Smithswood were set for another real test today as they faced Coventry United who were promoted last season from the equivalent of the division we are going into this season.
Paul Ryder was without Daniel Billingsley, Wayne Challinor, Renaldo Mayers, William McKenna, Matt Morton, Adam Rooke, Robert Sheldrake and Curtis Thomas. For the second game running Smithswood were missing their Man of the Match from the game before with no Curtis Thomas but with a big squad at his disposal, Paul Ryder was still able to select a strong side.
Else, Evans, Glenn, Godwood
Anderson, Leek, Thompson, Harris
With nobody knowing where the place was or wanting to take the lead, our first mistake of the day was to let Neil Armstrong, Paul Ryder and Dean Farnol in the lead car. The Sat Nav done its job and got us there but all three of us failed to see the entrance, which was partly hidden in our defence and none of he following cars managed to see it either. Then came the comedy of errors trying to get directions. Firstly, the old man walking his dogs that sent us up into the village to look for a church we had to turn right at. We couldn’t find a church and continued to go round in circles, Then we all got split up and eventually headed back the way we had come to find it.
Having arrived late we still had plenty of time to get ready as the boys were put through the warm up by the new coaching team of Stephen Shenton and Dean Farnol while manager Ryder warmed up the keepers.
Everyone was back in the changing room before the game for an intense team talk . The management team wanted to treat the game as if it were a proper league game to try and see how far they have come as a team this pre-season. In order to match a team a division above us, Ryder wanted his team to control the ball from the back and build from there and basically play more of the brand of football we want to play this season, patient, controlled passing football. Discipline was also really important for today as well as the season ahead. The boys were all buzzing and you could tell they looked up for the test as they came out.
Smithswood started well creating the first chance within a minute for Nathan Leek but he powered his shot over the bar. Both teams tried to win the midfield battle early on and Smithswood were constantly trying to get the ball in behind the Coventry United defence. Good work from Adam Hemming and Lee Harris tracking back gave Ed Godwood the chance to curl a ball behind the left back but it was just too hard for Anthony Short. The final ball from Smithswood was just being over hit slightly but the intentions were positive.
The first real chance of the game came 27 minutes in following some great pressure from Nathan Leek closing down in midfield and winning the ball back for Lee Harris. Harris put a quality ball in behind the full back for Adam Hemming who almost got away from him but he just managed to do enough to block him for a corner. Anthony Short whipped it in and Craig Evans headed just over.
Smithswood were getting more joy down the wings as Nathan Leek put Chris Else in behind but he could only find the keeper with his early cross. Smithswood were creating the better chances and their defence was looking solid as they restricted Coventry United in the final third.
Lee Harris then showed some magic as he weaved past two players inside the area and slipped a deft pass through to Adam Hemming who hit a bullet shot which the keeper managed to save as Smithswood searched for the first goal.
Stuart Taylor replaced Carl Thompson with a minute to go in the half
Andrew Glenn put his body on the line as he deflected a shot for a corner. They had a couple of scares early on from set pieces with organization but had still managed to clear their lines but on this occasion their striker was inside the six yard box and hardly had to jump to head the ball in right on the stroke of half time. 1-0 to Coventry United.
It was a kick in the teeth as Smithswood had probably just shaded the first half and were now coming in a goal down. Manager Paul Ryder tried to keep them positive as they had been playing some good football, it was just their final ball letting them down. Jake Grogan came on for David Stratford
What followed in the first fifteen minutes of the second half was football suicide as Smithswood fell apart. Whether the loss of the late goal was the reason, nobody knows but all the hard work in the first half was wiped out.
From the kick off Nathan Leek tried a shot at goal and it went downhill from there. Smithswood were caught out down the right side of the defence giving their winger a free cross, which he picked out his striker with. He didn’t connect perfectly with the ball but got enough on it to beat the keeper. 2-0 to Coventry United and Paul Ryder just saw his teams heads drop as they made error after error as Coventry United sensed they had a chance to get some more goals.
Five minutes into the second half it was 3-0 and it all came from a Smithswood throw in up in the oppositions half. A slip at the back put them in one on one with the keeper and he made no mistake punishing Smithswood again. Coventry United couldn’t believe their luck and it was to get even better within four minutes for them.
Smithswood failed to clear their lines and a mistake from the keeper passing the ball straight to their winger allowed him to cross and they were punished again. In a game where the opposition hadn’t managed to breach the Smithswood defence and get in behind them by creating their own chance, they were 4-0 up. It was tough to see from the sidelines but if you were watching the game you wouldn’t have expected what happened next to be on the cards. All talk pre game had been about Coventry United winning 26-0 and beating teams and the worry at 4-0 with only 50 minutes played was that Smithswood would crumble, but if you know this new Smithswood team or are a part of its set up, you know that’s not in their DNA.
The boys calmly went about their business playing their own brand of football. Stuart Taylor was a constant threat in the wide right role since coming on and was showing his manager that he has the right attitude to play in this team. Chris Else made a great marauding run down the wing and played in Anthony Short. He held the ball up and calmly slid in Taylor who just fired over. While it wasn’t a goal it was the start of a much better Smithswood in the second half. Forget the nightmare fifteen minutes that had passed from the first goal, they were still trying to show their opponents what they were made of by playing their possession football.
Daniel Wall and Carl Shiels came on for Lee Harris and Anthony Short followed by Lewis Cottrill for Chris Else, which moved Andrew Glenn to full back. Glenn had been solid alongside Captain Craig Evans responding to his managers team talk to prove he can partner Evans at the back, but he is always a team player first and is happy to play wherever he is needed.
Stuart Taylor took a quick throw to Nathan Leek who unleashed one of his bullet shots but it was just a foot over the bar. Smithswood were getting closer.
The breakthrough came with 23 minutes to go. The corner came in and after some great battling from Aaron Anderson fell to the Captain. Evans unleashed a shot into the top corner and it was 4-1. The team had continued to believe even when they were 4-0 down and there was a glimmer of hope in their eyes and hearts.
They went close shortly after following some fantastic work down the right. Stuart Taylor started the move and played it into Adam Hemming. He jinked inside and then reversed a pass out wide to the oncoming Andrew Glenn. He lofted a great cross that fell perfectly for Daniel Wall who volleyed inches wide. It was all Smithswood who were really taking the game to Coventry United.
Adam Hemming had the next chance. It came from a great defensive clearance from Craig Evans. Daniel Wall picked it up and played Hemming through. He was one on one with the keeper but the defender managed to get back and was all over him. He managed to get his shot off but the keeper saved. No foul ruled the referee. He was unhappy at the time but a minute later he hit the back of the net. A good move looked to have beaten the back post but great work from Daniel Wall as he chased the ball down and lifted it back in to the six yard box where Adam Hemming was on hand to bury it for 4-2.
Smithswood had Coventry United stunned and on the back foot as they pushed on for more. More pressure from Stuart Taylor winning the ball back set up Carl Shiels who shot over the bar.
With three minutes to go Nathan Leek unlocked the defence with an inch perfect pass. It split the centre backs and Aaron Anderson was clear through. The defender wasn’t catching him but could he beat the keeper ? Calmly he rounded him and fired in for a quality goal making it 4-3.
Smithswood tried desperately to get the equaliser but fired a shot just wide and just couldn’t make any of their set pieces count at the end.
The referee blew for full time, Coventry United 4 Smithswood 3. It was a great game to watch for the neutral and from a Smithswood perspective, it was something they could really take the positives out of. Coventry United knew they had been in a game, which you wouldn’t have expected at 4-0
All four goals had an element of error in them from Smithswood but the way the fought back from four goals down made everyone at the club really proud. They scored three good goals and for the last twent- five minutes of the game played some fantastic football. When you break the game down they probably edged the first half but then it all went wrong for fifteen crazy minutes starting from the last minute of the first half. Mistakes are part of football and will always happen but as a team, they all pulled together to try and rectify it.
Overall, manager Paul Ryder was really proud of his team. He wanted to know how far they had come against a team in a higher division than his and he was shown today that he has a squad who don’t know when they're beaten, won’t ever give up and don’t panic. Even when they were 4-0 down they still tried to pass the ball and get in behind the defence.
Smithswood have one more pre-season game Monday night at Glades before the serious business starts next Saturday at home to Burntwood.
Pre-season has been a success for the Firs. The manager has some decisions to make in several positions in the team but he has seen some great performances over the nine games they have played.
He has two great keepers who have been excellent. Take today’s game out of the equation for Jake Grogan who has said he wasn’t good enough today as he has been defended by his teammates already as he has made some game winning saves in the other games and as his Captain said, mistakes get highlighted more when your in goal as theres nobody behind to help out. Both Grogan and Davis Stratford will play this season at some point and the defence will feel safe in front of either
Craig Evans, Andrew Glenn and Adam Rooke have stood out in pre-season at the heart of the defence. With Adam Rooke being suspended for the first two games of the season, Glenn may get his chance. Smithswood also have Lewis Cottrill who has played a few games now and also gives the manager an option as he settles into the squad. With Chris Else not being available until late September, it has been pleasing to see how well William McKenna, Ed Godwood and Daniel Billingsley have played recently. Glenn can also fill in if required and Matt Morton can play there too but the defence has been a strong point for Paul Ryder this pre-season. Robert Sheldrake is out with injury and Stephen Shenton has stepped up to assist Paul Ryder but can still cover at centre half
Competition is high in the centre of midfield. Nathan Leek has impressed in the last few games he has played in but he is suspended for the first game. He also has tough competition from Carl Shiels and Stuart Taylor who give the manager three great ball playing midfielders. He also has Carl Thompson who has played well in there the last two games. The width has been impressive in the last few games from Lee Harris and Aaron Anderson who are quality creative players. Curtis Thomas has the quality to play anywhere across the midfield and Daniel Wall is a threat from wide and showed glimpses again today of what he can do. Ryder also has the pace of Renaldo Mayers on the flanks and Wayne Challinor to come back into contention in midfield.
The manager is short of numbers up top. He has a recognized partnership forming in Anthony Short and Adam Hemming who get a better understanding each game they play but he may need to look at bringing in another striker to challenge them for places. He does have the option of using Aaron Anderson or Daniel Wall up there too so if he doesn’t get another striker in he still has quality,
Played 9, Won 6, Lost 2, Drew 1
The two losses came against teams from the division above us aswell