We crossed the Pennines to sunny Accrington (well, it would probably have been sunny had it been light) as Papa John’s Trophy winners, and once again came out on top without ever getting anywhere near out fluent best. Two headed second half goals, after we’d changed from 3-4-3 to something like 3-5-2 then 4-4-2 for the final minutes, were enough to win us a bruising encounter on a dodgy pitch. That flexibility will serve us well for the rest of a season in which we’ve become the side gathering momentum, and with the confidence of a good run boosted by Sunday’s Wembley triumph, that momentum can only gather more. Again, not a game for the purists, but when we win 2-0 away from home (anywhere), I don’t really care, especially when the opening goal was from our debutant forward and the second, clinching, goal was from our net-busting goal machine.
What we needed to do was put the cup final behind us – it had served its numerous purposes in that we’d broken our Wembley hoodoo, we’d won a trophy, and we’d continued our good run of results. It’s forever being said that a good team is one which keeps on finding ways to win even when it doesn’t play well, and that’s exactly what we did on Sunday. To those who criticised McGeady’s performance, I’d say if he can produce that one moment of magic, then he’s worth having on the field for 90 minutes. Despite losing Flanagan to injury, we had the Three Amigos (no, not THAT three) of Winchester, Sanderson, and Vokins at our disposal and thus more options at the back. Most of us expected a swift return to the side for Sanderson, and the appearance of Ross Stewart on the Wembley bench meant that we had another option up front, even if O’Brien’s injury had not yet healed. The lack of Jones on the right was a bit of a blow, but, as we saw on Sunday, Diamond has the pace to occupy defenders. Accrington had enough injury problems of their own, and the absence of five first-teamers probably made a bigger hole in their squad that the same number has to ours. Which is probably why, before tonight’s fun and games, we sat top of the divisional form table for the last six games while Stanley sat 21st.
McLaughlin Sanderson O’Nien Vokins
Diamond Power© Winchester Gooch
... meaning that the battering McFadz took at the weekend (as did Flan and Wyke) had reduced him to a place on the bench, where he was joined by Matthews, Stewart, Scowen, Maguire, Leadbitter, and Younger. A better than decent set of options there, should they be needed. With Diamond and Gooch on the field, Geads would have the opportunity to roam at will. We sported out all blue away kit, and set up defending the goal to right of the camera and on a field that looked more suitable to horticultural use than sport. After a minute’s applause in memory of former Stanley player Steve Jagielka, who recently passed away age only 43.
That line-up was proved to be just my idea, as we actually set up with three at the back with Gooch and Vokins acting as wing-backs. Once the home side kicked off, we had a couple of minutes with neither side creating anything of note as they worked out what was the best way to cope with the playing surface. There was early hope when their keeper scuffed a clearance along the ground, but Diamond couldn’t outmuscle his marker down the right and we had to make do with a free kick in our own half, which Sanderson hoofed to the right. Vokins, on his 21st birthday, couldn’t take advantage, but we had a wee spell of possession before forcing the home side back towards their own keeper. We nicked it back in their area, and Wyke laid it wide to Gooch, but the shot was rather tame and an easy piece of work for their keeper. Winchester was caught as he won the ball then tried one of his trademark twazzles, and Accy had to work hard to clear the free. That led to a little spell of pressure from us, with Wyke putting himself about and it was eventually hoofed clear before Stanley gave the ball away again with ten minutes gone. Geads picked it up and set Vokins away, and the low cross was kicked away from the near post with Wyke hovering, an indication of the threat we posed.
As had become the norm, we were happy to pass it about all over the field, with the defence looking particularly comfortable. All roads seemed to lead to Wyke, who was being tightly marked by the experienced Mark Hughes who was getting the better of things so far. Mind, when he was brought down ten yards into their half, the ref saw no offence, and the home side built a bit of an attack that we did well to get to the halfway line and were happy to eventually see go for a goal kick. The next Wyke/Hughes clash, as Charlie turned to head for goal, was deemed a foul against our man, which is highly debatable as their man was climbing over Wyke’s back and it was hardly Charlie’s fault that he went to ground when his support was removed.
A corner from our right caused chaos in our box, with Sanderson being fouled, but the danger had been averted anyway by a flurry of Sunderland bodies getting in the way of the ball. Geads was upended as he skipped away down the left, leading to a booking for home defender Nottingham. Twenty yards out, a few in from the line, Geads curled it in, only for the keeper to collect at the back post and boot it up our end. No time for faffing around in midfield, apparently.
On 22, a decent try from Diamond was pushed out to our left with Wyke close to the line when he got to the ball, and he cut it back to create more havoc and space another attempt from Diamond that was blocked. Back down at our end, O’Nien got his feet in a tangle and gave away a foul trying to retrieve it a couple of yards outside our box, and we were all over the place as we eventually cleared – less of the free-kicks, Lads, even if you are confident that you’ll defend them.
Good battling by Wyke won us a throw out on the right, and Sanderson’s deep cross was headed behind for a corner on our left – with Dion going down after making the cross. He was up after a spell of treatment, so wasn’t in the box for McGeady’s dead ball. That led to chaos in the box, with Gooch getting it back to Geads and his pass being touched for another corner before he got it back and his cross was headed goalwards but tipped over. The move from the ensuing dorner ended with a rising drive from Gooch that rose just too much and flew a couple of feet over the bar. We were starting to assert our authority and were pulling the home side all over the place, with Diamond jinking into the box to win another corner this time on the right. This was played low to the edge of the box, from where Winchester took a touch before shooting and Mark Hughes got in the way of that and the follow-up. The clearance led to an Accy break, which ended when their man was forced wide, meaning that his shot went across Burge’s goal rather than between the posts. A bit of a warning for the Lads, there, with 35 gone.
A long clearance from a Burge free kick won us a free kick of our own out of sight of the camera up on the left, but McGeady’s cross was cleared. When we won it back and Geads saw his shot blocked, O’9 was still in the box for the incoming right-wing cross and had a great chance to score – but, as the Radio Lancashire commentator said, “head like a sheriff’s badge” and it was hard to argue with that assessment. It was a horrible miss with four minutes to the break, when it would have been a killer for the home side to concede. The commentator had a lovely turn of phrase, presumably Lancastrian, with every clearance being “crashed” and every cross being “venomous.”
The ref initially allowed a foul on Diamond to go for advantage, but then awarded a free instead of a throw on the right. A bit Northern League that, giving a free because you hadn’t given one seconds earlier, but we’ll take that, even if I don’t understand it. Anyway, it was headed clear. Two added minutes were announced as we conceded a free-kick out on our right when Gooch caught their man as he tried to turn. With a yellow for Lynden, the free was headed wide of the far post when they should have at least made Burge work, then, as we worked it down the right, the whistle went and Johnson was on the pitch having a bit of a moan at the ref about something. Probably the fact that the Bar in the Bus wasn’t open.
0-0, with us having wasted the best chance of the half when O’9 missed the target, but their keeper had been the busier by far once we’d settled down. There had been a fair amount of action, of the scrambling about variety, in our box, but despite that our back line had once again prevented any shots getting through. At the other end, we’d gradually looked more dangerous, with the home defence heavily reliant on their main man, Mark Hughes, clearly on a one-man mission to batter Charlie and get in the way of anything - shots, crosses, passes – we put into the box. Possession was “only” 55% in our favour, with seven shots, two of which were on target, and the home side having made fifteen clearances – which is some going, and made you think that one has to get through sooner rather than later. They’d also committed twice as many fouls as us, which also made you think that we’d make one of them count sooner rather than later, as most of the action had taken place in Stanley’s final third and, while there had been those couple of scrambles in our box, there’d been a lot more in theirs. Perhaps we could gain an advantage by winding up their forward Smith, as he’d been spoiling for a fight since the game started.
A nice selection of half-time music, largely of the Manc guitar-based variety, would have been a nice accompaniment to a pint between the two periods of play, but we’ll have to wait until next season for that luxury.
Stewart was on for Diamond as we attacked the end we fans would have been in, meaning that we had two out-and-out forwards on the field. Interesting. Morgan tripped Geads ten yards into the Accy half, and the man himself took it, high to the far post where Stewart’s first touch was a header over the top. Another big presence in the air, if that’s anything to go by, and it was quickly followed by our third free in only two minutes and we won a corner on the right. Another low one to the edge was played back to Geads, with his curling shot, left-footed, being headed away before it could creep inside the far post. A very positive start to the half from us, but it was Accy’s Morgan who had the first clear chance, with time and space to shoot from the edge of the box – but it bobbled ineffectively wide of Burge’s right-hand post.
A yellow for the aforementioned Smith, for spinning Gooch as he tried to break down the right, gave us another free, and that set us on a little spell of nice passing, which ended with a free in their box for Accy when Nottingham headed away under pressure. After Geads was forced out of play, a Smith cross went to the back post, but was headed wide, then Geads was booked after kicking the ball away when he was caught offside. Daft Lad, there was no need for that, and as the commentator said: “wherever his pram is, there’s no toys in it.” Another long throw from the home side created a chance which was blasted way wide as we covered the dangerous parts of the box. Power sent a tempting ball rolling into the box on the hour, which Charlie chased, and won a throw as the keeper got there first to sort of dive on it but having to chest it away.
Gooch retrieved the ball in a central position after an attack appeared to break down, but after first shaping to shoot, clipped it high to the back post, our left, from where Stewart looped a header back across and it dropped inside the far post, almost in slow motion. Great header, Ross, and hopefully the first of many. The ref had to be in amongst it as things got a bit feisty, with Charlie escaping a yellow when he had a go at Hughes and the tackles were flying in – usually late, mind - and with Wyke seeming to have been given a contract on his marker. In the few minutes that followed the goal, it had got pretty breathless and quite tetchy and we nearly got a second when Wyke scooped it over the keeper from the left only to see it cleared as it bounced unconvincingly towards the goal.
On 68, Geads was off, which was probably sensible (the change, not him), and Scowen was on. That would obviously necessitate a change in formation to prevent central midfield getting congested, and we duly went a bit more “three lines of players.” Charlie again escaped a yellow when a free was hit against him, presumably because he was actually walking away from it, and the fact that the ref is scared of him. A Winchester pass to Gooch was touched behind for a corner on our right, which Power took and Accy cleared for Gooch to put back in for Accy to clear again. We were taking things sensibly, playing the game in the opponents half and taking no chances at the back.
With fifteen to go, Accy had a pair of subs ready, but we had a spot of defending to do with O’9 scrambling it away for a corner which Stewart headed away before Nottingham got in the way of a cross to knock it wide. On came the subs, Russell for Phillips and Butcher for Morgan – like for like, apparently - and they won a free when O’9 fouled Smith out near the right corner flag with ten to go. We defended that well, and got it up near halfway to win a throw on the right.
With six minutes left, Gooch made way for Leadbitter to see out the game by making central midfield a solid wall of Sunderland players. Wyke snuck the ball away from an Accy attack to get it up the field and to the left, from where Scowen won a corner. Power jogged up the field to put in another of those venomous corners and there was Charlie, for the seventeenth time since January 1st, to head in our second and win me another few quid. Off went Vokins for McFadz in one of the season’s less understandable changes, as Maguire replaced Wyke to give the big Lad a deserved sit down. Four added minutes were announced, and Accy still kept looking for something. Power, having moved to right back, intercepted a though ball to concede a corner, but there was an offence when the cross came in and Burge had time to gather his thoughts before hitting it to halfway.
The game ended with Accy either shooting or crossing – it was actually neither one or the other, but it floated harmlessly into the home end – and we had another three points in the bag and no signs of an “after the lord mayor’s show” performance. Their manager was on the field, giving the ref a piece of his mind, presumably because Johnson had done it at half time. Once again, a thoroughly effective if not very pretty showing, although we’d had to be very patient. The change in formation to what is these days an almost unheard of two bigguns up top (West and Chapman, anybody? Ask yer dad) meant that we went more direct, effectively playing Stanley at their own game. And it worked, largely thanks to Stewart making up for lost time by being all over the front line and dropping back to defend when needed. The one disappointment for me (apart from the yellows) was Geads losing his pip in the second half – Aiden, man, you don’t have to be the main creator every game. It’s lovely when you are, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not.
Man of the Match? O’9 had a couple of shaky moments tonight, and missed a very good chance, so he aint getting his third in a row from me. Nobody really stood out in midfield, but I think that was more to do with them all being efficient rather than them all being moderate. Wyke had a proper ding-dong with Hughes, and Stewart was everywhere. Our wingbacks, without being spectacular, did OK, and Sanderson was the basis of a solid defensive showing that once again gave Burge a save-free ninety-odd minutes, but I think it’ll go to Power tonight. Our captain was a calm presence in midfield, especially early in the second half when the studs were flying about, and dropped back to keep the back line intact for the closing stages.
On we go.