The word masterclass according to Wikipedia is defined as a class taught by someone with expert knowledge and skill in a certain subject. As the players and I funnelled into the tight dressing room at Whitchurch Alport, the 90 minutes that followed can only be described as a tactical masterclass.
Those two words were told to me by Lichfield City assistant manager Wayne Chapman, who looked characteristically confident ahead of the game.
It’s another away day for Ivor Green’s men as the tough games continue and indeed the end of the season brings a frantic culmination, to what has been a dramatic and breathless 9 months.
A Monday night game in Shropshire is not ideal following the disappointing 1-0 defeat the previous week against Chasetown FC, which caused major disappointment and regret from the players following the game.
“This looks cosy,” Jack Edwards says as he greets me and saunters into the changing room greeting every player in his wake. The squad struggle to fit into the changing room and each player has their own comments about the dressing room as they enter. Midfielder Scott Goodby is forced to stand up next to me as the cramp conditions are amplified as more players enter.
Chapman and Luke Keen are exchanging stories as the former Atherstone coach, asks who my next victim is for an interview.
“Do you remember the fantastic overhead kick goal I scored in training,” Chapman reminisces to a rather perplexed Keen, who used to play at Atherstone during Chapman’s time as the first-team coach, before Green arrived. “I don’t know I think you’ve dreamt that mate,” Keen replies as he looks at me with confusion in his eyes. The players arrive and get settled; the door swings open in steps Green, and the team talk begins.
“Every single player in here is going to get a chance,” Green says as the busy fixtures approach on the horizon for City. “All I’m asking for now is to give this (rest of the season) everything you’ve f***ing got, there are only 20 days left of the season just give your all in these final seven games. We’re in the period of the season where we could relax and sack it off, but we can still finish runners up so don’t give up.”
As the players and I scrutinize and gaze at the small board, which currently houses Green’s tactical musings every match day. A difference in the set-up is on the menu tonight, which seems to raise a few eyebrows. Green encourages both fullbacks to push high up and find commanding striker Luke Keen when possible and to sit deep for the early periods of the game.
As Green is barking orders to his players, he points to the experienced players: “We’ve got Dlo (Dan Lomas), Patto (Kyle Patterson), Joe Haines, I expect you guys (pointing to the players aforementioned) to stand up and be counted and say it how it f**king is tonight. If it’s frustrating you I want you to say it. We are in this together and we have been all season.”
A brief glance over at a few of the players, the look of inspiration is painted on their faces as there is a sense of belief that this could work tonight, irradiating from the player’s faces. The previous meeting between the two sides ended in a 4-1 win for Alport away from home and Green described that performance as “disastrous”. The flamboyant and confident manager did not want to see a repeat of the defeat suffered in January.
As the room drifts into silent reflection, Chapman has a final word of inspiration for the players.
“We’ve got seven games to play, and the league is all over the place,” Chapman says passionately. “Who’s to say if we get seven straight wins, we won’t be there. Boldmere and Hanley have some difficult games, we can win seven let’s put some pressure on them (the teams at the top).”
As Green wraps up his impassioned team talk, the room breaks out into a roar of passion and emotion.
As I take my seat in the stands, the game is a joy to watch. After a difficult first half for Lichfield, the performance improves ten-fold and the goals are flying in. After just one goal in three games, to score four in a game is a huge confidence boost for Green’s men.
The roar of celebration when the second goal courtesy of Jack Edwards hits the back of the net is deafening. I don’t think the management or players would argue with this, but the tide could have turned after Dan Lomas who scored the equaliser, missed what could have been a crucial penalty. The crowd was up for it and had just seen their academy goalkeeper save a penalty brilliantly, the game could have swung but it didn’t.
The celebrations when firstly Keen then substitute Max Dixon made the game safe not only on the touchline but on the pitch seemed like a turning point. The home fans behind the goal away to my left who were giving goalkeeper James Beeson stick throughout the second half, left in their masses as the game ended as the fourth goal went in, the result seemed significant.
The full-time whistle went as I energetically and perhaps slightly unprofessionally clapped the players off the pitch like an excitable fan, the players embraced as they headed off the pitch and substitute Luke Childs gave a faint nod of appreciation to my clapping. The job was done.
As the clubhouse filled up faster than the Standing Order (a local Wetherspoons in Derby) does on a Friday night, the players were treated with some chips and gravy. As Edwards and Haines were going back and forth with Lomas about the penalty miss, Lomas had to endure some jibes from both as he shook his head and laughed off the jokes.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse after a win is usually fantastic and this was no exception, jokes flying around, chips being eaten and pints being drunk, it was the place to be.
As some players departed due to a long-distance back to Staffordshire, Chapman walks past me and winks. The enigmatic assistant mouths to me with a smile: “Tactical masterclass.”