Telford United 1 Yeovil Town 2 – Saturday 28th April 2001
Yeovil went into the last away game of the 2000/01 still in with a chance of winning the Conference title, but the odds were against them. Ever since the Glovers lost their 100% home record against Southport in January, Rushden were the team in better form and gradually clawed their way ahead. Yeovil had been five points ahead at Christmas, but by mid-February Rushden had gone top on goal difference, albeit the Glovers had two games in hand.
A devastating last-minute defeat at bottom club Kettering in March was followed by consecutive 0-0 draws as confidence drained from the team, goals dried up and it looked like Rushden might run away with it. However, after those draws Yeovil rallied – a convincing 3-0 win at home to Hayes kept the Glovers within touching distance due to those games in hand, and over Easter the gap narrowed even more when they thumped Leigh 6-1 while Rushden were losing at Hereford.
Even though Yeovil missed the chance to go back to the top of the table when the two teams drew 0-0 at Huish Park, it still wasn’t over. Three second half goals gave the Glovers a narrow 3-2 win away at Leigh meaning that the gap going into the last away game against Telford was still three points, with one game in hand.
It is probably significant that the loss to Southport coincided with Yeovil’s first major injury of the season, as Anthony Tonkin missed eight games with a stress fracture. Prior to this, the Glovers had managed to put out an unchanged XI for more or less every game – Pennock, Piper, Tonkin, Skiverton, White, Way, Smith, Crittenden, Patmore, Belgrave, and Bent / Lindegaard. Although this was a strong XI, there was not a whole lot on a bench which had an average age of 20, the only experienced player there being Roy O’Brien who was usually brought on to shore up the midfield in the final 20 minutes. With Tonkin absent, Yeovil suffered their first league defeats since September and when he returned, Tom White was missing for a few games. Colin Addison did move to bring in some new faces, with Simon Betts signing from his old club Scarborough, and Marcus Jones from Cheltenham. With no other left-sided defenders at the club, Betts was forced to cover at left back and his performances out of position did not endear him to the Yeovil fans. A big miscalculation from the manager was to move Betts over to the right when Tonkin was fit again, displacing regular right back David Piper. This proved to make both Betts and the manager very unpopular as Piper had done nothing wrong and had always been a consistent performer. Piper was dropped for eight games – during which the Glovers won only once – and the fact that when he was finally brought back into the team as a substitute at Kingstonian, within minutes he had put in a perfect cross for a brilliant Warren Patmore diving header, possibly underlined the fans’ point. Rightly or wrongly it appeared that the manager was showing favouritism towards a player who had not yet proved himself, over a well-established fan favourite. Despite being signed for £10,000 in January, Betts was released at the end of the season. To be fair he was not a bad player, he had been Scarborough’s captain, only transfer-listed due to the financial trouble they had got themselves into. Playing out of position in his first few games made him look worse than he was, then being moved to right back in place of Piper was a very unpopular decision with the fans and he became something of a scapegoat during the Glovers’ downturn in form.
In addition to the injuries to Tonkin and White, midfield maestro Ben Smith – who took corners and free kicks and had provided at least ten assists before Christmas – was losing form. By his own later admission he was probably losing some of his self-discipline under the less strict management of Colin Addison, who was more laid back than the sergeant major-like David Webb. At that point in his career Smith probably needed more discipline, and he was eventually dropped. He was replaced by Marcus Jones, who provided no assists and it is fair to say is not well-remembered by Yeovil fans. Ben Smith wasn’t the only one to lose form though – Barrington Belgrave had been electric at the start of the season, but 9 of his 10 goals had come before Christmas and after the new year they dried up. The problem was, there was no-one in reserve to replace him and he was forced to try and play his way back into form.
The biggest kick in the teeth was that top scorer and talisman Warren Patmore was also struggling with an injury, carrying a hamstring strain into the run-in but again, we had no-one else available and could not afford to rest him. He played on, but would miss some games towards the end and only lasted 28 minutes of the big showdown against Rushden, which was his only start of the last seven games.
When it finally came time to play one of the much-discussed games in hand away at Doncaster in April, it was a disaster as a poor performance ended in a 2-0 defeat. To add insult to injury, Belgrave got sent off for an off the ball incident in the dying minutes when the game was already lost, ruling himself out of three vital games at a time when Patmore was also unavailable.
The second of those games was Telford away. With on-loan striker Howard Forinton injured, Patmore injured and Belgrave suspended, the only fit striker at the club was James Bent, brought back in from the cold after the better part of six months sat on the bench. In his first start he got two goals and an assist at home to Leigh, and a goal and assist in the reverse fixture just ten days later. So he had proved himself capable but was running out of partners. In the absence of a genuine target man, for the last couple of games Captain Fantastic Terry Skiverton had pulled on the No. 9 shirt, and did so again against Telford.
The home side came out of the blocks very quickly and created numerous chances particularly on the counter-attack, forcing Pennock to pull off a number of saves. The problem with Skiverton playing up front was that he was sorely missed at the back, and the defence was at sixes and sevens without him. The defence was looking so vulnerable that Colin Addison was forced to re-organise, moving to a 3-5-2 with Skiverton, White and O’Brien as a back three, Piper and Tonkin as wing backs, and Crittenden up front with Bent. This did pay off, as Crittenden set up McIndoe in the area to put the Glovers 1-0 up, slightly against the run of play. The good fortune didn’t last though, as defender Jim Bentley equalised before half time. The news got worse, as last forward standing James Bent was scythed down from behind in a terrible challenge that wasn’t even awarded a free kick, let alone a card. Bent was able to get up and continue, but did not emerge for the second half as a result of that challenge.
In his place came Paul Steele, another defender converted to emergency striker as the number of available forwards decreased to zero, and the manager had to improvise. It worked, as Steele put Yeovil 2-1 up from a McIndoe corner. The Glovers did create several chances to score again, with late substitute Andy Lindegaard coming close on more than one occasion. He probably should have added a third, but the Glovers hung on for a 2-1 win to take them into the last week of the season three points behind with a game in hand, and only two games to go. Interestingly, Lindegaard would himself play the role of emergency striker a couple of years later in Yeovil’s Conference-winning season, scoring six goals. At 18, youth team striker Chris Giles was presumably seen as too young, even though he would go on to score 10 goals the following season under new manager Gary Johnson. In 2000/01, he was not used and his only appearances were in the Somerset Premier Cup.
While it may be easy to say that Colin Addison’s young side bottled it, or threw away a lead at the top of the Conference, a lot went against us and ultimately we did not have the resources to compete with an expensive squad twice the size of ours. This performance against Telford shows the fighting spirit that the team had right up until the end. After the defeat at Kettering and the two draws which followed it, the title did look completely gone and some of the players must have felt the same. But they didn’t give up, they kept fighting and clawed back enough points with late goals to reduce Rushden’s lead from seven points to three with just two games to go.
Rushden had a squad of over 30 with an average age around 27/28, with lots of Football League experience. Yeovil’s squad was mostly comprised of kids, whether through our own youth system or from picking up those who had been released by bigger clubs like Way, Crittenden and Smith. Only two players in the squad at the start of the season were over 25. Rushden had two of the most expensive strikers in non-league and at least four others in reserve, while we were forced to slap a No. 9 shirt on a centre half and were so short of options that we had to do it twice in one game, when the last remaining striker was kicked out of the match.
The Telford game is a significant one to remember because it shows that, whatever the problems, and however much the odds were stacked against us in the second half of the season, the team never gave up. Even though the season ultimately ended in heartbreak they kept fighting and did take it down to the final week.
Team that day: Tony Pennock, David Piper, Anthony Tonkin, Roy O’Brien, Tom White, Darren Way, Marcus Jones (Simon Betts, 80), Nick Crittenden (Andy Lindegaard, 80), Michael McIndoe, Terry Skiverton, James Bent (sub. Paul Steele, 46). Subs not used: Chris Weale, Ben Smith.