Smithswood Firs made the short trip to Northfield Town to face a team in form who have won three out of three at home this season. Things started badly as we got stuck in traffic with most of the team arriving at the ground at 1430 meaning by the time the players had changed we had about ten minutes to warm up. We also had Chris Else flying back in from Benidorm and with his flight delayed he didn’t make it until the end of the first half so we were totally unprepared. All that said you wouldn't have thought that the way we started the game.
Despite having few options for the bench our starting line up was extremely strong. Hinton lined up in goal with Reece, Duffy, Rooke and Godwood lining up in front of him. Duffy stepped in along side Rooke with the absence of Betts, Thompson and Clarke and Godwood and Reece switched sides with Godwood moving to his favoured left back. In front of them the manager went with four in midfield as the pitch was quite narrow with Anderson, Weeks, Curtis Thomas (Capt.) and Russell. Up front saw the return of Williams from suspension and new signing Hulme going straight in to the starting line up. On the bench was Sayer, Glenn and the late arriving Else.
Smithswood started really well dominating possession across the midfield. Northfield looked to use the high ball early on but Rooke and Duffy cleared everything that came their way. Early on Thomas and Weeks started to dictate the game from the middle of the park and this would be the case for most of the 90 minutes. They kept it tight and simple and showed a great range of passing utilising Russell and Anderson wide when they needed and threading balls through for Williams and Hulme up top.
We have looked dangerous in recent games from set pieces with Curtis Thomas' accurate deliveries and the Lions were in front on 11 minutes as he whipped in a vicious corner for Duffy to rise and bury the ball into the back of the net almost unchallenged as he made a perfectly timed run. Smithswood then pushed on for the second which came five minutes later. Duffy played a ball over the defence from the back and the keeper looked comfortable but new signing Hulme was on him quickly and forced an error to come away with the ball and slot home. Hulme was a menace all game and settled really well into the team and there were early signs of a good partnership forming between him and Williams as they looked to pressure the defence into mistakes.
By the time Smithswood went 3-0 up three minutes before half time, they had failed to put the game beyond Northfield. Williams had the best chance and was denied by a last minute challenge deflecting his goal bound shot wide as he beat the defence and keeper but they were to have seven great chances to score during the game and be denied by Northfield or their own finishing. Thomas made it 3-0 before the half with a free kick which their keeper should have done better as he failed to keep the shot out. Manager Paul Ryder was extremely happy with the three goal lead and the fantastic football his team were playing. What they needed to do was not concede the next goal which happened so many times last year as they let teams back into the game.
It looked like Smithswood were going to do just that though as Northfield came out for the second half and dominated the first seven minutes creating a few chances which paid off when they put together a great move down the right crossing into the box and finishing excellently first time. In the past Smithswood have gone onto to lose or draw these sort of games but there is a much more disciplined and controlled look to the team this season. They didn't let their heads drop or get on each others back and got back to playing their flowing passing football and were 4-1 up five minutes later as Thomas fired another corner in this time finding Weeks who rose above the defender to direct the ball past the keeper. Lee Sayer replaced the impressive Sam Hulme who himself says he just needs game time but already has shown he is a quality signing for the club and Chris Else came on for Jack Duffy.
Smithswood continued to create chances with Sayer missing a free header, Williams and Russell both being denied by the keeper when they looked certain to score following great flowing moves and Rooke missing his first penalty in seven years. There was controversy in the second half as Williams chased down a ball from their centre back. They touched during an incident and their defender decided to grab Williams round the throat with both hands indicating that he thought he had thrown an intentional elbow which didn't appear to be the case. Williams was professional throughout and didn’t react to this other than talking to the player and the ref had no choice but to send the defender off and booked Williams for his verbal reaction. Williams went straight to see the player after the game to shake hands and clear the air to assure him there was no elbow thrown on his part.
Williams got his reward as Smithswood saved their best goal till last. Three minutes before the end Aaron Anderson ran onto a ball at the edge of the area. He found Lee Sayer who unselfishly squared the ball to the unmarked Williams who passed it into the corner to get the goal his work rate had deserved and finish the game at 5-1.
Paul Ryder couldn’t pick any faults with his team who were excellent from start to finish. Man of the Match was a tough call but for his goal, two assists and the way he helped run the game Curtis Thomas just shaved it from quite a few others. Another pleasing aspect were how partnerships look to be forming throughout the team. Rooke and Duffy played together at the back for the first time but you would have thought they had been playing together for years. Weeks and Thomas were unbelievable in the centre of midfield and ran the game but also got stuck in with the defensive side of the game and Williams and Hulme didn’t allow their defence any time on the ball and gave them so many problems going forward that they looked like they would score every time they attacked. Reece and Anderson and Godwood and Russell were solid down both sides and the team just had a great shape. The only problems were the lack of options on the bench as Sayer was the only sub really with Andrew Glenn kitting up as an emergency as he actually retired after we registered him and Else not arriving until half time. Ryder will be hoping that he could have a full bench next week with the return of Harry Gardiner, Scott Clarke, Carl Betts, Carl Thompson, Danny Charlton and Nathan Leek.
Smithswood moved up to second in the table and look forward to hosing Barton United next Saturday at the Mackadown.