Nuneaton Borough 0 St Ives Town 1
Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central 12-08-2023
Nigel Howlett Reports from the FCS Stadium
Ives tough opening run of fixtures continued with a trip to last seasons play-off finalists. Few would have given the visitors much hope of getting anything from this game as it is only a few months since the same two sides met in the final league game of last season and on that occasion, Boro ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
But as has been said many times games are not played on paper and it was Ives who put in a sterling performance to deservedly earn their first maximum return of the season and leave their hosts still without a point on the board after the opening two games.
It would be tough to pick out individual heroes from what was a very hard working and solid all-round performance. The hard working back four ensured that keeper Eddie Brearey only had one real save to make in each half. The midfield all worked like Trojans to ensure that Boro players never had a moment on the ball anywhere on the park. Brandon Njoku ran his socks off harrying the host’s back line and took his goal brilliantly to grab the man of the match award from the small group of Ives faithful that made the trip.
With both sides losing their opening games of the season there was a little more edge on this one with the pressure particularly on the nervy looking hosts. Bilal Yafai had the first shot of the game after eight minutes, but he fired his left footed effort from the corner of the box well wide under pressure from Paddy Casey. Casey got involved at the other end two minutes later when Mattie Stenson’s upraised arm blocked his attempted cross from the right giving Johnny Herd a chance to swing a free kick into the crowded box but his kick was a poor one and did not get past the front man.
Most of the game continued to be played in a very crowded midfield where Michael Richens, Luke Harris and Fernando Bell-Toxtle on his competitive debut for Ives were all putting in a real shift and winning their share of the ball off their harassed looking opponents. Bell-Toxtle battled well down the left to win the first corner of the game midway through the first half but again Herd’s kick came to nothing.
Isaiah Osbourne almost managed to put Connor Furlong through in 25th minute but Charlie Johnson was alert to the danger and bravely slid in to block the shot at point blank range. Ives best chance in the first half came three minutes later when Njoku showed his pace and ability to get past Osbourne and get to the bye line. He tried to pick out Tiago Nassunculo arriving at pace on the six-yard line with his pull back but covering defender Scott McManus did just enough to prevent the Ives winger firing home.
Brearey had to make his only real save in the first half just after the half hour as Leroy Lita combined well with Stenson before the latter unleashed a fierce swerving drive from 30 yards that Ives young stopper did well to palm away high to his left. Jordan Williams was first to react to the loose ball just scrambling it away before Kacy Butterfield could prod it home.
Following that escape Ives then got on top for the closing stages of the first half Nassunculo fired a 25-yard free kick around the host’s four-man wall but straight into the hands of keeper Dan Jezeph in 36th minute. The same player should probably have done better two minutes later as clever runs from Njoku and Tyrone Baker took defenders away from him allowing him to run at the heart of the Boro back line but his eventual shot from 25 yards flew well over the top.
Deep into stoppage time Njoku was taken down by Osbourne as he cut in from the left. The big centre half picked up a yellow card for the challenge and Richens tried to add to his pain and catch out Jezeph by going directly for goal with the free kick, but a well-positioned Lita headed the goal bound shot away.
Picking up the yellow card was Osbourne’s final action in the game as he was replaced at the break by ex-Ives defender Camron McWilliams. But it was Ives who continued on top in the early stages of the second half. McWilliams first action was to take down Baker 25 yards out as the speedy winger cut inside. Richens beat the host’s wall with the resulting free kick but failed to hit the target.
Four minutes after the re-start Ives deservedly got their noses in front. Bell-Toxtle, Nassunculo and Baker were all involved in the move that ended with Baker teeing up Njoku for a shot from inside the D. The striker swivelled on the ball and found the bottom corner of the net with a shot that beat the diving Jezeph low to his right.
Going behind did spark something of a reaction from the hosts and Brearey was called upon to make his second real save of the game in 55th minute. Ives struggled to clear a ball into their box and Butterfield delivered a teasing ball to the back post where Stenson hit it cleanly on the volley from ten yards out. Brearey reacted brilliantly hurling himself to his left to keep the ball out.
From that point on Ives showed their resilient best as they effectively snuffed out everything that Boro tried. So effective were Ives during this period that the hosts did not manage another effort at goal until the 83rd minute when Prince Mancinelli and Jaden Charles combined well on the left the move finishing with the former unleashing a powerful drive from the corner of the box that Brearey held well.
Most of the long balls being delivered into Ives box were being dealt with admirably by Williams and Johnson. The only one that eluded them in 86th minute was a McManus long ball that Lita managed to flick into the path of substitute Kane Richards but he fired his first-time effort from just outside the box well over the top.
As is the way of things now there were eight minutes of added time, but Ives looked comfortable throughout the majority of that with their only real moment of danger coming midway through when Richens scythed down Mancinelli 25 yards out to earn himself a yellow card. Charles fired the free kick over Ives five-man wall but over the crossbar to allow Ives to play out the remaining moments and claim their first three points of the season.
The only black mark on an otherwise excellent day for the visitors was three players picking up yellow cards for time wasting, again part of the new application of the laws of the game that referees must apply. Beware players even kicking the ball away a few feet will incur punishment this season. But back to the positive to end three very good points on the road from an impressive performance.
Final Score: Nuneaton Borough 0 St Ives Town 1
ST IVES: Njoku 49
Team Line Ups:
NUNEATON: Jezeph, Charles, Nirennold, McManus (capt), Mancinelli, Lita, Stenson (Tomlinson 70), Furlong, Butterfield, Yafai (Richards 64), Osbourne (McWilliams 46), Unused subs: Waite, Rowe-Turner
ST IVES: Brearey, Casey, Herd, Richens (capt), Williams, Johnson, Baker, Harris (Hottor 75), Njoku (Culkin 90), Bell-Toxtle, Nassunculo (Andoh 78), Unused subs: Smith, Flood
Cards: Yellow: NUNEATON: Yafai (45+2), Osbourne (45+5), Lita (52), ST IVES: Johnson (45+1), Williams (87), Richens (90+4), Baker (90+7)
IVES SUPPORTERS MAN OF THE MATCH: Brandon Njoku