I think we’ve now officially set a new record for draws, which was not our intention, though Joe’s plaintiff cry after the match was “We just don’t want to win!” This came after conceding two goals in the last ten minutes including the last kick (well, header actually) in a game which we dominated and seemed to have won at least twice. Lance Blackwood, whom I first came up against as a player 25 years ago, said it all in a slow shake of the head: only one winner…well not quite! This, of course is the terrible beauty of the game: you win some you lose some and in our case draw most of them.
With Mark off at Aintree and Mike nursing a broken hip (get well soon mate) I was left to shuffle a slightly depleted pack (shorn of Southall, Ben Smith, Bradley, Christie and the globe-trotting Fowler). This meant a rethink and, through the miracles of modern technology Ben relaying pictures out to Bena in NZ (staying with another Rowley Stalwart Andy Rowe in Kiwiland: greetings both!). I’m sure he will have liked what he saw (for 95% of today’s game). This is no disrespect to Zion (who also lacked their talisman) who have been a strong team for a good many years but who today never quite got going (though both sides technically are in need of a point or two). We got at them down the slope and set the pattern of the game.
The returning Matt Williams urged us forward by stepping into midfield to win the ball and direct many Rowley sallies forth. Craig remains a handful and Tom had a real go at filling Fowler’s boots (he was intelligent and mobile all morning). We played good football, particularly in a midfield four which comprised Olly, David, Josh and perhaps our man-of-the-match Clive and forced a series of corner with the fourth or fifth leading to the first goal. Olly knocked it in low, Matt retrieved in and gave it back to him and when he crossed back post Craig thundered it in with his head via the bar. Well deserved. Matty then had a lofted drive into the top corner well saved by their keeper. In the sunshine it had the feel at times of a pre-season friendly and one we were bossing: I think Zion had only one serious attack in the half. Chris, Joe and Matt Stanton were comfortable. However for all we had done well we went in at only 1-0.
Nothing to say at half time except more of the same. They were a little better but we continued to boss it and duly extended our lead when Clive wriggled away down the right and delivered a great cross that Craig acrobatically fired home. Clive has been struggling with a foot injury so this was the cue to give him a deserved rest. I also took off the veteran Dave who had put in another calm and reassuring performance. This gave us an experienced pairing in centre midfield (Olly Staien and Nathan Hylton) as we continued to press for more goals. Josh came into his own in the second half marauding from and off the wing. We had chances but Zion defended well.
I’d relayed the developments to Mike and Mark in a confident mood so it was against the grain when I phoned to say that they’d got back in it via a penalty conceded by Olly. Still we pressed forward and applied the pressure until Josh seemed to have put it to bed with the goal of the game. He drove from halfway towards the middle of their goal and at 20-25 yards out smashed a lofted drive which gave the keeper no chance. The game once again resumed in the regular pattern but Zion seemed roused by this third goal and began to rally. They claimed a second goal from a good finish and then in a spell of end to end football both sides went for it. Tom drove narrowly wide for us then a corner found the head of one of their lads and we were heading for another draw (there was only room to kick off before the whistle blew!).