A Loss to Forget, a Performance to Remember: Northgate bow out of Charity Cup on 11/11
Vinelife 6 – 2 Northgate
Three weeks had passed since Northgate last took to the field and in fact with just one game played since September coming into this one, they could have been forgiven for a rusty start against one of the SMCCFL’s most experienced clubs, Division One’s Vinelife. In the days and hours leading up to the game Clark saw his squad reduced from 14 to a bare 11 with Heathcote, Roberts and Broomhall all out, making this already difficult looking task more daunting. Holden’s timely return from injury saw him make his competitive debut, and there were returns for Slade, Kapasi, Owen and Tonks as the seemingly favoured 4-5-1 almost picked itself. Sharrock was back in goal behind a familiar looking back four with Ali Kapasi coming in at left back, Owen and Thomas gave the midfield width outside of Slade, Holden and Campbell, with Dave Tonks taking the captaincy in the absence of Morgan whilst leading the line.
Before the game got underway, the first drama of the morning was the no-show from the referee, meaning the Vinelife manager had to source a whistle and do the job from the middle instead, leaving his two young children to be supervised by his substitutes – a luxury Northgate didn’t have. After a minute’s silence for Remembrance Day the match could finally begin with a flurry of colour as the orange of Northgate was countered by the yellow or Vinelife. In the opening stages, it seemed like a very even affair with Clark’s men keeping the ball down on the floor and passing it around neatly on a perfect 4G surface which helped to build confidence. However, after 15 minutes Vinelife finally struck as a perfectly weighted through ball caught the defence flat footed and the pacey left winger ran onto it and chipped the ball over the onrushing Sharrock. It was a goal that showed the quality they possessed when given the opportunity to showcase it, but Northgate knew they had the ability to stifle them.
Pressure continued to come towards Sharrock’s goal, or more accurately his penalty area as very few attacks ended with a shot on goal as a result of some resolute defending across the back line. Building their way back into the game, Tonks was causing some problems physically for the Vinelife defence and nearly outpaced his marker when running onto a through ball from Steve Scott but was bundled to the floor at the last minute in a heavyweight shoulder to shoulder challenge. He wasn’t to be put off though, as a few minutes later Clark played a cutting looped ball diagonally up to Tonks, bouncing between the midfield, allowing the striker time to pick out the corner expertly to equalise. Unfortunately for the visitors it didn’t remain 1-1 for long, as a corner dropped into the centre of a crowded penalty area allowing an unmarked yellow shirt to nod into the corner much to the frustration of everyone.
At 2-1 there was 15 minutes until half time and Clark knew it was imperative to not concede again, and whilst there were waves of attacks that came nothing forced a save from the goalkeeper. In fact being behind seemed to settle the men in orange, able to relax on the ball a little and play some of the best passing football seen from the squad all season. Kapasi and Owen were linking up tremendously on the left cutting inside and getting into good positions, only lacking with the final incisive pass.
Half time came and the atmosphere was as positive as it could be when coming in behind. Vinelife knew they were in for a real game here against the team two divisions below, and it was now about pushing on and making use of the ball when in possession. Northgate kicked off and passed it back and forth across the defence comfortably and looked to be full of confidence, but just as the ball made it into an attacking position it was cut out and the breakaway came. Despite getting to the tackle, the ball ricocheted back off Clark and fell kindly to another midfielder who found his teammate in space to finish easily to consign Northgate to the worst of restarts.
With a cagey and tight period following the goal, it became clear that the next goal was to either be a killer or life-giver and so the battle was strong from both teams, Steve Scott in particular cutting out several key balls to the rapid winger that had caused so many problems in the first half. Eventually, a Vinelife midfielder managed to skip past two challenges in the middle, run at the back four and when met with pressure simply struck a fierce shot into the very top corner of the goal, leaving the diving Sharrock with no chance. It was a real body blow that could and should have spelled game over – but this 11 man Northgate team then showed what real character they have.
At 4-1 down a burst of life came into the midfield and Lawrie Campbell in particular seemed to appear in every piece of action all over the pitch. Josh Slade and James Holden began to get a foot on the ball again and were finding Owen in all sorts of space on the left wing and gaps began to appear in the hosts’ defence. Slade hit a long range effort just over the bar, Thomas put one straight at the keeper, and Campbell delivered a couple of teasing crosses that just evaded the onrushing attackers. It was Owen though who managed to pull one back though as a surging run from Slade down the left pulled the defenders with him, leaving Owen in space to finish neatly for his 7th goal in four games after a tidy cut back. Vinelife were noticeably shaken and were forced to endure a sustained period of pressure as the Division 3 team looked nothing of the sort. Two big chances fell to the in-form Owen to close the game further. Firstly, after a delicious chip over the defenders from Holden, Owen’s touch looked to have taken it around the goalkeeper but he somehow spread himself and saved it two or three times in a scramble in the six yard box. Soon after, this time on the edge of the box, he spotted the keeper off his line and attempted the chip – only to see it agonisingly sail inches over the crossbar.
It felt as if Northgate had thrown everything they could at this defence, and as they continued to push the likelihood of a counter-attack was always present and so it proved the downfall. With defenders out of position after committing forward, 4-2 became 5-2 with the kind of clinical play that defines top division teams. Ten minutes were left to see out but with the game won, Vinelife seemed to find another gear and scored a wonderful solo goal as a midfielder rounded several defenders whilst dancing down the touchline to make it six.
At the final whistle, handshakes all round showed the appreciation of what was a much closer game than the scoreline suggested – a notion shared by the Vinelife manager in his post-match press conference. “We worked our socks off out there today”, said Clark after the game. “We proved we can match one of the top teams in the SMCCFL today for our passing ability and I’m really proud of all of the lads.” It’s clear that defensively concentration is still an issue, but for large periods of the game Northgate can be happy with how they handled an excellent passing team. This was a game that, in truth, they were never expected to get a result from so to have a belief that a result was possible for the majority of the match is a huge positive for this young club. With a run of four weeks in a row in the league now lying ahead, Clark will be hoping to continue the feeling of positivity and push on as they travel to face Oasis Reds next week.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Ali Kapasi (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Josh Slade (CDM)
7. Lawrie Campbell (CM)
8. James Holden (CM)
9. Theo Thomas (RM)
10. Dave Tonks (ST)
11. Alex Owen (LM)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lawrie Campbell