Yeovil Town 4 Hereford United 0 – Saturday 1st March 2003
March 2003 was crunch time in the chase for the Nationwide Conference title. Although Yeovil had led the way since the end of September they were not having everything their own way and behind them Doncaster, Chester, Morecambe and Dagenham were all waiting for them to slip up. In recent matches, the Glovers had to grind out a win against a Farnborough side stripped of their best players following Graham Westley’s defection to Stevenage, and dropped points away at relegation-bound Nuneaton. In addition they had needed very late goals to squeak through FA Trophy matches against Morecambe and Northwich. In February they had mainly played lower to mid-table opposition but March promised to be much tougher with three matches in a week at home to Hereford, away to Halifax and then away to Woking, who were resurgent and a much tougher proposition following the arrival of Glenn Cockerill as manager. A lot of opposition fans seemed confident that the Glovers would drop points in at least two of these games.
Following the win at Farnborough, Yeovil were 12 points clear of Doncaster having played two games more. They faced an extremely tough run-in with Doncaster away, Dagenham away and Chester at home all to play in the last four games. Despite their cushion at the top, the Glovers would hope to be well clear ahead of that run-in to avoid an extremely tense finish. There was also the potential fixture pile-up caused by a two-leg FA Trophy semi-final if we could negotiate the quarter final against Burscough. For their part Donny fans were very confident that they would win their games in hand, beat us at Belle Vue and the lead would be down to three points which Chester or Dagenham would take off us. It would all be so simple! The problem is Doncaster fans, that games in hand are not any use unless you win them, as we had found to our cost two years before. For much of the second half of 2000/01, once they lost the lead Yeovil were around four points behind Rushden with two games in hand. The problem was, the two games in hand were against Doncaster and Hereford, and both were lost along with the Conference title. Never count your chickens, Donny fans.
Of course, it had to be old rivals Hereford who put the final nail in the coffin of our title hopes in 2001, and they were very bullish about their chances of doing the same thing again. Games against Hereford always had an extra edge to them, attendances were usually boosted and there was a lot riding on this one. To add to the spice, Yeovil included former Bulls Michael McIndoe and Gavin Williams, while former Glovers Jamie Pitman and Ben Smith (as well as future Glover Michael Rose) were in the Hereford side. Ben Smith was part of the team who’d missed out in 2001, then left at the end of the season as he was out of contract and there was no manager to offer him a new one. He must have wondered how life could have gone had he stayed and it had been him rather than Lee Johnson who won the FA Trophy, Conference and then League Two titles. They were very similar players and Johnson was clearly intended as Smith’s replacement in the summer of 2001. Smith would go on to have a spectacular season in 03/04, scoring 13 goals in 28 games from midfield, although Hereford ultimately lost the title by a point despite scoring 106 goals and were then knocked out of the play-offs on penalties, which is a shame.
By this point Kevin Gall had established himself in the team following his move from Bristol Rovers and this was the first Conference game in which he and Kirk Jackson were partnered from the start, so they were still a new strike force. The Yeovil line-up had a very familiar look to it of Weale, Lockwood, Pluck, Skiverton, Johnson, McIndoe, Williams, Jackson and Gall. The only absentees were Nick Crittenden, who was unavailable but on the way to recovery following an operation on a groin injury, and Darren Way who was suspended for one game for an accumulation of yellow cards. One vital difference between the teams of 02/03 and 00/01, was squad depth. While both sides had a strong starting XI, there was very little on the bench in 2001, as Colin Addison only had a bench of about half a dozen kids with an average age of 20. When Patmore was injured and Smith lost form, there were no back-ups. In 2001, Crittenden would have had to play on with the injury, but Gary Johnson had the luxury of El Kholti in reserve with the additional option of Andy Lindegaard. He also had cover in the form of Collis, O’Brien, Aggrey and Grant, who between them had most positions on the field covered. The only real lack of cover lay in central midfield, where only O’Brien and at a push McIndoe could cover Johnson and Way, who that season played almost 100 games between them.
February and March are critical months as that is when injuries, suspensions and loss of form can start to pile up on top of postponed fixtures. It is an important time to strengthen, which Gary Johnson was able to do, bringing in Neil Mustoe to cover in central midfield and Kevin Gall as a striking option. Defender/ midfielder Jason Blunt also arrived on the same day as Gall, but after one substitute appearance decided to sign for Doncaster instead, and was in the side who got stuffed 4-0 at Belle Vue in April. Unlucky Jason! Mustoe, signed from Gloucester City, made only two appearances, covering Darren Way’s absence against Hereford and Margate, and to be fair did not impress in either. He was way off the pace of the rest of a team who were a well-oiled machine and far above Conference standard by that point.
The game began as a tense affair in front of 6,487, only slightly less than the 6,674 who had turned out against Doncaster in October, including 700 or so expectant Hereford fans. The first half was very even, but the deadlock was broken when following a Johnson free kick, Skiverton headed back across goal for Lockwood to nod home from close range. The decisive moment occurred just before half time, when a tussle for the ball with Hereford’s Danny Williams on the ground turned into a brawl, with John Grant charging in elbow first right in front of the referee and rightly receiving a red card. It was difficult for the fans to see what had gone on with virtually every player being involved, so there was a great deal of tension when Skiverton was called over – only to receive a yellow card when many might have expected the referee to even up the numbers. In this instance the referee was correct as Grant led with his elbows and the rest was all handbags, although that was difficult to tell from the crowd and Skiverton had previously been sent off during a very similar incident against Halifax.
To be fair to Hereford they did play exceptionally well with ten men in the second half and created a number of chances. They gave Yeovil as much of a game as anyone did in the second half of the season, with the exception of Halifax who were up next. However class eventually told, as on 77 minutes McIndoe dispossessed Williams and fed Gall, who expertly curled around Matt Baker from a difficult angle. Less than 30 seconds from the re-start and Gall returned the favour, going on a run down the right and crossing for Jackson to smash home from close range. 78 minutes, 3-0 against ten men, job done. There was some icing on the cake, as in the 90th minute Grant was brought down by Tony James when clear through on goal, earning a straight red. He might have got a bit of the ball, but he also scythed right through Grant to get it. Up stepped former Bull McIndoe to make it 4-0. It had taken most of the season for Yeovil to realise that McIndoe is an expert penalty taker, as previous to then (and the previous season), Crittenden had mostly taken them, with mixed results. But McIndoe rarely misses, and did not do so against his former club. By this point Gavin Williams was off the field, having already been booked and showing the kind of enthusiasm that might have brought a second, so he was taken off as a precaution.
To emphasise the gulf in class, Yeovil were able to pass the ball amongst themselves to cries of ‘Ole!’ from the crowd, putting together a move of 32 passes, only ended by an offside flag. During that move every single Yeovil player had at least one touch on the ball, including the goalkeeper. It was clearly time for a new challenge!
4-0 might have given a slightly flattering look and mis-represented how long Hereford were actually in the game for, but nobody who was also at Huish Park on 1st May 2001 was going to care about that. The 2-1 win in 2002, courtesy of a last minute goal from Yeovil-born Andy Lindegaard while Hereford players were feigning injury in a bid to waste time, was a good measure of revenge, but a 4-0 win in front of almost 7,000 on the way to the Conference title including a goal from a former Hereford player was much, much better.
The Glovers would end up getting seven points from their three tough fixtures, fighting back from 2-0 down to beat Halifax 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Kevin Gall, and drawing 1-1 at Woking with ten men, after Adam Lockwood was sent off and Darren Way perhaps lucky not to follow him. The lead was nine points, with only one more game played than Doncaster but 15 ahead of Chester who were falling away badly but were still kind enough to beat Donny when the two sides met, denting their hopes even further. Doncaster lost their other game in hand and ended the season 17 points behind the Glovers.
As a footnote to this story, Neil Mustoe might not have impressed much during his two appearances for Yeovil but he did play, and score, in the 1995 FA Youth Cup Final for Manchester United. It was not that United youth side (Beckham, Giggs etc had graduated, although Phil Neville was still in the side), but interestingly in the Spurs side they faced that day were future Glovers Sam Winston and (blink and you’ll miss him) Simon Spencer, who made a grand total of one substitute appearance in 1998 under Colin Lippiatt. Also in the side were future Southend captain Kevin Maher and future FA Trophy final loser Simon Wormull, who signed for Stevenage after spending a season or two in Rushden’s reserves.
Team that day: Chris Weale, Adam Lockwood, Terry Skiverton, Colin Pluck, Neil Mustoe (Roy O’Brien, 75), Lee Johnson, Abdelhalim El-Kholti, Michael McIndoe, Gavin Williams (Andy Lindegaard, 75), Kirk Jackson (Kim Grant, 83), Kevin Gall. Subs not used: Stephen Collis, Jimmy Aggrey.
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