Yeovil Town 2 Nuneaton Borough 1 – Saturday 19th January 2002
From 2000-2002, Yeovil often found themselves battling the Huish Park pitch as much as they did the opposition. It was fine in the early part of 2000/01 when the Glovers won their first 11 league games in a row, but a wet winter led to several postponements and the pitch began to get boggy. In the latter stages of the season, a very large amount of sand was deposited onto the pitch to prevent it from cutting it up, turning it from a ploughed field into more of a beach. This was slightly embarrassing for the club as in March 2001, Huish Park hosted the first ever Conference match on Sky, as Yeovil despatched Hayes 3-0 in what would turn out to be one of only three home wins the Glovers would manage after New Year’s Day. It was impossible for the commentary team not to notice the state of the pitch which must have given a terrible impression of the standard of facilities in the Conference in general, and Yeovil in particular. As it happened, there was also scaffolding over the closed terrace as the (then) Westland Terrace roof was under construction, so Huish Park resembled both a beach and a building site.
Although there are many reasons why the team struggled for results after New Year 2001, the pitch could not possibly have helped. The two players who suffered most from loss of form were Ben Smith and Barrington Belgrave, whose games relied on keeping the ball on the ground and running at opposition. Belgrave had to play on as there were no replacements, scoring only one goal between Christmas and the end of the season. Smith was replaced by Marcus Jones, who lacked the same creativity and the goals began to dry up.
The state of the surface arguably got worse during the following season, which saw another very wet winter. Attempts to put in additional drainage wee not successful, as the pitch became bumpy and marked with long tracks where attempts to install new drains had failed. It was also very boggy in winter, as this game against Nuneaton shows – a lot of home games were played in these kind of conditions. It certainly took time for Gary Johnson to get a new squad playing the way he wanted them to, and the first season was often characterised by defensive mistakes and a difficulty in breaking down opposition when Yeovil had a lot of possession (solution: bring in Gavin Williams). However there was also a very marked difference in home and away form – the Glovers won 13 and lost only 2 away, which stands as a Conference record for fewest number of away defeats. Home however was often a struggle, with eight defeats and only six wins at home in the league all season, and there were fewer more goals conceded at home (30) than away (23). We did not keep a single clean sheet at home until the last week of the season, 0-0 against Southport and 2-0 against relegated Dover. Every other home win was 2-1 – Hayes, Leigh, Stevenage, Hereford and Nuneaton, so there were no easy games.
Once again, although the pitch was not the sole cause of poor home form in 2001/02 (away pitches were often rubbish as well), it could not have helped. Gary Johnson wanted to play flowing, attacking football and the pitch just made it impossible. However, because every home point had to be hard fought, it appeared to bring the players together and there was an obvious bond between them. The harder the games got, the more the players fought for each other. This can be seen in the obvious bond between Stansfield and McIndoe in this clip, with their amusing ‘hand grenade’ celebration for the first goal and the way Stansfield selflessly sets up McIndoe for the second.
There were a lot of obstacles to overcome in that season – injuries to key players like Skiverton, Way and Pluck, as shortages in both defence and midfield led to an all hands to the pump attitude. Steve Thompson, having not started for the first team in over two years, came out of retirement at the grand old age of 39 to muck in and actually play bloody well, belying his years to score against his former club Woking and getting three other assists including one for Stansfield in this game. McIndoe occasionally played in central midfield, and was arguably even better than he was on the wing, with his fierce new No. 1 haircut. A 19-year old loanee called Adam Lockwood came in as a desperately needed right back and made the position his own. Adam Stansfield came in from Elmore and never stopped running. Tom White played on through personal tragedy, and was immense. There were no passengers, everyone contributed. The never say die attitude so memorably characterised by the 5-4 win at Doncaster in the FA Trophy (itself only earned by a late Stansfield equaliser in the first game), resulted in a number of late goals which won points – late equalisers against Morecambe (1-1), Scarborough (2-2, from 2-0 down), Doncaster (1-1, twice), leaders Dagenham (3-3), and winners against Hereford, Leigh from 1-0 down, and here against Nuneaton (79th and 88th minutes). It could have been more, as on one memorable occasion, McIndoe scored an 87th minute equaliser against Doncaster and could have got a winner but his shot beat the keeper and literally got stuck in the mud on the goal line, allowing a defender to get back and clear. There were no easy games that season, except maybe the very last one at home to relegated Dover.
There was a definite fight, determination and togetherness in the 2001/02 team under often difficult circumstances, and they were rewarded with the FA Trophy win at Villa Park in May. Having played all season on an impossible pitch, it was with a sense of real anticipation and excitement that the Glovers returned to Huish Park against Woking in September 2002, after the pitch had been relaid over the summer. The return was triumphant, with the game won 4-0 and the rest is history, as the Glovers’ home form for the rest of the season read Played 16, Won 12, Drawn 4 Lost 0. Scored 42 Conceded 8. A marked difference from the previous season in every way imaginable.
Team that day: Chris Weale, Adam Lockwood, Colin Pluck (sub. Tom White 53), Anthony Tonkin, Steve Thompson, Lee Johnson, Nick Crittenden, Michael McIndoe McIndoe, Kim Grant (sub Andy Turner 76), Carl Alford (sub Chris Giles, 61), Adam Stansfield. Subs not used: Steve Collis, Terry Skiverton