|Good Friday, 25th
|Nationwide Conference||Mike Green reports|
|Northwich Victoria||1||Bunce (og) 37|
|Gravesend & Northfleet||2||Skinner 36 (pen)
McCarthy (og) 52
Fleet almost safe!
What a strange, strange game this was!
In an opening half that saw both defenses perform as though distributing Easter gifts, Gravesend took the lead then lost it within a crazy moment, and then won the game courtesy of an own goal which must rank as one of the most bizarre of the season.
There was no doubt that Liam Daish had words with his team at half time, and after the break Nathan Bunce and Graham Porter looked outstanding as a partnership and not as two individuals who had only just been introduced to each other as they looked during the first half.
But make no mistake this was one of the Fleets most "professional" performances that I've seen this season as they closed out the game so thoroughly that bar from a scare right after half time, the Fleet goal was unchallenged.
And when you bear in mind the fact that Northwich Victoria are scrapping for their very Conference status, these 90 minutes were very frustrating and wouldn't have filled Vic's boss Steve Burr with much hope that the longest established side in the Conference will be there next season!
The Fleet started brightly enough, and it was the unfortunate Jimmy Jackson who had the first two chances of the afternoon. The first on 12 minutes after some sensational work from Andy Drury down the right. Drury's cross was only half cleared, and Jackson seemed well set only to screw his shot horribly wide.
Ten minutes later, it was Jean Michel Sigere who centered and this time the unlucky Jackson headed straight at home keeper Andy Ralph. If only it had been Jackson crossing and Sigere heading?!?
In between Jackson's chances, Mark Devlin tried to deny the laws of physics and everything that Albert Einstein came up with, as he tried to lob Paul Wilkerson (in for the injured James Pullen).
The breakthrough came on 36 minutes and set the tone for the afternoon. That man Drury again got away down the right and hoisted a hopeful ball into the box. Yet inexplicably it caused chaos and as James Pinnock eventually got the ball under control, keeper Ralph grabbed his ankle and pulled him down.
Referee Lewis instantly pointed to the spot. Home skipper Devlin was incensed as were several of his fellow defenders, but the official (who shot to national prominence when "running the line" at Old Trafford recently - yes he was the assistant who failed dot give Spurs THAT goal) wouldn't change his mind and Devlin was cautioned for dissent. Justin Skinner duly stepped up and drilled the spot kick into the bottom corner of the net to give the Fleet the lead nine minutes before half time.
The lead lasted 47 seconds and yet again one of the oldest questions in football has to be asked... why is it so difficult for sides to defend immediately they score? Jonny Allen got away down the right hand side for the home team and whipped over a ball that Wilkerson and Bunce should have dealt with, but after an inexplicable lack of communication Bunce lunged at the ball and sliced it over the diving Wilkerson and into the net for the equaliser.
The manager was far from happy and made it clear to his charges at half time. There was a noticeable difference to the two when they returned after the break - a steely determiness that was lacking in the first half.
But it all so nearly went so horribly wrong just three minutes after the break. A long free kick was played into their box and Wilkerson came to punch where he had no right to, and missed out completely. As the ball flew into the air, Mark Quayle headed goalwards, only for Bunce to backtrack miraculously and somehow head the ball out from under the bar.
Incredibly as the corner was cleared Jackson found space down the left and his whipped cross was sliced to within inches of his own left post by Peter Handyside.
Little did we know what was to follow.
On 52 minutes, Sigere found space down the right and as he hoisted the ball into the box, everyone missed the cross except for the extremely unlucky Jon McCarthy, for as the full back tried to clear the call, it didn't bounce and he shinned it into the bottom corner of his own net despite the valiant attempts of keeper Ralph.
The Northwich spirit disappeared like a deflated balloon, and the Fleet comfortably held their opponents at arm length thereon in - albeit after a couple more nervy moments following fabulous free kicks from Danny Mayman, whose delivery into the Fleet area was superb!
The rest of the contest unfortunately will be remembered for the Referee's antics - and please forgive me for using that phrase as I cannot think of any other phrase to describe some of Mr Lewis' decisions.
The most ludicrous coming on 72 minutes. Devlin and Pinnock clashed just inside the Northwich half, and although the Victoria skipper was guilty of a mistimed tackle it was hardly worth the yellow card that the Official deemed.
And of course two yellows in football equal red and Devlin was walking before the official pulled out the card... In the end the fussy official brandished the yellow card EIGHT times and there wasn't a bad foul in the game! Consistency - that's all we ask!!!
"We came here to do a job and we did it this afternoon" said the Fleet boss after the game. "We knew that they'd come at us and they did. We had a few words at half time and tweaked a couple of things and I think we can be happy that we're going home with the points".
And so he should, because if the Fleet boss had known the maths, he'd have known that victory over Forest Green on Easter Monday will guarantee the Fleets Conference position next season. Now that should ensure that all Fleet fans have a very Happy Easter...
Northwich Victoria: Ralph, McCarthy (sub Bailey), Handyside, Munroe (sub Gaghan), Charnock, Band, Devlin, Carr, MAyman, Quayle (sub Byrne), Allan
Gravesend & Northfleet: Wilkerson, Gledhill, Bunce, Porter, Skinner, Drury, McKimm, Surey, Jackson, Sigere, Pinnock (sub Essendoh)