A day that many Boro fans have been looking forward to during the summer months will remain in the memory for a long time - but unfortunately these memories of a battling 1-1 draw will not be dominated by a player in an Athletic shirt.
Three Scarborough debutants received their marching orders in the Evo-Stik first division south opener at Kidsgrove Athletic from referee Brian McGill, and although most of the 130 or so travelling fans will have been happy with the courageous performance from the eight players who remained on the pitch at the end, they were certainly less than enamoured with Mr McGill.
The reality is that the first two red cards, handed out to teenage right-back Ben Middleton for pulling back a Kidsgrove player when he was the last man on 64 minutes, and six minutes later when left-back Steve Ridley was dismissed for a second caution, were both probably correct by the letter of the law but the late sending-off of Lewis Clarkson for a strong challenge on sub Wayne Johnson was a little harsh.
The referee handed out eight yellow cards as well in a display that angered the away fans, but he unfortunately failed to clamp down on some of the stronger challenges in the first half, and this led to the bizarre second half.
The burly home centre-half, Matt Haddrell, committed four or five fouls before being booked just before half-time, much to the frustration of the Boro bench, and a strong challenge between Ridley and Kidsgrove’s Kevin Street saw both go in with their studs quite high but only the Boro player was booked when surely both had gone in for the tackle in the same manner - a decision that perplexed everyone in the ground.
Unfortunately the red cards will take the shine off what was a reasonably promising first-half display from the Boro lads in their first foray into a new league.
As the fans patiently waited for their heroes to enter the arena, news filtered through that the bus carrying many of the away supporters had been held up by the delays on the M60 caused by a serious accident, they eventually arrived around five minutes before half-time.
The opening minutes saw Boro, including debutants, keeper Jason White, left-back Ridley and forwards Tyler Collishaw, Josh Greening and Gary Bradshaw, start a bit nervously, but they soon found their stride with new skipper Bryan Hughes pulling the strings in the heart of the midfield and James Bennett and Tony Hackworth also working well in the engine room alongside the ex-Hull schemer.
Hughes threaded through a superb pass in the fourth minute to Collishaw but they youngster shot wide of Daniel Read’s goal.
Four minutes later the latter was brought down and Hughes’ free-kick narrowly dipped over the bar as the visitors started to take hold of the match.
A great crossfield pass from Bennett in the 11th minute was collected by Collishaw but again his effort failed to make Read work, his shot going over the bar from an acute angle.
On 15 minutes right-back Matty Plummer limped off with a thigh injury, allowing ex-York City defender Middleton to make his debut, and he made a confident start with some tidy touches.
The visitors continued to press and they gained their reward in the 22nd minute, centre-back Andy Milne, who had a cracking first half, pouncing to prod home after Hackworth’s initial effort was blocked in the penalty area.
As Boro tried to add a second, Greening’s probing cross was deflected into the arms of Read by one of his own defenders when it could easily have deflected into the net.
The home side then rallied briefly and had a shot cleared off the line by Hughes, followed by the first booking of the game for a foul by Middleton, which seemed a tad harsh as the home team had conceded several free-kicks on the edge of their box without receiving any yellow cards.
Shortly afterwards Hackworth turned neatly and shot low at goal but his effort was blocked.
A strong challenge between Ridley and Street then saw both go in strongly but only the Boro new boy was shown yellow, a moment where a booking for both could well have helped to avoid the second-half scenes.
Five minutes before half-time White claimed a cross in confident fashion to show his authority in goal.
The ref then showed two yellow cards to Haddrell for a foul on Bradshaw on the right wing and to skipper Andrew Taylor for a challenge on Collishaw near the penalty area down the same flank, both in the same passage of play in the 42nd minute.
After some persistent play from Ridley, Bradshaw fired over from 18 yards on the stroke of half-time.
Boro started the second half well, and should have gone 2-0 ahead but Collishaw’s shot was saved well by Read when the youngster should really have netted.
The home striker Nick Ward was cautioned for dissent in the 49th minute, but he soon bounced back to net his side’s leveller within 60 seconds - netting from close-range after an initial effort had been only partially blocked.
White continued to look strong in the Boro goal, claiming another cross to keep the resurgent home attack at bay, Kidsgrove using the ploy of applying pressure on young Middleton at right-back in the knowledge that he was on a yellow card.
Boro had a chance to regain the lead in the 54th minute when Haddrell committed another foul on the edge of the box and Bradshaw’s free-kick flew narrowly wide.
Greening put another fine cross in from the left flank just before the hour mark but no-one managed to connect with it, and less than a minute later the ex-Brid striker was replaced by former Hull City youngster Lewis Clarkson.
Unfortunately for the latter he was unable to shine as the game was soon turned on its head.
Middleton pulled back Kidsgrove’s Alan Nagington when he was the last man and although he broke free and White superbly tackled the latter on the edge of the box, McGill brought play back to the initial incident and dismissed the young full-back. This angered the Boro fans as they may well have been confused as White had connected with the ball, but may not have seen the Middleton misdemeanour.
In the 66th minute, Hackworth, who now seemed to have dropped back into defence, broke clear and started a move which saw Clarkson break free and shoot wide with a scuffed effort.
Ridley then saw red after picking up his second caution of the match, reducing the visitors to just nine men with 19 minutes remaining.
Despite being two players down, Boro kept battling away and when Nathan Cook came on for midfielder Bennett, fresh legs were introduced to the fray.
The hosts also made a couple of changes, with ex-Scunthorpe ace Wayne Corden and fellow veteran Wayne Johnson coming on for Ward and Nagington respectively.
In the 83rd minute, a superb save from White kept a Lee McAnulty header out when it seemed destined for the top corner of the net.
Collishaw then scuffed a shot after a fine move involving Hughes and Clarkson tore through the home defence.
A head injury to Bradshaw delayed proceedings for a while, but the ex-North Ferriby striker battled on with his side already depleted, and another White save kept the home side at bay.
There was still time for a bit more action, in the dying moments Cook raced through the Kidsgrove rearguard and put Clarkson through, but Johnson won the ball and Clarkson dived into a challenge, sending the home player into a flurry of rolls on the floor followed by him being led off the field for treatment.
The action was not finished though, as another Cook run saw him involved in a tangle with Johnson who had shaken off his injury, and the duo were both shown a yellow card to complete a card-craz second half.
Boro were the better team for the majority of this game while they had 11 players, and even when they went down to 10, nine and eight they were dangerous on the counter-attack, and may well have stolen a shock win in the final quarter of the game.
The closing moments also saw the Boro fans give an ironic cheer when the referee gave Boro a free-kick, it was louder than that which greeted the goal by Milne, but I think very few of the away fans were happy with the match official.
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