West Leigh Park, Havant
My last words to you regarding my beloved club followed a New Year’s Day fixture at Woking where the final whistle saw the start of monsoon season in terms of boos raining down. Gradually more and more fans were coming to the sad conclusion that our gaffer, lovely chap though he is, wasn’t up to it.
However following that Woking game, the snow began to bite and several games were lost for three and a half virtually barren weeks. One could say that a rest is as good as a change (of manager) but this would ignore the fact that within that de facto winter break was a further defeat, a four goal humping away at Dover.
Following that though, some changes were indeed made, but to the playing staff, rather than in the managerial hot seat. Faced with the increased tension on the terraces, but without any more money in the tin for player signings, Shaun Gale was forced to shuffle his pack, or more accurately juggle with his weights and measures to ensure balance both in playing formation and budgetary terms.
Thus, the terminally ineffectual Luke Nightingale has been loaned back to his old club Bognor. They love him there and he’d never really wanted to come to us from them in the first place, so it would appear everyone’s happy in that transaction. Also dinged out was Ivan “The Terrible” Forbes, another in a long line of players who can do the business against us, but never for us.
In their place, we have signed former Arsenal midfielder Ian Selley who, when it comes to credentials, career achievement and the metaphorical comparing of willies, can proudly slap his glinting European Cup Winners Cup champion piece on the table. How do you like them apples? His arrival has brought stability to an otherwise chaotic central midfield mess that had had our classic all-hooves-and-wallop centre-half Ian Simpemba shoehorned into it for the best part of the year.
In addition, we can again laud the signing of Paul Hinshelwood. He’s always been here you understand, but it appears that Galey has only just remembered this, looking at him in the bar after one game recently, snapping his fingers and saying, “Oh god yeah, that’s who that is, I’d been wondering who the guy was in the replica tracksuit who kept turning up. ‘Specially as we don’t sell replica tracksuits.”
Also this week, we’ve dipped once more into Barnet’s back pocket full of young midfielders by re-signing both Joe Tabiri and Luke Medley on loan for a month which will, if nothing else, help us get through the long backlog of games we have stretched out ahead of us.
So, as a result of this fiddling, we now find ourselves on a three matching winning run which my terrace colleague Shaun informs me, and the records back him up, is our first such run since the start of last season. Which, if we are to put our faith in the omens from that previous happy triumvirate, means we can expect nought but disappointment, by and large, for the next year and a half. Whoop-de-do! Hopefully though, it can be the catalyst for something far better. Let me bring you up to speed with the doin’s.
Firstly we beat Bromley at home two Mondays ago 2-1 despite the loss of Jon Macdonald in the second half to a red card. Then last Saturday we vanquished the malevolent and malodorous Eastleigh on their own turf, again despite losing a player (Steven Walker) to a second yellow card, the first of which was earned getting amongst our away support to celebrate his winning goal. Sadly, I have to report I was not part of that cuddly throng, having been Three Line Whipped into wedding attendance elsewhere.
At the time these nups were announced I have to admit the black dog was humping the leg of my Hawk-related confidence and I said to myself, “Ah well, at least I won’t have to witness our humiliation at the hands of the malevolent and malodorous Eastleigh”. When the score came through last Saturday, I don’t mind telling you the profiteroles started to taste rather sour.
Still, when the tree of WIN! falls in the forest, I am pleased to report it makes a sound regardless of whether or not I saw it. However it is even better to witness these dogged three-pointers first hand and our game with Worcester, after a rather turgid start, was good stuff, in the pretty-terrifying-but-did-just-about-enough sense. Tension. Bloody horrible, but bloody great when everything works out in the end.
It was also good to be there to see our first league hat-trick since Rocky Baptiste scored three quarters of the goals in a 4-0 win over Bedford almost exactly three years ago, particularly as it came as the result of a long overdue return to form for Manny Williams.
After five games of this league campaign, Manny had already amassed seven goals. After ten games, he had eleven. The eleventh came on the 12th of September. At this stage, we thought he could do no wrong, that the player of the season trophy could be engraved now and that a personal open-top bus tour of Leigh Park could be booked for May to celebrate his 50 league goals and our certain promotion.
Sadly since September, poor Manny had found himself stuck in the biggest rut since the animals on the Ark decided to pass the time prior to the end of God’s furious tempest by having a massive orgy. One or two goals cropped up now and again in the FA Trophy and Hampshire Senior Cup, but only one further league goal in the next fourteen league games, and even that one was in October.
This was part of, rather than the cause of, the drift into the long malaise but, hopefully, it bodes well that SuperManny has taken flight again with his first Hawk hat-trick. The first of his and our three came on the half-hour from the penalty spot after Wes Fogden spilled over Gary Walker’s leg like clothes pegs decanting out of an over-tilted basket. Manny stepped up to send keeper Jake Meredith the wrong way.
Aside from that, Worcester probably had the only other chance of the first half, when a goal-line clearance was required during a sustained scramble; our penalty box as congested as a paella omelette. Nonetheless we came out for the second half with an atypical feeling of optimism across the terraces, and Manny had his second seven minutes in. With Meredith looking to smother the ball on the edge of his six-yard box, Manny closed him down quickly enough to jab the ball, as though it were a 50’s gangster’s pocket knife, into the Worcester keeper’s chest. As the ball bobbled between flailing arms and legs, Manny was able to step over Meredith’s prostrate form and complete the task of walking the ball in with an emphatic welt on the goal-line. However, the rough and tumble nature of his tangle with the keeper meant it took me a minute of ginger, cautionary celebration to be sure that neither the ref nor linesman were going to rule it out.
Just as things were going swimmingly though, Worcester pulled one back on 67 minutes with Mark Clyde betraying his Cro-Magnon features to fire home a handsome long range shot. At this point the nerves were relatively muted but very much there. Perhaps we just got the feeling amongst the worry that more was coming and with ten minutes to go it did, Manny striking with the kind of predatory élan with which he was scoring game-in-game-out at the very start of the season.
However, sloppy defending meant a stone-skimming header in the 89th minute from Alfie Carter (appearing on loan from the 1930’s) brought it back to 3-2 and some proper fear descended. Indeed, it took a marvellous save from Aaron Howe in injury time to guarantee the victory. Still, heavy weather or not, it was results like this that we just hadn’t been able to get over the long autumn and early winter periods. With two more home games to follow, the good times continuing to roll seems entirely plausible.
It’s been some months since I’ve felt able to say that.