Wednesday, 12 August 2015

11/08/15 Review: Alsager Town vs West Didsbury & Chorlton

Alsager Town 1-2 West Didsbury & Chorlton (The North West Counties Football League)
Wood Park Stadium

Since starting up my blog last month I have witnessed the highs of Bolton Wanderers and Kilmarnock, to the lows of Congleton Town. On top of this, I had seen a grand total of 17 goals across 5 pre-season matches and tonight I was determined to attended my first competitive match of the season thanks to an early finish at work. Had I been a matter of minutes earlier getting home I could've had the time to go through to the Moss Rose and catch Macc vs Southport, however, this was not the case and I knew that a more local game would be on the cards. Having visited Port Vale's defeat against Bolton recently, I decided that I should give a different ground a try. After quickly looking on Google to see which midweek thriller I could get to in 30 minutes or less, I found myself travelling to Alsager. Following a long and winding ride through the north of Staffordshire, I crossed the border (just!) into Cheshire and arrived in the small town. With about 15 minutes until kick-off, I parked up on a small road and looked for the ground. I already knew that this was going to be a proper non-league team. No signs for the ground, no fans in sight and a general feeling of being in the wrong place!

Can anybody spot the football match?
So, I walked in the direction of a sign, labelled "CAR PARK FULL", through the gap between two houses and all of a sudden I was here, at Wood Park 'Stadium'. Knowing it was close to kick off I approached the entry turnstile and was instantly greeted by a chap sat reading a newspaper. We then had an awkward conversation:
Me: Hi there, just one please.
Man: One season ticket?
Me: Erm, no. Just for the game tonight please.
Man: Oh. Okay then. £6.
I then withdrew my wallet to gather the cash. He laughed at the small change I was carrying...
Man: You must be a student, just call it £3 then. It's cheaper for a student or OAP.
Me: Ok.
Man: You are a student right?
Me: Yup.
Usually I would never try to pass off as being a student but the fact that he assumed I was one because of my lack of notes in my wallet made me go along with it.

West Didsbury obviously weren't travelling lightly.
I then proceeded to buy a programme and head over to pitch-side, where I was pleasantly surprised to see that the area I had chosen was seated. Granted, the seat numbers were measured out and labelled on a number of benches, but it was seating nonetheless. Before the game I knew nothing of either side, so whilst I waited for the kick-off I checked out Alsager's pre-season form. 1-6, 2-5, 1-4, 0-4, 1-3 and 2-3 (all defeats) against various local teams soon revealed to me that the Bullets weren't necessarily going to be the best team that I had ever watched. Added to this they had suffered a heavy 0-4 loss on the opening day of the season to AFC Liverpool, so I was slowly starting to wonder if another drubbing would be on the cards. I noted that West Didsbury & Chorlton had also lost their first game and it was at this point that the teams came out. A thriller was in-store, no doubt. My pre-match prediction would have to be for a high-scoring draw. 4-4 would be nice.

"Let's 'ave it you bullets!" is what I would've chanted, had I felt like it.
And so it began- in a great way too- with some good old-fashioned clearances up the field leading to many early chances. The left-back for Alsager looked decent and he was popping the ball into the right areas. A burst of pace from the number 11, Jack Wooley, meant he could beat the centre-back and produce a high-quality lob over the on-rushing keeper. It bounced into the empty net and the Bullets were ahead. Alsager 1-0 WD&C. The theme of the game continued in the same way, with some good short passing often wasted with an over-ambitious long-ball. Lewis Schofield for West Didsbury looked fairly skillful and saw a lot of the ball, however his weakness was soon spotted. "He's all left foot." shouted an Alsager player, before another stamped on his toes to give a foul away. The man guilty of the foul walked away saying "So am I". Another thing which interested me was that the so-called ruling on players not using foul language towards a referee obviously wasn't adhered to at this level. The abuse rained down on the ref, who was constantly quizzed about his decisions.

Non-league football at it's finest.
Roughly half-way through the first half, West Didsbury started to press for an equaliser and it was shortly after when a poor headed clearance from the home side led to Jordan Poole clonking a low-hit volley into the net from 20-yards, another good finish. Alsager 1-1 WD&C. There wasn't too much to shout about for the rest of the half, with the main interest of the fans being a raffle to win a bottle of something from the bar and with it being all-square at the break I decided to give the clubhouse a whirl. Filled with a nice bunch of home and away fans, I grabbed myself a pint and looked at the half-time scores around the grounds. I was very touched that the Alsager staff had laid out a buffet and pots of tea and the away few were loving it. One fan showed his appreciation by saying to his mate "It was worth getting into this league, just for the hospitality". Great stuff.

The clubhouse was rocking- and not because of it being on the top of a small hill.
With half-time nearly over I popped back to my seat in time for the second half. The lads kicked off and the match was back up and running. At this point, a couple of guys appeared nearby to my seat and took a sudden interest in the game. After overhearing some of a conversation, it became apparent that one of the guys was a Trialist at the club. Soon after this, one of the Bullets coaches came over to ask him if he could attend training on Thursday. Following all of these transfer negotiations that I was hearing about, I turned my attention back to the pitch just in time for a key moment. West Didsbury whipped a corner in to the area and the big centre-back hit a bullet header into the goal, giving them the narrow lead. Alsager 1-2 WD&C.

The area for season ticket holders had room for 22 people. Ambitious.
That would be how the match would end, with chances at either end it seemed that on a day where if either side was in form we could've seen many more goals. But in fairness the side who had travelled from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, just outside of Manchester, looked the more likely to extend their lead. One more chance to equalise from the Bullets was squandered in the last few minutes as a weak header passed the post. 

Last chance saloon for Alsager.
The full-time whistle blew, Alsager 1-2 WD&C was the final score, with the Bullets failing to capitalise on a decent start. As I left the ground I saw the Trialist player talking to the manager and one fan who must've seen him before told his mate that he was to become the club's newest signing. His mate asked "how much we signing him for?" and a sarcastic reply followed of "£128 million was the original bid", which put a final smile on my face as I walked away. A decent little ground and not a bad game from the two sides. It wasn't quite the Potters vs The Red Devils, but it certainly had a certain something about it which left me feeling satisfied.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

01/08/15 Review: Macclesfield Town vs Congleton Town

Macclesfield Town 7-1 Congleton Town (Pre-season Friendly)
Moss Rose

After a two day gap from football I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms, so off I popped to Moss Rose again to watch the final of Macc's pre-season friendlies. Up until a couple of days before, we were all set to play a Stoke City XI and the outside chance of perhaps seeing Peter Crouch playing in his home-town was making me look forward to a great pre-season test. In the end, they cancelled and we were now due to play Congleton Town, the friendly next-door neighbours, the Ned Flanders of lower league football.

I was almost tempted to wear my Congleton Town top.
In fairness to the Bears, it was good of them to come forth and fill a gap that helped the Silkmen just 7 days before the Conference kick-off. I had once watched a team of Macc Trialists lose 2-1 at the hands of Congleton, but I expected a much better display from our first team- even though Congleton had just beaten the mighty Poynton FC by 2 goals to 1 on Tuesday. Having arrived at the ground early, I took a few minutes to study the team sheet, which included a trialist goalkeeper starting in the home goal. We also had a couple of trialists on the bench too and with the season drawing close Askey would have to either sign them up or ship them out soon enough. The clouds looked ready to release a bucket load at any point, so I could've quite easily been ready to sit through a wash-out.

Mr Parsons warming-up for the big derby.
My pre-match prediction was that we would win by 3, hopefully 3-0 with a clean-sheet. The team took the pre-season squad photo, trialist keeper and all, before getting straight into position for kick-off- and here we go! The Bears truly looked ferocious from kick-off and weren't taking this game lightly. With the opening exchanges there was more than one foul given against the Congleton midfield and Danny Rowe was instantly hacked to the ground. To make matters worse, the left-back Haynes-Brown was stamped on minutes later and had to be stretchered off. The old man in from of me turned around at this point to inform me of his concern. "Bloody hell, we're down to a 13-man squad now!" and then the man next to him said, "You'll have to come out of retirement at this rate, Bob." An old Silkmen player apparently. Nice to see him showing his support for the club still.

Congleton weren't quite as friendly as anticipated.
At least the last one got back on to his feet.
So, with 6 minutes played and two players injured we finally got cracking with the good stuff. As time went on Macc looked dangerous, they pressed a lot, won corners and looked like scoring some goals eventually. Around the half-hour mark Chris Holroyd crossed one in which was just about poked home by Kristian Dennis for the opener. Macc 1-0 Congleton. Shortly after, the rain poured down and it was beginning to look like a proper old-fashioned derby match. We'd had the hard tackles, the bad weather and there was still an hour left, if the pitch could take it. Macc continued to dominate and as the half-time whistle dawned upon us the traditionally tropical Macclesfield weather took a turn, with the sun shining through the clouds and the rain subsiding. It didn't affect the footballing though, with a few more fouls from Congleton showing that they seemed to lack the fitness to keep up with their rivals. A solid first-half and a clean sheet for the under-tested trialist keeper.
"I hope he's being paid for this", shouted one fan at the linesman.
I decided to watch the subs and trialists warm-up at half-time and I was absolutely stunned to see that one lad looked like Tinchy Stryder, so much so that I assumed he was one of the Under-16 players. Meanwhile, the Congleton subs were having a good laugh, kicking the ball about and mocking each other when they missed the open goal they were shooting at. Safe to say that Congleton were as ready as can be for their season in the North-West regional division and were just happy to have a run-out against a professional team. Despite our friendly against Stoke being cancelled, the Bears did mange to have a kick-about with a young Potters squad, losing 2-0. As the teams came back out looking fresh and dried off, we sat back and looked forward to more positive play from the Silkmen.

Macclesfield Town, we take stadium security seriously.
And positive play was what we got. Tony Diagne, who had swapped over to the left following the first half injury of Haynes-Brown, swung an early cross in which Dennis solidly headed in to double his and Macc's tally. Macc 2-0 Congleton. At this point we threw the ever-improving Theo Bailey-Jones on as it looked like we'd taken a firm grasp on the match. We kept on with the attacking form, despite the rain restarting, with Theo smashing a shot towards the goal which eventually went in thanks to the pouncing captain Whitaker. Macc 3-0 Congleton. With the game slipping away, Congleton went back to the tactic which kept them in touch during the first half- FOUL EVERYONE! This backfired though, as substitute James Poole curled in a truly delightful free-kick from 25-yards. Not too dissimilar to the one I saw in Dumfries a couple of weeks back. Macc 4-0 Congleton. The good thing for the Bears was that they weren't 4 down for too long, the bad news was that it soon became 5. The impact of Bailey-Jones and Poole coming on fresh was too overpowering for the away side and it was in fact the two who combined again, this time with Bailey-Jones adding the final touch. Macc 5-0 Congleton. As with always with the Silkmen, it seemed to be going to well and complacency kicked in. A corner was conceded and from it we let in a sloppy goal. The new number 1, Ritchie Branagan, flapped about a bit and as the ball went over his head it landed on the toe-end of an away man who bundled it in- the lads weren't happy. Macc 5-1 Congleton. It was nice to see the Bears get a goal, mainly because it allowed me to see how many fans they had intermingled amongst ours. I counted 4.

It was raining goals- and also rain.
Two key events of the afternoon happened around this point. The first was that we brought Tynchy Stryder on and another chap was simply announced as "Mister Holmes", who both looked like good players. Secondly, the former Macc player from earlier turned around again and told me that the last time he remembers us playing Congleton, we beat them 7-1 in our final warm-up game and then that season we didn't win our first match until after Christmas. He personally was hoping for one more goal and that's it. So with less than 15 minutes to go we kicked-off again and shortly after added another goal. Substitute Striker Marsden had barely had a touch, but he showed good movement to get into position and add yet another goal. Macc 6-1 Congleton. As the old man prayed and the game came to a close, surely we wouldn't get the cursed 7-1. Well, we did! New boy Whitehead had nowhere to go and nobody to pass to, so he curled one towards the goal and surely enough it found the top-corner. Game over, Macc 7-1 Congleton. (I'm not as patronising as the TV updates so I won't write SEVEN in brackets to emphasise it any more than this bracketed sentence already has.)

Following the match I witnessed some surprising behaviour from two of our players as they brawled with each other on the half-way line. Luckily most fans didn't see this stupidity as they left the ground, but needless to say it was a bad end to a very good day for the lads. Thinking they would go back to the dressing room and celebrate a successful last run out, they will no doubt have gone in on a low because of this internal affair- hopefully a one-off! Anyway, enough of that rubbish- time to grab some fish and chips and head on home. Well done lads, bring on the season ahead.

The only decent Fish & Tatey within 150 miles, spot on!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

29/07/15 Review: Macclesfield Town vs Sheffield United

Macclesfield Town 0-4 Sheffield United (Pre-season Friendly)
Moss Rose

Two games in two days makes for lots and lots of reviewy goodness. Second pre-season outing at Moss Rose for me and it was yet again versus tough League One opposition. This time, in the form of Sheff United, we would be facing our toughest opponents yet and following a 0-0 with Rochdale and a narrow 0-1 defeat against Bury we would need to be at our best to stand any chance. We had (finally) got off the mark with two goals against Stockport County in a 2-1 win, but this would be a whole different type of challenge. The Blades had just managed a 2-2 against Premier League side Newcastle in their last game- and following the re-signing of club idol Billy Sharp, they would be in the mood to show just why many are calling them favourites for promotion to the Championship this year.

Fresh from yesterday's trip to Vale I arrived nice and early in Macclesfield for a pre-match pub-crawl with some of the lads I know from Stafford. Proper, old-fashioned Yorkshire men was the best description- two Sheff United fans, one Man United fan, one Barnsley fan. When I arrived I was greeted by one of the guys with "oh no, he's wearing his Macclesfield top." which was followed by "Go on then, what you having?" Ahh good, an insult followed by a free pint.

Duh, duh, duh, duh, pre-match pub-crawl.
The pub crawl started in a place called 'The Treacle Tap', obviously not a football pub. I was the only person in there with a football top on and, even worse than that, everybody who walked past me made a point of starring at my top to see which top it was! On the plus side, I was hearing some great stories of football weekends, trips abroad and even the recent Euro U21 Tournament which the lads had been to. These guys were hardcore fans who knew every match they had been to and what every ground was like. One of the guys had been to Moss Rose in the 70's to watch Stafford Rangers beat us 3-0 in an FA Trophy 1/4 Final Replay. The two Blades fans said it must've been 25 years at least since they attended the ground. After a trip to a local chippy, we went to 'The Macc' pub before heading to the game.

Stafford Rangers won the FA Trophy in 1971-72 and they never looked back, or forwards.
Our line-up today was about as good as it's going to get, with the season looming and Torquay beckoning in just over a week. The Blades fans would've been delighted to see that Ireland International Conor Sammon, on-loan from Derby, and Billy Sharp were starting up front- which would easily prove to be the Silkmen's toughest test so far. The away side also boasted the talent of Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a player who I've always enjoyed watching, and dot on half 7 the game was under way. A fair few Macc fans had made the trip to the ground this evening, which was nice to see, but I have to take my metaphorical hat off to the Sheffield massive who outnumbered us in the away terrace.

The Blades out in full force.
Straight from the opening whistle the Blades looked ruthless, they attacked from the opening minute and looked like scoring a goal within the first couple of minutes. The midfield were looking good and passing the ball well, not giving the Whitehead or Whittaker much chance to grasp control. With 10 minutes gone a foul was made and up stepped Campbell-Ryce to take a free-kick. It was delightfully whipped in towards the post, where it was unfortunately met my Tony Diagne who couldn't help but turn it past his own keeper. Not a good start, Macc 0-1 Blades. The fans tried to give the lads a bit of encouragement at this point, as they kicked off and tried to start over. Alas, 3 minutes later a great bit of play from Campbell-Ryce was complimented by a lethal finish from Billy Sharp, the messiah was back. Macc 0-2 Blades. Fearing the goals were going to come thick and fast all evening, the home crowd went noticeably quieter and it wasn't until some good work from Rowe that a bit of life came back to the home fans, who appreciated a nice first touch and dart forwards. I found myself sat with some die-hard Silkmen supporters, a couple who are season ticket holders, and we had a good chat about players been and gone over the past few years, reminiscing of the days of Tyrone Barnett, Emile Sinclair and Ross Draper. As half time approached, Macc went close once more and the Blades almost extended their lead several times.

Half Time, 0-2 down and looking out for a silver lining.
10 days until the season starts and from 5 and a half friendlies so far the stats make for worse reading than some of the performances. 6 Played- 1 Win, 2 Draws, 3 Defeats, 2 Scored, 7 Conceded. We have, however, only played one team who are at a similar stature to ourselves (Stockport) and did beat them- and we had looked good against Rochdale and slumped to an unlucky defeat against Bury, so who knows, perhaps a good season could be on the cards. Today's "Pint of Football Moment" in the pre-season programme was another classic from the "10 things you didn't know about..." section. According to fact 9, "Former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron admitted in 2003 that he dreamed of playing for Sheffield United when he was younger."

Some say he only joined United so that he could be scouted by the Blades.
As it stood the Blades looked more than comfortable without the use of Juan, so I took my seat to see how the second half would play out. Having watched Campbell-Ryce go off just before half-time, I was hoping the midfield would be less dominant- how wrong I was. After 15 minutes of good play it was the substitute Che Adams who struck a third for Sheff United. Macc 0-3 Blades. As with previous friendlies I've attended, the majority of the second half was filled with subs and people going to the loo. This proved to be merely an interlude tonight between Adams's second and first goals. He shrugged off Halls and slotted in the penultimate goal of the game with ten minutes to go. Macc 0-4 Blades.

The fans put on that familiar brave face as the fourth goal finished the game.
Full Time followed shortly, Macc 0-4 Blades. I don't know why I was disappointed, as we played ok and Sheffield United are clearly the best team that we've played in pre-season. I shared a look with the fans which suggested we could've kept the game a bit closer and I think that were this an FA Cup tie we would never have let it be as one-sided. We looked to get a goal, when possible, and in the end that killed us as the League One side showed superior fitness and pedigree. The 500+ away fans will head back to Sheffield very happy and I would rejoin with the lads. Expecting to receive some mockery from the winning fan I asked him what I thought of the game, to which he replied, "Yeah, it was alright. Decent run out." I think he was perhaps underwhelmed by the game and I doubt it will feature in his top 100 Blades away days. He swiftly suggested we move on to the final pub before the train, see you on Saturday Moss Rose.