Wisbech Town 1, Walsham-le-Willows 1
STEVE Appleby was a very disappointed manager after this opening game in the Thurlow Nunn League and hopeful that the home draw will prove a wake-up call for his players.
There is little doubt the team underachieved at the Elgood’s Fenland Stadium on Saturday but at the same time a league title is never won on the first game of the new season as Appleby in a more reflective mood was quick to point out: “Two seasons ago we beat Leiston away on the opening day and they ran away with the league title that season.”
Six wins and a draw in the seven preseason friendlies had left the fans with great expectations but unfortunately the players did not produce that form on this occasion.
It was a disappointing start to the game from Wisbech whose build up play at times looked sharp but the final ball was letting them down too often.
However, there was hope of better to come when Callum Reed beat a player on the right of the box and drove a fierce low ball across the face of the goal. The ball struck the legs of Nathan Birch and nestled in the corner of the net to give the home side the lead on 19 minutes.
Unfortunately the goal did not really lift the Wisbech performance and indeed but for some good defending from skipper Paul Cousins it could have been worse for them.
Lea Jordan had to have two attempts to save a well struck shot from distance and Cousins got his body in the way of a goalbound effort from Will Brown. Too often Wisbech’s 3-5-2 formation allowed the visitors’ front three to cause problems on the break and that is how their equaliser came about three minutes into the second half.
Wisbech were stretched at the back from a quick break and forced to give away a corner and Owen Hughes was unmarked to head home past Jordan.
Soon after Appleby abandoned the formation and went four at the back with Simon Mowbray, who had been ineffectual up front, and Stacy Cartwright replaced by Jon Fairweather and Scott Johnson. The switch brought the Fenmen quickly back into the game as a live threat.
Johnson’s cross from the left was met by Steven Reid’s foot eight yards out but the Walsham goalkeeper Duncan McAnally did very well to claw the goalbound ball away for a corner.
Five minutes later Wisbech had another great chance to go ahead again when Dubi Ogbonna’s shot was blocked, but Adam Millson could only fire wide with only the keeper to beat from 12 yards.
Walsham continued to look dangerous on the break and Brown was narrowly over the crossbar when trying to chip Jordan.
In the last five minutes Wisbech put a lot of pressure on the Walsham goal and Ogbonna came closest to a winner when he struck the post from five yards out from a Reed cross.
Appleby did not mince his words with the players after the game and then commented: “The players have to realise that clubs are not going to lay down. We had three hard games against Walsham last season.
“We told the players at the break to start believing in themselves and play our own game, but we got involved in a scrappy game and kept hitting long balls for their two tall centre backs to snap up.
“We were flat all round and to be honest the high expectancy seems to have weighed heavily on the players today. We have to forget all the hype and get on with it.
“I had to change things to four at the back because we looked like conceding again. Then we had two good chances soon after and when Dubi hit the post you knew then it was not going to be our day.
“We have to try and get some positives out of it but on the day perhaps we are not as good as everyone thinks we are.
“We had four missing today and that hurts anyone but that is no excuse as we still had a good squad out there.”
Wisbech certainly did miss top scorer Chris Bacon leading the line and with Jimson and Lunn also missing did not have any attacking options on the bench. I would certainly not give up Wisbech’s title aspirations on the back of one result.
There is too much quality in the side for that. On Saturday too many players did not bring their A game to the table but there were good performances from Cousins, Ogbonna and McGeorge.
Wisbech: Lea Jordan, Neal Spafford, Paul Cousins, Stacy Cartwright, Callum Reed, Steven Reid, Rogan McGeorge, Adam Millson, Ollie Gale; Dubi Ogbonna, Simon Mowbray.
Subs used: Jon Fairweather, Scott Johnson.