Following the tough 1-0 win in torrential rain on Saturday at home to AFC Solihull, it was a welcome change to arrive at Burntwood Town on bank holiday Monday in the sunshine with perfect conditions for football. There were a few last minute withdrawals with Daniel Wall, Scott Clarke, Adam Reece and Danny Charlton pulling out and Aaron Pinnock and Will McKenna not available either. Due to the recent signings though, Paul Ryder was able to name a strong starting eleven with three quality substitutes which included new goalkeeper Jake Woodward.
There was a reshuffle at the back as Nathan Leek dropped into partner Adam Rooke in Scott Clarke’s absence and Harry Donaghey got his first start since re-joining from Boldmere St Michaels. This allowed Aaron Anderson to move back to an attacking role as he partnered Lewis Cottrill up top with no Danny Charlton.
The Lions lined up with the following;
Duffy, Rooke, Leek, Donaghey
Russell, Thomas (Capt.), Short, Sayer
Subs: Woodward, Powers, Weeks
It was a great start from Smithswood as they dominated the ball and played some fantastic football in the opening ten minutes so it was against play when they went 1-0 down. The away team lost concentration temporarily from a throw in which Burntwood managed to win a corner from. They didn’t learn from the quick throw and Jamie Webb was able to rise virtually unchallenged to head the home team into the lead.
Despite the goal there was no panicking on the pitch or the side-line as Smithswood continued to dominate possession and play some great attacking football and were back on level terms within ten minutes of going behind. Adam Rooke hit a defence splitting 40-yard pass which was taken by Dan Russell in his stride, he hit a shot across the keeper which was parried into the path of Aaron Anderson. It looked like Anderson just had to slot home but he unselfishly squared it back to Russell to tap in, a great team move all around.
Smithswood pushed on for the second with Lee Sayer going close following a great move down the left. Harry Donaghey played it wide to Aaron Anderson who back heeled it into Lee Sayer’s path but his shot was saved by the keeper. The pressure told eight minutes before the half and the away team made it 2-1 with one of the greatest goals ever scored by Smithswood Firs. The Burntwood keeper launched a goal kick which made it a few feet inside their own half. Curtis Thomas controlled it on his chest, flicked it up and volleyed it 45-yards back over the keeper giving him no chance. It was an unbelievable goal and follows his earlier goal this season where he lobbed a keeper from his own half “Beckham style”. The celebration was led by Nathan Leek who pretended to shine his boots for him.
One worrying problem for Smithswood came just before half-time as keeper Harry Gardiner went down with a thigh injury. Fortunately new keeper Jake Woodward was on the bench so the team had to make the change at the start of the second half.
Lewis Cottrill was having a great game up front and was dropping into the hole and spraying some fantastic balls out wide showing another side to his game. Anthony Short was bossing the midfield allowing Curtis Thomas a bit more freedom and they were using Dan Russell and Lee Sayer as the outlets wide that were causing constant threats along with Aaron Anderson who was peeling off the centre backs and hitting the channels so they didn’t know how to mark him.
Anderson went close early in the second half following some great work from Jack Duffy and Lewis Cottrill but watched as his lob went agonisingly over the bar. There were few chances for the home team as Nathan Leek and Adam Rooke looked solid and in control at the back while Jack Duffy and Harry Donaghey were attacking both flanks when they had the chance as the whole back four and Harry Gardiner and Jake Woodward had looked in complete control the whole game despite conceding the early goal.
The game was effectively over before the hour when Curtis Thomas put a slide rule pass through the defence and Dan Russell beat three defenders to the ball with his pace and dinked the ball over the keeper. The away side continued to play some great football until the end and could have had a few more, the closest being Jack Duffy who moved to the right of midfield when Craig Powers came on. Curtis Thomas played him in behind the defence and his bullet shot was brilliantly saved by the keeper to keep the score 3-1 to Smithswood Firs at the final whistle.
The aim of the bank holiday weekend was always six points and despite the tough going in the bad conditions against AFC Solihull, it had been achieved. Manager Paul Ryder commented after the game “I am happy with the six points but more so with the way we played today. I never thought at any time that we wouldn’t win today’s game even when we were a goal down. The football we played at times was phenomenal and if we keep that up, not many teams will be able to beat us in the run in”. When asked about Curtis Thomas’ screamer of a volley, Ryder said “it was the greatest goal I have ever witnessed at the level we play at. As Andy Gray would say, take a bow son”
Despite Curtis Thomas's goal and assist it was Anthony Short who wsa named man of the match. Despite everyone playing excellent, Short edged it for the way he dominated midfield and won every header he went up for. Since his return he has been excellent no matter where he has been asked to play.
Thoughts move away from the league next weekend as Smithswood host Northfield Town in the Semi-Final of the Challenge Vase for a place in the final against Redditch Borough. Kick-off is 3pm at the Mackadown.