Another Afternoon's Agony At Aggborough
Not, I grant you, agony on a scale of that from late afternoon on 20th April 2013, when the Hatters bowed out of the Conference Premier against Aggborough's Kidderminster landlords. Defeat, almost two years on, at the hands of the ground's tenants from Worcester did, however, put the seal on a desperately disappointing few days of League action away from Edgeley Park - featuring, as it has done, two identical reverse-scorelines that have all but extinguished hopes from earlier in the week of securing a play-off position.
And, as was the case at the end of that disastrous 2012/13 campaign, the latest football played at Aggborough will be forgotten long after an extraordinary, late incident at the side of the pitch much more in keeping with another form of contact sport. WWE fans, stay tuned...
Following the two-goal defeat at Bradford Park Avenue on Wednesday night, Alan Lord made two changes to the County starting line-up - with Charlie Russell and Jack Ryan replacing Kristian Dennis (ruled out, due to a calf problem) and Chris Sharp. Chris Churchman and Scott Spencer, who had not featured in the squad chosen for the Avenue match, were recalled to the bench. Greg Wilkinson, however, was missing - having injured an ankle.
There were two former Hatters - in Aaron Brown and Danny Jackman - named among the Worcester substitutes, and each, in the event, was to make a brief cameo appearance towards the end of the game.
Playing in their yellow shirts and a 4-4-2 formation, and on a pitch well worn from the effort of hosting the fixtures of two different clubs, the Hatters engineered one early chance of note after Richie Baker had played a neat one-two with Ryan, before driving goal-wards. Baker's shot was fumbled by Ryan Boot, who will have been relieved to see the ball bobble behind for a corner instead of over his line. The Worcester ‘keeper then flapped at the resulting corner, to suggest he might be in for a torrid afternoon.
Sadly for the Hatters, that was not to be. For, despite the rather open nature of the game initially, the hosts - and, in particular, Micah Evans and Tristian Dunkley - were already making much of the running. Having had early shots of their own blocked by the County defence, the two wingers turned providers to create chances for others. First, Evans, following some trickery on the left, teed up Sean Geddes whose shot was tipped over by Danny Hurst. A little later, Dunkley's cross from the right was played back to Geddes by Mike Symons - although, on this occasion, Geddes blasted over.
Hurst had earlier denied Symons by smothering a shot by the big centre forward from the edge of the box. But County's Number One was powerless to stop the same player when, seven minutes ahead of the break, a ball over the top of the visiting defence saw Symons beat the offside trap, before controlling the ball with his chest and slotting home from close range to put Worcester ahead.
The first half ended with further opportunities for the home side, and with players from behind the forward line seeking to get in on the scoring act. Wayne Thomas latched onto a free kick, before turning and firing high from fifteen yards out, and, by way of a final attack before the interval, Kyle Haynes, cutting in from the right, curled a shot just wide of the far upright.
HALF-TIME: Worcester 1 (Symons, 38), County 0.
Worcester continued after the break much as they had left off, being quicker to the ball and enjoying the majority of possession. Within the first minute of the re-start, Hurst was forced into diving to tip past his right post a shot from distance by Dean Waldron. And County's ‘keeper was soon in action again afterwards - saving well from Symons, after the goal-scorer had turned and driven a low effort from just inside the area.
In between those two attempts on their goal, the Hatters had enjoyed a rare sight of Worcester's, following a Danny Glover free kick that was played back to Nathan Woolfe by Baker. Woolfe's shot, however, failed to match the build-up - ending up high over the home bar and out of the ground.
Events were then to take a further turn for the worse, as Ryan, already on a yellow card, following a tussle with Thomas, was shown a second, and dismissed, for a sliding challenge on Shab Khan. This was County's seventh red card, in all competitions, for the season - rendering a promising early showing in The Non-League Paper 2014/15 ‘Fair Play League‘ all but a distant memory.
And, after another ten minutes, the afternoon's cause became well and truly lost, as Worcester doubled their lead. Waldron began the move, feeding Evans on the right - before the winger cut back to cross for Geddes, whose first-time shot found the left corner of County's net.
As proceedings began to draw to a close, there was little to capture the imagination - other than a sense that the contest was assuming a niggly edge. The altercations involving Ryan had set the tone, and subsequent ones that featured, and resulted in bookings for, Kyle Jacobs and Tunji Moses cemented it further. Not that anyone was prepared for what followed around the end of normal time, mind - as the event proceeded to go viral...
To begin with, Russell upended Khan by means of a rash challenge on the left flank in County's half. There were, to be fair, the odd gasp or two in the crowd at that - but nothing compared with those that followed the Worcester defender's reaction, as Khan promptly gathered and lifted Russell in his arms before throwing him to the ground. A body slam? A back suplex? Whatever the wrestling technicalities, it was, frankly, astonishing - and caused a kerfuffle involving not only other players but also some coaching staff.
When the shenanigans died down, Khan was shown a straight red card. Russell, who appeared winded - but, thankfully, no more badly hurt than that - was booked and substituted. And YouTube went into overdrive, as Khan's manoeuvre made a concerted effort to overtake the view-count for the ‘rabona' lob that had been executed to perfection against Barrow by Geddes earlier in the season.
With ten men playing against ten over the course of some not-inconsiderable time added on, County created the game's remaining chances. Glover fired a shot over his former club's bar, before Spencer shot and headed two opportunities wide. But, by then, the Hatters were, to all intents and purposes, counted out.
FULL-TIME: Worcester 2 (Symons, 38; Geddes, 73), County 0.
Team: Hurst, Jacobs, Duxbury (Lofthouse, 83), Moses, Lees, O'Halloran, Baker, Russell (Todd, 90), Ryan, Glover, Woolfe (Spencer, 63).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Churchman.
Booked: Baker, Jacobs, Moses, Russell.
Sent Off: Ryan.