It was a bad day at the office, as the saying goes. The Ravens impressive eight game unbeaten streak was broken yesterday as they crashed out of the FA Vase to Billingham Synthonia at the Norton Sports Fields in County Durham.
While the Ravens line-up was much changed, they also came up against a style of football that, hitherto they had not experienced so far this season. Also, if truth be known it was a somewhat lethargic display from the Manx side, which with the way the schedule has been these first three months of the season, it is probably understandable that such a performance was due.
Although continuing to be absent through illness, Manager Chris Bass picked the team from afar and knowing that that a busy week lay ahead, made several changes. Goalkeeper Dean Kearns returned to the side after a four game lay off, while in the midfield Taylor Andrews made his full Ravens debut alongside Sid Batty (a last-minute call up after Charlie Higgins’ late withdrawal) and playing his first match since August. Up front Furo Davies partnered Luke Murray, as Ravens man of the month, Sean Doyle took a deserved rest on the bench.
Billingham started like a house on fire and bombarded the Ravens back line, who struggled initially to cope, but cope they did, so it was ironic that during a period of cat and mouse that a free kick conceded on 22 minutes, some thirty yards from Kearns goal broke the deadlock. A powerful effort went over the Ravens wall, then dipped viciously into the bottom right hand side corner of the net.
The Ravens hit back with a couple of free kicks of their own. First Sid Batty’s effort flashed wide of the left hand Synners post and ten minutes before half time, Lee Gale with a similar attempt forced the Billingham keeper into his first save of the game.
Throughout the first half, the game had lacked any real quality period of play from either side, but in the five minutes before the break the Ravens finally took off, and it was Gale’s powerful runs into the host’s left hand channel that started to cause problems for the hosts. First a cross pulled back from the goal line evaded the Billingham defence, and Davies in the middle, but found its way to Jacob Crook, racing in at the back post. The winger seemed certain to score, but his powerful drive went wide of the near post.
Minutes later, another Gale run caused mayhem in the opponent’s ranks, this time his cross found Davies on the edge of the six-yard box, but the striker was slightly beyond the front post, and he had to spin on the half turn to ensure he hit the target, which he did, but the ‘keeper made a fine save. Right on half time however, the Ravens equalised following yet another Gale run and cross. This time the centre was met by Davies who was storming into the area with a delayed run, and smashed the ball home. Half time 1-1!
Within minutes of the restart though the hosts were back in front, following a disorganised set up from a left-wing throw resulted in a Synners striker firing home from ten yards out to retake the lead. It was only temporary though as the Ravens equalised soon after. This time it was the Billingham defence that was unorganised as Adam Cooil’s long ball found Gale, again rampaging down the right, who crossed for Davies, unmarked in the six-yard box to tap in.
There followed a period of dominant Ravens play and it looked as if there was only going to be one winner. However, on the hour Billingham retook the lead with a move, uncannily so similar to our second equaliser minutes before.
From this point, the game turned into a battle and became rather feisty, which resulted in a couple of minor confrontations flaring up amongst both sets of players. The breakages in play though took any flow out of the game and it was very much start and stop until the final whistle, although Billingham did a add a fourth goal, from a right-wing cross, to seal the game.
One significant event to note for the Ravens, however, was the debut of seventeen-year-old Scott Horne, who replaced Luke Murray for the last 15 minutes and looked very neat and tidy.
Overall, it was a disappointing result, and the Ravens players know they can play much better. However, it’s a been a tough period and it’s now important that everyone re-focuses for the big week ahead, starting with Wednesday’s vital league game against Cheadle Town.
Kearns – Cooil, Burns, Higginbotham – Whitley, Batty, Andrews (Williams), Crook – Gale – Murray (Horne), Davies (Doyle).