Sunday, 8 December 2019

07/12/19 Review: Nuneaton Borough vs Rushall Olympic

Nuneaton Borough 1-3 Rushall Olympic (BetVictor Southern League Premier, Central Division)
Liberty Way

For the first time this season I would get the opportunity of back-to-back Saturday groundhops and with a 2pm finish at work in Coventry there would be no better chance to go and see what all the fuss is about at Liberty Way as two of the top ten in the Southern League Prem Central would do battle. My first trip to Nuneaton for football came back in August as I saw Griff lose out at the Pingles Stadium, so the big question would be whether the town's most recognised team could do better against a team that I am personally fond of- Rushall Olympic!

Only 20 to go now before I reach 200...
So after cheering for the Pikes last weekend I'd be 150 miles further south than my trip to Mill Lane in Pickering, trading in the Betvictor Northern League for the Betvictor South and today I would be pledging my allegiance to the Pics. For those of you who are sad enough to read my write-ups regularly, you'll perhaps recall my August outing to Dales Lane back in 2016 in what would be my 40th ground and more importantly the first time I'd get to see Rushall Olympic in action. Back then, they were considered a "northern" team and like most of the Midlands they have yo-yo'ed between the borders- now sitting in one of the southern editions of the seventh tier of English football. An eighth place finish last season was a good effort for the visiting club, meanwhile the hosts sadly join the division after a devastating campaign last year that saw them finish rock bottom of the National League North. To put it into context, Boro have already won double the amount of league games this season than they did throughout the whole of the last- and we aren't even halfway through yet. Although yesterday would be my first visit to Liberty Way, this was not in fact my first time watching Nuneaton, having seen them play Worcester City at Aggborough four seasons ago- and I still talk about that fateful Sunday afternoon in Kidderminster. More to follow on that later.

In the meantime, let's eat and drink
Back to Liberty Way, I was now well embroiled in the hidden gem that hides within a concrete jungle of the industrial estate that sits upon River Anker. The ground itself is a delight and gives off the vibe of a great non-league stadium, with plenty of fans wandering about, a great selection of places to sit or stand to oversee the game, as well as a well-attended bar in the back serving up a fine selection of pre-match beers. As is often the case on my visits I made a point of checking out the Boro' Sports Bar and having initially wondered where everyone was hiding, I was pleasantly relieved to see how vibrant the clubhouse was and many fans in blue, as well as a good sprinkle of amber coloured away supporters, were all hiding away from the cold and enjoying a natter before the big game. The ground had so far impressed me a lot, giving a feel of being like a "mini Swansway" with having a few similarities in style, location and colour to that of Chester's ground, but despite my almost instant love developing for Liberty Way, I remained loyal to the colours I'd vowed to cheer on this afternoon- despite the fact that I'd annoyingly forgotten to bring my Rushall scarf along with me. Still, it didn't stop me getting out there in time for kick-off, having made a 1-2 prediction for the in-form Pics.

Let's get out there folks, it's match time
Within just a few minutes of the action played, there was a huge early chance for the visitors and their quick break from defending a corner was swooped up to Daniel Waldron, who ran in and some how screwed up the chance as he watched it go wide. This early miss did not deter the visiting side though and into the 12th minute their magician number 10, Jonathan Letford, twisted and turned through the Nuneaton defence before slotting home. Nuneaton 0-1 Rushall. By this stage, the game had settled into a fair rhythm and as I did the full lap of the ground I swooped past the large standing terraced area behind the one goal, before walking along another standing section that housed a lot of the older Boro boys. The least populated, but also noisiest section of the walk around came as I checked in on the dozen or so Rushall fans who were having a lovely time. "E-I-E-I-E-I-OH, up the football league we go!" rang out as the Pics played another half-chance in front of them, whilst the home fans located in the only seated stand in the ground were mainly resorting to moaning and groaning about the decisions being made by the referee.

The Ref was bad, but I've seen worse...
As mentioned earlier, the last time I watched Nuneaton will always remain a historic day for me as it will no doubt be forever known as the day that I witnessed the worst refereeing display in history. It's hard to sum up Darren Strain's display that day, but to quote my Blog entry from back in 2015, "following the matches end, most fans stuck around to hurl abuse at the referee, with us being included in the hurling" and although today's ref was a bit of a nightmare- he was no Darren Strain!
I bet one or two of this lot remember it
Back to today's outing and Nuneaton had been forced into an early sub, with Miles Addison coming on at the back presumably because of an injury. Now, I'm not one to often pass judgement on a player's appearance, but when I saw the number 16 start to run around on the field I almost approached the subs bench to check with Jimmy Ginnelly that he hadn't mistakenly picked one of Nuneaton's rugby lads to play. I know that the rugby team also plays here, but crikey, what a meaty lad the hosts now had at the back.

Still, even with a bolstered defence, the hosts went in 0-1 down at half-time
The second-half began with the hosts looking rejuvenated and ready to fight their way back into the game. Boro looked to make the pressure pay, but instead were denied by the man in the middle again as he denied them what looked to me to be a penalty claim at one end, whilst at the other Rushall took full advantage by rushing up-field and Letford this time was the provider as he crossed for a leaping Waldron to hit home with a bullet header. Nuneaton 0-2 Rushall. The only hope for the game to be salvaged at this stage was (surprise, surprise) a goal of their own and when a set-piece was left in the hands of centurion James Clifton. The right-back celebrated his 100th appearance for Boro by slotting home a free-kick of great quality, meaning that it was game back on. Nuneaton 1-2 Rushall. And as if that wasn't exciting enough, the next few minutes would belong to Nuneaton's announcer as he revealed that not only was this goal a momentous one for James, but it was also the 400th Nuneaton goal at Liberty Way. AND not only was it the 400th Nuneaton goal at Liberty Way, but it was also the 900th competitive goal to be scored at Liberty Way too.

Thanks for the updates, Landmark Larry!
An exciting final twenty minutes in the game saw some end-to-end action that would see Ryan Edmunds go close, only for his tricky turn in the box to lead to a blocked shot on the Pics line. Having ridden out the pressure for so long, the fourth official held up his board stating five more minutes and with that the Rushall fans began to wonder whether their side could hold on. A little girl in front of me led the Olympic chants behind the goal and with just a few minutes to go Letford completed a stunning performance by grabbing a second assist, this time for sub striker Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham. Nuneaton 1-3 Rushall. The Nuneaton faithful took this as their cue to leave the ground, knowing that it had been a disappointing afternoon all-round. The Pics lot continued to scream and shout about another well-earned three points that would see them continue their ascension in the league. Seventh place Rushall were thrilled to see the final whistle go and attention would soon turn to another tough away day- this time at Stourbridge's legendary War Memorial Ground. Nuneaton would also be on the road in their next game, with Keys Park being the destination for Boro as they search a bounce-back result against another one of the Midlands finest non-league outfits. It is true that this league is littered with phenomenal local grounds and I am thrilled to have checked out Liberty Way for my 180th- another great afternoon and another tick closer to the big 200.

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