Magnificent match today, played on a large and not best ‘manicured’ pitch by two teams who gave everything and produced some of the best football I’ve seen this season. Mark and I had been sweating all week on having a viable team with Mark himself, Clive, Joe, top scorer Ben and Christie all injured or away. We ourselves were nine games unbeaten and keen for this to continue but also to remain competitive across a series of games with implications for both top and bottom. In the end we had to get Nathan Hylton out of his sickbed and were rewarded by a terrific performance from all twelve involved (Nathan’s energy was phenomenal in the circumstances).
Sheldon (with a run of fixtures which would scare the bravest heart) were mob-armed and well prepared. They are a really good team, playing fluent football so Mark picked a rather more defensive version of our flexible formation with Lee and Nathan holding and Leon starting as an offensive midfielder. They came strongly out of the blocks with Shakespeare a constant menace. We though defended very well as we did all morning. Dave made an excellent last ditch tackle early doors but otherwise we largely prevented Sheldon from turning possession into chances. Rob, Matt and the newly wed Chrissy Staien all deserve a mention here and from this defensive commitment we made our way back into the game.
In the final twenty minutes of the half we put on a real football show and gave Sheldon plenty to think about. Matty Jones put in a cracking ball that one of their defenders almost put into his own goal, their keeper made a good save before we took the lead with a ‘worldy’ from Leon. Receiving the ball on the left wing thirty yards out, Leon cut inside and hit a screamer into the top corner that no keeper would have saved. Sheldon, who needed to win, came back at us and went close but we deservedly went in at 1-0.
Though we knew exactly what to expect in the second half, nobody could have expected the quality offered relentlessly by both teams. When Kevin Kovacs welcomed us to the league in 1992, he told me he felt that full-blooded competition was not incompatible to having the right attitude: he would have enjoyed today’s perfect demonstration of his hypothesis (which he himself embodied). I think in the end we suffered from not having a full bench but I was proud of the way we went toe-to-toe with one of the season’s best teams and matched them in a real football feast. Sheldon were straight at us from the kick off but in the early exchanges our defence held strong and we were still using the ball well. Then, just when I thought we’d weathered the early storm they scored a good equaliser. From a free kick which we disputed they delivered a teasing ball in and one of their lads got a telling glancing header. Everything to play for and that’s exactly what both teams did: end to end with power and skill.
Looking back I think Sheldon had the better possession and us the better chances. There was just so much to admire and the banter on the side was appreciative and good-natured (thanks particularly to ‘Atkins Senior’ for many a generous word). Matt Jones went close and Lee made a good save from Shakespeare. A draw would, as Lyndon admitted, have been the fairest result but I was convinced that such a game would have a result either way and fittingly it was skill that decided it both ways. Firstly sub Sammy weaved his way into their box, did everything right only to see their keeper make a really good save. Then, from a corner ten minutes from time, their centre back powered an inch perfect header into the apex of crossbar and post beyond the despairing attempts of Chris and Lee. Hard on our lads but two defeats in twelve (both 2-1 away) to St Marys and Sheldon (both of whom admitted we deserved something) says something of our progress this term.
This was our 14th outing against Sheldon with them currently in the ascendency (P 14 W 3 D 3 L 8 F 15 A 28). They are always difficult games! All the best to Lyndon and his lads for the rest of the run-in.