Sunday, 15 January 2017

Sutton Coldfield Town 1 v 0 Ilkeston

Saturday 14th January 2017
Northern Premier League Premier Division
Central Ground, Sutton Coldfield
Admission: £10.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 283
Match Rating: 3

For the first of four consecutive Saturdays taking advantage of return tickets from London with Megabus for no more than £1.50 return, today I had the choice of games in the Birmingham area. This game was actually about fifth choice when I set off this morning, however a 45 minute delay due to an accident at Junction 1 on the M6 meant that visits to Kidderminster or Halesowen became out of the question. Whilst a visit to a Midland Football League game held some appeal, I decided to visit what would presumably be the better ground, for a game between two evenly matched teams battling against relegation.

The Central Ground, which is also home to Romulus and was, up to last summer, home of Aston Villa Ladies, is about a 20 minute walk from Sutton Coldfield train station, and spectators enter via a prefab turnstile block, behind one length. Immediately to the right of the entrance is the main stand. It is tall, narrow and being quite old fashioned, certainly has character. Spectators have to walk up a steep, enclosed staircase to get to the seating area, which only spans the middle third of the available space. Whilst the elevated view from there is a bonus, railings and supporting pillars obstruct the views. Behind one end there is a very small covered area close to the corner flag, seemingly intended for disabled supporters, whilst behind the other corner is a brick, flat roofed clubhouse. In the front wall of this building there is a refreshment window. Just beyond that corner and moving along the length is a recently installed small metallic all-seater stand, next to which is a small wooden hut housing the club shop. Along the rest of this length there are a couple of uncovered terrace steps. Behind the remaining goal there is a building not used for football but with some cover to the front for spectators. The area from the goal around the corner to a toilet block next to the main stand is currently out of bounds. Some old fashioned panel fencing in club colours of blue and white makes for a fairly nice background, and indeed the ground has a nice mix of a weathered appearance offering character, with some modern touches, with some colourful signage and the installation of a 3G pitch. The 28 page programme, printed on standard paper but using colour printing was an interesting enough read, containing the essential stats.

Both teams came into this match deep in trouble in the relegation zone, with Sutton Coldfield fourth bottom having won four and drawn eight of their 27 league games so far, but six points adrift of safety. Ilkeston were two places and two points worse off, having won five and drawn three of their 24 league games, but have three games in hand on the three teams immediately above them.

On a bitterly cold afternoon with occasional sunshine but which was mostly overcast, this was a surprisingly entertaining game, played at a high tempo, although perhaps predictably the quality tended to fizzle out the closer they got to the final third. The home team certainly were the better team, and came close on several occasions to opening the scoring, although the visitors were more than holding their own. On 32 minutes, Sutton Coldfield were awarded a penalty by the referee, but after conferring with his assistant referee, he changed his mind and awarded a corner instead, jointly deciding the sliding tackle by the defender made contact with the ball. But in added on time, the home team took the lead with a rather fortunate goal. Debutant Max Wright, signed earlier in the week on loan from Grimsby Town, cut back on the right touchline and sent in a high looping cross into the area and the ball went over the keeper and just inside the far post.

The second half was a quieter affair in the main, with Sutton Coldfield looking happy to stick with what they had, but it was Ilkeston who had two great chances to claim a precious point. On 66 minutes, Atkinson broke clear but he scuffed his eventual shot so badly a team mate actually ran onto the ball out wide, and a couple of minutes before the end of normal time, their keeper launched a free kick from just inside Sutton Coldfield's half into the penalty area, and Tehvan Tyrell struck the loose ball goalwards, forcing a very good save by the keeper low to his right.

And so Sutton Coldfield held on for a precious three points, to move within three points of Frickley Athletic (who did not play today) and safety, whilst with their games in hand, Ilkeston have as much chance of staying up - as long as they can start winning games, and will rue losing against one of their biggest rivals in the battle against relegation.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sun Sports 0 v 4 Bromsgrove Sporting

Saturday 7th January 2017
FA Vase 4th Round
Sun Sports and Social Club, Watford
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 320
Match Rating: 3

For my last Saturday game in the south-east for a month, with plans for long distance trips in place for the next four weekends, I chose this match in the last 32 of the FA Vase today, mainly due to the likelihood of a good atmosphere being generated, as the visitors indicated that they would be bringing a large number of supporters with them.

The Sun Sports and Social Club is about a half hour walk from Watford Junction train station, and spectators enter the ground behind one goal, after paying admission at a wooden hut. A path then leads to a patio area, upon which gazebos and barbecues were placed today to cater for the much bigger than usual crowd, and behind the patio is the very comfortable clubhouse and also a building housing a large function room. The patio area has some  attractive short wooden fencing lining it, looking towards the pitch which is some distance away from one corner. The ground itself is basic and open, with a surprising lack of club signage around, although the appearance of the ground is enhanced with pitchside railings painted in club colours of sky blue and yellow. Straddling the half way line on one side is a fairly small stand mainly covering seats but with some standing as well, whilst on the opposite side is a narrow wooden stand covering three terrace steps, but which probably would not offer much shelter on a wet and windy day. There is just hard standing available around the rest of the ground, and behind the goal opposite to the entrance there are further sports fields. With its rural location, it is probably one that has a much nicer appearance and feel to it on a warm, late summer’s day rather than a dank day like today. The programme was a really poor effort, particularly considering what a big day it was for the club, with no comment about the day or the game, just potted histories of the two clubs, likely line-ups and the league tables of the home club’s teams.

Sun Sports went into this match in 13th place on the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, following six wins and six draws from their 19 league games. To reach this stage, they had beaten Bedfont & Feltham 2-4 away, Peterborough Northern Star 1-3 away, Biggleswade United on penalties at home after two 1-1 draws, and Hoddesdon Town 3-1 at home. Sun Sports play a step above the visitors, who play in the Midland Football League Division One, however Bromsgrove Sporting are unbeaten so far in the league and lead the division by three points, and are perhaps on course for deserved promotion as champions after two seasons finishing as runners-up in a division that only promotes one team. To reach this stage of the FA Vase, they had beaten Ellistown & Ibstock United 13-0 at home, Tipton Town 0-1 away, Cadbury Athletic 5-3 at home, Lichfield City 3-1 at home and Nuneaton Griff 0-2 away.

On a very overcast afternoon, this turned out to be a very straightforward game for the visitors, indeed supported by an impressively large and noisy contingent – indeed, one certainly would have thought they were the home and higher ranked side. Bromsgrove took the lead with just four  minutes on the clock, Reece Hewitt heading in at the far post following a free kick, despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball. Despite being in almost complete control throughout the first half, the scoreline remained 0-1 at the break, and as the home side did mount the occasional attack, the outcome was still in the balance.

That feeling would only last for five minutes into the second half though, as the visitors doubled their lead on 50 minutes, when Jason Cowley drilled a loose ball home low from the edge of the area. The outcome was realistically put beyond all doubt on 56 minutes when a fast passing moving from the wing into the penalty area culminated in Ahmed Ali shooting past the keeper and into the net. Reece Hewitt added some gloss to the scoreline with a wonderful goal, following a jinking run from deep, evading several defemderd, eventually striking the ball low past the keeper. One wondered how many the visitors would rack up at this stage, but in the end they didn’t add to their tally, as they comfortably progressed to the last 16, with a trip to Wembley a reasonable prospect.

Enormous credit should go to the excellent travelling support, as well as to the home club for ensuring that they were sufficiently organised to cater for the much larger than usual crowd, and will have been rewarded with bumper takings to slightly soften the blow of their run in this season's FA Vase competition coming to an end.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Halstead Town 1 v 2 Framlingham Town

Monday 2nd January 2017
Eastern Counties League Division One
Rosemary Lane, Halstead
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 153
Match Rating: 3

On the New Year's Bank Holiday, and my final day of my festive holiday from work, there was nothing locally to me that would be a new ground visit, and so instead I decided to head for another taste of the Eastern Counties League. This match in northern Essex appealed most, between two teams going well in the league this season, and at a ground with not a modern metallic stand in sight.

Rosemary Lane is located barely a five minute walk from the town centre, but is over six miles away from the nearest train station, in Braintree. After passing through the car park, with bright club signage around, spectators enter the ground along one length, and virtually all of the spectator facilities are along this length. To the right of the entrance is a double decker construction of portakabins, with the tea bar on ground floor, adorned with club photos. To the left of the entrance is a large, old fashioned stand which, apart from having supporting pillars along the front, is an excellent place to watch the game from, with a good incline between rows and relatively comfortable seating. It’s a refreshing sight in contrast with the metallic and Atcost stands found so frequently at non-league grounds these days. Behind the stand there is the clubhouse. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, although behind one of the goals a couple of terrace steps have recently been laid. Some trees and the town's church perched within sight make for a pleasant backdrop to a pleasant ground. The 36 page programme was very good, neatly presented with lots to read inside an attractive colour cover.

Halstead came into this match in seventh place in the division, following 10 wins and 7 draws from their 20 league games, five points adrift of the promotion places. In their first season in senior football, following promotion from the Suffolk & Ipswich League with a fifth placed finish, Framlingham went into this game in fourth place, following 12 wins and four draws from their 21 league games. When the two teams met in the reverse fixture October - the first ever meeting between the two clubs – the match finished 2-2.

On a beautifully sunny but very cold afternoon, this was a most enjoyable game, full of attacking intent and a game which the visitors dominated the opening 20 minutes or so, before the home team were the better side for the majority of the remainder of the game. With 3 minutes on the clock and sandwiching two decent goalscoring chances for the home side, Framlingham's Will Aldis saw his shot hit the post. But they did take the lead on 10 minutes, when Aldis struck a shot from the edge of the area and although the keeper was well positioned, the ball sailed over him and into the net. Both teams continued to create chances and on 39 minutes, Halstead equalised with a lovely goal, Tom Cook hitting the ball with the outside of his boot from the edge of the area and it went over the keeper and into the far side of the net. Things almost got even better for the home side two minutes later, but Alvis saw his shot from a tight angle come back off the post.

The second half continued with both sides creating chances, perhaps with the home teams looking the better to start with but towards the end it was the visitors who reassumed the superiority. The game had the feel of one that would see a late winner and so it proved a minute before the end of normal time. Following a quick break, Framlingham’s Danny Smith drove in from the left wing before firing a shot across the keeper and into the net. A good goal, although the ball did seem to go through the keeper’s hands. In the final minute of added on time, Halstead had a good chance to equalise following a free kick, but Framlingham broke quickly down the other end and their striker did all the hard work by racing to meet the keeper, side footing him but then unbelievably placed hit shot wide of an open goal. Ultimately that miss was not to prove costly as the final whistle blew shortly afterwards and Framlingham claimed the win they deserved overall for creating the better chances, although with a little more luck, Halstead could easily have claimed at least a point, following a very entertaining game during which both teams went out to win it.