Lonely in Nuneaton
Nuneaton Borough 1-0 Basford United (Southern League Central Division)
I'm off to Dubai tomorrow. Monday night I was packing bags before a naughty glass of wine with the Mrs to cap the start of her birthday week, today finishing off a few last work emails before heading the short journey south/west to Nuneaton for a game that was originally called off last month.
The home team have slipped in recent weeks at one stage toe to toe with leaders Tamworth in the seventh tier of English football. After an abandoned game when The Boro were 2-0 down before fans ran riot at the Lamb, they have since scraped a win against bottom of the table Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 but we're thumped on Saturday at playoff rivals Rushall 3-0.
Basford are a local team of mine, my son-in-law even in their youth set up, their home ground just a few miles from my house, so I always keep an eye on their results.
The Amber's are mid table in the division under Mark Clifford. Last time out they beat St Ives 1-0 but goalscoring has been a problem of late. Head striker and main goal threat Anthony Dwyer banned since a red card from kicking off after the win at Stourbridge early Feb. Ever since they've scored less than a goal a game.
I'm off out heading down the A46 after 5pm, eating a meal deal from Waitrose garage at Tollerton whilst driving, the sun is setting full orange glowing the blue evening sky in my windscreen into purple haze which blinds my eyes as I head north of Leicester towards the M1.
Off the relatively quiet M69 I'm heading towards Nuneaton down the back roads with the moon now in full format to my east as dusk sets in the west, the clear skies dictate it's going to be a cold one as night falls.
I'm through a rather nice looking housing estate before crossing a number of mini roundabouts ahead of hitting Attlebrough Fields Industrial Estate. Nuneaton's ground set back behind warehouses and factories it's not very pretty, I park up on a gravel pit outside the main clubhouse midst wasteland used for car parking.
It's actually a rather modern set up inside, walking through the concrete built turnstile a huge behind goal roofed terrace stretches the width of the pitch as a bloke flips onions in a hatch in the corner of the stand where I grab a cup of tea for £2.
Looking down pitch to a slightly smaller carbon copy stand across the opposite goal, the rest of the venue is a bit of a mish mash, a bit of open terrace, a clubhouse or two, a seated stand on one wing, some portakabins in the middle and a bit of scaffolding covered in sheet metal on half way above the dugouts which I presume when needed, houses camera crew for big games. Although I doubt they'll be here tonight.
I walk around the perimeter to the press area in the only seated stand, nobody is here it feels, vastly empty. A few minutes before kick off the tannoy is playing Firestarter by Prodigy but it's otherwise quiet around, no people, no banter, just me and my mobile phone as the players warm up.
As the sparse stragglers of crowd slowly starts to filter in and the two teams come out to play, Basford Chairman Chris Munroe walks up the steps towards me alongside his wife. He recognises my face but can't remember the name, I give him a reminder and he's all smiles, wishing him luck, he says "we'll see".
The game kicks off after a minutes silence and the home team enjoy most of the early possession, passing it relatively un-pressed along their backline until the odd diagonal is aimed towards the wing.
Basford are organised but can't get a grip on the ball, their Chairman is shouting "can't we pass it tonight?" As they endlessly concede to the opposition.
Another chap vocal is Nuneaton Assistant Manager Andrew Danylyszyn. Known as 'Eggy' for short. He actually coaches at Basford United's Academy during weekdays, he's shouting his team to press, applauding every run made by his players and questioning most of the referees decisions to the poor linesman who's had an earful already.
I'm impressed with a couple of Nuneaton's stars, winger Luke Benbow dropping short and always showing for the ball, Charlie Dowd likewise, getting on it, making things happen, he likes to link up play and has a variety in distribution, a decent dribbler too. I like Prince Mancinelli who mops up tidily in midfield whilst I smell someone's cigar from the back of the stand burning, I question whether it's Isaiah Osbourne's who makes things look easy at centre half.
But despite domination in the opening 45 it's the away team who create the best chances. Late on Thornhill and Bastos test Breeding before Starkie goes close. Preston at the other end is sharp to get down low to an effort from Lathaniel Rowe-Turner.
It's freezing at half time. I'm the only one sat in the stand as everyone else has buggered off into the clubhouse. I've got my blanket over my knees a woolly hat on and a gillet under my coat as I check the scores in the Champions League.
The teams are out and the action soon warms up. Even if I don't. Rowe-Turner chopped down in the box as he bears through on goal. Corner given by the Referee, the crowd are not happy. It's the first bit of noise I've heard from them all night. Eggy is back on the lino's case… "These decisions cost jobs" he screams.
I get the feeling the outcry ensures the Ref probably thinks he's made the wrong decision? Moments later from a Basford corner, Dowd breaks for Nuneaton and he's brought down inside the area, perhaps less obvious than the first incident, but the Referee is not going to make the same mistake twice. Beswick converts from the spot.
Tyreace Palmer has a chance to level but heads wide a Bastos delivery, Starkie then flicks a similar chance over, at the other end Preston keeps Basford in it, late on you feel Nuneaton are there for the taking as they edge nearer towards defending their eighteen yard line, but I wonder if Basford really 'believe' they can get something out of the game.
They've not played overly well Nuneaton, but they get the job done. Basford I feel could have gambled a little more than they did. Staying in the game allowed them at least ten minutes of getting players forward towards the end, but all night they failed to get serious numbers in the box, and other than set plays, were quite predictable and easy for Nuneaton to contain. Often to the frustration of Basford Chairman Munroe.
The home side do have a number of talented players and the quality they have is no question superior to what they have at Basford which is shown by the two teams positions in the league. Defensively solid with centre backs Osbourne and McManus an experienced pairing of real assurance. Osbourne includes Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, amongst his repertoire of clubs, whilst McManus played 250 games with Halifax after an early career spell at Crewe. Left back Kobe Chong impressed with Charlie Dowd and Luke Benbow in particular a menace in the final third, two really good players for the level.
Whilst Basford didn't really have a stand out of their own, bits from wingers Ben Starkie and Kevin Bastos threatened to show glimpses of decent ability footballers, although they did more wrong than right in their decision making on the night.
Gregg Smith was a handful and strangely taken off when his side needed a goal. The most impressed I was with any United player was perhaps with goalkeeper Kieran Preston, his kicking sensational, bullet like balls sprayed around the pitch. If only the rest of his teammates were as good on the ball.
If you can play poorly and win they say it's the mark of a good side. No doubt, for this level, Nuneaton are certainly that. On another night however, against a team who a bit uglier, a bit more ruthless, and one with a bit more belief. They might not have been so happy with the result.
Basford you get the feel are stuttering to a mid to lower table finish, they played the match half expecting to get beat one nil, and in not taking there chances, might regret not being a little more adventurous. They could have easily snatched something, had they had that little more 'desire' and 'belief' in attack.
Its very competitive in the top five but I do think Nuneaton will have a good go at promotion via the playoffs, Coalville, Rushall and Leiston may have a say about that? United's season is probably already over? Only a couple of wins needed to see them safe, they'll build again in the summer and come back stronger I feel.
As for the ground, well not the nicest location on the outskirts of town. It feels like the sort of place that needs to be full, to get any sort of atmosphere. Over 400 people in and it felt like fifty. Maybe the cold kept noise levels to a low? Maybe most of them stayed in the clubhouse, where it was warm? Because it certainly didn't feel like anything other than a flat one nil in the chill, a Tuesday night to forget? Now get me on that plane to Dubai and some sun.
Nuneaton Borough: Tony Breedon, Camron McWilliams, Kobe Chong (Rackeem Reid 84), Ryan Beswick, Scott McManus, Isaiah Osbourne, Luke Benbow (Matt Stenson 73), Charlie Dowd, Prince Mancinelli, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Tyrell Waite (Kane Richards 80).
Basford United: Kieran Preston, Dom Roma, Mitchell Tait, Matt Thornhill, Bradley Beatson, Stern Irvine, Ben Starkie, Tyreace Palmer, Gregg Smith (Ollie Clark 76), Kevin Bastos, Josh Barnes.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 7th March 2023, Liberty Way, Nuneaton (att 434).