Saturday, April 1, 2006

HOW appropriate that one of the strangest and most farcical moments ever to transpire at St George's Lane fell on April Fools' Day.

Under no pressure inside his own penalty box, Worcester City's Adam Burley shuffled into the perfect position to clear a ball dropping from the sky.

But instead of heading to safety, he calmly trapped the ball with both hands in front of his face. Verdict -- penalty.

It was a bizarre incident, one that left supporters from both sides scratching their heads. As it emerged, Town players were accused of pulling the wool over City's eyes.

Gary Mills -- Alfreton's 44-year-old player-manager -- initially fell to the ground 30 yards from Worcester's goal with an apparent head injury.

Shouts to stop play were allegedly made by the visitors and -- sensing urgent attention was needed -- City captain Des Lyttle ordered left-back Burley to 'catch' the ball.

By this time, Mills was back on his feet and, when referee Steven Rushton had no option but to award a spot-kick, Alfreton detached themselves from any misunderstanding.

Chris Bettney stroked home the 16th minute penalty down the centre, fuelling the anger of City assistant manager Andy Morrison who launched into a scathing touchline verbal attack towards Mills and his number two Darron Gee.

Almost inevitability, Morrison was banished to the stands for the second time in five home games, following his face-to-face confrontation with Vauxhall Motors boss Carl Macauley in February.

Despite City's innocence, the entire episode -- and subsequent debate on sportsmanship -- should have been avoided.

As the saying goes, you play to the whistle. It was nave of experienced Lyttle and former Gainsborough skipper Burley to fall foul of the rulebook, whether they were hoodwinked or not.

Sensing injustice on their part, the penalty galvanised City into a period of domination, from which they equalised through twinkle-toed Troy Wood.

The 17-year-old -- enjoying a fine full home league debut -- gave an insight to his shooting ability when, from good build-up play between Adam Webster and Rob Warner, he slapped a crisp left shot just wide.

Wood missed out then, but within 60 seconds he celebrated his first league goal.

Warner's throw-in was glanced towards the diminutive striker in acres of space at the back post. From three yards out, his first snatched effort crashed against the crossbar.

Luckily, it rebounded into his path and Wood made no mistake second time around, volleying left-footed past goalkeeper Simon Rayner.

Creator Clegg was instrumental in several of City's better moves but, alongside him, Jai Stanley had a largely ineffective game on his return from a loan spell at Hednesford.

He was withdrawn mid-way through the second-half for Nick Colley, moments after poor defending allowed the visitors to retake the advantage.

A sloppy pass from Chris Smith sailed out of play near half-way. From the throw-in, Town worked a move down the right flank from which full-back Ryan Clarke delivered a dangerous low cross.

The centre evaded several bodies, including City goalkeeper Lewis Skyers, who had a tidy game deputising for the injured Danny McDonnell, until Emeka Nwadike poked home at the far post.

It was left to Andy Preece to salvage a point, the player-manager netting his first league goal since his return to St George's Lane last year.

With nine minutes left, a teasing cross into Town's penalty area was prodded goal-bound by the 39-year-old. A defender may have got the final touch, but nobody could stop Preece claiming and celebrating his effort with fans on the Brookside terrace.

City: Skyers, Warner, Burley, Pearce, Thompson, Lyttle, Stanley (Colley 67), Smith, Wood (Preece 75), Webster, Clegg. Subs (not used): Warmer, Walker, Watkins.

Attendance: 860.