If you’d asked me before the match what happened in the event of a draw, I’d have remembered that it went to penalties, as I was at Molyneux when Molynuex didn’t score his. It did seem to catch out most of the crowd, who had to be asked to return to their seats after the final whistle. Anyway, we scored four, Ruiter saved two, and we got whatever it is you get for winning a penalty shoot-out in the Checkatrade Trophy in front of 7,644 fans – which is apparently some sort of record a first-round game in this competition. Two points, apparently, while Stoke get one.
Ironically, Stoke U23s beat our U23s at Eppleton three weeks ago, so tonight was an opportunity for our first team to take revenge. As with the Carabao Cup game against Sheff Wed, only one side was open, but tonight it was the West as opposed to the East, with a handful of Stokies in the South Stand – I think. It might have been the ball boys and girls. Anyway, it was a chance for Ross to give starts to a few of those who’ve been on the fringe of things, and we kicked off South, lining up:
Hume Flanagan Ozturk James
O’Nien McGeouch E. Robson
Maja Wyke Maguire
I’ve lined them up like that, but in reality it was more of a 4-3.5-2.5, as Maguire set about making up for his weekend madness by covering every inch of the left hand side, and even, as the game progressed, got into our box to make important clearances. Anyhow, we got quickly down to business, and set Maja away in the first minute, only for him to get off balance and miscue his shot, and barely a minute later Maguire was flattened by either 36 or 37, and took the kick himself, and it only just cleared the bar to land on top of the net. After this initial flurry, Stoke worked their way back into things, with Charlie Adam operating as a sort of left-back/sweeper and showing that his brain is an awful lot faster than his feet these days – the oldest 32-year-old in the world, I believe.
We kept trying to build things, with McGeouch doing exactly as we expected at the base of midfield, and finding Hume overlapping on several occasions, and the crosses were aimed at Wyke, but his markers were both bigger than him, which spoiled things a bit. Maguire had to produce those clearances mentioned above to break up a couple of Stoke attacks, and we set Maja in the 22nd minute, but he was forced out to the right, and the low cross cleared. There was then a lack of chances until the final five minutes of the half, when Maja got a right foot shot away only to see it tipped over the bar for a corner. That preceded a spot of ping-pong in the visitors’ box, but we couldn’t get a clean shot away, ending up with another corner that was only half cleared and Maja shot over the top. When Maja’s shot was saved, Wyke was first onto the loose ball but couldn’t keep the shot down. There was a single added minute, and we went into the break reasonably happy, if a little disappointed at having created several chances but not put them away. Wyke was looking quite mobile and produced several pieces of good control and hold-up play, bringing the industrious O’Nien, Robson, and McGeouch into play, so we had hopes of the second half being more productive.
There were no changes, and Denver Hume continued to push down the right, bringing shouts of “Huuuuume” as he wove his way into the box only to see his shot blocked, then attacked again and fired in a shot which was tipped around the post. With 64 gone, we replaced Maja with Sinclair, whose hamstring had healed a lot quicker than expected, and Stole replied by taking off Adam in favour of Waddington. James joined in the overlapping action, being played in by some clever stuff from Sinclair only to be called offside, but he got his timing right the next time and got the ball in, only for Wyke to head over. Unsurprisingly, after his layoff, he was replaced on 74 by Kimpioka. The kid showed some of those clever things we’d seen at Hartlepool and won a corner after drifting past two men in the box and running along the line. When we won free near the corner of the box, Maguire curled it over the defence and the keeper, but it smacked off the bar, caused a bit of mayhem when it dropped in the box, and was cleared. Close, but no e-Cigarette. That was about his last contribution of a good display, as he was replaced by Moylneux with around ten to go, and we continued to press, winning a couple of corners on our left. Hume got in another cross, which saw Sinclair fling himself at the ball but failing to get his head to it, and perhaps putting off Kimpioka at the back post – where he spooned the ball high and wide when a goal looked likely. Three added minutes were announced, we tried to settle things, winning another corner and having several shots blocked, but it ended scoreless. A shame, really, as we’d built some good moves, particularly in the second half, but as the crowd wondered why the players weren’t heading for the Colliery Tavern, realisation that there was a penalty shootout spread, and folks came rushing back in. Having moved from my allocated seat on halfway in favour of a better view of our attacking play from the NW corner. I was a bit miffed when the keepers headed south.
Stoke’s first two penalties were saved as Ruiter dived first right and then left, while Sinclair and McGeouch put ours away. One of their giant centre-backs blasted in their third effort before O’Nien rolled our third into the corner, then Stoke’s Szerto (I think) dinked their fourth penalty into the middle of the net. Up stepped Hume – and made no mistake. 4-2, and on chances created, we were probably worth the win.
Man of the Match? Well, Wyke showed there’s a lot more to him that just hoying himself at big defenders, and his hold-up play was canny. Sinclair looked very sharp for someone who’s just missed a month, and McGeouch was exactly what we thought he’d be. Ozturk was Ozturk – good in the air, and up for a physical challenge (which Stoke didn’t provide) and Flanagan was Baldwin with a slightly different haircut. Two fullbacks got forward whenever possible, with Hume in particular belying his slight frame with some tenacious work. Robson and O’Nien showed plenty of graft and energy. Maguire produced the sort of game we bought him for and was unlucky not to score. Ruiter had precious little to do in terms of saves in normal time, but effectively killed the shootout by stopping the first two efforts.
For me, Hume just edges out Maguire, but only by a tiny margin.