I lost my Dad a year ago today. The day afterwards, needing a head clear, I watched (as a spectator without involvement) Rowley beat a very good Zion side (Devenport, Mills, Naylor), 1-0. Poignantly we found ourselves up against Zion again today in a Cup Semi in a week in which we all, I’m sure, have been thinking of Ed and Emma Hill and little Milly and our mate Rob and his extended family. I write this to provide a context. After the game which I describe below and in which we were perhaps a little unfortunate I said to Phil Deeley, who was first on the scene with genuine and generous praise for our efforts, that football is ‘character-building’ but not in the way these other life events are. We do well to remember this, I think. Phil, as ever was a model of sportsmanship and is a properly good bloke. From the moment we arrived we were engaged in good natured preparation for a game played in the right spirit and shaded by Zion.
Neither side this year has been quite as good as last with both, I suspect thinking the other was there for the taking. It would be very easy to say in a tight that the sending off of teenager Brad Rogers for a ‘slip of the tongue’ aimed at one of his own players after just ten minutes proved decisive. We accept the rule as administered but, for or against you, no-one relishes this kind of dismissal and Zion were genuinely sympathetic, as we would have been. Truth is that they’d had much the better of the opening exchanges and from a series of corners and long throws had put us under pressure with Lee making one point blank save and Mark leading by example at centre back. We’d shown willing on the counter with young Brad (ironically) looking lively.
After the sending off our carefully designed formation needed ‘development: 4-1-4-1 became 4-4-1 then 3-5-1, 3-4-2 and finally 3-3-3! In the course of these changes, partly because there was no choice, we stepped into the game and aside from a spell in the second half when we were chasing it, I think we were probably the better team. I’m not saying the sending off had no impact but that the fact it changed the game does not restrict us to one narrative version of this. We played well. Hunter hit a post and Ben and Lee missed ‘proper’ chances. Ben was following up a free kick that the keeper had spilled and Lee’s was a free header just wide. Sadly between these two Zion scored and in keeping with our season it was once again an error, the otherwise excellent Chris Staien electing to head back to his keeper despite the opposite call and then fluffing his lines for their lad to round the keeper.
Half time 0-1 and many of the same themes arose. We had 45 minutes and were immediately on the attack. I was very proud of the lads, leaders everywhere and Zion fearing we would score: Hunter busy, Ben weaving run and great save, Clive everywhere, Lee prompting, Dave driving, Olly scheming, matty marauding, three attacking subs used: you get the picture? I think the turning point was when Matt and Hunter were scrapping for it and it came out along the six yard and their defender rocketed it off our lad and wide of the post. It should have gone in. Next minute a quality ball from Zion back post was bundled in and the game was largely over, though we never gave up. Frustrating certainly. All the best to Zion in the final. We need revenge, served cold next week!