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Villa made the long round trip to Vickerstown missing five players who would probably have started had they been available, although according to one local it at least, it would appear that the home side were similarly bereft. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the tentative start and a first half that was largely uneventfully. Villa looked considerably more at it in the second and took control, though it was the same old same old as inability to finish yet again when in the ascendancy denied the Euxton side the victory that they arguably just about merited. That said, Vickerstown were always dangerous on the break, and should have had a penalty which could easily have resulted in an even more disappointing afternoon for the few diehards who made the trip.
Kick off was nearly five minutes late as the officials ticked off the latest list of things the FA have decreed are unacceptable..... doesn’t matter if you ‘spleen’ somebody as long as you’ve got the right underwear on! Eventually Villa began defending the clubhouse end on what was a beautiful if somewhat enervating afternoon, with, despite the absentees, a familiar look to the starting line-up.
A bit of early sparring to settle any butterflies, then the first real chance fell to the visitors eleven minutes in when Sam Bolton found Alf Gutteridge with a raking pass down the left, and he in turn found Matt Plano at the far post, but the midfielder scooped the effort harmlessly wide. Less than two minutes later the home side should have done better when Pearson shot high from a Patterson nod down.
Play stuttered along for another ten minutes or so before a couple of free kicks offered some opportunity to draw first blood. First a well floated Vickerstown effort was headed just over by centre back Sharp, then Gavin Cooper for Villa curled one round the post where any kind of touch would surely have turned it in. And again for the home side, Jackson whipped a quality free into the danger area, but again the telling touch was missing.
As the half drew to a close, Wright went close when Villa lost possession at the back, Cooper hit the wall with another free, and Greg Johnstone worked an opening for himself, but got no power behind the eventual shot.
Villa emerged from the dressing room with a bit more spring in the step, and Plano had a shot deflected past with less than a minute of the second half elapsed. Gutteridge received an excellent pass from Stuart Howson, worked an opening, but fired wide, and Johnstone fired a free kick from twenty five yards into the wall. Meanwhile, down the other end, Pearson shot wide on the run from a quick breakaway.
Villa were now enjoying the bulk of the play, and Gutteridge shot wide again with better options available, and again Vickerstown broke quickly and were extremely unlucky not to see the referee point to the spot when Rick Wood appeared to push over his opponent as he was about to pull the trigger.
As the match unfolded, you began to get the feeling that in spite of their territorial advantage, Villa were going to struggle to make it count, and there was the ever present danger that a mistake, of which there were more than a few, would let the opposition in.
Howson headed into the arms of Belcher after probably Villa’s bets move of the match had culminated in a Gutteridge cross. Mark Warburton, looking sharp coming from the bench after a horrendous time with injury last season, was causing trouble with his willingness to run at the opposition, and he set up Johnstone in a good position, but a weak shot was easily dealt with by the youthful keeper.
Villa should have grabbed all three points as the game entered stoppage time, when a pacy move saw Johnstone pass to Greg ‘Crouchy’ Anderton who was clearly fouled, though the referee rightly played a good advantage as the ball broke to Gutteridge bearing down on goal with the keeper stranded, but as the angle narrowed impossibly, the striker elected to try to squeeze home when a simple cut back would have found colleagues queuing up to tap it in.
So in the end not a lot to shout about, but nevertheless better than losing the opening match, and when all said and done Vickerstown are no pushover and coming away with a point is no disgrace. As is usual on the opening day, some of the results raised a few eyebrows s we caught the update on Bay Radio on the way home (perhaps they will brush up on their pronunciation before next week). And things don’t get any easier as Villa make the short trip to Coppull on Tuesday evening, looking to continue the good run they have enjoyed there in recent years.
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