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Notts County 1-2 Pilgrims

Coca-Cola League

by Pete Brooksbank

As you get older, you come to realise life isn’t fair. You see good people die young, Council Tax rises of inflation-busting proportions, inept U.S presidents getting elected for second terms – and Boston United fouling and time-wasting their way to utterly undeserved League Two away victories. Not that Boston United fans will mind, of course, but their chants of ‘Easy! Easy!’ at the end to tonight’s 2-1 win at Meadow Lane against a shaken Notts County team must surely have been offered in an ironic way. This wasn’t an easy game for the Pilgrims. In fact, this wasn’t an easy game to stomach. One can only imagine what Notts County fans must have thought of the blue-shirted bruisers charging around their billiard-table pitch, hoofing aimless balls at the floodlights and attempting to get themselves booked just for the hell of it. Steve Evans won’t care, the players won’t care, most of the fans won’t care – yet the manner in which Boston United conducted themselves on the pitch leaves an awful lot to be desired, and conspired to make what should have been a comfortable victory into something considerably more challenging.

The game was played in a real derby atmosphere, unlike the somewhat sterile game of last season, and it got off to a start befitting a local contest. Fans barely had time to open up their cheeseburger trays when Julian JOACHIM, straight after kick-off, sped into the Notts County penalty area, enticed Kevin Pilkington from his line and popped the ball, just like that, into an unguarded net, Lee Canoville claiming the assist. The goal was timed at 27 seconds and left three sides of Meadow Lane stunned into silence. Things were to get a whole lot quieter eleven minutes later. Joachim chased a ball fired towards the County goal but Pilkington read it well and moved forward to clear. David PIPE, for whatever reason, went for the same ball – the clearance hit him and rolled pathetically into another empty Notts net. And that’s where Boston’s involvement with the evening’s game of football ends. Notts County soon asserted their dominance in midfield and began to squeeze the Pilgrims further and further back in their own half, United left with little option but to revert back to their hopeless long balls to Noel Whelan. More of him later. Twenty minutes in, and Nathan Abbey had a massive let off after misjudging a bad pass forward. He left it to roll into his waiting hands, but the ball wouldn’t come. It quickly became apparent that Notts striker Steve Scoffham would get to the ball first, so Abbey simply moved forward, handled the ball a few inches outside his area and allowed himself to be bodycharged by Scoffham, who was then penalised for the ‘foul’. Moments later Brad Maylett found himself clearing Mike Edward’s header off the line from a Notts corner – although Abbey was probably able to cover – as the Magpies penned Boston back. Lee Canoville’s efforts in defence almost certainly prevented the opposition from creating more clear-cut chances, and Paul Ellender’s presence also tightened things up, but Boston were losing out in midfield and up front with Kelvin Wilson – Courtney Pitt’s tormentor last year – having another superb game. So superb, in fact, that Noel Whelen saw no alternative but to try and kick him into the stand on 36 minutes, incurring a yellow card and counting himself very lucky not to get a straight red.

He failed to heed the warning, committing a number of needless fouls before the interval leaving most Boston fans betting amongst themselves as to how long he would last after the break. Half-time saw the introduction of Danny Thomas in place of Mark Greaves, but the creative midfielder was to have little impact, a tame Joachim header all to show for Boston’s opening efforts in the second half. Steve Scoffham made way for Glyn Hurst on 54 minutes and was quickly involved in the action, flashing a shot wide of Abbey’s goal as County once more began to attack. And finally it happened: the hour mark witnessed quite possibly the most idiotic moment in the long, idiocy-filled career of Noel Whelan. Caught off-side and, remember, on a yellow card, Whelan picked up the ball and ran off with it, giving heaps of attitude in the process. Only he – and God – knows what was going through his mind, but it wasn’t anything sane. Pat Miller brandished the second yellow, then the red. The most predictable sending off in the history of football was thus complete, and Whelan was left to saunter down the tunnel, mission accomplished, Boston to remain playing deep - Mariana Trench deep. Boston’s game plan, if indeed they had one, was in danger of disintegrating, and with the enraged Meadow Lane crowd beginning to back their team more vocally Notts County went for it. Gudjon Thordarson hauled off the ineffective O’Callaghan and Sheridan, replacing them with Andy White and Mathew Gil. The Pies piled forward seeking an opening, any opening, but they just couldn’t move the ball fast enough. Boston maintained their long-ball game, knocking balls long to Joachim before he was eventually replaced by the taller Lawrie Dudfield. With time running out, County resorted to a number of decent long range efforts, McGoldrick testing Abbey with a couple. Boston, somehow, were hanging on, however desperately, and began resorting to the most cynical time wasting. On 84 minutes Rob Ullathorne’s heavy challenge on the otherwise anonymous Simon Rusk resulted in what the Americans call a "bench clearing brawl", lots of pushing, shoving and a booking for Nathan Abbey, who must have had some kind of high-stakes bet with Whelan, judging from what happened next. Abbey pulled off a great stop to deny McGoldrick on 88 minutes, but couldn’t stop Mike EDWARDS from bundling home a consolation 2 minutes into injury time. He couldn’t quite stop himself from getting sent off either. Seconds after Lawrie Dudfield tried to finish off the job Whelan had started on Kelvin Wilson in the first half, Abbey decided to take half-an-hour or so to take his goal kick. Pat Miller, probably believing he was dealing with a team comprised solely of Homer Simpsons, booked him and Simon Rusk took his jersey in the Boston goal. Mr Millar, by this time, had had enough and blew for full time - a sullen Meadow Lane emptying into the night. Steve Evans celebrated the points like a cup win, although even he, deep down, must realise this was a deeply flawed performance against poor strikers. The win at least extends Boston’s unbeaten run but things must get better quickly if the play-offs are to be considered a realistic possibility.

United team: Nathan Abbey, Lee Canoville, Paul Ellender, Alan White, Mark Greaves (Danny Thomas 46), Simon Rusk, Brad Maylett, Ian Ross, Stewart Talbot (Chris Holland 87), Julian Joachim (Lawrie Dudfield 76), Noel Whelan. Subs not used: Chris Wright, Jason Lee.

Match report copyright © Pete Brooksbank 2005.