Alfreton Town 1 AFC Telford United 1 - Report and pictures
An arduously earned point might not seem like the ideal start to 2020 for the Bucks, but a fourth consecutive game without defeat after 4 games in 12 days made it a pleasing festive period overall or Gavin Cowan’s side.
Coming six days after a 3-0 Bucks win over Alfreton on Boxing Day, the feeling was always that the return fixture would be a very different game, and so it proved.
Although the Bucks never felt in any real danger of losing the game, neither could they find enough to win it.
This game had a distinctly post-Christmas feel, but it was the excesses of a busy schedule rather than overindulgence that were responsible for a less than satisfying contest.
That certainly wasn’t how things looked to be heading when the Bucks took an early lead.
Only 4 minutes of the game had passed when James McQuilkin fired his side ahead, and if he hits a sweeter shot in the whole of 2020 then it’ll be worth seeing; a free-kick to the edge of Alfreton’s penalty area resulted in Ryan Barnett having a shot blocked, but as the ball it was McQuilkin who got there first, and his right-footed connection flew past Jordan Wright and into the keeper’s top-right hand corner.
Buoyed by that, the Bucks set about really making themselves at home, and McQuilkin went close again three minutes later.
Barnett’s run and cross from close to the goal-line wouldn’t fall for Stenson, but McQuilkin, arriving late, brought a save from Wright at close range.
Alfreton were smarting, and perhaps no-one more than former Buck Amari Morgan-Smith; his New Buck’s Head return on Boxing Day fell flat, and included a late missed penalty-kick, but his desire to make amends was clear.
Drifting to the right, he began to give Ross White a torrid time, using his physical presence and canniness to win free-kicks and good positions.
Bucks keeper Matt Yates pushed away his firm, low cross-shot and the hosts’ ambition started to grow.
On 23 minutes, another Bucks chance went begging; McQuilkin was again the man in the right place, not picked up by the home defence, but when Matty Stenson’s barnstorming run allowed him to set up the diminutive midfielder the ball arrived slightly behind him, and he could only nudge the ball into Wright’s arms.
A goal from either of those opportunities should have been enough to set the Bucks on the path for three points, but missed chances are often costly, and when Morgan-Smith turned in the box on 26 minutes to drive the ball low and hard across the six-yard box, midfield colleague Ben Tomlinson was on hand to score.
Alfreton continued to build pressure through the rest of the half, albeit without really opening up the Bucks defence.
The midfield for either side was frequently bypassed, and the half-time interval did little to change the flow of things.
On 50 minutes, Bucks keeper Matt Yates made a fine low save, stretching to his right to keep out a header from a free-kick, Ryan Qualter wasteful with the loose ball.
The Bucks were busy repelling some unimaginative football from Alfreton, and had been unable to utilise wide men Barnett and Brendon Daniels as they did on Boxing Day; Cowan introduced Aaron Williams for McQuilkin just before the hour in a tactical change.
Both sides began to collect yellow cards as the game opened up, however most of the Bucks chances came from set-pieces, with Shane Sutton often the target, whilst Bobby Johnson fired a speculative 25 yards effort over Yates crossbar in reply.
Into the last 10 minutes, and Theo Streete forced a header wide of the post from a free-kick, before a penalty appeal for the visitors was waved away, Cowan and his men adamant that Daniels was wrestled to the floor in the penalty area as he tried to turn onto a ball bouncing dangerously for the home side.
Although the Bucks kept working, Stenson particularly getting through a real shift up front, the chances didn’t come as they had in the first half, and Cowan’s side had to be content with a point for their labours.
AFC Telford United: Yates, Birch, White, Deeney, Sutton (c), Streete, Daniels, Walker, Stenson, McQuilkin (Williams 58), Barnett.
Unused substitutes: Lilly, Calder, Knights, Dinanga.
Goals: McQuilkin (4).
Cautions: Deeney, Birch.
Alfreton Town: Wright, Clackstone, Thacker, Johnson, Qualter (c), Branson, Preston, Tomlinson (Oyibo 81), Clarke, Morgan-Smith, Freiter (East 71).
Unused substitutes: Andrew, Blake, Hinchley.
Goals: Tomlinson (26).
Cautions: Clackstone, Qualter, Johnson.
Referee: Kristian Silcock.
Assistants: Jamie O’Connor, Jack Hall.