The two sides met in early September and played out a crazy game that ended 4-3 to Gavin Cowan’s Bucks side, despite them having fallen 2-0 behind after just 20 minutes. It was evident from the early stages that a repeat of that contest wasn’t likely; instead, it was a very different performance that secured the points, with the Bucks absorbing the hosts best efforts, scoring a goal of their own and then defending in an disciplined and organised fashion to see the game to its conclusion.
For those able to remember those days, it was perhaps reminiscent of the type of victory which the Bucks specialised in during Cowan’s days as a player at the club, and the manager praised his side’s collective character as they delivered a consummate away performance.
Anyone looking evidence of what has changed to deliver a third clean sheet in a row for the Bucks will likely point to the return of captain Shane Sutton and left-back Ross White; they wouldn’t be wrong, but two players alone would not be able to bring about such a change. Sutton’s organisational abilities have been clear to see, but from front to back the Bucks have bought into the plan given to them by Cowan. It may have been borne from necessity, with Cowan going back to basics following their recent FA Trophy hiding by Leamington, but necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
The Bucks went into this fixture with one change from the team that defeated Alfreton Town 3-0 on Boxing Day, but it was a notable one; Ryan Barnett, who brings such quality to the Bucks right wing, served a one-game suspension for a recent red card, giving Riccardo Calder a shot at redemption after his own recent dismissal and suspension.
Playing in front of White on the left-hand side, Calder brought energy and a willingness to run and run, and he created the Bucks game-winner on 42 minutes. Bursting forward, Calder went to ground as he turned inside his defender but was quickly upright and picked out Adam Walker, joining the attack; Walker looked as though he would take aim himself but unselfishly located Matty Stenson and from six yards out, tumbling as he did so, Stenson turned the ball home past keeper Niall Maher.
That came as a blow to a Gloucester side who had made the early running, eager and perhaps stung by their own 3-0 Boxing Day defeat at Leamington, a result that saw the Tigers offer apologies and free admission to those fans who had travelled to witness a performance their board described as ‘unacceptable’. They had the ball in the net twice in the first half, but on each occasion former Bucks loan player Marlon Jackson clearly handled in the build-up. Joe Hanks also flashed an angled volley wide of Matt Yates far post from an inconclusive defensive header by Theo Streete, whilst Yates also tipped a Jackson shot over his bar at the near post.
City continued to huff and puff but the Bucks held firm, stole ahead through Stenson, and then, as the light faded in the Worcestershire countryside it was the Bucks who began to burn bright, not the Tigers. Second half opportunities started to come their way, with Stenson, Walker and James McQuilkin tireless in their pursuit of the ball to push Gloucester back into their own half.
Stenson swivelled to shoot wide, whilst the Bucks threw bodies in the path of Zack Kotwica’s shot when the Tigers made a rare breakthrough. I
nto the last 15 minutes, the Tigers started to throw the kitchen sink at the visitors, with giant centre-half Liam Daly pushed up front. Jackson forced the ball wide with his head when Yates could only palm a dangerous Jack James cross at the oncoming forward, Stenson missed when going for the top corner at the opposite end and the final ten minutes saw Yates earn his corn with some safe handling from a succession of City corners and free-kicks. The hosts last chance came right on the whistle, with Daly dropping off to volley goalwards from a free-kick nodded towards him, but White, as his team-mates in white had done all afternoon, got between Daly’s effort and the goal to avert the threat.
It wasn’t a vintage display, but it moved the Bucks closer to the division’s big cheeses as they enter the second half of the season.
AFC Telford United: Yates, Birch, White, Deeney, Sutton (c), Streete, Daniels, Walker, Stenson (Williams 84), McQuilkin (Lilly 90), Calder (Knights 80).
Unused substitutes: Dinanga, Barnes-Homer.
Goals: Stenson (42).
Gloucester City: Maher, James, Senior, Thomas, Hamilton (c) (Ebbutt 84), Daly, Johnstone (Parker 74), Hanks, Jackson, Kotwica (Sweeney 62), Myrie-Williams.
Unused substitutes: Hainault, Avery.
Referee: Scott Tallis.
Assistants: Andrew Ellis, Ashley Clarke.