Albion edged out in Season's tasty opener
By Phil Chadwick
Fiery encounter sees debutant Smart dismissed
This very first league encounter proved to be a lively encounter throughout with Shields just edging the scoring but fortunate to not to have finished with less players on the field than Albion, who had Billy Smart dismissed in stoppage time.
The Witton newbie had been the main target for several illegal challenges, especially in the first half, however when he found himself in the top right corner of the pitch as Albion strived for a second equaliser he found himself once more involved with Carl Finnigan that saw referee Stephen Dial produce an instant red card.
The Mariners Park pitch looked truly resplendent as the game commenced and with five minutes on the clock came the first goal chance, River Humphreys’s under hit pass being pounced on by Josh Gillies who ended up sending his shot well to the left of target. Debutant keeper Greg Hall, in the 13th minute getting injured in the process, produced a stunning save denying Finnigan, from point blank range, after the striker had got a touch on an effort by Blair Adams.
Witton, although having plenty of possession, didn’t threaten the home goal until the 29th minute when a nice lay-off saw James Foley strike a low 20 yarder that went narrowly wide of the right upright. Hall again came to the rescue in the 36th minute going down well between feet to again deny Finnigan following Craig Baxter’s whipped in cross from the right.
Following a bit of nonsense five minutes before the break between Smart and Finnigan, after another foul had been committed, the free-kick was cleared upfield resulting in Adams hitting his 20 yard effort just over the crossbar. Albion had done a pretty good marking job but when Danny McKenna allowed home skipper Robert Briggs to get his cross in, Finnigan seized on the opportunity on the stroke of half-time.
Three minutes after the resumption it was back to all square, Will Jones slipping the ball through to Foley on the left of the area, keeper Liam Connell seeing the danger only succeeded in bringing Jay down conceding a soft penalty that James Foley managed to convert despite the keeper getting a hand to. Connell obviously angry with himself etc subsequently received a caution from Mr Dial. (Thanks to Vijay Anthwal for video)
The 52nd minute saw good approach work from Foley and James Yates put Tom Owens in but somehow he couldn’t celebrate his 100th appearance with a goal, totally unable to produce a clean shot the ball ballooning up for Connell to easily catch. Adams then came the second Shield player cautioned when fouling Smart. As the hour mark approached Josh Wardle saw the opportunity to strive upfield only to be blocked by Dillon Morse that brought another yellow from Mr Dial.
The match winning goal came in the 82nd minute in very similar circumstances although it was Yates this time with only a half-challenge that allowed Gillies time to pick out Finnigan to nod the ball home.
5 minutes from time Foley was rightly cautioned for fouling Ursene Mouanda but the manner of certainly a couple of Shields’s players when running some distance to barge themselves into what eventually became a 20 man scuffle beggared belief when neither were even cautioned, instead it was just Mouanda along with Jay.
When play was eventually restored it was to be Albion who finished stronger, Matty Devine and Rob Hopley linking to give Delial Brewster a shot on goal that was blocked by Adams. Cesaire Lingouba was then fouled on the edge of the box with Foley’s free-kick deflected for a corner. Hopley just failed to get a head on the flag-kick the ball ending up in the corner where Smart and Finnigan were.
Smart will now miss three games from next Saturday so all in all an opening day defeat but lots of positives to build on.
Many thanks to NICOLA BOGUE and VIJAY ANTHWAL for supplying the photographs from this game