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Another Fine Mess
By: Andrew Doherty
IT was June 2006, when my work colleague Neil pronounced in the tones of someone delivering a piece of searing insight: "You’ll be playing Accrington Stanley next season". Of course it was true.
Here’s another team suffix to tease you when you’ve got the Argyles, the Palaces, the Hotspurs and the Wednesdays and you’re struggling for the last, elusive names in that list. Some people think automatically of the TV advert but for me, Accrington Stanley is about cold and grainy black and white winters spent looking at looking at historical league tables with teams like Bradford Park Avenue and Gateshead. After a miraculous resurgence, they’re back with us again. But this is reality for both teams. They struggle to get crowds of 1200 while we’re now hanging on perilously to our league status. What’s more, our record against the new Accrington makes grim reading: played 5, won 1, drawn 0, lost 4, goals for 6, goals against 12.
A Doherty family gathering plus my mate Mick, who’s along for the cultural experience, had places in the Carlsberg Upper. We’d been in the Pontoon for the Aldershot game. "Compare and contrast the atmosphere of the Carlsberg Upper with the Pontoon". After being in the Pontoon, Mrs D commented on the festival atmosphere, the life, the enthusiasm. The Rio Carnival came to Blundell Park. I mentioned this at work. No-one knew what I was talking about. The last time we sat in the Carlsberg, it was like a home for depressives - a cup of tea and a box of Prozac, please. So we’re back in the Carlsberg. Hopefully Mr Newell will make better decisions today.
As it happened, we were one down before we started. Mrs D decided not to come as she was tired after a sleepless night. I know where she’s coming from. This happens at this time of the season with relegation issues to consider.
Football match days are great though. All thoughts turn to the main event. "It’s grey and miserable" commented my son Merlin. He was referring to the weather in Peterborough, or maybe the place. It was probably a prophetic statement about the football. "Due to rostering problems, the 0921 train is cancelled", declared the announcer - ah, the driver’s going to the match too. Mick texted me - I guessed he was like a child in a sweetshop, overwhelmed with excitement .... possibly. We met up on the train. I spotted an Accrington supporter - "having a bet, was he?" enquired Mick.
Mick concealed his excitement well. He supports Spurs, so it helps that he doesn’t get much practice. Instead of enthusing over the prospect of witnessing battle from the lower reaches of Division 2, he spoke of a recent visit to some restaurant called The Ivy in London. Mick likes to name drop. He’s a Southerner, you see. I expect he called in at Tiger Tiger, afterwards. He told us about an incomprehensible play called "Waiting for Godot" that he’d seen. Nothing could be as incomprehensible as the fare offered at Blundell Park this season. Still, if this Godot’s useful, cheap and can bolster our midfield, so much the better. "Beckett?" responded my brother Michael. Mick nodded. Ah, fish and chips. So Beckett’s it was for lunch. Mick took the absence of creamed spinach and guacamole very well. I can’t speak for The Ivy but if it’s half as good as Beckett’s, it should be ok. It set us up nicely for the football. We set off for BP. "It’s like going to a mass execution", observed Michael.
It was now grey, miserable and there was a drop of rain in the air. The tide was in. The game was about to begin.
Encouragingly, Town’s line up had an air of familiarity about it:
Henderson - Stockdale Bennett Atkinson Widdowson - Llewellyn Hunt Sweeney Hegarty - Conlon Akpro.
Accrington showed the enterprise in the early part of the game, but Conlon managed a good low shot after a minute, which won a corner. Henderson then had to save low after good work by Miles. Akpro turned a defender on 8 but Widdowson fired over the bar. Hegarty won a corner on 14 but while Accrington started brightly and were passing well, Town were labouring and rushing it. Sweeney was set up on 16 but didn’t seem to be expected to receive the ball on the edge of the Accrington box.
On 20, Conlon, Stockdale and Llewellyn were instrumental in a nice build-up, resulting in Stockdale sending in a weak left foot shot. The defender made a hash of the clearance, slicing it to the goalkeeper. Accrington got back up field and Henderson was forced to make a good save with his left foot. Town were bitty, and were reliant upon Conlon setting things up as none of the midfield was performing well. Accrington passed well and looked organised. On 24 Sweeney was flattened but his free kick was curled to the keeper. Hunt showed enterprise on 27 in a hitherto lacklustre midfield and set up Akpro who was offside.
Mostly the ball was heading skywards but on 30, Conlon won a free kick after a neat flick. Atkinson’s resultant effort went over. Conlon then nearly caused a defender to head into his own net on 31 but all Town got was a corner. Accrington’s defence seemed shaky at this point but town were unable to capitalise. On 36, a joint effort from Widdowson and Akpro won a corner, then on 38, Hegarty set up another Conlon flick which led to Sweeney being hacked down on the edge of the box. Sweney wasted the free kick.
On 43, Bennett needlessly gave away a free kick but Stockdale cut out the chance and a long ball out found Akpro who almost went clear but had to be satisfied with a corner. Hegarty was then fouled on 45, but in the spirit of the half, town failed to capitalise.
Half-time: Town 0, Accrington Stanley 0.
Half-time verdict: Town showed plenty of effort but very little quality. There was only one build-up where the players supported each other, otherwise it relied upon individual effort. Conlon looked dangerous, but Sweeney wasn’t having an inspiring game. It seems that for Town to play well, Sweeney needs to perform and he was at least starting to orchestrate things. Hunt too improved as the half went on. It was all the more disappointing as Accrington’s defence looked shaky and almost panic-stricken at times. At the other end, Accrington were being given too much space and were passing the ball nicely to create chances. This wasn’t a team effort from Town but I had seen worse.
Hegarty started well, supplying Conlon on 46 for a header which went wide and then slipping his man on 48 before being fouled. Widdowson got booked on 49 for a foul. Town had a let off when Accrington used the resultant free-kick to generate one of their wide attacks. Henderson spilt the fierce shot in and Symes converted but the goal was disallowed for offside. Hunt was starting to get into the game and on 51 barged his way across the box but mistimed an accurate shot. Hegarty then impressed with a pinpoint pass after deliberation to Hunt who burst through. The ball came back to Hegarty who forced an excellent save and won a corner. Town won another corner on 54. There was plenty of pressure from Town but no impact.
On 62, Akpro’s skill earned another corner. On 65, Bennett, who wasn’t having the greatest game, slipped up but Atkinson got in and tidied up. His ball up field was aimed at Akpro whose job today seemed to be offside. Soon afterwards Akpro was replaced by Proudlock. On 71 minutes Accrington embarked on one of their trademark attacks, with 3 or 4 players sweeping up the field. The ball came down the right where Turner put in the perfect cross to the head of Symes, who fired home into the right corner. Town 0, Accrington Stanley 1. On the restart, Widdowson was then lucky not to be sent off after hacking down Symes but the referee was lenient. Stockdale got in a cross but it eluded everyone, then a nice cross from Proudlock on the left saw Conlon control the ball and bring the ball down, for the goalkeeper to make a great save.
On 76, Forbes came on for Llewellyn in a clear attacking move. Hegarty then out in a poor corner, and Sweeney then fired over the top after Proudlock was tripped 20 yards out. Accrington were starting to niggle Town, falling down at every opportunity, and Sweeney fouled Symes on 79, showing signs of being wound up by the Lancastrian player. Henderson, who impressed with his sense of urgency at keeping Town going, then tipped over the bar. Town had just lost the rhythm that they never really had.
Accrington continued to disrupt the game by writhing on the floor at every opportunity but to be fair to them, they continued to sweep forward and create attacks, instead of just sitting back. Town were descending into a rabble by now. "Accrington seem to have twice as many players", commented Michael. This was an indication that they were dictating the game. Symes fell over again on 89, then Accrington took the ball into the corner at Town’s end. Proudlock committed a foul before doing what he does best and mouthing off at the linesman and the Accrington players. Accrington were allowing no leeway and were putting in a professional performance. Town were creating no chances, and in spite of having 4 minutes of stoppage time, it was a vain struggle. The game ended.
Town 0, Accrington Stanley 1.
Verdict. Town did show purpose in their performance until the last 10 minutes when Accrington disrupted their non-existent continuity. The Accrington keeper made two good saves in the second half and another good one in the first, and that was it. The impressive Conlon provided two of the efforts. His partner up front was Akpro, who didn’t get much service and was a bit part player only before he was replaced. There was no leadership again. Sweeney was in and out mostly out, and we do rely on him. Hunt showed promise in the second half especially, Llewellyn looked competent and Hegarty showed promise and put in some crosses and one really good shot but looked like a frightened rabbit when running up the middle, not knowing what to do. He tired as usual. I like him as a player but always feel we should get more from him. Stockdale and Widdowson both provide options and I particularly like Stockdale as a defender. Bennett had an unusually poor game while in goal Henderson had a good one. I like Henderson. He’s inspirational and he cares. He’d make a great team captain. Atkinson was brilliant, solid as a rock and my clear nomination for Man of the Match. But as a team we stank. In spite of attacking a shaky defence, we created very little and gained nothing. Again there was very little authority about the midfield. Accrington showed us the way, as Bury had done earlier this season, by sweeping up the field in threes and fours, creating width and space, and giving each other options. Other than in very small bursts, Town were incapable of doing this, so it all relied on individuals.
Once again I find myself defining the indefinable. On paper we’re clear of the relegation zone. But we can’t beat the bottom teams and we have to play the bottom teams. In fact we don’t look like beating anyone this season or next, when we also need to get our act together. What will the chattering classes be saying in The Ivy, Mick? That to beat teams like Accrington, we need Godot urgently? It’s another fine mess, Stanley.
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