Three quickfire second-half goals was more than enough to see off Gresley at a packed New Linden. Paul Walker, Josh Batty and Brody Robertson were the scorers for the Owls, who also enjoyed a first Evostik clean sheet of the campaign.
Dave Smith made just the one enforced change. With Jon Oglesby unavailable, Brody Robertson came in to the “number nine” position and Josh Batty moved onto the left. The side started as follows:
Goal: Theo Richardson
Defence: Tim Lowe, Paul Walker, Oli Donald, Sam Topliss
Midfield defence: Jack Richardson, Alex Flett (captain)
Midfield attack: Andy Taylor, Lewis Collins, Josh Batty
Attack: Brody Robertson
Subs: Craig Disley, Danny North, Mark Gray, Jack Boswell, Loz McKay
Over 500 were inside the ground at kick-off, which provided a great family atmosphere for the players, who were hoping to extend the excellent unbeaten run to eight. Gresley, on the other hand, were somewhat in turmoil, as several senior members of their squad had departed in the last few weeks.
It was clear that Clee were adopting a patient approach in the early stages, with a slow build-up from the back being the order of the day. This created several half chances. An acrobatic volley from Batty flew just wide and Taylor’s lob beat the keeper but landed on the roof of the net. Donald then headed over in the 18th minute from an enticing Collins cross.
The young Moatmen showed they were not just in town for the sea air though and had their moments of pressure. However, the Owls’ settled back four was keeping its shape very well, with Walker, in particular, catching the eye with several stout headers.
As the contest wore on, it became more disjointed. A couple of lengthy injury stoppages to attend Gresley players did nothing for the flow of the game. It was the lively Taylor who once again came close to gaining the initiative for Clee with a header but, in truth, both stoppers had not been seriously tested.
The remaining time in the half was played out in much the same vein. The visitors, who would have been delighted to take a point back to Derbyshire, were content to largely stay reasonably deep and invite the Owls to find the breakthrough. As the interval was reached, the impression was that Clee needed a bit more urgency to gain the expected win.
HT Cleethorpes Town 0 Gresley FC 0
Whatever wisdom that the management team imparted to their charges during the break worked a treat! There was much more dynamism to the Owls’ play and three goals in close succession safely snaffled the spoils.
In the 49th minute, Paul Walker appeared in space to guide a header past Fairbrother to register for the third time in his last eight outings. The defender, along with his partner Donald, is clearly now a big set-piece danger to visiting teams.
It was becoming one-way traffic and, after Collins had gone very close, Clee doubled the advantage with 56 played. The aforementioned Donald’s powerful header forced a great save from Fairbrother. However, the stopper could not get the ball away from the danger zone and Josh Batty reacted quickest to mop up the crumbs.
Gresley were rocking and endured further misery, shipping a third shortly after the hour. It was the best of the afternoon as well. A quick team break found Taylor on the flank, who did well to hold the ball whilst his colleagues got forward. He then located the surging run of Brody Robertson through the inside left channel with a slide-rule pass. The striker did not hesitate, firing low into the net for his 14th of the season in all competitions.
The away side must have feared a heavy beating but, to their great credit, they continued to battle hard and only a sensational finger-tip save from T Richardson preserved the cherished clean sheet. Despite a goal kick being awarded, the home faithful, who by now were in full voice, appreciated what a brilliant stop it was from the former Manchester United man.
With the win in safe keeping, Dave Smith rotated his team and used the full ration of allowed substitutions. Andy Taylor, Alex Flett and Brody Robertson were withdrawn. They were replaced by Danny North, Craig Disley and Jack Boswell, who was making his League debut.
As the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion, the main interest centred on whether Clee could gather their first Evostik shut-out of 2018/19. However, there was still time for Boswell to impress. Twice the youngster went within a yard of scoring in a highly encouraging cameo.
When the final whistle sounded, there was a huge roar from the fans in the Buildbase Stand to greet both the comfortable victory and no goals conceded.
FT Cleethorpes Town 3 (Walker 49, Batty 56, Robertson 63) Gresley FC 0 Attendance: 506
As I expected before the start, it turned into a fairly routine afternoon. However, whatever the struggles of the opposition, you still have to “put them away”.
Dave Smith eluded to the slow build-up play in the first half in his post-match interview. I fully concur! I am all for a patient approach but sometimes you need to move the ball quickly and take a few risks. I suspect, and it was the feeling I got from the crowd, that everyone thought the goals would eventually arrive and indeed they did. Credit to the management team at the break though for calling for a bit more urgency.
Now onto the keeper and defence. Basically, well done! There have been great strides made in recent weeks, helped by both a settled back four and some excellence from Theo Richardson. Tim Lowe, Sam Topliss, Paul Walker and Oli Donald are an effective unit, with plenty of pace and, if injuries are kind to us, there will surely be a few more “nils” to follow.
Probably no real stand-outs this week in the man-of-the-match category. However, my vote goes to Paul Walker. He gets through plenty of work in the air defensively and is also now a big threat in the opposing penalty area. The opening goal was, of course, vital.
A struggling Carlton Town next and another chance to enhance our growing play-off chances, we are now incredibly just 5 points off the pace. As always though, it is likely to be a real battle against the relegation threatened Millers on an expected poor pitch. All support very welcome on the eastern outskirts of Nottingham.
Saturday 26th January – 3pm
Carlton Town – Evostik East
Bill Stokeld Stadium, Stoke Lane, Gedling, Nottingham, NG4 2QS
Adults £8, Concessions £6, Under 16s £3
UP THE OWLS!