Stacey West FC, the Sunday League side representing the blog / fanzine / podcast, were in action this morning in the Division Three clash with Queen Athletic.
It’s been a rough start to the season for the boys, losing two matches already, home and away against Horncastle Town. Both games were close, last week a 4-2 reverse should have brought some points, with our lads 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go. Neither defeat was humiliating by any means and in both Stacey West were competitive, but were just found wanting in the dying moments.
The games don’t get an easier either, with Queen Athletic an organised and experienced side. With Stacey West having been promoted last season as Saxilby Sports, the new level of competition has been tough. There’s still plenty of the old Saxilby in the side, even the shirts are the same as we await delivery of the red and white stripes (naturally) that will become the colours of Stacey West.
The preparation for today’s game wasn’t helped by the usual issues of a Sunday League side, laid bare in a pre-match chat with manager Gavin Andrews. He jogged over to let me know he was playing up front because the regular forward had called in sick with a bad case of diarrhoea. “How Sunday League is that?” he asked as he outlined the other squad issues. Several of the players work in retail meaning they’re often in work on a Sunday, whilst another who would have played up front was out with his kids.
Watching Queen warm up, it looked worrying for the lads. They seemed a well-drilled unit, prepared to put the under-strength newcomers to the sword.
The early exchanges saw the visitors holding their own, although it was clear Queen were a more than decent side. They moved the ball about nicely, but the two sides cancelled each other out in the early stages. Stacey West looked dangerous down the right flank, but the lack of a recognised centre forward was clearly hindering the side. Gavin Andrews, usually a defender, tried to make the balls into the box count, but the lack of a finisher certainly showed.
The best chance of the first five minutes fell to Stacey West, a Queen defender was rather harshly adjudged to have fouled on the edge of the area, but the resulting free kick went over the bar.
When Queen broke forward they were dangerous and they had the best chance of the next five minutes or so, rattling the bar. The game was threatening a goal, but the home side began to look like they’d snatch the opener. One way or another, the 0-0 score wasn’t going to remain in place for long.
So it proved, only it was the yellow shirts of Stacey West that grabbed it. A smart ball forward saw Chris Ballam try to round the keeper. There was a coming together and Ballam went down, leaving referee Andy Pearson with a decision to make. There wasn’t any hesitation, penalty. Richard Pearce stepped up and confidently gave his side a 1-0 lead.
The key then seemed to be hang on until half time and consolidate, but the home side were keen not to let that happen. They hit the woodwork again, with Simon Lee making some key saves too. His input was crucial, getting a hand or fingertip to anything that the defence didn’t mop up. However, not long before the break Queen were level, a scramble from a corner producing an emphatic finish to bring parity to the score line.
Despite the home side edging it in terms of efforts on goal, the balance of play was largely equal. It is a point I shall labour on, but the missing centre forward was perhaps the difference between drawing and maybe, just maybe being in front. As it was, before half time, the home side took the lead. A Queen striker found himself one on one with Lee who produced a magnificent save, only for the rebound to fall kindly at the forward’s feet for him to slot home.
A neutral might have said it was a fair reflection of the half for them to go in 2-1 up, those in the Stacey West camp might have felt a little aggrieved after having some good possession. Any fear that would signal a collapse didn’t come though, as the second half started in the same manner as the first. Possession was equal and the right hand side was by far the best route to goal for Stacey West. Cameron Ross was frightening the home side every time he got on the ball, showing neat control when needed but also a frightening turn of pace. It was his hard work that looked like breaking the deadlock.
Gavin Andrews had perhaps the best chance for Stacey West, glancing a header at goal which was plucked from the air by the home keeper. Moments later Andrews was at the back, mopping up in the six-yard box. Despite the depleted side, not one of the Stacey West boys gave up chasing lost balls. Some might call the performance brave, bt that might sound a little patronising to a decent side testing the water in a higher division.
Confusion reigned for the killer third goal. Ross rounded the full back on the touch line as Stacey West attacked, but as he looked to power away a throw in was awarded. Had the ball gone out? From our vantage point no, but those are the calls the officials have to make. The ball was thrown into play, but blew straight back out on the wind. It was adjudged never to have entered play, incorrectly in this writer’s opinion, but from the second throw Queen broke away excellently. Again, the striker found himself one on one with Lee and again the keeper made a wonderful save, only for the rebound to fall for the striker. 3-1, game over.
As the minutes ebbed away the visitors visibly tired. Even the live wire Ross struggled to find the little explosion of speed he’d used effectively all game and the home side were able to shut up shop. There was still time for a stunning save from Lee, something of a trademark from him.
At the final whistle there was no reason for Stacey West to be ashamed, three defeats on the spin might not look great on paper, but the manner of the loss was by no means embarrassing. Queen Athletic were a Division Three side last season and are clearly going to be fighting at the right end of the table this time out. With Division Four football the only recent experience our boys have had, they’re finding the step up challenging.
However, they weren’t overawed and turned in a competitive display that bodes well for the future. To coin a Danny Cowley phrase, there are no easy games at this level, but you have to imagine that for most sides, Queen Athletic away is going to be one of the tougher matches.
Man of the Match has to be a toss-up between Cameron Ross and Simon Lee, but I’m going to go for Ross. Both players were excellent and both will be huge assets this season, but Ross just edged it as he was a constant willing runner on the flank. Think Bruno Andrade, just without the outlet of Akinde ahead of him for now.
Once the lads get the full squad together and the dastardly retail industry slows down after Christmas, then there will be ample chance to pull away from the bottom of the table. until then, there will be a certain reliance on the hard work and endeavour that has seen them come close to getting their first points of the season, but not quite close enough.
Next weekend it is a crucial bottom of the table clash, when we host Sports Bar at Cherry Willingham School, 10.45am kick off.