Firstly let me take the opportunity to thank Neil for his efforts in providing the weekly reviews which do so much to link up the leagues. I hope we can all respond by providing him with the information he needs to tell these stories. He got us right today: both the score and the bit about Mark, Mike and myself never quite knowing which Rowley team are going to turn up (both literally and metaphorically): I was once again out in the car park on the lookout for players!
Amateur football is all about having a team and maintaining a squad and particularly in this league in which there are no easy games, the latter is vital for any kind of sustained success (when you pitch up short you can expect the worst). After a terrific season last season, in which they did the double over us, Sandwell are having a hard time of it, whereas, we have been trying to build a squad that will allow us to keep clear of the problems of last season and then kick on. That squad was absolutely necessary today as we had five missing and then sustained two early-ish injuries and were stretched. Thankfully Mark was back from injury and he and Chris gave us reassurance in the face of a hard-working Sandwell side. We also had Lee Inett back in midfield and he delivered a tidy performance linking things up.
The Churchfields pitches are big and flat but they were bouncy today and a swirling wind which was against us made football quite difficult. Certainly we were not ‘at it’ early doors and Sandwell were on top in the early exchanges: our passing in this phase was woeful. Then we found our rhythm and started to cause them problems and had a spell when really we should have put the game to bed. Leon opened up the defence twice and went in ‘one-on-one’ and twice the keeper saved. We were at this point very much on top and a couple more were missed, though also Lee made a save from their forward that kept the score level. Joe had gone off injured and Nathan was struggling badly before we finally broke our duck when Craig ran on held off their centre back and slotted home. Even then, before half time, Mark found space in their area but headed wide when the money was on a second goal.
Nick Hadley came on at half time and did a good job for us in the middle, giving us control. We knew we needed to take our chances but in fact continued to miss them (both Leon and Craig). In these circumstances (bred by 22 years of Rowley history) you start to worry and lo and behold, following a clearance from a free kick one of their lads drove in from thirty yards (Lee was unsighted). They sensed they could do something and we started rush things, though we were still making progress. The next phase brought their keeper to the fore and my stress to a higher level. Craig had a good shot saved but Leon was onto it like a flash and knocked it goalwards only for their lad to make a miraculous save with his toe. He then followed it up with another good one from Leon’s fierce drive. Clive burst into the box and was unlucky not to score though one of their lads was then sent off for swearing at his keeper (we heard nothing to be fair).
Finally, with only Mike confident we would do it, Leon scored from perhaps his most difficult chance, turning two players and driving home. What a relief! Great to see Myles back playing and good luck to Myles, Roy and their hardworking lads (young and old!)