Monday, 19 March 2018

Thatcham Town 1 1874 Northwich 0

Buildbase FA Vase Semi Final First Leg, Saturday 17th March 2018

Ross Cook's early penalty saw the hosts win this first leg tie against 1874 Northwich and take a slender lead up to Cheshire for the second leg next weekend.

Both teams were welcomed onto the field by a good crowd of 1,134, with a few hundred noisy visiting fans making up that figure, as they and the players endured snowy freezing conditions at Waterside Park.

And Thatcham took the game to their opponents early on and were awarded a fourth minute penalty after a clear foul inside the box, and Cook stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way and the Berkshire hosts had the perfect start to this one.

The home side continued to have the better of the opening exchanges and saw a couple of efforts go straight at the keeper, and it took the visitors the best part of fifteen minutes to register their first attempt at goal, forcing a decent save from the hosts keeper.

In the 21st minute the visitors were screaming for a spot kick of their own after they claimed a foul inside the box, however the referee waived their claims away, although from my angle it looked like a foul.

The visitors by now were having a decent spell and putting plenty of pressure on the home side, but they couldn't find a way past a solid Thatcham back line.

And after a ten minute spell from the visitors, the hosts almost doubled their lead in the 34th minute but saw a decent curling effort tipped wide by the keeper.

A couple of minutes after that a defensive mistake from the hosts almost saw Northwich level in comical circumstances, when a clearence struck a defender and almost went in, before two minutes after that the Northwich keeper had to make a brilliant save to deny the hosts again.

The hosts then saw another effort go straight at the keeper before Northwich had a great chance to level three minutes before the break when they found themselves in on goal, but saw the keeper save with his legs and thwart them.

The hosts then missed a golden chance right on half time, seeing the keeper save with his legs and the ball shoot across goal agonisingly just ahead of players coming in for a tap in. It did mean the hosts went into the break a goal ahead.

Half Time Thatcham Town 1 1874 Northwich 0

The hosts started the second period much like the first, on the front foot, but they were unable to take advantage of this pressure put on the Northwich goal.

In fact the visitors hardly threatened the Thatcham net until midway through the half, although it was a decent opening which saw the keeper make a pretty good stop to keep the hosts in front.

The second half in general though was fairly quiet and and scrappy, with not alot of quality on show, although with what was on the line, this wasn't entirely surprising. The conditions were not helping much either, with the occasional blizzard making things interesting to say the least.

With several minutes remaining the visitors started the put some pressure on the Thatcham backline and did see a free header loop wide of the target, however they didn't really test the keeper and after that Thatcham saw out the remainder of the contest to take the victory.

Not the best of games to be honest, but it's a one goal lead for Thatcham to take up to Cheshire next weekend, with the tie far from over. Should be another tightly fought contest no doubt.

Full Time Thatcham Town 1 1874 Northwich 0

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Portsmouth 1 Gillingham 3

SkyBet League One, Saturday 10th March 2018

Two Lee Martin goals plus one from Conor Wilkinson saw Gillingham turn this match around in the second period to defeat Portsmouth at Fratton Park and pick up a welcome three points in the process.

The hosts were going through a poor run of form lately and came into this game in 11th, still within striking distance of the playoffs though, whilst The Gills were in s similar run of form themselves and sat one place behind Pompey knowing a win would take them above the home side.

A decent atmosphere awaited both sides prior to kick off and the hosts went close early on when Ben Close struck a long range effort wide of the visitors goal, before the visitors ball into the hosts box caused problems down the other end, however keeper Luke McGee was awarded a free-kick to advert the danger.

Moments later Pompey went close when a good ball into the near post from Anton Walkes saw Jamal Lowe nod over from close range, before Kal Naismith then let fly from thirty yards out and saw his effort flash inches past the post on the quarter hour mark.

However the hosts did grab the lead in the 19th minute as after Dion Donohue and Naismith had combined to slip the ball to Lowe, the latter managed to find space to slam a brilliant effort into the roof of the net and the hosts had a deserved lead in this one.

And eight minutes later Lowe had a terrific chance to double Pompey’s lead when he was sent through on goal by Naismith, but he took too much time seizing up the opportunity and Luke O’Neill got back to make a fine tackle to avert the danger, but it was a great chance for the hosts to take complete control of this one.

The hosts continued to be the better side in the first half though, showing great energy and commitment, which the home crowd certainly appreciated, and six minutes before the break Lowe, who had had a great half, beat his man and handed the baton onto Naismith who could only blaze his effort high over the bar.

Naismith then had another effort at the visitors goal late in the half, but saw it go straight at Tomas Holy, however the half time whistle brought a standing ovation for the hosts, who had been brilliant in the first forty five, and had a lead to take into the second half although it could have been more.

Half Time Portsmouth 1 Gillingham 0

Whatever was said in the visitors dressing at half time galvanized the Gills, as they came out with much more purpose.  No doubt the home side were told to just keep doing what they had been doing and don’t concede an early goal in the second period.

Well The Gills brought on ex-Pompey loanee Conor Wilkinson at half time and two and a half minutes into the half he brought his side level in terrific fashion, beating a couple of defenders before producing an expert finish into the bottom corner, and you felt the momentum had suddenly shifted towards the visitors.

The 1,551 Gills fans behind the goal, who had been largely quiet for the first half, were now dancing around and fancied their team to go on and turn this one around.  The majority of the 18,247 however were thinking here we go again, and were hoping the hosts could whether this early second half storm from the Gills.

And in the 58th minute the hosts so nearly re-took the lead when after winning a free-kick just outside the box, Connor Rohan took a quick one and saw his effort thump against the post with keeper Holy totally beaten.  It was a pivotal moment in the game as I felt that if Pompey had retaken the lead, they could of gone on and won this game.

However just eight minutes later it was the Gills who took the lead to turn this game around as a cross from Martin evaded everyone inside the box and saw an unsighted McGee palm the ball into the corner of the net and send the large Gills contingent behind the goal into raptures again.

The home fans could not believe it, their team looked so good in the first half but were now chasing the game, and with eighteen minutes left saw Close fire a twenty-five yarder just off target as the hosts desperately tried to find a leveller.

But it got worse for the hosts and even better for the Gills with ten minutes to go when Martin picked the ball up outside the box and curled a wonderful effort beyond McGee and cue a mass exodus of Pompey fans who had seen enough.  It had looked so good for the hosts at half time but this second half had been a disaster for them and they were heading for another home defeat.

The hosts huffed and puffed to try and get back into the game, but the visiting defence held firm and the frustration in and around Fratton Park was for all to see and hear, they were not happy with what they had seen second half with many questioning the manager and the owners. 

Wilkinson almost rubbed salt into the already gaping Pompey wounds in stoppage time, seeing his angled drive saved by McGee, however the full time whistle was met by boos from the home support who were left in the stadium, and their poor run of form continues, whilst the win for Gillingham sees them go above Pompey into 11th.

It was most certainly a game of two halves that’s for sure, however both sides still are within striking distance of the playoffs so all is not lost yet.  But you feel the hosts need a win desperately to restore confidence after this second half would have no doubt drained any they had gained in the opening forty-five minutes.  Time to stick together again, just like they have done throughout the dark times over the last few years.

Full Time Portsmouth 1 Gillingham 3

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Southend United 0 Walsall 3

SkyBet League One, Saturday 3rd March 2018

Erhun Oztumer netted a second half hat-trick as Walsall took all three points at Roots Hall against a poor Southend United on a cold March afternoon on the Essex Coast.

It was a miracle that this game even took place after freezing and snowy conditions had blanketed the Essex coast in the week leading up to the game, but with hundreds of volunteers coming down to help clear the pitch and covers of snow, the game was declared on and they hoped their side could continue their decent form under Chris Powell.

The Blues came into this one unbeaten in five under new boss Powell, who had replaced Phil Brown, and with wins over Scunthorpe, Peterborough, Wigan and Portsmouth, things were looking up for the home side.

Walsall came onto this one off the back of two successive losses against Blackburn and Peterborough so knew a win was needed to get their season going in the right direction once again, although with the news midfielder Joe Edwards would be ruled out for the remainder of the season after damaging knee ligaments against Blackburn was a blow.

So advantage Southend then you’d say?  Well the first chance of the game fell the hosts way when Cox had an attempt on target which Liam Roberts got down to save, and on thirteen minutes the Blues went close again through Ladapo, who headed over a Harrison cross from close range, and then two minutes later Cox flicked a header at goal but it went into the hands of Roberts.

Despite this though it had been a rather scrappy opening half hour but on the half hour mark Blues had another opening when Yearwood blocked a clearance and almost poked beyond Roberts, but the Saddlers keeper managed to save the effort, and with eight minutes of the half left Walsall saw a NGoy effort blocked by Turner.

The visitors ended the half strongly and so nearly took the lead five minutes before half time when Morris curled an effort from the edge of the box inches wide of the far post, it was certainly the best chance of the half, however it meant the half would end goalless, a relatively quiet half where both sides knew they needed to step it up.

Half Time Southend United 0 Walsall 0

The Blues so nearly took the lead four minutes into the second half when a superb cross from Demetriou to the back post found Harrison, who sadly for the Blues could only fire over, and then a couple of minutes later it was Walsall’s turn to go close when Kouhyar’s drive from range trickled just wide of the post.

Nine minutes into the half a good move involving Harrison saw an eventual effort from Yearwood go straight at Roberts, as the fast start to the second half continued to threaten the breakthrough.

Now Walsall’s attacking midfielder, Oztumer, had been Walsall’s main threat up till now, and it was no surprise when he was the one to break the deadlock in the 57th minute when he cut inside onto his left foot, strike an effort at goal, and saw it hit a bobble and wrong foot keeper Oxley and find the net to give the Saddlers the advantage.

The Blues tried to respond and on the hour mark saw a free kick cleared before Cox and McLaughlin got in each others way from another cross and it drifted harmlessly out for a goal kick, much the the frustration of the majority of the 6,413 crowd inside Roots Hall.

It was a different story for the 119 Walsall fans who had made the journey as in the 65th minute they won a free kick in a decent position, and saw the magnificent Oztumer step up and curl a beauty of a free kick over the wall and into the bottom corner of the net, and the Saddlers now had a two goal lead.

Dobson then curled another visitors free kick over the bar, before Oztumer had another free kick opportunity from an almost identical position to the one he scored, however this time keeper Oxley got down to save the effort and prevent the Walsall midfielder from getting his hat-trick.

However with five minutes remaining he was to complete his treble when poking home a Leahy cross from close range to seal the points for his side and complete a wonderful performance from the number ten.  Oztumer was subbed two minutes later and got applause from some of the home supporters as they knew he had been the best player on the pitch by a mile in this one.

The Blues tried to net a consolation and saw a Cox effort deflect just wide in the 90th minute, however it had been one of those days for the home side and saw Powell’s unbeaten start as boss end here.  A performance to forget for the Blues then, whilst for Walsall it was a brilliant victory which took them above the Blues in the table on goal difference.

Full Time Southend United 0 Walsall 3

Monday, 26 February 2018

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 3

Carabao Cup Final, Sunday 25th February 2018

Goals from Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva helped Manchester City to Carabao Cup glory as they saw off Arsenal at Wembley to keep their hopes of a treble well and truly alive.

City obviously went into this as favourites although the last time these two had met at Wembley, last seasons FA Cup Semi Final, the Gunners came out on top in that one, and with Arsene Wenger yet to win the league cup, this added another plot to this final.

City boss Pep Guardiola was also looking for his first trophy at the club and with over 85,000 at Wembley for this one, the atmosphere was electric as the teams took to the field. 

City began in the front foot and saw a Leroy Sane effort blocked before Aguero saw a low shot diverted away from goal.   But then on eight minutes the Gunners should of taken the lead when Aaron Ramsey poked a pass through to Mesut Ozil and the German picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the far post, and he looked destined to score but the striker scuffed his shot from inside the six-yard box and was brilliantly kept out by a sprawling Claudio Bravo. Kyle Walker did well to put the pressure on Aubameyang though and this may have contributed to the miss.  However it was a massive let off for City.

In the 9th minute City broke down the other end but Aguero could only slice an effort into the side netting. It had been end-to-end stuff in the opening ten minutes at Wembley.

And four minutes later Arsenal were asking for a penalty when Nacho Monreal went down in the box under a Vincent Kompany challenge, however no penalty was given, and no VAR required, which was available to the officials in this final.

But in the 18th minute the deadlock was broken, and it was City who grabbed the opener,  as after goalkeeper Bravo had pumped a ball up field, Aguero nudged Shkodran Mustafi off the ball, raced through into the box and lobbed the onrushing David Ospina for City goal number 199 for the Argentine.  Not the best defending from the Arsenal man and his side now had to come from behind if they were to gain victory in this one.

Six minutes later Arsenal tried to respond when clever play from Ramsey saw him drill a low free-kick under the wall, but it was well gathered by Bravo at the near post and then just before the half hour mark Kompany powered a header over the Arsenal crossbar as they went looking for a second.

Aguero then flicked a header over the bar ten minutes before the break before a minute later Arsenal's Aubameyang, who looked like he was through on goal, saw Kompany show good pace to track back and dispossess the Gunners striker and thwart what could of been a leveller.

However five minutes before the break City came close to a second as Aguero managed to evade Mustafi once again before he chipped a ball towards the far post which was cleared off the line by Laurent Koscielny before Kevin de Bruyne smashed the follow-up into the sidenetting.  It meant this final was still delicately balanced as we reached half time.

Half Time Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1

City came out of the blocks quickly in the second period and saw a ball fall to skipper Kompany on the edge of the box, but his low shot was blocked by Koscielny and dropped inches wide of the goal.  Kompany thought it was in and held his head in his hands in dispair.

Ten minutes into the half a long ball forward from Gunners full back Hector Bellerin set Aubameyang through. There was then big confusion between Walker and keeper Bravo, who has sprinted miles off his line and then took an airshot at the ball, however the ball did not drop kindly for Aubameyang and he was eventually flagged for a foul.

But then in the 57th minute City, who had looked likely to double their lead, did just that when Ilkay Gundogan's shot across the area was diverted into the net by a clever Kompany finish and it cued wild celebrations amongst all that was Blue, it was certainly a popular goal from the their legend that was Kompany.

And just seven minutes later City all but ended this contest when defender Danilo danced across the Arsenal backline and played in David Silva, and the Spaniard turned Calum Chambers, looked up and drilled a low finish past David Ospina into the far corner and the Blues were cruising this one now.  It was too much for some Arsenal fans who began leaving after this goal.

You felt City could easily go on and totally embarass a now shot Arsenal side, and with twenty minutes remaining Sane burst in from the left, past Mustafi, but then lost control at the final second and keeper Ospina managed to dive at the feet of the attacker and gather the ball.

Arsenal tried to at least give the remaining Gunners fan's inside the stadium something to cheer, and with fifteen minutes left saw Granit Xhaka send a long-range effort just over the crossbar, and then three minutes later a rare mistake from City at the back saw Nicolas Otamendi miss a through ball, however Aubameyang could not get on the end of it as Bravo came to collect it.

And alas that was the final moment in the contest as City comfortably saw the game out to take what in the end was a routine victory over a poor Arsenal side, especially second half.  Manchester City won the Carabao Cup and it was Guardiola's first trophy as City manager. You would expect a few more to follow.

For Arsenal this was a humbling experience and leaves them now with just the Europa League to contend for realistically.  The fallout from this one has already begun with many yet again calling for Wenger to go, and on this showing you can't blame them for that, it's gone stale at the Arsenal which for a club like that is very sad to see.

Full Time Arsenal 0 Manchester City 3