Club AZ 4 Styal 0

Wednesday 1st April 2009
Club AZ 4 Styal 0
Cheshire Building Society Cheshire League Division 1
At: Mulberry's Sports Centre, Monk's Heath, Alderley Edge
Kick-off: 6-15 pm
Admission: none; Programme: £1
Attendance: 50 (headcount)
Weather: dry, mild, sunny
Duration: first half: 49:35; second-half: 45:15

With junior ‘iwf’ not requiring her usual Wednesday ‘taxi’ service to orchestra, I decided to dip into the Cheshire Building Society Cheshire League for the first time this season. Club AZ’s home fixture with Styal looked attractive and was near enough for home so I could get back home in time to watch most of The Apprentice.

Club AZ are enjoying their first season in Division 1, the top division, having been promoted as Division 2 runners-up at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. And success on the field has continued as they went into this game second in the table six points behind leaders Woodley FC with a game in hand. AZ, on 49 points from 23 games, have seven games left including this one. Last Saturday they won 3-0 at Curzon Ashton Reserves to end a run of two straight defeats. Styal won the Division 1 last season though are too far behind the leaders to retain their title despite occupying fifth spot (41 points from 24 games).

The Mulberry’s Sports Centre ground is located on the southern edge of the AstraZeneca Alderley Park site (hence, the ‘AZ’), close to the junction of the A34 and A527 between Alderley Edge and Congleton at Monk’s Heath. From the crossroads follow the A34 towards Alderley Edge for around 400 yards then turn right into the drive to the sports complex car parks.

The roped-off pitch, orientated north-south and adjacent to the far car park, ran widthways. It had no specific hardstanding or cover but wooden patio furniture seats and benches were scattered down the near side. Banking on the far side provided an elevated viewing position. The dugouts were opposite each other on the halfway line with Styal occupying the one on the far side. Behind the left-hand goal was an enclosing hedge with open countryside on the other side ofthe trees behind the right goal. Players changed inside the Sports Club building and walked across the car park to the pitch. The goals incidently were unusual and in the narrow rectangular style I remember from the 1970s at West Ham and QPR.

Club AZ don’t normally issue programmes so Len Spierenberg produced an good 8-pager which was sold for £1.

Fairplay handshakes proceeded the game which Styal (yellow shirts, blue shorts and blue socks) got underway attacking the left-hand ‘hedge’ end in the first half. Most of the assembled crowd stayed on the near side, like me, and I opted for an individual patio seat near the Club AZ dugout.

There were early concerns for the AZ bench as Styal won a corner inside the first 30 seconds. The visitors continued their bright start and Johnny Devine fed Danny Gregory who crossed deep towards the far post where John Thornton’s header was held by home keeper Jordan Hitchen.

Club AZ (wearing black and white striped shirts with most welcome clear numbers, black shorts and socks) appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty when Jake McGarry went down inside the area under Alex Kemp’s challenge.

Midway through the first half, McGarry delivered a free-kick on the right to the far post and defender Andy Forbes had a header cleared off the line.

It was McGarry who broke the deadlock in the 29th minute as Club AZ’s good spell continued. With the defensive wall lining up on the edge of the area, McGarry sent a free-kick hurtling straight into the left side of the net, past the statuesque Richard Harrison.

Ninety-two seconds later, it was 2-0 and McGarry was again on target. He ran into the Styal area, rounded the keeper, looked up and fired across the face of goal past covering defenders into the far bottom right corner of the net.

Most of the play was confined to the Styal and Club AZ were encouraged to “keep working hard” by their bench.

After Butorin went close to halving the deficit with a 25-yard shot, McGarry completed his hat-trick with 45th-minute strike stunning strike. He was perfectly placed to hit a first-time volley from the edge of the area which flew into the near top-right corner of the net.

Just before the half-time whistle, Butorin and AZ’s Craig Scott were received a yellow card each for retaliliation.

The players stayed out at half-time, which lasted around 6 minutes, and the AZ manager warned his players; “If they get a goal they are right back in it”. The boss also wanted all eleven players still on the field at the end, bearing in mind the booking of Scott just before the interval.

AZ got the action back underway and were soon awarded a free-kick 28 yards out. Harry Wheatman curled the ball around the wall and straight at Harrison.

The visitors quickly got forward and created their best chance so far. Dave Swindells, out on the right, crossed into the area where Gregory headed straight at Hitchen. Styal provided more of a threat and Andy Simpson saw a shot blocked inside the area.

Having weathered the storm, AZ started to look for a fourth goal. Harrison got down well to block a good effort from Neil O’Brien. In the 71st minute, the Styal keeper got in the way of a flicked shot by Wheatman to concede a corner.

Styal changes in the 71st and 76th minutes but eventually conceded a fourth goal within two minutes of the second chance. O’Brien played a great ball forward which found substitute Sam Copeland. He took it into the area down the inside left channel and squared a pass to Wheatman who fired low into the bottom right corner. The manager was impressed: “great vision boys.”

With the points very much in the bag, AZ kept pressing forward and Wheatman forced Harrison into a diving save.

The game was concluded in fading light and the ornamental lights shone brightly behind the left-hand goal. The busy Harrison produced another excellent save in the 88th minute. The home side were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out, for a foul on Wheatman by Callum Gardner. Scott looked to have sent dipping under the bar until the keeper leapt to tip the ball over.

O’Brien could have made it five in stoppage time when unmarked 12 yards out. He sidefooted wide and the referee blew for full time before the goal kick could be taken.

Club AZ (black and white stripes / black / black): 1. Jordan Hitchen, 2. Lee Sharples, 3. Stephen Whitehead, 4. Ian Hines, 5. Andy Forbes, 6. Neil O’Brien, 7. Craig Scott, 8. Andy Quigley (capt), 9. Joel Hunter, 10. Harry Wheatman, 11. Jake McGarry. Subs: 12. Sam Copeland (for McGarry, 69), 14. Jordan Pearson (not used), 15. Craig Mather (for Stephen Whitehead, 80), 16. John Whitehead (not used), 17. Jack Pennington (for Hunter, 86).

Styal (yellow / blue / blue): 1. Richard Harrison, 2. Dave Swindells, 3. James Moore, 4. Alex Kemp, 5. Paul Marchbank, 6. Andy Simpson, 7. Callum Gardner, 8. Johnny Devine, 9. Danny Gregory, 10. T. Butorin, 11. John Thornton (capt). Subs: 12. Adam Carroll (for Butorin, 71), 14. Jon Coates (not used), 15. W. Allman (for Swindells, 76).

Referee: K. Hankin.
Assistants: S. Roxborough and R. Rigby MBE.

1-0 Jake McGarry (29)
2-0 Jake McGarry (30)
3-0 Jake McGarry (45)
4-0 Harry Wheatman (78)

Club AZ: Craig Scott (YC, 45+4), Jake McGarry (YC, 56)
Styal: Richard Harrison (YC, 28), Paul Marchbank (YC, 37), John Thornton (YC, 41)

Footnote: Thanks to Len for answering my question on what ‘AZ’ stood for. Of course, ‘AstraZeneca’.