An American Abroad: The Second Day, and Beyond

25 June, 2014

My second day in the manager’s chair started early with a press conference called at Ladysmead to introduce me to the media. I use the term press conference rather loosely, as there was only one journalist there. Mark Hampson of The Non-League Paper asked me several questions, touching on the ambitions of the club and the expectations laid out by the chairman. I ensured him the club was aiming for big things and the chairman was fully behind that. He had some more questions about what competitions were our main focus and where we wanted to improve our squad. It was a pretty straightforward interview, but soon he was off, no doubt headed to cover a more interesting story.

Already I was taking charge of the squad in our first friendly match, which was really just a kickabout with the reserve squad so that I could see everyone in action. The senior side opened up scoring early, with winger Jed Harper-Penman smashing in a beautiful free kick from the edge of the area. Dan Western had the next big chance about ten minutes later, being played through by an excellent pass, but his shot was closer to the corner flag than the goal. He made up for it shortly before the half, as Harper-Penman played through his striker partner Emati-Emati who laid it off for Western to blast into the back of the net. Things got a little out of hand as first half stoppage time ticked away, with center back Steve Goss coming in a little too hard on reserve striker Barry Wilcox.

The reserve team nearly pulled one back just after the start of the half, with midfielder Tom Tricker sending a shot from the edge of the area just fizzing over the top of the bar. The seniors had a great chance to seal it up near the hour mark, but substitute Josh Searle’s long shot from a James Richards pass narrowly missed the top corner. With only a quarter hour left, we had another chance at a third goal with winger Jake Wannell sending a cross in straight to center back Tom Gardner’s head following a corner. Unfortunately the header was straight into reserve keeper Jon Hurley’s hands. With only a few minutes left, winger Wannell went down and had to be taken off. Following a throw in with only four minutes left, a quick one-two on the wing between fullback Richards and sub striker Jamie Mudge ended with Richard’s cross into the box falling right at Khaled Badavi’s feet and ending up in the net. The final whistle blew, and I had my first illustrious victory, 3 goals to nil over our reserves in a friendly.

3 July, 2014

It was time for our first real friendly. Elburton Villa FC, from the South West Peninsula League made the trip to Ladysmead from Plymouth. I had a much larger squad at my disposal for this match, as we’d had upward of ten players accept our trial offers. They’d all be with us for the next month unless someone else swooped in, so I was confident in finding at least a few players that we could bring in to improve the squad. Notable names include Giancarlo Borhy, a goalkeeper who had made a few appearances for Bath in the Conference Premier a few years back, and veteran midfielder Mark Robinson, who had years of experience in the two leagues above us with Weymouth and Dorchester.

Tiverton Town F.C. vs Elburton Villa F.C.
Friendly, Ladysmead

It didn’t take the visitors long to get going, as they registered their first short with only 30 seconds on the clock. Fortunately for us, striker Ritchie Swales sent his shot careening very wide of the goal. Swales had another chance soon after in the fifth minute, but put his shot from near the penalty spot quite a ways over the crossbar. Our first chance came just shy of ten minutes, as star fullback Richards sent a perfectly weighted cross to Jules Emati-Emati in the center of the area. Jules took the half volley but the ball went straight at the Elburton keeper Ward. Richards found himself in possession out on the touchline again in the 24th minute and played a pass through up the wing to trialist Mark Robinson. My belief that the former Dorchester man still had it was confirmed as his cross found the head of Emati-Emati who this time sent the ball of of Ward’s fingertips and into the side netting.

A few minutes later, a hard challenge from Tivvy defender Tom Gardner set up Villa fullback Spencer Peacock with a free kick just at the top of the box which Borhy watched fly high over his crossbar. Ten minutes later, Emati-Emati sent on trial winger Ryan Ashford through on the edge of the area and Dan Western took the cross on the full to give us a two goal lead. On the brink of the half, it was Emati-Emati again who found a loss ball following a corner but his shot could only find Ward’s hands. At the half, I made quite a few changes, not only to get a look at some more players on trial, but also to give a rest to some of our squad who were looking really winded.

Things in the second half were rather bland, with the first real chance not coming until five minutes after the hour mark. Substitute striker Owen Howe laid off for his partner Badavi on the edge of the area and Khaled’s screamer connected solidly with the corner of the post. The ball fell down to the edge of the six yard box, and Howe charged forward to tap in the rebound with the Villa keeper hopelessly out of position. Four minutes later the Villa almost grabbed one back, but substitute center back Craig Brunton headed just over the bar from a corner. Villa troublemaker Swales was nearly put through on goal with just over ten minutes left, but a quick reaction from our central defender Steve Goss cleared the danged. Less than two minutes later the action was back at the other end, as Ryan Ashford swung a cross in from the touchline and found the head of Owen Howe to make it four-nil to us. Before I’d even gotten back into my seat, on trial fullback Alex Faux sent a long ball forward and Villa holding mid Greening mishit his clearance. Badavi was past him in a flash, picking up the ball totally unmarked in the box and calmly slotting it into the bottom corner. Neither side made any more serious attempts in the last few minutes, and the final whistle blew to signal a five goal win for the Tivvys.

Goals: Emati-Emati (24), Western (35), Howe (65, 82), Badavi (85)

A solid result in our first real pre-season match, even if it was against a club two leagues below us. Very good performances from several trial players meant I was going to be looking at offering contracts in the near future, or at least I hoped. We had five goals from four different players, all strikers, but in both this match and against our reserves, I noticed that our flat 4-4-2 was leaving us outmatched in the center of the park most of the time. I decided that I would attempt to introduce my favored flat 4-5-1 shape and see if it was within the grasp of the squad.

8 July, 2014

It was time for our next pre-season friendly, against Garw S.B.G.C, who had come all the way from the the south of Wales. We had a few new players on trial with the club, but unfortunately I had not been able to work out a contract with any players that we were keen on. Just about everyone I had available to play was knackered and we’d have a tough time keeping up fitness against the club from the South Wales Senior League. This was also the first time that the lads would be lining up in my favored 4-5-1 formation, which had the possibility to embarrass us entirely.

Tiverton Town F.C. vs Garw S.B.G.C
Friendly, Ladysmead

Our first real chance came five minutes into the match, with midfielder Matty Bye sending forward Jamie Mudge through to the edge of the area, but the Welsh clubs goalkeeper Menayese managed to deflect the shot away from his net. Two minutes later, we had another real opportunity as trial defender Didier Moundi sent a pass flying all the way upfield to Mudge. Our striker was through past the Garw defense, but a risky sliding tackle from the Welsh defender Steven Fayers dispossessed Mudge on the edge of the area. The first goal finally came in the thirteenth minute, as the result of a beautiful build up play. Bye had the ball in the center of the park and found fullback Jamie Cheeseman out near the touchline. Cheeseman cut in and laid the ball forward to Robinson who quickly found Mudge near the penalty spot. Menayese could only parry the shot, and the rebound found Robinson on the corner of the six yard box. A silky smooth tap in slid right past the near post as the Welsh keeper could only watch.

The rest of the first half passed without much excitement at either end. Mudge nearly had a goal just before the whistle, but his header from a Cheeseman cross pulled short across the goal and went behind. The second half started out just as quiet, and it wasn’t until ten minutes in that a real chance was found. We were awarded a free kick about 30 yards out, but midfielder Josh Searle’s shot went straight into replacement keeper Karl Klein-Davis’ hands. Searle came close a few minutes later, as he got a cross from winger Ryan McKechnie at the top of the box, but the shot skimmed the top of the crossbar. Most of the rest of the second half saw a total lack of quality at either end of the pitch, with the Tivvy boys having a rather frustrating habit of building all the way up to the box and then giving the ball away stupidly.

The final whistle blew with things still at 1-0. Not a flashy victory like our first friendly, but I was far more impressed by this one. We had managed a staggering twenty three shots, although only eight were on target. The even better news was that our opponents managed only a single shot the entire match, and that ended up closer to the corner flag than the net. For a squad full of trialists and exhausted players, it was a solid defensive display for our new formation. Hopefully, if I put the hours in on the training pitch with the boys, we could keep the impressive display at the back and really improve on finding that killer final ball.

Goals: Robinson (13)

I was really hoping that the time spent working on the new shape would pay off, because our next friendly wasn’t going to be nearly as easy. Plymouth Argyle of League Two would be sending their reserve squad down to Ladysmead. These were full time professionals, and the fact that it was only a reserve squad did not make the prospect any less daunting. As the squad were gathering their things after the match, I headed over to the office to have a word with Chairman Wright. As he invited me into his office, I explained to him that perhaps the club should start to look for a senior affiliate. We had very little money to work with, and all of the players I’d talked to so far about contracts were looking for wages that would take up almost half of our entire budget. He wholeheartedly agreed that having a parent club that would loan us players for free would really be a boost in our push to promotion. Having been assured that the board should reach a verdict within the next month, I headed home to start planning for our intimidating next match.

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