A top-of-the-table clash (aren’t they all at the moment?) demands a good attitude at the very least, if anything is to be taken from the game, writes Nick Miles.
On a soft, heavy pitch and under a bright December sky, Willand attacked the motorway end with a changed formation and some key players missing. Oli Crimmins was injured the day before for Okey 1sts and team captain hurt his back in a car accident on Saturday too. With both wingers out, there would need to be some major reshuffling.
Willand kicked the game off and when Apollo lost possession, the hosts surged forward. Tim Miles’ pass into Nick Merriam was despatched emphatically for a goal inside 35 seconds.
But the hosts struggled to settle into their 3-4-3 formation and searching long balls stretched their defence. It was a failure to commit to the second ball that kept Willand on the back foot and it was no surprise when Apollo equalised after 12 minutes following a corner. Before the scoring shot came in, there were at least two chances to get rid of the ball.
As Willand began to struggle with the midfield battle, Apollo’s confidence began to grow and then on 34′, a hopeful hooked pass from the left bounced into the Willand penalty area and a striker latched onto it lobbing Jez Cross for 2-1.
In truth, it might have been 3-1, or even 4-1 but for a smart save by Cross and then the woodwork.
Going forward though, Willand suffered a major setback when leading scorer, Jordan Armstrong, had to be replaced due to a dead-leg. But this change was nothing compared to the major reform in midfield. Reece Kingdom came into central midfield to provide more bite and to contest more of the ‘second ball’. Ash Matthews dropped in beside Alex Wright and Ant Ansell went to right back and the team reverted to 4-4-2.
Suddenly, Willand were different. Apollo’s freedom of the middle third stopped and there was more play in their half. To confirm this, just before the break, Nick Merriam had a wonderful chance to level the scores but he found the keeper perfectly placed from 6 yards out. Then Dan Hayfield had a superb curling shot to the far top corner quite brilliantly tipped round the post to safety.
After the break, the momentum remained with Willand and for 15′, there was only one team in the ascendancy. The desire showed and the football flowed. Restarting play from Jez’s gloves, Willand built attacks down either flank but they were starting to get it together in the final third. The equaliser was coming but first some narrow escapes for the visitors’ goal. The ‘keeper made another good save before Vittles rasping drive flew just wide and Merriam’s header hit the post. Then from a fine piece of work down the right, Ansell’s cross fell to Vittles at the far post and his acrobatic finish levelled the scores on 61’.
But then Willand sat back and this invited Apollo onto the them. having not had much possession in the hosts half, the visitors now had 4 or 5 corners and plenty of possession. Just when they thought they’d weathered the worst, the defence was caught napping when a run by Apollo’s lively and quick striker, drew two defenders in. The ball ran to their newly arrived sub who paced his shot into the far corner with Jez Cross unsighted.
With legs tiring and no substitutes left to call upon, Willand had to keep plugging away. Merriam was nearly put in twice by the excellent passing of Hayfield and Aplin and Vittles had shots but nothing would go their way.
In truth, as in the reverse fixture, a draw might have been the fair outcome but football, as Colin Goodwin said, is a funny old game. Well played to Apollo who once again defended well and whose goalkeeper stood out.