Match report

Hungerford Town 1 - 0 Tiverton Town

   Saturday 24/11/2012   Southern League First Division
Alan Reidy

Thirteen years had passed since the last time Tiverton were involved in a first versus second league clash, and just like the Western League clash against Taunton Town at Ladysmead in 1999 the Yellows lost by a single goal to relinquish the advantage. This time the opposition were Hungerford, and the result was the same as last year’s meeting at Bulpit Lane with the home side edging it 1-0. But the game was about more than that, much more. It was about determination; it was about adapting to the conditions; it was about as entertaining a game as it could have been all things considered.

Talk of a depleted Hungerford side proved largely unfounded as most of their big hitters started the game, with Luke Hopper and Gary Horgan both named amongst the substitutes, while Tivvy were at full strength with the exception of the suspended Harry Nodwell. That one absence meant that Andy Taylor played in the centre of midfield and Alex Faux moved forward to the wing with Lewis Tasker recalled to the left side of defence, and even though few players shone, particularly from the Tiverton side, Tasker looked a lot more assured than he had in some of his previous outings, and Taylor’s different role certainly didn’t detract from the huge influence he can have on how the team sets about it’s business.

It was certainly hard going in the opening stages for Town and both Michael Nardiello and Joe Bushin had to work immensely hard just to get into the game. As such neither of them were ever able to get into good goalscoring positions as they were too busy chasing towards the corners, closing down Hungerford defenders on a pitch which defenders simply hate: nobody really wants the ball when it is easier to slip over than it would be for Bambi on ice on vodka, so it is with begrudging applause that it needs to be said how calm and solid Jon Boardman and Matt Day were when called upon to clear their lines.

Hungerford’s pitch has quite a slope. Not in the North Leigh league of slopes but more than Paulton; perhaps Chippenham would be a fair comparison. It was raining moderately from long before kick-off and throughout the match – the surface was firm but very slick and by midway through the first half had begun to cut up. This made changes of direction increasingly difficult and made for a fun afternoon for the spectators if not for the players. There were plenty of mistakes and many of them were because both teams insisted on playing football rather than reverting to some kind of kick-and-rush concept from way back in the neo-Rogers era of forgettable football tactics, and it was of massive credit to everyone involved that, although it would sometimes have been easier just to punt and hope, that wasn’t the way of the day. It would have been truly fitting had the game been won due to the success of some of the excellent progressive football, but it was typical of the conditions that ultimately a mistake led to the only goal of the game.

Although largely untroubled in the first half Tiverton could well still have been a couple behind at the break. Hungerford were certainly the first to settle, with the odd topography of their pitch giving them a slight advantage. That isn’t an excuse, rather an indication of what small margins games can be won and lost. It would be silly to say that they don’t get some kind of advantage playing at home, even in such unpredictable circumstances and even against a team that was their equal in most respects, but they had that one small perk and it helped them have a few sighters early on. The first, from Day, was an audacious effort from forty yards or more (just a few strides beyond the centre circle) and it skidded wide on a surface that refused to take pace off the ball, so it was always worth a punt. The same fate befell Matt Jack a minute later when he cut in from the right after some good hold-up play by Ben Pugh, and another minute on Chris Wright finally had to test the grip on his gloves when he held a header from Pugh.

Hungerford offered some fine play on the flanks with Bradley Gray winning a corner of Faux only for Alan O’Brien to shoot well over, and particularly on the left through O’Brien himself, lighting quick and always a threat even when it looked like there was no danger. O’Brien, capped five times for Ireland in a previous life, twice sprinted easily away from Josh Concanen to deliver teasing crosses into the box, the first very well smothered by Wright, the second finding Pugh unmarked eight yards out but always stretching and eventually unable to make enough of a contact on the delivery. Poor Pugh wasn’t having the best afternoon ever, and on the stroke of half time found himself with the goal at his mercy when Mark Draycott’s shot was deflected through and into his path, but with everybody stood around waiting for an offside flag that never came Pugh snatched at his shot and Wright quickly got down to make a decisive save from just beyond point-blank range.

Half time arrived with the game still locked, and although Hungerford were the better team at that stage Tiverton had not been without some half chances of their own, and the Yellows had shown moments of great inventiveness, particularly on their own left wing as Tasker and Faux linked up well. An early Paul Kendall header was comfortably saved by home goalkeeper Paul Strudley, not that anything was particularly easy for a goalkeeper, Taylor shot just wide having driven through from deep as Tasker won a strong header to regain possession, and Josh Searle’s cross seemed destined to reach Nardiello until Boardman made a timely interception.

The second half was a more even affair with openings at both ends and neither team was content with a point. Strudley did supremely well to clutch a cross from Tasker, Wright matched his opposite number with a strong save low down to deny Pugh, and Tivvy blinked first with a double substitution that saw Dave Pearse and Owen Howe take over the attacking duties from Nardiello and Bushin. And Parse almost made an immediate impact in a move that started on the right when Searle nicked the ball off Diak John and helped it on to Taylor. The midfielder bundled (there is no other word for it really) his way into the box, Day pressured and when the ball ran loose Pearse stretched to poke it towards goal. However, it was much like Pugh’s chance in the first half – a little too much stretch and a little to little power, so Strudley was able to gather it in.

Just as it appeared Tiverton were getting on top so the tide turned again and O’Brien once again cruised free and onto a long clearance from his goalkeeper, in behind Concanen and face just with Wright. Inside the area O’Brien pulled the trigger, a low shot which Wright was able to block with his legs and deflect over the crossbar, the ball looping agonisingly too late from a Hungerford point of view. The corned was cleared thanks to Tom Gardner but back came the Crusaders – Gray cross, Pugh header… Pugh wasn’t going to score today, off Tasker and away. Down to the other end and Faux was tripped by Jack just outside the area. Taylor fancied it and so he should have such was the angle, but Strudley kept his eye on the ball and his body behind it to avert the danger. And then he was able to watch as Faux’s shot went wide after Pearse had dubiously broken the offside trap and crossed from the right.

Then it happened, that moment of magic, that high quality play which won the game. But it was nothing of the sort, rather just another attack that seemed to have fizzled out with a shot from distance that was perfectly innocuous. Typically it saw Hungerford feed the ball out to O’Brien, and this time his cross was pulled back to just beyond the penalty area where, heaven knows why, John had advanced from his left-back slot. There were bodies in front of him and no obvious passing options so John clipped in a shot that lacked any real venom and should have been easy picking from Wright. But the ball was wet and goalkeepers don’t like wet balls; two hands on the shot but a body not behind it, the ball squirmed through Wright’s gloves, fell over his shoulder and dropped into the net. And that was the way the game was won. Poor Wright had made two very good saves to keep Tivvy in the match and then one error to lose it. Who would be a goalkeeper?

For the final twenty minutes Tivvy did everything in their power to get back on level terms. They attacked as much as the elements would allow them and Hungerford defended with equal diligence. Howe broke though and completely miss-hit a shot from eighteen yards, and then found himself in again from Faux’s pass but lashed the ball into the side-netting when he had better options. For Tivvy fans it was great to see Howe back in the team, and his movement was excellent in the time he was on the pitch, but sadly his finishing touch was missing on this occasion. Pearse was playing more through the middle rather than the channels and as such found himself crowded out quickly, but I was his ball into the area that almost set up Kendall for a late chance, only for the referee to halt play and penalise the Town captain for handball. Incensed, Kendall was booked for his protests, his third caution for dissent this season, which, aside from the result, was the only real point of concern to come out of the afternoon. Scott Rees was booked for a foul on Faux in added time, and Jack’s challenge on Howe went unpenalised and therefore without a 94th minute penalty as Hungerford held on and hit the top of the table.

Hungerford Town: Paul Strudley, Matt Jack, Diak John, Jon Boardman, Matt Day, Luke Brewer, Bradley Grey (Harry Goodger 84), Scott Rees, Ben Pugh (Luke Hopper 84), Mark Draycott, Alan O’Brien
Goal: John 70
Booked: Rees 90
Sent off: None

Tiverton Town: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Lewis Tasker, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Tom Gardner, Andy Taylor, Alex Faux, Michael Nardiello (Dave Pearse 55), Joe Bushin (Owen Howe 55), Josh Searle
Booked: Bushin 23, Kendall 88
Sent off: None

Attendance: 115

This report ©2012 Alan Reidy