People Can Change
Northgate 2 – 3 People’s Church
The influx of new clubs in the 2018/19 season to the SMCCFL also had a reformed club from several years ago in People’s Church. Making their trip down the M56, they were hoping to continue their good start to the season just as their Chester hosts were. Both teams had won two of three opening league games and were keen to get another three points on the board, with Northgate also needing to erase the memories of their visit to Macc Parish the previous week.
Struggling to play on with a recurring calf injury in his last two matches, Clark ruled himself out and took his place on the touchline to focus on his managerial alias; Pep Clarkiola. Sporting some new Northgate clothing merchandise in an advertising campaign devised by defender Martin Harvey, he looked very much the part yelling instructions from the side. Sticking with his preferred 4-5-1 formation, Ben Davenport took up position between the posts – much to the delight of James Sharrock who got his first outfield appearance of the season on the right wing. Dave Tonks’ return to the squad saw him line up in the centre of defence alongside Harvey, allowing Scott and Broomhall to occupy familiar full back positions. A midfield trio of Elkington, Slade and Campbell looked to have all bases covered in the middle with Matt Ward on the left and Owen looking to get back to goal scoring ways up top.
Immediately from the kick off Northgate looked sharp, focussed and composed as they knocked the ball about and kept possession for all of 40 seconds. However, People’s Church had a giant of a striker who quickly showed he was about more than his size. An intercepted pass saw the ball come to the big man, who shrugged off a challenge from Scott that would have easily stopped any mortal. Proceeding to deliver a pin-point cross to an unmarked striker in the box, the finish was applied with confidence and People found themselves ahead within a minute of play.
Things went from bad to worse just five minutes in, as a heavyweight challenge between Tonks and the People’s giant saw the Northgate defender land awkwardly on his hip. Struggling to move, it was obvious his game was over. With central defensive injuries mounting up now, with Clark (calf) and Hilsden (wrist) both watching on from the side, Clark was forced to move captain Slade back alongside Harvey and brought on hard-working Mike Taylor earlier than expected into the centre of the pitch. Luckily for the hosts, it didn’t take long to get back in it. A defensive mistake was pounced upon by Owen who was first to react and hit a sweet strike on the turn giving the goalkeeper no chance. It was his 25th goal for the club in just his 19th appearance, and it instantly changed the complexion of the match.
In keeping with the highlight-rich opening 10 minutes, the next phase brought even more. On the 15th minute Elkington was forced off in a bid to cough up what he thought was a large bug swallowed whilst running: something that would keep him occupied until half time with back slapping, gargling water and self-induced vomiting doing nothing to move the uncomfortable lump in his throat. In similar style to the quick goal after Taylor came on, Heathcote was introduced and within seconds Northgate found themselves ahead (though Heathcote was nowhere near the action). A neat pass across the edge of the box from Sharrock found its way through to the in-form Owen who struck it powerfully with his left boot in what is likely his furthest goal from open play.
Pressure continued to rain down on the visitors’ goal as Northgate were oozing the type of confidence displayed in their early season wins, and again it was Sharrock and Owen combining that almost doubled their lead. A poor kick from the goalkeeper was charged down and won back by Owen just wide of the goal but right on the line, and with Sharrock steaming up the pitch in support the pass ended up just behind his run and the number 9 wannabe couldn’t make the required contact and just poked the shot wide.
A few minor half-chances aside the game grew slower and calmer after a crazy opening 20 minutes, and Clark was happy to bring in his men in ahead at the break. Taylor had already been replaced on 40 minutes by Theo Thomas after a hard-working period in the middle, and the break saw the reintroduction of Elkington to give Sharrock a rest after an excellent first half outfield performance. Emphasising the importance of the next goal, and desiring more work rate and communication, Clark knew this game was far from over but that the men on the pitch had more than enough quality to finish the job.
As has happened far too often to bare though, the away team started the stronger in the second period and the People began to peel the Tangerines apart. Two goals in five minutes turned the game on its head and they regained the lead. First with a simple header beating the defender to the ball from a corner, and secondly through taking advantage of loose passing and lapse defending, the visitors couldn’t believe their luck at being allowed to walk through and finish. Immediately changing a tiring left flank with Ward and Broomhall replaced by Taylor and Sharrock – the usual goalkeeper now being deployed as a central midfielder alongside Elkington and Campbell with Heathcote being pushed wide to the left.
Despite commenting on the need to test the goalkeeper that had been so sloppy in the first half, very little was offered in the second half in a poor performance that began to spread across the squad. Disbelief and desperation at the situation brought about panic, and with many changes to personnel and positions the stability and balance of the squad led to miscommunications. More spaces appeared in the Northgate defence and People’s Church were quick to exploit them with some incisive passing and strong dribbling taking advantage of the urgency to dive into tackles. With Owen feeding off scraps, Sharrock was the one to take control in the centre and keep the ball moving but the final pass couldn’t find the leading man in any real space as the visitors knew they just needed to remain organised to see out the win.
Two yellow cards were given for time-wasting to the People players, summing up the scrappy nature of the last 20 minutes, and Slade was very fortunate to not pick one up himself for a very late challenge after a run up the field. Davenport pulled off two impressive saves to keep his team in it in the last 10, but it was not to be. A true game of two halves saw Northgate finish on the wrong end of this topsy-turvy game. The positives of the first half simply weren’t present in the second and People’s Church took their chances to punish the errors and break the hearts of the Tangerines.
Much to ponder for Clark, who looked a figure of frustration for much of the second period. Positives to take, but consistency throughout the 90 minutes an issue once again. Two disappointing defeats in as many games is tough to take given the circumstances, but they must improve if they are to continue to challenge in the top half of what is quickly showing itself to be a very tight and competitive league. A break for a postponed Charity Cup match on the 6th October means the next action is away at Audacious. Having completed the double over the Manchester outfit last season it presents a good opportunity to get back on track, and with the next weekend without a game being the 24th November there is much football to be played.
1. Ben Davenport (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Mark Broomhall (LB)
4. Martin Harvey (CB)
5. Dave Tonks (CB)
6. Rob Elkington (CDM)
7. James Sharrock (RM / CM)
8. Josh Slade (CM / CB)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Lawrie Campbell (CM)
11. Matt Ward (LM)
12. Mike Taylor (CM / LB)
13. Mike Heathcote (CM / LM)
14. Theo Thomas (RM)
Man of the Match – ALEX OWEN