A place in the Quarter Finals of the Les James Challenge Cup were at stake on a cold wet Saturday afternoon as Smithswood Firs travelled to Barton United for the 1330 kick-off.
The footballing Gods appeared to be against Paul Ryder’s team in the build up as player after player dropped out. He was already without Carl Thompson, Adam Reece, Tyrone Borland, Craig Thomas, Dan Russell and Lewis Cottrill but in the few hours before the game he also lost Scott Clarke and Liam Williams. As a result, he went with thirteen players in total with the two players on the bench not having much football under the belts this season.
Despite the lack of players, there was still an air of confidence throughout the backroom staff as they sat for their usual pre-game breakfast in the café. Ryder said its games like these where the starting eleven really dig deep and put on a performance and despite the lack of numbers, the starting eleven was really strong and capable of beating anyone.
Harry Gardiner was back in goal following some impressive displays in training and the warm ups in recent games. Cottrill has been carrying a knock and the manager was always going to give Harry his chance in this cup game before Cottrill pulled out with injury. The centre back partnership of Jack Duffy and Adam Rooke was very strong with Anthony Short at right back and Nathan Leek filling in on the left so it was a very strong back five with great ability on the ball.
Curtis Thomas led a midfield of Ash Weeks with Aaron Anderson and Lee Sayer in the wide position with Sam Hulme and Danny Charlton leading the attack.
The game started at a fiery pace in the first minute with Smithswood almost getting in down the right but Barton United broke quickly and were given too much time in the middle of the pitch and passed the ball through giving them an easy chance to take the lead which they didn’t waste. A lack of concentration by Smithswood led to the goal but they showed great character and took control of the game. They were getting great joy with Aaron Anderson and Lee Sayer wide and the back four just couldn’t handle the movement of Danny Charlton and Sam Hulme. After the goal the back four settled well and broke everything up that came at them with Nathan Leek impressing in the first half as he read the game perfectly and was able to step in and spray some great through balls. Anything that came over the top was cleared easily by Adam Rooke and Jack Duffy while Anthony Short was getting forward down the right to support Sayer and Charlton.
The Lions were back on level terms within five minutes of going behind. Leek read a forward ball perfectly and put a 30-yard ball right onto the chest of Sam Hulme in the area. Hulme had two players around him but cushioned the ball on his chest and fired across the keeper into the bottom of the corner.
Smithswood created lots of chances in the game and Nathan Leek and Jack Duffy went close with headers from corners in the first half while Adam Rooke hit the bar in the second. They took the lead just after twenty minutes from a corner. Curtis Thomas whipped it in but Barton were able to clear the ball which came straight back to Thomas. He fired a bullet of a cross over which came to Danny Charlton outside the area. He controlled it first time and skipped inside the defender and hit a vicious strike giving the keeper no chance. Charlton was having a great game playing up front in the position he prefers as him and Hulme left the Barton defence in no doubt that they were in for a tough ninety minutes.
It was 3-1 seven minutes before the break as Barton cleared the ball from a Smithswood attack. Anthony Short could easily have let the ball roll out for a throw in on the right but he kept in and turned to start another attack and keep the pressure on. He played the ball into Lee Sayer on the edge of the box who turned inside the defender and hit a left footed shot into the top corner taking a slight deflection on the way.
At half-time Smithswood were extremely happy as they had managed to nullify the extra man that Barton had in midfield and were able to dominate the play. The manager wanted the same level of pressing as they looked to force Barton into long balls by playing a high pressing game.
Barton United could easily have lost interest in the second half and allowed Smithswood to dominate the game and score at ease as Ash Weeks made it 4-1 a minute after the start following a Curtis Thomas corner which he headed towards goal as it deflected in of a defender. Barton re-grouped well though and were able to use the extra man in the middle much better and were by far the better team in the first twenty minutes after the break which was a credit to them and their manager.
On the hour Barton got their reward for their hard work as they hit Smithswood Firs on the counter and were able to slot the ball home following a great flowing move. Curtis Thomas wasn't his usual dominant self as the conditions didn't help his usual technical game but he showed another side of his game as he put a real shift in alongside Ash Weeks as they both worked tirelessly against the three man Barton midfield. Barton couldn’t make their possession count anymore though as Smithswood battled to get back on top in midfield and put the game out of site with a great flowing move. Sam Hulme dropped deep into the middle and threaded a great ball through for Aaron Anderson who calmly chipped the ball over the advancing keeper.
The pitch was really heavy and everyone of the lads had to work for the whole ninety minutes which was a credit to them with us only having 13 players. Every player was exhausted at the end of the game which was very pleasing for the staff as they could easily see that they had battled their way into the Quarter Finals and not one player hadn't given their all for the team.
When Smithswood beat Barton United 2-1 in the league earlier in the season, the game was no different with it being the toughest game they have had at the Mackadown. The lads need to rest and re-group as they have amazingly drawn Barton United in all three cups so will play them three times in four weeks. Next week is at the Mackadown in the Challenge Vase Quarter Finals as Barton United visit us so another tough game is on the cards and then the team are back in Barton on 19th December for the Last 32 clash in the Birmingham County FA.
The man of the match Saturday was a real close call for the manager. Harry Gardiner had been solid in goal dominating his area and making some great saves, Adam Rooke and Nathan Leek were also excellent the way they read the game at the back with Sam Hulme and Danny Charlton causing their defence huge problems up top. He chose Danny Charlton but it was a great team effort on Saturday and following last weeks first loss in 10 games it was pleasing to see.
Paul Ryder will be hoping he has more players available next week as he may need to look at signing another two or three players if it continues as his team can’t keep turning up to games without three or four decent subs as it will eventually work against them as all it takes is two or three injuries in a game and the team are struggling. They are in two Quarter Finals as well as the Last 32 of the County Cup and have games in hand to go top of the league so things are looking promising at the club so we just need committed players to make the run in easier and there could be great success at the club if we can manage that.
Next Saturday’s kick-off is 1330 at the Mackadown. It is guaranteed to be another great battle between the team and Barton United for a place in the Semi-Finals so come along and watch some great none league football.