11 November 2017 v Wales FA Veterans
Remembrance Day in Wales, we are in a place called Ystrad Mynach to be exact, and no...I can’t say it correctly either. Up against a strong Wales FA XI who actually gave us a spanking at Cosford early last year and this time we’re playing them in their own backyard. This will be a toughie. The game is taking place at the Centre for Sporting Excellence with a 5pm kick off so is going to be under floodlights. A first for the Vets team I think though obviously, the lads individually have all played under lights at some stage in their careers. The facilities could not have been better, the weather could. It was raining!!
Stones, Robison, Lamont, Green, Mccormick, Taylor (Capt), Hemlin, Bryan, Thomas, Coull, Stockport were to start with Dales, Barker, Pugh, Neal, Gill and Salkeld on the bench.
RAF to kick off playing with 4 at the back, a narrow diamond formation ahead of them and a lone striker. Early possession from the RAF comes to nought and it’s strangely quiet out there. To be honest, it was very quiet in the dressing room pre-match. Despite one or two trying to gee up the players along with Matt and the coaches, there seemed to be an almost unnatural silence in there and it has found its way onto the pitch. With just four minutes on the clock that unnaturalness came to the fore when, following a Wales break down the left, an unmarked Welsh player “ghosted” in from the right, received the cross and as Stones came out he calmly passed the ball into the net and it’s 1-0 to Wales. There was no talking, no support, no running back, nothing. Was it the day? the occasion? I don’t know, but something just wasn’t right and to top it all, Scott Taylor the skipper, had to limp off in the 7th minute with a muscle injury being replaced by Ronnie Barker. It took 15 minutes before the RAF put two passes together...actually it was four and the final cross only just eluded the head of Coull and then the in rushing Thomas before being cleared by Wales. This seemed to galvanise the boys in blue and another good passing move saw the Welsh again clear the cross snuffing out any danger. The Wales team were on the back foot as the RAF continued to find their game and the tempo had been stepped up. A good break down the left saw the RAF into the Welsh half before the ball was switched to the right to Hemlin whose cross back over to the left found Stockport free but the linesman decided he was offside and the free kick was given. The RAF were now on top but it wasn’t all one way traffic. A break by Wales down the right was played into the forwards feet and as Stones came out he chipped a delightful ball over him and toward the far post. Amazingly, Stones stayed on his feet and got back to claw the ball away for a corner. Excellent work by the RAF keeper. Although the RAF had more of the possession now, Wales were still a mighty threat and on reflection, were actually creating the better chances but the RAF defence was standing resolute. We’d gifted them the first goal but they were going to have to work to get any more!! And then it happened...30 minutes gone and with Wales trying to play the ball out from the back, they were closed down superbly by Thomas, Bryan and Stockport. A quick interplay between Stocky and Thommo saw the latter dummy the centre half sending him one way and almost in the same movement sending the keeper the other way. Thomas then walked the ball into the empty net and it’s now 1-1. Thommo almost doubled his and the RAFs tally just a minute later when he brings down a long ball on the left hand side of the pitch, comes inside, and fires a great shot that rebounds off the post and out for a throw in on the near side. He certainly hit that that!! Again, another shot from Thommo but this one was well saved at the cost of a corner to the RAF after Macca and Thommo again combined to cause the Welsh problems on the edge of the box. The corner is met well by Coull but with the ball bouncing about in the box like a game of bagatelle, the Welsh finally get a foot on it and it’s cleared. Wales get a break and it’s 3v2 in the Welshmens favour but as the centre forward brings the ball down off his chest with only Stones to beat, he rushes his shot and puts it high over the bar. It would have been perfect down the road in Cardiff at the Wales v Australia rugby game but here...it was a bad miss. It was to prove costly too. On 40 minutes, Stockport went on a mazy run toward the Wales box. He beat a number of players but on the edge of the box, a defender got his toe to it and cleared it as Stocky was about to shoot. However, the ball only came out to Mccormick who struck a beauty with the outside of his right foot from 25 yards and it whistled into the net and past the despairing dive of the Welsh keeper. 2-1 to the RAF. Wales would not give up though and another break down the left saw the ball crossed in and find the striker unmarked. His header was goalbound all the way till Stones threw out a hand and tipped it over for a Welsh corner. A great save made to look easy. Half time whistle goes and it’s 2-1 RAF.
Matt Beattie and the coaches pull no punches at half time. That first 15 minutes was diabolical and we deserved to be down a lot more than we actually were. However, praise were it is due and the last 30 minutes had been an exceptional response to the poor start. The 4 or 5 touches needed or taken before attempting a pass had been replaced by one and two touch football and the passes were finding our own players. We had now shown that we can pass and move and the call was for more of the same in the second half. The game was ours for the taking but we needed to want it. This Welsh side will not take kindly to being behind but we needed to concentrate on stamping our authority on the game and playing it at our pace.
Wales kick off the second half and almost immediately they are closed down and concede possession. The RAF play the ball around and the cry from the line is “play on the front foot”. The boys respond and some good work between Macca and Robison sees the ball whipped into the box. Coull gets his head to it but can’t direct it on target and it’s cleared but only to half way inside the Wales half before a free kick is given to the RAF for a late tackle. Coull is then replaced by Pugh after 50 minutes with Hemlin taking the striker role and the RAF still keep going. The game is exciting and is being played at pace and it’s end to end. Not in a kick and rush way but both sides are putting together some great passages of play and it’s just the final ball or the finishing that is slightly awry. Jon Neal replaces Yorkie Bryan after 60 minutes and the RAF revert to a 4-4-2 formation. Wales next attack on 62 minutes comes to nothing when the ball is headed harmlessly wide and it’s a goal kick to the RAF but they come again and in an almost identical attack to one in the first half, the ball is crossed in from the left and it finds an unmarked forward. His header is goalbound until...you’ve guessed it...Stones throws out an arm and tips the ball over for a corner. That was like watching an action replay...another great save!! 70 minutes gone and Hemlin is through but once again, the linesman deems him offside and play is pulled back. That was mighty close. Dales comes on for Barker in the 80th minute and almost immediately the Welsh get a free kick. The ball is chipped in from the right and is met with a powerful header that Stones saves brilliantly one handed diving to his left but he can only palm it into the path of another Wales player who inexplicably lashes at it and it goes very wide of the far post. It’s so far wide it was almost a throw in and not a goal kick. Wales are certainly finishing this game on the up and they are creating more chances now. Header after header is going wide though. We need to be putting challenges in to stop these free headers, they need to practice putting them on target as most are high and wide. In the 83rd minute Wales get the break they were searching for when a hard and low pass into their forward (our very own Freddie Fredrikson who also represents Wales) and sees him control the ball and attempt to turn. Green fouls him on the turn and the referee gives a penalty. To everyone bar the linesman, that looked outside the box but it’s been given. I actually said that Stonesy would save it, he’s had a cracking game today, and do you know what?...he almost did. It was well struck and Stones, diving to his left, got his hand to it but could only push it into the roof of the net. Great attempt, well struck penalty. The RAF went down the other end but a shot from 30 yards looked to be easy peasy for the keeper. However, the conditions were still to play their part and the ball skidded on the wet surface and the keeper spilled it. Luckily for Wales, no one was following up and the keeper kept hold of it at the second attempt. The last couple of minutes saw Robison replaced by Salkeld and despite a couple of half chances by either side there was nothing of note to catch the eye of yours truly and the game finished 2-2.
Loads of positives to take from the performance plus the massive minus of the first 15 minutes. We can’t afford to start games like that especially when the Inter Services comes around but to their credit, the boys got themselves out of the rut and turned the game around by half time so fair play and respect to them all for that. We really took the game to the Wales side and could, maybe should, have won the game but we have to be happy with that result against a strong Wales side and in their own backyard too.
£116 was raised on the RAFBF stall ably managed by Steve Tindle and Steve Findler whilst the Wales FA lads kindly donated a cheque for £200 quickly upped to £210 (the ref put in too) to the fund. Massive thanks to all for that. Thanks to the WAGs for showing their support (even if they did sit up in the exec box, in the dry, to watch the game) and fella’s...what’s all this Alternative WAG Club I’ve been hearing about? The thought scares me... Thanks to the Wales lads for the game, the cheque, the after match refreshments and the friendship and we look forward to hosting you next year at St George’s.
Finally, thanks to all the RAF representatives.
Matt Beattie, Geoff Hancocks, Craig Gill, Davie Salkeld, Martin Bonner, PD Morris, Steve Tindle, Steve Findler, John Bones, Paul Stones, Darren Robison, Stu Lamont, Bob Green, Paul Mccormick, Scott Taylor, Kenny Hemlin, Mark Bryan, Neil Thomas, Dougie Coull, Glyn Stockport, Al Dales, Ronnie Barker, Steve Pugh, Jon Neal and the two young ‘uns Danny Gill and Jack Morris
Personally, On 11th November it was an honour to share the day with the RAF Vets family and thank you for the cake and good wishes on my birthday.
Next up the Northern Premier Select XI at Oldham Academy on December 10th.