There is always a buzz around any football team when the opening day of the season comes around. There has been a bit more than the usual anticipation at Smithswood during the off-season as they moved from the Birmingham AFA to the new Midland Football League (M.F.L). It is a massive step up and a much higher standard of opposition.
It was an early start with Paul Ryder, Craig Evans and Neil Armstrong at the ground at 0930 to get everything set up and ready for the big game. Their first game in the M.F.L was played in glorious sunshine against a long serving member of the league, Burntwood Town.
Paul Ryder had named his 16-man squad in the week, which had been a tough decision, as he had to leave some players out. He was also without the suspended duo of Adam Rooke (2 matches) and Nathan Leek (1 match). As Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma blasted out of the changing rooms, the Smithswood squad clearly looked up for the game. The management teams instructions were simple, play the ball from the back and keep it simple and make sure that they always have an option of a pass when in possession.
The teams were led out by the referee and shook hands in the center of the pitch, Smithswood lining up with the following team:-
McKenna, Evans (Capt), Glenn, Godwood
Taylor, Shiels, Thompson, Harris
Subs:- Anderson, Billingsley, Thomas, Shenton, Wall
It was a very cagey first fifteen minutes as both teams struggled to create any real chances. Smithswood then started to put their passing game together and were spreading the ball all around the pitch. Anthony Short had their first half chance firing over the bar after a brilliant run from Adam Hemming driving at the defence.
Craig Evans put the ball down for a free kick and picked Lee Harris out in the box with a great cross. Harris controlled it first time and slotted the ball home in the bottom corner. Smithswood were off the mark in their new league and immediately pushed on for the second. Adam Hemming got in behind the defence but his touch was a little heavy giving the keeper a chance to get the ball ahead of him but it was positive that Smithswood were finding the ball in behind the Burntwood Town defence. Stuart Taylor was the next Firs player to get in behind them but could only hit his shot straight at the keeper as Smithswood put more pressure on Burntwood Town.
It was 2-0 one minute before the half-time whistle. Ed Godwood advanced down the left and whipped a great cross into the back post. Anthony Short rose to power his header giving the keeper no chance. Smithswood had been good value since their first goal and deservedly lead at the half time whistle.
Paul Ryder’s half time team talk was made easier by the goal but he was really happy with the performance but wanted more out of his team. He wasn’t happy that his team had been diving into too many tackles committing themselves unnecessarily and wanted them to try and be more disciplined with that part of their game in the second half. The last ball could still be better but all in all they were controlling the game. Stephen Shenton pointed out the importance of the next goal, which Smithswood had to go and get to kill the game off. They couldn’t allow Burntwood Town to score and get their heads up.
Lee Harris was involved in most of Smithswood’s positive attacking moves. He combined well with Adam Hemming down the left to set up the surging William McKenna but he fired over the bar. Harris then put a great inch perfect pass to set Adam Hemming through one on one with the keeper. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, the ball took a bad bobble and he put his shot wide but they were making the final ball count this half and creating chances.
Burntwood Town had their first chance of the game on the hour mark with a free header in the box but their striker headed well wide. It was a warning for Smithswood and Captain Craig Evans wasn't happy he with the space they had. After the move the referee booked Ed Godwood for attempting to pull their winger down during the attack.
Aaron Anderson replaced Adam Hemming and was immediately into the action. He done some great work down the right and crossed for Stuart Taylor who fired his shot just wide. William McKenna was also getting some joy down the right and he fired a great cross into Anthony Short who headed just wide as Smithswood were getting closer.
Curtis Thomas replaced Carl Shiels who went down with cramp and had to come off.
Lee Harris combined well with Aaron Anderson. They played a great tight one-two on the edge of the box and Harris got his shot off which was blocked by the defender. Then Stuart Taylor fought hard to win possession back in midfield and laid it off to Lee Harris again. Harris crossed to Anthony Short who fired low and wide.
Curtis Thomas went so close to finishing a great move down the right, which he started. He played a neat one-two with Aaron Anderson. He feinted to go down the line and cut back inside to create the space to have a shot but fired just wide.
Daniel Billingsley replaced Anthony Short.
Andrew Glenn and Craig Evans had been rock solid at the back. Apart from the one chance with the free header, they had swept everything up, won every header that came into the box and marshaled the defence perfectly with Carl Thompson sitting in front of them in midfield. This was allowing the more attacking payers to go and create the chances. Evans almost got on the score sheet with a towering header from a corner but he headed just over the bar. Burntwood had a long shot shortly after but David Stratford saved easily.
Lee Harris was involved again as he pinged a 40-yard pass to Daniel Billingsley but he fired his shot wide. Harris was also at the heart of one of the best moves of the game. Craig Evans stepped up to break up the play and played it into Harris in midfield. He had a player tight on him and without looking, played a first time ball that spilt the defence and Daniel Billingsley clear on the wing. His cross found Aaron Anderson at the back post but he headed just wide. A brilliant move that deserved a goal.
Smithswood’s hard work was finally rewarded and they killed the game off with two minutes to go. It was hardly surprising that Lee Harris was involved again as he made a driving run at the defence and into the box. His feet were too quick for the defender who brought him down and the referee pointed at the spot. With Anthony Short off the pitch, Paul Ryder shouted on for Harris to step up himself and he buried it without any trouble at all to get his second of the game and cap a brilliant all round performance.
The referee blew for full time and Smithswood Firs ran out 3-0 winners against Burntwood Town. A solid performance from Smithswood both defensively and attacking, but they know they will need to step it up against Alcester Town in next weeks Les James Challenge Cup.
Man of the Match was given to Lee Harris who was simply faultless today. He was involved in most of Smithswood’s attacking moves and was constantly tracking back to help the defence and break up attacks. Manager Paul Ryder was impressed with all of his team though today.
Smithswood would also like to thank everyone at Burntwood Town who were a credit to their football club and for the advice and help from their Chairman Dave Cox who has given our club a really positive advert for the league we have joined. If most of the teams are like Burntwood Town then we are really looking forward to the coming season.
Next up for the Firs is an away trip to Alcester Town in the Les James Challenge Cup on Saturday 16th August 2014 (Kick-off 3pm). Alcester Town is one of the favourites for the division and has today had an impressive 5-1 win over Leamington Hibernian so they will be on a high. Smithswood will need to step up a gear against Alcester Town so it will be a good challenge for Ryder and his new look team.
Todays M.F.L Division 3 Results
Alcester Town 5 -1 Leamington Hibernian
Austrey Rangers 2 - 2 Inkberrow
Badsey Rangers 1 - 1 FC Stratford
Barton United 1 - 4 Rostance Edwards
Boldmere Sports & Social 1 - 2 Perrywood
Smithswood Firs 3 - 0 Burntwood Town