Carlisle were game; we were competent. I couldn't see how they could've scored 3 at Gay Meadow a few days earlier – shows how bad Shrews' defence was. Gulliver was using both feet (the left for lumpy clearances) & looking more assured. Carlisle looked mainly to their wings for advancement. McDonald was making good forward runs and linking well – leading the line while SupaFletch worked the full-backs. Cherries won most of the ball and had the balance of play – pity McDonald &Thomas were pushed off the ball so easily. A free-kick won us a corner; Purches snr. did good work up the right but was thwarted by last-ditch covering. McDonald put in Thomas who hit a great cross. SupaFletch had an open header ready to be buried – oh dear. McDonald, SupaFletch & Browning carved open the defence; Elliott steadied himself & put his left-footer over. He's better when relying on instinct. At the half-hour, Carlisle posed no threat, we'd have had 3 with more composure, & Thomas was our most effective & consistent player. He then shot well wide from too far out.
A Carlisle forward went down as he passed Cummings – dive? Cummings was yellowed for the alleged body-check, leading to away chants of "You're just a small Scottish town"! We just didn't seem to have a killer instinct, but a 2-phase attack with good movement saw Browning head just over the angle. The game had become more open; the main threat came when Moss slipped, tackled the forward & the ball bounced into his hands. Elliott made some good runs, but again was bundled off too easily. Purches snr. was clear on the right but the cross-shot was wide. Half-time 0-0 and a chance to link up with an old colleague from my department's Carlisle office before diving into the previous night's naan breads.
Stewart took over from Moss who had 'flu. From the restart, McDonald & Thomas linked well on the left, & Elliott, McDonald & SupaFletch combined to allow Thomas to glance a header wide. The whole team was more cohesive, with several players involved in smooth moves. A Cummings free-kick was palmed round the post – definitely going in – but when would the domination result in goals? Sloppy defending led to a home corner which was cleared easily. Bad decisions by our midfield were letting them back in; I was not convinced by Browning & Purches snr. as a long-term unit on this performance. Then out of the blue SupaFletch saw the goalie off his line; a 40-yard lob sailed just over & of course saved him "running" instead… The open game saw McDonald pulled down in the area but no pen. given, & Elliott's long shot deflected for a corner. McDonald was very busy in the inside-right channel, but was linking less well. Young was fairly solid throughout; he appeared to have been hurt in a collision but recovered. SupaFletch's back-header from a throw was volleyed over by Browning; the latter then put in Elliott inside the fullback but with no-one running into the area the move fizzled out. When Elliott was body-checked on bursting out, SupaFletch headed on the free & Gulliver headed at the keeper. However, it was getting muddled again, so O'Connor replaced Thomas on 76 and straight away burst through, screaming for a pass from McDonald – who lost the ball. So Hayter replaced him on 79. The midfield was not strong enough often enough in the tackle, so BabyFletch drove in & sent Hayter away – but he was just offside.
The substitutions together led to a solid midfield trio launching the ball for Elliott, Hayter & SupaFletch. Hayter was full of running, and went in where the boots were flying. Elliott went outside his man, whipped it in, & there was Hayter ahead of his marker & diving across the 6-yard line, his header going just inside the post. 0-1, 86 mins, & we cheered until our cheeks were as pink as taramasalata. Although SuperMac scored the definitive, Hayter is making these his trademark. We made good triangles, allowing SupaFletch to chip it over but O'Connor fumbled it over the line for a home goal-kick. Both sides muddled through, but we did it with a touch more style. Carlisle's wide cross had no takers; Stewart launched it forward, Hayter's marker was on the back foot, Hayter scorched past him, 1 touch to control then thumped it with topspin over the 'keeper & under the bar. 0-2, 90 mins – a superb strike! Full-time 0-2. The players went off quickly, but soon reappeared, with Cummings coming straight over to meet family down in front of us. The police dogs eyed him & SupaFletch hungrily…
The Saturday night in Dumfries was typical Exiles - demure & discreet as only Exiles can, with Doonhamers plying us with pennants & offering to be groupies for Chris P. when they heard of her Boscombe attendance record… Mega-brownie points to Phil H. for hiring & driving the 7–seater & sorting out the B&B.
We've been a "nearly" team for years. This season, not achieving automatic promotion by 1 place. Last year, not avoiding relegation, ditto. 2000-1, missing play-offs by 2 minutes. 1999-2000, 16th. 1998-9, 0-0 home to Wrexham instead of making the play-offs. 1997-8, losing at Wembley on the golden goal. 1996-7 nearly going under! Is this a sign of achieving more than we might given the financial problems, or management just not up to getting us there? Anyway, roll on Shakers!
It was fairly easy, as I did at this juncture last year, to predict player of the season for 2002-3. This time, I'll toss in a debating point. Do you choose your best 11 & work out a system to fit, or work out a system & put the best player for each position into it? I'd suggest with our limited resources we should do the former. Here's my line-up from this season's squad; a "3-man back four", wing-backs, & mobile forwards with support from midfield: Moss, Broadhurst, Tindall, Maher, Purches, Cummings, C.Fletcher, O'Connor, Elliott/Stock, Connell, Hayter
Not so much who's in as who's out – discuss.
AFCB (4-4-2): Moss (Stewart, 45); Young, C. Fletcher, Gulliver, Cummings; Elliott, Purches, Browning, Thomas (O’Connor, 76); McDonald (Hayter, 79), S. Fletcher.
Subs unused: Stock, Narada
Peter Wicks, Greenford