Tigers Roll Over Town
Worksop Town 2-0 Matlock Town (Northern Premier League)
It’s pissing down with rain and not yet 8:30 in the morning, I’m in the car checking my messages whilst driving down to Bristol for my last cricket game of the summer as England take on Ireland at the home of Gloucestershire CCC.
There’s a chance it’ll be called off as I can hardly see past the windscreen on the M42 so bad is the weather… Which is quite useful as I’ve just been asked if I can cover Worksop against Matlock which kicks off tonight at 7:45pm.
I’ve left it as a ‘maybe’ and am enjoying my day sitting in the Premier Lounge at the Seat Unique Stadium watching Ben Duckett unbeaten on a hundred as England race to 280 inside 31 overs before the rain comes down ahead of ten to three… The ground staff struggling with the covers are making a mockery of things and so much so… they’ve left the Umpires with little choice but to abandon proceedings… It’s only 3:30pm… Maybe I can make it to Worksop from Bristol in time after all…?
No sooner does Sky Sports show up on the screen to my right ‘match abandoned’ do I pack up my laptop and head down the stairs and out of the stadium past some fans still drinking their pints and others that are heading for the exits to get in my car parked on a nearby side street and slog up the heavily congested A38 and little less busier M5 to tell the bosses via text again whilst driving ‘I’m on my way’.
Worksop are doing alright since promotion in the summer having romped home in the league below last season, the Tigers are well above middle of the pack in eighth and still in the FA Cup whilst their opponents tonight Matlock only two points below them are thirteenth, Martin Carruthers side recently lost to Stourbridge in the Cup ahead of a 4-2 home loss against Warrington Rylands at the weekend. Craig Parry’s Worksop team still unbeaten at home although their record on the road isn't great.
I’m constantly checking the clock as I hit the M42 and the rush hour Birmingham traffic to be told my ETA at Sandy Lane is little after 7pm.. I’m making good progress as I hit the M1 for 6pm and speed up to Junction 30 and take the A619 quickly stopping at a Shell Services on the A60 for petrol.
It’s been a while since I’ve been here, a ground I used to regularly visit with Grantham Town back in the day when our fixtures were a ritual, is one that has had a few changes since my most recent trip all of eight or nine years ago.
Parking up on Sandy Lane itself, I dump my car on the pavement next to some other strays at the side of a huge Wickes before crossing over into the Retail Park and past Halfords and Benson Beds to the clubs underwhelming looking back street entrance.
I’m walking up a hill in front of a barrier which says no entry before asking a steward where the turnstiles are.. “Just here” he says, pointing me indoors to something which looks like a Cinema or Nightclub doorway… “Ooh this looks new and modern” I say as he replies, “it is”. Painted in yellow the turnstiles are indoors, stylish, and sleek design, potentially the most welcoming non-league turnstiles I’ve ever been through in fact.
I’m zapped behind a glass window for £13 contactless ahead of walking through the metal barrier and into the stadium behind the goal where the modern looking clubhouse is to my left. The ground has had a 4g surface laid since I’ve last been here but the old yellow corrugated roofed stand in front of me is still intact, no more are the scruffy portacabins behind it which used to play host as the awful cold and cramped players changing rooms.
I’m starving as I’ve not eaten all day so order pie, chips and gravy at the kiosk for £7.80 and walk up to the far end where Matlock’s sub goalie says ‘hello’.
From the corner of the venue you get a real perspective of the modern adjustments, black mesh fencing around the smooth flat pitch, the far sides brick building in the right corner and roofed terrace next to that coloured in terracotta behind the goal, there’s a yellow seated stand to the left of that, whilst opposite the quirky old main stand running the length of the pitch is a small roofed terrace behind the curved glass dugouts, this end a similar roofed standing area as wide as the 18 yard box…It has a bit of everything, retail units lining its backdrop below three modern floodlights as the players warm up under navy blue dusk skies.
It’s not less than two minutes gone does Worksop’s beast like striker Liam Hughes test his luck from the tightest of angles outside the box and his volleyed shot flashes inches away from an early goal. The hosts are good value, knocking it around comfortably and playing with swagger as a scout from Chorley besides me takes notes.
I’m sat in between 18 and halfway in the main stand in the Directors section but there’s a post right in my line of fire, I’m popping my head right and left, every time Worksop go down the wing to see what’s happening, they’ve had much the better of the early stages and look like a side that are all familiar with each other’s game.
Matlock do have a chance on the break as a ball crossed into the box finds Barnes who’s diving attempt flies over but the home side grasp a deserved lead when the busy looking Luke Hall racing down the left crosses to Hughes who does what he always does and volleys home a fiftieth Tigers goal in no more than a season and two months at the club.
Hughes is a throwback target number nine, tattooed head to foot he’s well chiselled and well groomed, thick set with ability and quick feet but chuck the ball into him it’ll stick like shit. He’s having a good ding dong with the Matlock centre half but is coming out well on top, winning every header, his back to goal play exceptional.
The Tigers could have more. They settle for a single goal lead at the break but they’ve peppered Saul Deeney’s goal. Midfield playmaker Terry Hawkridge is spraying the ball around in a dominant spell of possession and wingers Hall and Rollins are causing trouble at every opportunity. Matlock’s out ball is to the lively Karl Demidh but they can’t get players to support him. The Gladiators best chances on the break, but they don’t look like a team playing with any conviction, whilst Worksop are well gelled, slick, smoothly operated, an impressive bunch that are even better than when I saw them win at Loughborough last year.
The crowd know it too… Ooh’s and ahh’s every time a fancy flick comes off, or when a one touch passing move ends with a shot that goes inches wide. You get the feeling this vocal hardened long standing strong support that Worksop always have, nearly 700 in attendance tonight, like the way this team plays, it is certainly getting supporters well entertained for the £13 gate fee (minus for concessions) they each pay.
No quicker does the second half start than do Worksop attack again, Rollins tricking and teasing with intricacy finds Sharman who’s shot is blocked. Green then curls wide as chalk on his boots winger Rollins in the thick of the half’s action crosses low which evades everyone, it’s chance after chance as Deeney tips over a Hughes header for a corner but the away side aren’t out of it, they’ve nearly stolen something on the break through big lively substitute Harry Wakefield who not once, but twice, has sniffs that go amiss.
As the board goes up for six added minutes you can hear the moans and groans from the Worksop faithful but I’m thinking to myself you needn’t bother… If anything the Tigers look more like adding a second than conceding a leveller and after Hall runs the length of the pitch to fire wide in stoppage time, substitute Aleks Starcenko does exactly the same but this time to a better result. Game, set match and relax. Cue the exits for some excited Worksop fans who head off to beat the traffic knowing their side have won with a couple of minutes to spare.
50 goals in under 14 months would give you the impression former Cambridge United ‘centre half’ Liam Hughes now very much a centre forward, is centre of Worksop’s attention and the best player in yellow by a standout, but that’s not so much so, a side that has a bit of everything, who can mix it, dig in, pass and play, and score from an array of attacking talent elsewhere.
It’s a simple 4-3-3 which Craig Parry has adopted with full backs pushing on and the midfield trio interchanging, everything is centred around Hughes in attack but either side of him wingers Hall (only 20) and Rollins (ex Boston) are pacey, direct, skilful and they work bloody hard coming back.
In fact everyone does, they do the hard work off the ball and when they have it, hardly lose it which makes them a very dangerous and good football team. Former Leeds, Derby & Doncaster star Paul Green offers experience in midfield with former Lincoln & Notts County winger Terry Hawkridge now a deep lying quarterback who controls things at a canter, at the back the hugely built Hamza Bencherif (also of Notts & Lincoln) and leggy George Taft (of Mansfield & Cambridge to name a few) themselves no strangers to the football league.
For Matlock they were largely outplayed and found things tough, they’ll have easier opponents no doubt but in captain John Johnston they have someone who can get on the ball and make them play. George Wilkinson is a young defender on loan from Chesterfield and he’d have learned a lot coming up against a player like Hughes, Saul Deeney their 40 year-old Irish goalkeeper perhaps the best of the Gladiators on the night, which was evidence on how much they defended as a team.
Without wanting to sound like a Worksop appreciation post the Tigers are good, very good, at home especially, on that football playing plastic pitch of theirs... But can they do it on a cold Tuesday night in Morpeth? Or on a wet Saturday afternoon in Bamber Bridge? I suspect their season will be defined by those moments, and not by winning comfortably, which they’ll do mostly, at their home of Sandy Lane.
For Matlock, they reached the playoffs last season but have had a few in’s and out’s since then. I’m not so sure they have the quality this time around, a long way off the likes of Worksop, Macclesfield, Warrington Rylands and even near Derbyshire neighbours Ilkeston in who I expect to be up there, I’ll be very surprised if the current crop can finish in the NPL top ten.
Sometimes, not always, you see a team and feel it could be on the verge of doing something special. Last season Worksop won their league with 99 points losing just one game (their first match of that season) and have since strengthened even that beast created by Craig Parry and his owners cheque book. Don’t get me wrong there’s better teams in this division than last year and it won’t all be their own way, but Worksop have a fighters chance, put them up against anyone at the level, and I would say player for player, all be it some now in their thirties and past their playing peak, they’re a bloody good team and one which I expect, can create a bit more local history to come.
Worksop Town: Paul Cooper, Deegan Atherton, Josh Wilde, Vaughan Redford (Aleks Starcenko 85), Hamza Bencherif, George Taft, Terry Hawkridge, Paul Green (Sam Wedgbury 71), Luke Hall, Liam Hughes, Jay Rollins.
Matlock Town: Saul Deeney, Robbie McNicholas, Joe West, Jamie Sharman (Harry Wakefield 81), Ioan Evans, George Wilkinson, John Johnston, Josh Barnes (Ollie Clark 72), Karl Demidh, Jonny Margetts, Sam Hopper (Andrew Wright 51).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 26th September 2023, Sandy Lane, Worksop (att 681).