Saturday, May 16, 2015

My football season review for 2014-15

The dust has settled on another football season for most clubs. Admittedly there’s another round of matches to go in the Premier League and, of course, the final of the FA Cup, but I don’t think I’ll be going to any more games this year, so I’m calling it over.

It’s been a good season for me. I went to the most matches in a season since I was a teenager in 1994-95. It was a good season for Shrewsbury Town too, as they got promoted as runners-up of League 2. I saw them get presented with the trophy on the last day of the league season. The last game I saw was a cup final that ended in a penalty shoot-out; exciting and awful in equal measure.

I’m going to go through the games on an individual basis, but here are some overall stats:
Season: 2014-15
Total games: 13
Most goals in a game: 9
Least goals in a game: 0 (twice)
Total goals seen: 37 (not including a penalty shoot-out)
Number of football grounds visited: 8 (4 of which I’d never visited before)

Shrewsbury Town v Newport County                    
20/09/2014, Skybet League 2
Shrewsbury had been on a great run of form, winning all 4 home league games before Newport visited. I can’t remember much about the game, except it was pretty dire. Newport set up to defend and Shrewsbury couldn’t break them down. It was not an auspicious start to my season.  Result: 0-0

Shrewsbury Town v Cheltenham Town
11/10/2014, Skybet League 2
The problem with writing this up so long after the event is it’s hard to remember what happened. Fortunately I made some notes at the time: “All the goals came in the second half and Cheltenham scored first. There was a rainbow over the opposite stand at one point. It poured down just before kick-off, all during the cheerleaders’ routine, then stopped when they’d finished. God must hate cheerleaders!” (I’m glad I’d made a note. I’d forgotten about the cheerleaders.) Result: 3-1

Paulton Rovers v Poole Town
25/10/2014, Evo-Stik Southern Premier Division
Close to the action at Paulton Rovers
My friend Steve has followed Poole Town – the Mighty Dolphins – for many years and invited me to the depths of Somerset to see them play. I was glad I went as it turned out to be an eventful game. Poole were challenging near the top of the table, but were soon 2-0 down. They pulled it back to 2-2 before conceding a third to trail 3-2 at half-time. I then stood in the slowest-moving tea queue in the history of civilised snack-bar patronage. We swapped ends at half time to stand behind the Paulton goal. We were so close to the action, several Dolphins fans engaged the goalkeeper in humorous comments. But the play was at the other end to start with and soon Paulton were 4-2 up. Poole fought back, getting a goal and then getting a very dodgy penalty, which they converted for 4-4. With two minutes to go, Poole finally went in front, to prove the fans who were singing “We’re going to win 5-4” right. Result: 4-5

Shrewsbury Town v Chelsea
28/10/2014, Capital One Cup (League Cup) round 3
The view from the South Stand as Shrewsbury and Chelsea line up
This was my first Tuesday night Shrewsbury game since they moved into their new stadium in 2007, and it was the first time I’d been in the South Stand behind the goal. It was the place to be as well, as Shrewsbury’s Andy Mangan scored an equaliser in the second half right in front of us. The goal prompted Jose Mourinho to send on some of his first-teamers. For a brief few minutes it really felt like Shrewsbury could have the eventual Premier League Champions. But Chelsea got a second goal and killed the game to avoid an embarrassing reverse. One Chelsea player, apparently the Egyptian captain, struck the worst mishit shot I’ve ever seen. From the left hand corner of the area, it eventually went out for a throw in on the right hand side further away from the goal than the player was when he hit it. World Cup winner Andre Schurrle also played for Chelsea, one of his few games before he got transferred back to the continent. It was a great game, but unfortunately the road south through Shropshire was closed for roadworks, meaning I had a detour through nether Mordor (as I call it) in the dark. I was thoroughly knackered when I got home. Result: 1-2

Shrewsbury Town v Wycombe Wanderers
28/12/2014, Skybet League 2
Both teams shake hands. Horrible away kit!
Exactly two months after the Chelsea game, I was back in the Greenhous Meadow for this game on the Sunday between Christmas and Easter. This was a real top of the table clash, but it wasn’t a great game. Wycombe were wearing a horrible change strip that faded from yellow to orange (the photo doesn’t do it justice). My Mum commented that “It looks like they are melting ice lollies.” Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg was the man in the middle. He seemed pernickety, although he didn’t really have a lot to do. Town got the ball in the net twice, but both efforts were ruled out for offside or a foul in the build-up. It was definitely a case of missed opportunities and my second 0-0 of the season. I was beginning to think I was a jinx. Result: 0-0

Newport County v Shrewsbury Town
31/01/2015, Skybet League 2
The closest ‘away’ game of the season, ten minutes on the train and a fifteen minute walk on a sunny January day. Newport share their ground, Rodney Parade, with the rugby club and the pitch looked like a rugby pitch. One end of the ground is completely open to the elements and a keen wind blew through it. The game wasn’t much better than the pitch, settled by a single goal when Shrewsbury's Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro shimmied past two defenders and beat the goalkeeper at the near post. It surprised everybody, including, it seemed, him. Result: 0-1

Caerau (Ely) AFC v Carmarthen Town                     
07/02/2015, Welsh Cup round 4
My friend Steve mentioned that Kieran, a lad we both know, played for Caerau Ely in the South Wales League and we could go and see him sometime. Then I saw they were playing Carmarthen Town of the Welsh Premier League in the fourth round of the Welsh Cup – the furthest Caerau Ely had ever progressed in the competition. So we decided to go. Kieran wasn’t playing as he was recovering from an injury. (He was on the bench though). The game was pretty even and Caerau probably had the better chances in normal time. But it finished 0-0 after ninety minutes and went to extra time. Carmarthen scored a minute into extra time then got a penalty, with Caerau’s central defender getting a red card as well. The penalty was converted and Carmarthen scored twice more before the midway point of extra time, to win by a flattering four goal margin. Result: 0-4 (aet)

Queens Park Rangers v Everton
22/03/2015, Premier League
One of the QPR mascots
Along with Poole Town, Steve is also a lifelong fan of QPR, so he invited me to go see them. This was the second game of the season that I went to on a Sunday. QPR were desperate for points near the bottom of the league and played like it. Everton led with a goal out of nowhere in the first half. QPR equalised in the second half and were pushing on to get a second when Everton hit them on the break and Aaron Lennon scored the eventual winner for them. This was the first time I remember seeing a ref using the ‘vanishing spray’ at free kicks, and also those moving electronic advertising hoardings around three edges of the ground – they don’t bother putting them on the side where the TV cameras are as they wouldn’t show on TV. Coming back the M4 was blocked by an accident, so we turned off and moseyed through Berkshire, meaning I saw Windsor Castle close up for the first time. Result: 1-2

Wales U21 v Bulgaria U21            
31/03/2015, UEFA U21 Championship Qualifier
Bulgaria turn to face east during the anthem
A young lad called Dom Smith who has come through the ranks at Shrewsbury was called up to the Wales Under-21 squad for this game, so I hoped he would get a game. It was at Cardiff City Stadium, within walking distance of home, so I went along. Dom made his debut, coming on as a substitute after one of the starting centre backs was concussed in a challenge. Bulgaria scored while the guy was prone on the halfway line, but by then they were 3-0 down so in the end it didn’t matter. Bad sportsmanship, though. Result: 3-1

Shrewsbury Town v Exeter City
11/04/2015, Skybet League 2
Steve hadn’t been to the Greenhous Meadow, although he had seen QPR play at the old Gay Meadow a couple of times. With Shrewsbury doing quite well in the league, I hoped this would be a game worth going to. I was not disappointed. I have never seen Shrewsbury play this well. They dominated their opponents, who were not a bad side. Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro got two goals, but the best goal of the game was right at the end, a thunderbolt from the edge of the area from Tyrone Barnett. There was also a funny moment when a load of rubbish escaped from the wheelie bins in the corner between the stands and blew on the pitch, prompting a chorus of "What a load of rubbish!" from the fans. A steward ran on to pick up the cardboard and plastic, which kept blowing away from him, prompting a chant of "You don't know what you;re doing!" Fair play, he laughed as well. Result: 4-0         

Cheltenham Town v Shrewsbury Town
25/04/2015, Skybet League 2
The Cheltenham mascot chats
 to a Town fan before the game

Cheltenham were staring relegation out of the league in the face for this game, while Shrewsbury needed to win to guarantee promotion. The game was decided by a farcical first-half goal credited to Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro, although it bounced off a defender and into the goal. Cheltenham really pushed to get something back and Shrewsbury’s Swiss goalie Jayson Leutweiler (playing on his birthday) made some tremendous saves, including a double save in the second half. It was Shrewsbury’s 23rd clean sheet of the season – a record for them. The away end was a sell-out but the seat next to my brother, Dave, was free, mysteriously, so we spent the second half cheering the lads on together. At the final whistle loads of Shrewsbury fans ran on the pitch to celebrate. I didn’t, as I felt that was disrespectful to Cheltenham.  Result: 0-1            

Shrewsbury Town v Plymouth Argyle
02/05/2015, Skybet League 2
This was meant to be the promotion party, but Shrewsbury were a goal down after two minutes and just never seemed likely to get back into it. Plymouth needed to win to get into the play-offs. If Shrewsbury had won and Burton Albion had lost, then Shrewsbury would have been champions. This time round I had the spare seat in a sell-out stadium next to me, so Dave joined me for the second half. It's strange how these things work out. As we heard news that Burton were trailing, it looked like Shrewsbury were throwing away the title. But in the end Burton won 3-2 and Town's result was moot. Shrewsbury got presented with the runner’s up trophy instead. It was not a great way to end the season, with the heaviest home defeat of the year, but it was a good season over all, with Town amassing a record number of points. Result: 0-2

Caerau (Ely) AFC v Taff's Well FC              
15/05/2015, South Wales League Cup Final          
My friend Kieran did get to play in this game, held at Jenner Park in Barry, a ground I’d never been to before. Caerau had three very good chances in the first half, but somehow didn’t score. They got as close as hitting the inside of the post. Taff’s Well led 1-0 at half time having hit Caerau on the break with a very good cross finding a man in the box to strike home. Caerau equalised late in the second half to force extra time, by which time there were a lot of very tired players out there, particularly as both sides had been reduced to ten men. Extra time played out and it went to penalties. Caerau scored their first three, while Taff’s Well missed two of their first three. Leading 3-1, Caerau had the opportunity to win the cup for the first time in their history. They were already league champions. This would be a historic double. But it was not to be. They missed their next three penalties, including the first one in ‘sudden death’, and it was Taff’s Well who took home the trophy. It was the third time they had won it in four seasons. A penalty shoot-out was a very exciting way to end the last game of the season. Result: 1-1 (aet), Taff’s Well won 4-3 on penalties.

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