An eagerly anticipated local derby between Shirebrook Town and title-chasing AFC Mansfield failed dismally to live up to expectations and ended up goalless.
An impressive turnout of 220 at Langwith Road was the biggest crowd in either of the two divisions in the Toolstation Northern Counties East League last Saturday.
But by 4.50 pm, many must have wished they had gone elsewhere, or even started their Christmas shopping, because the match degenerated into a dreary stalemate.
Shirebrook’s view was that AFC were poor and failed to live up to their lofty reputation, which had seen them shoot up to second in the First Division table after just one defeat in their opening 16 games of the season.
However, the home side were not much better in struggling to break down the Bulls, even when the visitors were reduced to ten men for the last 22 minutes by the sending-off of Adon Spencer.
Spencer was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence and became one of seven players to be shown cards during the 90 minutes. But although Shirebrook responded by going on the attack, camping in their opponents’ half for much of the time, AFC defended doggedly and determinedly to keep them comfortably at bay, with Luke Jeffs, a new recruit from Frickley Athletic, forming a formidable partnership at the heart of their backline with ex-Football League veteran Chris Timons.
Shirebrook, under the guidance of new manager Russ Eagle, unveiled a fresh face of their own in Ryan Johnson, who made his debut, with another new signing, Ross Eckhart on the bench.
But it was Anthony Rowley who always looked the player most likely to breach the AFC rearguard, making some probing runs through the right channel, while Jake Currie and Matty Ord also impressed.
For all their efforts, though, they created precious few clearcut chances. Yes, they had most of the possession, but no amount of huffing and puffing could dislodge the Bulls, who are never a side to shirk from a physical slog.
Rudy Funk’s side were content to grind out a draw, particularly after the red card, which compounded the loss they were already feeling with the absence of their captain and top scorer, Dean Rick.
Obviously, AFC are not a one-man team, but without Rick, they sorely lacked spark. Fellow striker Craig Mitchell missed his prolific sidekick to feed off in the box, while playmaker Jimmy Ghaichem looked a little lost without the chief marksman making the kind of runs that he feeds so expertly.
LINE-UP -- SHIREBROOK: Dean/ Robley, Shaw, Currie, Roebuck, Gibson, Greenfield, Getliff, Rowley, Johnson, Ord. SUBS: Whitehead, White R., Eckhart.
AFC MANSFIELD: White J./ Marriott, Spencer, Buxton, Jeffs, Timons, Williams, Naylor, Park, Mitchell, Ghaichem.