In the old days football clubs used to exchange pennants before the game, but tonight Whitchurch and COLFC exchanged charitable donations ahead of this vital top of the table clash…..some things in modern football are actually better than the old days. I was proud to be on the pitch to present a bucket of cash collected from travelling Partisans in aid of Zac Harris, an Alport supporter trying to raise cash for much needed Cerebral Palsy treatment. I was equally proud and grateful to receive in return, literally a car boot load of food once again donated by Whitchurch staff and players for our foodbank collection.
Despite a five match unbeaten run Simon and his team knew this was going to be the toughest of tests, with the side who beat us in a thrilling match at the DTS in September now holding top spot.
Both sides geared themselves up for a big crowd and an intense match, but I don't think anyone anticipated quite how big and intense it was going to be.
The team sheet showed few changes in personnel from the one that beat Eccleshall on Saturday with just Danny Dalton coming in for Joel Burns, but in set up the changes were massive. With three centre halves on the pitch, the gaffer opted to go for the three at the back approach he'd not used since it was abandoned early on in the opening game of the season at Chadderton, with full backs Joe Camozzi and Chris Lester pushed up to provide the width in midfield.
3-Chris Lester (C)
Early on it looked like the new formation would need to be abandoned once more as Roberts and McEllin struggled to get a grip in midfield and the lively pairing of Simon Everall and Matty Ashbrook up front for the home side caused all sorts of problems. A series of crosses and corners whipped in front of Kowalcyzk's goal needed just a touch to convert, but thankfully no-one in red was on hand to provide it.
As the half progressed though the Purps began to settle and play some football of their own, and when they did it was sensational. Camozzi and Lester were finding acres of space high up the pitch and with Aaron Rey bullying defenders and feeding the ball back to Matty Williams who then had the choice of either fullback to ping it out to, City were getting the ball up and around the box lots.
But Alport were also dangerous. With a slick and swift counter attack, every time a move broke
down the play was quickly up the other end of the pitch and the big PurPole in our goal had to be on his toes several times to clear trouble, you couldn't take your eye off this.
On 21 minutes this tight, enthralling match erupted when Blundell 11 kicked out at Dures after a sturdy challenge by the silent assassin of the City defence. On any other day he would have seen red, but sensibly the referee decided that would only spoil the game and opted for a yellow and a severe finger wagging for the lad instead. The incident only served to heat up an already hot match though as thunderous challenges starting flying in from both sides. This was hard but fair football, the sort of stuff that fans love to see but FA s try to stamp out.
On 44 minutes Alport almost opened their account with a thunderous volley from Twigg that
thudded against the post, a let off for City who went straight up the other end and Lester forced a good save from Read before the ref blew for half time to give everyone in a huge crowd of 634 a chance to draw breath.
The second half started as the first, Alport on the front foot. It was City's turn to hit on the counter attack and a swift move from a home side free kick saw Rey brought down in the box for what Alan Shearer calls a 'stonewall penalty'. This wall must have been made of sand though as it quickly crumbled when the ref waved play on.
The reds were really starting to press their opponents now and on 52 minutes a scramble in the box saw the ball head towards the goal. With the home fans prematurely leaping for joy, the ball got caught under Kev McEllin's feet on the line before he somehow managed to scramble it to safety……The reds may well be investing in Hawkeye technology next season.
A minute later it was City's turn to introduce the ball to the goal-line. Roberts fed a lovely through ball to put Peterson clear in a wide position. He ran into the box and shot from a narrow angle, the ball miraculously slipped through the keepers legs and agonisingly danced along the line before drifting beyond Rey at the far post…….I knew I should've took my blood pressure tablet this morning.
On 57 minutes Kowalcyzk pulled off a great save from a deep corner (if he keeps playing like this I may wear out my Z, K and Y keys on my computer). A succession of corners and free kicks however finally yielded a well deserved goal for the home side on 67 minutes. This time a corner being headed home by Simon Everall giving the keeper no chance….1-0 to Alport.
McEllin and Roberts both found themselves in the book before a foul on Rey gave City a free kick 30 miles (well yards) from goal on 70 minutes. Matty Williams scores some tremendous goals…..this wasn't one of them even though it went in from such a distance. His free kick was drifted in to the massed ranks of players in the box and somehow managed to bypass everyone to nestle in the bottom right corner of the goal……pandemonium on the Purps bench, 1-1 game on now.
By now I was nervously trotting about on the touchline like a Tory politician awaiting the results of a paternity test, I'd have gladly settled for the draw……but no, those players had to put all of us through the mill of really going for it over the last 20 minutes. Carl Everall rocketed a shot that flew just over the bar and then the save of the night from Kowalcyzk, tipping over a header from Alex Hughes as point blank range. Women and small children fainted in the crowd such was the drama unfolding before them.
By now Smith, Woods and Dykes were all on for City in place of Williams, Peterson and Roberts. It was clear that Simon had to keep going for this game on a knife-edge as nothing less than three points was going to be good enough.
Another good save as Bartosz blocked a shot from Jones with his feet on 85 minutes (that’s the entire Alport frontline that won’t have the big Pole on their Christmas card list now). Four minutes later Aaron Rey raced clear into the box on the counter to only to be upended by Ryan Thomas, PENALTY !!!
After what seemed like an age when no-one in purple wanted to take it, up stepped that bravest of warriors Kev McEllin to calmly send the keeper the wrong way and put COLFC in the lead. There was 89 minutes on the clock, and in bizarre reversal of the earlier game at the DTS it looked like we were going to steal the match with a last minute penalty after being behind.
There was still time for tempers on the pitch to finally reach boiling point as a challenge by Lester brought all 20 outfield players together for a spot of late evening dancing as a romantic mist descended across the pitch to add to the dramatic atmosphere. The ref finally blew his whistle and as one side celebrated the other sank to its knees unable to comprehend how they'd played such a great game and come away with nothing.
This really was a truly wonderful advert for non-league football with no quarter given or asked for by two clubs that have grown a friendly bond between each other over recent months. Witnessed by 634 people (the biggest gate in the Hallmark Security League this season) there were no doubt many in the crowd that were witnessing a match at this level for the first time and from the entertainment on offer will be back again soon.
Three very important points in a game that was probably City's last chance saloon to keep any title aspirations on track. It will be difficult for anyone to get much sleep after that spectacle, but we all need to settle down now and concentrate on equally important matters against Sandbach on