Our opening game of the 2017/18 season and a home fixture again against league new comers Coundon & Leeholme FC. As a new team we weren’t sure what to expect, but having played in the Durham Alliance last season, and some mooting them as potential dark horses, one thing we expected was that we’d be in for a challenging game. Along with having suffered some heavy defeats in pre-season, despite having played well in spells against higher level opposition, I was slightly more nervous than usual in the build-up to Saturday.
We’ve added to the squad quite significantly over the summer and I had the unfortunate job on Thursday evening of informing a few lads I couldn’t get them in the 16 for Saturday. It’s a luxury I’ve never seemed to have had the past two seasons but it doesn’t make the job any easier!
Any nerves I had leading up to kick off were settled early when Liam Donnelly latched on to a loose ball just inside the Coundon half, powered forward and unleashed a 25 yard strike that left the keeper no chance as it found the top corner. The game developed in to a typical first game encounter, both teams battling for possession and being slightly cautious in their approaches. For a 15-20 spell after our goal we seemed to sit back and gave away the ball far too sloppily, allowing Coundon to grow in to the game as they controlled possession and played some neat football. We were lucky to keep them to long distance efforts and dealt with the ball over the top well. They created a couple of good chances for themselves but David Smallman was in fine form between the sticks including a stunning save low down to his left. As the half drew out we created a couple of half chances but nothing that really troubled the away keeper.
HALF-TIME: Whitburn Athletic 1 – 0 Coundon & Leeholme
Half time we talked about being more composed on the ball and retaining the ball better, especially in the final third. Uncharacteristically from last season, we were quick out of the blocks again in the second half, closing Coundon down quickly and not giving them time on the ball. This pressure paid off as Anthony Chapman dropped deep to cross which was met by Jordan Howe at the near post and his flicked header looped over the keeper and in at the back post. This seemed to knock the wind out of the visitors slightly and we took advantage 10 minutes later to extend our lead and effectively kill the game off; we won a free kick in the Coundon half on 55 minutes, managed to work a short pass which played Smith in and to cross in to the box, Anthony Chapman finishing neatly in to the bottom corner when the ball fell to his left foot. But for some wayward attempts at goal following our third we were unable to enhance our goals scored tally. Coundon finished the game strongly, committing men forward in an attempt to reduce the arrears and had a half appeal for a penalty turned away in the latter stages, however, we held out firm to retain a clean sheet and our first three points of the new season.
It’s always nice to pick up a win on the opening day but with games coming thick and fast in the first three weeks, the squad need to keep their feet firmly planted as holidays and lads working midweek will bring a number of enforced changes to the team. Everyone in the squad will be called upon at some point and will need to be at the races to be competitive against some good teams who will all want to be challenging for early-season supremacy.
FULL-TIME: Whitburn Athletic 3 – 0 Coundon & Leeholme
Written by Ryan Shave