By Joe Brewin at the New Bucks Head Stadium
Arsenal Reserves closed the gap at the top of the Reserve League South with a battling goalless draw against Wolves in Telford.
Against a vastly experienced home side, this was by all means a positive result.
In an entertaining match both sides enjoyed several opportunities to find a breakthrough, but ultimately the games finished without a goal.
Neil Banfield included the experienced Sebastien Squillaci at the heart of defence alongside Daniel Boateng, who committed his future to the Club last week.
Zak Ansah was handed a start in attack alongside the in-form Sanchez Watt and an advanced Jernade Meade.
Wolves, meanwhile, headed into the clash with strength in depth. Dorus de Vries, a key figurehead of Swansea’s promotion last season, started between the posts for the home side.
George Elokobi and Jody Craddock were named among the defence, Adam Hammill on the wing, while the experienced Steven Fletcher and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake formed a potentially potent Wolves attack.
Indeed, it was the hosts who carved out the game’s first opportunity. Fletcher latched onto a well-placed ball over the top, unleashing a swerving effort that Vito Mannone was forced to palm away well.
Wolves may have carried most of the threat in the early exchanges but Banfield’s young Gunners were not to be deterred and soon found a foothold in the game.
They created their first sight of goal on 12 minutes. Meade picked up on some loose possession in the opposition half before releasing to Watt. The striker played a one-two with Oguzhan Ozyakup, but couldn’t quite keep his effort down.
Meade was at the heart of the action once more when he threatened to burst through the middle but a fine challenge from the powerful Elokobi eased Wolves' fears.
Just minutes later, the home side thought they had the lead. Fletcher was on hand to turn home Antony Forde’s teasing cross - but the official’s flag was raised for offside.
It was Wolves who looked the sharper of the two sides going forward as the half wore on, but ultimately Mannone was rarely troubled.
Ozyakup had the visitors’ next opportunity but curled his free-kick on the edge of the box disappointingly over the bar.
Despite the lack of goalscoring opportunities it was an enjoyable display of football from both sides - and make no mistake, the intention here was to play.
Forde was proving a menace down the left for the hosts and his cross just minutes before the break should have provided the game’s opener. His ball into the box found the head of Fletcher, who somehow managed to divert the ball wide.
It was a let-off for Arsenal, but they themselves could have gone in ahead on the stroke of half time. With another free-kick on the edge of the area it was Watt who stepped up this time. The striker’s curling effort was destined for the bottom corner, only for De Vries to hurl himself to his right and palm the ball away brilliantly.
Arsenal flew out of the traps after the restart. The combination of Ozyakup and Watt almost struck again, the latter forcing a corner with a low strike following his Dutch team-mate’s clever backheel.
Wolves soon grew wise, however, and began to take the half by the scruff of the neck. It was they who came within a post’s width of finding the breakthrough in the 54th minute. Hammill’s corner from the left was a sweet one, but Guedioura’s header hit the woodwork.
A fast-paced half was truly coming alive, and it was no surprise when Banfield’s young Gunners could have taken the lead just a minute later. A loose backpass sent Watt on his way, but De Vries proved the victor from the resulting one-on-one battle.
Soon the tide turned for the visitors and Arsenal began to enjoy the lion’s share of possession. Big shouts for a penalty were waved away after an apparent handball inside the box, but Arsenal could have twice gone ahead soon after.
First De Vries was called into action once more to save well from Ozyakup’s curler, before substitute Josh Rees blazed over a wonderful opportunity from Watt’s pull-back.
Ozyakup fired another free-kick over the bar before Rees shot narrowly wide with five minutes left - Wolves were hanging on.
Arsenal continued to fight for a winner and were much the better side in the second period, but stout defending at both ends saw the spoils shared in the Midlands.
A point apiece was perhaps a fair result all things considered, and ultimately a draw closes the gap to just a point on leaders West Brom at the top of the Reserve League South.
Next up for Banfield’s young side is a trip to Aston Villa next Wednesday.
- Meade 68
- Ansah 68
- Ebecilio 68
- Rees 68
Wolverhampton W. Res
- De Vries
- Jack Price
- Zubar 46
- Anthony Forde
- Matt Doherty 85
- Fletcher 71
- Hemmings 46
- Aljaz Cotman
- Sam Winnall 71
- Ethan Ebanks-Landell 85