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25 February 2018 v Shifnal Town FC Veterans

Here we are again at St George’s Park for the final match before the start of the Inter Services. It is bitterly cold.

Shifnal is always going to be a tough game. There is a little bit of history between the two sides and it is probably a good game to have prior to meeting the Army as long as we can steer clear of injuries. That said, a number of players are missing due to injury whilst a couple travelled to continue their rehabilitation in the hope of being fit for the big games to come.

The starting XI today is Stones in goal, Robison, Stewart, Robinson, Rooney, Clarke, Shanks, Martin, Hemlin, Stockport and Fredrikson with Arscott, Letch, Edwards, Coull, Foster and Wanless on the bench. The game is being played outside on a 3G pitch that is much narrower than those that we normally play on so there are some changes to tactics. Shifnal to kick off.

An early clearing header from Robison presents Shifnal with a corner but it’s cleared and the RAF break upfield. The attack is thwarted on the edge of the Shifnal box and they break straight down to the other end where Stones has to be on his guard saving smartly, not once but twice, from the Shifnal centre forward. The ball seemed to be back and forth as both teams struggled to get to grips with the lack of space on the playing area but in the eighth minute, a good build up down the RAF left saw the ball reach Stockport who cut into the box and struck the ball sweetly, with his right boot, beyond the keeper and inside the far post. Great goal and 1-0 RAF. The RAF were now coming more into the game after a bit of a purple patch for the visitors and only a great save denied the RAF a two goal lead. A Hemlin header was then saved as Shifnal struggled to maintain any possession and were giving the ball away far too easily. The RAF were playing a higher game but this created gaps behind and, had Shifnal been a little more direct and more composed in front of goal, the score could well have been a lot different. Stones was on top form as a sweeper though, continually closing that gap between his goal and his defenders and rushed out many times to clear the danger. A poor cross field ball by Robinson almost cost the RAF but superb defending by, firstly, Clarke and then Robison snuffed out the attack. Fredrikson was holding the ball up well up front for the RAF and was the focal point for the start of many of the RAF’s most telling attacks. In the 17th minute, Fredrikson won a corner and from the resultant kick, Stockport challenged with the keeper and his effort was cleared off the line. The ball fell back to Stocky and he tried again only for the ball to be cleared again although it did look to have been handled on the line. No matter, the ball fell to Stockport a third time and he slid the ball home for his, and the RAF’s, second goal. Scrappy but they all count 2-0 RAF. Shifnal seemed to wake up again and a series of corners were cleared by Shanks and Stones was called into action a couple of times to save but the RAF continued to press and created a couple of chances of their own. A superb ball from Rooney across to the far post was crying out to be buried but a couple of RAF players both attacked the ball and it was headed harmlessly high and wide...lack of communication there!! Another great save from Stones was quickly followed by another before Shifnal were denied a stonewall penalty when the centre forward was bundled over in the box but the referee didn’t give it. Shifnal then finally beat Stones, although he did get a hand to it, but the player was deemed offside, free kick to the RAF. Clarke had a chance but the Shifnal keeper was out quickly to smother, however the collision caused Clarke to go over on his ankle and his game would come to a premature end, though he did get a ride back to the dressing on one of those stretcher bearing golf trolley’s. I waved him off but he didn’t wave back...Dave Wanless replacing him. The Shifnal centre forward then beat the offside trap and rounded the RAF keeper before calmly slotting the ball home and it was 2-1 RAF in the 37th minute. A couple of minutes later things got worse. A bit of bagatelle in the centre of the field then saw a punt forward by Shifnal. The ball bounced off a defender to the centre forward who then tried to cross but the ball hit Robinson on the shin and flew into the back of the net. 2-2. Another chance to Shifnal but it’s headed wide and the half time whistle goes. 2-2 HT

Well, what went wrong there? Were we the poorer side? Concentration issues? Tactics wrong? Was it the cold? To be fair it wasn’t any of those. The first half was evenly balanced overall and Shifnal could have, should have, scored earlier but for woeful finishing and some great keeping by Stones. It happens sometimes in football and it was now up to Matt Beattie, Craig Gill and Geordie Salkeld to get the lads heads back up and ready for the second half.

RAF to kick off the second half. A couple of minutes in, great work by Wanless sees him set up Fredrikson and he slots home. 3-2 RAF. Wanless dazzles again seconds later but his cross this time is cleared. I don’t know what the management trio said at half time but it seemed to be working. The RAF were bossing this game now. Robison and Hemlin off, Arscott and Edwards on. A free kick to Shifnal almost saw the equaliser when from 25 yards out the number 8 hit a beauty that smashed against the post before a lovely ball over the top and down the right saw Wanless, Fredrickson and Stockport give chase. The defender got there first and knocked the ball back to his keeper. Stockport read it and as the keeper kicked to clear, Stockport stuck out his foot and whacked the ball back into the net for his hatrick...4-2 RAF. The RAF then hit the bar when Wanless tried a shot before Stockport tried for his fourth but he put his chipped shot inches over. Stockport was then replaced by Coull to a tumultuous reception from the hardy souls who, having wrapped up warm but were still freezing, braved the cold to watch. Then Rooney, who had played for Shifnal earlier in his career was left red faced as he was skinned but redeemed himself superbly as he got back onto the line to clear a certain goal bound effort. He smiled. Fredrikson was replaced by Foster and still the RAF came. Another chance for Wanless but again it’s cleared and then another 25 yard attempt by the Shifnal number 8 but this time his effort went ballooning over. Robison was replaced by Letch and almost immediately the RAF got a free kick some 30 yards out. Letch set himself up to take it and after his screamer against Liverpool five years ago (which he still likes to talk about...just ask), anything was possible...except the goal is not 20 yards high and so he can still only remember THAT goal five years ago!! Foster then almost had a chance as he danced round a number of defenders before he danced once to often and forgot to take the ball with him. A comment from the line summed it up “that was like the magic roundabout, he was going round in circles”. With four minutes to go a header from Coull from a corner was half blocked, Wanless tried an overhead kick that cannoned back off the bar and Coull again tried to get in there before it was finally cleared. The final few minutes were all RAF but the score remained the same and a great victory for the RAF.

FT: RAF 4-2 Shifnal

A great game, good to watch (except for the cold) and a hatrick hero to boot. Mega positives to be taken from this game although we do need to tighten up a bit as we could have been punished a bit more but that said, the never say die attitude, work rate and effort was a joy to behold. Massive thanks to the WAGs and children for braving the cold to come and support, to the management, support staff and players of the vets family and to the staff of StGP for yet another magnificent fixture.

RAF Representatives:

Sir Chris Coville, Geoff Hancocks, Matt Beattie, Craig Gill, Geordie Salkeld, Ron Milam, Gus Payne, Jim Sheehan, Tony Reeves, Martin Bonner, Daz Kerr, Steve Findler, Dave Peel, Steve Ellis, John Bones, Paul Stones, Darren Robison, Del Stewart, Woz Robinson, Rooney, Mick Clarke, Jon Shanks, Andy Martin, Kenny Hemlin, Glyn Stockport, Freddie Fredrikson, Dave Arscott, Jon Letch, Russ Edwards, Dougie Coull, Craig Foster and Dave Wanless, Steve Pugh and apologies if I’ve missed anyone.

Bring on the Army and Navy though the management committee now have massive headaches as to who to select for those games but what a brilliant situation to be in.

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