Impressive Wood Overwhelm Industrious City
Lichfield City 1-5 Walsall Wood
So I was admitted to the playing area and the back of my hand was stamped with a red mark, so that I could exit to urinate, go fetch a drink at the break, or simply slope off to jump up and down in the deep puddle on the exit lane from the club’s tight car-park. But then I would be allowed to return without having to pay again… I suggested to the ‘stamper’ that I’d always wanted a tattoo and would have preferred the stamp on my right shoulder, to which a teenager lingering at the gate replied: “No, it’s so you can go out and come back in again and not have to pay…”
OK, thanks for that…
I was advised that Walsall Wood were without a few regular players but this display on the synthetic Lichfield surface illustrated just how equipped they are for not only a challenge to win the Midland League 1 but also to carry their success to the league above. I saw and was impressed by Sam Agar in a Hinckley shirt last season but his performance alongside the equally dangerous Paul Sullivan, was a feature of this entertaining match. Lichfield were simply well beaten by a more dominant, more able, more offensive, more dynamic outfit and the surprise was that the final score was only 1-5. Indeed, after a thrusting start by The Wood, some good saves by home debutant Conor McCarthy followed but only one goal was scored and it seemed an injustice when home defender Kyle Bache headed the hosts level from a corner.
|SAM AGAR, LEFT, FROWNS AT THE TOSSING...|
Agar netted two similar goals before the interval though, to rectify matters and yet despite a number of attempts at goal after the break, it took the dismissal of McCarthy for upending Wood replacement Stan Mugisha to end City’s grim defence, so that a brace of late goals emphasised Walsall’s superiority. Agar scored three, might have netted more, yet Sullivan didn’t manage a goal which would have been some reward for his forward play. Peter Till was clever in the visiting attack and actually began the scoring but with Jake Humphries threading passes about and the eye-catching Nathan Walker harassing, haranguing and harrying Lichfield’s players from his deeper midfield role then shoving sensible passes about, it became obvious that City would suffer a harsh defeat. Lee Butler, whose fine free-kick following the exile of McCarthy, netted the remaining goal but twice the hosts escaped the ignominy of conceding penalties and the video footage makes for interesting viewing…
|SULLIVAN: WAITING FOR GILBERT?|
|WHERE SAM AGAR GETS HIS FROWNS FROM...|
|HE MIGHT NOT LOOK TOO HAPPY BUT HE'S GOT THE BALLS TO DO THE JOB...|
Lichfield just couldn’t see the trees for The Wood in the early stages, during which their defence was severely tested. Agar slipped a pass for Jordan Fitzpatrick to shoot from inside-left, an effort which drifted off target, a 25 yard power-drive by Agar was shovelled away to his right by the diving McCarthy and from the ensuing corner, the home defence even allowed Agar to get in a standing header at goal from 8 yards which again forced McCarthy to push the ball aside. Lichfield were able to respond eventually but when Dan Sheppard shepherded a poke for Tom Green at inside-left, the burly forward’s angled shot wriggled disappointingly into the side-netting.
The opening goal was well worked and involved Sullivan, inevitably, then Humphries and a flick by Agar but when Till took over on the left side of the 18 yard box, Agar surely expected a pass but the forward danced inside past Dan McLeod and clipped a 14 yard shot round McCarthy and inside the right stick. Neat, clinical, deserved.
Sullivan slipped Agar to the left byeline soon afterwards but Fitzpatrick ballooned the striker’s clever centre well over the target from beyond the far post, before right-back Lee Butler exchanged passes with the frowning Agar but was adjudged offside, although his low shot was parried by the alert McCarthy anyway. And then Lichfield attacked. And won a corner on the right. And scored from it…
Bache lost marker Callum McFarlane, who was likely watching the flight of the ball and looped a header towards the left upright and it seemed an age before the ball dropped over the desperate and leaping goalminder, Lloyd Ransome. Parity had been regained in a one-sided opening… Football, eh?
|BACHE, BACK TO ME, DOES A PASSABLE IMPRESSION OF FRANK SPENCER...|
SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM...
City’s Jordan Hunt deflected a shot by the busy Walker for a right-wing corner and Till’s flag-kick found the head of McFarlane but he was unable to direct his effort at goal. Dan Griffiths was the hosts’ major threat and after a quick turn, he fired a low 20 yarder for Ransome to fall upon but still The Wood forced the pace and soon, Sullivan fed the hungry Agar at inside-left with a smart pass but McCarthy flung himself in front of the still frowning Agar and blocked the ball just a couple of yards from his right upright. Till then fed Agar inside the penalty-box and the forward appeared to have his legs moved from beneath him by McLeod but the loose ball fell for Till, whose low 12 yard shot was saved diving right by McCarthy and The Wood number 3 Craig Deakin sliced his attempted rebound effort.
|CONOR McCARTHY HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A TURQUOISE FLAMINGO...|
The guests made sure they regained the upper hand when a Griffiths pass was intercepted by The Wood’s Humphries and suddenly the ball was hastened forward to the assistant, Sullivan, whose smart pass saw Agar beat the offside line and simply veer left past the advancing McCarthy and plant the ball into the vacant goal. Agar frowned in his joy…
|McFARLANE: "GO ON AGAR, GIVE US A FROWN..."|
Subsequently though, Lichfield mounted a response and Griffiths was at the heart of it, until that is, he was badly hurt and needed taking from the pitch by stretcher. I wish him a speedy recovery… Ransome dived left to clutch Griffiths’ 25 yard drive, then Griffiths leapt to head a deep Tom Howard cross goalwards but although the effort beat the leap of Ransome, the ball crashed back off Walsall’s crossbar. Finally Griffiths slipped a return pass to Ben Lund who had made the initial running on the right flank but the wide-man shoved a disappointing finish past the near post. Again Lichfield could have restored parity then, but this time their guests made them pay for their failure. Agar headed a Till corner goalwards and McCarthy plunged left like he was performing a volleyball dig to lift the ball aside with clenched gloves, then Deakin’s left-side centre was attacked by home midfielder Dan Thurstance, whose full stretch intervention nearly beat McCarthy, who somehow managed to keep the ball from entering his net. Deakin was then flagged offside as Agar slipped him in at inside-left but McCarthy had made a save anyway and then Agar struck again, returning like a toothache for City.
This time Humphries slotted the through pass for Agar but at inside-right and the forward simply rushed past the advancing McCarthy again, composed himself again and planted the ball into the empty net, again. Then his face lit up in a joyous frown… Again.
|SULLIVAN: "AGAR, WILL YOU STOP FROWNING INTO MY EAR? IT'S SPOOKY, MAN..."|
|HUMPHRIES: "GO ON, THEN, FROWN INTO MY EAR..."|
Big Mac McLeod then fouled Agar inside the penalty-box but the referee chose to award The Wood a free-kick 18 and a half yards from goal but Fitzpatrick’s low shot rolled past the left upright. The unselfish Sullivan might have scored himself but kindly attempted to offer a goal on a platter to Fitzpatrick but Lichfield survived (Patrick, Lichfield?) Following the awful injury to Griffiths, his replacement was Joe Speck (should he be a goalie? Speck-savers?) The visitors went close again to scoring. Skipper Mitch Tolley nodded a right-flank centre downwards but against the foot of the left post and thus the beaten McCarthy was spared the task of retrieving the ball from his net again…
|FREE-KICK, NOT A PENALTY...|
The interval was reached, The Wood were coasting, Lichfield had suffered the loss of their liveliest attacker and limiting their margin of defeat was surely their best option during the second period…
|IS GREEN CUDDLING SOMEBODY?|
In truth, City were rarely offensive after half-time and it was The Wood who continuously dominated. Agar turned Big Mac and fired a 20 yarder which was saved by McCarthy, Sullivan was tackled when inside the penalty-area and Agar headed a cross by Fitzpatrick onto the roof of the net. Poor defending allowed Agar a low shot from 20 yards which drifted past the left stick and a clever turn by Sullivan saw his shot smash into Bache’s back (is this right?) but Agar was flagged offside as he lurked, snarling and baring his teeth as he sniffed a rebound. Bache did so well to concede another corner moments later, Walsall’s Sullivan was replaced by Stan Mugisha, who I saw play for Rushall v Stalybridge this season and two fine Till corners saw the dangerous Agar threaten twice, the second time when McCarthy missed the flight of the flag-kick and the ball bounced off Agar, to his frustration and annoyance. He frowned.
|SULLIVAN: GOOD GAME...|
An amusing incident then occurred at the opposite end when McFarlane’s loose header towards his own right post bounced off Butler’s boot, leaving Ransome seemingly held, er, to ransom, but McFarlane recovered to clear with no Lichfield player nearby. One Wood coach bellowed at the shocked Ransome, who yelled back in kind from some 50 metres away… I liked that. Then The Wood sparked into life again and what a move this was… A long pass forward was chested into Humphries’ path by the astute, mean looking, frowning Agar on the 18 yard line and the slim midfielder whacked a superb 16 yard volley goalwards, only to be denied by one of McCarthy’s gloved fists and the ball flew for a corner.
McFarlane was surprisingly mugged by Speck and the substitute found Green arriving on spec, only to slice his shot from 18 yards badly wide. And then McCarthy was dismissed… He raced from goal to narrow the angle on Mugisha, who was thrusting a sprint into the 18 yard box but Muggy was quicker and McCarthy caught the striker’s leg, or foot, or maybe his hip and Mugisha’s impetus helped him break the Tipton Harriers’ long jump record and it seemed for all the world that the offence had taken place well inside the penalty-area. Neither the referee, nor the linesman nearby signalled for a penalty and on closer inspection from a video clip, maybe the challenge did take place just inside the 18 yard line but that is a matter of opinion. McCarthy, after his heroics, was sent-off, he was replaced between the sticks by Jon Clough (after Green was withdrawn), whose first action was to leap in vain as Butler’s excellent free-kick from 18 and a half yards out, inside-right, looped over him and dropped spectacularly into the left corner of the net… Who needed a penalty, anyway?
|IT'S GONNA BE RED, CONOR...|
|BUTLER, THE SCORER (2) FROWNS AT AGAR... |
Soon, it was 1-5 and the assistant was Mugisha who lowered his head and made a rapid run towards the left byeline from whence his low pass across the goalmouth found the unmarked Agar who slotted home his hat-trick and celebrated with a smiling, happy, beaming frown…
|AGAR, RIGHT: A GOAL, A HAT-TRICK, A SCRATCH OF THE SCROTUM & A FROWN...|
Till cut inside from the left but drove his 23 yard shot beyond the right upright, Tony Clarke replaced Humphries, Deakin couldn’t quite connect with Agar’s right-side centre at the left post, Bache was cautioned for a foul on the lively Mugisha and Lewis Hayden replaced Walker. Walker had worked tenaciously during his time on the pitch, like a beaver damming a river and he had badgered the opposition and bludgeoned much of the Lichfield midfield threat at source… He played well, then…
Mugisha angled a right-footer wide of the right upright, Big Mac’s header clear was rapped at goal by Clarke from 24 yards and although Clough saved the shot, he couldn’t hold on but Agar was adjudged offside as he attempted to hack the rebound into goal. He frowned in frustration. Moments from the end, Fitzpatrick made it to the left byeline but Clough slithered across the synthetic surface to smother and grab the midfielder’s low pass across the 6 yard box and very soon, the proceedings were brought to an end.
A comprehensive victory was achieved by the slicker, cleverer and quicker outfit which utilised its strengths and movement to the full. Lichfield managed periods of passing it is true but rarely, especially following the departure of Griffiths, did anything come of their hard work at all, despite the efforts of Thurstance and Ant Juxon. City were simply unable to cope with The Wood. Right through the team there was competence and often excellence, with Sullivan and Till featuring regularly, although Humphries, Walker and Fitzpatrick bossed the trenches and Walker was simply harshly effective. And there was Agar… He probably couldn’t take a Lichfield match-ball home to place upon his pillow and sleep with but his frown in not being able to, was in keeping with his general demeanour anyway, so who cares? Seriously though, he was splendid in attack…
Me? Stole out of the ground and crept back in again without showing my stamp… THAT was a moment to savour… And nobody stopped me….
It’s what I do…
CONOR McCARTHY, TOM HOWARD, JORDAN HUNT, KYLE BACHE, DAN McLEOD (CAPT), ANT JUXON, BEN LUND, DAN THURSTANCE, TOM GREEN, DAN GRIFFITHS, DAN SHEPPARD.
JORDAN LEWIS, ALEX NORRIS, JOE SPECK, JON CLOUGH, MATT TOLLEY.
LLOYD RANSOME, LEE BUTLER, CRAIG DEAKIN, NATHAN WALKER, CALLUM McFARLANE, MITCH TOLLEY (CAPT), PETER TILL, JAKE HUMPHRIES, PAUL SULLIVAN, SAM AGAR, JORDAN FITZPATRICK.
STAN MUGISHA, TONY CLARKE, KYLE ROWLEY, LEWIS HAYDEN, GAVIN HURREN.