Been a funny old run of games lately. A great win down at Shildon which keeps the Vase run going, which we all enjoy of course, and other good cup results as well against Garstang, Crook and Sunderland Under 23s, but frankly ropey results in the league. Draws in home games we would have expected to win, and defeats at North Shields and Stockton add up to a worrying trend. I think we are still better than that and will prove it as the season goes on, but for now there is no doubt we have yet to consistently perform as we did at the end of last season. There are a number of reasons why, injuries to key players among them, and it is clearly frustrating for everyone but as Sean Dyche says, the only answer is to keep working hard, and Sean would know, wouldn’t he? I remain confident that this will end up being a good season, but I’m not sure how, or in which competitions.
View from the Cemetery
Very good little run out to Garstang the other week I am told, bonny little town, good pubs and beer, very good RCA away support, and a good club enjoying their first ever Vase run. Sounds like a fairly typical RCA performance as well, completely on top in the first half, loads of chances and four goals before the break, game won, then a full scale wobble, followed by settling things late on. Still, can’t complain about 6-2 away. Pity the next round is Shildon, shame for the league to have one of us certainly going out, an inevitable result of the geographical grading system used by the FA. I am not sure that cries of fix are true, but it certainly sways things away from the Northern League. And a bit worrying for us as there is no doubt Shildon are just about our number one bogey side over the past few years. Nearly always problems when we go there, players injured or some such, so let’s hope this time we are full strength or near enough. If we are then there is no need to worry about Shildon, only need to worry what state of mind we will turn up in. If we have our full cup tie fighting head on then Bob’s your uncle. They beat us at Meadow Park earlier this season, but that was more than a bit unlucky; they defended for their lives then hit us on the break. Fair enough, but I don’t think they will be able to play like that at home in a Vase tie, their numerous and vocal fans wouldn’t stand for it, and toe to toe I fancy us strong.
Last weekend all was doom and gloom after a couple of losses, but as so often the wheel turns quickly. I thought our win over Whitley Bay was probably better than the bare form suggested. They were very quick and determined up front, excellent on the break, and it looked to me that they were probably a side on the way up and improving fast rather than on the slide. Don't know if I'm right, time will tell, but their good win last Saturday at Hebburn makes our result against them look good. Followed by another good win, albeit right at the death, down at Bishops. We haven't half got the voodoo going over them in recent seasons. Evidently Nath O'Neill managed to miss a sitter and get the winner, both in injury time. Still by all accounts now that they have a couple of capable and football wise Sunderland lads in charge they are looking a lot better. We have a good few of those if anybody is looking. They have struggled the last couple of seasons and from the outside it's difficult to work out why. Given the infrastructure and support they should be right there every season you would think, but it hasn't happened for a while. And one of the few clubs with a real desire to get promoted. It's a strange world.
In my fond wonderings last week I was of the opinion that upcoming games against Shildon and Whitley Bay were eminently winnable. Shows you what I know, for the first of those fixtures anyway. Shildon deployed three centre halves, two of them former RCA players in Leon Carling and Darryll Hall, and the other one one of whom, long term Shildon stalwart Dan “Bobby” Moore, played in midfield, clattered everybody, and got the vital opening goal. There is an old saying that there is no such thing as a good plan but any plan is better than no plan, and Shildon definitely had a plan. Defend for your lives just about sums it up. So credit to them when it worked so well, but I’m not sure it’s a long term recipe for success. The first goal was always going to be vital and so it proved. No shortage of effort from RCA but a shortage of inspiration, and maybe too much long ball. Never mind, what of the second leg of this week’s games? Will we catch Whitley Bay on one of their scoring six or more days? I hope not. And we are due a bit more reward for our work, but I will stop making predictions.
Busy football week, starting with a whirlwind performance against Hebburn. Top class stuff in the first half hour, and Hebburn never got over the shock. Excellent. And speaking about a shock, what about Gee’s creche? Who knew our irascible if lovable coach was a child care expert on the side? Pagey says he has to bring his bairns to the match, no problem says Gee, I’ll look after the young ones. Changed his mind after an hour or so though; Luke scores, gets hooked, and has his children returned pronto. Ruthless. Still might be a good idea, must be lots of footballers who have childcare problems, this could be Gee’s big chance to shine.
Tuesday night brought a defeat in the Ryhope derby; is it the first ever derby win by our neighbours in a competitive match? Certainly the first I can remember, not that there can have been too many until recent times. Usually in different leagues for most of our history, and most often meeting in the Alan Thompson game pre season, which doesn’t really count, although its a handsome trophy. Guess there might be a County or Charity Cup match somewhere back in time, have to ask Joe Dixon or Keith Stoker I reckon. Anyway, a well deserved win for Ryhope CW from what I hear, and in front of a very decent crowd by all accounts. Good for both clubs for it to be to and fro in these games, and some recompense for the CW for our earlier win in the FA Cup. We will get a chance for revenge later this season.
Very good couple of away wins, after the disappointment of losing to Clitheroe. I thought we certainly should have won it, although they did score a couple of corkers to be fair. We seem a bit fated over the last few years to lose these big cup games narrowly, Bristol Manor Farm, Newport Pagnell, Runcorn Linnets, and now Clitheroe to add to the list. Never mind, we have had some great days home and away as well, including against Bridlington, and here we go again with a home draw against them in the Vase. 2-1 to us in recent years I think, no doubt El Queso Grande will put me right if I’m wrong. Anyway back to the league games. Away wins at West Auckland and Benfield in the space of a few days, you would always take that, and with a unsettled side as well. Most pleasing thing for a lot of people has been the promise of the new young players in this first few weeks of the season. Dom Moan, Sam Lilley and Alex Ramshaw have all done well when called on, which is good for the future, and there are a couple more in the pipeline I am informed. The new link up with the College will hopefully bear some fruit in coming seasons, might be worth nipping along to Meadow Park on a few Wednesday afternoons if you fancy yourself as a good judge of young talent. Ryhope needs a Simon Cowell.
The NL League table has a funny look to it nowadays. Not so much Hebburn at the top, although their progress is remarkable, but just because it looks so short; it's amazing how big a difference eighteen teams is to twenty two. There is comfort in numbers it seems. You look a lot closer to the top if you win a couple, but the bottom is never far away. Should keep everybody’s mind on the job, steady as she goes. The FA have released some more details of the re-organisation, in this case mostly as far as the South West is concerned, but people will be reading between the lines to see what it might mean for the likes of us. I saw someone posted what a potential combined NL/Evostik North East level four league might look like on nonleaguezone, made for interesting reading, but it maybe well wide of the mark. Who knows what our gaffers are thinking? Ours not to reason why.
I don’t miss much stuck here in this old cemetery, but I wouldn’t have minded a run out to Clitheroe last Saturday. By all accounts Byrnes the wine merchants, suppliers to HM the Queen no less, was as interesting as ever with a few canny bottles picked up for Christmas, or to keep the wife happy as a newt; the local beer was very palatable, the locals were, comparatively, welcoming and the game itself, well OK I guess.
OK? OK? I don’t think so. The sort of game which nobody will forgot playing in or watching. My admirably even-handed reporters tell me that it was a game of three if not four halves. RCA started a bit shorthanded, played OK in the first half, but lost two key players to injury and ended up on the wrong end of four goals, came back ferociously in the second half, but forgot to defend as well, took it to extra time and scored twice when past the 92nd minute to get a draw. Oh, and the opposition managed to get themselves reduced to 9nine men with six minutes to go, scored again anyway, (how many teams over the years have conceded when playing 11 against 9? Some team, RCA), and ended up with RCA thinking they should have won it? Manic.
There is nothing that infuriates players and fans more than the inequality that exists in the disciplinary protocols for the game and their applications by referees and linesman in games. Stephen Callen misses the FA cup trip to Clitheroe on Saturday because he reacted, unwisely but not that badly, to an atrocious tackle by the captain of Ryhope CW in the last minute of the game last week. The game was won, Ryhope CW were well beat, and there was nothing left to play for, when their centre half and captain tried to chop Steve in half with an appalling challenge. Steve reacts, understandably but wrongly, both get a three match ban, where is the justice in that? Never mind, nobody said it was fair.