Feisty Fleet no match for raging Bulls
WATCHING fans may have been forgiven for thinking that pantomime season had come to Springfield Stadium as the Bulls’ Premier Challenge Cup third round tie against Fleet Spurs descended into a less-than-merry song and dance.
Bulls won through in the end, but not without a late scare and a bit of a scrap.
Spurs arrived all the more willing to play the part of the villain of the piece in a petulant and provocative display that resulted in two of their players being sent to the sin bin. Not that the home heroes were all saints, mind. A yellow card for a reckless lunge from Fraser Barlow might easily have become a red, while Jules Gabbiadini and Euan van der Vliet also picked up bookings for getting involved in incidents where they could have shown more restraint. A mêlée at the end made for a slightly unedifying closing spectacle, while the audience also fulfilled a theatrical role by participating in gleeful goading, jeers and cheers.
Even the PA cheekily played out Kaiser Chiefs ‘I Predict a Riot’ as players jostled on the pitch.
If it all seemed a little out of character for Bulls players, that’s because their character had never been tested like this before. For the best part of the season, bar a rogue red card for Karl Hinds, they had played the clean-cut Prince Charming part well, all shiny-toothed smiles and neat short-back-and-sides buzzcut. But they were forced to roll their sleeves up against a team who had come prepared to mix things up a bit.
Gary Freeman had a tinker with his tactics and lined up his midfield in a diamond shape with Barlow partnering Daryl Wilson up top and his full backs given licence to thrill on the flanks. On the right, Jules Gabbiadini was welcomed back into the fold after an injury lay-off, while the ever-present Jay Giles was left on the bench for James Carr to make a rare start.
The changes paid off. Carr turned in a performance that earned him the man-of-the-match bottle of champagne, presented by the brewery sponsoring the match, that would have been illegal for him to drink only a month ago. It was a foraging run from Carr in the 21st minute that resulted in the teenager being brought down in the box to set up the opening goal – Hinds coolly dispatching the penalty, his eighth from 12 yards already this season.
Just three minutes later, Carr paced down the wing again only to be crudely cut down by Nasir Naman, a challenge that earned the Spurs number six a yellow card before Bulls doubled their lead. Adam Trotter bombed into the box unmarked, was picked out with a superb cross from Jonny Le Quesne on the right and swept the ball home beautifully on the half-volley.
Throughout the first half the Bulls had controlled the game magnificently, with the midfield diamond tiki-taka-ing across the park like a team of matadors. But by the second half, boredom and complacency set in. The game started to get fractious and niggly – suiting Spurs’ more base sensibilities.
In the lead-up to the game, Freeman had recognised André Smith as Spurs’ main threat and the powerful striker soon reminded him why when a strong shot drew a good save from van der Vliet just inside the penalty area. Spurs had started to build up a bit of pressure at that point as Bulls lost their focus. Then, immediately after, Darryl Wilson had a chance to put the game beyond doubt, but a poor touch let him down. Spurs did have the ball in the back of Bulls’ net in the 71st minute when Adam Bellmaine rose above van der Vliet, but the goal was rather harshly ruled out when he was adjudged to have impeded the flapping ’keeper.
Spurs wouldn’t be deterred, and it was Smith that inevitably brought them back into contention with a wonderfully whipped-in effort from 20 yards that came in off the underside of the crossbar.
Bulls’ response was immediate again, but Darryl Wilson spurned another gilt-edged opportunity. The game was getting tetchy as the conclusion drew nearer. Carr’s hatchet man, Nasir, was sent to the sin bin for dissent in an unusual case of a player getting two yellow cards and not a red one. In any case, given how late it was in the game, he was never going to see action again. Then, deep into injury time, Bulls took advantage of the extra man with a third goal to seal victory and send them into the quarter-finals – Sol Solomon, keen for a more central striking role, showing Wilson the way with an expert finish from a Le Quesne through-pass.
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