Sunday, 15 February 2009

Game 8: Bitton AFC 0, Glossop North End 2

Fifth Round Proper ~ Saturday 14th February 2009
Venue: The Recreation Ground, Bitton, Gloucestershire
Attendance: 443

Distance travelled: 218 miles

St. Valentine's Day. Red roses, heart-shaped chocolates, fluffy bears. If you expect any of that here, you've come to the wrong place. This wasn't a game for the faint-hearted romantic. This was a tough, gritty, hard fought battle won by the visiting Hillmen from North Derbyshire. On a day of fruitless excuses up and down the country, of blokes risking a trip to the game instead of a candle-lit dinner for two, those of us in this part of South Gloucestershire were treated to a good game. Glossop North End, marginally superior to their Bitton hosts, advance to the Quarter-Finals of the FA Vase with a fine 2-0 win.

Bitton entered the game with their top goalscorer, Mark Reynolds, suspended and it was missed chances that ultimately cost Bitton. The tie exploded into life with only 6 minutes on the clock. Bitton, attacking down the slope, launched a high ball into the area and a deflected shot hit the foot of the Glossop post. The ball spun up onto the hand of Glossop's number six, Jason Gorton. The referee had little choice but to award a penalty; many Bitton fans were calling for a red card but a degree of leniency was shown and the card brandished was only yellow. Guy Cocks stepped up for the home team to take the spot kick, but his effort was driven straight at the diminutive Ashlea Gotham in the Glossop goal. Cocks reacted quickest to get to the rebound, but his follow up effort was excellently saved by Gotham, who managed to flail an arm at the rising shot. The ball looped up into the air and fell onto the head of a Bitton forward who, unbelievably, headed against the bar when it seemed easier to score. The ball rebounded to another Bitton player who, with the goal at his mercy, headed over. This all happened in a matter of seconds and this bur of activity, with hindsight, typified Bitton's day.

The majority of the first half belonged to Glossop. With Bitton relying on the experienced, but aging, Michael Meaker up front, they resorted to a long ball game which invariably resulted in lost possession. Glossop's game was far more composed and they played the ball at turf level whenever possible. The away side won a number of corners and a couple of free-kicks and much of the early play was around the Bitton penalty area. In most cases, Bitton's defence stood strong. On 13 minutes Glossop won one such corner, which was floated into the box and headed away. Bitton broke with Meaker in chase, and with a neat ball inside found Mark Cherry. Cherry shot high and wide.

The Glossop number 9, Martin Parker, was a tall lanky lad who won many aerial challenges and he had a great battle with Rob Scott in the Bitton defence throughout the match; the visitors also used the wings well, and particularly impressive was the slight Dave Hodges who had an excellent game down the left. Hodges gave the Bitton full-back, Tom Warren, a torrid afternoon. On 20 minutes, Hodges, not for the first time, got beyond Warren to supply a good cross only to be defended well for another corner, which was ultimately wasted.

Ten minutes later, Hodges embarrassed Warren with a neat turn inside which left Warren static. Hodges bore down on goal; as John Rendell came off his line, Hodges tried an elegant chip which floated just wide. A minute later, Darren Hamilton cut in from the opposite flank and shot just wide from a tight angle. On 32 minutes, a neat one-two on the edge of the Bitton box let in Rick Bailey for a shot on goal, but Rendell saved well. Bitton were on the back foot.

As the first half entered its final stages, Bitton continued to try and hit Glossop on the break and had some joy. With 10 minutes of the half remaining, Jon McAlinden wasted a good chance for the 'The Ton' when he headed over after a good run and cross from Meaker. Guy Cocks then shot over for Bitton and the home side managed to win a couple of corners.

It was rather ironic then that Glossop's first goal was a break-away straight from a Bitton corner. Hodges, out wide on the left, found the ball heading in his direction from a long clearance. With an exquisite piece of skill, he chested the ball inside and beyond Warren, breaking into free space in the penalty area before coolly slotting home. A great individual goal.

The half-time whistle arrived quickly, the sign of a good game. The Glossop fans were in good voice and good humour with their rattles and blue and white spiked hats, and there was a noticeable clash of accents between the two sets of fans. The North Derbyshire tones contrasted well with the Gloucestershire burr, and we were entertained by a local chap with a strong Bristol accent who commentated loudly throughout the game and had us in stitches. He constantly referred to the bald referee as "curly" and his local burr simply made anything he shouted sound funny.

The second half was as good as the first. Bitton enjoyed far more possession and the ante was upped with a number of hard, uncompromising tackles. Both sets of players really wanted this, and the physically bruising encounter at times looked as if it might boil over; credit to "curly" for controlling the game well and letting it flow at every opportunity.

On 57 minutes, Matt Knapmen headed over, another chance wasted from the home side and on 65 minutes Steve Jones for Bitton headed against the bar. The ball dropped to Rob Scott who contrived to head the ball over. This was better from Bitton, but one could sense that they had to take their chances. A few moments after the bar had been struck, Bitton pressed again and won a corner; a shot from outside the area was held well by Gotham. The tiny keeper was playing very well and holding onto everything as Bitton regained a foothold.

But just as Bitton were sensing a way back into the tie, Glossop scored somewhat against the run of play. Martin Parker found space down the left and provided an excellent cross for the late-arriving Dave Morris. Morris had plenty of time to control the ball and compose himself before firing into the roof of the net. This after 71 minutes. Cue scenes of pandemonium amongst the Glossop fans and on the Glossop bench; whereas Bitton had failed to take their chances, Glossop had taken theirs and this proved to be decisive.

Bitton were visibly knocked back by the goal and were now running out of ideas. Glossop almost scored a third with 10 minutes to go when Rendell spilled a long range shot from Hamilton, but Rendell recovered quickly to smother. With the minutes ticking by, Bitton had one final chance to score when substitute Tim Summers headed from only a few yards out, only to see Gotham pull off a wonderfully instinctive save to tip the ball over. Gotham and Hodges both shone for Glossop and they were my joint 'men of the match'.

With the curtain drawing on Bitton's FA Vase adventure, the frustration finally told when Rob Scott made an horrendous two-footed challenge just in front of us. This sparked a minor mêlée between both sets of players and Scott was shown yellow, when again a red card seemed more appropriate. This was the last action of a hard fought tie and the final whistle was greeted with jubilation from the travelling fans and players. Well done Glossop.

So it's goodbye to Bitton and thanks to Becky Jones and everyone for all your support. On a personal note, I would be lying if I said I was not pleased with this result. As my regular readers know, I watch these games as a 'neutral' and try to be impartial and favour no team. As you also know, I was born in Glossop and my home town ties were hard to ignore at yesterday's game. My path through this FA Vase is based purely on luck as the draw dictates where I end up next. I am now off up to Glossop in the next round and I can't quite believe it. As we left yesterday, my good friends PB and POSH Mate, realising what this means to me, sang up "it's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming - football's coming home". Walking away from Bitton's ground, with the Glossop fans dancing on the terrace and the Glossop players celebrating noisily in the changing room, and my mates singing "you're going home", I am forced to admit there was a tear in my eye. Just a little one.

The prospect of a trip to Glossop in two weeks' time is already pulling at my heart strings. St. Valentine's Day just had to end thus. Now that's what I call romantic.

For more of my photos from the game, please click [here].
Thanks to Sports Photographer Neil Brookman for his photos [here].


Sticky said...

Glad you enjoyed watching Glossop mate, they are a quality side.


Ollers said...

Cheers Sticky - will you be at Surrey Street for the Q/F on 28th Feb?

Neil said...

Great write up Andy. Glad you enjoyed your first taste of North End. You better get used to it as you'll be watching us for a few more games yet!

One small thing... Martin Parker will be delighted you got him confused with Dave Hodges! It was Parks who crossed for the 2nd goal.

See you in a couple of weeks.

Ollers said...

Hi Neil,

Thanks for your comments & spotting my mistake. Parker has now been given due credit!


Chopper said...

Nice to hear about Rob Scott (despite the late lunge). He played for us during the Adams years as a striker. Never scored many mind but well liked.