Match Data 2003/2004
Nuneaton Borough 1
Havant & Waterlooville 2
Southern League Premier Division - Sat Nov 08, 2003
The exploration of uncharted territory is one of the exciting things about being a football fan, and although Nuneatonís Manor Park is a stones throw from Tamworth, or indeed Hinckley, it was a brave new frontier for the Hawks to conquer on Saturday, and they did just that.
Up in the Midlands, club affairs at Nuneaton have a vaguely familiar air about them. Despite having been at or near the top of the table all season, the fans are already showing signs of despair and dismay at the odd poor result and the prospect of Conference 2 football next term. Borough donít quite carry the arrogance that other relegated Conference sides have in the past, but when punters are asked to fork out £9 for entry and £11 for a seat in the stand, you canít help but think there is an easy answer to the question of why attendances are falling. Having nearly 900 people at a home game would be considered an absolute triumph by most teams in the league, but the simple fact of the matter is that Southern Premier Football isnít the draw that the Nationwide Conference is. You have to live to your means in non-league football, itís no use pretending to be something youíre not.
Nuneaton shuffled their team and formation in a bid to put recent defeats behind them, and the Hawks did exactly the same. Threats in the local press last week from co-manager Mick Jenkins that under-performing players would be dropped from the side resulted in Brett Poate staying home to play in the reserves, and Neil Davis warming the bench. James Ford too didnít feature in the starting eleven, although this was apparently due to illness.
The result was a switch to an attacking 3-5-2 formation, with reserve regular Dan Turner gaining a place at the back next to Alec Masson and Aaron Skelton, and Dean Blake and Chris Ferrett becoming wing backs. The midfield three had David Town just in front of Luke Byles and the returning Bobby Howe, and Chukki Eribenne and James Taylor stood at the front.
The change yielded dividends from the off. While the hosts took time to get familiar with their own re-organisation, the Hawks immediately fell into a purposeful rhythm. Ex-Tamworth keeper Darren Acton had to lift a cross from Blake away from Taylorís head in the first minute, and super Jim bore down on goal again before Eribenne spun on his heel to fire a shot wide of the post. Nuneaton appeared oblivious to the threat from the wings, and time and again Blake and Howe had acres of space to control and turn crosses from the right corner back across the box.
The opening onslaught put the Hawks ahead with eleven minutes on the clock. Eribenne was tripped by Borough captain Neil Moore as he raced up the left wing, and Blake fired the free kick across the box to where Chukki clashed again with Moore for a glancing back header that dipped under Acton.
The relentless attacking continued, and it took fifteen minutes before Nuneaton started to claw their way into the game. A short throw allowed Andy Corbett to work his way in from the wing for a pass to Mark Clifford, who sent a dipping drive inches over the bar. Danny Williams also navigated his way to the by line before sending back a cross captured by Chris Tardif at his near post.
Borough thought theyíd equalised when Turner sent a back header into space and Williams picked it up to put Corbett free in the box. His shot beat Tardif, but came back squarely off the post into the keeperís arms. The time was exactly right for another goal, and Town provided in the 29th minute with a thumping finish after Taylor brought down a long ball and put it across the box.
Seconds later the visitors almost added a third. Eribenne tussled with Moore on the edge of the box but managed to turn and release a shot that Acton could only get fingertips to. The ball went free, but the keeper poked it away before Taylor could charge in and send it home. Making amends for his earlier, and only, error of the game, Turner dispossessed Williams as he tried to shoot with a superb tackle, and a moment of panic ended with a free kick after a peculiar clearance from Blake saw the ball back into his own six yard box under a bundle of diving players.
Nuneaton returned for the second half a different side. Much quicker, much more alert, they took control of the game as forcefully as the Hawks had done in the first half. Ferrett cleared a corner off the line five minutes in, and Howe stumbled when attempting to challenge Stuart Lake allowing a shot that curved over the bar. In the 55th minute tensions boiled over when several players squared up to each other after a tackle from Turner upended Lake. In the aftermath both he and Howe gained yellow cards.
Tardif made two dramatic saves on the hour when he first blocked a long drive from Michael Love, and then Matthew Collins with an attempt from the goalmouth scramble that ensued. The frenetic pace continued, and seconds later Williams missed an acrobatic attempt at a header when Clifford sent a hard cross through an exposed penalty area.
Chances for the Hawks were becoming few and far between. Blake was tackled after he cut back inside from a run on the wing, and after a foul on Taylor, Byles curled a rare second half free kick over the wall - but straight into Acton.
Substitute Gez Murphy found the net to a roar of appreciation from the packed terrace in the 77th minute, but the linesman had already raised his flag for offside. He then followed with an attempt wide of the post, and Clifford wasted a fine chance from a free kick when his strike cleared the bar, and the stand.
Approaching the end of the game, Taylor was inches away from Eribenneís cross as it slipped behind Moore and Terry Angus. The game remained firmly encamped in the visiting half though, and the hosts eventually found a consolation fifty seconds into injury time when Murphy sent an unstoppable volley into the far side of the net. It proved to be too little too late however, with the final whistle coming seconds after the game restarted.
The performance was a complete opposite to last weekís astonishing dirge, matching the game against Weymouth for style and appetite. Setting aside a lack of consistency against teams lower in the table, the Hawks are fast gaining a reputation among other clubs as being one of the best teams in the league this season. On the face of games like that, itís one richly deserved.
Dean Blake chases Matt Collins for the ball
Chukki Eribenne backheaders goal one under Darren Acton
David Town and Borough's Michael Love
Acton lifts a late Hawks corner away from Alec Masson
Blake makes a break across the midfield
James Taylor gets a header behind Terry Angus
Click thumbnails for larger pictures