It’s hard not to feel for Willis and Vernon who are going through one of those periods which come along every now and then where nothing goes right and even getting eleven players on the pitch seems each week like a labour of Hercules. There is a genuine affection for these guys shown by our senior players some of whom have played for Willis or had great battles with his teams. Based on a great season last year and a terrific performance against us earlier in this campaign, I’d tipped Connect to be in contention. They still have good players but are not getting enough of them consistently out and while this was by no means easy today we always looked likely to win the game. However with Martin Lees still leading the line with great skill and Robbie Hunter offering a captain’s performance in adversity (and great to see Jim Wilkes, a top bloke and terrific footballer who I think has answered the call) I’m sure they’ll come though.
We, though, are a difficult proposition for any team these days and despite missing Clive and Chrissy Staien from the back line we managed to steal ahead of St Mary’s in the least goals against stakes with a clean sheet. Our most consistent player Matt Stanton filled in at centre half alongside the imperious Williams and was as good as anyone. We were made to work but restricted Connect to a handful of efforts and we also have a very good goalkeeper.
The game was played on a large pitch with too much grass on it in a howling wind. For the first fifteen minutes it resembled beach football and neither side made much progress. Then we realised that there was plenty of room to keep the ball in and began to swing into action. We began to make progress but they defended well. The first goal is always important and we had the man for the job. Ben Fowler returned from the US in time for a substitute appearance last time out and scored. Since then we have had three weeks off. I joked before the game that I’d be happy if he could keep up the goal every 30 minutes ratio! By half time his average had gone below 1 in 30 mins. Firstly Barber hit a diagonal ball from right back and Ben met it back post and slotted it, then he was played in for a 1-on-1 with a similar result. As Connect tried to rally we continued a ruthless streak as Mark dropped a perfect free kick onto Matt Williams’ head for a 3-0 half time lead.
Second half they again continued to play their football but we finished it when Ben took a fine hat trick with a rasping drive. He also had time to miss a free header, slip another 1-on-1 just wide and get up to head beyond the keeper so that all their unfortunate lad could do was slide it into his own net.
All in all a good answer to the biting cold. Good to see Lee Inett back second half in midfield alongside the industrious Smith and Staien combination and for us to show some quality and respect to beleaguered opponents. I trust Connect will re-connect soon: they are a great club (in their many guises).