For a club that spent a large chunk of the 2004-05 season at the foot of the Nationwide South Conference table the prospect of finishing the season with successive matches against the two pre-season championship favourites could be deemed a touch a daunting. Whether it is a measure of how far the Saints have advanced in recent months or how far Hornchurch and Weymouth have fallen is a moot point but to win one and lose one of these matches is certainly fair enough in the eyes of most City supporters as a remarkable campaign comes to an end.
Ben Walshe on the attack
Going into the campaign as favourites for an instant drop to a lower level was never a nice prospect but to finish the season – having gone through four managers - in the knowledge that it mattered not a jot to our future whether or not our first visit to the fine Wessex Stadium ended in victory was a very satisfactory position to be in. Given that the play-offs had eluded the Terras and that relegation was no longer a concern of the Saints a damp squib of an afternoon could have been anticipated in deepest Dorset.
Certainly the quality of the football was nothing to get worked up about but this was a horrible, niggly game packed with potential flashpoints. Indeed, much of the petty squabbling only subsided when the Weymouth central defender Bradley Thomas was dismissed on the stroke of half time for a second cautionable offence. That Thomas survived that long on the pitch was something of a surprise given the manner in which he continually strove to wind up Kezie Ibe off the ball.
Full marks to Weymouth for the way in which they coped during the second half as they made light of being a man short and despite being on the back foot for a couple of lengthy spells they never really looked like surrendering the lead given to them on 14 minutes when Brian Dutton sent a soft looping header to Paul Bastock’s left following a Shaun Wilkinson free kick.
As City supporters will recall with much affection, any side led by Garry Hill is going to be competitive and even though our former manager has only been down on the south coast for a matter of weeks he has already instilled a ruthless streak into the side. Have no doubts about it, having turned full-time just three weeks ago Hill’s side will win the Conference South next season – unless the money runs out….
Weymouth came into this match on the back of two good away wins in the past week and boosted by their second highest attendance of the season sought to end the campaign in style. But from early on the game got bogged down with referee James Evamy frequently stopping the play for infringements, it wasn’t that he was fussy it was a fair reflection of how the teams were tending to look more at the opposition than the ball.
The Terras started positively with strikers Kirk Jackson and Darren Wheeler both firing shots wide inside the opening 100 seconds. The well-travelled Jackson proved to be a physical handful throughout but Gary Elphick stuck to his task well but when he collected City’s fourth booking of the afternoon late in the game it was pretty much the only yellow card the match official got wrong. The Saints early threat saw two corners from Ben Walshe sail way beyond everyone in the penalty area while the visitors had an anxious moment when Wheeler sent a tantalising ball across the face of the goal that Bastock smothered just before it reached its intended target.
City should have drawn level four minutes after Dutton’s goal when Scott Cousins and Walshe linked well down the left and sent Clarke into the penalty area by the goalline where he cleverly turned his man only to see his attempted shot beaten away as far as Tom Davis. With a fine chipped cross towards the back post Davis picked out the now unmarked Clarke who headed poorly over the target; with it went Clarke’s only clear chance of the game to improve on his magnificent total of 25 league goals this season. It was also City’s only clear chance of the afternoon and meant that Terras keeper Jason Matthews ended the season without having to face a direct shot on target during his final 90 minutes at the Wessex Stadium.
Weymouth almost sewed up the game midway through the half when Dutton dispossessed Walshe – who endured a rare very poor afternoon – and sent Wheeler away to fire in a low angled drive that Bastock dived to palm around the post. The rest of the half is best forgotten as the succession of free kicks simply mounted and denied the game any opportunity to flow. Thomas beat his team-mates into the dressing room by a matter of seconds with a high late challenge on Cousins that left Mr Evamy with no option but to send him packing having booked him for an earlier foul on Ibe.
Unfortunately for City, Ibe failed to take advantage of losing his tormentor and aside from a couple of flashes of good close skill was an anonymous figure. Clarke, unintentionally as he was supposed to be alongside Ibe, was again in a deeper role and was clearly frustrated at his lack of opportunities and was rightly cautioned after lunging in on Matthews moments after the keeper had gathered the ball. Ram Marwa, Matt Hann, Cousins and Davis all worked hard but the midfield overall seldom got fully on top of the home side which meant that City’s preferred style of flowing football was only seen spasmodically.
The defence was solid with Colin Lippiatt opting for three at the back where Chris Seeby, Elphick and Dean Hooper lined up in front of Bastock. Collectively, the trio did reasonably well while Hooper, individually, showed a remarkably cool head when twisting his way out of trouble on a number of occasions as Weymouth put him under pressure.
City took a long time to find their rhythm after the interval but for a spell did put Weymouth under a period of sustained pressure but not once was an on-target shot forthcoming. Indeed matters could have got worse for City had Elphick been penalised when seemingly on the verge of removing Jackson’s shirt from his back, fortunately that incident was overlooked but on the downside the Saints had two penalty appeals of their own rejected when Davis looked to have been impeded and later when an arm appeared to break up an attack.
In a final desperate attempt to salvage something City boss Lippiatt made a double substitution six minutes from time with Gavin Tomlin and Ben Martin replacing Ibe and Walshe. Quite what Tom Beech will have made of seeing defender Martin – all 6’7” of him – thrown into the attack while he remained on the bench is anyone’s guess. Sadly, the move made little difference as for the eighth time in the past ten years City failed to win their final away match of the season.
After the match a bit more clarity was given as to the format of the squad for the 2005-06 season. Ben Walshe and Scott Cousins are set to remain with the club on a non-contract basis while Matt Hann confirmed that he signed a new contract on the morning of the match. Ram Marwa, however, disclosed that he has not yet signed for Dagenham & Redbridge, that matter is likely to be resolved during the coming week.
Report by David Tavener