Match report

North Leigh 1 - 3 Tiverton Town

   Tuesday 13/11/2012   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

If Mark Saunders had scripted his one-hundredth game in charge of Tiverton Town it wouldn’t have been too dissimilar to how it turned out in the real world. The Yellows became the Whites just ten days shy of two years after Saunders had taken the reigns at Ladysmead and watched his first selection go down 3-0 at Clevedon in a League Cup game, but it is a mark of this Mark just how far the side has progressed from the one he inherited from Chris Vinnicombe. Not a flicker of disharmony exists in the Tivvy changing rooms these days, the squad are happy, and as Hedley Steele said after the match: “when this lot are good they are very good. No fear, just go out and play!" Play they did, against a very decent North Leigh side, and rings were run around the home team for much of a game which belonged well and truly to Tiverton. It was as if the players wanted to honour Saunders’ anniversary with their best performance of the season. They succeeded.

There was minimal goalmouth action early on as each team showed the other due respect and began with a degree of caution. That isn’t to say it was boring – far from it, the quality was high from both teams throughout the evening, just that there was so little to choose between two very eager outfits. North Leigh’s plan was to press high up the pitch and it meant the Tivvy fullbacks had very little time on the ball as they battled to make progress up the substantial hill and into enemy territory. Wide Michaels Alexis and Hopkins, along with the centrally based Toby Clarke were full of beans but they couldn’t force the Town defenders into any sort of panic, and Kevin Hill was always on hand to tidy things up if it got a little congested. It was confident stuff from the Whites; they just went out and played with no fear – pass-pass-pass, eventually into midfield and beyond.

With six minutes on the clock came the first shot of the evening, a low skidding effort from Andy Taylor that whistled just past the post as North Leigh goalkeeper Sam Warrell scrambled across to his right, never certain that the ball was heading just off target. Five minutes later and the action had switched to the bottom end of the pitch as the hosts attacked quickly on the right, Alexis dispossessing Harry Nodwell and then denied as Tom Gardner tracked back and made an excellent interception. On the game went, high in tempo and high in quality from both sides, but with Tivvy beginning to move into the ascendancy. And approaching the midpoint in the first half came the breakthrough. It owed a little bit to fortune as North Leigh left-back James Organ, one of the few players on the pitch to endure a poor evening, hesitated to allow Josh Searle to jink around him having beautifully gathered in an intelligent clearance from Chris Wright, but to blame Organ would be an injustice to the quality of what came next. Searle still had a lot to do and took the ball with technical perfection before sliding it in behind Andy Caton for Michael Nardiello to sprint onto. Nardiello timed his run impeccably, stormed into the area and then clipped the ball past Warrell and into the bottom corner. Five touches – one from Wright, two from Searle (one to bring the ball under control and then one to thread the pass into the area), and then two from Nardiello: control and shot. It was fluent, decisive and effective, and Tiverton were in the lead.

Not only were Tiverton on top but they were playing very well indeed, and Searle might have got his own name on the scoresheet had he decided to shoot rather than look for the more centrally based Joe Bushin. It brought to an end another excellent and clinical move down the right which poor Organ simply couldn’t handle, Searle and Josh Concanen tiki-taka-ing their way down the line and in behind the North Leigh defence. And they weren’t the only ones at it. Alex Faux popped up in a withdrawn striker position and almost forged himself an opening as Concanen spread the ball the width of the pitch, not right to left as one might expect but left to right. Hill was covering the right side of defence at the time, Nodwell had moved to left back and Taylor to the heart of the midfield. If the home side were even thinking about man-marking then now was the time to abandon such a plan. Tivvy’s players were everywhere they should be and often everywhere they shouldn’t be all at the same time, but they all knew what they were doing, and that was playing as a team that had seemingly grown up studying the great Dutch teams of the 1970s. Total Football Southern League style!

There was one problem: for all their fine football there still needed to be a degree of containment and the ability to do the basics well. Defending corners is one of those basics and three minutes before the break North Leigh won one and scored from it. Wright tried to punch clear under pressure from the giant duo of Jimmy Deabill and Tom Franklin and although the Town ’keeper managed to get a palm on the ball he was unable to get any real purchase and therefore couldn’t clear the ball up the hill and away. Thus the ball went more or less straight up and straight back down again, and Franklin was still around to scramble it into the net from close range. Tiverton had been punished for what was maybe their one mistake of the game, and at the interval it was all square as Alexis could only shoot on target but without conviction in added time.

There was no dwelling on what might have been as the match restarted with Tivvy now attacking downhill and it didn’t take long for the Yellows, ahem, Whites to once again take control. Nardiello was enjoying an exceptional game against Franklin and Caton, often dropping deep and holding the ball up superbly, and he managed not only to collect with his back to goal but then to turn, glide past his man and get a shot away which was goalbound before Franklin managed to block it behind for a corner. Saunders barked his husky instructions as Taylor prepared to deliver from the flag, ordering Searle to drop out of the box and draw his marker into a less effective area. So Searle stepped out and was dutifully followed, Taylor crossed the ball, and in the space vacated by the two bodies now residing just beyond the area came Bushin, steaming in. He didn’t even need to break stride such was the accuracy of Taylor’s delivery, and Warrell had no hope whatsoever as Bushin crashed a header just inside the post, nodded with such venom that Joe will probably have a headache in the morning.

Bushin is in splendid form so we can forgive him the odd fluff. He contrived to miss the easiest chance of the game two minutes before the hour having swapped passes with Nardiello as Tivvy countered down the right, receiving the ball back from his strike partner, getting beyond Caton and into the area and then planting his shot wide (Nards joked later he should have passed to Bushin’s head rather than his feet!) That really should have been three-one, but it didn’t matter too much as it was indeed three-one just a moment later with the excellent Nardiello once again at the heart of things. Nodwell had dropped deep to win the ball back midway inside his own half and then lifted the ball forward down the left wing. Nardiello did what he had been doing all night as he won possession and showed strength to hold off Franklin. Alex Faux pelted forward in support, ready to overlap, and caused enough confusion in the North Leigh defence for Nardiello to slide around the outside of Franklin as right-back Stuart Hole kept his eye on Faux. Such was Nardiello’s acceleration from a standing start that Faux quickly realised he wouldn’t be able to make the overlap, but as he let out his own sigh of personal disappointment so Nards swung in an early cross which was out of reach of Warrell and perfectly flighted for Taylor to slip in and meet the ball with a diving header. Again there was no chance for the North Leigh shot-stopper, and now Tivvy had breathing space.

There was still half an hour to play and Town knew a goal against would set up a frantic finale, so they retreated to a degree. Not to the point where they couldn’t play, rather just enough to stifle the threat from their hosts. Dave Pearse replaced Nardiello, North Leigh manager Mark Gee took the unusual, somewhat Mourinho-esque step of making a triple substitution, which rather disappointingly from a Tivvy perspective included the withdrawal of Organ, and most of the remainder of the game was played out at the top end of the pitch. Wayne Turk fired wide from the edge of the area after the ball had broken to him when John Mills had been tackled, and near the end the same played lofted in a shot which was rising much more that the gradient of the slope, up and over Wright’s crossbar. They were the best chances North Leigh could forge against a Tiverton defence that was not for moving, although Alexis might have done better than to chip into Wright’s arms after he had done so well to make space for himself inside the area.

And despite playing an understandably cautious thirty minutes Tivvy were not without chances of their own. Bushin received a smart reverse pass from Pearse, beat Hole for skill and pace and beat the crossbar by a couple of feet. The same pair combined again and this time Bushin missed to the side, and in added time, with North Leigh now resigned to defeat, a punt upfield by Warrell was cut out by Searle who ran directly forward and let a shot go which again sailed just wide. By then it made little difference – Tivvy had not only won but they had won handsomely. They played excellent attacking football to gain the advantage and excellent disciplined football (I hesitate to call it defensive as it wasn’t really) to nullify any threat from North Leigh thereafter. Nardiello and Searle particularly had wonderful games but the team as a whole deserves the praise for going out there without fear, and playing. It was a perfect way for Mark Saunders to celebrate a century of games in charge. He couldn’t have scripted it better.



North Leigh: Sam Warrell, Stuart Hole, James Organ (Zak Westlake 66), Wayne Turk, Tom Franklin, Andy Caton, Michael Alexis, Toby Clarke (Declan Shepherd 66), John Mills, Jimmy Deabill (Dan Sadler 66), Michael Hopkins
Goal: Franklin 42
Booked: Deabill 12
Sent off: None

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Alex Faux, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor (Lewis Tasker 83), Harry Nodwell (David Steele 90+2), Michael Nardiello (Dave Pearse 64), Joe Bushin, Josh Searle
Goals: Nardiello 21, Bushin 50, Taylor 59
Booked: None
Sent off: None

Attendance: 78


This report ©2012 Alan Reidy