Match report

Tiverton Town 1 - 2 Hungerford Town

   Saturday 10/12/2011   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

On the face of it the recruit of Danny Clay and Andy Taylor seems to have backfired. Since the pair arrived from Truro City Tiverton have lost three games out of three, slipped out of the FA Trophy and dropped seven places in the league standings, but to pin the blame on either of these two players or the decision of the management to bring them on board is to gloss over the reality with a ready-made excuse. Over the course of the last three games Clay has arguably been Tiverton’s best player, and his inclusion in the side has been at the expense of Mark Saunders. Saunders knows better than anyone what state his body is currently in, and although fifteen years his junior, Clay brings to the team a wealth of experience and know-how, so little is lost intellectually from Saunders’ omission. Taylor’s early Tivvy career has been less emphatic, but it was telling to note how the team improved significantly when he was introduced from the bench against Hungerford, and he brings not only a certain touch of class to the side but also a great knowledge of the game gained almost exclusively at a higher level of football.

For the match against Hungerford the Yellows underwent quite a reshuffle and Saunders was able to select his preferred back four with Liam Ellis and Alex Faux flanking the centre-back pairing of Paul Kendall and Tom Gardner. Kevin Hill returned from suspension to partner Clay in the middle of the park, while Joe Bushin was deployed as a lone striker, with Aaron Dawson supporting from a central position and Harry Nodwell given the duties on the right wing. That meant David Steele and Michael Nardiello were relegated to the bench along with Taylor, and joined by the returning Jules Emati-Emati, another player who would make a positive impact when introduced in the second half.

Given the lack of punch and penetration shown by both sides in the first half it was always likely that the use of substitutes would dictate the outcome of the match, but football is about more than aesthetics, and Hungerford, hard-working and solid defensively, managed to get the job done without ever excelling. Both of their goals came directly from errors by Tiverton players, the first seven minutes before the end of a largely forgettable first half. Jon Boardman had squandered the first chance of the match early on when he headed wide from Nicholas Ogbanufe’s free kick, and although both Nodwell and Kendall had half-chances for the Yellows young Hungerford goalkeeper Daniel Lincoln proved to be solid between the sticks for the visitors. A lack of communication saw Searle and Ellis contrive to lose possession on thirty-seven minutes, and although Tivvy defended sufficiently to reduce Hungerford to just a corner, the threat remained, and a second corner in succession was eventually hammered home by Mark Draycott to break the deadlock. And that is the way it stayed until the interval, thanks mainly to Jon-Paul Mills failing to convert a great chance from close range, and Bushin, at the other end, nodding Clay’s cross wide of the target.

For almost the entirety of the second half Tiverton dictated the pace of the game in much the same way they had at Sholing a week earlier, but a crucial mistake from Kendall gifted Draycott his second goal of the game ten minutes after the restart, and gave the Yellows an uphill task for the rest of the afternoon. Searle jinked into space but shot over from the edge of the area, and just beyond the hour mark Nardiello, on for Bushin, latched onto Hill’s pass but blazed his shot across the face of goal and wide, something he would repeat just a few minutes later. Another pair of substitutions saw Emati-Emati replace the off-colour Nodwell, while an attacking change as Tivvy began to dominate proceedings was made with Taylor coming on in place of Ellis. At various stages both Kendall and Gardner joined the attack and it wasn’t uncommon during the final half an hour to see Tiverton lined up with just one defender and then Clay and Hill deep in midfield. Taylor crossed and Emati-Emati headed wide under pressure at the far post, and the next wave saw a carbon copy chance, the result the same but this time with Kendall on the end of Taylor’s cross. Soon enough it was Gardner’s turn to press forward and, as if to fit in with the rest of the team he shot into the perimeter wall just on the outside of Lincoln’s left upright. Nardiello did finally hit the target as the game crept into added time but his shot was straight at the Hungerford ’keeper, while on a rare counter attack Chris Wright was forced to fly off to his left to push away an Ogbanufe snapshot. Deep into added time Kendall went some way to redeeming himself after his earlier error when he pulled a goal back by hammering a low shot past Lincoln, set up by Emati-Emati, but there was barely enough time for Hungerford to restart before the referee brought an end to the game.

The last two league games have shown a very significant pattern to the way Tiverton play, with an emphasis on retaining possession and showing patience in the approach play. It is a far cry from the tactics of a few years ago where the plan was to get the ball forward early and then entrust the midfielders to rush forward in support of a big striker who was toiling to hold onto the ball, and it is certainly more pleasing on the eye to see a midfield comfortable with the ball at their feet and always ready to take one step backwards in order to take two forward. There can be a problem, however, with such a style, and both Sholing and Hungerford, two of the strongest teams defensively in the league, have been afforded enough time to get players behind the ball, forcing Tivvy to play in front of them, and having safety in numbers to cut out gaps and angles. Clevedon and Yate were sufficiently weak for the possession game to work, but the better teams have been significantly harder to break down. With the need in the last couple of games to make up for defensive errors there is an added pressure on the midfield and forward lines, and it seems the Saunders-Steele combo has yet to find the perfect blend from the players available. The talent is there but the solution may not be found until a playoff place is out of reach.

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Liam Ellis (Andy Taylor 69), Alex Faux, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Aaron Dawson, Danny Clay, Harry Nodwell (Jules Emati-Emati 64), Joe Bushin (Michael Nardiello 51), Josh Searle
Goal: Kendall 90+6
Booked: Nodwell 51
Sent off: None

Hungerford Town: Daniel Lincoln, Jon Wheeldon, Diak John, Jon Boardman, Mattie Day, Luke Brewer, Jon-Paul Mills, Jamie Gosling (Scott Davis 79), Luke Hopper (Scott Griffin 84), Mark Draycott (Harry Goodger 81), Nicholas Ogbanufe
Goals: Draycott 38, 55
Booked: Goodger 90+2
Sent off: None

Attendance: 178

This report ©2011 Alan Reidy