Monday, 22 August 2016

Fleet Spurs 2 v 1 Alton

Saturday 20th August 2016
Wessex League Division One
Kennels Lane, Farnborough
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 33
Match Rating: 3

After none of the FA Cup matches on offer today were sufficiently tempting, rail engineering works actually made a trip to north east Hampshire more straightforward than usual for me. A local derby was on offer, as was a visit to a ground that is worth visiting during the brighter, longer days of summer.

Kennels Lane is about a half hour walk eastwards from Fleet train station, through the pleasant Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, and is situated in a rural location, apart from large BMW office buildings located behind one goal. Although the ground is fully enclosed, it is only by see through wire fencing, so that it would be easy to watch matches for free from outside if one is so inclined. Spectators enter the ground via a turnstile next to a fairly attractive brick building which houses all of the facilities available here. The clubhouse is small but bright, which is basically a tea bar which also serves cans of alcohol. In one corner there is a neat and tidy “gift shop” area. Built into the front of the building are two separate areas of covered seating, but this is set some way back from the pitch. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, which is becoming rather overgrown with grass along the far length in particular. With trees all around the ground, a peaceful setting and some neat and attractive signage around the ground, it’s generally an attractive and well cared-for, if very modest, venue. The programme looked very impressive on the outside, but delivered very little – just a page each devoted to the history of both clubs, predicted team line-ups, but no fixture or time specific welcome message nor any fixture information.

Fleet Spurs have opened their league season with two away defeats, scoring five and conceding seven in the process. Alton have played four games so far, picking up a win and two draws from their three home games, losing their only away game so far. Last season, Alton Town finished in seventh place and Fleet Spurs in twelfth, but in April, Alton won last season’s fixture 3-7 at Kennels Lane, with Fleet winning 0-2 at Alton last November.

On what was anything but a typical August afternoon, with mainly dark skies, strong winds and squally showers, the visitors got off to a great start, taking the lead with just three minutes on the clock. After some good feet to create space in the outer corner of the area, the ball was passed low across to Declan Shuttleworth in a more central position, and he slotted the ball home with a simple finish. They almost doubled their lead on 11 minutes when a ball over the defence sent two Alton forwards through in goal, and one of them lobbed the keeper but saw the ball drop wide of the goal. That was to prove a costly miss as within a minute Fleet Spurs drew level. A lovely first time touch of the ball sent the forward clear of a defender, and he then shot the ball past the keeper. The home side then took the lead on 39 minutes when the ball from a corner fell at the back post and was headed home. On 42 minutes, Alton had a shot blocked, and they went into half time a goal down.

Into the second half and despite plenty of huff and puff, Alton rarely looked likely to get back on level terms, perhaps their best chance coming on 80 minutes when a diagonal cross into the box was met with a glancing header, forcing a flying catch by the keeper. Three minutes later and Fleet had their best chance of the half when the ball was hacked away from the goal line. But the two goals they had already scored proved enough to claim the win.

Despite a strong start to the match by the visitors - 10 minutes in, they looked most likely to go on to claim a convincing victory - Fleet came back strongly and once they took the lead, they always looked like they would comfortably hang on to their slender lead to claim their first win of the season.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Coggeshall Town 2 v 0 Downham Town

Saturday 13th August 2016
Eastern Counties League Division One
The Crops, Coggeshall
Admission: £4.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 82
Match Rating: 3

After two long Saturdays heading to the north west, as enjoyable as they were, it came as something of a relief that I was able to enjoy a much more local and relaxing day out today. With a warm sunny summer’s day forecast, I wanted to visit a club that would be enjoyed at its best on such a day. A visit to mid Essex promised to fit the bill perfectly, with a country walk to enjoy before visiting a ground in a rural setting.

The Crops is located about a five minute walk westwards from Coggeshall town centre, and about a one and half hour, four and a half mile walk from Kelvedon train station, via some really pleasant country footpaths and avoiding the more direct roadside walk. Some attractive signage by the road outside the ground points visitors to a neat wooden turnstile block. Spectators enter the ground in one corner, with a path along the top of a grass bank, which was a popular place to watch the action from today, with more conventional seating provided in an old fashioned low all-seater stand set into it straddling the half way line. At the end of the path in the far corner, a small black wooden building houses the changing rooms, with a cream coloured building houses the old fashioned, cosy and small clubhouse. Immediately behind this end is flat standing area covered the corrugated iron, whilst behind the other goal there is just hard standing. There is just hard standing along most of the remaining length, apart from the area between the dugouts which is inaccessible to spectators. Floodlight pylons have been erected, with the actual lights to be fitted shortly. It’s clear that a lot of work has been carried out here so that it can host senior football, and it is really refreshing that there are no bland identikit stands or buildings here, and the perimeter fencing is wooden. The programme was the only blot on the club, just a four page publication with club history and team line-ups. My usual comment about such programmes applies here – it is understandable that there may be no-one at the club to produce a readable programme, but in that case it would be much fairer to charge a nominal charge, if any, for such a useless programme.

After a 27 year absence, Coggeshall Town were promoted back into Senior football after winning the Essex and Suffolk Border League last season. They have made a good start to life back in senior football, attracting a crowd of over a thousand for a pre-season friendly when Olly Murs guested for them against an Ipswich Town XI, and they have taken 4 points from their opening two games. Downham finished in 16th place in the 19 team Eastern Counties League Division One.

On a warm afternoon which clouded over frequently, it only took the home side three minutes to take the lead. Tom Monk raced down the right wing before crossing the ball into the box, and Nnamdi Nwachuku had plenty of time to take a touch before firing low past the keeper. Coggeshall were dominating the early stages of this game, and they were awarded a penalty when the keeper tripped the striker as he ran after a low diagonal ball forward. Just a yellow card for the keeper, who saved Jordan Palmer's spot kick low to his right, as well as the follow up shot, and a third goalbound shot was blocked. It seemed only a matter of time before Coggeshall would score again this, creating plenty of chances which went begging, and although Downham struggled to contain the home side, they did look quite dangerous in their rare forward forays.

Coggeshall continued to dominate the game after the break, but looked less threatening now as they were guilty of overplaying at times. But they finally did score their second on 76 minutes. After some lovely footwork on the by-line, the ball was passed  back to Monk, who drove the ball low through the keeper. That really did seal the three points for Coggeshall, and Downham had their goalkeeper sent off for a second yellow card for protesting too aggressively following a foul on one of his team mates. With no specialist keeper on the bench, an outfield player had to go on, but he was hardly tested for the remainder of the game, although he did pull off one very good reaction save at his near post.

So, as comfortable and convincing 2-0 lead as there can be, as Coggeshall continue their good start to life back in senior football.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Eastbourne United Association 2 v 1 Tunbridge Wells

Tuesday 9th August 2016
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay
The Oval, Eastbourne
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 219
Match Rating: 3

This evening I watched my first FA Cup match of the season, for an interesting clash for me personally, watching one of my local clubs these days take on the club that used to be my most local club before moving away.

There have been no noticeable alterations to The Oval since last season, surprisingly the metal stand that club purchased from Sidley United still sits out of bounds with its back to the pitch in one corner. The programme produced for this event's game was not up to the club's usual high standards, but this was probably due to the short notice of the fixture.

Eastbourne United finished last season in a comfortable 10th place in the 20 team Southern Combination League Premier Division, whilst Tunbridge Wells had a desperately disappointing season, which started off with them being one of the favourites but threatened to become a fight against relegation, although a late upturn in results led to a respectable 14th place in the 19 team Southern Counties East Premier Division. Although both teams have recent proud recent histories in the FA Vase - Eastbourne United reaching the semi-finals in 2014, whilst Tunbridge Wells went one better in reaching the final the season before, neither side has progressed beyond the first qualifying round of the FA Cup since the turn of the millennium.

At the end of a warm, sunny day, which became chilly as night fell, this game was a classic FA Cup encounter, played with plenty of passion but which resulted in a close fought game with few chances created, particularly in the first half. There was also an interesting contrast in styles of play on show, with the visitors always looks to knock the ball around and play, whilst the home side relied on more agricultural methods of hoofing the ball upfield. On the whole, the latter tactic worked the better, as Eastbourne United looked more threatening, and duly took the lead on 33 minutes. Peter Cooper ran onto a ball over the defence, ran forward and as the keeper was in two minds whether to come out or stay where he was, Cooper slotted the ball into the net.

Eastbourne United retained their lead at the break, and doubled their lead on 55 minutes. After a Tunbridge Wells was fired against the wall, Eastbourne broke quickly down the other end, with Scott Chamberlain running down the right wing before crossing the ball into the box, finding an unmarked Steve Dallaway, who kept his composure to tap the ball home. That really fired the visitors into life, and they created some decent chances to pull a goal back, but unfortunately for them, that goal did not arrive for them until the 75th minute, when Ollie Bankole stooped to head home a corner at the near post. The game was really in the balance for the remainder of the match, Tunbridge Wells carving out some good chances whilst Eastbourne United looked to have a goal in them on the break, but despite Eastbourne United going down to ten men, when Danny Andrews was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle, that was in added on time and it was Eastbourne United who progressed to the next round, where they will be at home to Newhaven.

Eastbourne United deserved their victory, even if their style of play was not always easy on the eye. Mention must be made of the excellent sizeable, loud and colourful support that Tunbridge Wells brought with them, but on this evening's evidence, another season of mediocrity probably beckons for them.