Stafford Rangers 1-2 Bolton Wanderers XI (Pre-season Friendly)
After just over 5 weeks without football (excluding the 30+ matches I watched during the EURO's on TV), it was finally time to dust off my obscure football shirts, pull out my best outdoor shorts and lace up my trainers to get some pre-season on. That's right, the 2016/17 pre-season was up and running for Pint of Football and what better way to start it off than at Marston Road?
|Optimism was in the air as the Wanderers were in town|
Having visited Marston Road back in October last season with Partizan Bristle, I was this time accompanied by a friend who was watching her first ever match. After some pre-match explanations about what to expect from the game and also the general atmosphere of non-league football, I felt that we were prepared for a good fixture. Bolton's youngsters had already played a match against Radcliffe Borough and comfortably beaten them 6-0, whereas this was the Rangers first run out since training began last week and with a couple of new faces on the team-sheet the fans flocked in to see if the summer signings would show up.
|Let's get ready to rumble|
|Marston Road looking pretty fine|
|Time to freshen things up for Rangers, maybe not|
The one thing in the EURO's that will undoubtedly stand the test of time is the mind-haunting "Will Grigg's on fire" song. After spending about 5 weeks with this tune stuck in my cranium, I can't say I'm too surprised that it would be infesting through football fans around the country. A 40th minute Chris Dacres header came close to equalising, and more significantly arose the fans to shout out "Dacres on fire, your defence is terrified!" Oh lord, this is going to be happening all season, isn't it?
The fans were soon hushed though, as Agostinho Ca made a tricky darting run across the Rangers defence and eventually invited a foul and a penalty for Bolton. George Newell stepped up to bag a second for the Wanderers just before half-time, sending the home keeper the wrong way in the process. Rangers 0-2 Wanderers XI. With half-time in sight, Rangers could've waited until the break to re-group and try to get back in to the game, but that was not the attitude that saw them table-toppers in 2015/16. They got straight into the game again and a cross into the area from an impressive Robert Stevenson was almost blasted into the net for a Bolton own goal. The resulting corner was met by a header out of the box and into the path of Kris Taylor. He calmly took the ball into his grasp and swiftly unleashed a 25-yard belter which rattled the bar and bounced over the line. Rangers 1-2 Wanderers XI. A stunning finish from the former Manchester United youth product who Christened the newly installed goalposts, which were donated to Rangers by neighbouring side Stafford Town. With that, it was half-time and a chance to pop to the clubhouse for a beer. Whilst in there I overheard a man saying to his mate "how did Celtic end up playing against a team called Lincoln Red Imp?", and more hilariously I studied the screen above to see that they were losing to them!
|If Lincoln Red Imp from Gibraltar can do it, why not the Rangers?|
Taking up a different spot for the second-half, we made it out for the kick-off and upon first glance it appeared that many changes had been made. Several new players, who were confusingly wearing different shirts to the rest of the team, had come out to represent Rangers and see what they could bring to the table. As Newell and Jack Earing continued to impress for Bolton, I was more impressed with the tenacious nature of the Rangers number 15 on the wing, who put in a great shift to try and carve open the opposition defence. When a chance did fall to George Bowerman in the 70th minute, he ultimately fluffed his lines and the equaliser seemed to be just out of reach. The 539 fans did their best to encourage the team towards a goal, and as the ball went out near where we were stood, one young fan shouted "go on Woody!". The left-back turned around to the fans and responded honestly with "I'm fucked. Fucking fucked, mate!" and raised laughter around the stand. With seconds to spare there was one final throw of the dice for Rangers. An inch-perfect through ball led to a hopeful position for Rangers, and the squared pass across the box was just waiting to be tapped in. Fortunately enough for the Wanderers keeper it was he who got there first and put the chance of a level scoreline to bed. At full-time it finished 2-1 to Bolton's young 'ens, which was harsh on a decent Stafford Rangers side. The lack of ability to clinch the equaliser may come to haunt Rangers in time, but they will be hopeful that with time to gel as a team that they will get better in that department.
|Up the Rangers!|
Another entertaining outing to Marston Road and I highly doubt it'll be my last. With the games hopefully coming thick and fast, I will be at Telford United on Thursday before deciding which games to take in next week. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's great to be back for a second season!