County 0 North Ferriby 1
This week seemed to prove yet again, that some things seem not to change.
It always rains at an Old Trafford Test Match .......Mr Rabbit still urgently seeks the whereabouts of Jessica Hyde, and on an altogether more serious note....the Somerset Levels, after a wee storm, and with another drop forecast for week-end, are again positioning the sandbags and doing some batten fastening as we speak, just months after the last lot! The locals in those parts must be totally depressed!
County fans know a bit about being depressed though do we not, but the years of angst so slow at going away, have shown hints of doing just that recently, so I was lured into a near euphoric state pre-kick off today, willing the success we all crave to return again on the pitch.
It was not to be, at least not today, as County slumped to a first game defeat much as they did last term, albeit the defeat at 0-1 was by no means as potentially catastrophic as the 1-4 reverse to Boston.....and North Ferriby were undeniably a strong side....too strong on the day for a County side lacking fire power and ideas. The early season optimism ,so clearly rife amongst the E.P faithful, took a chastening knock as muck and nettles captain Matt Wilson fired Billy Heath`s side into a lead they seldom looked likely to relinquish.
It`s only one game of course and the first of the season, so it`s still a case of being ` all to play for` , but we will have to learn fast that Ferriby are by no means the only side with physicality and savvy to spare at this level, or a long long season is ahead of us.
At 3 o`clock County lined up with a team containing only 5 players who had featured last season. The starting line up surprised me somewhat- I was expecting Sharp and Spencer to feature from the off but neither did so. There were places for new man Richard Baker and on loan Jack Ryan. Dennis looked to be the lone striker with Ryan( or more frequently Belezika) and Woolfe notionally charged with providing width. Woolfe did this to good effect particularly in the first half, but the visitors defence was as implacably unbreachable as you could wish for on an away day!
County`s back four of Belezika, Lees, Gregson and Duxbury was entirely uncontroversial, although Stephen O`Halloran might beg to differ on that, but the unit looked and in the event, was pretty solid and up to the job, it was elsewhere where the difficulties arose.
Midfield had Jamie Milligan running the show, and I thought he did reasonably well- his corners and free kicks showing a definite improvement, but he went off around the hour mark, due to injury, and although Chris Churchman did a decent job in Jamie`s role thereafter, we lacked that spark that makes the difference when push comes to pull. I thought that the forwards, apart from Woolfe, struggled throughout to make headway against a back line that could hack a ball clear or deposit an opponent in an ungainly heap at the drop of a hat! But..... at kick off time none of this was known and guarded optimism abounded around and about Edgeley Park. The away contingent, at 39, was pitifully small, but again.....Alty`s visit apart, that just replicated our experience last season.
From the off we pretty much got a hint of what was to come as beanpole forward Tom Denton won his first aerial battle teeing Dan Clayton up with a run at Hurst`s goal. The shot carried the bar, and a subsequent effort from the same forward saw Gregson head clear . Gregson , and indeed Lees too, did well throughout, under quite a bit of pressure from Denton and the wily Nathan Jarman( a pain in the backside, but probably the Villagers top man).
Woolfe showed up well early on sending Belezika clear with a lovely ball, but the flag was up and it counted for nothing.
There seemed plenty for County`s back four to do, and Gregson, thankfully was well focused, and he did well to shepherd Denton out of harm`s way to enable Hurst to gather in a potentially tight position.
Denton was not deterred however and a neat lay off should have seen Danny Emerton through, but for an alert reaction by Scott Duxbury who blocked his path, forcing Liam King to lift a poor effort high into the Cheadle End.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Churchman sent Woolfe clear with an inch perfect pass, and the County wide man produced a cross that took keeper Adam Nicklin two goes to get....but get it he did and it stayed 0-0.
Jonathon DLaryea provided threat next for the Yorkshire side, and picked out Denton nicely with a decent cross. It did look a chance but the number nine`s glancing header, a surprisingly delicate touch from one I assumed to be a pretty basic no nonsense performer, went narrowly wide!
This constant flow of attacks from the Villagers went on, interrupted here and there by a perky run or two from Nathan Woolfe, and after neatly tricking his way past Dean Isles, his latest effort again caused a brief moment of anxiety for Nicklin, but he came out with the ball and that was that.
Denton was penalised next for an attempted decapitation of Mark Lees, who had to go off - returning minutes later with head bandaged to bravely head clear under pressure from the same forward.
Before this Nicklin had had difficulties handling a Milligan free kick, so there was probably an area for County to exploit there, but that said the keeper was quick enough to come out and locate Hardcastle Road when the lively Woolfe slipped a ball into Ryan`s path not that far from goal.
For a time County appeared to be getting their act together somewhat, with Woolfe still in the van, but supplemented by determined runs from Belezika on the other flank . Milligan too kept at it, but despite winning a corner, this could not be converted into a goal, as the Villager`s defence did the basics to perfection, and survived.
Ryan and Dennis did harass the visitors, but another corner only resulted in more frustration as Gregson, charging in at speed, saw his header deflected for another flag kick, which again Ferriby defended with steely determination, keeping it at 0-0.
I am going to make a concerted effort to say nice things about referees this season( honest!), but by the half hour mark this one ( Mr Tom Nield) was beginning to irritate me- my irritation amply highlighted when Baker produced a lovely tackle to dispossess Emerton, and win a goal kick, only for the official, who was about half a yard away, to give a corner. It mattered not that Hurst gobbled the kick with ease.....the bile was building.....
There were other things to occupy minds with though, namely the attacks that just kept coming from North Ferriby. Lees was one in blue to do well under much pressure at this time, but he could not stop Jarman from getting a shot in. He put it wide, but it was close.
County did keep trying and Belezika was prominent down the right, his gritty running winning many an improbable tackle. He also picked Baker out with a neat pass, only for him to take a fearful clattering from Nathan Peat. It was a truly awful assault, but all the referee did was award a free kick, which sent the bile count on the rise once again!
Back came the visitors.....Jarman volleying over the top from a Denton lay off, and shortly after when Gregson was bundled over by the number nine, the pressure seemed about to ease for County, except the referee gave the visitors the free kick, and County had a difficult situation to deal with. Fortunately the kick landed in our midst in Row R, so no harm done ultimately, but...............
Belezika meanwhile was warming to his task and earned applause with a couple of gutsy runs, and a fine cross that saw Milligan an inch or two away from putting it away.
If that last action was good, consecutive loose balls from Duxbury and Lees nullified good defensive work, setting Jarman up for another crack at goal. It missed......but.........
Two decent efforts rounded the first half off.....one for each side.....
The first one fell to North Ferriby, and resulted from sustained pressure and Emerton would have been disappointed to see his blistering drive, deflected for a corner, smack on 45 minutes.
In added time Ryan and Woolfe ran at the visitors back line, and some neat play ended with the ball back with Milligan whose first time effort sadly went wide.
That was that for the first half, neither keeper had really been tested in that period- would that situation continue to appertain in the final 45?
Well....within a couple of minutes of the re-start ,I had an inkling as to the answer to that last one, as County were pushed back on their heels, and conceded corners as a consequence- kicks that saw the usual hysterical free for all on the goal line, but no goal.
Another 3 minutes and a decidedly iffy free kick awarded to the Villagers by Mr Nield saw us wading thigh deep in the brown stuff when Hurst elected to punch clear and only managed to propel the pill to Matt Wilson on the edge of the box. The visiting captain hooked a vicious drive into the net, to give his side the lead - a brilliant finish for a striker but a magnificent one for a central defender. The least said about the defending the better!
But.....within a minute, County might have replied in kind, as Churchman picked out Ryan , sending him clear with a lovely ball. He should have shot, but he didn`t....he hesitated...then went to pass, but the moment had gone and it stayed 0-1.
For a moment after this, I thought all our terrible yesterday`s were about to descend on us again, as County`s cover was blown again by Jarman who sent Emerton through with a fine ball. Now this was a nailed down cert chance, and Hurst was way second favourite as Emerton advanced, but somehow he contrived to drag his shot wide of the far post, and County were still in the game!
After much pressure from North Ferriby, County did respond, but with little conviction- Dennis and Ryan failing to impress on the break- each leaving it to the other to do a job that in the end neither managed. There was a familiar lack of penetration about County`s work, but after lifting one shot over the bar, Milligan succumbed to injury , being replaced by Sharp ,who took up position wide right, with Churchman slotting in, in front of the back four.
Within a minute Sharp was involved, but when Gregson`s knock down reached him, he could only head over the top. He was involved again a few minutes later with Ryan, and the move that followed offered the blues their best opportunity of getting back on level terms. It ended with County`s only shot on target, from Dennis, but Nicklin did mightily well to beat the effort out, and his muscular comrades did the rest....it stayed 0-0!
Well......it might not have...because Ryan turned inside past Wilson next, with a real site of goal. But he blazed his shot over the bar, when something altogether more measured was called for.
With a front 3 of Sharp, Dennis and Woolfe, notionally we had chances to claw the game back, but there seemed no way through the impenetrable barrier that Wilson and Anderson and others placed in County`s path. Some of their work was a tad crude, but this is Division 6, so we have to live with that fact!
Handbags were out with 10 minutes left as a foul by Baker proved precursor to a bit of push and pull in front of the Danny Stand. Baker got a yellow, which was probably about right.
North Ferriby prospered as the game drew on, and the free kicks piled up in their favour. One such was whipped in wickedly from the right, and Anderson`s header missed out by the proverbial whisker!
County did try to peg the lead back, but Woolfe who had looked so lively early on, was beaten with ease by Peat. From this Denton managed to charge clear- it looked a tad dangerous did this, until Belezika tracked back and stopped the rot with a near perfect improvised tackle- I enjoyed that!
Spencer came on for Woolfe with barely 2 minutes left, but even with another 4 minutes added at the end it was a big ask for County.
They tried......forcing Wilson and Russell Fry to make crucial defensive headers......then Jarman went AS and elbowed Baker in the face on the edge of the box. The referee must have seen it but did nothing other than award a free kick, which screamed in but just eluded Ryan at the back post.
Game over.....game lost....and we have been here before, and come back from far worse!
See you at Guiseley on Tuesday!
County line up;
Hurst, Belezika, Lees, Gregson, Duxbury, Milligan ( Sharp 56),Churchman, Ryan, Baker, Dennis, Woolfe( Spencer 88).
Subs not used:
Ormson, O`Halloran, Lofthouse.
North Ferriby United line up:
Nicklin, Lisles, Peat, King, Wilson, Anderson, Emerton, DLaryea, Denton, Jarman, Clayton.
Gray, Pecora, Wilde, Bolder, Fry.