The Owls got their BetVictor Northern Premier League campaign underway with a solid 0-0 draw in front of a large crowd at Ilkeston Town. Both sides had chances to claim the win, but inspired performances by respective goalkeepers Ross Durrant and Theo Richardson ensured no goals.
Expectation was high amongst the travelling fans in the East Midlands before kick-off, with everyone interested to see Dave Smith’s formation. The manager went with a 4-3-3 and the side lined up as follows:
Goal: Theo Richardson
Defence: Tim Lowe, Ben Clappison, Oli Donald, Jon Oglesby
Midfield: Jack Richardson, Alex Flett (c), Ben Davies
Attack: Brody Robertson, Scott Vernon, Josh Batty
Subs: Lewis Collins, Brandon Buckley, Adam Millson, Jack Boswell, Jack Fixter
It was a delightfully sunny afternoon in Derbyshire by 3pm and the visitors enjoyed the majority of possession in the early stages.
In the 10th minute, recent addition Davies went inches the wrong side of the upright from a 28-yard free-kick. Then, a superb ball from captain Flett found Robertson on the right flank. The striker cut in and unleashed a rising drive that Durrant did well to fingertip over.
The Robins appeared to be a little nervous on their return to step 4, with a few misplaced passes. However, they slowly got a foothold and stopper Richardson needed to be watchful after 21 minutes to confidently handle a low effort. The Owls’ keeper was again required soon afterwards to block from Lee.
As the break loomed, play became a little disjointed and chances were at a premium. Nevertheless, the Clee rearguard, excellently marshalled in the centre by Clappison and Donald, looked relatively untroubled.
HT Ilkeston Town 0 Cleethorpes Town 0
Clee had edged a cagey first 45 and nearly got a dream opening after the interval. Robertson and Richardson combined well through midfield and Vernon found himself in space at the far post. Last year’s top-scorer looked certain to register, but Durrant spread himself in textbook style to claw the danger away.
Batty received the first yellow on 56 minutes, before the Owls’ management freshened up their charges with a double substitution. Loanee Brandon Buckley and Lewis Collins were introduced in place of Jack Richardson and Josh Batty.
The encounter gradually became more open, as both outfits sensed that a single goal would snaffle all the points. In truth, the Robins were now enjoying their best spell and the Owl Army in the stands were growing somewhat anxious. However, nerves were nearly settled for the faithful in the 78th minute, when Flett shot over from 10 yards following a fluent passage of play.
With under 10 minutes to go, we had a frantic 60 seconds. A header from Ilkeston went a matter of inches wide and then, as play switched instantly to the other end, Vernon had a massive penalty appeal waved away, when the forward looked to have been barged to the floor. Before the boisterous crowd could collect their thoughts, the homesters clattered the underside of the crossbar.
Keeper Richardson was providing an imposing last line of defence and the athletic stopper saved the best for the final minute of the 90.
The Owls lost possession in the centre-circle and as the Ilkeston forward moved through to eye the target, it seemed inevitable that Clee would suffer an agonising first-day defeat. Richardson had other ideas though, as he magnificently swooped low to turn aside the golden chance.
Still time for more worry in the final play, when a free-kick was awarded 20 yards out. Tim Lowe was booked for dissent in the aftermath, but the shot was tame and easily smuggled away by the defence.
At the whistle, both sides got a warm ovation for a fair outcome. It was the first competitive 0-0 for the Owls in 97 outings, stretching back to September 2017.
FT Ilkeston Town 0 Cleethorpes Town 0 Attendance: 602
A slight anti-climax after all the anticipation. However, an away point and a clean sheet are never to be sniffed at. I suspect that there will be plenty of clubs leaving the New Manor Ground having lost during the season.
It would be fair to say that we were not at our fluent best, with a heavily grassed pitch making zippy passing difficult. Very easy decision for my man-of-the-match, step forward Theo Richardson – a great display! Theo is clearly going to be a vital cog in our team. I thought Ben Clappison & Oli Donald formed a solid partnership and both did well.
Plenty of work from the whole side, we just didn’t quite fully click. The endless 4-3-3 or diamond 4-4-2 debate is certainly one for the management to wrestle with.
Onwards to our opener at home on Tuesday against Lincoln United. Magnificent support for us in the East Midlands yesterday – hope to see you at Linden!
Tuesday 20th August – 7.45pm
Lincoln United – BetVictor Northern Premier League
Linden Club, Clee Road, Grimsby, DN32 8QL
Over 65s £5
16-17 years £5
Under 16s £2
UP THE OWLS!