Match report

Thatcham Town 1 - 1 Tiverton Town

   Wednesday 18/01/2012   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

Football is an emotive game at the best of times, and the contrast one can feel depending on circumstance is as clear as black and white. A draw can feel like a defeat when your team concedes a late goal, and at the other end of the scale the same result is met with something approaching jubilation should your favoured side grab that late equaliser. Even more satisfying is when that goal at the death seals a draw that had looked hugely unlikely, at the close of a match which had seen your side toil with little success yet somehow find themselves still within touch, had seen your side fail to live up to the inflated expectations that had risen from an undefeated streak that extends back the best part of six weeks and seven games.

The sighs of relief from the Tiverton squad as they filtered into Thatcham Town’s substantial clubhouse on Wednesday evening spoke a thousand words – the Yellows laboured through the game, somehow remained in with a shout despite a horrible first half performance, and then struck late on, by which time they had battled their way into the ascendancy, if only for five or ten minutes as Thatcham dropped off in an attempt to protect their narrow lead. Michael Nardiello’s scrappy goal in the last minute of regulation time was, it has to be said, not an equaliser that Tivvy truly deserved based on the quality of play throughout the evening, but still one that was warmly greeted and one which went a long way to epitomising the character of the current squad; even when it isn’t happening they keep going, for themselves and for each other, and there is, after all, no substitute for effort.

The Yellows lined up with a team that just about picked itself; Alex Faux and Danny Clay were unavailable due to suspension so the system remained unchanged and Liam Ellis and Kevin Hill came into the side, but early in the match it was clear how the absence of Clay’s tenaciousness off the ball and calmness on it was missed. Hill, of course, is no mug, but he was unable to exert the same kind of dynamic authority on the midfield as Clay, and that in itself poses an interesting question as to whether the pair would be suitable partners once they are both available for selection. David Steele offers something a little different and something rather more direct and penetrative in the middle and his current form has been such that it would be difficult to leave him out of the team, but at Thatcham Steele was as subdued as the rest of the Tivvy players and had only an intermittent impact on the game.

Ellis had quite an impact on Mark Hughes after a quiet and uneventful opening quarter of an hour that had seen Tiverton start well enough but then allow Thatcham to begin to dominate the midfield. When home captain Gareth Thomas played a pass into the midfield Ellis and Hughes both slid in for the ball, Hughes got the touch on the ball and Ellis, arriving just a fraction later, slid through and left Hughes hobbling and left his name in the referee’s notebook. It was a fifty-fifty challenge but one in which the Tiverton player lacked punctuality and despite groans of derision towards the amusingly rotund referee from the travelling support the caution Ellis received was justified.

By now Thatcham were well in control, allowed to dictate the tempo as Tiverton’s forwards stood off and allowed the home defenders plenty of time on the ball, and the host’s authority was almost rewarded as a series of chances went begging in a ten minute spell. Scott Rees was the first player to have a shot on goal, a low drive from outside the area that was reasonably comfortable for Chris Wright to gather, and just two minutes later Rees turned creator as his through ball pierced the Yellows defence and released Carl Self. The Thatcham striker did everything right initially as he skipped through and rounded Wright as the Tivvy goalkeeper advanced, but with the goal gaping Self somehow contrived to sidefoot the ball the wrong side of the upright despite a lack of pressure from the retreating defence. It was an horrific miss of Ronny Rosenthal proportion, no word of a lie, and when Wright made a superb brace of saves from Mark James and then Thomas the small yet vocal home support, not to mention the Thatcham players themselves must have been wondering exactly who upstairs they had upset.

Thomas saw a free header blocked following a free kick from the left delivered by Self and towards the end of the first half Thatcham really began to turn the screw as they won four successive corners, the last of which the referee decided there was not sufficient time to deliver, a matter that rather frustrated home winger Tom Etheridge who was lucky not to receive a caution for his protestations and join teammate Rees who had earlier been booked for his inability to shut the hell up. Meanwhile Tiverton’s attacking play was limited with a scuffed and harmless effort from Nardiello and a header from Joe Bushin that looped without threat into the waiting arms of the underworked Paul Strudley the only moments of any note, and they were hardly noteworthy if truth be told.

I can imaging the half-time team-talks in each dressing room – Mark Saunders would have been questioning just what on earth was going on and why his charges were simply failing to perform, failing to retain possession, failing to show any creativity, yet cautiously pleased that his goalkeeper’s sheet remained clean and his side remained level. Across the way Gary Ackling would have reassured his players that all they had to do was keep going as they were and the goal would come, for they had done very little wrong aside from Self’s hideous miss and it was otherwise only down to the Tivvy ’keeper that the scores were still pegged. And Thatcham did just that, kept going as they were and for twenty-five or thirty minutes very little changed; the hosts remained in control of the game and came within a whisker of taking the lead when Self curled a free kick onto the post just a minute after the restart. Clearly this wasn’t Self’s day in front of goal so in the fifty-sixth minute he decided passing rather than shooting was a happy alternative and, having driven forward from deep as Thatcham regained possession from a rare Tivvy attack he released the supporting Hughes with a well-timed and well-placed pass off to the right. Hughes took control of the ball and fired a shot powerfully towards the front post which, with a convenient deflection of Paul Kendall, squirmed past Wright and into the net.

At last Thatcham got the goal they deserved and quickly they withdrew, tightened up at the back and showed a significantly diminished desire to attack, although Jemel Joshnson, who had proven himself to be a handful both in terms of holding the ball up and creatively, should have done better than to tamely shoot straight at Wright when one-on-one and just twenty yards from goal. And that miss was the wake-up call Tivvy needed. Russell Jee came on for Liam Ellis and played for a couple of minutes at left back before a reshuffle saw the Yellows ease into a 3-4-3 system, Jules Emati-Emati also now on the pitch in place of Andy Taylor who had failed to truly get into the game. Other than his brief spell in defence Jee looked good and used the ball intelligently and confidently, but it was the big man up front that made the biggest impact and the Thatcham defenders, who had handled Bushin and Nardiello with relative comfort all of a sudden had a different animal to contend with. Jules ran and ran and ran and his determination maintained possession for the Yellows and eventually set up a corner kick as Steele’s shot was deflected behind. Jee swept the ball in deep, Emati-Emati headed back across the face of goal, and with Strudley having given up the cause the ball dropped just wide of his right upright.

There was still fifteen minutes to play and Tiverton slowly but surely began to get on the front foot, albeit without creating any chances and without piercing the home defence. Thatcham, meanwhile, were not looking particularly edgy but clearly aware that their advantage was slender and they had to keep things tight. Indeed, they dropped so deep at times that there was no more threat from Johnson and co at the other end of the pitch despite the Yellows only employing three at the back. Fifteen minutes ticked away, Rees was withdrawn just before time as Thatcham looked to burn up a couple of valuable seconds, and by the time just two minutes remained they really did seem to be holding on, deeper and deeper, yet doing it comfortably. And then Tivvy won another corner when Bushin cashed down a lost cause, a flick-on from Jules that Paul Tapllin really should have cut out and hammered into the night sky. Jee again trotted over to the right quadrant and again lifted the ball deep towards the far post where this time Kendall was waiting. The centre-back nodded the ball back, Nardiello, back to goal, flicked it forward and Strudley, perhaps wrong-footed, perhaps unsighted in the crowded goal area, was forced to berate his defence and retrieve the ball from the net, one-all!

From there, for three minutes of time added on there was nothing more in either goal area, just a sequence of throw-ins for Tivvy down their left flank, gradually progressing towards and beyond the half way line. The Yellows chose the Get Out Of Jail card just in time, and while it is true that for the final twenty minutes they never had to deal with any attacking play from Thatcham that is as much down to the home side’s negativity as they looked to hold on rather than Town’s own dominance. It was far from pretty and the game could have been done and dusted by half-time but these days Tivvy are made of stern stuff. We will never surrender!

Thatcham Town: Paul Strudley, Mark Hughes, Paul Tamblin, Matt Bowler, Gareth Thomas, Tom Melledew, Mark James, Scott Rees, Jemel Johnson, Carl Self (Shaun Thorp 73), Tom Etheridge
Goal: Hughes 56
Booked: Rees 44, Hughes 54
Sent off: None

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Liam Ellis (Russell Jee 67), Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor (Jules Emati-Emati 73), David Steele, Michael Nardiello, Joe Bushin, Josh Searle
Goal: Nardiello 90
Booked: Ellis 14
Sent off: None

Attendance: 92

This report ©2012 Alan Reidy