Match Report 2001/2002

Linnets suffer second 'lightning strike'

Saturday 2nd March 2002 :
Wessex League Cup Semi Final 1st Leg

Lymington & New Milton 1, Andover 3


Having had the league fixture previously scheduled for this date altered to a cup match (the original was postponed four days earlier), Lymington and New Milton now have a mountain to climb if they are to progress to the final of the Wessex League Cup, after they were beaten 3-1 by league and cup favourites Andover at Fawcett's Field. They were not helped in their cause however by a refereeing decision that was the exact duplicate of an event that occurred in last season's league match between these two clubs.

The old saying has it that lightning does not strike twice in the same place, and yet the circumstances of this particular event were so similar as to be almost unbelievable. In the league match last season, Linnets' striker Leigh Phillips received a ball played through the Andover defence that put him one on one with their 'keeper, Kieron Drake. Having played the ball past Drake, Phillips was hauled down unceremoniously by the Andover player in an attempt to prevent him from scoring. Correctly, the referee awarded a penalty, from which Phillips himself scored. Incorrectly (in the view of this observer), the referee chose not to send Drake off but (after much deliberation with a linesman), awarded him only a yellow card.

This time round, Phillips was not playing (he was absent through suspension). However, once again the Linnets beat a rigid Andover offside trap to put Steve Strong through one on one with, ( guessed it!), Kieron Drake. At the same end of the ground and in an almost identical position, Strong played the ball beyond Drake and was clobbered by the Andover 'keeper's 'clumsy' attempt to get the ball leaving him with an injured shoulder. Again a penalty was awarded and again after a lengthy delay (resulting from Strong's injury), the referee chose to issue only a yellow card. In both cases Drake was the last line of defence. In both cases he clearly committed fouls - hence the award of penalty-kicks on both occasions. In such circumstances the only view that could be taken was that Drake had committed a so-called 'professional' foul to deny the Linnets' a clear goal-scoring opportunity which should have led to his dismissal.

Asked for his interpretation after this game the referee, Mr. B. Whymark of Southampton, offered the view that (in his opinion) Drake's challenge on Strong would have meant that the Linnets' player would not have had a 'straight' run on goal but would have been forced wide. Watching "The Premiership" on television later that evening, I noted two instances from that day's matches where players were forced to run 'wide' of the 'keeper to avoid his challenge. On both occasions they scored, one of them almost from the corner-flag! The implication of Mr. Whymark's observation was that he felt it was inconclusive that a goal would have been scored. Agreed, this was not a Premiership match and the players on view could not be expected to have the skill levels of their Premiership equivalents. However, in the view of this observer, the referee's interpretation could only be described, politely, as naive.

There again, perhaps it is your reporter who is naive (or worse - biased!) but already this season, several Wessex League managers have criticised the standard of refereeing at this level. On the evidence of these two decisions, I can only conclude that they have a case. Why make so much of the incident when Lymington & New Milton lost the game anyway? Only because, if the full force of the 'law' had been applied in both cases the remainder of the match, with one side reduced to ten men (whether or not they had a substitute 'keeper to call on), would in all probability have been a "completely different ball game". Such are the effects of refereeing decisions.

Having said all that, on the evidence of the rest of the (11 against 11) game, Andover were worthy winners and it was only as a result of some last-ditch defending by the home side that the score was kept down to the level it was. The Linnets were missing some key players for this cup tie, in particular strikers Leigh Phillips and leading scorer Richie Glenister who, although named amongst the substitutes, was clearly carrying an injury. Linnets' player-manager Graham Kemp felt that this was a factor in their first leg defeat : "We've got the difficult job of having to go to Andover now and get a 3 goal win, but if we can go there with a full strength side we've got a chance," said Kemp.

"We missed Jimmy Sheppard, Leigh Phillips and Richard Glenister terribly today and we've also not had a game for ten days and I don't think that has done us any good. They've played a lot of games in a short space of time and won a few games in a row now and sometimes it's easier because you're on a roll of winning games which becomes a good habit. We had a great performance against Wimborne recently [in the quarter finals] but we never really reached those kind of heights today and we needed to do that to get a result against someone like Andover. We looked half a yard off the pace and I think that's due to not having played for ten days."

In an opening quarter of an hour where the visitors kept the Linnets firmly on the back foot Kearn had to make a point-blank save to deny Andover's Asker. The Linnets then started to claw themselves into the game. A cross from Smith produced a header by Tate that grazed the visitor's cross bar and after twenty minutes Kemp's side took the lead. As has already been noted, Steve Strong was brought down inside the Andover penalty area and Steve Tate rammed home the resultant spot-kick for a 1-0 lead. L&NM held onto their advantage until almost half-time, when (ironically in the time added on to deal with Strong's injury) Webber finished off a neat move by the North Hampshire side for a deserved equaliser. Strong, playing as a makeshift striker, struggled through the latter part of the first-half after the collision with Drake and had to come off at half-time.

The Linnets, already missing the services of Paul Gazzard and Jimmy Sheppard as well as prolific marksman Leigh Phillips, and with Richard Glenister sitting on the bench but also carrying a knock, had Matt Town [who has been absent from the first team for a couple of months following a long-term injury] as the only recognised striker who could come on. However both Town and fellow striker Tate were either isolated because of Andover's almost continuous second-half pressure or to be found trying to assist a hard-pressed Lymington & New Milton defence. The only clear cut chance the Linnets had in the second period was when Mark Smith delivered the ball into the danger zone for Gareth Keeping to try his luck, but his header landed straight in the arms of the Andover keeper Drake.

After a period of almost incessant pressure by the visitors, it seemed as though the home side might just escape with an unlikely draw but with 20 minutes remaining Kennedy raced clear for the visitors in a one on one situation with Stewart Kearn, who avoided bringing his opponent down but also failed to stop him from advancing, before slotting the ball into the net to put Andover into the lead. An excellent piece of inter-play from Webber and Forbes resulted in the latter adding a third to make life very difficult for Kemp's outfit in the return leg on March 19th.

No doubt (unless something exceedingly strange like the dismissal of a goalkeeper occurs), Andover will progress to the final and presumably Drake will continue playing the 'percentage game' when involved in one-on-ones. With the Linnets due to play Andover at least three more times this season (in the league, the second leg of this tie and in a Russell-Cotes affair), one can only hope for no further repeats of this particular event.

Lymington & New Milton: Kearn, Drew, Green, Kemp, Morris, Mooney, B. Phillips [Liddon 70], Smith, Tate, Strong [Town 45], Keeping. Unused sub: Glenister.

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.

  Online with the Linnets © Paul Johns MMII