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Midweek derby – what the managers thought

 Midweek derby – what the managers thought

Action from the Tigers win over Crediton United. Picture SARAH MCCABE

Sidmouth Town travelled to Tiger Way, Axminster for match number 12 in their South West Peninsula League Premier East campaign looking to try and end a run of 11 straight league defeats since the opening game of the 2021/22 season.

The Vikings travelled down to Tiger Way having lost all previous 11 league games, conceding 45 goals and scoring 13. They had also lost an FA Vase tie, beaten 10-2 at home by Western League Division One table topping Welton Rovers.

Scoring goals has not been an issue for the Vikings for they have scored in 10 of the 12 games – 11 league and one FA Vase tie – failing only to score in the August 21, 3-0 defeat at Plymouth Marjon and, most recently their September 18, 3-0 defeat at home to Elburton Villa. However, given the fact they had shipped 55 in 12 games – an average of almost six a game – a 0-0 Wednesday night draw at Axminster Town can be considered something of a moral victory!

To give credit to Sidmouth Town manager Danny Burwood, he had always said, even as his team lost game after game, that they had it them to get results in many of the games they had contested this season, but a mix of not being able to field a consistent and settled back four combined with the lack of a regular finisher and far too many individual errors in the final third, had resulted in their desperate run. However, what he had always advocated was that the main ingredient that was missing for his team was that all important one of self-belief!

On Wednesday night, the Vikings were more than ‘good value’ for the point they banked at Tiger Way and, but for the width of the upright, the depth of the crossbar and the fact that a gilt-edged chance went begging with just 30 seconds of the game remaining, they’d have gone back to Manstone Lane with all three points!

Burwood said: “There were times in recent weeks when I did begin to wonder if we’d ever enjoy this sort of a moment together this season.

“To be fair to the lads, they have never stopped giving their all, they have simply been short on self-belief and that is so very understandable given the run we have been on.

“I have said from day one of our pre-season that, at Manstone Lane, we are privileged to be involved with such a great club where the behind-the-scenes back up is simply second to none. We have a superb surface at Manstone Lane to play on and, in terms of the playing side of things, we have a good squad with enough collective quality to be in a very different position than the one we have occupied since game one.”

As for the fact that, on another day, his team might well have won the game by a couple of goals margin, the Vikings’ boss said: “We were able to field Ethan [Salter] and Sam [Webber] as a ‘two’ in central midfield and the pair were superb throughout. We recently lost Ethan to Exmouth Town as the lad, quite naturally, wants to play at the highest level he can. Fortunately, he can be duel signed which means we can use him when Exmouth either don’t have a game or he is not needed as part of their matchday planning.

“James Clark is another who stepped in – and stepped up – from the club’s second team – he’s joined us from Exmouth Rovers and he was another to serve up a terrific individual shift as was Piers McLoughlan, who had become disillusioned and needed a break, but now he has come back to help us out – and very successfully – for this game at Axminster Town – I am so hopeful that he might have enjoyed it enough to play some more for us. And then there is the catalyst to the whole performance – the glue that kept everything together – and that was Danny [Clay] who played the centre half role and was our rock from first minute to last.”

He continued: “It’s funny really because, and I can go back since goodness knows when with this one, but every time I have been to Axminster Town, and for longer than I care to remember, I seem to always come away with a draw. Before the game on Wednesday night, I was itching to tell the lads of that quirky fact – but I resisted the temptation as I did not want to jinx anything – so, at full time, I was quick to tell myself it had been the right decision not to tempt fate and tell thae lads before kick-off!

As for the chances we created – and there were a few – we had Scott [Hughes} seeing an effort hit the post while Will [Jenkins] rattled the bar and then, in what was the final minute, Jake [Boyland] has got away and yours truly had come on for the last 15 minutes and I was willing him to cut it back but he chose to square it where it was met by Scott who, from six yards out, found the keeper making himself big and the glovesman deflected the ball onto the frame of the goal and the ‘chance’ was gone. Hand on heart, I’d like to think even many of the home faithful watching the game would have gone away thinking that perhaps, of the two teams, it ought to have been the away side taking the three points.”

Given that the Vikings boss had stuck with the club through thick and thin, his number two Kevin Tooze beside him every step of the way, it begged the question: ‘Why’?

The Vikings boss replied: “Because, as I have already said, Sidmouth Town Football Club is a very special club and not in the habit of making panicked and ill thought through decisions. The fact that the club have stood by myself and ‘Toozey’ (Town number two Kevin Tooze) speaks absolute volumes for what the management committee at Manstone Lane are all about. When you get such support – and we enjoy similar from a very honest bunch of players – you want to stick with them and it, and that is why were are both still working hard to find that formula that changes our fortunes.

There is an awful lot still to play for and, just as a league is not won in October or November, nor is relegation decided and so we are very clear as to the path we are wanting to follow and, if we can begin to find some form of consistency, particularly in the central defensive positions, then there really is only one way for us to be going and that will be up the Premier East table.”

Next up for Sidmouth Town is a Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup tie at home to Premier West side Falmouth Town. The Cornish men are top of the table after winning all 12 of their games so far, scoring no fewer than 53 goals and conceding just 10! Surely, given the buzz there must have been after the Wednesday night result, the last thing that the Manstone Lane management would want for their team?

However, Danny Burwood cannot wait to send his side into action against Saturday’s visitors.

He says: “They [Falmouth Town] will be coming with a large support which will make for a great atmosphere at Manstone Lane. Piers [MacLauchlan] is certainly able to play and we hope above hope that Danny [Clay] will have received from his Wednesday night efforts to once again give us the benefit of his vast experience – and quality – because a Sidmouth Town side with Danny in it is far better than one without him!”

As for the task ahead against the Cornishmen, the Vikings boss says: “Let’s face it – in pure football terms, they are top of their division and we are rock bottom of ours so it’s a no brainer – a comfortable afternoon for them. But, and it’s a bigger but after Wednesday nights performance and result, this is a cup tie and so it is, arguably, a ‘free hit’ for us. What I am looking for and indeed, hoping for, is that the lads go out and enjoy doing what they do. They showed that at Tiger Way and now I want them to take to the task on Saturday looking to continue what they did in midweek. As long as they come off tAxhe pitch at 4.45pm knowing they have given their all – and I am sure they will – then I will be very content.”

Axminster Town boss Dan Prettejohn was very complementary about the Sidmouth Town performance, but he bemoaned his own sides continuing problem of, for some reason, not being able to put away a side in a midweek local derby – previously the Tigers have lost 2-0 at Honiton and 2-0 at Cullompton and now this 0-0 at home to the divisions basement side.

The Tigers boss says: “Purely from a football point of view we have got to be so disappointed both with our performance and the result and I mean that in terms of the league table and the fact that we were looking to win against a visiting side that had lost all 12 games they had played this season. However, and not for the first time this term, we have not delivered in a ‘derby’ game. Yes, some of it has to be put down to the performance of the opposition and, to be fair, they [Sidmouth Town] did play well and I’d have to say that if they play like that for the rest of the season they’ll soon climb the table.”

He continued: “However, as well as Sidmouth Town did play, I need to focus on us and what we did not do right. We sat at length after the game and spoke about this whole issue. The lads were told that this cannot keep happening for we leave ourselves open to the accusation of perhaps being ‘derby bottlers’ – and I know we are much better than that. I know what is going wrong and I can put it down to us being drawn into a game the opposition want to play rather than stamping our authority on proceedings and looking to make sure that – from first minute to last – the game is played as we want it played.

We did that at Plymouth Marjon on Saturday and I don’t doubt we will see a similar ‘reaction’ in our cup game this Saturday. It is a shame that we have now dropped eight points out of nine in these three midweek games and a glance at the table shows just how much we’d have benefited from winning all three games and, no disrespect to the opposition in the midweek games – but we ought to be beating them.”

On Saturday, the Tigers once again play host to a team sitting at the bottom of their divisions. In Saturday’s case they entertain South West Peninsula League Premier West basement dwellers St Dennis in a Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup tie.

The Cornish side have lost all 12 of their league games so far, scoring just nine games and conceding 54.

The Tigers boss says: “It’s another banana skin for sure but I am rather relived that it’s a Saturday banana skin and not a midweek one for, as we have already been over many times, we struggle in midweek, but not so on Saturday’s!

“We will send the team out on Saturday reminding them how disappointing they were before an excellent Tiger Way crowd on Wednesday night – and my thanks go to each and everyone of the supporters who paid their hard earned cash to watch the Wednesday night game – it is appreciated and I hope we replay you for that support this Saturday in the cup tie”.

Stephen Birley

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