Match Report 2000/2001

Linnets prove mightier than Lions

Saturday 10th February 2001 : Jewson Wessex League

Lymington & New Milton 1, Andover 0

Billed in some quarters as the first part of a league title decider, this game matched the league leaders and leading goalscorers from North Hampshire with their hosts, second in the table and boasting the league's meanest defence. Three points for the home side would mean league parity with their title-rivals and a chance to put some pressure on a team coming into this fixture on a winning streak of 14 league matches. It looked odds-on a tight match and so it proved to be.

Playing with their backs to a near gale blowing off the Solent, and with driving rain to boot, Lymington & New Milton found themselves severely tested by their opponents right from the kick-off. The source of Andover's success became obvious from the start, with some tough tackling in midfield, forceful running on both flanks, an offside trap that was once the copyright of the Arsenal back-four and an attack that threatened danger whenever they got a sight of goal. Playing at the cutting edge of this setup, it is no surprise that the Lions' striker, Andrew Forbes; is once again the league's leading goalscorer.

Most of the visitors' early threats came from moves originating on the left where Dyke clearly had the beating of his opponent, Strong. The Linnets' midfielder, playing in a wing-back role for which he did not look well-suited, was given a torrid time by the Andover number 11 and it did not take long before Strong earned himself the first caution of the game following a series of mistimed tackles. Thus, with the fear of a second yellow in his mind, Strong had to back off and Dyke was able to launch a series of crosses into the Linnets' area. These centres, although well delivered, did not result in a clear chance except on one occasion when Kearn misjudged the flight and the ball fell invitingly into the home penalty area before being hastily cleared by skipper Kemp.

Despite all the visitors' early possession, it was the home side who first carved out a real opportunity. Taking a break from defensive duties, Strong made progress up the right wing and his eventual cross reached Stuart Hussey in space and he promptly found the net only for the effort to be ruled offside. Back came Andover through Dyke, who this time opted to thread a pass through to Forbes. He in turn beat two defenders but, just when it seemed he had the goal at his mercy, he lost his footing on the treacherous surface and shot tamely at Kearn.

Minutes later it was Forbes again who had alarm bells ringing in the Linnets' defence, receiving the ball just inside the area to the right of goal, his powerful shot was turned round the post by Kearn for a corner which was eventually cleared. The visitors continued to press and a series of corners resulted which kept the home defence at full stretch. Lymington & New Milton tried to counter but often found their shorter passing game bogged down in a midfield morass with the loose ball more often than not finding an Andover player. So, after a brief respite, the Lions again pushed forward through Dyke and he chose on this occasion to cut inside and rifle a right foot shot goalwards which had Kearn beaten; only for Gazzard to make a superb goal-line clearance.

Having weathered the storm for half an hour, both metaphorically as well as physically, the Linnets started to put some attacking moves together. Clearly trying to spring the visitors' off-side trap, twice the ball was played through the Lions' back-line only for an offside flag to intervene. These warnings clearly went unheeded because on 34 minutes Brett Phillips, first checking to ensure that his men were onside, played the ball into a gap in the Andover defence which was immediately latched on to by his namesake Leigh. Sprinting clear the Linnets' striker chose to take the ball round Drake in the visitors' goal but was hauled down by the 'keeper for the clearest of penalties.

Leigh Phillips is brought down by Andover goalkeeper Drake. (photo courtesy of Newsquest)

It looked as though this would be the second consecutive home game in which a visiting 'keeper would be dismissed but to the amazement of all, since he was the last line of defence and had committed what can only be described as a "professional" foul; Drake escaped with just a yellow card. There was some measure of retribution at least for Lymington & New Milton as Leigh Phillips thumped the ball home from the spot-kick. This gave the home side some much needed confidence and Phillips had the ball in the net again shortly after only for it to be ruled out for an earlier foul.

Five minutes later and the referee's decision making was brought once more into focus when, receiving a pass from brother Matt, Stuart Hussey forced his way into the visitors' area only to be unceremoniously dumped face first into the mud by a defender. To the increasing wrath of the home crowd, the referee simply waved play on. Thus relieved, Andover immediately countered and a cross by Anderson found Kearn stranded in no-mans land, leaving Forbes to head towards a gaping net but his effort went wide of the post.

Half-Time : L. & N.M., 1 Andover 0

The second half started as the first had done with the Linnets on the back foot and the Lions pushing forward; but now in search of an equaliser. Even the weather, which had abated somewhat during the interval; swept into the home side's faces with renewed vigour. Almost immediately, Andover fashioned a chance when a cross by Asker from the right found Simpson but his shot faded just wide of an unguarded post. Simpson himself then turned provider but half-time substitute Mattingley could only head straight at Kearn.

This merely proved to be the prelude to the main movement however, as a spell of intense pressure found the Linnets' goal bearing a charmed life. With the home side defending their 18-yard line for all their worth, first the ball fell to Forbes whose shot on the turn was enough to beat Kearn but once again Gazzard was able to clear on the goal-line. From the resulting corner, the Andover striker got in a shot which Kearn saved superbly at the expense of another corner from which Forbes' third attempt, a thumping header, clipped the bar and went over.

In an attempt to cut the supply line, manager Derek Binns took off Strong in favour of Holmes and switched Stride to the right flank. This seemed to have an almost immediate impact as suddenly the visitors' attacks began to break down in midfield and the lively Holmes started to provide the much needed link between defence and attack. To reinforce the strategy, Mottashed came on in place of Matt Hussey and for almost the first time in the game Lymington & New Milton seemed to exert some control.

Within moments of his introduction, the tall Mottashed was able to push forward and his pass found Stuart Hussey, who was again bundled over in the area but this time the appeals were half-hearted. Now playing with some authority, the home midfield of Brett Phillips, Smith & Holmes began to put together some telling passes and twice threatened to play their strikers in with diagonal balls into the space behind the Andover defence; only to be foiled by some muscular defence and (yet another) offside decision. However, there was no offside flag when Holmes broke forward into the path of Brett Phillips' pass and his shot beat Drake but was cleared off the line.

With the contest now moving into the final minutes, the Linnets won a corner which was charged down by a desperate defence and an immediate counter attack formed. Streaming forward, the purple shirts of the visitors appeared to outnumber the home rear-guard but a timely intervention from Morris halted the first wave, a combination of Gazzard and Mottashed held the line before allowing skipper Kemp to show some neat ball control in playing his way out trouble. With the Lions thus committed, the Linnets swiftly responded as the ball was played forward quickly to Smith who still found the energy to burst through from midfield and his chip from the edge of the box cleared Drake but also cleared the post. A second goal might have flattered Lymington & New Milton in a game in which outstanding defence (Morris and Gazzard deserve honourable mentions in particular) was the order of the day.

If statistics had been compiled, after the fashion of televised sport, then the visitors would have won on a clear points decision. But statistics offer only a version of the truth and had 'keeper Drake been dismissed (as he undoubtedly should have been) this might, to coin a phrase; have been a completely different ball game. It is was also clear that the Lions' style of football, which might be characterised as "powerplay" based as it is on a muscular belief in their own abilities, would be quite sufficient to demolish most Wessex League defences and fully explained the free-scoring displays achieved prior to this match. Nevertheless such tactics can be countered, as was shown here, if you have a fluid defence and their over-reliance on playing a rigid offside game can be exposed by teams capable of producing a "killer" pass.

Interestingly, the difference in approach of the two sides found an echo in the post-match comments of the respective managers. Derek Binns admitted that the home side were capable of better football saying that "it was not a very impressive performance by us." He conceded that the visitors had overcome the conditions far better than his own team, "I thought Andover were superb." he admitted. Ken Cunningham-Brown on the other hand clearly saw this as an unscheduled pit-stop on the road to ultimate victory saying "on that evidence we should get three points at our place and I'd say Lymington are more likely to drop points than we are."

Such confidence may yet prove to be well founded but with games still to be played home and away against the likes of Wimborne and Totton as well as the reverse of this fixture, Mr. Cunningham-Brown must hope that any flaws in his game-plan have not been too severely exposed.

Lymington & New Milton : Kearn, Stride, Gazzard, Kemp, Morris, B. Phillips (Town 80), Strong (Holmes 68), Smith, L. Phillips, S. Hussey, M. Hussey (Mottashed 76).

Match reports on this site are based on those appearing in the New Milton Advertiser & Lymington Times (except where separately credited) with additional material from my own resources where relevant.