Whilst walking down to The Lamb yesterday, what was apparent was the number of people wearing Everton v Tamworth scarves and discussing their plans for next Saturday. It was the same when we made it into the ground too, had people forgotten the importance of our league programme?
Since the FA Cup draw at the start of December, Tamworth’s league form has somewhat nosedived. The three league games since have all ended in heavy defeats, while we also fell at the first hurdle of the FA Trophy when a weakened team lost to Worksop Town. Despite Marcus Law claiming it not to be the case, maybe the player’s heads were focused on next weekend, just like a number of the supporters?
The first leg of the club’s festive double header was one to be forgotten where a 5-2 defeat at Alfreton’s Impact Arena ruined a lot of people’s Christmas. Conceding after 19 seconds, we were 2-0 down within the first three minutes of the game which yet again put Tamworth’s defence under much scrutiny. I’m sure any Everton scouts at the game would have been rubbing their hands together with glee. Despite this, two late goals from Law’s side when 5-0 down somehow gave them some encouragement and confidence going into the game on New Year’s Day.
With the squad continually being depleted through departures, injuries and suspensions, Law reacted by bringing in three new players ahead of the game – Callum Wilson, a striker from Coventry City had worked under Law at Kettering, young midfielder Chez Isaacs on work experience from Watford and Sam Oji was on the cusp of the first team at Birmingham City before moving into the Football League and then onto Sweden. With results not going our way lately, it was hoped they could be a catalyst to getting our league form back on track.
Law left supporters scratching their heads with his team selection for the game by making six changes to side who lost on Boxing Day. Joe Collister came in goal with Jonathon Hedge dropped seemingly without explanation. Connor Gudger, a player I’ve been particularly looking forward to watch, was awarded his first start in a Tamworth shirt while Iyseden Christie made his first start in what seems an age up front while Patterson and St.Aimie found themselves on the bench. Nabil Shariff also came into the side and there was a start for new signing Callum Wilson.
As the game got underway, it was difficult to work out what formation the team were playing. It appeared Courtney was sitting just in front of the defence with Gudger and Wilson on the wings and Shariff sitting just behind Christie. It was a fairly even start to the game, although Tamworth gained slight control when the heavens opened and took to the difficult conditions better than their opponents. As Tamworth pressed, they were rewarded with a goal in the 16th minute when a free-kick following a foul on Wilson wasn’t fully cleared by the visitor’s defence and led to Duane Courtney firing home from the edge of the box to give Tamworth an early advantage. Not long after, Tamworth should have really doubled the lead when an alert Christie got to the ball ahead of Alfreton goalkeeper Joe Day and despite not being able to find space for a shot he managed to hold the ball up well until support arrived in the shape of Nabil Shariff who decided to take a touch instead of take his shot first time with the goal at his mercy.
Almost immediately after, as Tamworth continued to press, Scott Barrow was taken out following a terrible tackle from Jake Moult who was only issued a yellow card much to the anger of The Shed and the players. It really was a terrible challenge and certainly appeared to warrant a red card. Despite an attempt to run it off, a visibly upset Barrow limped off to be replaced by young Chez Isaacs. Five minutes before half-time Alfreton came close when Anton Brown found himself through on goal but was thwarted by an on rushing Collister although it didn’t take them long to draw level when Patrick Kanyuka failed to clear a cross properly with the ball falling to Theo Streete at the edge of the box who’s low shot found it’s way through the crowded area and just inside the far post with Collister stranded.
Tamworth began the second half with purpose and took only three minutes to regain the lead when some good work from Shariff worked the ball through to Christie who coolly put the ball into the back of the net for his 9th goal of the season and a rare strike from open play. But yet again Tamworth were left to rue a defensive lapse when that man Kanyuka again decided to leave his man as Alfreton swung in a corner leaving Anton Brown with a free header to equalise for the visitors. Straight after the restart, Tamworth hit back and came close when a poor free-kick from Sam Habergham took a wild deflection off Gudger and bounced off the top of the crossbar. As the game wore on, both sides made changes with Patterson coming on for Christie and Sam Oji replacing the injured Francino Francis. Patterson could have won the game in the last minute when his close range effort was superbly saved by Joe Day, leaving Tamworth to again bemoan a lack of finishing and poor defending as the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of a match.
The verdict: Definitely two points dropped in what should have been a comfortable win for us in difficult conditions. Kanyuka gifted the workman-like Alfreton two goals and it’s not the first time recently he has cost us, it’s becoming a regular occurrence. Sam Oji on the other hand looked a much better prospect – quicker, stronger and had a far better awareness of the game and starting him at Everton in place of Kanyuka is a must. Young Chez Isaacs also looks like he could be quite a player. For a youngster he showed great composure on the ball and has a wide variety of passing to compliment his excellent distribution and Connor Gudger and Nabil Shariff were both lively. In all honesty though, it will be a blessing to get the Everton game finally out the way and so we can focus on the league, but I suppose stopping the rot with a point isn’t a bad way to start the New Year. Now for that little game at Goodison…