A strange game this. Very bitty in parts through various disruptions such as injury time outs, a penalty spot that seemingly wouldn’t play ball, and other minor stoppages. In between all that however, we had a dominant goalkeeping performance, two red cards and a lot of nervous tension during the final 20 minutes. Yes, there was something for everyone amongst the magnificent record crowd at the Bowl for last night’s clash with Rocester.
Both sides came into the game following impressive mid-week wins and, while the Staffordshire side may have sat third bottom of the North West Counties League Division One (South) before the match, Ravens’ manager, Chris Bass was very aware, and stated in his pre match interviews, that the Romans were not going to be a push over and they had already given most of the top sides in the league a run for their money.
Bass made four changes to the side that came from behind to win at Sandbach United on Tuesday. Centre Backs Ryan Burns and Chris Cannell, both unavailable mid-week, returned either side of skipper Jack McVey. Lee Gale moved to the right-hand side of the midfield, with Ash Higginbotham taking Gale’s place in the centre. Dan Simpson returned to the team on the left flank.
It was Simpson who set the tone right from the kick off with a driving, pacey run straight at the Rocester defence to force a corner, the first of what would be a myriad of such set pieces that the Ravens forced during the opening fifteen minutes of the game. It was from these set plays that we would all start to take note of the name Charlie Woods, the Romans ‘keeper, as he expertly dealt with all types of delivery.
In the tenth minute though it was Woods who was on the wrong end of a collision with Raven’s midfielder Chris Bass jr, after the latter latched onto a quick free kick from McVey. Woods was given immediate medical attention and at one point it looked as if he would have to be replaced, but after what appeared to be an age, he finally got to his feet to continue.
Within minutes however, the Ravens early mauling of the Rocester goal paid off. Following yet another set play, Luke Murray was bundled over in the box. Penalty!! There now followed a little piece of pantomime as Jack McVey and the referee both seemed to have problems keeping the ball still on the penalty spot. Eventually, the ball…played ball… and remained static just long enough to allow McVey to stroke it home.
The Ravens were totally dominating at this time, and while at first, they may have been bombarding Woods goal with crosses and set pieces, the hosts now started to find out how good the visiting stopper really was. First of all, it was Bass jr who warmed Woods’ gloves with a fierce drive that the keeper stopped with aplomb. Then a quick break from Gale, probably the Ravens most prominent attacker in the first half, raced away down the right. His subsequent cross found Doyle unmarked in the six-yard box. The ‘Man on Fire’ seemed certain to score, but Woods somehow kept the striker’s fierce header out.
Next there followed an unbelievable barrage on the Rocester goal. Gale, temporarily showing up on the left-hand side of the penalty area, thought he’d scored as he carefully guided a right foot attempt across goal. The shot seemed to have beaten Woods, but at the last second he got a fingernail to the ball, and it hit the post. Doyle, as quick as a flash, spun onto the loose ball, but his effort hammered back off the upright again, but straight back to Sean, whose next attempt was pushed out for a corner by Woods. Somehow it remained just 1-0 to the Ravens.
Right on the cusp of half time, Woods made probably his best save of the night. Gale, again, crossed from the right, this time to the ‘Man on Fire’s’ right foot. Doyle placed the ball towards the right-hand corner of the net, started to wheel away to celebrate, but out of nowhere came that man, Charlie Woods to save magnificently down to his left. And then the whistle blew for half time.
Ravens ‘keeper, Dean Kearns had had little to do in the first half apart from deal with a couple of wishful long shots, but at the restart he was called into meaningful action for the first time as a Rocester player struck a ‘hand stinger’ that Kearns did well to hold onto. Within minutes though it looked as if we had put the game to bed. Gale again got away down the right, his cross was pin point, and this time even Woods couldn’t do anything about Doyle’s header and the Ravens had doubled their lead.
At this point, the start of the second period was definitely following the same pattern as the first with total Raven supremacy. McVey played an exquisite ball through to Murray, who’s lofted effort went over the bar. Then Doyle, decided to take Woods on again, this time with a thunder-blaster that the ‘keeper repelled away to his left.
On the hour, the flow of the game started to change, and both sides went through a period of giving the ball back to each other with some regularity. However, with just over 20 minutes to go, and the Ravens in full control the mood of the contest changed. An off the ball incident involving, hitherto Man of the Match, Lee Gale, resulted in a red card for the Ravens winger.
Bass now had a decision to make, a man down and the most influential player on the pitch this night was off. The manager bravely kept more or else the same shape, just moving Bass jr to the right side of what was now a midfield four but maintaining the two thronged attack of Doyle and Murray. Five minutes later that bravery would be tested as Ryan Burns nonchalantly touched the back of a Rocester player as they both chased down a loose ball in the Ravens penalty area. The Roman player fell, and to incredulous claims from Ravens players and fans alike, a penalty was awarded.
This time, the same penalty spot that McVey had had so many problems with in the first half behaved itself and the Rocester skipper Cavan Holford stepped up to score.
From nowhere the Romans were back in the game and they could smell the scent of a draw. However, despite their efforts the visiting team couldn’t create any chances or test Kearns in the Ravens goal. Burns, McVey and Cannell remained steadfast, and were being well guarded by Higginbotham and Michael Williams in front of them. Indeed, it was the Ravens who looked more likely to score with Simpson dangerous on the break, and Furo Davies (on for Doyle) holding the ball up well and looking to take on the Roman defence.
With two minutes to go both teams were back to even sides as one of the Rocester players received a second yellow card for dissent. Thereafter, the game petered out without further incident and the Ravens collected their fifth straight win. As for the Sponsor’s Man of the Match, this was awarded to a visiting player for the first time, as the Roman’s ‘keeper Charlie Woods deservedly took the plaudits.
As we said at the start of this narrative, this was somewhat of a peculiar game, for a variety of reasons, but it was one that was ultimately controlled and deservedly won by the Ravens. The 2,122 fans cannot say they were not entertained, and they were yet again fantastic in their support of their Ravens. The fact that many clamoured round the ‘tunnel’ area to greet the players as they left the pitch at games’ end seemed to indicate that there’s something definitely building here. A rapport between the supporters and the team.
We look forward to seeing this relationship flourish further next week as we welcome Maine Road to the island for our next fixture on Saturday.