Monday, January 06, 2020

Grim At Gateshead

Son of Eric made the long trip to Gateshead.

Gateshead share with the athletics at the international stadium and with a massive capacity only open the main stand. The segregation is light as although fans are put at differing ends the internal doors are kept open so you can move around once inside. There was a warm and friendly welcome from the club volunteers in contrast to the biting wind chill which made a mild day sharp. The pitch looked to be in excellent condition and although the crowd was given as just under a thousand it did not seem as if that many fans were there.

Having beaten Kidderminster on New Year’s Day, Hereford hoped to do the double over a Gateshead team. Hereford kept three at the back with Pollock in the middle Pope on the left and Gowling on the right. Captain Hodgkiss paired as wing back with Greenslade on the left. Thomas and Dawson patrolled the middle of the park with Bray floating in a free role, Sodeinde and Mooney remining the preferred strike force. Will Henry came in from Swindon on loan and debut hero Brandon Powell went to the bench.

The first half was poor entertainment the game struggling to get going. It had an end of season feel, although with both sides playing their fourth game in nine days there may have been a little tiredness. New keeper Henry took a shot from Olley comfortably. Bray was the brightest of Hereford’s early players floating around and getting possession in good places. Unfortunately, after the first twenty minutes or so the Gateshead defence started talking more to each other about picking him up as he roamed, and he gradually faded out of the game.

Dawson and Thomas made a good pairing in the middle of the park challenging relentlessly and Dawson fed Thomas who fired off a low thirty yarder which whistled past the post. Gowling fouled striker Kayode on the edge of the box with Pope heading Olley’s whipped cross away.

Gateshead’s opening goal could be seen as a definitive goal for Hereford’s season. The impressive Olley won a corner. Deverdics corner came across and was not cleared with a Gateshead player picking it up and putting another cross back across with Hereford not clearing their lines. Deverdics put in a straightforward cross to he far side of the box with most players on the field still in the penalty area. Left back Forbes rose, unchallenged in what was a disturbing amount of space and planted a header into the box as if it was a training exercise, Henry having no chance. Dawson went across to Gowling who was probably responsible for the area where Forbes was free. It was unclear whether Dawson thought Gowling was personally responsible or as the most experienced defender had failed to organise the defence, but he was rightly not a happy fella at the cheap goal which had been conceded.

Hereford tried at times to play in their strikers. Channel balls to Sodeinde saw him giving it a go and at times getting behind the Gateshead back line. On the other flank at times Gowling, Thomas and Hodgkiss all found themselves at times penned in and with no alternative to playing a all down the line. Time after time Mooney was unable to read the game and anticipate the only out ball for Hereford. Mooney has a great work rate and attitude, but his poor positioning meant Hereford were losing the ball cheaply at times. He nicked the ball from Forbes on the edge of the box and got in a strike which was deflected wide for a corner.

Deverdics curled in another quality ball from a free kick and Henry caught it cleanly. Henry looked impressive with comfortable handling and apart from one shanked clearance made a very good debut. 

At half time the Gateshead mascot who wears a giant goat’s head goes in goal and saves shots from youngsters. He’s quite a scary mascot and looks like an extra who has wandered in from the Wicker Man.

Hereford could have done with an injection from the bench or beyond but came out unchanged. Gateshead had clearly been told that Hereford’s defence was vulnerable and Deverdics corner to the far side saw scorer Forbes with a free header which glanced off the top of the bar. Greenslade was having a good game and was probably Hereford’s most creative force. In a short period, he put in three good crosses and two decent throw ins but they came to nothing. Sodeinde won a free kick on the right and another Greenslade dead ball fell to Thomas fifteen yards out but he couldn’t turn and get a shot away.

Mooney had worked hard but at times his first touch was poor, and he was substituted with Styche coming on. Many Hereford fans have been grumbling about Reece, but it was surprising to hear mass booing as he ran out. Gateshead’s fans were giving their verdict on his performances for them a few years ago. Styche has given off this image that he’s like some pantomime baddie who everyone hates but you’re glad he’s on your side. Well in a pantomime you’re supposed to shout, “he’s behind you!” but Styche never got in behind Gateshead’s defence. Some Hereford fans chatted about how little Styche gets off the ground when he jumps.

Styche’s work rate was poor. At times when Gateshead won the ball and fired it forwards Styche was jogging back onside. If Hereford had won back possession quickly, they would have found that their striker was still offside. Bearing in mind Styche only had to play thirty minutes his failure to run hard throughout was disappointing and the Gateshead back line had an easier time without the relentless harrying of Mooney.

Hereford tried to press forward more and left space for the Gateshead striker Kayode who had three attempts. When Kayode got through Pollock rightly cleaned him out and earned a booking. Pollock is growing into the centre back role with some good passing. He did hit one very poor square ball in the first half which he got away with, but he lasted the game well.

Kayode had been a challenge for Hereford’s defence but he was substituted for Tear. Gateshead won a corner and Hereford pulled everyone back. Trailing by a goal, twenty minutes left and needing to get something out of the game this ultra-defensive attitude annoyed the Hereford fans, one of whom shouted out asking if Hereford could at least keep one up. Gateshead had three players on the halfway line so the tactical thinking from Slade here was puzzling.

Gateshead weren’t great and Hereford still had a chance of getting something out of the game. Unfortunately, Greenslade had to go off for Allen and the Thomas was down with a strain and was replaced by O’Sullivan. 

The changes seemed to disturb Hereford and Gateshead started to dominate. Olley had looked the best player on the pitch ghosting in the number ten position and he became increasingly influential, combining especially well with fellow midfielder Preston. Mind you, any midfield will blossom when they haven’t got Kieron snapping at their heels.

Preston got through shot and Henry did well to tip it on to the bar and over. Hereford fans were gloomy saying Gateshead looked far more likely to score and a double save from henry confirmed their worries. A simple ball played Olley in behind Hereford’s defence on the right. He surged Dawson like down the wing and fired in a cross to the near post, his partner in crime Preston was there and looked certain to score….but, Pollock had charged back and put in a stupendous challenge to stop a certain goal. The ball broke loose across the box to the penalty spot. Substitute Tear had done what every good striker does and followed to the play and gleefully slammed the ball into the roof of the net giving Henry no chance. However, just like when Forbes scored earlier Tear was in acres of space. Pope could and should have done better.

So an improved Hereford away performance as they only conceded two goals rather than the usual three but it is bleak. It is hard being a Hereford fan at the moment. One fan travelled 700 miles in a day to see the game, another spent twelve hours driving. Two Forest of Dean fans flew up from Bristol. More came across the border from Scotland. Some were angrily demanding the board spend tens of thousands of pounds more on sacking another manager, most shrugged and walked away as Hereford fell to sixteenth place and dropped towards their traditional seventeenth place.

This is a mish mash of a team with some players fully committed and others leaving little positive impact. The turning point was when two of Hereford’s best performers Greenslade and Thomas went off in quick succession, and Gateshead took the game by the scruff of the neck and could have gone on to win by more. Slade clearly ahs an eye for a good player, Sodeinde was the best of the attackers and keeper Henry impressed on his debut.

Slade damned Styche with faint praise in his post-match interview saying how most teams had a striker who had scored more than ten by now, but Hereford did not. With Symons gone, Liburd on loan it was clear who he meant had failed to deliver yet again as he tries to re-shape the team. Will the fans and board give him enough time, or will he decide the hassle and broken promises on funding are not worth the effort.

In August after a Symons goal saw off Blyth I wrote “One nil to the Hereford and that’s good, but it is not good enough. Just as many people were unhappy at Gloucester with a 2-0 win this should have been more comfortable. Against many other sides the inability to kill the game off would be punished with the loss of two or three points.”

I am rarely good at forecasting football but that seems a pretty good prediction of how the season has gone. Hereford are as the cliché goes “too good to go down” but another managerial change could make that something to be tested. Maybe some super striker will appear, I don’t expect it to be Styche in superman underpants. If they don’t it will be a bleak few month’s as Slade re-shapes his team ahead of next season.

As nineteenth century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
This ream will fail again, but next season it will rise if the manager is given a chance.