Sunday, 23 October 2016

Abbey Rangers 3 v 0 Tunbridge Wells

Saturday 22nd October 2016
FA Vase 1st Round
Addlestone Moor, Addlestone
Admission including Programme: £6.00
Attendance: 138
Match Rating:3

When this round of the FA Vase was drawn, there was no doubt that I would be heading here today. It provided me with the rare opportunity these days to watch my local club when I was growing up at a ground I had not previously visited, and Addlestone Moor was the only ground I had not visited previously in the Combined Counties League Premier Division.

Addlestone Moor is about a 20 minute walk from Addlestone train station, and spectators enter to the ground by paying admission at a booth behind one of the goals. To the right of the entrance and behind one of the goals is situated the spacious and well laid out clubhouse, with a patio area and some overhang at the front. A tea bar hatch as well as a bar are both located inside this building. Along one length there is a small modern metallic stand and a small covered area either side of the dugouts, whilst the remaining two sides are accessible but with no hard standing. Situated on a fairly large expanse of playing fields, with the feel that this is a place of a work in process and with some industrial buildings in the background, this would presumably be a pretty bleak place on a cold or wet winter's day, but was not too bad today, with some colourful trees behind one length. There was a friendly feel to the place, as well as a feel that this is a club that is sensibly building its foundations as it establishes itself in senior football. The 40 page programme, which was free with admission, was really excellent, with more than enough stats to digest and some interesting articles to read.

In their first ever season at Step 5 level following back to back promotions, Abbey Rangers were in 16th place in the 23 team Combined Counties League Premier Division, with four wins and two draws from their 16 league games so far. In previous rounds, they win 2-3 at Shrivenham and then 1-0 at home to Badshot Lea. Sadly, Tunbridge Wells have failed to build on their glorious FA Vase run in which they reached the final in, after flirting with relegation last season, they are currently in 17th place in the 20 team Southern Counties East League Premier Division. Their form has picked since August though, losing just once in their last eight league and Cup games. To reach this round of the FA Vase, they have beaten Steyning Town 4-1 at home, and then East Preston 1-4 away. I had witnessed both of Tunbridge Wells' most recent exits from FA competition in dismal fashion, losing 3-0 away at Knaphill in last season's FA Vase, and 1-2 away at Eastbourne United in this FA Cup, when the scoreline masked how poorly they played. So, I was hoping for much improvement today.

On a sunny and relatively mild afternoon, this was an even game for large parts although Abbey Rangers always seemed to have the slight edge and gradually managed to pull clear to progress to the next round. On 15 minutes the home side saw a shot from outside the box hit the post and a follow-up shot was comfortably gathered. But on 25 minutes they did take the lead when a goalbound shot by Patrick Ruzicka took a deflection before landing in the net. Tunbridge Wells came closest to scoring on 38 minutes  when a shot from the edge of the area forced a good diving save, but all was still to play for at half time with a narrow lead to the home side.

Tunbridge Wells struggled to create opportunities in the second half as the game seemed to meander towards an uneventful conclusion, however on 72 minutes, Abbey Rangers doubled their lead. A gliding run through the defence presented the chance to Paul Hodges deep inside the area and he struck the ball home. It was hard to see Tunbridge Wells getting back into the game, and after coming very close on a couple of occasions, the home side made absolutely certain of progression three minutes from time with a very good goal on the break. A galloping run down the right wing ended with a low cross into the box with two unmarked forwards waiting to tap the ball home – Hodges obliged with his second of the match. So it was Abbey Rangers who comfortably progressed into the next round, and the Tunbridge Wells fans, who barely stopped singing and chanting throughout the match, went home disappointed.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Laverstock & Ford 2 v 1 Romsey Town

Saturday 15th October 2016
Wessex League Premier Division
The Dell, Salisbury
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 68
Match Rating: 3

With rail engineering works favouring a journey into northern Hampshire and beyond today, I decided to return to Wiltshire, a week after visiting two grounds in the county for the second half of the Western League groundhop.

The Dell is about a 35 minute walk eastwards from Salisbury train station (frustratingly, trains run close by the ground on its approach to Salisbury), in the village of Laverstock, and is located down a short lane just beyond the spacious and very comfortable Sports Club clubhouse and before a car park. Spectators enter the ground via a narrow doorway in one corner of the ground, and this is where almost all of the spectator facilities are located. Either side of the corner flag there are two small identikit all-seater metal stands, whilst adjacent to the one moving towards the goal is a more improvised small covered standing area held up with scaffolding. Around the rest of the pitch there is just hard standing. The tea bar is located immediately behind the dugout, which prevents spectators from passing to the other side. Wooden fencing lines two sides of the ground, whilst behind the other length is open towards the club’s other pitches. Hills behind both goals offer an attractive countryside background, and this is indeed a pleasantly peaceful, rural location. Salisbury Cathedral's spire is just about visible in the distance behind the dugouts. The 16 page black and white programme provided the important stats and facts to preview the match.

Laverstock & Ford are going great guns so far this season, with 11 wins from 12 league games and were in second place, only because leaders Hamble Club have played and won a game more. Romsey Town have had a reasonable start to their campaign, winning six and drawing one of their 11 league games. These two teams had already met here this season, in the League Cup last month, with Laverstock & Ford making home advantage count 2-1.

On what was a dry and occasionally sunny afternoon during the first half, this was very even during the first 45 minutes, if anything the visitors had slightly the better of things, and they took the lead on 18 minutes. After a succession of corners, a weak shot goal was blocked, and Kieran Hancock fired the loose ball home. There lead was to last just five minutes though, and they would be very disappointed to have conceded it, being a long punt downfield by the keeper, Russell Jones ran onto the ball and struggled to break clear of the covering defender but did manage to get a shot on goal which looped in with the aid of a deflection. They twice came close to taking the lead, once when the keeper was way out of his goal and saw a shot head towards the empty net but he just just managed to scramble back and hack the ball away from the goal line. Romsey also had a couple of chances to retake the lead, but the scores were level at the break.

Increasingly heavy rain greeted the second half, and this made conditions increasingly tricky for the players as some struggled to keep their feet. But the game remained entertaining, a good battle between two evenly matched teams who continued to create chances. Romsey had the best chance of all to score, when they were awarded a penalty when their onrushing striker was upended in the box, but the keeper pulled off a good save to his bottom left. That was to prove very costly when the home side took the lead just a couple of minutes from the end, when a corner was met with a glancing header by Graham Mankin, and the ball went in off the far post.

Laverstock and Ford probably shaded the second half, and the Romsey keeper made some very good saves to keep his team in it, but a point apiece would probably have been a fairer result today.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Calne Town 3 v 2 Corsham Town

Saturday 8th October 2016
Western League Division One
Bremhill View, Calne
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 257
Match Rating: 4

This was the one game that I was not certain of taking in on the hop today, as I was prepared to make my way home following my game at Westbury if tiredness had set in too much after three games, the very early start and the three hour drive home. However, as I still felt quite energetic, I joined the masses making the 20 mile trip north eastwards for the 7.45 kick off for what was a local derby.

Bremhill View is located in the north part of the town of Calne, and spectators enter via an entrance in one corner of the ground. All of the spectator facilities are along the far length from the corner, with a fairly long seated stand straddling the half way line, a fairly tall and interesting looking white building housing the changing rooms, inside tea bar as well as a separate refreshments window to the front. A green portakabin houses a hospitality area. Installations presumably just for this evening were a barbecue, a gazebo in one corner offering club merchandise and a further gazebo offering programmes and raffle tickets. Tall conifer trees tightly line one end of the ground, and this is a neat, slightly quirky ground. Similar to all other programmes purchased today, Calne's 24 page issue had all of the essential stats as well as some interesting reading material to offer a good preview of the match.

This game was between teams struggling towards the wrong end of the table, with Calne Town in 18th place in the 22 team division, with five wins and eight defeats from their 13 league games, whilst Corsham Town were one place and one point below them, with four wins and two draws from their 13 league games.

With night falling and bringing with it chilly temperatures, this was an entertaining, competitive game between two local rivals. The visitors took the lead on 12 minutes. A ball down the right drew the keeper towards the edge of the area, and the Horsham forward fired towards goal but the ball was drifting wide of the far post, before Ben Pring tapped the ball in despite the close attention of a defender. On 21 minutes, Calne were awarded a penalty for a trip in the box, and Mark Dolman struck the ball firmly to the left side of the net, sending the keeper the wrong way. Within a minute, they almost took the lead, when a close range flicked shot drew a reflex save from the keeper. They did take the lead on 29 minutes though, following a long throw in after which the ball bobbled around in the box before Neurin Jones stabbed the ball home. Despite plenty of bright play from both sides, no further goals were scored before the break.

The game continued at a similar tempo after the break, but on the hour mark Calne opened up a two goal advantage. After the ball was tipped over following a powerful drive from outside the area, from the resulting corner Ollie Webb guided the ball home at the near post. While the game remained entertaining, that goal did seem to seal the win as Corsham did not look likely to score . They did, but not until virtually the last kick of the match with what was the goal of the match. Despite a foul in midfield, Pring kept running with the ball before lobbing the keeper with an excellent finish.

This was a most enjoyable match to round off an extremely enjoyable day of groundhopping as I headed for the M4 and the long drive home. My impressions following my first taste of Western League Football were entirely positive – friendly, welcoming clubs who were well organised to cater for the much larger than usual crowds, plus the football was, for the most part, entertaining to watch. Hopefully I will have a similarly enjoyable experience when I attend the Eastern Counties League hop later in the month.