Saturday 23rd December 2017, 1500 KO
Truro City FC vs Gloucester City FC
The Build Up
Another Christmas period has rolled around, and I’m back in Cornwall, trying to survive my mother’s annual one-woman crusade to ensure I start next year carrying more fat than the average seal. Between forced sittings of stew and dumplings, I managed to find enough time to drag myself down to Truro to see the county’s premier football side in action.
The last (and only) time I watched the White Tigers was at Charlton back in November, when they became the first Cornish side to grace the FA Cup First Round since around the time of the Crimean War. Although Truro were beaten on the day, they played some great football, and players such as Tyler Harvey, Noah Keats and Aaron Lamont showed genuine quality against Football League opposition. Since that day, Truro have dropped down the league a little, though they are still 7th, just outside the playoffs. With the upper echelons of the Vanarama National League South so tight, (only three points separate Truro City in 7th and Dartford in 1st) a good run will see them right back in promotion contention.
Gloucester City lie further south in the table – 18th in fact – in their first season back in the South division. The Gloucestershire(ish) based side transferred from Vanarama National League North this summer after an 11th place finish in 2016/17. Also nicknamed The Tigers, but without a colour adjective (lazy…) Gloucester have had a rough few years. Since their stadium flooded in 2007, The Tigers have bounced between various landlords, including Cheltenham Town, Forest Green Rovers and Cirencester Town. Currently residing at Evesham United’s catchily named Spiers and Hartwell Jubilee Stadium, Gloucester City are now the only side at Level Six or above to play home games outside their home county. This unfortunate situation contributed to manager Tim Harris’ resignation last month, so they arrive at Treyew Road today with a new gaffer in the shape of Marc Richards.
Treyew Road has a 3,800 capacity and is in its last few years of not being a Lidl. The German version of Trago Mills have recently agreed a deal to build a flagship Truro store on the site when the White Tigers vacate, in order to move to the fabled Stadium for Cornwall. The purpose-built 16,000 seater stadium will be shared with the rugby team Cornish Pirates.
As for their current ground, it is certainly not without charm. The affable and helpful car parking attendants help you find a spot dreckly, whilst the pasty shop gives an air of Cornish authenticity. I had driven down to this with my father, and whilst I got press access, he handed over £10 for a concessions ticket, and a further £2.50 for a programme. Chuck in another £5.80 for a very welcome cheeseburger, chips and Pepsi Max (other brands are not available) and the whole day is under £20. Not too shabby.
One thing that was shabby, however, is the spot where “Steward Nine” is designated to stand. I don’t want to get carried away here, but I’m relatively certain that were “Steward Nine” to actually stand here, he’d quickly be murdered by Freddy Kruger.
I set my stool down by the goal for the first half, at which point, soundtracked by the Californian awfulness of Katy Perry, it sank three inches into the mud. With the fog settling in, I didn’t hold out much hope for the photography element of today. Hopefully the football would provide succour…
Spoiler Warning: it didn’t. This was a very different Truro City performance from the one I saw at The Valley. That side were intent on playing slick, passing football, getting it wide and whipping in crosses. Today’s iteration (and Gloucester City) clearly believed that there was some sort of airborne threat in the Truro area which could only be countered by repeatedly launching the ball as high into the sky as possible.
Four minutes in, Tyler Harvey had his first sniff of goal. I say sniff, only if he has a nose like a basset hound, because it was approximately an eighth of a chance. His chase of a through pass was quickly snuffed out by ‘keeper Tom Hadler smothering the ball. It was shortly after this that I heard possibly the most impatient fan comment in football history. With six minutes on the clock, a teenager behind me remarked grumpily to his mate that “they’ve not tried to pass it all match, just smashing it long all day”. I mean, he wasn’t wrong, just perhaps a little presumptuous.
On 21 minutes Gloucester City captain Kieran Thomas provided a quite exceptional air kick whilst attempting a cross. His head over heels somersault as a result scored a solid 7.2 for artistic quality. In direct competition, Truro City’s Ben Gerring produced a delightful miskick of his own on 38 minutes, but (unsurprisingly for a chap of his size) there were no acrobatics to follow this one. If it seems like I’m eking out talking points, it’s because I am. These really were the highlights of the first half.
Connor Riley-Lowe and Aaron Lamont were energetic in midfield, whilst Cody Cooke and Tyler Harvey worked hard up front, but they really were starved of any service. Truro City seemed to have succumbed to a temptation to launch it forward at the earliest opportunity and it was suffocating their game. Another theme of the first half was the sheer fury of Gloucester City’s Chris Knowles. Permanently on the verge of apoplexy, his rage was primarily directed at the referee, but occasionally shifted focus to his teammates, opposition players, the long coach journey, blue passports, the concept of Christmas. You name it, he hated it.
The only real moment of class came right on the stroke of halftime when Ben Harding shot just wide. After good work by Riley-Lowe (who will apparently be getting an Ollie Watkins poster for Christmas… and a restraining order for New Year) the ball was slipped in to Harding. He settled himself and drove the ball just past the upright.
The first half had been both low on quality and devoid of clear cut chances. A few headers under pressure and snapshots from the edge of the box were all that either side had to show for forty-five minutes of huff and puff. Thankfully, it did also see Exeter loanee Alex Hartridge pull some remarkable faces when taking a throw in, so, you know, positives and negatives.
Truro City came out for the start of the second half and really upped the tempo. Almost immediately, former Wrexham and Plymouth Argyle (amongst others) striker Tyler Harvey snapped a shot off from the edge of the area. Tom Hadler, who’d had very little to do up to this point, got across well to palm the ball wide.
Throughout the second half, Gloucester probably just about started to edge proceedings. Neither side could claim to be playing well, but through the direct running of Karnell Chambers in particular, Gloucester City created a few half chances. There was nothing that really troubled McHale though. I was disappointed by this, because I’d been really impressed by the Truro No. 1 when I saw him against Charlton, and didn’t really get to see him tested today.
Around the hour mark, Truro’s right back Billy Palfrey started to become influential. The former Argyle man from Looe was dynamic up and down the right flank, and his whipped crosses seemed like the only means Truro had of causing Gloucester problems. Cody Cooke and Tyler Harvey were also still bustling away, and on 69 minutes Cooke used his upper body strength to spin a defender from a throw in and lash a shot over from a tight angle.
From that corner, a deep cross beat everyone and dropped to Ed Palmer at the back stick. His half volley struck the outside of the post and went wide, leaving the sturdily built Truro centre back with his head in his hands.
It was at this point I noticed around ten Gloucester City fans behind Tom McHale’s goal who were very, very vocal. A few other fans were also fairly vocal, on two specific issues. One, was that of Tom Hadler’s kicking, which they felt was somewhat sub-par (though the rest of his performance certainly wasn’t), however, the Gillingham loanee’s response was fantastic, engaging with the supporters and having a laugh with anyone who would listen.
The second, was the performance of the referee. His ability to ignore the repeated pushes in the back of Truro’s players when they jumped for headers was so pronounced it bordered on the superhuman. It’s almost as if the referee was bitten by a particularly myopic genetically engineered spider which then imbued him with partisan superpowers. The supporters were getting more and more irate, and I have to say, I sympathised.
They would get more irate on 72 minutes, when the referee gave a very soft penalty for a challenge on Ed Williams. Despite the defender clearly getting a foot on the ball, Mr Smith blew up and awarded the spot kick. Williams picked himself up off the deck, and impudently chipped the ball down the middle of the goal. I mean, he probably did, but through the thickening fog I could barely see that end of the pitch.
This was a signal for Truro to start throwing everything forward, and on came Noah Keats and Andrew “Rocky” Neal to add to the attacking options. In this search for an equaliser, Truro almost fell further behind when Chris Knowles was sent through by Joe Parker, but unable to control his rage he put all his hate for the world through the ball and sent it about two thirds of the way to Fowey.
As predicted, the breakthrough for Truro came from Palfrey. When he whipped a low cross from deep on the right it wasn’t properly cleared by Gloucester’s defenders, and the ball was worked to Ben Harding. It initially seemed that he’d missed the opportunity to shoot and was closed down, but with the ball on his left foot he whipped a sweet effort into the top corner to level the scores.
When a Cody Cooke header was acrobatically tipped over by Hadler on 87 minutes, it looked like the match would end in a draw. However, minutes later, a Truro midfielder burst through into the box and was hauled down, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. Except, for some reason, he didn’t. A clear foul was ignored, and that was pretty much it. Full time, and spoils shared.
The Wash Up
I usually award a Man of the Match in this blog, and whilst a few players (Tom Hadler, Billy Palfrey and Karnell Chambers) played notably well, the whole match was so difficult to watch I have no choice but to name every single one of the 523 supporters in attendance as MotM. With the football stodgier than the pea souper we were watching it through, fair play to the larger than average Christmas crowd. They have truly earned their festive treats now.
Gloucester City have put one more point between themselves and Bognor Regis Town in the relegation zone, which will give some comfort going into Christmas. Although Lee Hodges would certainly have been targeting three points from this game, on a day when the teams around them also failed to win, it’s not as damaging a result as it could have been. Truro City remain in 7th, with the same points difference to 1st as they started. A win away to Poole Town on Boxing Day, and their highest ever finish of 4th is still very much in sight.
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