Stalemate as the two top teams fight out a draw
Spicer still undefeated in the league
A match between 1st and 2nd in the league, nonstop rain and a new assistant manager for Black Country Rangers, what more could the fans wish for? As one of only four games taking place in the league due to the weather, BCR received a bumper crowd down at The Grove and they were treated to an excellent footballing display from both sides, in a game that could’ve led to both team’s styles cancelling each other out. BCR continued in the same vein as in their last few games under Wayne Spicer, playing a 343, whereas Malvern went for the “old-school” 442. A mixture of modern vs classic took place and the quality of football on offer showed why both teams are at the right end of the table.
BCR started off stronger, with No.10, Kizza Clarke, seeing lots of the ball early on, charging down the right flank, his clever footwork mesmerising the Malvern left back. On 5 minutes, after a neat interchange between Kizza and Brad Lawley in the middle of the park, Kizza won a free kick on right side of the penalty area, and dusted himself off to take it, a floated ball to the back stick was headed just over from centre back, Ben Birch. BCR continued in this vein for the next 5 minutes, dominating possession in the middle of the park, but failing to get any dangerous attacks started.
Following a Malvern goal kick, which was sent high and long onto the left wing, a mix up in defence saw Malvern played through on goal and with only their first sniff of the BCR goal, they were 1-0 up. A long ball from the GK, a header, 3 touches and a shot, that’s all it took. How would BCR respond to going down a goal so early on after dominating the opening exchanges?
Malvern and BCR began to put in heavy challenges in the centre of the park, with the referee having to talk to both sets of players, a typical physical game began, with BCR still dominating possession and with Malvern looking to sweep up any missed passes or headers. On 14 minutes, Shaq “Lotto” Whittingham was sent through by No.3, Jamal Fuller, which saw the usually sharp Whittingham have his 1-on-1 shot well saved by the Malvern Goalkeeper. Following Shaq’s miss, the game entered a pattern of play that stayed similar for the next 15 minutes, BCR playing the better quality of football but struggling to create real opportunities, and Malvern looking to send the ball long to start counter attacks, during this time Garner and Lawley were both booked, meaning BCR had both their CM’s in the book. In the 30th minute, Shaq was again released down the left wing, his low driven shot beat against the upright, only for Kizza’s rebound to be bundled off the line in spectacular fashion by a Malvern defender. This woke BCR up, who stepped up a gear and began to play like they had in the first 5 minutes. The ball hadn’t left the Malvern half since Shaq & Kizza’s double chance and in the 33rd minute, a BCR corner was driven into the box by Whittingham and cleared by a Malvern head, it flew to the chest of Russel Garner, a player whose idea of a shot normally involves tequila, cushioned the ball down with his chest, took a touch out of his feet and channelling his inner Paul Scholes, sent a fierce shot into the top right corner. 1-1, Game on.
Malvern’s second chance of the half (37th minute) saw a breakaway down their right wing, and after cutting inside, the winger sent a fierce cross/shot across the 6yard box, which was put out for a Malvern corner. The following corner was well taken by BCR goalkeeper, Todd Henderson. The game resumed its earlier path, with heavy challenges from both sides in the middle, and BCR dominating the play without creating too much in the way of real chances. Shaq Whittingham and Kizza still dominated on the flanks, with Brad Lawley having a storming game in the centre of the park winning anything that came near him in the air.
Half-Time Score: 1 - 1
Malvern started the second half brightly, stringing a few more passes together than they had in the first half, and getting higher up the pitch. In an effort to increase BCR’s attacking intent, Shaq Whittingham was replaced by ex - Hinckley AFC striker, Jake Healy, who breathed fresh life and legs into a BCR side which again had began to dominate possession in the middle of the pitch. For the first 15 minutes of the half there were no stand-out chances. However, a short Malvern corner on 57 minutes, led to a defensive error and saw Malvern cut inside from the byline and force Henderson into a smart low stop at his near post, which he gratefully clutched to his chest, before pumping the ball long to Kizza on the BCR right wing. The game again settled into its old pattern of silly freekicks in the centre of the park, however, Malvern were having a higher percentage of the play this half.
After a Malvern breakaway on the left wing, No.2, Chris Horton, fouled his opposite man just on the edge of the BCR box, as everyone, including Malvern, set up to defend the set piece like a corner, the Malvern player looked up to see Henderson off his line and sent his freekick across goal and into the top right stanchion, an impossible goal and a spectacular one. 2-1 Malvern with only their 3rd real shot on goal.
BCR upped the pressure following going a goal behind, bringing on James Filkins and Hayden Hughes for goal scorer Russ Garner and Chris Horton. Manager, Wayne Spicer, stood in his technical area, in constant discussion with new his new assistant, Graham Ward, who both demanded more attacking output from a side that has scored over 85 goals in the league this season already. As time ticked away, BCR striker Boyce came close twice in 2 minutes, first seeing a header fly just over, and then having a shot cannon back off the frame of the goal in similar style to Whittingham’s first half effort.
As the clock ticked to 80 minutes, Malvern began to tire, BCR’s fitness began to show, they began playing the game at a similar tempo to how they closed the first half, skipper Matthew Vaughan went on a surging run forward, beating 2 Malvern players before sliding the ball through to Kizza Clarke, who after rounding his marker, sent the ball flying across the Malvern goalkeeper and nestling in the bottom left corner of the net, 2-2 with 84 minutes played. Malvern went very defensive for the last 5 minutes, weathering a BCR storm, that if given enough time would’ve broken down the Malvern wall and scored.
Full-Time Score: 2-2
BCR Goalscorers: Russell Garner & Kieron Clarke
Next week is a free week for Black Country, before they host Stone Dominoes at home in the league, a copy of the league cup quarter final fixture, due to take place soon. BCR’s last game against Stone came all the way back in August, on the opening game of the season, which BCR won 5-1