A long journey to Shropshire to face bottom club Market Drayton Town was next on the agenda for the Owls as the hectic end to the debut season in the Evostik continued.
It is fair to say that both teams were desperate for the boost of three points but for very different reasons. Clee still harboured ambitions of fighting their way into the play-offs, whilst the Gingerbread Men had work to do to stave off relegation. The Owls would certainly settle for a repeat of the 2-0 home verdict, when a brace from Liam Dickens claimed the spoils.
Assistant manager Dave Smith was in charge of team affairs for the day and there were five changes from the starting XI at Sheffield. In came Josh Lacey, Mark Gray, Liam Dickens, Jon Oglesby and Danny North at the expense of Loz McKay, Peter Winn, Matt Bloomer, Liam Davis and Luke Aldrich respectively. Tim Lowe wore the captain’s armband.
It was a beautiful Spring day and the warm sunshine had dried out the pitch somewhat but it was still heavy. Clee had the bulk of the early possession as they looked to stamp their authority on proceedings. However, Drayton had the first opportunity in the 6th minute when Josh Lacey bravely blocked a shot and then Jack Richardson scuffed an effort straight at the keeper for the visitors.
The crowd did not have long to wait for the opening strike. In the 12th minute, Charles Knowles picked up the ball 18 yards out and he swiftly turned a defender. The striker then produced a slightly swerving finish into the corner of the net to give the basement dwellers the lead.
This fine goal sparked the Owls into life and the travelling fans were soon celebrating the equaliser. A sustained spell of pressure pushed Drayton back and, in the 19th minute, the ball fell to Brody Robertson on the edge of the box. The striker did not hesitate as he rifled a daisy-cutter home.
It was becoming end-to-end and the bottom side hit the post in the 26th minute before the lively Robertson again worked the home stopper.
Drayton were belying their lowly status with some good football and they produced a quickfire double-strike to put themselves firmly in command.
Firstly, in the 36th minute, a flowing move through midfield again found the dangerous Knowles. He easily slotted past Liam Higton and worse was to follow in the home team’s next attack. The Owls’ defence was all at sea as an unmarked David Howarth blasted home from close range.
Clee desperately needed a lifeline before the break and they got it in the shape of loanee Curtis Bateson. The hard-working midfielder curled in a delightful effort from over 20 yards out. This was the last action of an entertaining and topsy-turvy opening half.
HT Market Drayton Town 3 (Knowles 12, 36, Howarth 40) Cleethorpes Town 2 (Robertson 19, Bateson 43)
The start of the second period had a different feel about it, as the hosts were sitting a bit deeper and inviting the Owls to break them down.
A run by Robertson created panic in the defence and he was upended right on the edge. Unfortunately, the returning North’s free-kick hit the 5-man wall. In the next foray forward, a stinging volley from Oglesby crashed into a defender. He collapsed clutching his face when, to the naked eye, it appeared to hit his shoulder.
Frustration was growing amongst the visiting contingent as Drayton protected their lead with a mixture of measured defending and counter-attacking, plus a touch of time-wasting thrown in for good measure!
Clee forced a series of corners as we entered the final 20 but they were all safely dealt with. In fact, it was the home side who very nearly settled their nerves when Gray was needed to fling himself at the ball to clear. The big defender injured himself in the process and was replaced by the evergreen Bloomer.
Oglesby, who was now operating on the wing after occupying a central position for much of the afternoon, tried to inspire his colleagues with a typical jinking run but the final ball was lacking. Indeed, for all their commitment, the Owls were now struggling to fashion a clear opening as the clock ran down.
McKay entered the fray in a straight swap for Lacey on 81 minutes. Lowe and Dickens both saw yellow as tempers rose and, as we entered five added minutes, the Gingerbread Men became increasingly confident they could secure the win needed to climb out of the relegation zone.
The hosts were still repelling everything Clee could throw at them and the final whistle was greeted with delight by the home faithful. It was a different story for the visitors, as they faced the trek back to the coast empty-handed.
FT Market Drayton Town 3 (Knowles 12, 36, Howarth 40) Cleethorpes Town 2 (Robertson 19, Bateson 43) Attendance: 78
Plenty to ponder as our poor run continues. Only seven points from the last nine league outings has seen our play-off hopes fade. Everyone will have their own opinions about this dip and I do not intend to hold an inquest!
However, what I will say is this – we all need to pull together to finish the season in as professional a manner as possible. It is not going to be easy for anybody with successive four fixture weeks. Everyone is tired and can probably do with a break from football!
It is certainly disappointing to find ourselves in mid-table after such a blistering start but, on reflection, this was always likely to be a campaign of consolidation. We have achieved this and there is absolutely no reason why we cannot launch a promotion bid next year.
Just the three matches this midweek!!
Tomorrow (Monday 16th – 7.45pm) we travel to the East Midlands to tackle Gresley. Then, on Tuesday (17th – 7.45pm), another trip to Derbyshire – this time Belper Town are our opponents. Finally, on Thursday (19th – 7.45pm), promotion hopefuls Alvechurch visit Bradley.
All support is welcomed during this testing time!
UP THE OWLS!
Updated 07:53 - 16 Apr 2018 by David Simpson