After a successful pre-season, the real action started at New Linden with a visit from our Lincolnshire neighbours Spalding United.
With eight new signings over the Summer, there was much speculation over the make-up of the Owls’ team. Manager Marcus Newell decided on the following starting XI in a 4-4-2 formation. Dylan Parkin was in goal and ahead of him in defence were Tim Lowe, Paul Walker, Oli Donald and Tom Davie. The midfield consisted of Jack Richardson, Lewis Collins, Alex Flett (captain) and Jon Oglesby. Up front Danny North partnered Scott Vernon.
Recent acquisitions Sam Topliss, Craig Disley and Josh Batty were on the bench, alongside Mark Gray and Brody Robertson respectively.
Unsurprisingly, it was a rather cagey opening, with both sides anxious to calm any first day nerves. Davie made some promising forays forward and captain Flett swung in a dangerous free-kick, which narrowly eluded the Owls’ strikers.
The home side were enjoying the bulk of the play at this stage and Oglesby went on a trademark run before pulling his shot wide of the upright. In the 24th minute, last year’s 25-goal man North went really close when his header flew over the bar.
Young keeper Parkin needed to be alert on the half hour after a speculative ball over the top threatened to catch out the defence. He flew out of his box to head clear in an unorthodox but highly effective manner. The Owls did not heed the warning though and the Tulips made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute.
Tom Siddons found space through the inside left channel and his low cross pinpointed George Zuerner. He drilled the ball into the net from eight yards to give the visitors the edge.
Boosted by taking the lead, Spalding enjoyed a good spell and very nearly doubled their advantage on 38 minutes. Parkin, who was impressing the home faithful with his distribution and confident handling, got down well to his right to beat away a fierce low shot.
The Owls were continuing to play intricate football in midfield, with Flett seeing plenty of the ball, but were unable to unpick a disciplined Spalding rearguard. As half-time loomed, it had been a generally frustrating 45 for the vast majority of the large sun-drenched crowd.
HT Cleethorpes Town 0 Spalding United 1 (Zuerner 32)
The second half started in similar vein, with the visitors content to protect their lead. It was noticeable that they were paying close attention to big striker Vernon and the odd challenge, from both sides, tested the referee’s patience. It was good to see though that the official adopted a common-sense approach to an important game and kept his cards in his pocket.
The first change came in the 56th minute with Robertson replacing Richardson, as Clee moved to an attacking 4-3-3 set-up. This was quickly followed by Disley being introduced at the expense of Davie.
Clee now had their best moments of the match and a period of pressure ended with Collins bursting through. Not for the first time, away goalie Michael Duggan snuffed out the danger. It was just not falling for the Owls and, as a final substitution of Batty for Oglesby was made, there was a growing sense that Spalding were going a pull off a shock victory.
Finally though, in the 78th minute, the equaliser arrived. A neat build-up and fine pass from North found substitute Brody Robertson in space. The forward still had plenty to do but he sidestepped keeper Duggan and, from an acute angle, he beat a covering defender on the line to gain parity.
With the wind firmly in their sails, Clee sensed that they could snatch a dramatic winner. Players poured forward at every opportunity but the hard-pressed Tulips’ defence gamely resisted all attempts to find the vital goal.
Indeed, it was Spalding who went closest in the closing moments, after a misunderstanding at the back between Disley and Parkin. However, the stopper capped an excellent man-of-the-match performance (as selected by our generous sponsors – Chestnut Associates) with another save.
The final whistle sounded and both camps could reflect on a hard-fought opening encounter in the Evostik East, with a draw about fair.
HT Cleethorpes Town 1 (Robertson 78) Spalding United 1 (Zuerner 32) Attendance: 425
Probably not what most people would have predicted pre-match. However, it was always likely to be a tough encounter against experienced opponents. Opening days have a habit of producing some upsets and, on reflection and with a long road ahead, a draw is probably not too bad!
Certainly some positives to take away. Firstly, the large crowd, which was the 3rd highest of the day across the whole of step 4 – a great achievement.
Secondly, I was impressed with Dylan Parkin. I particularly liked his ability to clear using either foot, a big asset for a keeper. Other players to catch my eye were Paul Walker, Alex Flett and Brody Robertson. Not much change for the striking duo Scott Vernon and Danny North on the day but their moment will undoubtedly come.
In fact, in my opinion, it is by no means impossible that we will find things easier away, especially in the early stages of the campaign. Coming to a new ground, I think it is likely that sides will raise their game against us.
We are on our travels this week, where we will play newly formed Ossett United in the Evostik East and then Loughborough University in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.
Ossett United – Tuesday 21st August 7.45pm
Ingfield Stadium, Prospect Road, Ossett, WF5 9HA
Adults £8, Concessions £5, Under 16s £1
Loughborough University – Saturday 25th August 3pm
Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU
Adults £5, Concessions £3, Students and under 16s £1
All away support will be most welcome at these grounds!
UP THE OWLS!