This was a bad day in the depths of the Black Country for the Rams, who saw their unbeaten run going back to the balmy days of September brought to a pretty unceremonious end.
Any suggestion that they are punching above their weight in terms of league position would be subjected to no little, and quite justified, dispute. However, what is beyond doubt is that in practical as distinct from allegorical terms, there is no doubt that they are not a physically imposing team and it is significant that all of their less impressive performances to date have been against bigger and stronger opponents such as Halesowen.
Perhaps sensing the nature of the challenge in front of them on a heavy pitch, the Rams adopted a different approach from previous matches, favouring the triple strike force of Jordan Hulme, Jon Robinson and Lee Gaskell, which has served them well in the closing stages of the previous two matches rather than the wide threat of Osebi Abadaki and Phil Dean and bringing in the relatively more muscular Joel Pilkington in place of Grant Spencer.
Whether that strategy might have worked over 90 minutes will never now be known due to Gaskell receiving a nasty head wound and having to be substituted after 20 minutes. The question might be open to debate as by then, the Rams were already a goal down – Iseyden Christie, the vastly experienced Halesowen number nine, seized on an under hit back pass from Robinson, which stuck on the heavy surface and was calmed slotted past Grant Shenton.
The home team were adept at denying the Rams midfield any time or space, often double stacking markers on Gary Stopforth and Scott Burton, hurrying and harrying them in rare moments of possession and preventing the full-backs from making any forward progress beyond the half-way line to provide attacks with width. The closest and, indeed, only time the Rams came to scoring in the first period was a firm shot from Hulme which was well tipped over by Matt Sargeant but any hope that would mark the first buds of a renaissance were snuffed out moments later when Christie found space on the left against an isolated Lee Pugh and put in a low cross which was turned in at close range by Elliott Turner.
The situation was as bleak as the surroundings but the Rams are as indefatigable as their boisterous, hardcore group of travelling fans.
There was a spark of hope at a revival just short of the hour when Spencer drilled home from close range but his sheepish glance at the linesmen served only to confirm the flag for offside.
Halesowen continued to exploit the Rams weakness to strong running onto long diagonal balls – Grant Shenton doing well to twice deny Christie, first dropping on a close range effort and then saving a firm shot with his feet. By this stage, the Rams had reverted to the wide approach and with the home team looking to be running out of steam and resorting to hoofed kicks out of the ground as their prime defensive move, it looked that if they could grab a goal, a second might follow.
The ball simply refused to fall or bounce kindly in the box and Sargeant was safe and secure on the few occasions they managed to get a firm shot on target and the threat petered out.
After the match, there was comment that it was men against boys. It was certainly all a bit like Marciano against opponents several stone heavier – brave but ultimately bloodied.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED team: Grant Shenton, Dominic Smalley, Lee Pugh, Gary Stopforth, Steven Howson, Cedric Krou, Jon Robinson, Scott Burton, Jordan Hulme, Lee Gaskell, Joel Pilkington. Subs: Phil Dean (for Pilkington 56mins), Osebi Abadaki (for Robinson 74mins), Grant Spencer (for Gaskell 22mins), Nelson Mota, Alex Piacentile.
HEADER PICTURE COURTESY OF DAVE HAWLEY and HALESOWEN TOWN F.C.