Sunday 22nd April 2007
By Vince Wray
Our closest rivals to the league title were today’s opponents, we had already beaten them 1-0 away and if we could manage the same feat today then we knew they would not be able to finish on more points than us come the end of the season. This was almost like a play-off to see who could win the league. However it should not be forgotton that we still have one more league game left in which we must pick up 1 point or more to be outright champions.
The ground was rock hard and the sun was beating down, not ideal as we’ve mentioned in previous reports. We had a long discussion pre-match about the usual levels of commitment required and that an average performance today would not win the game. The biggest talking point was about the need to control and pass the ball sharply and keep it on the floor. And you know how difficult that can be when the ground’s a bit bumpy and firm.
We took kick off, made about six passes all along the ground before losing possession, they run down our left flank, cross the ball in, Milner flaps at it and their left sided player comes in to poke the ball over the line – about 30 seconds gone. Their player had an awkward fall on the goal line area and was in a lot of pain, an ambulance had to be called. It was later found out that he had an operation and had fractured his ankle in two places. This delay took about 10 minutes. The game restarted and it was obvious we were shaken and were struggling. Their next attack again saw us lose out down our left, their player picking the ball up on the edge of the box and thundering a brilliant angled volley past Milner who had no chance, but no decent attempt was made to close the player down. 0-2 down about 15 minutes played and performing like a collection of Stevie Wonders.
We eventually decided to rally back, we got passing the ball and we did it with great skill. They were only playing three centre backs with their ‘wing backs’ pushed up into midfield. Trying to get the ball wide behind those advanced backs was a must. Page and Hunt’s pace upfront was causing them problems as we expected. Bridges cut in from the left and let fly with a swerving effort from the edge of the box – top corner, no problem. We were in the ascendancy now. Just a few minutes later Hunt made a bursting run into the left channel and then crossed for Page to volley home from inside the area. We were racing and their heads were dropping. A few minutes before half time Stevens floated in a free kick from the right and Hunt got the final touch at the far post to make it 3-2 at half-time.
It was a brilliant comeback, taking into account the importance of the game. You could see Sports thought that they had it won at 0-2 up and even at this stage were shell shocked. However it was only half time. The pace of the game slowed considerably in the 2nd half, the temperature obviously taking its toll on the players. And this worked to our advantage, the game was more sporadic and we looked to find the gaps on the counter attack as they needed to push for an equaliser.
We still looked dangerous on the attack but about half way through the 2nd half Milner had to make a brilliantly brave stop, coming out to smother an effort that seemed like it would be an equaliser for certain. That, alone, was worth a goal. It really was a fearless effort from Milner.
We were still in search of a fourth to give us a cushion and we found it, somewhat fortuitously. Wray, until now having a quiet day by his standards, manouvered some space down the right flank, left his full back trailing and crossed – well, er, shot. From the second it left his foot it looked like a decent cross but then swerved into the top left corner. What a relief. There was jubilation amongst the players and the spectators. Sports had their necks in the noose now and the trap door was only seconds away. Stevens floated a lovely free kick into the top corner in the closing minutes but the referee disallowed it for something, but we don’t why. It looked good enough to me. Sports lost their discipline a bit in the closing stages and picked up some unnecessary bookings and gave away some stupid fouls.
So, glory was ours, the very final act will come next week hopefully. Shaun Keddle was there snapping some pics at the end. Thanks Shaun. Their manager, Jim also came over to us to give congratulations, he must be the most popular opposition manager we’ve ever met, really decent bloke. Well done the lads, the final game must be of the same calibre just like the rest of the season has been. Dreamland is beckoning!!