Match report

Tiverton Town 0 - 0 Abingdon United

   Saturday 18/08/2012   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

If the total equals the sum of the parts then Tiverton Town must add more in order to get more out. Largely dominant but frustratingly wasteful , a point at the end of the first game of the season was all the Yellows deserved, for regardless that they had the bulk of the possessions the end product was lacking, and if you can’t put the ball in the net you don’t deserve to win games.

The summer had offered glimmers of optimism as it always does but the first real judgment would be beneath the sunshine at Ladysmead and the visit back to Devon of Abingdon United, the first opponents of this season as well as the final opponents of last. And as if that quirk wasn’t enough, to further confuse everybody and throw the attendees into a state of déjà vu the result was the same too – no goals again, but this time around a very different match to the one played out at a walking pace back in April. There was everything to play for now, nothing then. Abingdon, by virtue of the Roman alphabet, began the day at the top of the table, and despite being rank outsiders they would have been keen to kick off the season on the front foot.

Or perhaps not!

Seldom has a team come to Ladysmead and employed such negative tactics. Nine men, ten men, sometimes all eleven men behind the ball, packed tightly with the only thing in mind being to intercept, block, hoof and regroup for the next onslaught. Had this been a title, playoff or relegation decider from which Abingdon required a point to go up or to avoid going down then one could have understood their ploy. But it was the first day of the season, for crying out lout, and frankly if they employ a similar game-plan each time they are on their travels then they will get a few hammerings throughout the season.

On the other hand it worked. United set themselves up to be difficult to break down and Tiverton were unable to break them down. Abingdon had little interest in going forward and only on three occasions did they have anything approaching an effort on goal, none of which would have threatened Tivvy’s Under 12s goalkeeper let alone Chris Wright, who honestly could have spent most of the afternoon leaning against his goalpost reading the Financial Times and puffing on a pipe.

The first chance for the visitors was a header from a corner after Tom Gardner had misdirected a backpass. Chris Baker met the cross but Wright didn’t need to move his feet in order to make a comfortable save. After fifteen minutes Abingdon had another chance of sorts when Matthew Biddle picked up on a loose ball after Baker’s long throw-in from the right had been headed partly clear. Biddle struck his volley well enough but it cannoned of two players at the front edge of the penalty area and Alex Faux eventually cleared the danger with the ball still six yards from goal.

Otherwise it was full steam towards the Devco End. Full steam until the density of bodies caused Tivvy to slow down and look for the intricate passes, look to thread the ball through the smallest gaps. Those gaps were, to Abingdon’s credit, quickly closed, and Town threatened mostly from set pieces. Indeed, Gardner nodded wide at the far post just three minutes into the match, and later in the first half a series of three consecutive corners, the first from the right and the other two from the left finished disappointingly when debutant Lewis Tasker fired well over from distance. Tasker and Andy Taylor were taking in turns with the corners and both delivered consistently well, only to find United goalkeeper James Foster imperious in form and not at all backwards when coming forward off his line. Foster was also up to the task when shots were blasted on target as he proved to palm away an inswinging effort from Josh Concanen. More corners, and Paul Kendall this time went close, his goalbound header saved at point-blank range by Foster but only after the whistle had peeped for a foul anyway as Kendall climbed upon Luke Carnell.

Tasker was regularly in the thick of the action, very much an indication on the pattern of the game. Both Yellows fullbacks advanced regularly, given space on the flanks both by Abingdon’s narrow defence and the instructions to the Tivvy wingers to drift inside. That may not have helped Town as it turned out; Taylor and Alex Faux were often found in central positions, further congesting an area of the pitch that was already busy, and even still Tasker and Concanen were unable to get to the by-line to cross. On numerous occasions – too often it could be said – Tasker opted to shoot from well outside the area, and not once did it look like he would find the perfect contact and leave Foster clutching a thin air. Indeed on the half-hour one such shot was straight at the visiting goalkeeper, and a couple of minutes later so was another. At least the second would have been had it not deflected off Michael Nardiello’s chest and nestled into the bottom corner. Too bad that Nardiello was in an offside position.

The first half ended as it had started with Tiverton in the ascendency and an attempt at goal that was off target. This time it was Nardiello, onto a long ball aimed at an angle towards the left corner. The striker gathered possession cut in towards Foster but then planted his shot well over the crossbar, leaving a dust mark on the advertising hoarding above the covered terrace. Faux had earlier left a mark of his own on Sam Tucker as he lunged clumsily and late in a vain attempt to win back a ball that he had given away just a couple of seconds earlier. That was the only booking of the first half, a total that would be added to just twice after the change of ends.

For fifteen minutes at the start of the second half it was almost like watching Brazil (circa 1982). Five chances came and went for the Yellows as the Abingdon defence struggled to respond to an obvious increase in tempo from the hosts. But before all of this came the untold excitement of United’s third and final shot of the match, from thirty-yards via the boot of Gianluca Riccio, so unthreatening was it that Wright was able to wrap his arms around the ball without the need to remove his pipe. And then it was business as usual: Faux and Emati-Emati exchanged passes, the later beat his man and crossed, Nardiello scored again. And again it was ruled out, this time as Emati-Emati had taken the ball out of play. The lack of remonstrations from the Tiverton players suggested the correct decision was made. A minute later Harry Nodwell, quiet to this point, finally got into the swing of things. Chasing a lost cause he managed to nick the ball off Curtis Angell, moved inside a couple of strides and crossed towards the far post. Emati-Emati was there, he couldn’t miss from three or four yards out… Oh yes he could miss, and did so with remarkable ease, lifting the ball over the crossbar, over the terrace, over the Youth Centre on the other side of the road, and half way to Elmore. It didn’t matter anyway as, unbeknown to anyone other than himself the referee had blown for a foul on Nodwell by Angell, embarrassed moments before and now out to exact revenge in a filthy act that left Nodwell crumpled in a heap with an Abingdon-shaped footprint on the back of his ankle for company.

So Tiverton had a free kick but nothing came of it, then a corner which was headed away and fired back in predictably by Tasker, but with more accuracy than most of his efforts, meaning a deflection was required to take the ball up and over and out for another corner. Nodwell was back on his feet by this stage but Angell’s crudeness had seemingly reduced the power of his shooting so he was only able to place a shot low which Foster saved by dropping down to his left; a shame as it was a decent passage of play from Town with Taylor and Tasker smartly opening up space for Nodwell inside the area. The next try was infinitely more direct, from the best part of forty yards. Kendall strode purposefully forward from defence (not that he nor Gardner had a great deal of defending to do) and simply smacked one in. Foster was game again, and this time threw his frame away to the right and tipped the swerving, dipping shot around the post.

Another Nodwell shot and another Foster save followed but Tivvy looked to be running out of steam as they toiled away almost exclusively in the Abingdon half of the pitch. With twenty minutes still to play 4-4-2 became 4-3-3 as Faux gave way for Joe Bushin, but little really changed. It was frustrating and becoming desperate but to their credit Tivvy didn’t resort to aimless balls into the box. They continued to trust in the philosophy that had dominated the match thus far and Emati-Emati blazed another shot over the top after Nardiello had neatly nodded down Taylor’s deep cross. And with ten minutes left that was pretty much the final opportunity the Yellows were able to carve out. It was also the final kick of the game for Emati-Emati as he was replaced by Owen Howe, and David Steele was also introduced as Nodwell, battered and bruised and raked with studs departed for the afternoon.

Baker earned himself a yellow card for a high and dangerous challenge on Nardiello as the game meandered, now without much direction, towards its conclusion, and Abingdon, as negative, unimaginative and frankly awful on the eye as they were got what they had come for – a point away from home. It was clear from inside the first twenty minutes when Foster deliberately took much longer than necessary over his goal kicks that the visitors were here for the long haul, and to their credit they got the job done. On another day Tivvy could have scored four or five but it wasn’t another day, just another frustrating day.

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Lewis Tasker, Russell Jee, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor, Harry Nodwell (David Steele 81), Michael Nardiello, Jules Emati-Emati (Owen Howe 81), Alex Faux (Joe Bushin 70)
Booked: Faux 37
Sent off: None

Abingdon United: James Foster, Chris Baker, Curtis Angell, Luke Carnell, Damian Crudup, Gianluca Riccio (Simeon Howell 62), Matthew Biddle, Samuel Tucker, Leon Bird (Anton Bird 68), Carl Evans, Ben Whitehead
Booked: Riccio 50, Baker 90+3
Sent off: None

Attendance: 183

This report ©2012 Alan Reidy