Question of the WeekWho will win the National League?
Dancing with Devils
By: Andrew Doherty
TODAY'S opponents Salford City are known as the Ammies, which goes back to their previous name of Salford Amateurs. Like their rugby league counterparts, the Red Devils would nowadays seem more apt, partly as a reflection of their owner's footballing history, and partly because of their combativeness on the field.
Generally speaking, I have nothing against the new pretenders - Burton, Crawley, Fleetwood, Harrogate, Macclesfield and others are fine. But there are teams who just seem to be culturally unpleasant: Lincoln, Forest Green, any team that the Cowleys or Harry Pell have to do with, and Salford. Today's visitors are a team which puts pressure on referees and could never be accused of going through life with a straight bat. You have to have sympathy for supporters too. Their world is grey, damp weather and Coronation Street. Gourmet food is half a fried rice with half a portion of chips. Their world cannot be swanky BBC studios or la-di-da Hotel Football. It must be strange for them.
But aside from our opponent's unpleasantness, it's up to Town to get something out of this game. The performance and the result against Walsall were disappointing, and we had to be looking at better composure and decision-making from the players. Mr Hurst's speculation that Town's players buckled under the pressure is hardly cause for hope.
Town's side today was: McKeown - Hendrie, Hewitt, Menayese, Clifton - Coke, Matete, Lamy - John-Lewis, Hanson, Payne. Town wearing a blue shade which I'm sure is defined in the Dulux catalogue lined up against the Salford reds. Unusually the sun was out. The pitch was dry and bobbly. The ball bounced awkwardly but Town started on the attack. After 2 minutes, a cross from the right met Hanson who headed on to Lamy. Lamy should have shot but took it forward and passed to Clifton who, seeing a gap, slammed a shot low into the bottom corner, squeezing it in to Hladky's right. Salford 0, Town 1. Town continued to play well. On 7 minutes a good through ball from John-Lewis sent Lamy down the left. The cross was poor but the defender looked to handle it or at least concede a corner. Neither was given. A shot from Lamy two minutes later was fumbled clumsily by Hladky onto the post. Town attacked again, and Clifton flicked back to Matete whose accurate shot was tipped over. From the corner, Hendrie crossed. John-Lewis played a one-two off Hanson's head but the shot was saved. Meanwhile, in Foulwatch Grimsby, Matete committed his first foul on 13 minutes and 32 seconds. Clifton was then booked for fouling Hunter, prompting a Salford attack but Town's defence was solid. There was a lot of aerial play but Town were playing brightly and with purpose. A good cross from Hendrie on 20 minutes was aimed at John-Lewis but Town's striker couldn't shake off the defender and get power on the header. On 23 minutes great work by Menayese on the left shook off the attention of Salford's attacking force. Menayese sent a great cross to Hanson the edge of the box. Hanson looked to be tripped but nothing was given. Salford's Lowe was booked for a dirty tackle on Coke after a Matete pass, but Lamy's overhit free-kick evaded everyone. The rest of the half was more even. Good work from Matete set up a Town attack before Payne was fouled, but as the half went on Salford had the better chances. Following a Matete foul, Salford won a free-kick 5 yards outside the box but Hunter's attempt struck the wall. Coke was then kicked in the head. The referee stopped the game for the injury, not the foul. Frustrated with the officiating, captain John-Lewis remonstrated with the referee. From the restart Salford attacked. Coke went down with a bloody face. Salford won a corner. McKeown punched the ball clear. Town defended resiliently and went in at half-time a goal up. Town had been the better side. Salford weren't causing problems, while Town's defence was solid. The question was whether Town could maintain the possession and control over the game. It's never a given and history dictated that the second half was going to be an uphill struggle.
As expected, Salford increased their level of intensity, but Town had a great chance on 47 minutes after Matete was fouled when scrapping for the ball on the right edge of the box. Lamy's free-kick met Hanson's head. The header looped goalbound, came back off the post and looked to go in but with everyone scrambling, the referee gave a free-kick to Salford. If prizes for stupidity were on offer, then Payne would have won it. On 50 minutes he was booked for needlessly pushing a Salford player in an attempt to take the ball, before clapping the referee sarcastically for the yellow card. If he had been sent off at this point, no-one could have complained. He got away with it. Town, frustrated with the referee, needed to maintain their composure. Asante then weaved his way through Town's defence before falling over. His appeal for a penalty was denied. On 53 minutes a good Menayese clearance found John-Lewis whose control was excellent but his shot was scuffed. At the other end, good defending by Hewitt denied the dangerous Asante. Salford attacked. Tow struggled. A Lamy mistake let Salford in but Ferguson's shot went high and wide. The bandaged Coke and warrior-like Matete tried to make things happen in midfield, but as happens so often, it was impossible to see where Town were going and how they were going to make inroads. A dangerous free kick by Touray on 65 minutes could easily have been nicked for a headed goal. Town were lucky. Lamy then appeared to be tripped but no foul was given. Salford counter-attacked and a long range shot from Gotts went just wide. On 68 minutes Habergham replaced Payne, allowing Clifton to move into midfield. Almost immediately a Touray cross fell to McKeown. Then there was a big moment on 70 minutes in this already eventful game. Matete won the ball in midfield. The ball was slotted to John-Lewis who cleared the defence to send Clifton clear on goal with just Hladky to beat. The referee blew his whistle to stop the game. At first it looked like it was for the referee to sort out a spat between Touray and Matete, who were both booked, but then the game restarted with a free-kick to Town from where Matete had been fouled. This was terrible refereeing. Salford continued to press, and on 75 minutes Hendrie conceded a free-kick 35 yards out. Touray crossed, Hewitt cleared and Matete and his henchmen brought the ball clear. On 78 minutes Hanson started a passing spell after winning a header from a McKeown clearance, and Coke kept the move alive by battling for possession. Matete was fouled, and the pressure was off momentarily. Habergham then won a free-kick after being trodden on. But Town hadn't done very much and were soon under pressure again. From a big cross McKeown punched skywards and then pulled off a great save as Ferguson headed goalwards. It wasn't pretty. Town failed to keep possession when Green, who had just replaced Hanson, twice misplaced passes when under no pressure. Salford launched another big cross from the right on 87 minutes. Ferguson shook off Hendrie and laid the ball off to the unmarked Touray, who had the time and space to fire in an unstoppable left-footed fizzer from outside the box past McKeown. Salford 1, Town 1. Spokes replaced Lamy. On 89 minutes Clifton was fouled. Habergham sent in a good cross, which Meyanese headed down before the ball was cleared. With 4 minutes added, a great move between Green and Clifton set up a Town attack. Green pulled the ball back towards John-Lewis who was standing on the goal line with the defender and keeper close by. Somehow John-Lewis managed to miss it altogether and Hladky gathered. Coke then committed a foul in Town's half as Salford pressed for a winner. Salford won a corner. McKeown made a save with his legs and the game was over: Salford 1, Town 1.
The situation gets worse. Town battled hard, played well in the first half, struggled in the second half but couldn't hang on. The officiating was terrible but to win games we have to dictate play and in the second half we didn't do that. We lost our shape for Salford's goal, which was a pity because defensively we'd been strong against a Salford side which had been ineffective to that point. It's the same old story. Disappointment doesn't cover it.
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