Saturday was a big game for Smithswood Firs with the chance of a Semi-Final berth up for grabs. Barton United were always going to be a tough opponent but the team was confident in their ability to get the win they wanted going into the game.
Paul Ryder was hoping to name the same side that beat Barton United last week but Lee Sayer was unsure until late whether he could get out of work so new signing Daniel Wall got the nod over him as Sayer arrived just before kick-off so took his spot on the bench. The bench was probably the strongest it has been for some time with Captain Craig Thomas returning, Carl Thompson, Lee Sayer, Adam Reece and Scott Clarke.
The Lions lined up with the following;
1. Harry Gardiner
2. Anthony Short
3. Nathan Leek
4. Jack Duffy
5. Adam Rooke
6. Ashley Weeks
7. Daniel Charlton
8. Sam Hulme
9. Daniel Wall
10. Curtis Thomas (Capt)
11. Aaron Anderson
Manager Paul Ryder and all the back room staff were really buzzing about the game and Ryder got across how important the game was in the club’s season as cup run’s have been one thing missing in their history. They are now playing the best football ever under Ryder and are still in the Quarter Finals of the Les James Challenge Cup and the last 32 of the Birmingham County Vase as well as being 2nd in the league with a game in hand to go top. Ryder was sure Barton United would come out battling after last weeks 5-2 defeat in the Les James Challenge Cup to his team so they had to guard against complacency and go into the game with the same mind-set as the week before and forget about the 5-2 win.
Smithswood started really well in the first fifteen minutes and had two really good chances to take the lead first through Sam Hulme as Danny Charlton picked him out in the box and then Charlton himself from a Daniel Wall cross. The keeper saved both shots to keep the home side out.
Both teams had half chances in the first half as both looked to gain control of the midfield. Barton had a decent chance when they beat the off-side trap leaving the defenders stood with their arms in the air claiming but the defence recovered well to get back and clear the ball.
The home side finally managed to take one of their chances eight minutes before half-time and it was well worth waiting for. Adam Rooke curled a pass from the back over the defence for Danny Charlton to try and get on the end of. He managed to outpace the defender and hit an absolute screamer from 25 yards which whistled over the keeper at his near post leaving him no chance.
The goal knocked Barton back a bit and Smithswood had a great finish to the half as they pressed on for the second which came four minutes later. Anthony Short whipped a cross in which Sam Hulme met ahead of the defender. It looked like his header might go wide of the post but the keeper somehow managed to deflect it in. As we don’t like own goals Sam Hulme is claiming it to take him into double figures for the season.
The second half was very much like last week in that Barton United came out firing and dominated a lot of the possession. Smithswood worked really hard to keep them out. Harry Gardiner made some smart saves and Anthony Short, Adam Rooke, Jack Duffy and Nathan Leek were excellent defending as Barton really penned them back early on.
Barton’s pressure told in the end as they diverted a cross into the bottom corner giving Gardiner no chance to make it 2-1 with twenty-five minutes to go giving the cup game a real edge of excitement.
One thing Paul Ryder didn’t really have last week was options on the bench but this week he did and was able to change things around. Lee Sayer was already on for Daniel Wall who had a great first game back and Ryder then bought Carl Thompson and Craig Thomas on to bolster up the midfield. The subs really worked as Craig Thomas sat in front of the back four and kept possession of the ball spreading passes wide to start attacks and slow the game down to stop Barton’s possession which worked really well. Curtis Thomas was unleashed wide with Carl Thompson and Ash Weeks sitting in front of Craig Thomas making them really hard to break down at the end.
As Smithswood shut down Barton United in the last fifteen minutes it looked like the game was going to stay at 2-1 until a crazy couple of minutes right at the end. Lee Sayer took advantage of a mix up at the back to walk the ball in for 3-1 followed a minute later by another great strike from Danny Charlton from a Curtis Thomas pass. Charlton hit a bullet of a shot which beat the keeper and secured Smithswood’s place in the Semi-Finals.
The 4-1 score line flattered the home side a little at the end as for 90 minutes it was a tight affair and Barton United have to be commended again like last week for their efforts in making this another entertaining battling game between the two teams.
Midfield was where the battle took place and Curtis Thomas and Ash Weeks won the battle for most of the game and then the change to add more defensive players like Craig Thomas and Carl Thompson on helped them control the game at the end. Weeks was named Man of the Match by management as his range of passing was fantastic and he broke so many attacks up but like last week several players could easily have got it. Anthony Short was possibly the best player on the pitch in the second half as he read the game perfectly and managed to balance defence and attack brilliantly and was involved in so much of what was good by Smithswood. Adam Rooke was solid throughout the whole game reading attacks well and alongside Jack Duffy they are a tough partnership at the heart of the defence. Danny Charlton hit two fantastic strikes as him and Sam Hulme are forming a great partnership now he is playing in his favoured role up front.
When people watch entertaining games like this the goals and the attacking chances stand out as well as any errors but one thing that sometimes goes unnoticed is the hard work and effort put in by the players especially at this time of the year on heavy pitches. Saturday was no different as everyone who played 90 minutes came off that pitch exhausted as well as the players substituted before the end. Aaron Anderson is one player who week in week out puts so much in with his defensive and attacking work and yesterday was no different, Sam Hulme came off saying he couldn’t get into the game as the ball wasn’t coming into feet because of the wind but he chased everything down despite that and pressed high when Barton had the ball and Daniel Wall had a great first game back with some exciting runs and tracking back. Everyone played their part and put the effort in and it was a great team performance that got the win in the end
Everyone at the club seems to be working together whether that’s on or off the pitch and morale is high and the performances being put in are top notch at the moment. They have won 11 of the last 12 games and play a great attacking brand of football which is great to watch for the fans.
Focus switches back to the important matter of the league next week with a trip to Coventrians. We have played them twice already this season in league and cup losing 2-1 in the league early on and winning 5-0 in the cup. Three points are important especially with 1st v 3rd next week as Leamington Hibernian take on Redditch Borough so a win will move us away from one or both of them depending on the result. We have been lucky with both Leamington’s league games being postponed the past two weeks while we were in the cup as they could have been 7 points ahead with us having three games in hand but it still stands at 1 point with one game in hand. It is all in our own hands with lots of football to play as we are not even half way through the season yet.