Smithswood Firs enjoyed a momentous occasion in their clubs history with their trip to Bromsgrove Sporting on Saturday 11th October 2014. It was an indication of how far we have come as a club in our relatively short history since being formed in 2008.
From the moment we arrived at Bromsgrove’s Victoria Ground, we were treated extremely well by them and made to feel welcome straight away. Smithswood Firs would like to thank Club Secretary Dave Stephens and everyone at Bromsgrove Sporting for their advice and also the way they treated our club on the day.
Paul Ryder took a fully fit squad for the game with only Carl Shiels unavailable for the big game. With two divisions separating the teams, most people gave Smithswood Firs no chance just like in the previous round against higher opposition Sutton United but the team was really up for the game. Everyone knew we all had to perform at our best to have a chance of winning but confidence was high in the dressing room and everyone was really looking forward to the game, which was played in front of 229 fans who created a great, albeit hostile atmosphere.
Ryder went with a 4-5-1 formation attempting to flood the midfield and stop them from getting time on the ball. Smithswood line up with the following team;
Else, Rooke, Evans (Capt.), Glenn
Harris, Thomas, Leek, Hughes, Anderson
Subs: Billingsley, Darby, Hemming, McKenna. Thompson,
Smithswood took their positivity from the dressing room out onto the pitch and matched Bromsgrove all over the pitch in the first twenty-five minutes. Bromsgrove had a lot of possession, which was always going to happen but Smithswood were solid at the back stopping any clear cut chances for the home team. Craig Evans had moved back into the center to partner Adam Rooke and they had picked up where they started the season. Paul Ryder had gone with pace in the full back positions and Chris Else and Andrew Glenn were matching their wide players. The only worry early on for the manager was the space their number 7 Will Tibbetts was getting as he was finding the space in between Aaron Anderson and Andrew Glenn but they were still keeping them out.
David Stratford faced his first test on the half hour as Bromsgrove won a free kick five yards outside the area. The shot curled around the wall and looked destined for the top corner but Stratford somehow managed to dive to his right and tip it over earning him applause from the away fans behind his goal. Bromsgrove got confidence from the chance and were almost in a few minutes later. Just as they pulled the trigger in the area, Craig Evans through himself in front of the shot to block and deflect it away. Smithswood were putting their bodies on the line and fighting for each other.
Aaron Hughes picked up a booking for a late challenge before Smithswood created a chance. It followed some excellent work from Lee Harris wide right. He managed to get the ball under control and create a yard of space for himself and whipped in a fantastic cross, which was met by Anthony Short who headed just wide. It was just a little high for him but Smithswood were growing in confidence. Harris was involved in Smithswoods next chance as he chipped a pinpoint pass over the defence for Aaron Anderson who just managed to get a toe to the ball ahead of the advancing keeper but his shot went wide of the goal.
Smithswood were having a great little spell of pressure putting Bromsgrove on the back foot. What happened next sent everyone associated with Smithswood into euphoria. Curtis Thomas picked the ball up in midfield and beat a couple of players. Chris Else suddenly appeared on the overlap as Thomas slid him in. Else was just inside the right hand side of the box so had a lot to do but he unleashed a bullet of a shot that had hit the back of the net before the keeper could even react. Smithswood had soaked up the pressure early on and let Bromsgrove have their possession but had really had a go at them in the last quarter of the half.
Paul Ryder and Stephen Shenton were screaming from the sidelines as they tried to get the team to stay strong and get in with the one goal lead. Craig Evans was again called upon to deflect a shot clear as they stood strong.
In the last minute of the half Smithswood almost came in with a two-goal lead. Nathan Leek whose role was to protect the back four suddenly found himself a little further forward. The ball was played back to their center half and Leek was on him straight away. As he tried to clear it Leek took it off his foot and found himself clear one on one with the keeper. He chose to try and hit it early but put his shot wide.
Smithswood came in with a 1-0 lead and everyone in the changing room was on such a high. The game plan was working, the formation was working and more importantly all of the players were working and giving everything they had. There wasn’t one passenger in the team. Ryder and Shenton wanted more of the same and asked their team to dig even deeper and try and give them another 10%. No matter what happened they had already shown that they were good enough to play at a higher level.
Bromsgrove came out firing from the off. They had a clear chance in the first few minutes as their striker headed over the bar from close range to give Smithswood a warning. They didn’t make the same mistake shortly after though. They found some space wide left and crossed to the open William Tibbetts who fired in to level things up.
Nathaniel Darby replaced Aaron Hughes as Paul Ryder freshened things up.
Bromsgrove took the lead for the first time in the game in the 65th minute in bizarre fashion. They had a free kick in their own half which was hit in by Simon Fitter. He appeared to over hit the ball at first but it was heading straight for the top corner. David Stratford lost the ball in the sun and it ended up dropping just under the bar to make it 2-1. A cruel blow for Smithswood.
Adam Hemming came on for Aaron Anderson as Smithswood tried to change it up and get back into the game.
Nathan Leek was having a running battle with the away fans as he was booked for a bad challenge and the crowd was giving him some jeers and boos which he loved.
David Stratford was called into action making another great save before Paul Ryder thought it best to replace Nathan Leek who had been given a final warning after his booking by the referee, bringing on William McKenna and moving Chris Else into midfield.
Bromsgrove were playing with confidence now they had the lead and David Stratford was being kept really busy. He made two amazing saves in the last ten minutes, the first tipping over a bullet of a shot from inside the area. His best save was probably his last as he somehow managed to get down low and deflect a goal bound shot just wide of the post.
Bromsgrove kept the ball in the corners for the last few minutes as they tried to see the game out. At the final whistle it was Bromsgrove Sporting 2 Smithswood Firs 1.
The result wasn’t what we had wanted but the team had played with unbelievable spirit and commitment. They had come close to upsetting a club two divisions above them who have a regular gate of 200 plus fans and an unbelievable set up and represented their club in the best way possible.
In the bar after the game our club received some fantastic feedback form their players and staff. They said we had given them one of their toughest games of the season and were adamant that if we play with that commitment in the league we can gain promotion in our first season and they wouldn’t be surprised to be playing us again within the next 2-3 seasons in the league which is a great credit to the work everyone at our club is doing. They also want to play a friendly next season, which is great news for us and something we look forward to.
Next week our focus turns back to the league, which has always been our main priority as we entertain Enville Athletic at the Mackadown, kick-off 3pm