Sat 23rd Sep 2017
Spartan South Midland Premier Division
St. Margaretsbury 1-3 TAFC First team
TAFC goals: Chris Blunden (3)
CHRIS BLUNDEN'S HAT-TRICK SEALS OUR FIRST LEAGUE WIN
We will hope that we have finally got the monkey off our back after picking up our first 3 points of the season at St Margaretsbury courtesy of a fine hat-trick from Chris Blunden. Back in August we were optimistic about the season ahead but things haven't gone to plan and we have struggled to recapture last season's form. Fingers crossed that this much needed win will belatedly kick start our season and we can now go on a winning spree.
Injuries and suspensions have had a disruptive effect on us and again we were missing some key players including 3 centre backs, so Ryan Reeves was drafted in to make his debut alongside Sam Joliffe (who picked up the Captain's arm band in the absence of Dan Steadman) and the new partnership quickly gelled to form a solid central defensive unit.
Bury and ourselves have had disappointing starts to the season with collectively just 2 points from 9 games and no victories, so this was a must win game for both of us. Our hosts have shown signs of recent improvements with just one defeat from their last 4 games, which came in the FA Vase but like us their only wins have come in cup competitions. So a fraught and competitive encounter was expected and that's what we got, with the quality taking second place to effort at times.
Despite our recent disappointments we started strongly and within a minute we created a very good scoring opportunity when Jack Read sent Chris Vardy away through the inside right channel. His cross picked out Chris Blunden who was denied by the keeper. Soon afterwards Luke Dunstan whipped over a great ball from the left that needed just a touch and then a Chris Blunden's cross looked destined for Jack Read's head until a defender just got a touch to take it away to safety.
Later Jack Read was the recipient of a kindly bounce when a defenders attempted clearance was deflected to him but his effort was well wide of the goal. Jack then nearly got on the end of a long clearance but a defender just managed to get to it and head the ball just wide of the goal for a corner.
But Bury came back strongly to win a series of free kicks which were curled dangerously into our area. Mark Riddick, who had a fine battling game in midfield, did very well to produce a great challenge and clearance from one set piece as did Sam Joliffe soon after. We had a bit of luck from another free kick when the ball fell to Charlie Smith who grazed the top of the bar with a shot. Bury are not a particularly tall side but they were dangerous from set pieces and it came as no surprise that when they did find the net if was from this source.
It stemmed from a fine corner in the 32nd minute which picked out Jamie Stephens whose header was cleared by Ryan Sturges, but the Linesman immediately flagged that the ball had crossed the line and to the delight of the home side and to our dismay a goal was awarded to give our opponents a morale boosting lead. Score 1-0.
We tried to bounce back with Chris Vardy bearing down on goal from the right and sending his shot just wide of the far post with the keeper well beaten, a chance that Vards would normally eat for breakfast. A similar opportunity fell to Chris Blunden after good play by Luke Dunstan and Chris Vardy but again we failed to hit the target with his shot just drifting wide of the far post with the keeper again stranded.
Jack Hopwood came to our rescue just before half time, producing a great diving save to push away a super long range shot from home skipper Lee Roberts to keep us in the game.
Our failure to put away some clear chances was looking costly but in added time at the end of the first half we finally found a deserved equaliser. Jack Read was sent away down the right and his accurate cross picked out Chris Blunden whose shot squeeze past the keeper, hit the post and spun in to the net to make our half time cuppa a whole lot more enjoyable. HT Score 1-1.
With both sides desperately looking for their first 3 pointer of the season it was understandable that the game became tight and scrappy with neither side willing to concede an inch. Soon after the restart Bury wasted an opportunity when they found themselves in a two on one situation but some hesitation allowed Jack Seaton to make a game saving intervention.
Just before the hour Luke Dunstan's superb cross picked out Jack Read whose powerful shot forced the Bury keeper Reece Grundy into making a terrific save. Three minutes later the home keeper was called into action again making another great save from a rasping shot from Mark Riddick after a corner was cleared to him on the edge of the box.
Both sides made changes in the hope of gaining an edge and amongst ours was new signing from Sun Sports called Elliott Goward, a left footed midfield/winger who would later make a valuable contribution.
The main threat still came from set pieces and Max Mitchell did hit the bar following a free kick but he was flagged offside. In the 77th minute we scored the goal that might finally ignite our season when Chris Vardy and Elliott Goward linked up nicely to set up Chris Blunden who cracked home a fine shot from the edge of the area. Score 1-2.
It was the signal for the home side to press forward in a desperate attempt to get something from the game to set up a nerve racking final fifteen minutes. But our defence held firm and gave great protection to keeper Jack Hopwood who didn't have a serious save to make in the second half.
We finally put pay to any comeback hopes our hosts may have harboured when a super run and pass from the increasing influential Luke Dunstan set up Chris Blunden who again produced an accurate strike to claim his hat-trick and double his tally for the season. FT Score 1-3.
After enduring a difficult start to the season we could have let our heads drop when we went a goal behind, but we showed great character to come back and grab a merited victory and maintain our excellent recent record against St Margaretsbury which has seen us win 7 and draw 1 of our last 8 encounters. Hopefully this win will restore some confidence and get us back to winning ways.
Next week we visit Division 1 side Baldock Town in the League Challenge Trophy then on Saturday we are back to League action again when newcomers Biggleswade FC, who top the Premier Division, are the visitors. They have had an excellent start to the season so we can expect a tough match.
SM:1Reece Grundy 2 Chris Webb 3 Conor Clarke 4 Charlie Smith 5 Max Mitchell 6 Jamie Stephens 7 Courtney Clay 8 Aaron Crockett (12 Luke Provenzano 69) 9 Mason Todd (14 Nick Briggs 84) 10 Billy Murray (15 Daniel Ugundi 63) 11 Lee Roberts (Capt). Subs not used: 16 Reece Vicary GK Kaine Lovett.
TA:1 Jack Hopwood 2 Tommy Twelves 3 Jack Seaton 4 Mark Riddick 5 Ryan Reeves 6 Luke Dunstan 7 Ryan Sturges (15 Max Hercules 71) 8 Sam Joliffe (Capt) 9 Chris Vardy (16 Ben Johnson 80) 10 Jack Read (14 Elliott Goward 61) 11 Chris Blunden. Sub not used: 12 Ronnie Blagdon
SM:Jamie Stephens (32)
TA:Chris Blunden (45+4, 77, 90+1)