Northgate 1 – 3 Kay Street United
SMCCFL Division 3
Four times these clubs played each other last season, and four times Northgate haven’t been able to find a win. With 2 away defeats (league and Trophy) being levelled off with 2 home draws (league and friendly) however, it seemed as though the trip to Chester was an off-putting element for the boys from Lancashire. Bang on form with 5 wins from their last 5 league games meant that spirits were high though in the Kay Street camp, and despite a few late dropouts they still managed to travel with a bare 11.
Northgate on the other hand had an abundance of players on the scene. With a full squad of 14 named, Clark was on the sidelines managing the game as well as the recovery of his calf injury. Josh Coleclough was also present for his first competitive match of the season…but only in the role of ‘special guest referee’, unfortunately lacking the WWE style entrance and attire. The midfielder looked every bit the part as he played the middle man in a different way after a number of regular referees became unavailable midweek. Ben Davenport returned for his first game since the early October win away at Audacious, and took place behind a back three of Harvey, Holden and Davies, the latter lining up in the central role occupied by Clark in recent weeks. The 118-118 lookalikes Steve Scott and Scott McNeil donned their Movember handlebars superbly in the wing back positions, with Jones, Slade and Campbell looking to continue their run of league wins when all starting together as a middle 3. Top scorer Alex Owen came back looking to end the duck from the last two games and partnered his rival number 9 James Sharrock up front, looking to add some energy and goals to his long-ball assist stats for the season.
After discussing the importance of getting straight into Kay Street and stretching their weary legs after a long journey, going 0-1 down within the first minute was just about the worst start imaginable. Allowing the visiting midfield to walk around them and pass the ball with ease, the Northgate players were at sixes and sevens defensively. As the ball came into the box, 3 opportunities to clear the ball came and went but never materialised, and instead it repeatedly bounced back to a Kay Street player, eventually falling to a free man left to poke home from 6 yards out. A disastrous start that the home side could barely believe.
Last year’s clash here had ended 0-0 despite a plethora of chances for both teams, but after making the breakthrough so early here, it was clear a different game was in store. The sunny day accompaniment to bright orange and bright yellow shirts had also been swapped for a grey, damp morning and a new dark blue and green strip for Kay Street. Continuing the theme, Northgate’s performance became more dismal as the opening stages went on.
With just 12 minutes on the clock, the deficit had doubled. Holden gave away a free-kick around 25 yards out which was whipped in over the top of the defensive unit to find 2 completely unmarked men at the back post barely believing their own luck in having another tap in to add to their team’s total. A quick change was made as McNeil was struggling after non-stop sprints to track his opposition winger and then get forward to support the attack, and so Theo Thomas was introduced to add fresh legs. No such positive effect was had on the game though, and 2 became 3 on the half hour mark in schoolboy fashion. As a Kay Street striker ran towards the back line, a tackle was made but it ricocheted off the forward and bounced over the defenders to an offside teammate. Knowing his position, this man made no attempt to interfere with play and indeed was not in a position of influencing anyone else. However, whilst the orange defensive unit all stopped to appeal the decision, the striker who the ball had hit continued with his run, passing the defenders unopposed and slotted home comfortably to give their hosts a mountain to climb. Northgate were shell-shocked. 0-3 down in 30 minutes and showing little signs of promise.
Ben Jones made way for the introduction of Rob Elkington in the midfield, coming on with a point to prove against the team he spent 10 years with. Glimmers of hope began to appear with Sharrock and Owen starting to find each other up front but were unable to really test the stand-in goalkeeper who was claiming any crosses and loose long passes with apparent ease. Lawrie Campbell had the first real chance for Northgate as he latched onto a lovely through ball from the middle but as he clipped it over the keeper it also just had too much on it for the crossbar and it agonisingly missed the target.
An increase in physicality and aggression began to serve the hosts well in the latter stages of the half, as Kay Street struggled to contend with the urgency and desire now in the Gaters’ game. Sharrock was causing a whole host of problems with his presence and willingness to press defenders and hold the ball up, and eventually his persistence would pay off. Steve Scott capped off a tremendously hard-working half with an assist as his delicate cross into the box found Sharrock on the edge of the 6 yard box. After what seemed like an age, the number 10 eventually picked his spot past the keeper and put Northgate back in the game just before the break. A calm and composed finish from the man who knows the psychology of how to beat a goalkeeper.
With much to discuss at half time after a frustrating watch but more hopeful ending, Clark decided to wring the changes tactically but keep discussions positive going forward. Switching from 3-5-2 to a more familiar and defensively sturdy 4-5-1, Mark Broomhall was introduced at left back for Thomas, with Harvey and Holden occupying the central defensive spots. Scott dropped into full back as Campbell moved to the right wing and Pete Davies stepped into midfield alongside Elkington and Slade. Owen took position wide on the left then, looking to create for Sharrock as well as having the option to cut inside when ahead.
The second half was a very different affair. From the off, the shape looked more secure and players gained confidence in not being overrun by extra opposition midfield runners. Elkington was stamping his authority on the game from the middle, calming play down and spreading the ball about nicely, whilst Holden was taking control of the back line that had previously looked shaky. A couple of half chances were created through the industry of Slade and the persistence of Sharrock but nothing was troubling the goalkeeper.
As time wore on, Kay Street did what they do best and stuck rigidly to their organised defensive shape; shutting up shop and not allowing the Northgate onslaught to gain pace. A couple of snapshots came as their broke forward on occasions, and crucially an awkward catch for Davenport against the post meant he dislocated his thumb on 65 minutes. Campbell and Davies made way then as Jones and McNeil were reintroduced, and the fresh legs looked to make more of a difference again. Two golden chances came for Owen and Sharrock then that would turn out to be the ones rued. Firstly, a lovely piece of control after a crossfield ball allowed Owen to bring the ball down on the edge of the box with time and space to pick his spot, only for him to smash it straight over the bar. Secondly, and perhaps even more criminally, Sharrock completely mishit his shot laid on a plate for him by an excellent run and cross from Slade, to which his only defence is “it bobbled, I swear!” As the forward approached the ball, 2 yards from goal and unmarked, nobody had any other thoughts than ‘goal’, yet somehow the ball ended up chipped high and into the grateful keeper’s gloves. This, minutes after he was spotted ‘hiding’ behind a Kay Street defender so Davenport didn’t call him back to replace the injured keeper for the remainder of the game. After the game it emerged Davenport had told the management team he would play on through the pain because “Sharrock was needed up front.”
Thomas came back for another late flurry to replace Scott, but despite his driving runs he couldn’t create that quality final ball or shot that had been lacking all over the pitch from the Tangerine army. Based on the second-half performance Northgate could feel hard-done by to lose this match, but after an opening half hour of such poor quality there could be no arguments today. Much character and resilience shown to bounce back which will please Clark no end, but ultimately they gave themselves too much of a mountain to climb against a team high on confidence and form. 3 defeats in 3 and just 1 goal will give the manager much to ponder as he heads into December with a week off. Two games remain before Christmas against Timperley and Kings Church Bolton, and so as well as targeting his return to fitness he will also have his eye on a Christmas present of 6 points to put the season back on track.
1. Ben Davenport (GK)
2. Martin Harvey (RCB)
3. Pete Davies (CB / CM)
4. James Holden (LCB)
5. Steve Scott (RWB / RB)
6. Ben Jones (CDM)
7. Josh Slade (CDM)
8. Lawrie Campbell (CM / RM)
9. Alex Owen (ST / LM)
10. James Sharrock (ST)
11. Scott McNeil (LWB / RM)
12. Theo Thomas (LWB / RM)
13. Rob Elkington (CDM)
14. Mark Broomhall (LB)
Man of the Match – JAMES SHARROCK