Going into Monday’s game between Smithswood Firs and Redditch Borough, both teams appear to be fighting it out for the second promotion place unless Leamington Hibernian draw or lose one of their two remaining games so the game was massive for both teams.
The recent visit to Redditch had seen a 3-0 win for the home team and Smithswood were looking for revenge in a game they played well in but just didn’t take their chances.
Both teams were working on two days rest and Smithswood were in the middle of a horrendous amount of games in the last month of the season which sees them play 15 matches in 45 days while this game was in the middle of a run of 4 in 7 days.
Despite the mid-week fixture Smithswood had a very strong squad for the game and confidence was high on the back of four straight wins including the Semi-Final against Paget Rangers.
Paul Ryder went with a five man midfield in the first fixture to try and frustrate Redditch but this time went with the attacking 4-3-3 that has seen Smithswood play some mesmerising attacking football recently with the plan to let them worry about his team.
The Lions lined up with the following;
Short, Clarke, Rooke, Duffy
Weeks, Lee, Thomas (Capt.)
Baker, Charlton, Russell
Subs: Anderson, Cottrill, Powers, Sayer
The Lions were without Harry Gardiner (holiday), Nathan Leek and Adam Reece (work), Daniel Wall (injured) and Harry Donaghey (suspended).
Jake Woodward was in goal while Scott Clarke and Adam Rooke continued at the heart of the defence following their great performance Saturday against FC Stratford. Jack Duffy was back from suspension and dropped into left back to cover Harry Donaghey who completed his last match ban following his sending off against Perrywood. Anthony Short continued at right back having been excellent in the last game. Cameron Lee dropped into midfield for the absent Nathan Leek alongside Curtis Thomas and Ash Weeks while there was pace in abundance up front with Troy Baker fresh from his hat-trick, Danny Charlton and Dan Russell.
The home side started well trying to dominate the midfield like they have in recent games and they played some good football but it was Redditch Borough that took the lead. A long ball was floated in and Jake Woodward looked to have claimed it but was nudged by a Redditch player and he dropped the ball for a tap in. Woodward put his hands up straight away and at half time said it wasn’t enough of a nudge to be a foul but with the team spirit that Smithswood Firs have at the moment, they just regrouped and set about getting the equaliser, such is the confidence and belief in the team at the moment. Smithswood pushed on for the goal and it came just after half hour. Curtis Thomas whipped in a free kick which was headed away by the defence to the edge of the area. Dan Russell knocked it back into the danger area for Danny Charlton who turned and buried it across the keeper into the bottom corner.
The second half was great entertainment for the watching fans as both teams produced some excellent football with some great tackles flying in and it was easy to see why these two teams are challenging for promotion. The weather throughout the game went from rain to sunshine to hail which within a minute had covered the pitch in a white layer as the dark drew in and visibility was poor but it was the same for both teams. Redditch were trying to slow things down as a draw was good enough for them with their superior goal difference while Smithswood pushed on for the win.
The defence was solid again and Clarke and Rooke were excellent while Anthony Short and Jack Duffy gave the team outlets wide while also defending excellently. The work rate in the middle is key and once again Ash Weeks covered every blade of grass along with Cameron Lee and Curtis Thomas whose fintess levels were excellent. Lee showed his quality with some unbelievable tackles which while fair were hard and he led by example in the middle while Captain Curtis Thomas has definitely got his footballing mojo back as he demanded the ball everytime his team had it. He has been excellent the last month finding the form he had early in the season to prove that he is the creative spark of the team.
The pace up front from Troy Baker, Danny Charlton and Dan Russell is excellent but their work rate was also top notch as they rotated positions to confuse the Redditch defence but also tracked back to help out the midfield. Aaron Anderson and Lee Sayer came on and just continued the work rate for the players they replaced and were constant threats.
The pressure from the home side paid off five minutes from time as the ball fell for Cameron Lee outside the area. His shot looked to be going wide but substitute Aaron Anderson slid in to direct the ball in to the net for the winner. There was a suspicion of off-side and views were split from the fans as some said Anderson was clearly off side while others said there was a defender on the post playing him on. The linesman said there was a player on the post and kept his flag down.
Redditch really went for it in the last five minutes and Smithswood almost conceded a few times as Redditch put a few shots narrowly wide while Jake Woodward claimed some tough shots in the dark really well and players blocked free kicks with their body as the team put everything on the line to secure the win.
The win puts Smithswood Firs in control of their own destiny now but there is still a lot of work to do as they still have four games to play including another one Wednesday evening at home to Inkberrow. There are a lot of tired bodies in the squad but they continue to impress all the staff at the club with their effort and there is a real belief within the squad which has been apparent since the league scheduled so many games in such a short space of time, it seems to have galvanised the squad and they are working hard to ensure that it doesn’t wreck their season.
Inkberrow are next up on Wednesday 27th April with another 1845 kick-off which is a little late due to the dark nights but the league are happy with that before Saturday’s home match against Enville Athletic at 1500, both games are at the Mackadown.