Willenhall Town 0 Shifnal Town 0

Tuesday 29th January 2013
Willenhall Town 0 Shifnal Town 0
West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division
At: Noose Lane
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: mild, showers
Attendance: 40 (headcount)
Duration (45): first-Half: 44:50; second-half: 50:52

The after effects of the recent bad weather were still being felt this evening with a few local games being postponed due to waterlogging. One fixture which survived a couple of pitch inspections was this league game at Noose Lane where the only thing lacking in a feisty contest was a goal. Willenhall hit the bar and Shifnal had a shot cleared off the line during the first half while home goalkeeper Matty Rodgers produced a great save to prevent the visitors from scoring an injury-time winner.

All four of tonight’s league and cup games in the Midland Alliance were postponed, as were all of the Midland Combination league games. Just two games survived in the West Midlands (Regional) League, the Division One game between AFC Wombourne United and Warstone Wanderers (5-1) and this one at Noose Lane.

I didn’t know what a relief playing tonight was to Willenhall. Since defeating AFC Wulfrunians 2-1 at Noose Lane on Tuesday 13th November, they’d only played two away games in eleven weeks. Players were ‘going a bit stir crazy with frustration', according to the programme. Do you blame them?

The enforced break must have been frustrating because that win against AFC Wulfs came during a purple patch of good form which produced five straight league and cup victories – a far cry from the opening months of the season when Willenhall won just one of the their opening 14 league games (5-0 at Darlaston) and lost the rest. The current management team of Neil Perks and Josh Skidmore have certainly made an impact since their appointment back in September.

So, the league table prior to kick-off showed Willenhall in 20th position with 15 points from 20 games. One place above were visitors Shifnal Town on 19 points from 23 games.

Inside the programme (on sale at the turnstile), I particularly enjoyed reading the article Steve MacKenzie, the former Manchester City and West Brom midfielder who scored a spectacular goal for City in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay against Tottenham Hotspur. Steve played for Willenhall after his League career and the reason for me mentioning him is that he also had a spell at Stafford Rangers as well. More recently, I remember him as a regular at Marston Road covering games for the Press Association during Rangers' two-year spell in the Nationwide/Blue Square Conference Premier.

My first three visits to Noose Lane all came in 1987 when it was possible to drive into the ground and park behind the goal at the far end. Shepshed Charterhouse, Crawley Town and Mile Oak were the teams who faced the Locksmen back then. Noose Lane isn’t as old a ground as I thought, being opened as recently as 1975 by Wolves legend Stan Cullis. The main stand originated from Hall Green Greyhound track.

I was very indebted to Chris, Willenhall’s part-time Secretary, wearing a red replica top, who not only provided the lineups and also told us of a change to the Lockmen’s subs as well.

Willenhall (in all red) got the game underway defending the clubhouse end, right to left in relation to my seat in the main stand opposite the dugouts. They soon got forward into the Shifnal area where Sean Pugh hit the top of the bar.

The first decent scoring opportunity came in the 17th minute. Liam Morris, on the left, played a diagonal ball towards the far right post from which Jake Morgan sent a diving header just wide. Willenhall went close again a minute later against through Morgan who went close with a well-struck shot from Pugh’s throughball. Morgan, incidently, returned to Willenhall in October and last season played for Gornal Athletic.

My bad luck with football raffle’s is well known to regular readers and after Saturday’s near miss at Enfield came another one tonight. The winning number was 976… I had 961–965!

It was Willenhall creating all of the chances and the dangerous Morgan went close again on the half-hour. He battled on the edge of the area to get in a shot which the diving Shifnal goalkeeper Scott Hoof got down to hold.

Having survived, Shifnal almost took the lead before half-time against the run of play when a shot from Andy Davies was cleared off the line.

Walking around the pitch perimeter at half-time, I noticed a plaque attached to the back of the small covered terrace behind the dugouts. It read: THE GREEN STAND was financed and erected by the supporters club under the direction of J. Green, J. Birch August 1985.

Both sides created the odd chance at the start of the second half before Willenhall applied a decent spell of pressure around the hour mark. Aron Grey sent a fierce shot over the bar after Morris’s corner wasn’t cleared. They also appealed for a penalty when Luke Guy went down in the area under the challenge of Davies but referee Dragan Kuzmanovic waived play on.

Shifnal brought on Dan Martin and Tom Worthington who both looked lively and could have snatched a win for the visitors. Worthington, in the 74th minute, forced a diving save out of Matty Rodgers who turned round a well-struck shot from the left at the expense of a corner.

Rodgers, named as ‘Man of the Match’ on Willenhall’s website, produced a couple of further saves which earned his side a valuable point. He blocked a low shot from Worthington at the near left post with his legs then, in stoppage time, made a fantastic save. Martin’s 40-yard drive looked to be heading for the top-right corner until the Willenhall goalkeeper leapt to push the ball away for a corner.

Though Willenhall remain in 20th position in the table, they did extend their unbeaten home record to five league games with this goalless draw. From the league table I knew it was their first league draw of the season and it was in fact their first 0-0 in a league game since April 2010.

I look forward to more return trips to Noose Lane as Willenhall Town look to move up the table.

Willenhall Town (red/red/red): 1. Matty Rodgers, 2. Tom Rann, 3. Rob Perks, 4. Jordan Siviter, 5. Rory McFarland, 6. Ben Mantom, 7. Craig Oldfield (capt), 8. Aron Grey, 9. Jake Morgan, 10. Sean Pugh, 11. Liam Morris. Subs: 12. Ryan Pallett (for Pugh, 57), 14. Dan Jones (not used), 15. Sam Tye (not used), 16. Josh Skidmore (for Grey, 74), 17. Luke Guy (for Mantom, 57).

Shifnal Town (sky blue and white stripes / sky blue / navy blue): 1. Scott Hoof, 2. Ricky Dumbrell, 3. Jordan Jones, 4. Andy Davies, 5. Patrick Ellis, 6. Jamie Russell, 7. Jay Evans, 8. Sean Powell, 9. Tom Lowe, 10. Graham Couch, 11. Ben Mcauley (capt). Subs: 12. Matt Catley (for Mcauley, 77), 14. Dan Martin (for Evans, 60), 15. Tom Worthington (for Lowe, 74), 16. Richard Gardner (not used), 17. Chris Worrall (not used).

Referee: Dragan Kuzmanovic.

Goals: none

Willenhall: Jordan Siviter (YC, 54), Craig Oldfield (YC, 66), Josh Skidmore (YC, 90)
Shifnal: none