Stechford Social was next on Smithswood Fir’s pre season schedule tonight. The fixture was only scheduled a few days ago, which meant Paul Ryder was without a few players Wayne Challinor, Chris Else, Lee Harris, Renaldo Mayers, William McKenna, Matt Morton, Adam Rooke, Robert Sheldrake and Daniel Wall as well as last games Man of the Match Nathan Leek.
Ryder used tonight’s game to try a different formation out going with a 4-3-3 at the start to try out alternatives for the coming season should he need to change things up during any of this season's games.
His starting line up for tonights game was:
Glenn, Evans, Cottrill, Billingsley
Taylor, Thompson, Shiels,
Thomas, Hemming, Anderson
Smithswood started well in the first five minutes creating a few chances. Curtis Thomas was instrumental early on as he crossed for Stuart Taylor at the back post forcing a save from the keeper. Then he created space and laid Carl Thompson on who blazed his shot high over the bar and netting behind the goal. Thomas then linked well with Carl Shiels to create a great crossing chance but it was cleared by the defence.
After the first five minutes Smithswood really started to struggle with the formation as Stechford were getting more possession in the midfield and out numbering their opponents. While Smithswood probably had the most chances, they were long-range half chances at best with Carl Shiels and Aaron Anderson firing wide form outside the box.
Smithswood did manage to break through the defence with a neat one two between Thomas and Stuart Taylor but Taylor’s shot was blocked before it could threaten the goal.
The game got a bit niggly twenty minutes in with some cynical challenges flying in and Paul Ryder bought Anthony Short on for Aaron Anderson to give Anderson a chance to cool down following one incident which he did without any issues at all.
Smithswood’s play was pretty scrappy as there was no sign of the controlled passing game that had been present Saturday against Aston. Curtis Thomas was at the heart of everything good Smithswood were putting together and he started the best move of the first half with ten minutes to go picking out Anthony Short in midfield. Short bent a great ball in behind the full back and Andrew Glenn was clear on the right. Short didn’t stop to admire his shot, he was off making a run into the box and Glenn picked him out perfectly. Short met the ball with a header at the same time the defender came crashing into him leaving him on the ground with what looked like a bad injury at first. He was down for a minute, which was worrying, as he never stays down. In true hard man fashion though he was up soon after and back in the game.
Stechford had a great chance before the end of the first half when they got in behind the Firs defence for the first time following an error but fortunately the lob was wide of Jake Grogan's goal.
The ref blew for the end of a scrappy half without any real clear-cut chances.
Ryder got into his team about their passing and movement not being good enough. He made three changes with David Stratford for Jake Grogan, Aaron Anderson for Carl Shiels and Ed Godwood for Carl Thompson. More importantly Smithswood reverted back to 4-4-2 with the impressive Curtis Thomas moving into the center with Stuart Taylor and Aaron Anderson and Ed Godwood providing the width to try and supply Adam Hemming and Anthony Short up top.
Curtis Thomas was first to test the keeper in the first few minutes with a long range shot but it was straight at him and he saved easily.
Stephen Shenton replaced Lewis Cottrill without shin pads for five minutes while he waited to borrow some from Carl Thompson.
Smithswood then started to get some joy down the wings. Aaron Anderson put Adam Hemming clear behind the full back first. Ed Godwood who brought a save out of the keeper met his cross. Hemming then crossed for Stuart Taylor who put his shot just wide. Anderson was next to get free finding Curtis Thomas with his pass but the shot was straight at the keeper again who held it.
Craig Evans made a tackle deep in his own half and went on a marauding run through the heart of the midfield. It looked like he had overrun the ball but he just managed to put Adam Hemming through one on one with the keeper. Hemming just lifted his shot over the bar. Smithswood were playing a little better and creating some chances from the flanks.
Carl Shiels fired over from some great work wide by Anderson again and Stechford also saw a long-range effort sail over the bar as both teams looked to get the first goal.
The closest chance came with half an hour to go. Aaron Anderson found himself to the left of the area, cut in on his right and hit a curling shot which just missed the far post by inches. It would have been a great goal and was the closest Smithswoods had come in the game.
It took 75 minutes for the first goal of the game and was the kind of goal we have come to expect from Smithswood this pre season and the first time in the game they had actually hustled their opponents the way they have been in recent games. The ball was heading out for a throw in following pressure from Smithswood but Carl Shiels didn’t give it up. He got to the ball while it was in mid air about a foot from going out for a throw and hit a 20 yard left footed first time pass that put Anthony Short in behind the defence. Short appears to be relishing his new role up front and he showed great composure to slot home and give Smithswood the lead.
Two minutes later it was 2-0. Stuart Taylor played Anthony Short in and the linesman flagged for a dubious off side as it looked like he was at least two yards on. The ref played on and Anthony Short unselfishly squared for his strike partner Adam Hemming to tap in. A good move from Smithswood.
Aaron Anderson was unlucky not to get on the score sheet as he attacked from the right and when it looked like he was about to shoot, jinked past the keeper leaving him on the floor and turned his shot goal wards only for the defender to clear off the line. He may have been took off early in the first half but he had made a real contribution in the second half.
It was game over with two minutes to go. Smithswood won a free kick about 40 yards out by the touchline. Carl Shiels stepped up and whipped it in. Nobody apart from Shiels will know whether he meant it or not but between the keeper and the post it ended up in the back of the net. Was it a shot or a cross? Answers on a postcard to It Was A Cross Competition :-)
Smithswood won 3-0 at full time but it was far from a convincing display of possession passing football. They were nowhere near as good as they have been the past few games but sometimes you have to play poorly and win and at the end of the day, winning the game is always the first priority.
There were a few highlights with the first two goals being two occasions where they really hussled theor opponents and managed to split the defence with one killer pass like they have been doing in pre season. Apart from one scare at the back, the defence looked solid again as Craig Evans had two new partners during the 90 minutes in Lewis Cottrill and Stephen Shenton, which was good for the manager to see as Adam Rooke will miss the first two games of the season. Curtis Thomas put in a man of the match performance and was instrumental in anything good that Smithswood created with his control and range of passing.
Smithswood move onto another tough test on Saturday when they visit Coventry United, who like Aston from last Saturday are a division above us. Coventry were promoted from our equivalent league last season so are where we are aiming to be next season.