Sunday, 22 July 2018

Leighton Town 1 v 2 Luton Town XI

Saturday 21st July 2018
Bedfordshire Premier Cup Final
Bell Close, Leighton Buzzard
Admission: £5.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 270
Match Rating: 3

Having spent last Saturday revisiting two grounds, I certainly wanted to visit a new ground today, which these days inevitably entails a fairly long day out for me. Not much was really appealing for me today, until I noticed this interesting looking fixture, which would have something of a competitive edge on it being a county cup final, and would also offer the opportunity for me to meet up with an old work colleague for a couple of drinks in town beforehand.

Bell Close is about a 20 minute walk from Leighton Buzzard train station, via the town centre, and the football ground is located amongst the town's sporting facilities. Visitors walk along a short lane from the main road, past 4 tennis courts and the clubhouse for the Leighton Buzzard Sports Association, before entering the football ground through a wooden turnstile block in one corner of the ground. Behind the goal closest to the entrance there are a few steps of uncovered terracing, and behind a path along the top is the brick clubhouse. To the other side of the clubhouse, there is a small covered area with a tea bar window, although this was not open today.  There is a stand with four rows of seating inside straddling the halfway line, quite attractively decorated in red and white club colours, and behind the far goal, there are two steps to stand on covered by corrugated iron supported by scaffolding poles. There is just quite a narrow path of grass to stand on along the remaining length, with wooden fencing dividing the football ground from the cricket field of Leighton Buzzard Town Cricket Club - a game was also in play over there today. It's a pleasant ground all in all, with adequate facilities, a fair amount of character, nothing in the way of bland modern infrastructure, and with nice surroundings of trees, the cricket field and a church spire in the background. Somewhat surprisingly for a county cup final, no programme nor team sheet was issued for this game.

Leighton Town had a good season last season, finishing fourth in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, their second season since relegation from the Southern League. With Luton Town also playing at St Albans City today for their designated first team fixture, it would be a youthful side who would take to the field here.

On yet another hot and sunny afternoon this summer - in the middle of a hot, dry spell which has lasted well over a month now, the pitch here was parched and hard but not too bad considering, with other clubs having to cancel their games due to their pitch being unsafe with cracks. Despite the hot conditions, this was quite an intriguing game to watch, with the Luton youngsters showing plenty of nice touches and inventive play, whilst Leighton were more limited in their technical ability but had more experience, and started well, but it was noticeable how they seemed to struggle with the hot conditions as the game wore on. It was Leighton who took the lead on 19 minutes with a lovely left footed shot from the edge of the area which beat the keeper's dive and nestled into the bottom right corner. And they liked good value for their lead as Luton barely threatened until the 38th minute, when a quick attack saw their striker through towards goal, eventually poking the ball past the onrushing keeper but just wide of the goal. But within a minute, the scores were level, Connor Tomlinson taking the ball towards the outer left corner of the penalty area and as the keeper found himself slightly in no man's land, he lobbed the ball over the keeper and into the far side of the net. And two minutes later, on 41 minutes, Luton took the lead. Following a dribble across the outside of the penalty area, the ball eventually spilled to Jonas Kalonda at the far edge of the penalty area, and he smashed the ball first time past the keeper and into the net. And indeed, Luton finished the half really strongly, with the home team struggling to deal with their silky skills. But 1-2 was how it remained as the referee blew for half time.

The second half was entertaining enough but with precious few goalscoring chances, and Leighton never really looked likely to grab an equaliser, the closest they came was deep into added on time, when a header from a corner went wide of the post. And so it was the Luton youngeters who would receive the winners medals and lift the trophy on the pitch shortly after the match ended - although I was unable to stay around to watch, so that I could get back to the train station in time for my booked train home. Credit to both teams for producing a reasonably entertaining game of football on a very hot afternoon.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Eastbourne Borough 0 v 1 Charlton Athletic U23

Saturday 14th July 2018
Pre-season Friendly
Priory Lane, Eastbourne
Admission: £5.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 150 (estimate)
Match Rating: 2

Following my earlier game at Lancing, I caught the train back along the south coast, via Brighton, to catch this 3pm kick off game. One of the attractions was to watch a team representing the club I support, Charlton Athletic, field a team, although it would be a case of hoping to gain a glimpse of the future at this game, with the club also fulfilling a fixture at Welling United today, which the club advertised as their first team fixture and in which they would field different teams in each half.

Priory Lane is about a 15 minute walk from Pevensey & Westham train station, and there have been no noticeable improvements made to the stadium since my last visit in spring 2017 - if I were to be critical, it is looking a little shabby in places, with several broken and very weathered signs - but all in all, it is a very neat stadium more than suitable for hosting National League South football. No programmes nor team sheets were issued for this game.

It was a beautiful afternoon for watching football, under blue skies and sunshine, with it being warm but not too hot. Unfortunately, entertainment on the pitch was in short supply, with both sides struggling to mount meaningful attack, particularly during the first half.

Both teams made multiple changes at half time, interestingly for Eastbourne more established players gave way to more fringe players, whilst the opposite was true for Charlton, with several several triallists, who had done little to impress, gave way to stronger looking players, although still very young. As the game reached its conclusion, Charlton managed to create some decent chances to score, but their shooting was wayward, and Eastbourne came close to scoring when Marvin Hamilton's shot hit a post. But as a goalless draw looked a certainty, Charlton scored the winner three minutes from time when 16 year old Jeremy Sarmiento, who has been rumoured to be attracting the interest of Manchester City, received a pass inside the area before firing the ball high into the net. The game then meandered to an uneventful conclusion, following a game that will not live long in the memory, but was no doubt a useful workout for Charlton's very youthful team, and for Eastbourne's more experienced players facing a style of play they are probably unlikely to encounter regularly in their league campaign.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Horsham 4 v 1 Langney Wanderers

Saturday 14th July 2018
Pre-Season Friendly
Culver Road, Lancing
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 60 (rough head count)
Match Rating: 3

Having arranged to meet up with some work colleagues for the 3pm game at Eastbourne Borough, I chose to double up with this game earlier in the day, taking advantage of its 11am kick-off along the south coast. Although this would represent a revisit for me, my only previous visit was back in 2009, and the offer of free entry for this game sealed the deal for me.

Culver Road is about a five minute walk from Lancing train station, and serves as the headquarters for the Sussex County Football Association. So no surprise to see plenty of their signage around what is a very smart facility. Lancing, of the Southern Combination League, are the long standing resident club side here, as well as Horsham temporarily. Apart from the installation of a plastic pitch, there have been no noticeable changes since my last visit. A brick stand stretches along two thirds of one length, from the entrance turnstile block to the far corner flag. There is a tea bar window and clubhouse closest to the entrance, then several rows of seating sectioned off by a couple of walls, and then a flat area by the corner flag. There is just hard standing around the rest of the pitch, with quite a nice views of the South Downs behind the length opposite the stand. No programmes nor team sheets were produced for this fixture.

After some pretty lean years for Horsham since they vacated their home ground Queen Street in 2008, during which time they have lived a nomadic experience playing at Worthing, Horsham YMCA and, since the start of last season, here at Lancing some 22 miles from their home town, as well as suffering a relegation to Step 5 football, it would seem that the club are on an upward curve now. They finished in 15th place in the Isthmian League Division One South last season, and are hoping that they will be able to return to their home town this season, as their new ground is in the process of being constructed. Langney Wanderers are a relatively new club, formed in 2010, making terrific strides, having just been promoted to the Southern Combination League Premier Division after just their third season in senior football, finishing runners up last season. They currently ground share at Eastbourne Borough's home ground at Priory Lane.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, this game looked like being horribly one sided, as Horsham opened up a three goal lead inside the opening twenty minutes. With just two minutes on the clock, new signing from South Park Chris Smith saw his shot from the edge of the area hit the post, but they did take the lead on 7 minutes, Shelley diverting the ball into the net following a free kick by the outer corner of the penalty area. They doubled their lead on 15 minutes when a low cross evaded the keeper but not O'Toole, who just bundled the ball home from close range despite the attentions of a defender diving in, and it was 3-0 on 19 minutes, when the keeper was drawn out to the by line by O'Toole, who pulled the ball back for Hoare to strike the ball home. Langney then slowly came back into the game and had a couple of good chances to pull a goal back, although so did Horsham to further extend their lead.

Into the second half, after the customary wholesale changes occurred at half time, the game continued to be more even than the opening twenty minutes, although it remained Horsham doing most of the attacking and creating chances, while Langney Wanderers struggled to get in the opposition half.  But it was Langney who got the next goal on 81 minutes when their striker picked the ball up by the edge of the area before thumping the ball home past the keeper's dive. But Horsham restored their three goal lead six minutes later. Following a good dribble sideways into the penalty area, the ball spilt to Hartley, who hit the ball first time into the top corner of the net, and 4-1 was how it finished.

This was an enjoyable game to watch as friendlies go, played at good tempo, and was far from a disinterested kick about, and surely both management teams will have learnt plenty about their respective teams.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Westfield 0 v 6 Hastings United

Tuesday 10th July 2018
Pre-season Friendly
Parish Field, Westfield
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 60 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

Being off work this week, I had contemplated driving a long distance to take in a new ground this evening. However, this attractive looking game was sufficiently appealing for me to stay local, with Hastings United announcing that they would be fielding their first team squad for the fixture, and Westfield always being a pleasant place to watch football at.

There have been no changes to the ground since my last visit 2 years ago, and there will most likely not be until the club moves to their new ground in the future, something that has been on the cards for several seasons but seems no closer to becoming reality. With no floodlights nor ground perimeter fencing at the Parish Field, they must content themselves with Step 7, intermediate football in the Southern Combination League Division Two during their stay at the Parish Field, in which they finished in eighth place last season. The Parish Field remains a pleasant place to watch football though, closely surrounded by tall trees on all four sides, railed along both lengths and with hard standing for the most part. Dark green portakabins are situated to one side along one of the lengths, with a windowless clubhouse bar area inside, and a tea bar window to one side. There is an air of optimism about Hastings United approaching the new season in the Isthmian League South East Division, with a young, local and talented squad playing under a good young manager in Chris Agutter. Unsurprisingly, no programme was produced for this fixture, nor perhaps more surprisingly, was any admission fee taken, maybe something of a missed opportunity to raise some much needed funds for the club.

On a mainly cloudless evening, but that was chillier than of late, Westfield put in a good performance, and the game was quite even during the first half, and it was not until the 36th minute when Hastings took the lead. A low diagonal ball into the box found the run of a striker, who took a touch before firing the ball low across the keeper and into the net. Then, right on the stroke of half time, Hastings doubled their lead. Their striker chased a ball to the right side of the penalty area, the keeper came out to meet him, and the ball was poked past him and rolled into the empty net from quite a tight angle.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the second half was a much more one-sided affair, as Westfield struggled to retain possession of the ball and had less and less energy to chase the ball. Six minutes after the break, a Hastings shot on the run forced a good finger tip save from the keeper, and on 58 minutes, Hastings scored their third, a cross from the left was met with a glanced header which went into the net past the keeper's clutches. The visitors scored their fourth four minutes later. A clever low pass found a team mate in plenty of space inside the area, and he shot the ball into the roof of the net. Hastings were awarded a penalty on 76 minutes for a trip towards the edge of the area, and was despatched into the bottom left corner, and they completed the scoring on 85 minutes when the keeper failed to get a meaningful punch to the ball following a high looping cross into the area, and the loose ball was drilled home from 12 yards.

This was quite an entertaining game to watch, and was surely a useful exercise for all concerned, in terms of getting valuable minutes into the players' legs against competitive but clean opponents, whilst Westfield should feel happy to have contained their higher grade opponents for decent portions of the game, but will be glad that they will not face opposition of such quality in their season of intermediate football to come.