Having failed to get into Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park a few days earlier, I decided to take things a little easier with a trip to my hometown club AFC Telford United. The Bucks currently reside in the National League North but were in action for the FA Trophy third qualifying round. Their opponents were Droylsden, a team two divisions below them.
A lot of familiar faces were present in the Telford line-up and dugout. Former Wrexham youngsters Ross White and Jonathan Royle played in defence and midfield respectively. Meanwhile their manager, Rob Edwards, played 15 games for Wales, mostly during a three-year spell at Wolves. Using that connection, Edwards signed his former teammate and one-time Championship top goalscorer Sylvan Ebanks-Blake a day before kicking-off against Droylsden. And he didn’t disappoint on his Bucks debut.
The 31-year-old scored two goals in a clinical first half display. His ability to find space and make runs off the shoulder of the defence were crucial to his goals. Youngster Marcus Dinanga, on-loan from Burton Albion, made the most of the former Premier League striker’s pedigree with the through ball and cross for his finishes.
A few times Ebanks-Blake asked for passes that weren’t supplied, whilst he was unlucky with two excellent balls across the face of goal that weren’t attacked by his teammates. He also looked very tired towards the end having seemingly not played competitively for a few months. But in time, these things can be rectified and he should prove one hell of a signing for the Bucks.
As a Wrexham fan, I’m very much used to clean sheets this season. We’ve crept up to the top end of the standings with the best defence in the National League. However, that organisation has also been accompanied with a lack of goals. How different this match proved to be. Thanks, mostly, to the terrible defending of both sides.
The tone of disarray came from the off. Droylsden missed an easy early chance before taking the lead a minute later thanks to Ciaran Kilheeney’s close-range finish. Home fans were livid with the defending, understandably. There seemed like a significant lack of communication between the backline, highlighted by one Bucks fan yelling: TALK!
The away side dominated possession with some really nice passing football but couldn’t take advantage. Then Telford hit the post as they began to turn the game. Ebanks-Blake grabbed the equaliser soon after before two further goals – one for either team – added to the frenzy.
Sefton Gonzales, the visitors’ six-foot striker, was left with so much time to head across Jas Singh in the Telford goal, find the net and restore Droylsden’s lead. Then Ebanks-Blake equalised again in the same manner as Gonzales. Such bad defending and non-existent marking. But quite a thrilling half!
With the scoreline at 2-2, the match settled down in the second period. Telford took control of the game with a couple of good substitutions and went in front for the first time with 18 minutes left. John Marsden – a fans’ favourite from the chants he received – chased down a clearance and smashed the ball into the top corner with the ball still bouncing. It was a super finish and seemed to knock the life out of Droylsden. Ten minutes later, Marsden set up a tap-in for Dinanga to claim his 12th goal of the season and that secured Telford’s place in the first round draw.
This was my fifth visit to the New Bucks Head and the first time I’d seen a Telford win. Wrexham had beaten them three times during my previous trips (which I’m not complaining about), while a Fleetwood side who scored twice through Jamie Vardy got the other victory.
I really like their ground. It’s one of the best for the level they’re at. And I also feel like things will be alright for Telford with Rob Edwards in charge. The fans were a little disgruntled with him at times but he seems to be using his connections well and is a local man who’ll understand the club’s history and ambitions.
White and Royle
Seeing as I can’t really blame Telford for the weather being absolutely freezing throughout the match, my only disappointment was the performances of the old Wrexham youth prospects.
I remembered the two lads being half-decent in the handful of games they featured for us. So it was a bit disappointing to see them both perform quite badly for their new team. White allowed many of Droylsden’s attacking players through on goal whilst Royle gave the ball away far too easily in the middle of the park. He did play Marsden through, who unselfishly laid the ball off to Dinanga for the fourth. But I felt he invited too much pressure throughout the contest by being sloppy in possession.
I don’t think I could have picked a better game to get over my midweek disappointment in Germany. Droylsden – whose home ground is literally down the road from Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium – put on a fine advert for non-league football. They were energetic and played the ball to feet despite the height and strength Gonzales brought up top. The match was entertaining and seeing Ebanks-Blake play for Telford – let alone score two on his debut – was worth the £10 entry fee. And ultimately, it was just nice to relax and enjoy some football. Even with it being so bitterly cold.
AFC Telford United 4 – 2 Droylsden
Ground rating: 6.5/10