When I looked out from the train between Hinton Admiral and Christchurch, the fields were 90% submerged. Uh-oh. At the ground, the pitch was being watered; with the benefit of hindsight, not a good idea. This game had everything; great goals, a red card, fight-back by the underdogs, thunder and lightning, formation dancing, water-polo, aquaplaning… Surprisingly Feeney played from the start in a 4-0-6 formation. This meant that Fletch At The Back, El Libero, had to come out of defence as the ball-winner as Hayter and O’Connor were paired in midfield.
We kicked off towards the South End on an overcast afternoon. Very soon SupaFletch was felled in the inside-right corner of their area but no pen. given. Early doors, we were going for it and Rovers were fighting hard but leaving it too open at the back. Purches snr. thumped one just wide from the step-over corner routine; it seemed we were trying to kill off the game too quickly, as reflected in SupaFletch’s programme notes. Certainly their ‘keeper was being worked, with SupaFletch and Feeney causing trouble whereas our defence was adequate. Hayter was winning headers; he has such springs in his legs perhaps we should nickname him Zebedee… That old warhorse Paul Barnes hit a shot at Mossie and was trouble (as per) all game. Donnie had a shot over; their no.4 (Morley) looked useful. Young fell in a tackle; Rovers appealed for hand-ball on the ground by him but the officials ignored it.
Then Feeney and Thomas made their most telling contributions; Feeney was alert and intercepted a poor pass out. He let Thomas run on and side-foot it across the ‘keeper. 1-0, 38 mins. Thomas had been peripheral until then, and was so until subbed later. Somehow he was made half-time MoM! He was put through again but was shoved off the ball easily. Feeney tenacity won a throw but SupaFletch should’ve buried his header; instead it went over. Hayter volleyed high and long; Donnie fans continued to complain about the "hand-ball". Half time 1-0.
The Cherryettes entertained us in the by-now drenching rain with some formation dancing to a modern track (no – not by Wet Wet Wet). Lightning flashes and booming thunder made us fear for their safety; some of us were concerned about the club’s image, seeing these skimpily-clad girls prancing about.
Young started the half with a cut-in, but his left-footer was saved easily. Fletch At The Back and Purches snr. were tidy at the back, exchanging passes to play us out of trouble and generally being the 2 most intelligent players on the pitch. Then SupaFletch and their no.3 had a set-to after a tackle; both were yellowed for swinging their handbags and the verbal. Good riposte – a run from Feeney with SupaFletch putting in Hayter whose shot hit the ‘keeper’s legs. At the other end, El Libero played the ball away from their expensive no.10, Jackson, who kicked out. Fletch At The Back fell, the felon was dismissed - shades of the same round in ’97 (Heybridge). Now it got tasty, and Rovers showed why they’re high in the Conference by gritting their teeth and coming back hard at us. But Feeney zipped through, went a bit too wide and his pass to the net was intercepted. Purches snr. had a run and shot (wide); a sense Rovers were there for the taking. Mossie threw straight to Feeney who ran and crossed but it was cleared. However, good thinking on their part. Then Feeney was felled; no free-kick and he recovered. Donnie’s attacks were causing panic in our area; they had a poor corner from a good right-wing move. Feeney motored through again but managed to kick the ball out. Then a Rovers’ right-wing shot had Mossie pushing it past the post for a corner. The sub. (as in substitute, but soon to be submarine) Gill rose at the near post for an easy header; 1-1, 71 mins. Yet again we’d dropped back and handed over advantage. The goal saw Rovers fans spilling onto the touchline, jumping for joy and embracing players until police dogs joined in the fun.
The best-possible response: Elliott took on the defence, cut in and unleashed a left-footer; an Exocet, a 25-yard screamer, an absolute purler that came back enough to go in the far top corner. 2-1, 73 mins, and we were on our feet. One of the goals!
Browning replaced Thomas, with O’Connor going wide left. A cross from his wing saw a Donnie defender kick onto his own bar. Then Browning passed it back short (yes, the pitch was sodden by now, but when will he learn?!?) allowing the forward to run into the area. He tried to curl it in á la M.Owen, but it went far too wide and too far in front of Barnes. This was a real let-off. Then Feeney fell in making a challenge. Rovers failed to kick it out of play so he lay there in the soaking grass until carried off, Foyewa subbing. This looked bad again. Water appeared on the surface; Rovers adapted quicker and won a corner. Now they were putting us under (pressure and water…) Players were aquaplaning; at least Fletch At The Back and Elliott worked out that chipping the ball sent it further than passing along the ground. The others just played water-polo. Elliott thoughtfully took it into the corner. Then Browning played it short again, caught his opponent and was yellowed. 4 mins overtime indicated; this was a farce, splashing around in the shallow end. O’Connor was booked for kicking the ball away. We were more relieved than anything at the final whistle; another 5 mins and it would’ve been abandoned, but by then the players might’ve adapted. Certainly Foyewa was beginning to realise the merits of checking for defenders slipping. FT 2-1.
We all hope Feeney will recover quickly from this latest set-back. However, I suggest during recuperation he sits down with the management and coaching staff to look closely at his game and his wider contribution to the team. He’s a bit of a one-trick merchant – head down and run. Billy Whizz is all very well, but this is why SupaFletch prefers Hayter as his up-front partner; Hayter is more responsive to Supa’s play. Indeed, Supa looked less effective today, perhaps because of this.
AFCB (4-4-2): Moss; Young, Broadhurst, C.Fletcher, Purches; Elliott, O’Connor, Hayter, Thomas (Browning, 75); S.Fletcher, Feeney (Foyewa, 82).
Unused subs: Tardif, Holmes, Narada
Pete Wicks, Greenford