Two days after losing to Kilmarnock, we welcome Scottish Division 1 side Hamilton Academical. With it being two days after our first game, I elect to field a team of triallists (with the exception of goalkeepers Andrew McNeil and Jan Sebek because I have no goalkeepers on trial). I promised the fans that they would see teams being put to the sword by incisive attacking football and I deliver in my first match as we fully live up to our 9/2 underdog status. The first chance falls our way in the 4th minute as some good passing play gives Louis Almond a chance that he is unable to take. Two minutes later, Hamilton cross from the right and McDonald puts them into the lead from 4 yards out. In the 20th minute, a cross from the left finds Hasselbaink who doubles Hamilton’s advantage with a header from 4 yards. Louis Almond heads over for us in the 23rd minute and a minute later, Hasselbaink grabs his second and Hamilton’s third after a cross from the left finds him a yard out at the far post. 3 down from a total of 8 yards; I can’t help but think that Gary Lineker would be so proud. The distance of Hamilton’s goals increases by a large amount with their fourth in the 34th minute. The ball stopped on the right hand touchline and Andrew McNeil ran out from goal and cleared the ball up the field. His clearance succeeded in finding Skelton, who shoots from at least 40 yards (probably closer to 50 with the angle) and McNeil gets to watch the ball go into the net as he makes his way back to the goal. McNeil goes some way to atoning in the 45th minute with a fine save from Hasselbaink.
4 down at home by half time and pre-season or not, triallists or not, I let the team know I’m angry. A few players get hauled off just to emphasise that I mean business. In the 59th minute, McDonald unleashes a fierce shot and gets Hamilton’s fifth. In the 72nd minute, some of the fans start to leave, having seen enough. We started out with an attendance of 160 and it’s difficult to blame them. They don’t miss much; Lee Beevers gets booked in the 77th minute and in the 84th minute, he heads across the goal after a deep corner finds him at the far post. Deep in stoppage time, McNeil makes a good save to keep the score to five. The fans who leave early also get to avoid the rain, which worsens from a steady drizzle to a strong downpour. On the plus side, no-one got sent off…
A 5-0 loss at home is not what I wanted or needed. I gave the triallists a chance to show me what they could do and it’s safe to say I’m not in a rush to be making any of them permanent fixtures of the squad. Earlier in the day, the Welsh triallists match had taken place, so it’s a chance to take a look through the players in that match in the aftermath of our heavy loss.
Six days after our 5-0 mauling, we welcome Bury of League 2 to Park Hall Stadium. We go into the match as 3/1 underdogs. In the 19th minute, we struggle to clear a corner and Richie Partridge brings a Bury player down after diving into a tackle. Carlton steps up for Bury and makes no mistake, shooting down low to Jan Sebek’s right and just beyond his reach. Carlton is a real menace to our defence throughout the half; in the 26th minute he takes the ball well and shoots wide from 10 yards out and 11 minutes later he gets played in, but shoots wide. The second half starts with a red card. David Mooney and Malin, the Bury keeper both go for a loose ball outside the area; Mooney gets there first and nicks it past Malin, who brings down our striker and earns himself a straight red card. In the 79th minute, Jay Young crosses from the left and Matty Williams slides in to level the scores from 5 yards out. Right at the end of stoppage time, Phil Rayner blasts as the Bury goalkeeper, but is only rewarded with a corner.
A much better performance as we claim a draw, although our opponents were down to 10 men for the final 40 minutes. The 345 who attended are happier with the result and Matty Williams, a 62nd minute substitute claims man of the match after his goal and a rating of 7.3.
Another new face (not involved in the 5-0 demolition by Hamilton I hasten to add!) joins the club. Defensive midfielder Darren Otten joins the club after having been released by Swansea City. He’s one that I see for the future and I’m contemplating sending him out to Chirk for a season.
Chirk are our feeder club and our next pre-season game is against them at Holyhead Road. It’s an annual fixture in which they get to keep all gate receipts. We go into the match as 1/14 favourites, so I tell the team I expect a win. In the 16th minute, David Mooney takes a corner from the left that finds its way to the 6 yard box – Conor Hourihane slides in to open the scoring. We get a scare 3 minutes later as a cross by Chirk from the right finds Thomas unmarked at the far post, but he inexplicably heads back across goal when he has the goal at his mercy. In the 24th minute, Hourihane slices open the Chirk defence plays in Scott McBride, who slots past the keeper to double our lead. In the 31st minute, Bagsan Graham plays in David Mooney, but the keeper saves well. Two minutes later, Mooney returns the favour and can only watch as Graham fires wide when he only has the keeper to beat. In the 45th minute, Scott McBride crosses from the left and finds Mooney 8 yards out and he makes no mistake with a first time effort.
A pleasing first half, but I feel that the performance drops off slightly in the second half. In the 50th minute, Hughes looks offside, but the linesman keeps his flag down and Jan Sebek makes a good save and concedes a corner. Eight minutes later and Bevan mis-hits a cross from the right, but thankfully Sebek is alert and makes a save low down at the near post for another corner. In the 72nd minute, substitute Matty Williams blasts into the roof of the net, but the linesman has his flag up for offisde. In the 81st minute, the fans start to leave – it’s difficult to believe it’s to avoid congestion because there’s only 20 of them. The game finishes 3-0 and Scott McBride claims man of the match with a rating of 9.1 following his goal and assist.
My first taste of victory with TNS is away from home with less than 20 spectators, but it tastes so sweet. We only have 2 more friendlies (Shrewsbury Town at home and Vibonese away) before the serious stuff begins.