Bizarre official's decisions allow Clifton back into a game which looked lost.
Thanks to Holwell for the Match Report
Against the form book and in atrocious conditions Holwell can hold their heads up in the knowledge that had it not been for a risk averse official giving a clear advantage to the opposition to regroup, for the last twenty five minutes they would have picked up some really important three points in this match.
Both teams had started slowly as expected as the snow and strong wind made play difficult. Holwell’s first real chance came on 15mins as Liam Chapman got a shot away from a central position just outside the eighteen yard box which keeper McDonald easily gathered.
Minutes later Chapman again broke into the box from the left with a good chance to go on, by himself and score but chose to try and play in Tinsley but his pass was weak and dealt with by defenders.
At the other end Crosby was trying to cope with the difficult conditions but managed to get a shot away whilst holding off Nicholas Andrews but Jamie Witham saved.
Holwell looked by far the more intent of the two sides managing to play good football and yet again getting the better of a team some ten places above them in the league. Holwell’s midfield were well on top trying to get the runners Hazeldine, Tinsley and Chapman away in the channels and it was making dividends when on 27mins Holwell won a free kick on the right hand side. Pele Orton floated the ball into the crowded goal mouth but as the ball was cleared out it fell to Liam Chapman who drilled the ball back in through the crowd and low into the net for 1-0.
Holwell were well on top with Clifton like the snow only seen in small flurries but not threatening.
However referee Cuthbert looked uncomfortable with the conditions and consulted the managers on the half hour who were happy to carry on. Holwell continued their dominance as Hazeldine let fly from twenty yards which McDonald did well to tip over and the pressure continued from Holwell as the half wore on with Tinsley causing problems as he won yet another corner on 36mins.
Clifton’s only response was on 44mins when left winger Connor Hardy bore down on goal but Jamie Witham was equal to the task.
Holwell were thankful for the volunteers amongst the supporters who spent the half time period clearing the lines ahead of the second half as the snow continued.
Clifton never looked happy from the start of this match and started the second half as the first with Holwell camped in their half. Had it not been for the efforts of Hawkes and Miles in defence supported by Russell, Holwell may well have been out of sight in this match as the visitors' midfield and forwards just could not get to grips with the conditions. It was only Tyrell Shannon-Lewis who showed much skill, whilst the lumbering frames of Crosby and Smith struggled to make any openings for the visitors.
Holwell on the other hand continued to play through the conditions winning a free kick on 55mins twenty five yards out but Betteridge’s attempt went over the bar. Moments later Cowling stooped low to header a low cross in from the left but McDonald turned the header away.
Clifton just did not seem up for the task when Holwell went further ahead on the hour as a quickly taken throw on the left saw Chapman again set away in the left channel. He looked up sending a low cross to Hazeldine unmarked on the right edge of the eighteen yard box and he slammed the ball in off the post for two nil.
Five minutes later the whole pattern of the game changed as referee Cuthbert stopped the game in bizarre circumstances. This match was all but won with Holwell two nil up when referee Cuthbert, having played sixty five minutes in sporadic flurries of snow decided then, not any time earlier when conditions may have been actually worse, that he would take the teams off back to the changing rooms whilst Holwell volunteers again cleared the lines of snow.
This gave Clifton a clear advantage in a match the players had really given up on! It gave the management, coaches and the added experience of assistant on the day Ex Melton Town Manager Tony Thorpe, additional time to regroup, roast the players for their lack of effort and instil some urgency for the remaining twenty five minutes on restart.
Holwell’s impetus and momentum was stopped in its tracks with some feeling of injustice as supporters vented their anger at the referee for this interruption.
It clearly was a different Clifton that came back out long after they had been requested to with Cuthbert having to go to their changing room to get them back onto the pitch.
Though Holwell did well to defend Clifton now wanted to compete in the match and with ten minutes played after the restart, Shannon-Lewis picked the ball up outside the eighteen yard box. As he made his way into the box three Holwell defenders tried to intervene and he went down. The linesman had already taken his position and was signalling a corner at the corner flag but referee Cuthbert had blown for a penalty.
With the lines re-covered by more snow he seemed adamant that this was a penalty when from the stands it looked as though the offence occurred just outside the box. Undeterred he consulted the assistant on the line before reconfirming the penalty, then showed Ian Bitmead a red card for a last man challenge when there were other defenders present. For an official who had been having troubles with seeing lines clearly all match he suddenly inexplicably had no hesitation in what he saw.
Shannon-Lewis took the kick, Jamie Witham did well to block the shot but it rebounded off the keeper and Shannon-Lewis was able to put the ball into the net to get Clifton back in the game.
Clifton had their tales up now, Holwell brought on Woodcock in place of Tinsley to regain a back four and he did well coming on cold in these conditions.
However the home side found it hard to get back into the game, see out the remainder with just ten men and the seeming injustice of the afternoon was complete when Tyrell Shannon-Lewis saved Clifton’s blushes with a good finish on 85mins to make this eventful match all square.
Had Holwell been offered one point out of this match at the start they probably would have accepted it but with the team improving week by week under Andy Gray and in the light of their dominance in this match the stoppage at such a crucial time did give the visitors a clear advantage which, with their more experienced players, they knew how to exploit the chance they were given.
Holwell:- Witham, B Smith, Bitmead, Andrews, Betteridge, Hazeldine, Orton, O’Grady, Chapman, Cowling(S Smith), Tinsley(Woodcock). Subs not used:- Stevenson, Ambrose
Clifton: C McDonald, R McNicholas, A Miles, D Hawkes (C Swain), J Russell, T Smith, C Anderson, J Reid, C Hardy( C Brown), T Shannon-Lewis, L Crosby. Sub not used N Kennerdale