Wednesday 22nd August 2018, 1930 Kick Off
Plymouth Parkway FC vs Wellington FC
The Build Up
I had spent Tuesday evening watching Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers play second fiddle to a referee who had obviously spent the summer studying at the Cristiano Ronaldo and Russell Brand School of Egotism, so by Wednesday was right about ready for a healthy dollop of non-league, no-nonsense football. By way of cleansing the professional dirt from my football pores, I found myself heading across the Tamar to Plymouth Parkway’s Bolitho Park.
Formed in 1988 as the Ex-Air Flyers by a group of former Plymouth Kolts players, Parkway were so named because of a sponsorship by Exeter Airport. Having changed their name to Plymouth Parkway, the side have floated around in the South West Peninsula League for the last decade or so, winning it twice. Like most sides in the South West Peninsula League, historically Parkway have opted not to accept the option of promotion to the Toolstation Western League, however, under the stewardship of Mark Russell, the club has demonstrated a higher level of ambition. After storming the SWPL last season, losing only once (to Camelford of all teams…), Parkway accepted promotion to compete at the Step Five level. The extra travel (most teams are up in Somerset and as far as the Bristol area), has traditionally put teams off, and in the last 15 years only Buckland Athletic and Willand, who are 30 and 50 minutes further east respectively, have taken the promotion.
Russell’s stated ambition is to reach the Vanarama National League South, as he believes (correctly in my opinion) that the city of Plymouth, with its population in excess of 280,000 can support both a Football League and National League club. Stepping up to the Western League Premier brings with it both higher costs and travel times (the average away match is in excess of a three hour round trip – massive for Step Five), as well as a step up in quality, however, Parkway have already been installed as one of the favourites to achieve a successive promotion – expectations that manager Lee Hobbs has been keen to play down. A 4-0 loss away to Willand on the 8th of August will have taught Hobbs some important lessons, but overall, six points from nine, and a resounding 5-1 win to progress in the FA Cup represents a solid start to the season.
Tonight’s visitors were Wellington, who had travelled down the M5 from the Taunton area – one of the less extreme away trips in the division. Formed in 1896, the Somerset side were promoted to the Western League Premier Division in 2017/18, having won the First Division the year before. A debut season saw them finish 15th, and after four games Clive Jones’ side had won one, drawn one and lost two.
As I was down in Cornwall visiting the family, I headed across to Bolitho Park with my dear old dad, who was excited at the chance to see another local side in action, but even more excited to avail himself of yet another location to sample pasties. When we arrived, the club very kindly gave my old man free entry along with me, but the standard ticket prices of £6 are hardly anything to baulk at. A decent £1.50 programme contains a lot of advertising, but has a good two page spread from the manager, and helpfully provides travelling distances and times to all the away fixtures – a useful insight for fans adjusting to a new league.
A further £5.50 picked up me a cheese burger, chips with gravy, and a Diet Coke, whilst the Grass Roots Tourist Senior went for the much loved pasty option at £2. He bloody loved it too.
The ground itself is situated in a wooded area, which provides a nice backdrop to the pitch, making it quite a photogenic ground to shoot at. The clubhouse is friendly, while both the staff and other fans are happy to chat. The club really epitomised the hospitality for which the South West is famous. Capable of holding 3,500, the ground meets the minimum requirements for Step 5/6 of 50 seats, a permanent pitchside fence and (very good) floodlights. A pre-match musical diet of some top drawer Motown tunes added to the atmosphere, and despite the sporadic light drizzle, I – and the 148 crowd – were in fine spirits as kick off approached.
I lined myself up behind the Wellington goal for the first half, which proved to be an unusually prescient choice of position for me, as three first half goals saw Parkway take an unassailable lead into the half time break. Indeed, it took only five minutes for them to open the scoring, with left winger Mikey Williams hitting the target with a stooping header. A fine cross by Jordan Trott was met by Williams at around knee height, and Josh McLean in goal for Wellington was unable to keep the ball out. 1-0, and the tone was set for the match.
On eight minutes, Wellington had probably their best chance when a deep corner reached Jack Bryant but he could only head wide. This brief incursion into the Parkway box was as good as it got for the visitors in the first half, who found themselves two down a minute later.
After Mike Smith chased down a haphazard Wellington clearance, he fed the ball into the path of Teigan Rosenquest, a summer signing from Tavistock. He chopped and changed direction, giving Wellington’s left back Jack Bonn Porter a nasty case of twisted blood, and then stood up a cross to the back post, where Stewart Yetton was lurking. He met the ball with a downward header, and despite McLean’s best efforts, the ball was clearly over the line for 2-0.
Rosenquest was causing problems down the right, the livewire 20 year old too quick and tricky for Wellington’s full back, who looked more suited to the #3 shirt in a game of rugby union. A regular outball when he drifted wide, Rosenquest’s direct running was enabled by the pinpoint accuracy of Ben Joyce’s long passes from the base of midfield. It was one such long ball which brought about the next moment of panic in the Wellington defence, when Yetton got between two centre backs, but his lofted shot sailed well over the bar.
Around the quarter of an hour mark Parkway came close again. A hand ball by Wellington’s Tim Legg gave Jordan Trott the opportunity to swing in a left-footed cross, which was cleared by the wall. Moments later, a long ball up to the edge of the area was chested down by Yetton, where 23 year old striker Mike Smith slammed a first time half volley towards goal. McLean was equal to it on this occasion and palmed the ball wide. From the resulting corner, Trott swung in a testing cross, which was met firmly by Aaron Bentley, but again well saved by McLean.
Parkway were looking confident, and could already have been four ahead with only a sixth of the match played. Calm as Hindu cattle, and confident in possession, Lee Hobbs also had them very well set up at the back, and they were rarely troubled throughout. Barring that 8th minute header, any chances Wellington put together were from well outside the box. Key to this was Rob Farkin, the Royal Signaller marshalling the backline well with regular skipper Shane Krac out suspended.
On the 40th minute, yet another laser-guided cross field pass from Joyce found Aaron Bentley in an advanced position. The former Argyle man showed great tenacity (a trait which this Parkway side have in abundance) to beat the defender to the ball, and cut inside onto his left foot. I’m not sure if he is left footed, but judging by the way he swung at it like a giraffe on roller skates I’m guessing not. However, his swinger was just what the doctor ordered, as his shot from 15 yards rifled into the roof of the net, and ended this game as a contest.
The last action of the half was a 45th minute shot by Josh Washam for Wellington, which served only to give Kyle Moore’s mum some kit to wash. A thoroughly professional first half performance by Parkway, which was followed by more of the same as the drizzle thickened into the second half.
On 47 minutes, a thumping head back across goal from Rob Farkin was flicked on by Mike Smith, but the busy striker’s header sailed over the bar. Three minutes later he came close again (it wasn’t close), when a corner was knocked down, and he blazed over so high I heard the ball splash into the Tamar as I was heading back over the bridge post-match. This was a rare off-note in a spellbinding performance from Smith, who was simply everywhere. His pressing off the ball is exemplary, and with his strength, size and work-rate, he will cause problems for much better defences than Wellington’s.
Overall the second half had started much more scrappily than the first, and an element of credit has to go to Wellington for that. Between the 50th and 70th minutes, they closed down better in the midfield, and particularly restricted the space available to Ben Joyce, after the former Swindon Town man had picked them apart with his first half passing. After 70 minutes though, the stamina of Christian Pople came more to the fore, as his dirty work on and off the ball afforded Joyce more space to play. Also impressive was Nick Milton, who I had liked the look of against Tavistock last season. His anticipation in snuffing out potential danger was in evidence again tonight.
On 68 minutes a Wellington player hit a snapshot from around 25 metres, which was comfortably touched wide by former Bodmin Town ‘keeper Kyle Moore, and then it was more of the same from Parkway. A 69th minute hopeful punt over the top was chased by Stewart Yetton, but on this occasion McLean was out smartly to hack clear. The goalie had made a few smart stops, and was probably responsible for the element of respectability in the scoreline.
However, that respectability diminished after 73 minutes, when Mike Smith got the goal his performance deserved. An inch perfect first time cross by Jordan Trott, bombing forward on the left, was met by Smith in acres of space. The quality of the delivery was matched by the direction on Smith’s header (and also the astonishing gurn he pulled off whilst executing it…) and the ball was nestling in the bottom corner to bring the score to 4-0.
More good interplay by the hosts in the 80th minute resulted in a technically excellent acrobatic volley by Stewart Yetton, after substitute Sam Hillson had dinked a cheeky ball through to him. Yetton’s performance up to this point would have been everything Lee Hobbs had hoped for when be brought the local lad back from Truro City over the summer. But more on his display later.
First I need to talk about a wonderfully triangle-footed shot by Mikey Williams. Having already got his goal, he clearly thought it would be gauche to add another. After some dainty footwork by River Allen (who I had thought was at Tiverton?), Williams found himself 10 yards out with only McLean to beat. However, he caught the shot with a thick edge, and skewed the ball wide of the 3rd slip for four runs.
Not to worry though, because Yetton would add the gloss in injury time, after a sumptuous pass through to him by Ryan Lane. The former Argyle youngster, on as a sub, picked the ball up deep in midfield and slipped Yetton in on the edge of the area. His shot was deflected off the defender, and sailed up and over the ‘keeper, giving him his second goal, and Parkway’s fifth.
The Wash Up
So, a comprehensive victory for a dominant Parkway side, and a scoreline which actually flattered the visitors. Were it not for the efforts of Josh McLean between the posts, it’s not fanciful to suggest the scoreline could have been seven or eight to nil.
Clive Jones, who was vocal throughout, just couldn’t galvanise his side to live with a robust and technically superior Plymouth Parkway team. He had set his team up well, but Parkway were better in possession and more aggressive and tenacious when out of it. Skipper Sam Bryant did his best to stem the tide, but he was fighting a losing battle from inside the first ten.
As for Parkway, I’ve made no secret about the fact I found their lack of discipline in the match against Tavistock last season quite a shame (though Tavistock were far from blameless), as it detracted from what a good footballing side they are. On today’s evidence, Lee Hobbs has curbed that self-destructive side, whilst retaining the aggression which so suits their pressing style. At times tonight some “loose” challenges by the Wellington players were ignored by the ref, and I think the Parkway side of last season may have lost their cool. That they didn’t is testament to Hobbs, but also the on-field leadership displayed by the likes of Milton, Farkin and Pople.
There were good performances across the pitch for the home side, whether Bentley or Trott bombing forward from full back, Pople or Joyce dominating midfield, or Rosenquest (who was my dad’s MotM) turning the full-back inside his own arsehole.
For me though, Man of the Match is a tight call between the two strikers, who’s all-action, all-running style was unplayable for the Wellington defence. Yetton edges the vote, on the basis of the extra goal, and it’s great for Parkway that the summer signing from Treyew Road has hit the ground running. He was delighted in the summer to sign for a club just a short walk from his house, and on today’s evidence the fans will be delighted to have him, as he looks to replace the goals lost following Glyn Hobbs’ departure to Tavistock.
Lee Hobbs spoke in his pre-match programme notes about having been brought down to earth by the defeat at Willand, and his desire to manage expectations over the forthcoming season. If his side can turn out many more performances and results like tonight, he’s going to have a real job on his hand keeping the hype train in check.
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