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  • Writer's pictureHead Scout

April Fools

Peterborough Sports 1-0 Gloucester City (National League North)

As I scrolled through my phone in bed, a photo appeared on my ‘X’ of Ian Rush in an Everton shirt on the cover of Shoot Magazine in 1989, still to this day the best April Fools I’ve ever seen, an early indication of what to expect as I trailed through the morning’s news.

April 1st might be one to look out for if you don’t like jokes, but it also marks the business end of the football season, the final month of the campaign, where promotion and relegation is all but resolved as the league season draws to a close.

Neither Peterborough, nor Gloucester have promotion in sight, but they do have relegation woes. It’s funny, the bottom three of the National League North are three of the southern most teams, perhaps a telling sign that the likes of Bishop’s Stortford, Banbury and Gloucester can’t get the best local players to play for them as they perhaps opt for clubs whose away days aren’t so demanding?

My away day today is less demanding than usual. Only 50 miles or so is Pims Park on Lincoln Road, from my south Nottingham home, I’m on the road for 12:15pm but word is the A52 is shut… I’m panicking a little as I head towards it, so am using Sat Nav to guide me away, I’m touring the vale of Belvoir, bouncing over country roads at 60mph in the middle of North Leicestershire without a clue where I’m going, just hoping to join the A1 somewhere, after some time I’ve finally made it, I’ve lost a bit of time on my ETA but there is no rush, before you know it I’m passing RAF Wittering and onto the A47 and arrive and park on Thistlemoor Road for 1:30pm as I switch off the radio and Leicester City’s match with Norwich to get out the car, and head down the short walk past the Medical Centre and Hand Car Wash towards the turnstiles where the sun is trying to appear.

The Venue

Apparently, it’s £16 to get in today. A fortune for football at this level if you ask me. But already there’s a decent crowd as players have wives and children watching them play, it’s a lovely vibe, a family affair, the sunglasses on the heads of the glamorous young ladies in attendance.

I’ve parked my bum early in the seated stand, at the back row behind the press desks which are shamefully touchline level, a better view four seats up, bit of shade too, it’s slightly parky, I’ve still got a coat and hat on but the sun when appears gives your face a lovely glow.

The pitch in good nick, to my left is the new terracing that’s been in place this season, it really adds a stadium feel to this otherwise quaint and dinky little home, behind the Colin Day Stand, a small seated area in the opposite corner of the pitch, a church steeple over the houses, directly in front is a bit of all sorts, an out of use goal net, a couple of dugouts, a TV gantry on scaffolding, a roofed area for no more than ten people, the changing rooms, turnstiles and a couple of portacabins for toilets, to my right a roofed stand behind the goal which only covers half the breadth of the pitch, above that netting stopping balls astray from reaching the car park.

The Game

Sports are only two points clear of the relegation zone so it’s a game they need to win as they aim to pull away from those below, Gloucester very much down bar the maths, they’ve picked up in recent weeks but are eleven from safety, they start with tiny tank like midfielder Elliot Durrell playing right back, they have two more players in attack even smaller than him, Teddy Rowe and Harry Pinchard both look to have ability as they feed off bulgy target man Danny Wright.

I’m impressed with Gloucester who certainly seem to be playing with freedom in fluid 4-2-3-1, but Peterborough seem to have that bit more strength, in attack they have a new player on loan, and one who I watched and was hugely impressed with earlier this season, Brandon Njoku is just 19 years old, his parent club Cambridge United loaned him to St Ives where he scored a dozen or so goals at step three, he’s since joined Sports following injury to their main striker Mark Jones who earlier hobbled past to take a pew, Njoku looks far from out of place at the level above. He's small but quick, progressive, an irritant for big defender Harlain Mbayo who he has a real good battle with. The striker reminds me of a young Ian Wright, full of running and when he gets half a yard he unleashes.

Early chances are few and far between, Peter Crook’s goal is hardly tested whilst at the other end, the Turbines hit high wide and not so handsome on a couple of occasions.

Peterborough’s best chance comes after 40 minutes. Njoku finds Jarvis who rounds the keeper but has his shot cleared off the line, then Njoku grazes the bar with a fired attempt, the striker then tests the goalkeeper with a low driven shot from the edge of the area, the half time whistle coming perfectly timed for Gloucester.

The Score

I check the scores on my phone as the bloke sitting next to me nips off for his half time pint, he comes back and is shortly after followed by a man in full club tracksuit who passes him a pie, I think to myself he must have some pull, as the two teams re-appear the sun now beating down on the surface, the home team in orange with Gloucester in green.

The away side start the second period really well, they take the game to their hosts and have a lot more possession, I don’t mind their set up, dreadlocked haired left back Jamie Reckford is barking orders on this near touch line as centre backs Mbayo and Duffus deal with the threat of Njoku, the tiny playmakers of Pinchard and Rowe look a real menace on the break and 35-year-old Danny Wright in attack is strong, physical, he wins more than his fair share of headers against a tall defensive line.

Gloucester are gaining the edge but a soft free kick is awarded on 66, the ball pumped into the air is only half headed away by Reckford and Dan Jarvis comes in from nowhere, a couple of touches, one prodded through a crowd of players as the ball bobbles low beyond Thompson for the opening goal, it’s been harsh on the away side who perhaps don’t deserve to be down.

Manager Mike Cook reacts by bringing on Theo Robinson, an ex-football league forward of many clubs who partners Danny Wright in attack, but their duet age of 70 has the much younger defenders in opposition at ease as everything is defended in front of them, despite their best efforts as Gloucester start to pump balls in. Peterborough deal with the threat and often head away.

The best effort for more goals is through them, Brandon Njoku who’s largely been quiet, he looks like he’s long been running out of steam, but late on he picks up the ball and luckily gets away from one, there’s no luck as he darts past another and then he glides into the box before shooting at the near post, Thompson dives to his left to keep out and put behind for a corner, what a goal it would have been, what relief for those defenders who have eventually came off the pitch ran ragged, saying they managed to keep his tally to nil.

The Stars

Njoku was awarded man of the match to large mutual applause, he’s not yet a man at just turned 19 but he’s certainly some player and I’ll be keen to see how he progresses, a natural talent with an eye for goal, they’ll be clubs hovering over the next season or two.

I’ve seen a lot of Peterborough Sports this season, but one player I often fail to mention is Hugh Alban Jones who had a terrific game in midfield, willing to break up play he has a cultured right foot and can spot a pass amidst their otherwise direct, back to front philosophy.

For Gloucester they’ll sadly go down, now needing to win their last four matches to stay up, and they might lose a couple of their players who look more than adequate at the level. Jamie Reckford is now 32, but he offers experience and determination in defence that many a club at step two would take, Harlain Mbayo at only 26 could even play higher.

As for the attacking players, Harry Pinchard and Teddy Rowe have talent, Rowe is on loan from Aston Villa but he’s certainly no Emi Buendia, he looks good for the level which is a long way off Premier League, whilst Brandon Smalley shown a bit of deceiving pace as a no10, if the club is to bounce back, keeping the likes of Smalley and Pinchard, would certainly help.

The Verdict

Peterborough are much better than their position suggests but that win will help ease any small concerns of relegation, not out of it yet, they are five points clear of the drop, with four to play, whilst Gloucester need a miracle, but in fairness they’ve known that for a long time, credit them for not giving up, I suspect they’ll take a scalp in their final four games, because they aren’t a bad outfit at all, a club who’s been in turmoil, hoping to reset this summer.

The Teams

Peterborough Sports: Peter Crook, Connor Johnson, Elicha Ahui, Dan Lawlor, Ashton Fox, Josh McCammon (Cuba Meyer 33), Dan Jarvis (Kellen Hickinson 71), Brandon Njoku, Hugh Alban Jones, Rory McAuley.

Gloucester City: Jarrod Thompson, Elliott Durrell, Tye Duffus, Harlain Mbayo, Jamie Reckford, Josh Smile (Brandon Liggett 49), Joe Hanks (Josh Barlow 49), Harry Pinchard, Teddy Rowe (Theo Robinson 66), Brandon Smalley, Danny Wright.

3:00pm Kick Off. Monday 1st April 2024, Lincoln Road, Peterborough (att 450).

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