Wednesday 14th August 2019, 1945 Kick Off
Taunton Town FC vs Yate Town FC
The Build Up
It’s August. It’s the beginning of the football season. It’s the height of summer. Which obviously means that the UK is enjoying weather warnings, high winds and more rain than the Amazon. In the midst of this classic British summer, I’ve been down in Cornwall, preparing for my upcoming nuptials, and have taken advantage of the fact to catch a few local (ish) games. Plymouth Argyle dispatched Leyton Orient in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, before a jaunt up the M5 with my old man on Wednesday to take in Taunton Town’s opening home fixture of the Southern League South campaign.
The Peacocks, formed in 1947, came close to securing a double promotion last season, after cantering to the league title at Step Four in 2017/18. Prior to that, Taunton had suffered so much Play Off heartbreak there are rumours Richard Curtis is planning a film with all the main characters played by Hugh Grant. Play Off failures in three consecutive seasons were ended by that 2018 promotion, before the hoodoo returned last time out, with the Met Police ending Taunton’s hopes in the semi-final. And Chelmsford City fans think they’re bad at Play Offs… One of the most successful non-league sides in the South West, Taunton didn’t really rise to prominence until the early seventies, when a number of Western League titles eventually saw them promoted to the Southern League. They also have cup pedigree, having finished as runners up in the 1994 FA Vase, before going one better in 2001 – beating Berkhamsted Town 2-1 in the final at Villa Park.
Their opponents on Wednesday were Yate Town, who have displayed far more Play Off nous than their hosts, gaining promotion via that means from the Southern League Division One South last season. Formed as Yate Rovers in 1906, The Bluebells were disbanded in the thirties, before being restarted as Yate YMCA, and then eventually assuming the current moniker in 1969. The Gloucestershire-based club spent their early years switching between the Hellenic, Southern, Midland and Western league systems, before eventually being settled in the Southern League, where they first secured Step Three status in 2005. Relegation followed four years later, and Yate Town then spent ten seasons back at Step Four, right up until they defeated Cinderford Town 3-1 in the Play Off Final last season.
However, it wasn’t a welcoming return to the Southern League Premier on the opening weekend, as Yate Town went down hard, at home to fellow promoted side Blackfield & Langley. A 4-1 reversal meant that Paul Britton’s side spent the first Sunday of the season second from bottom, above only… Taunton. Rob Dray’s team also suffered a three goal defeat, this one away to much-fancied Gosport Borough, who have strengthened well over the summer under new manager Lee Molyneaux. That defeat left Taunton bottom of the first league table, but that’s a position they won’t expect to occupy for long – promotion is once again the goal for the Somerset-side.
Taunton Town play their home matches at Wordsworth Drive, a 2,500 capacity season which until this summer was known as the Viridor Stadium. However, a new sponsorship agreement means that for the 2019/20 season, Rob Dray would be leading his side out at the Cygnet Health Care Stadium. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s not quite as good as the famous Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado, but it’s up there.
Taunton averaged a good crowd for Step Three last season, with 682 flocking to watch their side attempt to go up to the National League South. When you get to the ground, it’s easy to see why. With ample parking (£1), and £10 admission (£8 for concessions, free entry for U14s) it’s cheaper than some of their competitors at this level, and the £2.50 programme was well put together. My dad and I got there around an hour early and availed ourselves of the local hospitality – £8 was enough to secure a wedding-suit-risking cheeseburger and chips, washed down with a Pepsi Max (Diet Coke obviously not available…).
Taunton’s pitch was in immaculate condition, probably due in some part to the abundance of precipitation we had experienced recently (and the groundstaff, of course). Thankfully, the rain abated mid-way through our drive to Taunton, meaning that the worst environmental risk at the Cygnet Health Care was the ever present irritant of the post-rain midges. With them – and the Taunton fans – in full force, referee Stuart Kane got proceedings underway.
Almost immediately my preconceptions of the match were blown away, when Yate took a second minute lead through number 8, Luke Spokes, a summer signing from Mangotsfield United. It was so sudden, I actually didn’t see it at all, and so have to rely on Grass Roots Tourist Senior’s version of events. A long ball through – apparently – arrived at the feet of Spokes in the centre of goal, and his first time shot took a deflection, which ended up beating Lloyd Irish and nestling in the bottom corner.
In all honesty, I was convinced that this would be an aberration, and that Taunton would pick up where they left of last season, and soon establish themselves on the match, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was simply not the same Taunton Town as last season. On seven minutes the visitors created a second opportunity, when a dangerous free kick delivery from the right was headed over the Taunton crossbar.
It was around the quarter of an hour mark that Taunton fashioned their first chance, and it was no surprise that Andrew “Rocky” Neal was at the centre of it. Neal finished the last campaign with 29 goals, finishing third in the Golden Boot race behind Brandon Goodship and Toby Holmes. He was a busy presence up front for Taunton, and his energy deserved better than the end result. On this occasion, he nicked the ball through to Dan Sullivan, but the ball just wouldn’t drop quick enough for him, and his shot sailed high.
On 20 minutes, a Taunton corner was flicked on at the near post and was half-cleared to Sullivan. His shot was a much cleaner connection this time, and although it beat all the defenders and the ‘keeper, it couldn’t beat Yate’s twelfth man – the post. Clearly Sullivan was frustrated by this, because just a few short minutes he reacted angrily to a challenge by former Wales Universities midfielder Adam Price, and a textbook “3am outside Vodka Revs” shoving match took place, complete with Mr Kane taking on the role of ignored peacemaker. It was getting a little testy, and on 29 minutes Jamie Price was lucky to avoid a booking for a tackle so late it’s been pressed into service as a South West Railways train.
With 38 on the clock, Matt Wright almost got to grips with a Shane White corner, but it was squirted wide off the foot of Sam Kamara. The corner which followed came even closer to being converted, as it was half-cleared, only to be scooped into the box by Naby Diallo, who arrived in June from Weston-super-Mare. His cross evaded the whole defence, arriving at the diving head of Rocky Neal, but from an awkward position he could only head over, much to the relief of Adam Forster.
Two minutes later, Matt Wright headed over another corner when unchallenged, before Neal forced Forster into a good save on the stroke of half time. He picked up a loose ball ten yards outside the box, and rifled in a drive which Forster did well to parry. Yate Town a goal to the good at the break, but I felt that Taunton could still come out on top. Yate had restricted the Peacocks to half chances and set pieces, but I was sure if Taunton could adjust their style a little they could take the win. An over reliance on Wright’s aerial ability was holding them back in the first half, as Nicholas Peare and Sam Boulton stood up admirably to the test. Wright still won more than he lost, but it was always under serious pressure.
However, Taunton didn’t adapt, and instead it was the visitors who came out fired up to improve on their first half performance. Sam Kamara continued where he left off before the break, controlling the game from the position of midfield anchorman. A minute in, Adam Forster picked up a yellow card when he pulled down Neal who caught him possession outside his box, then with 52 played Jake Lee cut in from the right and hit a shot which deflected wide for a corner.
That corner would prove crucial, as it was where the Bluebells doubled their lead, and effectively ended any Taunton Town resistance. The Spokes delivery was right on the money, and at the back post, Nicholas Peare got up highest, marked only by Jake Lee – his own teammate. Peare headed down into the corner, and the gig was up. The club captain’s header was placed exactly where it needed to be, but Rob Dray will be furious with how much space he was afforded.
On sixty minutes a bad day for Taunton took on Daniel Powter-esque proportions as Yate added a third, again from the right boot of Luke Spokes, adding to his earlier goal and assist. With Spokes 35 yards from goal and seemingly no danger, he looked up, and seeing no defenders coming to close him down, unleased an unstoppable dipping, curling shot into the top corner. The finish was the highest moment of quality in the match so far, and Lloyd Irish had no chance.
Five minutes later, substitute Josh Grant had a shot blocked from the right hand side of the box, before left back Lewis Hall headed the rebound goalwards. Having dived for the initial shot, Forster looked out of the picture, but the Hartpury University student recovered excellently to tip the ball over the bar.
Then, on 68 minutes, as Taunton sought desperately to get back into the match, Rocky Neal worked a half chance on the left. His shot deflected into the ground off the foot of the covering defender, taking it past Forster. It bounced agonisingly towards the line, clipped the post, and then was hacked clear by a grateful Yate player. It felt then that Taunton could play until Boris Johnson makes a sensible suggestion and still not score – whenever they did make it into a goalscoring position, a combination of luck and backs to the wall defending stopped them.
With twenty minutes left, Taunton came the closest they had yet, when Shane White connected with a corner, but saw his header cleared off the line. Taunton had been effective from set pieces (that was about all they were effective from), but when they finally beat Forster and the post, Yate had a man spare on the goalline, and maintained their clean sheet.
On 73 minutes Olly Chamberlain took a snapshot from range which Forster held easily, and then of 89 minutes James Ollis – off the bench – scored almost an exact replica of Spokes’ earlier shot, to get the Bath City loannee off the mark for Yate Town. Four nil, and hard earned for Yate Town, but the Taunton players looked like they couldn’t wait to just start again on Saturday.
The Wash Up
I don’t think many of the 545 in attendance would have predicted that result pre-match, and I suspect that lumping on a 4-0 victory for the Bluebells would have netted you a healthy profit at the bookies. That said, it was well-deserved. Complaints by Taunton fans of time-wasting fall on deaf ears when a team runs out winners by a four goal margin, and in all honesty, a better side than Yate would probably have taken them for double that.
That’s not to take anything away from the visitors – they earned that victory, and will comfortably be safe come the end of the season if they can repeat that intensity and clinical counter-attacking. They came up a Taunton Town outfit in serious need of substantial improvement, and they took full advantage. With the exception of the ever-busy Matt Wright and Rocky Neal, it’s difficult to pick out any of the Taunton players for praise, with the Peacocks lacking in energy and creativity from start to finish. Rob Dray needs to do some thinking, and fast, because another two to three weeks of this and they’ll be out of the running before we even reach October. Crucial to that will be getting Ryan Brett up to speed, because the midfield was non-existent in this match.
As for the visitors, there were nine out ten performances right across the pitch. They were fitter, and looked to get stronger as the match went on. The packed defence was resolute, and despite Wright’s typically combative performance, he got very little change out of Nicholas Peare. When Taunton did manage to threaten, they found Adam Forster in inspired form – but the two stars of the performance were Luke Spokes and Sam Kamara. Spokes opened the scoring, and added to the rout with a stunning right footed curler from range, whilst Kamara controlled everything from the base of midfield. A similar height to Claude Makelele, he played that role as well as you’ll see it done at Step Three – always available, always ready to disrupt the play, and always with the technique to retain possession. Kamara was the metronome on which Yate’s performance was built, and a deserved recipient of my first Man of the Match award of the nonleague season.
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