Thursday, 28 November 2013

Depleted Town bow out of cup with their heads held high

By Ricky Butler at Whitley Park

Highlights of this game can be found here

AN under-strength Town side crashed out of the League Cup at West Allotment Celtic on Wednesday evening but they did so with their heads held high.

With eight players missing for one reason or another, Peter Mulcaster was only just able to scramble together a side but the lads who were there produced a performance of real quality which on another night may well have seen them through.

It looked like being a long evening for Town and their hardy band of followers when Sean Reid, who would go on to score four times, was gifted two early goals but Mulcaster's battlers recovered from that nightmare start to contribute to a thrilling tie.

Stephen Banks put Town back in to it midway through the first half but after Reid had completed his hat-trick with a superb free kick and Michael Bell added a fourth before the break, it looked all over when Reid was gifted another early in the second half.

However, Town are nothing if not resilient and they rallied in the final 15 minutes with goals from Graham Caygill and Danny McLachlan as Celtic were forced to hang on at the end.

But while Mulcaster was rightly proud of the performance of the players who did turn up, he was more upset with those who did not.

"The biggest thing for me was the non-appearance of people," said Mulcaster at the whistle. "I am really, really disappointed in two or three people.

"We turned up with a depleted squad. No, we turned up with just a team, 11 players, which is not good enough. I am sad and angry but the people that went out there tonight were absolutely magnificent.

"The five goals that they scored, four were mistakes. After going 5-1 down we were the better side I thought but we got beat and now we look forward to a big game on Saturday."

With eight players missing for one reason or another, some pulling out at the last minute, Town were always going to be up against it. Mikey Stevens was forced to start in an unfamiliar left back role while Craig Toman made his first start of the season in midfield.

With Dale Elgie at work, Darren Kokes dropped back into midfield with Caygill getting a start up front alongside McLachlan.

In front of the Sky Tyne and Wear cameras, Town could not have got off to a worst start. Just 52 seconds had elapsed when Connor Graham whipped in a cross from the left and Reid was left completely unmarked to nod past goalkeeper Jordan Aspinall from close range.

When the Celtic striker then scored an almost identical goal eight minutes later, this time heading home a cross from Marc Dummett, a heavy Town defeat looked on the cards. 

But when face-to-face with adversity, Mulcaster's side often come up with something special and they did just that to get back in to the tie six minutes later. Colin Anderson initially saw a header hacked off the line by Dummett but when Celtic failed to clear their lines, Caygill's shot was deflected into the path of Banks who drilled home.

Suddenly it was different game. Kokes shot narrowly wide after great work from Caygill while Stevens, who had now switched positions with Toman, should have equalised after a mistake from Chris Douglas. But with only goalkeeper Ryan Beal to beat, he blasted wide of the target and that proved to be the turning point.

Almost immediately Toman fouled David Henderson on the edge of the penalty area and Reid completed his hat-trick with a superb curling free kick that gave Aspinall no chance.

It was a real cup tie now as only a great save from Beal denied Kokes as Town again looked for a way back. But it was more poor defending that gifted Celtic a fourth goal just two minutes before the break.

Again Graham was allowed to get a cross in from the left and this time it was midfielder Bell who was granted the freedom of the Town six-yard box to nod past Aspinall. The score perhaps flattered the hosts as the teams left the pitch at half time but it would get worse before it got better for Town.

Just six minutes had elapsed in the second half when Hickman, having an unusually shaky game at the back, was robbed by Reid on the edge of his own penalty area and there was only going to be one outcome - the Celtic man coolly lifting the ball past the exposed Aspinall. 5-1 and game over. Or maybe not.

The final half an hour was as well as Town have played all season. They passed the ball with purpose and created numerous opportunities. Anderson, who had been hoping for a rest, began to take the game by the scruff of the neck and only the heroics of Beal prevented him adding to his 12 goals this season.

However it was Caygill who was the real star of the show, producing the complete centre forward's display. And the 23-year old was rewarded 15 minutes from time. A long clearance from Aspinall was flicked on by McLachlan and Caygill showed great strength to beat Beal on the edge of the penalty area before scooping the ball into the net from 15 yards.

Speaking about his goal, Caygill said: "I've been out of the side for while, trying to make an impact from the bench, but tonight I managed to put a good shift in and got a goal to cap it off.

"The keeper came out but you have to go big or go home with those ones and I won the ball and managed to dink it in over the defender's tackle."

If Town were keep their cup dream alive they needed another goal quickly and it nearly arrived as first Kokes headed an Anderson cross just the wrong side of the left-hand upright before Beal somehow kept out another effort from Anderson. But the resulting corner, whipped in by Gav Parkin, was only half-cleared and McLachlan headed home from close range.

The comeback was nearly cut short moments later when Celtic substitute Dean Lee smashed a shot against the crossbar but it may well have been a different story had Hickman placed his headed a few inches either side of Beal or if the Celtic stopper had not produced a magnificent save to deny Anderson again.

But it was not to be for Town and right at the death it should have been 6-3. Lee, who had looked lively after coming on, rounded Aspinall but he only succeeded in finding the side-netting from a tight angle and the final whistle blew moments later.

Mulcaster will now hope his team can take this second half performance, minus the defensive mistakes, into Saturday's big promotion six-pointer against Norton & Stockton Ancients.

"We should have eight players back (on Saturday) and if we play like this we will have a massive chance. It will not be easy but we look forward to the game. It will be a good test."

WEST ALLOTMENT CELTIC - Beal, Douglas, Dummitt, Gordon, Pendlebury, Ford, Bell, Borley, Reid, Henderson, Graham. SUBS - Dormand, Bernat-Roca, Lancaster, Lee, Oliver-Bergan

1. Aspinall - Made some good saves but was let down by those in front of him for 4 of the 5 goals. 7/10

2. Banks - Recovered from a shaky start to score his 3rd goal of the season and was far more solid after the break. 7/10

3. Stevens - Started in an unfamiliar left back position but soon switched to his usual role on the wing. Should have equalised midway through the first half and failed to really spark after that. 6/10

4. Hickman - Probably made more mistakes in the first hour here than he has done all season. Has enough good performances in the bank to get away with this one, but only just. Best to put this down as one of those days. (A generous) 6/10

5. Howlett - Struggled at times against the impressive Reid, as did the whole of the back four, but stuck to the task well. 6/10

6. Parkin - Drove the team forward after that dreadful start. Demanded the ball and demanded more from those around him. Another captain's display. 8/10

7. Anderson - Such a joy to watch at times. Might not have scored this time but is worth the entrance fee alone. 8/10

8. Kokes - You know what you get from Kokesy and he did not disappoint. Worked hard along side Parkin in the middle of the park. Unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions. 7/10

9. Caygill - His best performance in a Town shirt. Worked tirelessly up front, looked after the ball well and was rewarded with a well taken goal. Man of the match. 9/10

10. McLachlan - On the periphery of the action for much of the night but made an assist and then scored a much needed goal. Hopefully this will give his confidence a much-needed boost. 7/10

11. Toman - First appearance of the season and playing out of position so it was always going to be a big test but worked hard throughout. 7/10

REFEREE - K. McKitterick.


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