Normally, after eleven games, the League table could be expected to give a fair indication of how good a side is. Avenue will be hoping this season is different and they have good reason. Having already played five teams in the top six and only one in the bottom six, as the table stood last weekend, means Avenue’s position is almost certainly lower than it would otherwise be. Couple this with a series of costly refereeing decisions which have gone against them and a place in the bottom four might be difficult to avoid.
However, since the opening ten games, Avenue’s star appears to be on the rise. An exhilarating 2 – 1 success against Curzon Ashton at Horsfall has got the season properly underway and, with 35 games left to play, Avenue can still realistically aim for a mid-table spot come the end of the season.
Looking at the successes so far, one can point to a generally quite reliable defence and also a competitiveness which has enabled Avenue to stay in the game until the closing minutes in most of their fixtures to date. There are still three other sides who have scored goals in single-figures and seven teams have currently conceded at least as many goals as Avenue, including Gloucester who are as high as sixth, so in the circumstances there is nothing really to be too concerned about there.
Of all the games so far, the one to be regretted most is probably that at Scarborough where questionable decisions by the referee really began to bite. Deservedly leading 2 – 0 with only five minutes remaining, the team contrived to concede two late goals and had to settle for a draw. A win here would have put Avenue in pretty good shape for the challenges ahead. Scarborough have since moved up to fifth place while Avenue have gone in the other direction, but there’s no point in crying over spilt milk.
After this game, of course, the goals dried up and this clearly became Avenue’s Achilles’ heel. A satisfactory explanation is hard to find. While it doesn’t really matter where the goals come from so long as the ball goes in the net, the first five goals scored came from a substitute – Adam Nowakowski, a midfielder (Jamie Spencer, with two), a defender, Luca Havern, and the loan player now back at Sheffield United, Andre Brooks. This pattern began to change with Brad Dockerty’s first goal since re-signing for the club, quickly followed by Will Longbottom and Oli Johnson’s goals against Curzon, as the chances created are now beginning to be put away and impressively, too. We can hopefully expect this to have a positive effect on the other forwards which will help Avenue continue their improvement.
So far, Eddie Church has been among those unlucky with refereeing decisions and Jacob Blyth has also been unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet. Jacob could easily have had a couple of goals but has not had the necessary luck on his side and, after two games as substitute, he came back into the team to play a big part in the welcome victory over Curzon by providing assists for the two goals.
It was this game when Avenue put all the trials and tribulations of the previous two months behind them. Losing Brad Dockerty to injury after barely five minutes play and turning round 1 – 0 down following an unstoppable long-range shot, the game had at this point a very familiar look to it. The introduction of the final two substitutes – Will Longbottom and Oli Johnson – was then to make all the difference.
Firstly, after 81 minutes, Reece Staunton brought the ball back on to his right foot before sending a searching cross to the far post for Jacob Blyth to head back into the goalmouth and Will Longbottom to turn goal poacher and knock the ball in for the equaliser. Then, before the visitors could react to this setback, Jacob Blyth this time headed on a long ball forward for Oli Johnson to beat off the attentions of a defender and steer the ball past the keeper from close range.
No report would be complete without reference to Jamie Spencer’s wonder goal at Scarborough, a copy of David Beckham’s extraordinary strike against Wimbledon in 1996 which got the whole of the country marvelling at his audacity. While catching the goalkeeper off his line plays an important part in the success of such an attempt at goal, the sight of the ball travelling through the air and the keeper’s dramatic effort to prevent it entering the net was a sight to behold. When interviewed later, a modest Jamie with a smile on his face simply said: ‘I won a tackle and I just thought I’d shoot’, but had it been that easy players would be trying it from half-way every week!
By doubling their points tally in only one game, Avenue can feel much more optimistic going forward. Irrespective of the result against Hereford on Saturday, they will be looking towards the game at Blyth on Tuesday and seeing it as an important six-pointer for both sides. Then, in a couple of months’ time with twice the number of games played, Avenue will hopefully have said goodbye to bottom spot for good and be playing the football we know they are capable of on a level playing field.
Check the gallery below for some of Club Photographer John Rhodes best photos from the 22/23 season so far. Click here for full albums on John Rhodes’ page.