Telford 0 Yeovil Town 5 – Sunday 13th October 2002
Results at the start of the 2002/03 season were a bit mixed, due mainly to the blow of losing Adam Stansfield to injury so early, and the unexpected problems Demba was having adjusting to the English game. Howard Forinton was re-signed on a short term contract, as Alford, Demba, Grant and Forinton were all rotated to varying degrees of success. Gary Johnson was possibly not happy with their fitness as in most games either one or both strikers were substituted. There were also the ongoing issues with formations and Tonkin, who missed a couple of games through injury and then went AWOL prior to his move to Stockport in September. After that things settled down a bit, as the absence of a specialist left back enabled Yeovil to stick with the 3-4-1-2 that Johnson seemed to prefer.
The away game at Telford in October came at a potentially difficult time – Skiverton was suspended, and Demba was also unavailable. Colin Pluck was sent off early on for a misunderstanding / violent conduct depending on which way you look at it, leaving O’Brien and Lockwood as the only remaining defenders. Michael McIndoe dropped into defence in what was initially a 4-3-2 with Crittenden at right back and Way-Johnson-Williams in midfield, but later became a 3-4-2 with Crittenden getting further forward. Telford were no mugs, they had just turned full time and were expecting to go places with striker David Brown and (very briefly) former Glover Martin Barlow in their ranks.
It speaks to the manager’s and the players’ confidence then that despite being reduced to ten men on 16 minutes, Yeovil did not defend for a point and continued to play two up front. It was Andy Lindegaard’s first outing as a striker partnering Forinton, a role he would continue to play until the arrival of Kevin Gall and did so well, scoring six goals. He could easily have dropped into midfield leaving Forinton up front on his own, but did not. The numbers were soon level, as Telford keeper Paul Edwards was sent off on 21 minutes for a professional foul on Forinton. While the penalty was correct the red card was probably harsh and a case of evening up the numbers. Playing ten a side definitely suited Yeovil a lot more because it opened up a space for their passing game and Telford were left chasing shadows. The Glovers didn’t even defend at 1-0 up, within minutes of taking the lead it was 3-0 with further goals from Lockwood and Lindegaard, with Lindegaard creating a fourth for Forinton just before half time. Yeovil controlled the second half and Williams made it 5-0 with a deserved goal right at the end.
The win kept Yeovil four points clear at the top of the Conference, ahead of a very challenging set of fixtures which would see them play promotion rivals Doncaster, Chester and Dagenham in consecutive games, followed by League One Cheltenham in the FA Cup.
What was remarkable about this performance was that it could easily have gone wrong – in very difficult windy and rainy conditions, missing their defensive rock and their top striker, then being reduced to ten men within the first few minutes would have undone a lot of teams. But they kept their heads, McIndoe played at left back / centre half as if he had played there all his life. Lockwood went off late on to be replaced by Chris Giles, leaving Roy O’Brien as the only recognised defender on the pitch and yet the Glovers remained comfortable. McIndoe was man of the match, for the discipline with which he played out of position, with Williams running the show in midfield and Lindegaard creating all kinds of problems in his new role up front. That they not only had come through such a challenging fixture but won comfortably 5-0, indicated that this was a special group of players, who could deal with injuries, suspensions and the absence of a consistent striker and still come out on top.
Having just beaten Woking 4-0 and Southport 6-0, Gary Johnson’s young team were obviously on a roll and full of confidence. Despite the setback of conceding an injury time equaliser at Burton in midweek and the absence of their captain and top striker, they showed that they were able to adapt and not lose discipline, which is remarkable for such a young side – the midfield which played in most games was aged 21, 22, 23, 22 and 22. There was no old warhorse, the midfield general was Darren Way who was 22 and had not played a first team game for anyone before signing for Yeovil; even Captain Skivo was out for this game. The average age of the team against Telford was 23.6, and it was only that high because 33-year old Jon Sheffield had a stint in goal following Chris Weale’s red card against Northwich. Had Weale been in goal, the age would have been 22.5. The classic 2002/03 starting XI that we can probably all name averaged 22.3; the age of the whole squad was slightly higher (23.5) due to the presence of players such as Sheffield, Alford and Grant who were on the fringes of the team, indeed by the end of the season Sheffield was third choice behind Collis and Alford had moved on. Only Grant retained his place on the bench.
By comparison, the much-talked about young Yeovil side of 2021/22 averages around 24, both the starting XI and the squad as a whole. If Reid and Little play (both injured at time of writing), that average jumps up to almost 26, which hopefully puts the teams of 2002/03 and 2000/01 (First XI 22.5, squad 21.6) into some perspective. We really did achieve remarkable things with very young players.
One tried and tested way to build a Conference winning team is built around a few experienced ex-Football League pros towards the end of their career, a few up and coming youngsters and the cream of non-League signed from other clubs. Yeovil have historically avoided this route mostly for financial reasons, as even when we won the Conference we were not able to throw money around the way that Doncaster and Chester did. Gary Johnson, and before him David Webb, had to be a lot more canny in developing players who had either come through the youth system or been discarded by other clubs. Because those players won the Conference so comfortably and went on to become club legends established in the Football League up to Championship level with Yeovil and other clubs, it is sometimes easy to forget just how young that team was and how many were untested before they came to Huish Park. For many, Yeovil represented their first taste of first team football, so it’s worth looking at each played in that squad. These are the sixteen who made the most appearances in 2002/03, and their age at the start of the 2002/03 season.
1. Chris Weale (20) – Came through the youth team, made debut aged 18
2. Adam Lockwood (20) – Signed from Reading’s reserves, aged 19
3. Colin Miles (then Pluck, 23) – Had been around a few non-league clubs but not settled anywhere before signing for Yeovil at 22
4. Terry Skiverton (25) – Was established as one of the Conference’s best defenders for Welling, signing for Yeovil at 23
5. Darren Way (22) – Released from Norwich reserves, signed for Yeovil aged 20
6. Lee Johnson (21) – Released by Brentford after no appearances, signed for Yeovil aged 20
7. Nick Crittenden (23) – Released by Chelsea, signed by Yeovil aged 21
8. Michael McIndoe (22) – Signed for £25,000 from Hereford, aged 21
9. Gavin Williams (22) – Signed for £22,500 from Hereford aged 21
10. Kirk Jackson (26) – Signed for £20,000 from Stevenage aged 26
11. Kevin Gall (20) – Free transfer from Bristol Rovers aged 20
12. Roy O’Brien (27) – Signed from Dorchester aged 25
13. Abdou El Kholti (21) – Signed as a free agent, aged 21
14. Andy Lindegaard (21) – Youth team product, first appearance aged 19
15. Abdoulai Demba (25) – Signed from KV Oostende, aged 25
16. Kim Grant (29) – Ex-Charlton and Millwall, signed aged 29
Kim Grant was pretty much the only player with significant League experience, and he spent most of the season on the bench. Skiverton had definitely impressed a lot of people at Welling and was a great signing by Colin Lippiatt. Kirk Jackson was a very good Conference striker, fortunately the only person who didn’t seem to think so was the Stevenage manager, as he was out of favour there when we signed him for £20,000. The only players we really stole from a fellow Conference club were McIndoe and Williams both from Hereford, which is hilarious. Why on earth they let us have two of their best players so cheap, is unclear. They did however learn their lesson and resist our approaches for Paul Parry a couple of years later.
What Gary Johnson did – and to be fair, David Webb before him – was take a team without any experienced heads, containing many players who either had little experience or had not settled anywhere else, and moulded them into a team who would all fight for each other and for the manager. It takes more to win titles than just having the best players, they have to be able to overcome challenges and setbacks, and this team showed from early on that they were able to do that.
Team that day: 13. Jon Sheffield, 2. Adam Lockwood (sub. Chris Giles, 77), 14. Roy O’Brien, 5. Colin Pluck, 6. Darren Way (sub. El Kholti, 46), 8. Lee Johnson, 10. Nick Crittenden, 11. Michael McIndoe, 20. Gavin Williams, 23. Howard Forinton (sub Carl Alford, 71), 16. Andy Lindegaard. Subs not used: Chris Weale, Stephen Reed.