Saturday, November 17, 2012

Town back on winning trail

Guisborough Town 3 – 0 Durham City

Last week, the mercurial West Indian batsman Chris Gayle made cricketing history when he blasted the first ball of a test match for six. This had never happened in the sport’s 145 year history and made headlines around the world. This morning, Ian Bell – a rather less imposing but nonetheless talented cricketer – made an ill conceived attempt to smash the first ball of his innings back over the bowler’s head and succeeded only in top edging it into a jubilant fielder’s hands. Whilst Gayle looked imperious, Bell’s effort was lambasted by commentators and former players. The margins between success and failure in sport can be incredibly slim. When things go badly wrong, it can be difficult to recover a situation.

Today’s football match between Guisborough and Durham may not make local sporting headlines, never mind being splattered across the broadsheets and red tops, but there was a moment in today’s game which arguably tipped it in the direction of Guisborough. An even first period had seen Guisborough lead through Austin Johnston’s bullet header, as he leapt like an Atlantic Salmon navigating Scotland’s River Blackwater to head home. Then Durham equalised. At least, they thought they had. But the goal was chalked off for an apparent tug on a Guisborough defender. This was Durham’s top edge moment. Their protests suggested that they felt more than a little hard done by and had the game been level at half-time the outcome could have been different.
Durham came out for the second half clearly pumped up and determined to put right their perceived sense of injustice. They looked to pass the ball and carved openings, but they couldn’t find the net, despite some near misses. What was warming up to be a close, fiery and competitive encounter was emphatically doused with two Guisborough goals in quick succession. Both oozed quality.  Lewis Wood turned his marker inside out before driving the ball across for the diminutive Michael Roberts to stroke the ball home.  Having been dealt a blow, Durham were undeterred and immediately sprung an attack. But as the attack broke down and Guisborough broke from defence, a long ball was played over the top for Roberts. Like a greyhound released from its traps, Roberts gained ground on the defender with every step. It only happened in a nano-second, but I knew that the defender was done for. Sensing Roberts’ breath on his neck, he made the cardinal error of taking half a glance back over his shoulder to see just close Roberts was. The moment could not be recovered. By the time the visiting defender had turned around again, Roberts was ahead of him and in on goal. Left with little option, Durham’s visiting keeper left his line to narrow the angle. But the Guisborough attacker had momentum and his minor and deliberate diversion to the goalkeeper’s left gave him an open goal into which to place his shot. Where Ian Bell had failed, Guisborough momentarily looked as though they had succeeding in hitting the opposition for six. From a position where Durham conceivably could have been level, they were now swaying on the ropes and threatening to hit the canvas.

But credit must go to the visitors, for they did not capitulate. They have had a turbulent time of late after voluntary demotion to the Northern League at the end of last season and a new manager in recent weeks in the form of Adam Furness. But things have been looking up, with four consecutive wins prior to today’s game. You could see why.  The three goal margin perhaps suggests that the game was won comfortably, but Durham more than played their part and on a different day the scoreline may have been a lot closer. They continued to press forward and home keeper Dixon had to be alert several times to ensure a clean sheet. For Guisborough manager Chris Hardy, the clinical manner in which the goals were taken will be of particular pleasure. There have been times this season where Guisborough have dominated possession but not taken their chances. The three goal cushion allowed him to use his full quota of substitutes, safe in the knowledge that the game was all but won.    
Durham is famed for its university – listed as one of the top 100 universities in the world – and in turning to Adam Furness the football club have turned to a leading light in Durham University sport, for Furness is the Head coach and First Team Coach as well as an FA tutor in charge of coach education. They play football and with a touch more finesse in front of goal, they will win a lot of games.

For Guisborough, this was three well-earned points. This week they have played two games in three days against university based Team Northumbria and today’s fixture against Durham.  A win was very welcome. Whilst the display was not quite of first class vintage, Guisborough more than passed with honours.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A rare draw as Town net late goal

Team Northumbria 1 – 1 Guisborough Town

It’s sometimes stressful, can be exciting, occasionally frustrating but never boring watching Guisborough. By 10th November you would expect that after twenty three games a side might have drawn a game. Not Guisborough. There have been many wins, several defeats and nothing at all in between. Breaking their acquired convention of all or nothing, today Guisborough snatched a late equalizer against Team Northumbria. It might have been a draw, but it was most definitely a point gained. Travelling up to Team Northumbria’s Coach Lane ground is never easy. It becomes a touch more difficult when you have to make a repeat journey for a League Cup game in two days time. The visitors will hope to finish where they left off. In a rousing final twenty minutes Guisborough snatched a goal from the spot and could have sneaked a winner. But a draw was as much as they deserved, for having dominated the beginning and end of the game, the home side controlled the middle stages and should have been more than a goal up before Town equalized.

Last season Chris Hardy listed Team Northumbria as one of his favourite grounds. Whilst the ground hardly bursts with atmosphere, it is modern, well kept and the pitch is perfect for passing. It is the latter characteristic which is most likely to appeal to Hardy, whose teams play football that is easy on the eye. As Brian Clough once noted, if God wanted football to be played in the sky he would have put goalposts in the clouds. On a clear day, there were few clouds and few balls lumped forward in an airborne fashion. Both sides looked to maintain possession and patient build up was the name of the game. For the first half an hour Guisborough controlled possession but moves frequently broke down in the final third and goalmouth action was as rare as a Neville Southall diet regime. As the half wore on, Team Northumbria began to look more threatening. In Peter Watling they have a centre forward that only needs the slightest sniff of goal to remain interested. A controversial free kick was awarded to the home side twenty five yards out. Watling – economical in his run up – clipped the ball into the top corner. The ball zipped in, kissing the back of the net and rippling in the corner. It was a moment of quality you might expect from a man that scored 39 league goals in last year’s promotion winning season.

Whilst Guisborough began the second half with positive intent, they struggled to break down the home defence. If anything, Team Northumbria looked the more likely to score again. A change was needed and Chris Hardy threw on Steel and McPhillips as a double substitution. After his midweek hat-trick, Steel was brimming with confidence. His physical presence up front caused panic in the home defence and as is so often the case when a side is defending a slender advantage, they fell into the trap of defending too deeply and inviting pressure. Another factor in Guisborough’s late showing was Lewis Wood. Despite playing for the whole game, Wood was starved of possession for much of the time. When he was finally given the chance to run with the ball, his quick feet and direct running caused problems. The late pressure eventually yielded a result. McPhillips calmly slotted home from the spot as a visiting attacker was scythed down. There were more shots wide, more scrambles and more hoofed clearances. But if Guisborough had half an eye on grabbing a winner, they were left relieved in the final seconds when the home side spurned a chance to win it as the ball slid narrowly wide of Ben Escritt’s goal. Sherlock’s hands went to his head as he watched his effort go wide. On a different day he may have passed the ball to his strike partner, for whom it would have been a lot easier - a genuine case of elementary, my dear Watling.  

Both sides trudged off, perhaps considering what might have been. As Guisborough headed down the A19 they may have been contemplating whether or not to even bother going home. With two games in three days at the same location, there was the threat of more repeats than Channel 4’s Come Dine with me. Both sides will reflect that with better service, they too may have been celebrating victory. There’s plenty to chew on before Monday’s next encounter.