Reds fly as Yellows stun Blues
By Luke Edwards
Exactly 90 days after our historic FA Vase triumph at Wembley, we kicked off our return to the Southern League with Gloucestershire's Yate Town making the visit to Waterside Park.
Ahead of the game Assistant Manager Andy Darnton had forewarned that tougher challenges lay ahead in this division, with Yate posing a physical threat, and this certainly became evident in the opening exchanges; the visitors forcing Chris Rackley into a save almost straight from kick-off.
With four summer signings in the starting line-up, along with potential opening day nerves, it was perhaps no surprise that we took some time to settle into our groove and it was new signing Lewis Coyle that was involved in our brighter chances as the half progressed.
He combined well with last season's top scorer Shane Cooper-Clark to release the number 9 beyond the centre-half, but Cooper-Clark's effort was put clear of the bar.
Coyle had the next chance a couple of minutes later, after a long throw-in from Curtis Angell on the left was headed back to him on the edge of the area, but again the volley missed the target.
The threat of the visitors was plain to see around the 25 minute mark, as wasteful play by us in the attacking third, with men committed, saw Yate intercept and break at pace, before an optimistic drive from distance had Rackley acrobatically leaping to stop the ball from finding the top corner.
Yate Town's keeper was the next stopper in action, as he was almost caught out by Coyle who hit a free-kick towards the top corner, taking everyone by surprise as they expected a cross into the box.
As the half progressed we grew into the game and the frequency and intensity of our attacks increased, with Ekow Elliott and Coyle combining up the right flank before the latter flashed a dangerous looking ball across goal which Cooper-Clark was unable to connect with.
The fans, coaches and players would have entered the second half with confidence, buoyed by our first half performance, but this soon took a hit as Scott Rees saw red just three minutes into the half for an off-the-ball tussle with Yate's Joe Guest.
Credit has to go to our 10 men, as, rather than capitulating, they doggedly remained competitive with Ekow dropping deeper to fill the hole left by Rees in support of Tom Melledew in the centre of the park. The next chance fell to Cooper-Clark as he engineered a shooting opportunity outside the area on the inside left, but he dragged the shot wide.
Yate followed this with a now rare chance - their number 9 breaking our defensive line and attempting to head past Rackley, but our number 1 was equal to it, before Ekow launched a quick attack at the other end, freeing up James Tennant whose low cross was cut out by the centre half.
Parity was restored around 20 minutes into the second half as Yate's Adam Price was sent for an early bath following a clash with Gareth Thomas near the halfway line which evoked memories of Beckham, Simeone and France '98. From the resultant free-kick, skipper Melledew lofted the ball into the area with Tennant knocking it on towards the far post where debutant centre-half Matt Scott was disappointed to see his header come back off the woodwork.
Sadly for the Kingfishers, if you don't take your chances at this level, you risk living to regret it, and this turned out to be the case, as, against the run of play, Nick Peare found space in the area and squeezed a shot in between Rackley and his near post to give the visitors the lead.
Despite a late rally, fuelled by a flurry of substitutions, we were just unable to claw our way back in to the game and our Southern League campaign starts with defeat.
Join us on the road on Tuesday night, as we travel to Winchester City for a 7.45 PM kick-off, before returning to Waterside Park for the visit of Bemerton Heath Harlequins in the FA Cup Preliminary Round at 3 PM next Saturday (25th August).