Monday 30 January 2006

Leek Town 1 Marine 1

Northern Premier League Premier Division
Harrison Park, Leek
att. 231

If Danny Baker’s series of videos from the early 90’s taught us anything, it is that football is rarely this ‘funny ol’ game’. It’s a heartening ol’ game for sure, but pretty often it’s angry, it’s upsetting and very much like repeatedly crashing a car door against your own head. Never has so much violence been so willingly self-induced, as in the name of following one’s club.

This bruised and bloody semi-consciousness is what most supporters’ know as ‘the relegation year’, and a great many of Leek Town’s support are priming their chins upon the outside edge of a passenger seat as I write. Stranded at the base of the Northern Premier League’s top-flight with 13 points, 1 place behind AFC Telford United who currently have double that, Leek are seemingly doomed to demotion. They have also been without a gaffer for the previous fortnight, Nigel Deeley having fled the scene (blaming interference from the ex-, Paul Ogden, still at the club in a commercial management capacity) just prior to a light gubbing at the hands of Ilkeston. This was the second instalment of a recent trilogy that has brought them to this game on the back of 3 defeats with 10 goals shipped and none scored. More alarmingly, they have yet to win at home this season. The most upsetting thing about all this, I imagine, being how easy their permeable defensive unit was making things for the sub-editing team at the Leek Post & Times. Your Hobo would never be so obviously pun-thirsty, of course. Ahem.

Confidence is, you would think, in short supply for Leek, whereas the Mariners have plenty to buoy them*. Currently third in the division, they have enough games in hand to overtake both North Ferriby United and Frickley Athletic to shore up* in the single automatic promotion spot, should their form not desert them in the remaining 3 months. Resurgent since Alvin McDonald’s arrival as manager in the summer, and with the added psychological bonus of a very recent 3-0 League Cup win over Leek, all would seem to point at an easy away win, the cut-up pitch and freezing cold perhaps tapping the stuck swing-o-meter slightly back toward centre.

However it is Leek who start the game all the stronger, creating more, their pass and move working quite effectively. The first Marine attack of note soon ends up back in Leek’s favour, requiring Andy Ralph in the away goal to make a sliding tackle 35 yards out to prevent an easy stroll to goal. In the 24th minute, Ralph’s grateful leg again keeps things level, as a Carl Frost overhead kick rebounds off said limb on the goal-line and out to safety. Marine then push straight up the other end as a Leek clearance, suggesting a rapidly deflating air-bag has replaced the defender’s head, drops kindly for Danny Byrne in the area but he shoots straight at the alert Adam Wilkes between the Leek sticks.

Marine are showing signs of being a side with plenty about them, as the table suggests is the case, but without a collective internal compass on this occasion, their first half passes making like a RyanAir route, being a pretty uncomfortable journey for all concerned and going nowhere particularly useful. Skipper Nicky Young looks to be Marine’s man-most-likely-to, despite being marshalled closely by Paul Booth, whose tight blonde curls give him that much sought after look of the ‘grumpy myopic lamb’.

Indeed, it is Young’s determined run to the by-line, despite the increasingly baaah-wildered looking* Booth’s attentions, that forces the corner which leads to Marine, by now rather unexpectedly, breaking the deadlock in the 51st minute. The corner floats inwards for Adam Farley to rise above a packed, but otherwise petrified, Leek penalty box, the bodies motionless as though all trying to ascertain the personal significance of a nearby car alarm. The ball drops calmly over the keeper, brushing the underside of the bar en route. 1-0.

“Don’t sit on it”, yells Marine assistant boss, repeatedly shouting “tight, tiGHT, TIGHT” for the next 5 minutes, on one occasion being met by a look from one of his midfield charges that says ‘Jesus, enough already’, to which he adds a further “Fuck off. Get it tight”, which they do, to a certain extent, for the next quarter of an hour, towards the end of which Ralph is required to bound like a Michelin Man in a successful attempt to intercept a lob with his puffed-out, lorry-tyre-like chest.

However come the 69th minute, the home side finally grab the equaliser they deserve, as I time my return from ‘brief absentia’ (err, I guess my leak at Leek has now been leaked*) perfectly. As I look up from a typically troublesome button-fly I am able to capture, in my now slightly relaxed vision, Rob Hawthorne thwacking a shot more in hope than expectation in the general direction of goal, a wicked scoop off a defender’s leg sending it past Ralph who has just that moment committed himself to an Eastward hoe.

10 minutes later he is almost beaten again, a break and shot causing the ball to spin out to just beyond the left corner of the box. Dave MacPherson, sporting a face that appears to be a morphed quiz-night composite of Danny in ‘Withnail and I’, Finchy from yer ‘Office’ and Frank Worthington before he fully acquiesced to life as an oily spiv, unravels his challenger by handsomely pirouetting, as though acting out a Kate Bush video in front of a mirror, to fire a shot that brings a hard, pinchy ping from the upright. It rebounds out harmlessly, allowing him to relax off his pointe shoes back onto his heels, and possibly contemplate an after-match Camberwell Carrot, at least I’d like to imagine so. With two minutes to go, a similar shot from the other side of the area, from Ashley Woolliscroft, skids dishearteningly wide.

In the final minute, Leek believe they have won it as they make the most of Marine’s defence being typically late, and I mean Diva-late, to the second ball, turning it home from close range. However this is met with not only a rather controversial outstretched flag on the far-side, but also a roundtable discussion for the breached Marine defence, Andy Ralph shoving right back Neil Murphy around the 6-yard box like a gorilla trying to establish his alpha-male credentials. Two of their team-mates stifle their chimpy giggles long enough to act as mediators.

This show of passion meters itself out to the rest of the squad and the travelling Marine support, who bellow “Yellows” (in honour of their away colours) to a volume that seems beyond their grouping of 30 or so. This appears to suck the ball in their direction for a Marine corner, but it comes to nothing. If it had, it would have been more than a little fortunate. Some Leek followers feel even a point was too much for the Mariners to take away, one of them yelling at the ref that “it’s no wonder we’re bottom, wi’ pricks like you”.

Tough at the top? Sometimes, but stranded at the bottom seems much more troubling.

Leek v Marine history & match report
Leek Town website
Marine website

*The Hobo would like ask his small band of increasingly disillusioned readers to forgive him, despite being acutely aware that he does not really deserve it. He would also like to apologise to all those at the Leek Post & Times whose names were taken in vain.

Thursday 26 January 2006

H&'Dub Foundations: Wrist-slap/bitch-slap

The race for the Conference South title just got that little bit more interesting yesterday, as did the rivalry between H&W and Weymouth. Up to now, they've resisted any two-way rivalry as, in their words, they have the bigger fish of Dorchester and Yeovil to fry.

However our 2-1 victory over them earlier this month, which halted their headlong rush to the title and kept us in with a very decent shout, threw up several issues to raise their ire.

Firstly, we had some folks there, pretending to be our fans, trying to cause a ruck with their hefty travelling support. I hope they never come anywhere near WLP again.

Also, one of our goals came as the result of a ball-boy throwing on a new ball to be used for a throw-in. Conference South rules do not permit multi-ball apparently, only when the ball goes out of the ground should it be changed over. First I knew of it, but there we go. However the reports that were doing the rounds just after the game were suggesting the ball-boy had taken the throw. Ludicrous, of course.

The following Tuesday, Weymouth played Farnborough. A Farborough fan reported on the ConfSouth forum, "You wouldn't believe it if you had seen it with your own eyes. A pigeon took the corner that lead to Weymouth's goal." I imagine this has a similar fact-basis.

However the biggest bone of contention was that we had played their ex- Tony Taggart in the game when a gentleman's agreement was in place that we should not. This despite the fact that he was released by Weymouth after which we signed him up. So, not a case of ineligibility, but more a case of bringing the game into disrepute.

Weymouth complained to the Conference over this, and it has been decreed that the game should be replayed, under cup tie conditions so that gate money is shared. While I make no defence case for our conduct, this does seem a little harsh and several of the more level-headed Weymouth fans have said the same. However, if we appeal to the FA, they could well decide a points deduction is more appropriate, a replay would at least give us a chance of retaining those 3 points.

It'll be interesting to see how this turns out and I hope this gives our club a kick in the arse regarding it's Chelsea-esque approach to, not so much the laws of the game, but the morality of it. Although I'd rather it doesn't take a points deduction or replay defeat for that to hit home.

These he-can't-play-against-us-clauses seem a bit bizarre to me, but in fairness that is a side issue now.

Tuesday 17 January 2006

Barrow 1 Cambridge City 2

FA Trophy 2nd Round
Holker Street Stadium, Barrow
att. 996

Barrow-in-Furness is largely thought of as typical of an industrial northern town: dank, tough and without the requisite attractions to warrant a quartered postcard. The first image of Barrow I get is of one knee-high set of lads yelling “I’m going to batter you, ya tossuh” and “Fuck off Brian” in the direction of a taller collective ambling derisorily into the distance.

Perhaps, though, it is not about the destination with Barrow but more about the journey. Tucked into Cumbria’s chinny flange, the way to do it seems to be by train. Skidding along the northern banks of Morecambe Bay, this method allows views that have a subtle beauty rather than immediate dramatics. Despite being just beneath the sweep of the Lake District national park, the arable land, crisp air and heart-stopping sea are a handsome distraction, along with the stoic stonemasonry of stations with names like Cark & Cartmel. Cambridge City may not be as enamoured with their journey to unknown territory, although being this far north does allow for a collection on the team coach of enough nasal raw material for several decent quality black puddings.

Being like a pencil mislaid behind England’s footballing ear, Barrow are able to attract a decent size crowd for their level, with no pro club within a 50 mile radius (particularly in that wet bit to the left). They are a club with history, which probably helps, and spent 51 of the last century’s middle years in the football league, albeit scowling around the mid to nether regions of the Third Division (North) and Division 4. Mind you it was only 5 years prior to their unsuccessful 1972 bid for re-election, and replacement by Hereford, that they achieved their highest league finish, 8th in what we now know as League One. In Holker Street, they have a wonderful old-fashioned ground, that stands as testimonial to their former life.

Cambridge City might consider themselves unlucky that they were never elected to the Football League after finishing 2nd in the Southern League in 1971, but with near-neighbours United taken into the pro ranks the previous year, they stood as much chance of reaching the promised land as a limbless heretic on a rusty unicycle, this despite finishing ahead of the U’s in 8 of the previous 12 Southern League campaigns. While United might only have cause to remember the rivalry now they find themselves back in non-league circles, City’s ire appears never to have subsided, particularly now merger talks threaten the autonomy and identity of both clubs. With their Milton Road ground long ear-marked for redevelopment, City appear to have more to lose in this respect.

Barrow themselves can sympathise with the bare-cupboards predicament of the Cambridge clubs, the debts accumulated under a previous regime seeing them demoted from the national Conference in 1999 and staving off liquidation by the skin of the current board’s teeth. Now consolidated at the level beneath, Barrow started this season in impressive style but a slip-slide down the table and a managerial change later and they find themselves 14th in Conference North, while the visitors currently lie 10th in its Southern equivalent. The Trophy makes any game difficult to call, but the length of the Lilywhites' journey would seem to give the home side a decent advantage.

However, it is Cambridge who make the most impressive start, despite squinting into a winter sun so bright several revelational deities are seen coo-ee-ing from within its lustre. Indeed, only 13 minutes have passed when Barrow’s defence sign up for week one at a line-dancing beginners’ class, their formation long forgotten as the backline start to run back and forth as though miming stir-crazed panic at being locked inside a palatial dining room. This elaborate roustabout, although reportedly an improvement on their walking-into-the-wind routine, nonetheless allows Josh Simpson plenty of time to pick out the far corner from 20 yards relatively unimpeded. They are breached again 4 minutes later, but Simon Bishop gets just enough on it to divert it past the post.

While the action goes end to end, the real penetrative stuff comes from Cambridge, Barrow’s defence gradually being made to look like a bunch of unshaven Sunday drunks asleep on a picnic table. On the half hour though, they pick up their attacking tempo, if only to silence the increasingly agitated “Gaaahs” and “Awwwwws” coming from the popular bank.

Hidden up in a corner of this densely populated terrace are a pocket of about 50 City fans, armed with a flag and a snare drum, the hotheaded-small-bloke-with-an-inferiority-complex of the percussion family. They make the most of a break in play to not only request a wave from manager Gary Roberts but also vent their feelings on the apparent sub rosa activity between their board and Uniteds. “You can stick your fucking merger up your arse” they sing in as scholarly a fashion as they can muster. “We’ll never share the Abbey” they continue, finishing with a defiant “City ‘til I die”. Rather poetically, they follow this medley with a ‘guess the weight of Gary Roberts’ competition. “13 stone?”. “Naaaah”.

I watch Barrow try and gather themselves into some kind of headway from the tea-bar queue, the resultant brew being possibly the worst that British football catering has to offer. Admittedly, for the "tea" this is rather like turning out for a Timmy Mallett-lookalike contest and leaving only with the ‘Biggest Prick’ spot-prize. At least the powder teas you sometimes get advertise their foulness by congealing into a surface-pox. The hobo tongue, on this occasion, was not fore-armed.

Keen to cleanse the system, the gutter-behind-a-wall urinals is the half-time port of call, where the floor is festooned with tissues, coke cans and an empty quarter bottle of Napoleon French Brandy. It seems it has been one of those seasons. It might also account for Barrow’s heavy-legged defensive display.

Despite continued gaps at the back, the second half sees a much improved Barrow as the action becomes genuinely end-to-end, with Steve Flitcroft smiting the ball onto the underside of the Cambridge cross-bar, although it bounces kindly for keeper Danny Naisbitt, who'd been beaten all ends up. This acts as a boot to complacent Cambridge arse-cheeks, Dale Binns again showing tremendous spatial awareness, setting up a shot from Robbie Simpson that sails across the goalmouth.

Briefly tuning into see what BBC Radio Cumbria, who are covering the game live, have to say, a free-kick awarded in the 71st minute is described as “probably too central to get anything from”. Said set-piece is curled out wide to the left, where it is calmly nodded across for Mike Rushton to supply an arrow-like finish with his forehead.

While a Tuesday night trip to East Anglia would not exactly be the ideal for Barrow, particularly with a much more logistically pleasing home game with Southport in the United Cooperative Trophy already arranged, they now find themselves clinging on, as Cambridge pile on the pressure in the last 5-10 minutes. A typically bamboozling run on the left-flank by Binns allows him enough space to float in a gorgeous shot, but Bishop keeps up his excellent form, reacting quickly to stun the ball into flopping over the bar. The Barrow keeper is in no mood to tolerate shirkers on his side either, asking prostrate back-clutching substitute Andy Hill to “Fucking get up you fanny”.

However, as 4th official Mr Eaton sashays the extra-time board around like a Generation Game hostess, a typical scene resumes, Cambridge allowed to slalom around leaden Barrow pins, the fresh legs of sub Michael Gash making him a particularly nimble thigh-dancer. Rounding Bishop, he slots home and the small pocket of Cambridge fans leap about a terrace that is still and silent but for their delirium and the sound of Barrow heels being turned upon.

Road to Upton Park
F: Woking 0 Grays Athletic 2 (att. 13,997) [BBC]
SFl2: Grays Athletic 2 Exeter City 0 (att. 2,693)
SFl1: Exeter City 2 Grays Athletic 1 (att. 3,051)
4R: Exeter City 3 Salisbury City 1 (att. 3,653)
3R: Exeter City 1 Cambridge City 0 (att. 2,166)
2R: Barrow 1 Cambridge City 2
1R: Barrow 2 Clitheroe 1 (att. 937)
1R: Farnbrough Town 0 Cambridge City 2 (att. 377)
3QRr: Barrow 2 Redditch United 0 (att. 756)
3QR: Redditch United 1 Barrow 1 (att. 289)
3QR: Sittingbourne 1 Cambridge City 3 (att. 265)

Robson K (1999) Unfair dismissal. When Saturday Comes, 149, p.13
Yelland P. ed. (2006) Barrow v Cambridge City.

Barrow website
Cambridge City website

Wednesday 11 January 2006

Sunderland 3 Northwich Victoria 0

FA Cup 3rd Round
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
att. 19,323

It’s not the same as it used to be, some say of the FA Cup. It all depends on where you come from, I guess, where your footballing interest lies. My interest in this season’s competition, with the completion of the 3rd round ties, is now on the wane. For others, it’s only just begun. With the larger rewards available in Europe, it is hardly surprising that the big clubs value the climb toward 4th place and a Champions League qualifier rather than the chase for a shiny mug that only gets you going in the UEFA Cup. The lust for lucre is strangling the life out of the famous old cup but then again it’s calmly wrapping a piano wire round the neck of the Premiership as well. The dream of the many is now only potential reality for so very few.

While the latter stages of the FA Cup may now limp to the same old conclusions come May, it remains a beacon of hope for supporters of lower level sides. That is its heart, and their involvement allows it to remain beating.

At the start of each season, I always make sure I know what dates the cup rounds are, particularly the first round proper, as that is what I crave, as well as league success, is a cup run that will allow my team to face a professional side in a competitive fixture. The two times Havant & Waterlooville have ended up in the first round, we’ve faced fellow non-league opposition, albeit from the Conference National, and lost. Each year I hope we’ll get, I don’t know, Hartlepool away, maybe even win. Obviously the third round would be nice, but let’s toddle before we can scamper.

For me, the giant-killing (relatively speaking) can begin at the Preliminary Round in August. As a neutral, I’d choose an FA Cup tie, preferably between sides that would not ordinarily meet, over a league game any day. Today, I am taking that ideal to an extreme, travelling all the way to the bitter North-East to make up for H&W’s cup deficiencies to watch a team from our level, Northwich Victoria of the Conference North, achieve the ultimate – away in the 3rd round to a Premiership side. The prestige. The big day-out. The moolah. Ideal.

Not that Vics are entirely happy with the fiscal side of things. Today’s tickets are only a tenner, rather than the usual £25-ish, which reduces their potential earner somewhat. Considering the Sunderland season ticket came with a free piece of card pierced with a single pinhole through which to watch the games, it may have been considered unempathic and miserly for them to charge their long-suffering supporters through the nose for what could well have been their nadir. Indeed, I am here solely for the potential of the first non-league toppling of a top division side since Sutton United did for Coventry City 17 years ago. If there was ever a Premiership team that looked soft for it, it would be this year’s mangy Black Cats.

It is a fear that is very real amongst the Sunderland support. On the Tyne Wear metro between Newcastle and Mackem country, there are no statements of bravado, none of the usual “I expect us to get at least 8” type bluster. Instead you see the pallid faces, one of the younger of which is made all the paler for a Michael Eavis-like, snood-demanding, ginger chin beard, ponder the possibilities in a manner which betray a temporarily impressive sphincteral grip. “We’ll play ten behind the borwl and Stead up frunt, that’s how confident ah ahm”, “If they just get int’us early daws, we might struggl’” and the like. Thank goodness they stagger their heavy gulps, otherwise the train may well have derailed.

The 3,500 up from Cheshire and packed together (see above) are in fine voice. The 16,000 who consider a tenner a reasonable price for staring into an abyss are less vocal, but are more numerate than might perhaps have been expected, particularly on such a murky, drizzly day. Thankfully for them, they settle the nerves early with a 7th minute follow-up strike from Neil Collins. Already the away support know the game is up and the chants deriding Sunderland’s disastrous campaign begin and, as with Chasetown’s support at Oldham, it almost certainly isn’t the regulars who are in charge of the song-sheet today. The rather ungallant “You are going down” is a favourite throughout. After the first run through, a chap behind me snorts with a derision cheered by their early lead, his chuckle rescinding to a wearily sighed “We are though”.

After this first goal, and indeed before, Northwich never quite look the part as potential giantkillers and although they cause Kelvin Davis to stretch on three occasions, Sunderland take it with a very adequate 3-0 scoreline, Dean Whitehead slotting home on 42 minutes and Anthony Le Tallec finishing the job in the 69th. Elsewhere Liam Lawrence drops a lob onto the bar, and Jon Stead hits the post, but while this and the several saves Kris Rogers has to make allows them to dominate, to call Northwich outclassed would be an injustice. They don’t have enough for a scalping, but plenty to keep their heads held high for the coming weeks.

Indeed, Sunderland on several occasions show why their Premiership season has flat-lined quicker than an nonagenarian speedballer. Stead’s confidence in front of goal looks shredded, with no Crouch-esque seal-breaking flurry looking imminent. Indeed when his second half shot rebounds off the post, you half expect his cherubic mush to slowly crack into a flood of ‘but-I-want-sweeties’ tears and a huge snotty bubble to distend from a nostril.

Road to Cardiff:
F: West Ham 3 Liverpool 3 [Liverpool win 3-1 on pens] (att. 74,000) [BBC]
SF: Middlesbrough 0 West Ham United 1 (att. 39,148) [BBC]
QFr: Middlesbrough 4 Charlton Athletic 2 (att. 30,248) [BBC]
QF: Charlton Athletic 0 Middlesbrough 0 (att. 24,187) [BBC]
5R: Charlton Athletic 3 Brentford 1 (att. 22,098) [BBC]
4R: Brentford 2 Sunderland 1 (att. 11,698) [BBC]
3R: Sunderland 3 Northwich Victoria 0 [BBC]
2Rr: Northwich Victoria 2 Woking 1 (att. 2,302) [BBC]
2R: Woking 0 Northwich Victoria 0 (att. 2,462) [BBC]
1R: Morecambe 1 Northwich Victoria 3 (att. 2,166) [BBC]
4QR: Northwich Victoria 4 Barrow 1 (att. 1,166)
3QR: Northwich Victoria 1 North Ferriby United 0 (att. 684)
2QR: Frickley Athletic 1 Northwich Victoria 4 (att. 392)

Sunderland website
Northwich Victoria Supporters Trust website

Thursday 5 January 2006

Caernarfon Town 1 Bangor City 1

Welsh Premier League / Uwchgynghrair Cymru
The Oval, Caernarfon
att. 822

A year on the tread then, and about 50 fixtures covered since the debut Hobo post. A very innocent and naive effort compared to the verbosity that has come with age. We began with Bangor v Caernarfon, so what better way to celebrate the maiden annum than with an appraisal of Caernarfon v Bangor?

Being a bank holiday, it’s pretty quiet in Caernarfon, the bigger shops open to attract those at a loose end. Above the smattering of shoppers picking through the debris of the post-Christmas sales frenzy is a similarly diminutive cluster of gulls (it’s a public holiday for them too, I guess), sounding their echoey maritime squawk as they fly in from the Menai Strait that separates this North Western tip of Cymru from it’s Anglesey annex. They swoop hungrily toward last nights Styrofoam burger punnets, over both the Castle and the statue of former MP for Carnarfon Boroughs (1890-1944), David Lloyd George, who stands defiant with a raised fist that suggests a Stoogian “Why I oughta…” used to echo across the Westminster despatch boxes between the wars.

Beneath the swing-bridge behind the Castle swans drift quietly, respecting the post-festive calm which becomes such an ornate place as Caernarfon. It is a handsome town without ostentation and, seemingly, home to very little crime, with prevention schemes tailored to the individual. A sign on the Animal Welfare charity shop door is fairly typical of a small concern, stating at the bottom “We Do Not Want Thieves On The Premises”. However, the large, bold type at the top exclaims a most ungeneric ‘KEVIN!’.

So it would seem that amongst this idyllic scene are pockets of building agitation and this is much the same at Caernarfon Town’s Oval ground, which in itself is home to an quite exquisite view, over the far-end terracing, of the Snowdonia peaks that prick the clouds on this overcast afternoon. It is also home to calls for the heads not only of the management but also of the board. There is polarity in opinions though, the rose-tinted faithful-til-the-last responding to the calls for change with requests for people to volunteer their services for the club, to work rather than to moan, “Show me a club where everything is fine…” reads one. This rallying call is grounded with a thud, “Show me a club with a 2 man board. Show me a club with a manager who has won 10 games in 60. We don’t need workers, we need a new board”.

They are not alone in hitting a sticky patch as their local rivals, today’s opponents Bangor City, as well as a majority of the Welsh Premier League, are finding things financially tough. Bangor recently lost manager Peter Davenport, who cited the club’s “failure to move forward” as the catalyst for his resignation. They are due to build a new ground that will replace the dilapidated Farrar Road but have been unable to get the necessary planning permission to make it UEFA compliant, which would make the whole effort seem rather pointless. While Llanelli and TNS can afford to play professionally, most of the rest of the League of Wales does seem in a perilous state. Those that fought to remain in the English pyramid system will probably feel as though their court battles with the FAW have been vindicated, particularly as the Association seem to show little interest in their national league, and the kind of sponsorship that will improve facilities and standards remains elusive.

Despite being two clubs with concerns about finance and, in the case of Caernarfon, league status, the game today sees the League of Wales highest crowd of the season and over a hundred more than turned out for the reverse fixture at Farrar Road a week ago, where Bangor nicked the points with a 89th minute winner. Plenty at stake today then.

Last year I spent a bit of time in my short report appraising the presence of Clayton Blackmore’s wide-load in Bangor’s right back position, and he returns to their line-up today. Despite being neither captain nor caretaker, he spends his time directing the Bangor traffic as well as providing a mercurial presence in midfield. Indeed after quarter of an hour a crisp chipped pass from the bleached veteran and a further flicked-on lob, Caernarfon keeper Paul Pritchard has to race out to block. Ricocheting toward the touchline, a Bangor player gets to the ball first but from a tight angle he sends it skating across the goal behind Pritchard’s desperate leap.

Moments later, Caernarfon swing a corner all the way past the goal, an attempt at a point blank bullet header showing some pretty shoddy time-keeping. It is much this way for the next 20 minutes, end to end stuff without either keeper being unduly troubled. However in the 38th, a rasping Caernarfon shot races to the left of goal, inducing a flattering gasp from those massed behind the goal. Bangor counter-attack immediately. A brilliant cross into the 6-yard line for a header (at knee height) causes the ball’s trajectory to make like an upturned ladle and drop over the bar. As such they go into the break level but with Bangor probably the happier.

The second half begins in much the same way as the first, although Bangor start to impose themselves around ten minutes in, a decent penalty shout coming when a decisive sliding block tackle appears to include some arm in it’s aftermath. A minute later, Pritchard is required to make a vital claw away, a Bangor forehead waiting eagerly and virtually unchecked at the back post.

Caernarfon re-impose themselves just after the hour and finally make the breakthrough on 71 minutes, Bangor keeper Andrew Price coming to the edge of his area to punch away above clashing heads. His clearance though falls to Jason Sadler, who sweeps the ball over all those collected in the D and into the empty net.

Bangor have no choice then but to push forward and create several opportunities, winning a free-kick 20 yards out, dead central, in the 88th minute. It is the bulky figure of ‘Clayts’ who steps up and curls a delightful shot toward the top left hand corner, its sweetness matched by Pritchard’s athletic leap to paw the ball away. It seems to be a match-saving effort but Bangor, as with the Boxing Day tussle, leave it late to break Canaries’ hearts, a corner swung in high and underneath the crossbar is nodded home by skipper Paul O’Neill, and a good third of the crowd kiss the blackening sky.

A reasonable game then but nothing on show from the Caernarfon side to silence their critics. Indeed one post-match comment suggests the management will see this result as excellent as “after all, we’re unbeaten in 2006”. Despite such jovial stats, they are now staring down the barrel of relegation to the Cymru Alliance, although there is plenty of time for them to sort it out, particularly with Cefn Druids looking uninspiring and Grange Harlequins now completely sans cash and carrying a hefty goal difference of -37. Caernarfon (-2) will not though want to be relying on the Quins’ slow death nor an unwillingness of the part of the eventual Cymru Alliance champions to accept promotion, as was the case last year. Put simply, they are underachieving and answers to address that problem must come from within.

Caernarfon Town website
Bangor City website