Sunday, 19 February 2017

Rochdale 3 v 3 Charlton Athletic

Saturday 18th February 2017
EFL League One
Spotland, Rochdale
Admission: £22.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 2,842
Match Rating: 4

When Charlton's fixture list came out for this season, a trip to Spotland was high on my target list. Originally scheduled for January 7th, it looked like it would have to wait until another season when the game was rescheduled for a midweek date. However, with both teams having a blank Saturday today due to their respective scheduled opponents playing in the FA Cup, this match was hastily rescheduled again for today. The good turn of fortune for me continued when Charlton announced free coach travel for this match.

Spotland is sensibly sized for a lower league club and offers decent facilities, but is rather bland with few if any distinctive features. Rather surprisingly, away fans are given arguably the best seating in the stadium, an all-seater stand running along one length, although only the middle third was open today. Views are excellent, with no obstructing pillars and a decent incline between steps. Along the opposite length is another all-seater stand. Executive boxes are located above the seating, with mirror windows providing reflections of the pitch, and there are some narrow supporting pillars along the front of the stand. Behind one goal is another all-seater stand, whilst behind the other is a small covered terrace. Mention should be made of a small fish and chip shop opposite the away fans' entrance, offering excellent quality food which was reasonably priced and coped admirably with the matchday visitors. The programme was interesting to read but was printed on not the best quality paper.

This would be a game between two clubs very much out of form. Rochdale hadn’t scored in their previous five league games, picking up two points, but they still came into this game in the hunt for a play-off position following an excellent first half to their season, in ninth place and three points adrift of the play-offs, following 14 wins and five draws from their 30 league games. Charlton were drifting even further away from the play-off picture, losing at Oldham in midweek and conceding late equalisers in both of their previous games. They were in 13th place, nine points adrift of the play-offs, following nine wins and 14 draws from their 30 league games. When the two teams met at The Valley in October, Rochdale won 0-1.

On an overcast but very mild afternoon – in contrast to the freezing, snowy conditions I encountered at Hatfield last Saturday – this was a real seesaw of a game, quite remarkably something of a goalfest considering that both clubs have struggled to score in recent weeks. The home side took the lead on 4 minutes when keeper Declan Rudd failed to hold on to the ball crossed into the box from a free kick by the corner flag, and Niall Canavan poked the ball home. They almost doubled their lead shortly after, when a goalbound shot was blocked by defender Lewis Page. Josh Magennis broke clear of the home defence on 16 minutes but his shot was saved, before Rochdale forced a couple of very good saved from Rudd. On 42 minutes, Charlton equalised. Magennis headed the ball over the defence for Jordan Botaka to run onto, and his eventual shot came back off the post, but the rebound fell to him at a fairly tight angle, but he managed to thread the ball through the legs of a couple of defenders' legs and into the net. 

The second half started quite slowly, until Charlton sub Stephy Mavididi went on an amazing run from his own penalty area, beating several Rochdale players before his eventual shot was saved. From the second resultant corner, Patrick Bauer headed the ball down for his fellow centre back Jorge Teixiera to bundle the ball home on 67 minutes. Bauer had a great chance to put some clear daylight on the scoreline, placing a free header over the bar, but on 70 minutes, the home side were back on level terms, Calvin Andrew burying a header following a high cross from the left wing. On 75 minutes, Andrew nearly put Rochdale back in front, when a shot from the outer corner of the penalty area hit the far top corner of the woodwork and bounced clear. But they did go back in front of 84 minutes, substitute Reuben Mendez-Laing firing a powerful low shot from just outside the area which went across the keeper and into the far corner. But Charlton tied the scoreline up again in the 89th minute with a very similar goal to their second, again Bauer heading the ball down for Teixiera to poke the ball home from close range.

So in the end the points were shared following an entertaining game containing some pretty average defending. Arguably this was a better point for Rochdale, which keeps them in the frame for play-off contention, and although Charlton showed good character to salvage a point, the feeling really is that this was a game they had to win, and not doing so probably realistically put paid to any play-off hopes. A terrific atmosphere was generated by the Charlton fans, whilst the home fans were surprisingly quiet for the most part, save for a couple of songs when they went 3-2 up.

Video highlights of this match can be viewed by clicking here

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hatfield Town 0 v 2 Hillingdon Borough

Saturday 11th February 2017
Spartan South Midlands League Division One
Gosling Stadium, Welwyn Garden City
Admission including Programme: £5.00
Attendance: 22
Match Rating: 3

Waking up to a sprinkling of snow, which continued falling through the morning, this was quite a nervous Saturday as I made my final decision where to head for. I decided to take my chance on heading to Welwyn Garden City, as both clubs playing in the town were at home today. En route, both clubs tweeted that their pitches had passed their inspections and I chose the one that was a little more of an unusual venue, but would probably not benefit on waiting for a warmer, sunnier day to visit.

Hatfield Town play their home games a couple of miles north from their town, with the Gosling Stadium about a 15 minute walk southwards from Welwyn Garden City train station. The football ground is part of a large sports complex, with an impressive array of indoor and outdoor activities on offer, and spectators enter the football ground via an open gate by the half way line. The pitch is surrounded by not only a running track, but a velodrome track as well, however the banked nature of the velodrome track ensures a decent elevated, if distant, view of the action. Covered seating is available next to the entrance, from a decent height but it does have a few wide supporting pillars to block one’s view, and the seats themselves has certainly seen better days, with many seats broken and rubbish strewn around. It is possible to watch the game from the balcony above the stand, although I did not venture there today. The building is dreary in appearance and harsh on the eye, and looks something right out of the Communist Soviet design manual, and the ground is certainly not one of aesthetic beauty. Although club officials are friendly and welcoming, the vast arena has the completely soulless feel that is often encountered at a ground that is being rented on matchday by the club, with no personalisation at all. There are a few rows of terracing immediately to the front of the stand, as there is to one side of the stand, which is uncovered. Hard standing is available along this length and towards one corner, but around the rest of the ground is just grass to stand on. Tall, steep grass banks encircle the ground the whole ground, and although much of the banking is overgrown, a good view can be had along the top. The most positive things that can be said of the programme are an attractive cover and that it was included in the admission fee. In truth, it was pretty dire, the welcome message being penned at the start of the season, the fixtures and results page has not been updated since October, and the away team were referred to as Hillingborough.

Hatfield Town came into this game in 17th place in the 21 team division, having won seven and drawn one of their 26 league games so far. Hillingdon Borough were in 12th place, following 11 wins and three draws from their 23 league games, however it is great to see them still playing, after they suddenly resigned with immediate effect from the league last month, but thanks to some help from Premiership footballer Yannick Bolasie, they happily quickly rescinded their resignation. When today's teams met in the reverse fixture back in October, Hillingdon won 4-3.

On a bitterly cold, dull afternoon with snow falling in the last 15 minutes or so of the match, the visitors dominated this game for long periods, particularly during the first half. They took the lead with just two minutes on the clock when a powerful low strike towards the back post was turned in high into the net by Matt Lee. Hatfield did have a couple of good chances to equalise, seeing a shot hit the post and a follow up shot blocked on 8 minutes, and saw another goalbound shot blocked by a defender on 31 minutes. Hillingdon saw a free kick saved at full stretch on 39 minutes, but on the balance of play at least, they deserved their half time lead.

The visitors really should have doubled their lead early in the second half, seeing a shot come back off the bar on 46 minutes, a close range header forcing a superb reflex save on 48 minutes, while on 50 minutes, a low shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and hit the crossbar. The home side had a really good spell around the 70 minute mark, their best chance coming when a low show across the keeper hit the inside of the far post but stayed out of the goal, and shortly afterwards another shot went just wide of the post with the keeper beaten. Soon after, the visitors also had a couple of great chances when a low shot was just parried wide, and from the resultant corner, the ball was headed just over the bar. But on 84 minutes Hillingdon did score their second to seal the points. Danny Block touched the ball past the last defender, ran towards goal before slotting the ball low past the keeper. They held on quite comfortably for the three points, which they deserved as they looked the better and more threatening team throughout, although Hatfield certainly had some great chances to at least get on the scoresheet.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Blackfield & Langley 2 v 1 Andover Town

Saturday 4h February 2017
Wessex League Premier Division
Gang Warily, Fawley
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 74
Match Rating: 3

Although I had coach tickets to go to Birmingham today, rail replacement works getting to London made that a rather less palatable prospect than I originally thought, and I decided to write off the 50p that they had cost and instead headed to Southampton. Heavy rain in recent days meant an uncertain destination as I headed west, and two of my shortlisted games, at Hythe & Dibden and at Romsey Town, were postponed as I headed westwards. However, Blackfield & Langley tweeted that their pitch passed an inspection.

Gang Warily is located about a 40 minute bus journey from Southampton Central train station, and the football ground is part of a neat leisure complex, with several 3G pitch cages and playing fields outside as well as indoor facilities in the main building. The sports bar is located on the bottom floor of this building, in a rather small and claustrophobic room. Spectators pass along a path from the main building and pass through a pre-fab turnstile block, before entering the football ground behind one of the goals. The ground is neat and tidy, with a reasonably sized stand straddling the half way line, with 5 rows of wooden bench seating. A grass bank with a hedge on top stretches along the length, and towards the entrance corner is a green portakabin, with one half housing a hospitality area, whilst the other is a tea bar. Directly opposite is a covered standing area, and along this length is neat wooden fencing. Behind the goal opposite the clubhouse is an open area with trees a little further back, and some of Fawley’s famous chimneys rising high in the background. There is a disappointing lack of club signage, both outside and inside the ground, although quite a nice touch is the letter of the club stretching along the pitchside boards from corner to corner at both ends. The 32 page programme was well presented and covered all of the essentials to preview the match

Blackfield & Langley are usually there or thereabouts at the top of the Wessex League, as this season is proving no exception, as they came into this match in second place, following 18 wins and three draws from their 28 league games, but are 10 points adrift of leaders Moneyfields albeit with a game in hand. Andover Town were in 12 the place in the 22 team division, after 10 wins and five draws from 27 league games. When the two teams met in the reverse league fixture back in September, Blackfield & Langley won 1-3.

On a beautifully sunny afternoon, the first half was a real surprise, as the visitors took the initiative, did most of the attacking and it was they who looked the high flying team. After creating several good chances, the visitors did take the lead on 31 minutes when the ball was pulled back to Zach Glasspool, who struck the ball powerfully across the keeper and into the net. They continued in the ascendancy for the remainder of the half and well deserved their lead at the break.

The home side certainly upped their game after the break, but still Andover looked comfortable enough, apart from a six minute spell which won the game for the home side. On 58 minutes, after two forward got in the way of each of tapping a low cross into the net, Jamie White curled a low shot past the keeper’s dive and into the net, and then on 64 minutes, ex Andover player Harrison Faye, 25 yards out and with nothing else on, had a dip at goal and the ball went over the keeper and into the net – a very good goal. Andover did manage to create a couple of good chances to equalise, forcing some smart saves from the keeper, but the home side held on for what was a rather fortunate win, much needed in their chase for top spot, whilst Andover could consider themselves unfortunate to go home with nothing but a good performance to show for their efforts.