Tuesday, 12 July 2016

12/07/16 Review: Stafford Rangers vs Bolton Wanderers XI

Stafford Rangers 1-2 Bolton Wanderers XI (Pre-season Friendly)
Marston Road

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
The talk of the fans pre-match was the anticipated friendly debut of Stafford-born, ex-Silkmen player Izak Reid. Having just joined his brother Levi at his home-town club, Stafford's faithful were hoping to have a new star within their realms. Bolton, on the other hand, were hoping that the stars of tomorrow were lining-up for this development squad that contained one key name. Will Jaaskelainen, son of Finnish legend Jussi, was stood between the sticks for Wanderers on this mild summer's eve, ready and willing to do all that he can to live up to his father's name. Bolton were a solid Premier League team in those days, but nevertheless it would still be an honour for him to forge a career with the now League One side. Whilst Wanderers were lamenting over relegation from the Championship in May, Stafford Rangers were of course buzzing with excitement having secured a last day title to win promotion from the Evo-Stik North to the Premier- and just one league away from the National League North. Despite these dreams to reach former heights though, the hard work had to come first and with a hungry group of youngsters standing in front of them in this first fixture, it certainly wasn't going to be plain sailing. As the players walked out underneath an announcement asking for the owner of a Silver Volvo to come outside and close his car windows, it was honestly a great feeling of being back at pitch-side. The game kicked-off and we were up and running! With a feisty start from Rangers containing more than a couple of fouls, the game finally settled into some sort of rhythm. One thing that I instantly noticed, and am still unsure of, was a small rectangular shape that sat underneath the upper section of the shirts of the away side. I have two theories; either all of the Bolton players were wearing some sort of health/fitness monitoring device, or they were all trying to hide receiver devices for a remote controller that somebody was using to control them all. Either way, pretty cool.

Marston Road looking pretty fine
The more that the game progressed, the more impressed I was with the willingness of both teams to get forward and have a go at the goal. With it being an early pre-season fixture, I had made a pre-match prediction of 0-0 and I soon foresaw that this would not be the case. Bolton made a strong break around the 15th minute and eventually Stafford's keeper did his best Joe Hart impression, allowing his initial attempt to save the ball to dribble just out of his grasp and into the goal. Rangers 0-1 Wanderers XI. This seemed to give Rangers the wake-up call they needed and they sprung into action after this early blow. Assertive play and free-flowing football from both sides was on the menu tonight, and new boy Izak Reid should have finished off a great move midway through the first half. He met a low cross in the area from the right, but unfortunately it didn't test the away keeper as it flew over the bar. Between half-chances from the home-side, there was some strong goalkeeping to witness from Jaaskelainen Jr, who plucked free-kicks and throw-ins out of the air, left, right and centre. Bolton seemed likely on the break though, and the man who caught my eye in the heart of midfield was Joseph Shirdel, with skill and solidarity running through his patterns of play.
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!

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