It was another blazing hot afternoon as Smithswood Firs faced their hardest test of the pre-season against Aston. Aston are a division higher and finished fifth in last seasons Midland Combination Division 1. They will be one of the favourites in this seasons Midland Football League Division 2 so Paul Ryder’s team had to be at their very best today.
Following the good result mid-week against Shard End Crown, the manager was able to rotate his team in some areas to get match fitness and see what his squad can handle this season against better teams.
Today was also the day that Smithswood sported their new match day polo shirts. Rather than having their sponsors name on this season, The New Waterside agreed to let the team have the Birmingham Children’s Hospital on which is a great gesture on their part.
Ryder was without Aaron Anderson, Wayne Challinor, Chris Else, Ed Godwood, Adam Rooke, Robert Sheldrake, Stephen Shenton and Daniel Wall so his squad was tested for the visit of Aston.
The manager kept his front two together for the second match but had to re-shuffle his back line with Andrew Glenn partnering Captain Craig Evans in the heart of the defence. He also gave his new strike partnership of Adam Hemming and Anthony Short another chance to improve their understanding playing alongside each other
The starting line up was;
McKenna, Evans, Glenn, Billingsley
Thomas, Shiels, Leek, Harris
Paul Ryder’s team talk in the changing room obviously fired up his team. He wanted them to keep the ball and not to rush their passes and to take their time and look after the ball and not be afraid to go back to the keeper. Smithswood came out of the blocks firing. They controlled the ball really well throughout the whole of the team and looked the more threatening team in the first fifteen minutes.
Anthony Short started their first chance with a great run down the left. He pulled the ball back into Carl Shiels who stepped over the ball letting it run straight into Nathan Leek’s path and leaving the defender in no mans land. Leek powered on and drilled a shot just over the bar. He has looked threatening in pre-season from just outside the box so Paul Ryder will be hoping he can chip in with some important goals this season.
Lee Harris had the best chance early in the game as a Curtis Thomas cross-found him free in the penalty area but he headed just wide. Smithswood were knocking at the door and controlling the game. Some great work in the middle between Curtis Thomas and Lee Harris almost put Adam Hemming in behind the defence but Harris just over hit the pass as Smithswood pressed Aston.
Aston’s first chance came on 16 minutes with a free kick 25 yards out but they fired just over the bar.
Anthony Short managed to get in behind the Aston defence shortly after but blazed his shot over the bar as Smithswood grew in confidence. There was more great football from Curtis Thomas and Lee Harris who again linked well to create a chance first for Adam Hemming and then Anthony Short but the ref blew for off side.
The Aston keeper was in action again soon after as Lee Harris was involved again playing in Adam Hemming who set up Anthony Short but the keeper managed to save his shot to keep it goalless
Half hour into the game Smithswood had the ball in the net. Lee Harris was put through wide and looked to have kept the ball in as the referee didn’t blow the whistle. Harris drove into the box and finished past the keeper but all the Aston team were shouting at the ref saying the ball had gone out. He initially indicated a goal but then changed his mind and gave a throw in.
The pressure was building though on Aston and Smithswood eventually got the goal that their play warranted. Great play from Anthony Short who chased back to win the ball off the defender for William Mckenna. Mckenna surged forward and played in Curtis Thomas on the overlap. Thomas clipped a great cross over to the open Lee Harris whose shot was brilliantly saved by the keeper. Anthony Short was the first to react to the save heading the ball goal wards towards the keeper. Adam Hemming was on hand to re-direct it past the keeper and give Smithswood a well-deserved lead.
The lead lasted just under five minutes as Aston’s first shot on target was an absolute worldie of a strike. They were allowed to run in from the right and cut inside the defence which manager Ryder wasn’t happy about but there was no getting away from the quality of the goal. It was bent with the left foot from outside the box and rattled in off the inside of the post giving David Stratford no chance.
At Half Time it was 1-1 and manager Paul Ryder was pleased with his teams performance. They had dominated possession and been patient with the ball and had been able to open up Aston as well. The quality of their goal was not in doubt but Ryder wanted his team to close them down quicker to try and stop them getting into shooting range. He made two changes bringing Stuart Taylor on for Craig Shiels and Jake Grogan on for David Stratford.
Smithswood started lively again with Curtis Thomas setting Adam Hemming clear who whipped a fantastic ball into the area but it was just beyond Anthony Short.
Matt Morton replaced William McKenna as both teams entertained those watching with some great passing football as they both tried to break down the other. Aston got in down the right but fired just wide of the diving Jake Grogan. Lee Harris also fired wide after some great work with Anthony Short as it was end to end.
Carl Thompson replaced Daniel Billingsley with thirty minutes to go. Smithswood were having some real joy down the right as Curtis Thomas again set Adam Hemming clear and his excellent cross was again just too far ahead of Anthony Short. Then Nathan Leek broke from midfield and unleashed a bullet shot from 25 yards, which the keeper could only spill. He was fortunate as it dropped close and he was able to gather before Anthony Short could get to it.
Renaldo Mayers replaced Lee Harris with twenty minutes remaining. Mayers was quickly into the action breaking through the defence with his pace, He looked to have been brought down in the area but the referee denied Smithswood’s pleas for a penalty. Adam Hemming then chased the defender down winning the ball for Anthony Short. Short saw the keeper off his line and tried a 30-yard lob, which went just over the bar.
Aston could have snatched it in the last ten minutes as they got clear on the right and lobbed a shot in which looked to have beaten Jake Grogan but he managed to get a hand to it and push it onto the bar.
Lee Harris replaced Stuart Taylor late on who was struggling with the heat and was feeling dizzy. Curtis Thomas and Adam Hemming were running themselves into the ground closing down Aston in the last few minutes trying to create a chance for their team.
Smithswood then had a chance to win it in injury time as Matt Morton took a quick free kick to Curtis Thomas who was through on goal. Thomas’ shot brought another great save out the keeper and Craig Evans was in there trying to head the rebound in but the keeper claimed it.
The referee ended an absolute quality game with the final whistle. Smithswood Firs 1 Aston 1.
Manager, Paul Ryder will be extremely happy tonight following the performance of his team. They played quality controlled football all through the team and created several really good chances. Another ninety minutes sees Anthony Short and Adam Hemming working better together, Lee Harris and Curtis Thomas were constant threats from the wide positions with support from William McKenna and Daniel Billingsley while Carl Shiels and Nathan Leek were solid in midfield controlling the game. The defence looked really secure again with Craig Evans and Andrew Glenn at the heart of the defence. Both of his keepers were excellent and there was nothing that could have been done about the goal from their perspective. All the subs today looked good too when they came on and the team continued to play the same type of football after all the changes were made which is pleasing to see, as Smithswood Firs continue to play quality, calculated possession football.
Smithswood have another tough test next Saturday against Coventry United. If they keep their last few performances up this coming season, they will be a match for any team in their division. Paul Ryder will be keen to keep this form going and in particular the brand of football they have been playing.