Another cup game today and on paper our toughest test as we visited The Cat Fc a team flying high 3 divisions above us, a cup upset could be smelt miles down the road in the Dell pub!!
A jam packed changing room awaited with baited breath for kick off and when the whistle blew it was the start of a very accomplished performance from the lads.
For the first 10 minutes we needed to settle down as a hugely experienced Cat side bombarded us with long balls, young Curran showed nifty footwork to glance past a couple of opponents inside those nervy minutes but it was Matty Smith who had our first chance as a neat bit of play from Dave Leslie winning 2 great tackles released Kevin Machin down the left who in turn fired a cross to Matty smith who agonisingly missed after a difficult effort.
From a set piece the first ball wasn’t won and their striker fired past a helpless Jason McLaughlin to give the Cat a 1-0 lead, the game could of then gone beyond us, as most teams could have wilted playing a team higher above but the Dell wanted to show we deserve to not only be mixing it with Division 1 teams but even the Premier teams and instantly we looked to get back into the game.
After a superb header from Kevin Machin, James Thomas who was looking very sharp then done a superb Cruyff turn in the great man’s honour and with the defenders back tracking fired a shot in which the keeper did well to save.
More Chances followed as Matty Smith after great work from his partner Thomas had a shot clawed away then Philly Lennon did well to beat his man and put in a decent cross which just evaded a man in the box. Dave Leslie again won a neat tackle in the middle played a ball out wide to Machin who ran down the wing and earned what looked like a clear corner only for the ever smiling ref to give a goal kick??
Moments later a deserved equaliser came as Philly Lennon played a great ball down the right channel where Jimbob ran into the space beat a man on the corner line and cut back to the edge of the area where until then, a quiet Adam Coulls came to life and fired a neat finish into the bottom corner to send the supporters wild 1-1.
This turned Adam Coulls up a notch and it was his exquisite through ball which found Thomas free on goal but the ref cruelly pulled him back for offside, Curran who was demonstrating the old saying if your good enough your old enough, as his marker clearly was getting frustrated with him, and time and time again a few late fouls, down to Curran being too quick, gave us free kicks.
It was this same man who put in a terrible tackle on Adam Coulls which caused a rib injury which he had already had get a lot worse along with a ball belted in his lower region.
At the back Ryan Smith in the middle was once again showing his talent to play in this positon winning every header and hardly losing a tackle, he organised and superbly brought the ball out of defence with his footballing brain being used to the max. Alongside him Sam Yates who was being troubled by a pacey winger but once Lennon supported more he grew into the game while Edge on the left, ably supported by Machin was enjoying a fine start to the game with a few great interception’s and timely clearance’s.
With the game winding down we earnt a free kick about 25 yards out after Matty Smith was upended and with the line shouting to Ryan Smith to step up instead of Philly Lennon who was crouched over the ball, Lennon stepped up and hit a low but difficult effort which had the keeper bemused as it bounced just in front of him into the corner to send us wild 1-2.
Simple half time talk still a long way to go but we needed to keep up this pressure and play our game while making sure we challenge for everything, too many times in the first half we never attacked the first or second balls enough.
Inside the first 5 minutes a change had to be made as a clearly struggling Adam Coulls had to come off in his place Lee O’Donnell, we could have switched him and Ryan Smith but with Smith in such commanding fashion today we decided to not change the back line.
Lee O’Donnell was straight in the mix slotting in alongside Leslie to give our defence a superb shield.
We looked comfortably attacking at will and defending superbly then out of the blue The Cat got a penalty when Sam Yates ploughed through their winger inside the box attempting to head the ball but unfortunately caught the man, their captain stepped up and fired it to Jason’s right and the cat himself got down stunningly to stop on the line, with the ball still in the danger area Lee O’Donnell won a quite stunning tackle to avert a clear goal….This was a game changing moment and while Jason may not have been busy today he earns all the plaudits with a stunning save which brought rapturous applause from the away fans and being honest won us this game today.
We could sense we would win it now! from the players to fans and management alike, this game was ours and the game should have been wrapped up seconds later as once again James Thomas after a counter attack worked his plums off to reach a long ball down the right and strode forward cleverly beating 2 men it looked like he would go alone but played a stunning ball across to his partner Matty Smith who tried to lob the keeper but it agonizingly went wide.
Curran won a 50/50 in the centre circle and the ball looped high towards goal with the keeper backtracking he palmed it up and stopped it just on the line with a few fans and myself screaming to the ref it was over the line….well you have to try!
Edge then won an important block on the edge after Ryan Smith once again cleared superbly which resulted in the hardworking Machin being released down the left but his cutback to Jimbob was behind him and the move broke down.
Lee O’Donnell was immense in the second half he settled the game down sitting nicely alongside Leslie they controlled the game allowing Curran a more advanced role, it was his like Jimbobs in the first half tasty looking Cruyff turn (once again in the great man’s honour) and sprayed raking pass which found Philly Lennon in acres of space down the right but after taking it past one man the ball was cleared for a corner, Currans first corner was way over hit but Machin managed to keep it in play and force another one, Currans second was better as it was placed right in the mix and all the defender could do was head over his own bar ….third time lucky? As he hit another great cross in the box it came off the top of a defenders head and was met 20 yards out by Matty Smith who fired an unstoppable first time volley right in the top corner to spark wild celebration’s….what a hit son, what a hit, stunning effort 1-3.
Sean Phillips and Liam Rose both entered the fray to give us fresh legs for the last 18 odd minutes up top, off came the superb James Thomas and the hard working and after that stunning effort, Matty Smith.
Ryan Smith still had to marshal the boys to make sure the game was won, and it was his once again timely block which averted any danger, with a debateable line call as to whether a ball was out or not Lee O’Donnell played to whistle as you always should do and curled an exquisite effort with his wand of a left foot into the top corner to kill the game off 1-4….superb.
And that’s how it ended, great performance I believe our best yet against much better opponents than we have played before.
Everyone gave their all today Sam Yates after a difficult start grew with confidence, Michael Edge was superb putting in some great tackle’s but Ryan Smith was the pick of the defence once again putting in a commanding display at centre half winning everything which was thrown at him.
On the wings Philly Lennon had his work cut out at times but again was hardworking and capped off a good display with a well taken goal, Kevin Machin was again brilliant tracking back to help out and positive going forward, carrying a slight injury second half he battled on.
In the middle Dave Leslie was immense all game and was a rock in front of our defence, while Adam Coulls was clearly struggling with an injury, he capped off a decent display with a neat finish which got us back in the game and young Danny Curran showed he belongs with his team mates at this level with a matured display beyond his tender years.
Up front James Thomas ran his plums off closing down time and time again he gave their strong back line nightmare’s and for me even thou he never got a goal his performance deserved this was the best we have seen from him since he’s been back. His partner and the Skipper Matty Smith after being up for most of the night due to being at hospital showed us with his goal that he will be sorely missed next season he still is for me one of the best strikers around in all of the divisions.
Lee O’Donnell came on and was truly immense he slowed the game down and got us playing and was a big factor in our superb second half performance capped by a wonderful goal, the other 2 subs Liam Rose and Sean Phillips came on to do a job of tiring their defence out even more, and both did that with a short but hard working stint.
A shout out has to go to the lads who unfortunately didn’t get on it was difficult to make any changes today, Tom Briggs who has been magnificent in recent weeks, Michael Neish who has just come back into the fold, Shaun Briggs and indeed Matthew Easterbrook who joined me on the line to learn a few things!!
M.O.M today was the returning Darren Eaton for his inept performance as linesman ;)…Today it was Jason McLaughlin who made the game changing moment and while he was never rarely troubled too much, that in itself was like a goal and he deserves all the plaudits today as maybe this season he hasn’t had the credit he deserves…he deserves all of the plaudits today.