Saturday 19th March saw the fifth meeting of the season between two clubs who have built up a friendly rivalry as Smithswood Firs travelled to Barton United. So far Smithswood Firs have been on top winning all four games but despite the results in those games, they had been closer than the scores suggested. With Barton United having the Fazeley Charity Cup Final up next, they were always going to be up for this game as players tried to secure their starting place in the Final and impress manager Adam Wall.
Smithswood travelled to Barton with a few personnel issues. Influential centre back Adam Rooke was out with injury, Craig Powers was still not fully fit from last weeks injury that kept him out and while he took a place on the bench, Paul Ryder didn't really want to risk him if he didn't have to with the amount of games we have coming up. Aaron Pinnock was still away and Ash Weeks was on a stag do which was a huge loss to the away side in the centre of the pitch.
Lewis Cottrill has been excellent recently when given the chance from the bench and was rewarded with a start by the manager partnering Danny Charlton up top. Aaron Anderson continued to be a team player and cover the problem left back position and Daniel Wall returned to the team to take a place on the bench. With Rooke missing the impressive Nathan Leek continued at centre back alongside Scott Clarke. The Firs lined up as follows
Duffy, Clarke, Leek, Anderson
Russell, Thomas (Capt.), Short, Sayer
Subs: Wall, Powers
Smithswood had the perfect start scoring within the opening three minutes. Curtis Thomas whipped a corner into the area. Lewis Cottrill rose the highest and calmly knocked it back into the danger area for Lee Sayer who had his back to goal. Sayer didn't panic though and hit an overhead kick into the corner of the goal giving his team the lead and the keeper no chance.
The away side couldn't push on and get the second though as the game turned into a battle as it has in all the recent games. Cottrill was playing well up front so it was a huge disappointment for him and everyone at the Club when he went down with a thigh strain. Cottrill's Sunday team also have a final on Tuesday so everyone was hoping he was going to be okay for that as Daniel Wall replaced him after 28 minutes.
Barton got back on level terms shortly after from a free-kick. It looked like Smithswood Firs should be able to deal with it as they had two defenders underneath it and the keeper had the option of coming to try and clear it but it was Christopher Francis who beat them all to head home and make it 1-1.
Both teams had chances but none of them could take them and it stayed level until half-time. Nathan Leek was putting in another man of the match performance at the back as he cleared everything but manager Paul Ryder wanted more from his team as they weren't dominating in midfield as they usually do. He wanted them to release the ball quicker as they were getting caught in possession too many times and putting themselves under pressure with mistakes. He wanted them to pass it around to create their chances the way they normally do. He made a tactical change moving Anthony Short to right back and Jack Duffy to centre midfield.
The second half started like the first with Smithswood on the attack. It was Danny Charlton who was kicking himself early on after he pressured the centre half to win the ball back but watched agonisingly as his shot went wide of the post. Charlton and Daniel Wall were causing them problems at the back with their pace but Barton were holding a high line and the amount of off-sides in the game were easily in double figures.
It was a crazy game from both benches perspectives with regards to the officiating. Both benches were left stunned as they watched their own teams get decisions that they clearly thought should have gone to the opposition. It was happening all game as both teams saw fouls, handballs and penalty claims refused when they both thought they were obvious so it wasn't really surprising with what happened on 77 minutes. Danny Charlton broke down the left and was brought down for a clear foul which was awarded. Charlton asked the ref if he was going to have a word with the player as he had with some of his own team-mates and was yellow carded himself for what the ref said was trying to get the player sent off. Charlton rightly protested saying he hadn't asked for that, only for him to have a word with him like he had to some of his team-mates and was then given a second yellow card for dissent and sent off. Even Barton's Manager Adam Wall came over to Charlton to shake his hand and said it wasn't right but Smithswood had to battle on with ten men and play to the whistle.
As the game went on Barton United took control with the extra man and as Smithswood couldn't make any changes with only the injured Craig Powers on the bench, the ten men had to try and earn a point which could be huge at the end of the season. Barton had some great chances and were denied by Harry Gardiner with two wonder saves. The first was fantastic as the shot was deflected but he still managed to get a hand to the ball despite going the other way and tip it onto the bar to keep his team level.
Smithswood had a few chances of their own as Lee Sayer and Dan Russell created openings from wide positions but couldn't trouble the keeper but in the end it was a great battling performance to finish with a point as the game ended 1-1.
Manager Paul Ryder was happy with the point at the end and the tremendous battling performance ny his team. Maybe if he had a few more options on the bench open to him he could have changed the game but as he didn't the point was well earned by his team especially after going down to ten men.
The upsetting thing was the sending off which in most people's opinion on the side was unjust and spoilt the game a little and as a result Charlton will now miss the Semi-Final against Northfield Town which is hard for the lad as he has been excellent this season so it is up to his team-mates to get the win and make the final.
Manager Paul Ryder said "Everyone at Smithswood Firs would like to wish Adam and Barton United the best of luck for Friday's Fazeley Cup Final and hope they win the Cup. In non-league football when you play against teams in your league, it is rare that both benches get on and have friendly banter but that is what the two teams have and we hope they win the Cup against BTFC on Friday and a few of us will be there to cheer them on". Maybe the reason both teams get on so well is because they have played each other five times now but even though we had won the first four, there was no animosity from Barton United and both benches still had the same banter and laughs on the sideline. Chairman Neil Armstrong said "Barton United's players are a credit to their Club and the way they play epitomises their manager Adam Wall. It is clear to see the improvements in them from the team we played last season and they are a well organised outfit who can dominate you in midfield if you don't battle".
Next up for Smithswood Firs is a home match against bottom of the table AFC Solihull. Come along to the Mackadown for the 3pm kick-off and cheer "The Lions" on.