CAPTAIN Fantastic Peter Clarke produced one of the best defensive performances you could wish to see.
Not only did he inspire 10-man Town to fight back for an against-the-odds point at Huish Park – which could turn out to be pivotal come the League I shake-up in May – the 29-year-old centre-back oozed all the qualities of persistence, passion and precision which Town will need to turn their 13-match unbeaten league run since the turn of the year into a successful promotion push.
Tackling with ferocity and accuracy, and making countless clearances with head and boot, Clarke set the glowing benchmark for application which enabled Lee Clark’s side to recover from Lee Peltier’s crazy 13th-minute red card and the 38th-minute strike by Andrew Williams which gave lively Yeovil plenty of hope.
The home side, with Dean Bowditch and Oli Johnson taking advantage of the extra space, looked capable of adding to their tally in the first half, even though Clark kept his most experienced players in midfield and maintained a regular back four (after right-back Peltier’s sending-off) by replacing the unlucky midfield starter Chris Atkinson with natural full-back Jack Hunt.
It was a different story in the second half, however, as Town – with pacy striker Benik Afobe on for hamstring injury victim Lee Novak – bristled with determination and played with such fluency on a difficult cut-up surface that it looked like they had 11 men and Yeovil’s 10.
That was particularly so after impressive centre-back Antony Kay had powered in his fourth goal of the season from an Anthony Pilkington corner after 58 minutes.
While he collected a 12th booking of the season for celebrating among the jubilant travelling contingent of around 250 Town fans – and later suffered a bloody head wound in a clash with sub Sam Williams which needed stitches – Kay instilled a massive amount of belief in a Town line-up which was already going the extra yard in adversity.
Suddenly Pilkington and Gary Roberts became a teasing factor, Afobe’s pace gave the valuable option of the ball over the top and Town’s busy midfield pairing of Scott Arfield and Kevin Kilbane were able to keep Yeovil pinned in their own half.
It all led to a dominant spell from Town to warm their frozen fans, and it might have yielded three points (on a day when all the others in the top six won) had Yeovil keeper Stephen Henderson not produced a stunning save from Pilkington eight minutes from time, after he’d been released by the battling Afobe.
Afobe himself might have scored only three minutes earlier after robbing Yeovil captain Paul Huntington of possession in the box, but Henderson blocked with his feet at the near post when the teenage loanee might have been better served cutting the ball back for an unmarked Pilkington.
Having said that, Afobe was unfortunate not to earn a penalty for his determined raiding when hauled down by Huntington 15 minutes from time, but referee Phil Crossley, who had an excellent match, decided it was six of one and half a dozen of the other.
With the way Town responded to the manager’s half-time encouragement, it was a pity Peltier left his teammates in such a hole against his old club and on his 150th league appearance – smacking Bowditch full in the face with a flailing arm in full view of fourth official John Busby who, after consultation, confirmed referee Crossley’s initial suspicions.
It will take Peltier out of the equation for an extended spell – it’s his second red of the season after the Carling Cup dismissal against Everton – and the manager will hope he gets the same doggedness from the rest in these games to come as he did on Saturday.
While Yeovil prospered to half-time – and might have been two up had an attempted clearance from Stephen Jordan not hit his own woodwork on 31 – Town did more than enough in the second period to merit their point and the skipper, more than anyone, deserved not to finish on the losing side with a magnificent individual display drenched in devotion to the cause.