St Kentigern’s 8 – 0 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Seven days ago Northgate played what was heralded as their best ever performance, running out 5-1 winners against Warrington Ambassadors B with a large and experienced squad. One week later and a thin and less experienced 11 suffered a club record defeat.
With squad troubles occupying much of the week leading up to the Saturday, an eventful Friday led to a list of 12 being reduced to 10 at 9pm, just 13 hours before kick off. Some late night phone calls managed to tempt Mark Roberts back into the fray for his first appearance of the season after calling it a day at the end of the last campaign. Another 12th man was signed late on but his work permit didn’t go through in time, leaving Northgate with a bare 11 and without a goalkeeper against a team that have scored 39 goals in their opening 6 games. Whichever way it could be viewed, it was a tough prospect.
Martin Harvey was the man to take the up the hallowed gloves of James Sharrock for the occasion, based on nothing more than a brilliant attitude and an ability to catch from a history in rugby. Inspired by the performance of the formation last week, and it being the shape adopted by Kay Street in their surprise victory against St Kentigern’s, Clark decided to keep with the 352 setup. Remaining central with Holden and Garner either side of him as a back 3, they knew they would have their work cut out to protect Harvey in goal. Campbell and Kapasi took up positions as wing backs, with Rob Elkington making only his 3rd appearance of the season linking up with Jones and Morgan as a midfield trio. Theo Thomas and Mark Roberts made the strike partnership capable of pressurising defenders and holding up the ball with their respective strengths.
Turning up in all their matching green kit and training tops, it was clear that this was a team that have played together before and this is not their first ever season together. An experienced unit, they tried to gain every small advantage possible before the first ball was even kicked. The opening stage of the game made it clear what kind of a game this would be. With a small and bobbly pitch combining with a deceptively strong wind blowing down the pitch, it was a high-intensity, relentlessly paced match. A few early nerves from Harvey and difficulty clearing the ball in the wind led to a couple of sniffs at goal for the hosts, and the Northgate defenders quickly got a sense for the pace and sharpness of the opposition attackers. It soon settled down though and after expertly claiming a high cross to relieve some pressure, Harvey appeared calmer and more confident in goal.
A scrappy period ensued as neither team could take a hold of the game in difficult conditions, Campbell, Morgan and Roberts often linking up nicely down the right flank but unable to find the breakthrough, whilst Holden, Clark and Garner were looking assured at dealing with anything coming the other way. On 30 minutes a wonderful through ball found its way to Theo Thomas driving past the centre back, cutting inside perfectly and looked set to give Northgate a vital lead as he bore down on the goalkeeper. However, from just inside the penalty area his effort ended up straight down the centre and down the keeper’s throat for a simple and very relieving save. To add to the frustration, Kentigern’s immediately broke at the other end. A deft chipped through ball from their right to left found it’s way over Clark’s head and into the path of an onrushing striker marked by Holden. It looked for all the world that between Holden and Harvey they would have it covered, but an exquisite first touch from the forward left both men for dead and allowed him to slot in a simple finish.
Frustrated after a positive opening, Northgate continued to push on and pressurise the Kentigern back line, and came very close to a valuable equaliser with 3 chances in 1. Recycling a long throw in, Elkington set Clark for a looping cross into the box. Morgan hit a wonderful half volley that was blocked, before Roberts’ effort was then stopped by a defender’s arm, before Thomas had the final attempt as he appeared set to finish just wide of the post but a heroic defensive slide got in the way on the line. The referee was having none of the protests and waved away the complaints, as inconsistencies in decisions began to mount up.
With 10 minutes to go, momentum started to shift and Kentigern’s moved through the gears. Their giant of a striker was dictating play up front, as their speedy right winger was delivering teasing crosses as he exposed the gaps between Kapasi and Garner. With one header going over the bar, and one hitting the post, it seemed like a matter of time until he would get one right. Despite doing enough to keep his efforts under control though, a blocked shot found its way out to an unmarked midfielder running onto the ball. Unleashing a thunderous strike through the crowd, Harvey could only see it late and although he got a hand to it, he couldn’t do anything to stop the power of it finding its way into the roof of the net. Seeking a 3rd before the break, the hosts were unfortunate as one strike appeared to have crossed the line only for the wheel of the goal to rebound it out, and a penalty appeal fell on deaf ears as well before Northgate could take stock at half time just 2 goals behind.
Grateful for a chance for a breather, the 11 orange shirts gathered together to regroup and were encouraged for their positive start by Clark, and urged to keep up that early intensity to get back on the front foot. Aiming to deal with the gaps being exploited by wingers though, the shape reverted back to a more familiar 451. Kapasi dropped in to left back and Holden shifted to the right, whilst Thomas pulled back to the left wing leaving Roberts as a lone striker.
The move and the break appeared to pay off in the first 10 minutes after the restart, as the midfield 3 began to gain control of the ball again with more settled wide men occupying space and opposition markers. Thomas was causing trouble with runs down the left, Roberts was holding the ball up effectively and saw a couple of efforts go just wide, and Morgan was appearing everywhere in a bid to create something positive. The hosts looked panicked and were needlessly kicking the ball away in all directions, but for all the hope in this period, a 3rd goal was to prove a sucker punch to Northgate hopes.
Similar to their opener, a crossfield ball came above Garner and Kapasi with the winger this time taking another wonderful first touch to set himself across the box in the opposite direction of the keeper for another simple finish. Five minutes later and 3 became 4. A corner came in and Clark won the header whilst finding himself sandwiched between 2 of the green giants, before he could even look up again though, the ball had been won back by a Kentigern’s man and sent straight into the net. Heads began to drop as the game was realistically out of reach, and without any option of changing personnel on the pitch there could be no fresh injection of legs and hope. St Kentigern’s on the other hand were rotating their 4 substitutes and keeping everyone fresh and positive.
The last 30 minutes of the match was a backs to the wall job for Northgate without much fruit. Four more goals were scored in various forms to complete a demoralising rout. Another sweet volley from the edge of the box was the pick of the bunch, but all were surrounded by mistakes of leaving men unmarked, or blind pass-backs towards the goalkeeper and not realising strikers were in the line of fire. Man of the Match Lawrie Campbell deserves praise for his tireless work down the flank, drawing many fouls that were not given, yet being penalised harshly for some of his own which led to him picking up a yellow. A couple of late highlights came and went, as Holden had a terrific header on target for the top corner somehow pulled away by an excellent diving save, and Clark saw a goal disallowed after the referee didn’t play advantage, choosing to give a foul on Holden rather than trusting the defender could turn the Kentigern man and smash the ball home…which he did.
Ultimately, a combination of factors all aligned and St Kentigern’s were fully deserved winners of the game. Whilst 8-0 certainly flatters the hosts, a lack of substitutes and with 5 players having only played a total of 7 games all season between them, any game would be a tough ask. Travelling to the league leaders scoring an average of 6.5 goals a game without a recognised goalkeeper on top of those existing facts shows the level of challenge faced. However, lessons need to be learnt after a record defeat, and Clark will ensure the squad move on and look forward with positivity. Next week in a break from league action, Northgate travel to Burnley for the final group game of the Charity Cup with a place in the Quarter Final awaiting the victors. A long way to go yet in this season, and much more to play for. Hope and positivity will return.
1. Martin Harvey (GK)
2. James Holden (RCB / RB)
3. Jonny Clark (CB)
4. Dillon Garner (LCB / CB)
5. Lawrie Campbell (RWB / RM)
6. Ali Kapasi (LWB / LB)
7. Ben Jones (CDM)
8. Rob Elkington (CM)
9. Mark Roberts (ST)
10. Russ Morgan (CM)
11. Theo Thomas (ST / LM)
Man of the Match – Lawrie Campbell