the day, but goals win games... and sometimes goalkeepers play a massive part in gaining a maximum share of the spoils too, so credit where it is due to the Stags number one, Conrad Logan, without whom the final outcome of this contest might have been completely different. Logan's selection as man of the match seemed to be a universally agreed upon decision by the Stags faithful, who in several other respects are a bit of a divided camp at the moment, especially as regards split opinions on the subject of the current occupants of the technical area.
One of the more colourful outbursts I heard aimed at the Stags management today, stated that, amidst a string of unrepeatable expletives, they had lost the dressing room. That's just silly talk, because everyone knows it is the first door on the left as the players come off the pitch and it is clearly identified with a HOME DRESSING ROOM sign.
As I took my seat up on the front row of the west stand upper tier, the 1987 Freight Rover Trophy club anthem was belting out over the public address system, as the Stags squad from thirty years ago were serenading us all with the pearl of wisdom: "You know Mansfield Town will never let you down". It was quite reassuring to hear such a claim once upon a time, although three decades later I have had reason to suspect on numerous occasions that they were either being tongue and cheek or deliberately misleading people and telling fibs. At least it rhymes. And sometimes rhyming is important when you've nothing else to cling onto.
The lyrical snatch that I am referring to appears at one minute and ten seconds in this video, if you should wish to fast forward to it, not that there is any reason you wouldn't want to listen to this masterpiece in it's entirety and full glory.
Mansfield made a tentative start as the visitors threw down their gauntlet and made an early statement of their intentions. Because though Morecambe slipped one place in the table as a consequence of today's reversal, they certainly impressed me when they were on the ball and in the ascendancy for long spells of the game.
Adam Campbell looked sharp for the visitors right from the off, trying his luck from outside the area with a strike that rebounded back to him off Malvind Benning's arse, before skidding a second attempt along the ground and wide of the post. Callum Lang blocked a clearance by Zander Diamond and threaded a pass through to Campbell, but he had strayed offside and a raised flag thwarted the lively Shrimps number ten.
Having been stung into action by Morecambe hitting the ground running, Mansfield finally showed their teeth in the fifth minute, when CJ Hamilton latched onto a lengthy knock into the visitors area, to left hand side of Barry Roche's goal, but he struck the ball into the side netting from ten yards out.
Conrad Logan made his first good save of the afternoon, when he turned Luke Conrad's goal around the post after Campbell (again) had created the chance with a slide-rule pass.
Michael Rose's right wing corner was met by Sam Lavelle at the back stick, having cleared a pushing and shoving scrum of bodies in the goalmouth, but Logan got across well to his right to save Lavelle's downwards header on the line.
The Stags keeper then turned defence into attack with a long ball up the field towards Danny Rose, whose flick on was taken down in his stride by Kane Hemmings, who took the ball beyond Lavelle with his second touch and planted it past Roche with his third. Eight minutes gone, one - nil to Mansfield.
Alex Kenyon shot over Logan's bar, inevitably it was Campbell who had set him up and minutes later, Vadaine Oliver, who had scored seven goals for the Stags during thirty on loan appearance from Crewe Alexandra during the 2014-15 season, made a complete balls up of trying to execute a shot, after making himself a yard of space, much to the relief of the Mansfield defence.
Danny Rose intercepted a stray pass out of the Morecambe defence and nudged the ball sideways to Hemmings who fed it to Hamilton, but the Stags winger turned his side footed effort wide of the upright.
But Hamilton was quick to track back from the resulting goal kick and did well to cut out Oliver's attempted cross at the expense of a corner, from which Calum Butcher had spotted Aaron McGown arriving late from his right back berth as Rose rolled the ball towards him and moved out quickly to intercept the intended pass.
MacDonald’s free-kick pierced the Morecambe defence just before half time and Diamond almost took advantage of the visitors momentary lapse in concentration, but as he met the ball airborne, he powered his header the wrong side of the left hand post. Having almost doubled the Stags lead, Diamond was back in defence moments later, cutting out an exchange of passes between Campbell and Lang. What a guy!
HT: Stags 1 v Shrimps 0
Morecambe were on level terms... and it had been coming, just five minutes into the second half.
Rose had already skimmed a shot a fraction wide of Logan's goal and Lang had been pulled up for attacking the Stgas goal from an offside position, when Campbell and McGowan combined out on the right and when the latter a defensive splitting cross to Lang and he he put on a spurt of pace, sprinted towards the goal and drilled an angled shot across the face of Logan and into the bottom corner of the net, in front of an empty North Stand, while the Shrimps fans who had been housed alongside the home fans in the lower tier of the West Stand, celebrated as if all of their Christmas's and New Year celebrations had arrived at once.
In the fifty fourth minute, the Stags manager decided that his was time for a reshuffle and made a double substitution, with Butcher and Hemmings making way for Jacob Mellis and Paul Anderton.
The response from the a section of crowd had been building up since Morecambe equalised and it would be fair to say, that the booing and anger directed towards the Stags management, including a chant of: "You don't know what you're doing!", marked a seismic change in the atmosphere of the crowd this afternoon, for the worse.
Field Mill
There will always be a handful of critics in any given crowd, regardless of what is unfolding out on the field of play, but this was a significant number of people registering their displeasure.
The mood wasn't improved any when both Evans and Raynor were seen (and heard) directing strongly worded abuse at a supporter who had been venting his annoyance in their general direction.
It was a messy situation and individuals on both ends of the verbal brickbats could (and should) have handled things differently.
I've always said that if don't get angry and passionate about the game from time to time, then it indicates that you probably don't care as much as you should and shouldn't really be involved, but there are boundaries that should never be crossed to that end. And that was definitely the case today.
Given that Hemmings was only having his first run out after returning from injury, it was sensible to take him off and put on some fresh legs coming up to the hour mark, when he was beginning to tire, but what inflamed the chagrin of many spectators was that, once again, a team from the lower reaches of the table were on level terms with the bookies League 2 early season title favourites, on the Stags home turf and shortly after Morecambe had drawn level a striker was being taken off, but no like for like swap was being made, even though there were two forwards still sitting on the bench.
Morecambe went close twice in quick succession, with Rose sending a screamer just wide of the post, two minutes before Campbell struck the ball against it.
Rose went close again, while during a temporary respite from the visitors quick passing and good movement off the ball, Mellis almost snatched a second goal for Mansfield, somewhat against the run of play from long range. Benning freed CJ Hamilton down the left flank and he cut inside the Morecambe area. but his shot cleared the bar with Roche at full stretch.
But Bentley's battling side were soon on the offensive again when Luke Conlan crossed and Campbell's header was saved by Logan, before the visitors thirty eight year old substitute striker Kev Ellison had a shot blocked by Diamond as Mansfield continued to live dangerously.
With two minutes of the scheduled ninety left to go, Morecambe still hadn't turned any of their possession into a further goal and all of their forward play, that had bordered on dominance at times, amounted to nothing, apart from a whole lot of admiration and plaudits for the positive way in which they had approached the game, when Benning, this afternoon's programme centrefold pin up player, topped off a decent shift, with a great knock forward to free Anderson on the right, who motored forward before delivering a perfect cross over Roche, picking out Rose at the back post, who ascended on high, like you do at Christmas time... and headed the ball emphatically past Roche.
Right at the death, the Stags were going to claim a victory, but 'kinnel! Hadn't they made bloody hard work of it, very bloody hard indeed.
In a nail biting six minutes of stoppage time, Morecambe almost equalised again when Rose shot but saw his effort crash off a defender and into the side netting. While Benning made a goal line clearance.
Pantomime season arrived a few days early in the closing stages, when Ellison, who had already been booked, lunged into a late tackle, but he seems to get some sort of diplomatic immunity from match officials at times and escaped being shown a red card. Roche too was a bit lucky to only receive a yellow card deep into stoppage time, after Rose had gone to ground while brushing past him en route to the visitors goal. The penalty appeal was waved away by the referee, Ross Joyce, who then booked Rose for assimilation, before also yellow carding the angry Shrimps keeper for pulling Rose up from the ground and remonstrating with him. Moments after being booked, he also lashed out at Rose, but stayed on the field of play anyway. It wasn't a foul but there had been a slight contact to Rose's left ankle as he passed Roach, but the ref wasn't going to be swayed.
Roche arrived in the Stags area right at the death and got his head to his captain's right wing corner, but Logan had the final say in the final result of a game where he had given so much of himself, by making a vital, last ditch save down to his left from the former Chesterfield keeper.
And that was that.. phew!
FT: Mansfield Town 2 v Morecambe 1
Morecambe have a home game against Notts County to look forward to on Boxing Day, while we'll be at Blundell Park in three days time, when the Stags travel to Grimsby Town for a game with a 1pm kick off. The Mariners lost at Luton today and are now three points behind Steve Evans side, who clawed their way back up to ninth in League 2 this afternoon, albeit in a slightly fortuitous manner and are now just one point off of a play off place and three behind the automatic promotion spots.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Arsenal 1 v West Ham United 0 - Carabao Football League Cup R5

Tuesday 19th December 2017
Carabao Football League Cup Fifth Round, Quarter Final
at Ashburton Grove (AKA the Emirates Stadium),
Drayton Park, North London
Arsenal FC (0) 1
Danny Welbeck 42
West Ham United (0) 0
Attendance 44,741
It's 5.19PM as I hastily descend the stairs onto platform number two at Newark Northgate Station and board the London bound train that is due to leave in two minutes time, breathing a sigh of relief as I slump into my seat in a dishevelled heap.
I'm usually punctual and organised to the nth degree, but I didn't know that I was heading to the Emirates Stadium tonight until a little over a hour ago, when I received a phone call asking if I could use a spare ticket for the game.
I hastily booked my travel online, opted to collect the train tickets from the machine at Newark station, while hoping the queue wouldn't be too long once I got there and that the traffic wouldn't be a problem (as per usual) on the A46/A1 South junction.
After a quick post work shower I was on my way, via the inevitable hold up on the aforementioned exit from the A1 and a slow moving cluster of imbeciles faffing and dawdling by the ticket collection point. 
There should be two lanes at these ticket facilities: one for people who can manage very rudimentary understanding of technology with consummate ease and another for some of the assembled simpletons who I encountered and almost missed my train because of this evening.
Let the train take the, the TV advertising campaign used to say... hmm, actually coach B was overcrowded and the journey was as stressful as hell. In the event, I gave my seat up to somebody who needed it more than me... because I'm nice like that.
Alighting at Arsenal tube station, instead of Holloway Road, so I could meet my friend with the spare ticket next to the Ken Friar statue, I discovered that once again, I would be frequenting the club class tier of the stadium. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers.
There was actually more action on the train, with people jockeying for position and a bit of breathing space, than there was in either goalmouth all night, when the game got underway.
The line ups of both teams reflected that other competitions were more meritorious and prioritous than this one, even though tonight marked the occasion of the quarter final stage of the League Cup.
Prioritous isn't actually recognised as a word in the Collins English Dictionary, I urge you all to complain, very loudly, as a matter of some concern, because it bloody well should be.
With both sides fielding a whole load of changes from their most recent first team outings, this fixture had effectively become a second team game, in all but name.
Andy Carroll was on the visitors bench, which surprised me, because I thought that West Ham had offloaded him and dispensed with his services long ago. While Theo Walcott captained the Gunners and almost opened the scoring five minutes before half time when he dived to narrowly head Sead Kolasinac's well weighted cross wide of the post. He should have done better... but that could be said about most of the time he has spent on Arsenal's books.
Don't get me wrong here, but Walcott is twenty eight years old now, and to my way of thinking, though you don't make 47 appearances for your country and wear the armband for a team of Arsenal's standing unless you are a fairly decent footballer, his career path has been steady rather than spectacular and his impact on the games I've seen him play in, has certainly been above average, but not really anything too out of the ordinary or particularly outstanding.
Just before half time Danny Welbeck netted the only goal of the game, when he took Mathieu Debuchy’s header back across the face of goal from Francis Coquelin’s left wing cross down on his chest and nudged the ball Joe Hart from close range.
To my recollection, it was the first shot on target by either side thus far... and neither goalkeeper was unduly troubled for the remainder of the game either.
Obviously David Moyes, the recently installed Hammers manager sees Premier League survival as his main target for the season and he's started his tenure at his new club pretty well to that end, but his side seemed content to sit behind the ball and hit Arsenal with an occasional counter attack tonight, while Arsene Wenger's side weren't exactly displaying any kind of urgency to suggest that they wanted to kill the game off either.
On the whole it was a disjointed, boring and scrappy game, in which several fringe players from both sides seemed to be going through the motions when they had an opportunity to impress and push forward their claims for a regular first team start, although I would exclude Callaum Chambers from that sweeping generalisation, as well as Arsenal's young number 69 Joe Willock who both had a decent game.
FT: Arsenal 1 v West Ham United 0
ECWC Final 1980 shirt. Those collars! :-O
Display case in South Club Class foyer.
Oliver Giroud limped out of the game with twelve minutes remaining, apparently with a hamstring problem, that might lay him low for a few weeks, so Arsenal's win came at a price, as they move on to the two legged semi final phase.
All told, I've seen more entertaining games this season. But at least my seat was roomy and very comfortable and my half time coffee was free.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Grantham Town 0 v Buxton 1 - EvoStik NPL Prem

Saturday 16th December 2017
EvoStik Northern Premier League - Premier Division
at the Meres/South Kesteven Stadium
Grantham Town (0) 0
Buxton FC (1) 1
Liam Hardy 10
Admission £10. Programme £2. Attendance 297
Link to more photos from this afternoon HERE
Amidst the numerous social media and website announcements this morning, telling of numerous fixtures falling foul to the overnight frost, a beacon of hope caught my eye via the @granthamtownfc twitter feed just after 10AM: "PITCH UPDATE! #thegingerbreads Chairman Roger Booth and Secretary Pat Nixon have been up The Meres this morning, the pitch is hard at moment but sun is on it so all should be perfect for 3pm"... and my mind made up in an instant regarding where I'd be heading presently.
I suspect that some clubs (but by no means all of them) might have regretted calling their games off a tad early this morning, given how the midday temperatures 'soared' to around 3 degrees; but there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration when taking these sort of decisions, so I'm not saying this by way of any kind of criticism. But kudos to Grantham Town for taking a common sense approach, while (of course) giving due consideration to how far their opponents would be travelling this afternoon, from up there in 'dem der snow bound hills.
It's a straight thirty five minute straight run down the A1 from my house to Grantham's ground, unless you get stuck behind a couple of those dickhead lorry drivers, who decide to drive side by side making silly faces at each other while laughing at the ever growing queue of cars that they can see building up in their wing mirrors. 
If I ever get invited to invent a car, like Homer did in that episode of the Simpsons, when they were still funny; the first thing I would have installed, would be an atomising gamma ray cannon, to wipe these road hogs off of the face of the earth at the press of a button. 
Seriously though, if you are not travelling to watch a football match, get off the freakin' roads of a weekend and stop clogging the highways up for those of us who have important stuff to do.
So the scene was set, the home side have climbed up the EvoStik NPL table courtesy of a seven match unbeaten run in the league and if the Gingerbreads beat the Bucks this afternoon, just like they had done at Silverlands a month ago, courtesy of a Lee Shaw hat trick, then if other results went their way too, Adam Stevens' side would move up from second in the table to claim top spot.
In the event, there was only one other NPL Premer Division result to take into consideration, with Shaw Lane drawing 1-1 against witton Albion to sneak into second place and Grantham finished the day in third place, as the visitors took all three points home with them, after winning by the slenderest of margins, while withstanding a barrage of pressure in the closing stages of the game.
As a consequence of this win Martin McIntosh's team moved up to eighth in the table, eight points behind their hosts, as the season approaches the halfway stage.
Buxton applied the early pressure and as early as the third minute, Kiearan Preston was called into action, making a brave and timely point blank save from Ant Wilson, as the Bucks striker pounced simultaneously with Luke Hinsley inside a crowded six yard box.
Having survived an early scare, Grantham pushed forward on the left, through Lee Shaw and Curtis Burrows, but the visitors closed ranks and snuffed out their attacking intentions.
In the tenth minute Liam Hardy scored what proved to be the only goal of the game, when he won the ball thirty yards from the Gingerbreads goal and exchanged passes with Andy McWilliams before taking the ball round Preston who had advanced out of his area and finding the target from out wide on the left flank. It was Hardy's twenty first goal of the season.
Buxton looked solid at the back right up until the break, with Grantham seeing plenty of the ball inside the visitors half without quite managing to provide an end product.
Danny Meadows free kickwas blocked by the Bucks wall, Ollie Luto played a short free kick to Burrows who rolled the ball into the path of Andy Wright, who drilled a long range shot just past the top right hand corner of the Buxton goal, and Jan Budtz punched Luto's delivery into his six yard box away to safety.
Jack Broadhead's right wing cross skimmed wide of the goal off of Wilson's head from two yards out.  Hardy broke free on the left but have reached the dead ball line he miscued his cross onto the roof of Preston's net.
Right on the stroke of half time, Buxton conceded a free kick a matter of inches outside their penalty area, from which Lee Shaw threaded the ball to Jordan Hempenstall, who was a fraction away from finding the net to level things up moments before the whistle sounded for the interval.
HT: Gingerbreads 0 v Buxton 1
Preston was in the thick of things again at the start of the second half, keeping Wilson and Hardy at bay with an impressive array of saves, but as the game picked up momentum again, the home side grew in stature and put their Derbyshire visitors on the back foot for a while, with both Shaw and Rhys Lewis cursing their luck as they went close to finding an equaliser.
The Bucks were looking like a formidable unit at the back and the more pressure that they soaked up, the more they pushed Grantham into committing men forward and running the risk of being hit on the counter attack, which they were evidently adept at.
Hardy, the Bucks goalscorer, was sent off for a second yellow card offence fifteen minutes before the end of the game, and as a consequence Buxton's goalmouth was subject to a one way bombardment in the closing stages, as the chances rained in on them from all angles.
Shaw looked odds on to score, but his shot whistled past the wrong side of the post, while both Lewis and Stefan Galanski, who had pushed forward to bolster Grantham's attacking options.
Budtz was called into action twice late in the game, but the visitors held out, to claim a win that owed as much to their battling defensive qualities, where they had kept things really tight at the back, as it did the improvised finish of Hardy in the tenth minute. A real team effort then all told.
For the record, as the afternoon wore on, it became bitterly cold across the wide open expanse of the Meres, but the pitch was still in fine fettle come ninety minutes, justifying the call to play the game 100%
FT: Grantham Town 0 v Buxton 1
Next Saturday Grantham are at home against Ashton United, before heading out on the road the Shaw Lane on Boxing Day and whitby Town the following Saturday.
While Buxton face Stafford Rangers at Silverlands next weekend, before travelling to local rivals Matlock Town on Boxing Day and Halesowen Town the Saturday after.
Of course, the weather might yet have the final say in such matters.