Saturday 26th March, Hatches Farm, Romsey Road, East Wellow
Wellow are marooned at the bottom of the senior division of the Drew Smith Group Southampton Football League table. The only respite from a wretched season, in which they have lost twelve of their previous fourteen league games, came in drawn matches with Durley and Michelmersh. Prior to kick-off we trotted out the usual clichés about there being no easy games, but you can never be completely sure if an element of complacency is lurking beneath the surface of your team's pre-match preparations. Wellow's track record this season suggested they were nothing but relegation fodder, although as Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, was keen to emphasise - this would not be an easy game for us. We were without Jason Wilson, Ben Rowe (who was in Switzerland,) and Mark Reeves, (who had been struck down by a bout of diarrhoea). Chris Pye and Dan Allen were picked in the starting line-up, with the substitute bench bolstered by Joe Hill and Martin Barnett.
The afternoon began with a misunderstanding. Wellow thought the game was kicking-off at 2pm. So did the referee. Paul Dyke on the other hand had been told 2:30pm. I passed Dyke outside the dressing rooms as he showed Wellow's manager, a large bald man, who was short on hair and big in muscle, the text message from our club secretary. Between the two they negotiated a 2:15pm kick-off. There was still time for us to warm-up, although not as much as both Lee Fielder and Kev Willsher would have liked. The referee was stood in the centre-circle getting tetchy. “Come on,” he shouted, “we agreed 2:15, it's 2:20 now”. He was particularly unhappy about the delayed kick-off. His wife would now have to suffer the indignity of catching the bus home from a Women's Institute meeting, rather than getting collected by her husband.
Wellow were not as bad a side as their league position suggests; a little indisciplined perhaps in terms of positional sense, but with several players who knew what to do with a football. One of whom I was marking in central midfield. He rarely failed to bring the ball under close control or scowl at some of his team mates when they were unable to do likewise. Unfortunately for them, their individual talent was unable to knit together in any kind of cohesive unit. This meant the long ball over the top of their defence worked a treat. Marc Judd was involved in our first meaningful attack, albeit from a rather unlikely source. The ball bounced invitingly to his right inside the penalty area. Although predominately left footed, the urge to strike, even on his seldom used right foot, was too strong to ignore. His shot ricocheted off the goalkeeper's left hand-post straight to Lee Fielder, who ballooned the ball high over an open goal. Fielder did not let this unpleasant incident phase him. Moments later he smashed in Sam Schwodler's right-wing cross. Kev Willsher then did what he had been threatening to do for the previous handful of set pieces by heading in a corner-kick. It was then goalkeeper, Ryan Jones' turn to get in on the act. His punted clearance was side footed neatly past Wellow's oncoming goalkeeper by Chris Pye, who was starting his first game for Burridge.
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Kev Willsher and Ryan Hurst believed the opening minutes of the second-half had come to be something of an Achilles' heel for us over the last few games. During half-time they spoke of the need for us to approach the second forty-five minutes in the right frame of mind in order to avoid making any careless mistakes. Identifying this problem did nothing to help either Hurst or Willsher to solve it. I do not think it is an enormous exaggeration to suggest we have grown as dependent upon Kev Willsher's performances in the centre of defence as we are on water coming from the kitchen tap. So there was a sense of genuine bewilderment from the rest of us to see him fluff his lines in a series of botched and scuffed clearances, minutes within the restart. The idea he was cast under the spell of some self fulfilling prophecy seemed more feasible than the reality of him being prone to human error.
Sam Schwodler laid back to Kristian Hewitt, who made it four-nil, with what was by his standards a scuffed shot; although scuffed or not it rolled nicely into the 'keeper's bottom left hand corner. Schwodler was then hacked down by a rather malicious looking tackle, which the referee punished with a penalty-kick. Wellow complained bitterly about diving, with some of their players making rather lazy comparisons with the cynical aspects of Cristiano Ronaldo's play. Hewitt scored his second of the game from the penalty spot with a self assured strike straight from from the Teddy Sheringham manual of finishing. The scoring was complete when Martin Barnett, fresh from the bench, played a ball through to Marc Judd, who had an unusual amount of time and space to find a suitable angle on which to finish with his left foot.
The comfortable scoreline was of little consolation to Sam Schwodler. He had spoken freely of the goals he hoped to score against Wellow. The disappointment in not doing so seemed to sag heavily on his shoulders. He sat half-dressed in the dressing-rooms after the game, weighing up whether or not he could make it back to Burridge for Wednesday evening's mid-week game, from Cardiff, where he is working at present. The prospect of rectifying Saturday's goal drought against Wellow clouded Schwodler's grasp of distance and time. The fixture has since been re-scheduled for 30 April, sparing Schwodler around two-hundred pounds air fare, or the equivalent in speeding fines down the M4.
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Burridge AFC lined up in a 4-4-2 formation:
GK: Jones, LB:S.Hewitt, CB:Hurst, CB:Willsher, RB:Allen (Barnett), LM:Pye (Hill), CM:K.Hewitt, CM:Sanderson, RM:Judd, CF:Fielder (Andrews), CF:Schwodler