Saturday, March 10, 2012

Terrific Town share the spoils

Spennymoor Town 1 - 1 Guisborough Town

On paper, Spennymoor should beat most (if not all teams) at this level. Of course, football is played on grass, not paper. But the other place it is most definitely played is in the mind. Both teams came into this game on the back of two contrasting mid-week experiences. Buoyed by their deserved derby win against Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor will have fully expected to have beaten a Guisborough side that had the chastening experience of a 7-0 home drubbing against West Auckland. In many ways, the midweek results may have had a lot to do with today’s game ending in a draw. Guisborough needed to bounce back after Wednesday’s bump in the road. Such a comprehensive scoreline is eyecatching, but beneath the surface lay a series of sub-plots. Guisborough had matched West over the first forty minutes, before two dismissals saw a nine man Guisborough side succumb to the attacking flair of their high flying visitors. I was not at the Guisborough game on Wednesday. In fact, I was at Spennymoor watching them host their local rivals Bishop Auckland. An electric atmosphere was not matched by the first-half football, which felt disjointed and scrappy. The second half was a different proposition and Spennymoor fully merited their win as they carved out numerous openings in the second period.

Naturally, Spennymoor fans will have thought that whatever West can do, we can do better having digested the news of Guisborough’s thrashing. But this defeat had been an anomaly within recent months; prior to Wednesday’s game, Guisborough were second in the form table. The midweek scores only served to heighten Spennymoor’s expectations and lower those of any travelling Guisborough fans.

The first half began evenly, but it was Spennymoor who did the early pressing. Against Bishop Auckland, Moors’ midfielder Keith Graydon had stood out. In appearance he is a blend of Paul Scholes and Gary McAllister; in his movements and general play this forging of footballers is not a bad comparison either. The ball would arrive at Graydon’s feet and he would dink it over the full back for wingers to run on to, play it into forward Sonny Andrews’ feet or would merely drop the ball off into former Middlesbrough midfielder Anthony Peacock’s path for him to make darting runs. Whilst the play was attractive and easy on the eye, it lacked punch. Twice these neat interchanges nearly conjured a goal. Richardson raced clear and had his shot blocked, before Andrews shrugged off a defensive challenge only to see his goal-bound effort brilliantly tipped around the post. Aside from this, Spennymoor found the visitors difficult to break down. Another feature of their midweek play had been the marauding runs of full back Jamie Harwood. Blessed with a good engine and no little skill, Harwood overlapped on several occasions against Bishop Auckland and was a constant threat. Today, a feature of Guisborough’s play was their willingness to defend from the front. Blackford on the left and Roberts on the right offered superb protection to their fullbacks as they closed down, harried and restricted Harwood in particular to his own half.

To go in level at half-time would have been a terrific effort by Guisborough, so to lead at the interval was beyond all expectations. From their first attacking move of note, the ball broke to Jamie Poole thirty yards out. His first touch took the ball away from him, but as the home defence backed off, Poole thundered a left-footed thunderbolt against the underside of
the bar and into the net.

It was fully expected that Spennymoor would regroup and rethink at half-time. Yet the first ten minutes of the second half saw the visitors have their best spell. Had it not been for a brilliant one-handed save from home keeper Robert Dean, Guisborough’s lead would have been extended as Wood shot from distance.

As the hour mark passed, some initial disgruntlement from Spennymoor fans turned to genuine irritation. This was mirrored in the home players; passes went astray, moves broke down and players tried things that were never likely to come off. All footballer supporters are in part guilty of only seeing the game through the eyes of their own team, but it is particularly the case when they support a side so talented and used to winning. It is easy for us all to fall into the trap of recognising our own team’s faults and shortcomings. ‘Why are we not beating this
lot?’ becomes the mindset. ‘We must be playing poorly’ is inevitably the response. But teams can often only play as well as they are allowed to play. An international batsmen who is starved of hittable deliveries to score from often then resorts to rash, illogical shots that precipitate his downfall. When the dismissal occurs, it looks horrible and blame falls on the batsman. This ignores the hard work done in the balls and overs beforehand as the player is gradually ground down and coerced into making an error. So it was with Spennymoor’s players. They were pressed, harried and closed down and despite their total dominance in possession, they struggled to fashion many clear cut opportunities. Despite this, an equaliser still felt somewhat inevitable and when it arrived, the build up reminded me of everything that Spennymoor had done well in their midweek win. Harwood finally broke free of his marker down the right and he squared the ball for Richardson to tap into an empty net. It was made to look simple. It was simple. Football generally is and so often we're guilty of overcomplicating it.

There was every chance that the momentum of a goal might have sparked Spennymoor into life. But like a gas hob struggling to ignite, they flickered momentarily before the same pattern of play resumed. Weaker minds and teams with lesser spirit may have crumbled against such formidable opposition after the midweek debacle. Quite rightly, the visiting supporters celebrated the sound of the final whistle as though greeting a victory. Context is everything in sport. For Spennymoor, this was points lost in their quest for a hat-trick of League titles. For Guisborough, incredibly they have now taken more points from Spennymoor (four) than any
other side so far this season. Whilst the league formalities between the two sides are now at a close, Wednesday evening brings the two teams together again in the League cup at Guisborough’s King George V ground. For Jason Ainsley’s side, they will feel that it is an opportunity to reassert themselves and a case of third time lucky. As a Guisborough fan, I barely dare to hope that these things come in threes.

On a final note, it has to be said what a hospitable, friendly club Spennymoor are. They play football in the right way, there are no histrionics from their players or manager and they are extremely well run. Several home supporters were friendly and balanced at the end of the game as they chatted about the result. This approach was mirrored on the pitch as neither side picked up a single yellow card during the course of the game.

Like the result, I wouldn’t have predicted that at the start of the game either, had you asked me.

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