Northgate 0 – 0 Kay Street United
Back in September, Northgate’s first ever away fixture was up in Lancashire at the former home ground of Clark and Elkington, with Rob having spent many years there. It was, however, an unhappy return as they were on the receiving end of their first and still worst league defeat to date; losing 4-1. Now though, the Gaters have a new mental toughness and character that has been forged through the tough autumnal run of defeats. They were ready for revenge. Clark had a full 14 available to him, and with Sharrock behind Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Crank, he inadvertently named the exact same back five that started in Rossendale five months earlier. Jones, Elkington and Slade filled the middle whilst Campbell and Heathcote were the wide men instructed to find Dave Tonks up front, making his first start since early November.
Having only played one game since the turn of the year, and after the long journey down, Northgate were hoping to catch Kay Street cold in the early phases of the game and looked to press high up the pitch. Any early openings however turned into nothing with Tonks unable to latch onto the end of a Slade through ball, and a couple of crosses sailing straight out of play. With the bright sunshine beaming down on a pitch of yellow and orange shirts, Kay Street quickly looked to utilise their keeper’s long kick by sending the ball high and long at every opportunity. Clark and Hilsden were untroubled though, winning the headers and gaining possession almost every time. The closest either team came was a looping header from Tonks that went just wide, but he was judged to be offside anyway.
With the match in danger of falling into a repetitive pattern of kick-and-chase, the visitors did eventually get the ball in to the feet of the midfielders to run with it, but Sharrock was equal to any of the efforts that came in. The first major chance soon came to the Streeters though. With the ball bouncing around the box and unable to be cleared, their striker and former manager John Kell appeared unmarked three yards from goal but just as he struck the ball he was thwarted by Clark who hurled himself across the goal and somehow got something in the way of it to divert it for a corner. Set pieces were to be a constant threat from the visitors, and the pressure continued as a quality delivery needed heading clear from Jones, and another cross was again won by a defensive header to stop their other forward looking for an ambitious overhead kick.
On 30 minutes, Elkington and Tonks made way for Matt Ward and Alex Owen to inject some pace in an effort to get at the visitors defence. It almost paid off immediately as Ward made a run down the wing, but the cross couldn’t quite find Owen. A couple of long throws from Clark were flapped at by the keeper and but no-one could quite turn it in. Perhaps the biggest moment of the first half came as Campbell delivered a cross from the right, Tonks beat the onrushing keeper to it and tapped it to the side only to be clattered before he could get to it. Cries for a penalty rang out all over the pitch, but the referee was unmoved and Kay Street couldn’t believe their luck. At the other end, more corners were the biggest threat to Sharrock’s goal, but a combination of brave heading from the defence and an excellent parry from the keeper himself with a cross curling straight in kept the scores level at the break.
It was a calm team talk at half time from Clark, with everyone in agreement that this game is for the taking as long as discipline remained high when dealing with the long balls. Crank came off to allow Ben Davenport his first outfield appearance at the Tangerine Fortress, whose height would prove important. Early pressure in the second half was all from Northgate, with Ward looking lively on the left jinking in and out of defenders and Owen getting on the ball to run as well but the end product was again found wanting as Kay Street held their shape well. Slade produced another excellent, hard working performance but even with his new boots he couldn’t quite find the magic required with a couple of crosses and shots missing the mark. It was becoming a repetitive theme.
As tiredness began to become a factor, the game began to open up. Heathcote and Jones made way after a solid hour of hard work in the centre of the park, allowing the reintroduction of Elkington and Tonks. With the latter coming back to lead the line, Owen moved to the right and Campbell inside to provide the attacking impetus from the centre. Kay Street worked their way back into the game though and started to have chances themselves. A run from the wing and a neat cut inside saw a long range shot bend across goal and onto the inside of the post. With hearts in mouths, Sharrock was as relieved as anyone when he felt the ball bounce against his back and then saw it roll away to the side of the goal for Davenport to clear away. Confidence boosted from coming close, more efforts from distance began to come in. Sharrock was feeling confident and comfortable though, catching shots and crosses with apparent ease and even jumping high to punch clear yet another dangerous looking corner. With Clark and Hilsden sticking their head on the rest, and Scott and Davenport doing admirable jobs on the advancing wingers, it looked as though Kay Street might never break through.
Buoyed by defensive resilience, the orange attackers continued to believe it could be them to pinch a winner. Owen had a shot from distance roll past the post, Hilsden put a header wide from a corner, and Slade mistimed an attempt to replicate the famous Van-Persie volley after a wonderful crossfield ball from Ward. With 15 minutes to play, Northgate thought they might have got the all-important goal as a Campbell corner curled into the box, and as the goalkeeper stuck out a weak hand it bounced off the backside of Hilsden. The ball bounced and was heading over the line when confusion struck. The Streeter’s full back and manager Tom Pickup swung his right boot at the ball, but in doing so took some of the loose netting with him. Perfectly in place on the goal line, the referee could see that the whole of the ball had not crossed the line and the net had bulged due to it being kicked by Pickup. Celebrations rang out from half of the pitch in the melee and nobody could quite understand what had happened but ultimately, just like the visitors, they had been inches away.
Into the final 10 the game swayed once more and one last onslaught was to be thrown by Kay Street. With a long throw specialist of their own they were able to put pressure on the box easily, and as headers bounced around there were multiple nervy moments that were always met with a resolute orange shirt first. Perhaps they knew it wouldn’t be their day when yet another strike from outside the box hit the woodwork, this time the underside of the crossbar saved the hosts as hearts stopped once more. But in the dying minutes, Sharrock capped a man-of-the-match performance as some neat and patient passing drew Northgate’s scrambling defence out of position, and then with their striker one on one from six yards the goalkeeper made himself as big as possible as he charged down the shot and again deflected it away to safety.
As the final whistle blew, no-one could quite believe this game had finished goalless. 0-0 results are incredibly rare in amateur football, but these two teams had been inches from scoring several times. For the late pressure and shots against the woodwork, Kay Street will probably view this as two points dropped. Northgate can also count themselves unlucky, but can and will be delighted at their third clean sheet in nine league games and a hard earned point. Whilst defensive frailties of the early season appear to be behind them with just two conceded in the last four matches, there will undoubtedly be a focus on needing to be more clinical at the other end after failing to score for the second time in row. Clark will take the positives from many strong performances, just one defeat in the last five, and now look ahead to March. Next up is a trip to City Church who represent Northgate’s most recent and most famous win which remains the only blemish on their league campaign thus far.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Wade Crank (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Ben Jones (CDM)
7. Lawrie Campbell (RM / CM)
8. Rob Elkington (CDM)
9. Dave Tonks (ST)
10. Josh Slade (CM)
11. Mike Heathcote (LM / CM)
MAN OF THE MATCH – James Sharrock