Saturday 17th February 2018, 1500KO
Boreham Wood FC vs Gateshead FC
The Build Up
On a Saturday which saw the top four sides in the Vanarama National League face off against each other in Sutton and Aldershot, Boreham Wood had the opportunity to apply pressure on the title chasers as they hosted Gateshead. Having spent Friday visiting friends in nearby London Colney, it made sense to make the short Saturday drive to Meadow Park, and visit a ground I hadn’t previously been to.
This would be the fourth time Boreham Wood have faced off against Gateshead this season, and the last punch was landed by the Tynesiders, knocking The Wood out of the FA Trophy last month. Manager Luke Garrard, who made the national press as the youngest manager in the top five divisions when he took the job in 2015, has his side up in 6th place, with a game in hand over Tranmere Rovers above them. Considering that last season’s 11th placed finish was a record high for The Wood, this campaign represents even more progress for the Hertfordshire club.
Formed in 1948, Boreham Wood reached the National League in 2015/16 for the first time in their history, and have been breaking their own records ever since. Earlier this season, they recorded a first ever victory over Football League opposition, beating Blackpool in the FA Cup. Although clearly a team effort, the exploits of Portuguese forward Bruno Andrade have been central to The Wood’s progress this year – with 15 so far this season, the pacey frontman is fourth in the race for the league’s Golden Boot.
Up against him and his teammates today, Gateshead were missing two of their key defenders, with Neil Byrne and Fraser Kerr still recovering from calf injuries picked up last Saturday. It would be interesting to see who Steve Watson drafted in to replace the experienced pair. Having sold midfielder Luke Hannant (man of the match last time I watched Heed) to Port Vale in January, Gateshead have sought to bolster their squad with loan signings, operating on a tight budget as they do. Sitting 13th in the league, but with the opportunity to rise to the top ten with a good result, Gateshead have lost only one in ten, assimilating these loanees into the side quickly may be the key to securing a top half finish.
My girlfriend dropped me off at Meadow Park, as she headed off for a 17 mile run (more fool her) and I headed into the ground. Not far from the M25, the stadium is easy to get to, and there are plenty of streets in the vicinity where parking is free. It’s far from the largest ground in this division, but it is certainly one of the neatest, and the pitch was absolutely immaculate. Full credit to the groundstaff, because the grass looked absolutely perfect.
At £18 to get in, Boreham Wood are pretty standard with the rest of the Vanarama National, then £3 for a programme followed by with a delicious beef burger with fried egg and Diet Pepsi at £5.90 means you’re not seeing much change from thirty quid.
Some pre-match tunes in the glorious sunshine lent an early spring feeling to proceedings, and for the first time in four months of photographing football matches, I didn’t have to dress like Sir Edmund Hillary to feel comfortable. It was certainly warmer than the last time I saw the travelling Heed Army, at Maidenhead, where a decent number of them were in fine voice. There were less visiting from the depths of The North today, but those who came were once again lively. They made up a vocal portion of a small crowd at Meadow Park. Only 464 people in attendance is tiny in a league where all but four clubs average over a thousand. The Wood are one of those four, averaging only 699.
The opening exchanges of the game were high in energy, but low in quality, with both sides struggling to gain a foothold. Chances were at a premium, and those that did come about in the first half an hour were half-chances at best.
The first opportunity of the match fell to the home side’s new signing Morgan Ferrier. A free kick was awarded in the middle of the park, and The Wood lofted it into the box, where giant centre half David Stephens jumped 4 foot into the air, leaving him head, shoulders, torso and thighs above his marker. Stephens’ header found Ferrier at the back stick, but the man who has recently rejoined from Dagenham and Redbridge couldn’t find the target with his head. Hardly surprising considering the liberal portion of shin he took to the face whilst getting to the ball…
Over the next quarter of an hour the match ebbed and flowed nicely, but although both teams were seeing plenty of the ball, they were looking straight up to do so. I’d estimate that up until the twenty minute point, the ball was under 30m high for around five minutes. Gateshead whipped a couple of threatening balls into the box, but neither Burrow or Peniket were in the right place to challenge, whilst Boreham Wood had two efforts from range, neither of which tested James Montgomery in nets.
On twenty four minutes, the first good shot on target brought about a decent save from Boreham Wood’s Grant Smith. A push by Angelo Balanta on Russell Penn just outside the box, resulted in a free kick which Ben Fox lined up. The Burton Albion loanee has impressed since joining Steve Watson’s Blue and White Army, and did so again today. On this occasion, his whipped free kick was curling nicely to the bottom corner until the Reading born stopper got across athletically to palm wide.
Around the half hour mark, Boreham Wood started to threaten more, with the pace of Andrade and Ferrier causing problems. It was apparent that The Wood’s strategy would be to try and release these players early with balls into the channels, and this move created a half chance for Andrade on thirty minutes. When Ferrier, now sporting a new shirt with no number after forfeiting his blood stained one from earlier, beat his man down the left he whipped in a testing cross. Just behind Andrade, he did well to rise and meet the ball, but couldn’t keep his header down. Only two minutes later, Ferrier was at it again, this time cutting in from the left and shooting wide.
This was a warning which went unheeded by Heed, as Ferrier got an assist moments later. When a neat through ball by Murtagh found Ferrier in space down the left, he checked back – seemingly only to give him the chance to personally beat Theo Vassell at right back. Having done this, he crossed low, and the ball deflected off a defender down into the ground, bouncing high. As it came down, Andrade steadied himself back to goal, and went for a sort of “falling down bicycle kick” to guide the ball into the corner. A nice goal, and a rather underwhelming celebration from the former QPR academy man, who apparently hurt his back whilst scoring.
Another two minutes later, Boreham Wood were appealing for a penalty. Unfortunately for them, Kane Smith’s rather blatant dive wasn’t fooling anyone, and he took his yellow card with the Heed Army’s jeers ringing in his ears. Ten minutes later, the marauding right back had the chance to make amends when Andrade released him in the box. Smith did well to make a yard to shoot, but leant back at the crucial moment and sent his shot high over Montgomery’s goal.
This was the last notable action of the first half, which Boreham Wood had just about edged. Although possession was probably evenly split between the two sides, the hosts had created the better chances and deserved their lead. The problem Gateshead faced was that in David Stephens and Alex Davey, Boreham Wood have a centre back partnership with a combined height of 14 metres, and it was turning into a tough afternoon for Burrow and Peniket.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half were evenly matched again, and both sides created some chances. With 52 on the clock, some nice interplay by the visitors wide on the left saw Jordan Preston with time and space for a shot on the edge of the area. His accuracy was good, but there wasn’t much power, and Smith was able to save easily.
Four minutes later though, and there was nothing Smith could do about Gateshead’s equaliser. When good play by Wes York on the right won a corner, Boreham Wood’s mountainous defence headed clear. As the ball dropped it fell invitingly for former Carlisle captain Russell Penn, who caught it sweetly and rifled towards goal. With the ball heading for the net, it took a sizeable deflection off the back of the clearly offside Wes York, and despite vociferous protestations by the home defence, the goal stood. For the avoidance of any doubt, a Gateshead fan behind me described York as absolutely miles offside, though he felt Heed had earned the luck.
The goal was a catalyst for Gateshead to establish a ten minute spell of dominance, and it was orchestrated by Penn. His all action, combative midfield style was putting pressure on Balanta and Jamie Turley in the Boreham Wood engine room, and for a period they were slightly rattled.
On 71 minutes, Gateshead won another free kick, when a strong leap by Jordan Burrow enabled him to flick on to Peniket. It was the first time the two had really been close enough to link up, and Peniket took it down well on the chest in full flight. He was abruptly stopped however, by the boot of Stephens in his midriff, and the Boreham Wood defender was lucky to avoid a card. Fox took the free kick again, but didn’t trouble Smith.
Gateshead would regret not capitalising on their spell of pressure when Boreham Wood retook the lead on 74 minutes. Again it was that man Andrade. Nicknamed the Road Runner by Raheem Sterling when the two were teammates at QPR, Andrade had Theo Vassell (who is no slouch) on toast for pace, then cracked off a shot. Heading wide, it took not one, but two deflections and found its way to the net. 2-1, and the wind was taken out of Gateshead’s sails.
Watson made changes to try and rescue a point, bringing on Lewis McNall, Dick Winters (Danny Johnson) and Rees Greenwood to inject some pace. Wes York showed willing on the right, and Greenwood tried to push on, but Boreham Wood were resolute. Kane Smith was having a great game at right back, and Jamie Turley shielded the defence efficiently, but David Stephens and Alex Davey were absolutely rock solid. At 6’4 and 6’3 respectively, the pair were utterly untroubled by the aerial attacks, whilst Kane Smith and Danny Woodards dealt well with the wide threat.
Gateshead’s last real chance came from Rees Greenwood. Signed on loan from Sunderland, Greenwood is an England youth international who has played in the Premier League for the Black Cats, and his potential is obvious. Picking up the ball wide left, he beat two defenders, cut inside, but slipped as he shot, and it skewed onto a Wood shin and wide.
With that opportunity went Heed’s chance at a result, and indeed Boreham Wood almost extended their lead as the clock ran into injury time. A hopeful ball landed at the feet of substitute Ricky Shakes in the box, but Montgomery was equal to the shot. At the final whistle, the score remained 2-1, and Boreham Wood took the points in a well fought contest.
The Wash Up
Boreham Wood secured their first victory over Gateshead at the fourth time of asking, and Garrard will be delighted with the three points that keep them in the play off spots. With Aldershot losing to Macclesfield, and Sutton and Wrexham drawing, only six points now separate 1st from 6th in the Vanarama National. For neutrals, it looks like a thrilling run to the end of the season, with all six teams involved having different strengths and weaknesses.
The Wood will certainly have physicality on their side as they head into the run in. A tall team, they are strong and combative, whilst up front they have the pace to trouble most sides.
As for Gateshead, a long trip back to Tyneside will be that bit longer after this result. Down to 14th, Steve Watson’s focus will surely be on ensuring the defeat doesn’t affect morale ahead of an eminently winnable FA Trophy quarter final away to Leyton Orient next weekend.
The performance of Russell Penn is certainly one positive he can build on, and Ben Fox continued to show promise alongside him in midfield. He will, however, need to come up with some alternative options up front, because the trip of Peniket, Burrow and Johnson whilst good strikers, did not have the mobility to really trouble a defence who were physically more than a match today. It was probably here where the game was won and lost really. The match was generally quite even, but Boreham Wood were simply able to contain Gateshead’s attacking options more easily.
It was one of those defenders who gets my man of the match today. Morgan Ferrier put in a fine performance, Angelo Balanta drove forward well from midfield, and a brace for Andrade put him second in the Golden Boot charts, but it was the defensive side that most impressed me. I thought Kane Smith had a fine game at right back, regularly bombing forward to support the attack, and former Chelsea man Alex Davey was both assured in possession and utterly horrible to play against. However, for sheer will to win, and the ability to always be in the right place, my man of the match is (definitely not Welsh) former Welsh U21 international David Stephens. Personally rebuffing numerous Gateshead attacks, the man from Welwyn Garden City was an absolutely monumental presence at the back today.
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