Brackley Town 2-0 Gloucester City (National League North)
I’ve had to cancel watching Northern Ireland v Denmark on Monday as my expenses are lower than the cheapest flights I can get from East Midlands to Belfast and the hotel accommodation is more than my match fees. I’m off to Leicester City v Tottenham women on Sunday instead, where I’ll chuck in a €20 petrol receipt.
Tonight is another ‘cheapish commute’... Down the M1 and across the A43, usually, to Brackley, but roadworks at Junction 15A have it shut tonight. Instead, I’m cutting through the quaint Northamptonshire villages of Upper and Nether Heyford, onto the A5 and across at Towcester past Silverstone, vroom, vroom, and into Brackley, the town itself and the lovely looking High Street, before pulling up on Churchill Way where I have time to kill.
I’ve been listening in to TalkSport who have Noel Gallagher on throughout my whole journey. He knows his football for a rock star and speaks a lot of sense. Seems like the sort of bloke you can go and have a pint with and chat anything but the music he’s made, which is testament to how likeable I find him to be. A man’s man who tells stories of meeting Maradona and ‘the original’ Ronaldo, he says he doesn’t generally do photos, neither do I… But when it comes to superstar footballers it seems he can’t resist. We all have our heroes.
Brackley are tenth in the National League North and a win can take them to within a point of the playoff places. They beat Gloucester three times last season including in the playoffs on penalties where they went on to reach the final before losing to Kidderminster who gained promotion to English football's fifth tier. Gavin Cowan in charge since May is steering a ship towards a similar destiny this time around but has had a few stumbles along the way.
For Gloucester, their ship has well and truly sunk from the financial mess that was left last season. They ‘had a go’ at promotion and failed, so this time around they cut budget and have pretty much a completely new squad and manager in Mike Cook, they have suffered since those drastic changes and sit bottom of the table on eleven points from eighteen games.
I’m out of my car and walking up to the ground where a billboard states parking £3. I ask a steward where to collect my ticket and he points me to a big red container which states ‘ticket office’ on the window.
On collection I’m walking past the glass fronted doors of a modern new clubhouse, a Christmas Tree is already up in the foyer, I continue my walk where I’m through the turnstile and into the corner of the ground which is well lit under the clear dark skies, spacious and wide it’s time for a walk around all four sides, my first visit to one of three grounds in England that I know of, called St James Park.
Behind the goal to my right, a decent bit of terracing with a roofed stand in the middle section, I’m taking a walk down towards the Avara Foods Family Stand which has three or four rows of red and white seats running across, under cover to the edge of the eighteen-yard box.
An identical twin to that stand is in the opposite corner of the same wing, my walk takes me to the back of that goal which has roof cover the width of the six yard box, the business end is dominated by the huge grey clubhouse which has some neat Press and Directors seats, to the right of that an old looking seated stand with ‘Brackley Town Football Club’ written on it's roof and to the left, the players come out of a brick built pitch roofed number which has a club shop out of a hatchet, it stinks of burgers and onions as I queue but decide against buying anything put off by the strong stench I’m inhaling.
I’ve sat down in a modern feeling space and am soon joined by the Gloucester City radio team, three young lads I’m old enough to be their fathers. They’re tweeting the Tigers team as I’m handed a share of the official team sheets, a new kid on the bench for Brackley tonight is Layton Love who recently signed on loan from West Bromwich Albion.
The two teams come out in the far-right corner, I’m sat in the press area behind a bit of flexi glass which has a glare off the floodlights, you need to pop your head higher to see the action clearly whilst to the left of me a post obscures my view of half of Gloucester’s eighteen yard box.
The away side in green surprisingly don’t look bad. I’ve watched them in defeats at Boston and against Warrington and they aren’t a million miles away, Brackley though are pressing high and they force consistent errors from the Tigers back line, a bit more urgency in the away sides play and these errors can easily be limited.
Brackley are in Nottingham Forest red and white, my favourite of all kits, the plain red Garibaldi shirts white socks, red stockings, why complicate these outfits when the classics always look best.
The home support are quiet, it’s not a rowdy bunch. Blokes with their old man who take a walk down from the town to watch their local team play with a beer or a coffee, under 500 in attendance which is disappointing for a Tuesday night where there’s not much else to do, it could be much better, the club certainly lacking some noisy youthful stone island wearers to raise the decibels.
I’ve noticed a Gloucester player who’s impressed me in previous games, right sider Alefe Santos, start sluggish. He’s already given a sloppy pass or two away and in trying to shepherd the ball out he’s gifted possession to Reds full back Calder who whips it in on a plate for Danny Newton who heads perfectly into the bottom corner.
The warning signs were there for Santos, pick pocketed after a poor start, he's not yet got into the game and we're nearly twenty minutes through, it seems these are the mistakes Gloucester are constantly making, the difference in league positions is all about these errors and in players looking and feeling 'match sharp'.
Despite the goal, Brackley aren’t hugely superior as both sides play ‘nice’ football and try and knock it around with a slightly laboured tempo. The home side have an issue to Newton who goes off with a hamstring injury as Gloucester fight their way back into the game, a looping header by Hanks goes inches over for them whilst Brackley have a couple of chances flash by the posts, but not a classic first half which is played mostly on my far side which is a good 80 yards away due to the huge perimeter around the pitch.
At half time I’m checking the other scores as I notice struggling Kings Lynn beating high flying Scunthorpe. A defeat for Gloucester could tonight leave them eleven points adrift of safety.
Whether the players themselves heard that news at the interval I don’t know, but the boys in green start the second half with direct intention to level, Elliott Durrell immediately kicks off and drives forward before blasting over, the away side have sustained pressure on their opponents goal without really troubling Danny Lewis’s gloves. A few murmurs from fans of Brackley to ‘get out of bed’ as one or two become irate with their lack of ball retention.
Those tempers boil onto the pitch on 65 when a blatant looking foul is signalled by the ‘female’ referee for a goal kick. That has the home team players complaining with two immediately booked, cries from fans of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ and ‘who’s the wanker in the black’ are similar echoes regardless of gender. “Same old Brackley, always sexist” shout the Gloucester fans to humorous response.
Those temperatures boiled tend to lift the home side though and whilst it looks comfortable without them dominating proceedings, one man who’s took my eye is home team midfielder Shepherd Murombedzi who I’m told it’s his birthday.
He’s been elegantly stroking it around, smooth as silk, confident with swagger, the 29 year-old has woke up this morning and said ‘I’m going to score’ and true to his word, starts a passing move by breaking down play, caressing the ball forward, receiving it back and shooting low from outside the box.
That goal seals the fate of Gloucester to yet another disappointing loss. They’ve huffed and puffed but had no serious blow. Brackley in fairness have been in second gear, not needing to push too hard, but proving despite winning, they still have more they can give.
It was Shepherd’s night, the Zimbabwean midfielder just does the simple things well, he’s good on the ball, very disciplined off it, a hunter down in those battle areas and key to his side winning the battle is how he and his midfield performs.
Next to him, the neat footed Alfie Bates is a lovely player to watch, Cosmos Matwasa equally eye catching down the right, whilst Danny Newton went off early you can see how having a top striker can make the difference. He presses well and turned over the ball several times early doors, his predatory instincts natural to only those who know how.
Young West Brom loanee Layton Love may learn something from watching Newton, a tall athletic kid himself, he looked thick set with ability to cause opponents problems, even having the ball in the net late on, but for his debut goal to be chalked offside.
Whilst Gloucester may be down there and fighting with a real lack of potent striking presence, they had commendable performances all over the park. Right back Max Ram probably their best player on the night. Elliott Durrell ‘tried’ to make things happen as much as possible, often picking up the ball in the Quarterback position to get Gloucester started. Harry Pinchard beside him in midfield, neat, left footed, rangy with his distribution, but he’s a better player than his performances suggest. I like Joe Parker who’s frequently used off the bench, he offers a bit more steel and quality to their make up, whilst Ben Everton-Richards is a real leader from left back. They need players like him to pick up those younger, if they are to turn it around.
Is it too early to suggest that Gloucester will go down? Usually when you get to November and December and you’re sitting bottom, adrift, it all looks doom and gloom and chances are that only gamblers and mad men can survive. Throw some money at it? Change the manager? Sign some players? Maybe it’s not too late… Stick with what they have? Destiny looks like step 3 next season.
Brackley meanwhile, they’ll be again up there fighting for a chance at National League Football. They’ve never been as high as the National League North, but have had five successive top four finishes in the division… Will this be the year? Maybe? Who knows?? There's an awful lot to play for but they certainly have the punching power.
Brackley Town: Danny Lewis, Riccardo Calder, Shepherd Murombedzi, Alex Gudger, Gareth Dean, Cosmos Matwasa, Alfie Bates, Danny Newton (Morgan Roberts 32), Dan Turner (Layton Love 62), Zak Lilly (George Carline 71).
Gloucester City: Zach Jeacock, Max Ram, Tyrone Duffus, Ben Everton-Richards, Jamie Reckford, Elliott Durrell, Alefe Santos (Kai Churchley 71), Harry Pinchard, Joe Hanks, Harry Emmett (Joe Parker 60), Ben Beresford (Harry Williams 80).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 14th November 2023, St James Park, Brackley (att 475).