Sunday, 4 December 2016

Chesterfield 0 v 5 Wycombe Wanderers

Saturday 3rd December 2016
FA Cup Second Round
Proact Stadium, Chesterfield
Admission: £10.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 3685
Match Rating: 2

This match was an ideal opportunity to tick off another of the 92 for me once I discovered that Chesterfield were offering tickets for just £10 anywhere in the stadium, at least half the price of tickets for league games, and the seat I chose in a central position in the West Stand would normally cost £24, the most expensive area to sit in the stadium. A bargain day out was complete when I managed to obtain National Express tickets from London to Sheffield for just a £1 booking fee, making use of converting Tesco Clubcard vouchers.

The Proact Stadium is about a half hour walk from Chesterfield train station, although I took the opportunity on the way to the stadium to look around the attractive town centre featuring the famous crooked spire of St Mary & All Saints Church. The Proact was only opened six years ago located alongside a busy road and amongst various large retail outlets and restaurants, and although a new-build stadium rarely gets the juices flowing compared with more traditional stadia, it has a smart appearance both on the outside and within. There are some nice features outside, including crooked spire statues by the roadside entrance to the stadium complex and the Memorial Garden which is attractively laid out with some memorabilia from the club's former home, Saltergate, interesting information boards to read about the club’s history, as well as tributes to past Chesterfield players who have passed away and a War Memorial. A very interesting area that is well worth a visit. Once inside, the all-seater stadium is pleasing on the eye, has a symmetrical design, and is sensibly sized. Along both lengths there are very similar looking stands, with a slight curve along the top, with the main (west) stand having corporate boxes lined along the top of the seating. With a capacity of just over 10,000, there is an intimate feel about the place, with all fans close to the pitch, and even today when there was a disappointing attendance, the ground did not have that disappointing sight of large empty sections that can blight larger grounds. The programme was really poor value today. A streamlined version of their usual publication, six of the 12 pages contained purely advertising, and just the manager’s notes, penpics of the visitors and the club’s fixtures and results being of interest.

This promised to be a fairly interesting cup tie, with the chance of a minor upset for the visitors. Chesterfield were struggling in 22nd place in League One, whilst Wycombe were in sixth place in the division below, League Two. Chesterfield had won their previous two league matches, but had lost their previous eight league games, but had beaten Colchester United 1-2 away to set up today’s fixture. Wycombe came into this game in good form, winning their last four league games, and won at Portsmouth 1-2 in the previous round of the FA Cup. History did not favour Wycombe today though, as they had lost all four of their previous visits to the Proact Stadium.

On an overcast but fairly mild afternoon, it was quite shocking how poor Chesterfield were today, and not only was on the receiving end of a minor shock in terms of losing, but were on the end of a well-derserved thumping to boot. They never really looked a threat throughout the match, looked devoid of creativity and passion, and as the visitors grew in confidence, convincingly won the game with an energetic display which reflected their manager's effervescent and galvanising presence on the touchline. Chesterfield did actually have the first effort on goal, when Ian Every weakly headed straight at the keeper from a good position, but that was as good as it got for the hosts. The visitors took the lead on 25 minutes. After a corner broke down, Scott Kashket whipped the ball in from close to the corner flag and Paul Hayes glanced the ball with his head in off the underside of the bar. Five minutes later and Wycombe doubled their lead following another corner. The ball fell to Anthony Stewart just outside the area and he floated the ball into the danger area and Kashket shot low into the net. Wycombe comfortably held on to their two goal lead at the break, and the home players would surely need a rollicking from their manager to wake them from their slumber if they were going to get back into this match.

Indeed, they did show a little more intent at the start of the half without looking like scoring, but their task became much harder on 64 minutes when they had Jon Nolan sent off for a wild late tackle, and six minutes later it was game over as a contest when Wycombe scored their third. The ball was threaded low through several Chesterfield players for Kashket to latch onto, and he shot low past the keeper. They scored their four on five minutes when the Chesterfield keeper palmed the ball into the danger area following a corner kick, and Stewart guided the ball on the half volley into the roof of the net. Two minutes later and Wycombe made it five, again Chesterfield gifting the goal to the visitors. The ball was lumped forward for a defender and Kashket to contest, both fell to the floor but Kashket was quickest to get to his feet, get to the ball and take it to one side of the keeper before slotting home.  Wycombe could have made the scoreline even more emphatic if they had wanted to as Chesterfield’s players were by now a thoroughly dispirited bunch, but the scoreline remained at five at the final whistle.

So a shock result, certainly in terms of the emphatic nature of the victory for the slight underdogs (in terms of league status) and a really poor day for Chesterfield with a shocking performance on the pitch, and the fans were very quiet in the stands (although the away fans were in great voice throughout) and it was a shame that the club's gesture of offering excellent ticket prices for this game was not rewarded with a higher attendance. But perhaps that shows the sad lack of interest in the FA Cup these days, even amongst fans, at professional clubs these days. It was a great day for Wycombe though, who displayed all of the endearing qualities of a smaller club on and off the pitch, and hopefully they will be rewarded with a romantic and lucrative draw in the next round.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Southall 0 v 2 Harefield United

Saturday 26th November 2016
Spartan South Midlands League Division One
Reynolds Field, Perivale
Admission including programme: £5.00
Attendance: 40
Match Rating: 3

Today was another day when nothing greatly appealed to me, but ultimately I decided to head to west London, to visit a ground that hosts Southern League football, as well as the Spartan South Midlands league football that I would be witnessing today. It would also be something of a local derby, with 10 miles separating the two clubs in western Greater London.

Reynolds Field is about a ten minute walk from Perivale tube station, immediately beyond the busy A40 dual carriageway, and considering that Southall have been sharing Hanwell Town's home ground for a few seasons now, it is surprising that there is absolutely no Southall Football club signage anywhere outside or inside the ground, just of Hanwell Town. After passing through a narrow car park, spectators enter the ground through a turnstile block in one corner of the ground. Immediately to the right of the entrance, and going along the length, there is quite an attractive looking white clubhouse, which is quite long with a central taller section, one side of which houses a rather basic clubhouse and the other the changing rooms. It is an unusual football building, all the more so as it houses a children's nursery during the week. As well as having a balcony outside, a raised standing area on scaffolding is provided immediately outside, offering an elevated view of the action from one corner and from where spectators can drink alcohol. To the right of the clubhouse but pitchside is a long metallic modern all-seater stand, usually the scourge of modern football grounds but it actually fits in really well here, underneath some trees and neatly situated below the clubhouse building. Behind the goal closest to the entrance there is cover stretching between the corner flags, and along the remaining length and goal line there is just hard standing, apart from a small brick built covered area about the size of a bus shelter a third of the way along the length. A very large electronic screen is situated on the half way line opposite the main stand, but was not in use today - presumably it is for Hanwell Town's home matches. All in all, it's a very neat and comfortable ground which has some nice character about it. The 24 page programme was very well produced, on good quality paper and attractively laid out. It contained all the necessary stats and facts and was certainly above average for this level of football, although some welcome message from club officials would have been nice.

On paper, this looked a game between two evenly matched teams, sitting comfortably in mid table. Southall came into this game in ninth place in the league, following nine wins and a draw from their 15 league games. They were a point behind today's visitors, who have won nine and drawn two of their league games, but have played three games more than Southall. The two teams have already met in the league this season, with Southall winning 1-3 away back in late August. Southall have had an impressive run in the FA Vase, reaching the 3rd Round, which they will contest away at Knaphill next Saturday.

On a cool but mostly pleasant sunny afternoon, the first half was a rather dreary affair, with good football at a premium and few goalscoring chances being created. On 35 minutes, the visitors took the lead following a poor attempted clearance from a defender along the ground went to a Harefield attacker inside the area, and he passed the ball to Luke Baldwin in a more central position, who struck the ball home. They almost doubled their lead on 43 minutes, when a low first time shot went through a crowd of players and forced a good save from the keeper to his bottom right. 0-1 was how it remained at the break, and Harefield deserved their slender half time lead, showing a little more invention.

The second half began in a similar vein, with Harefield looking the livelier and more inventive, and on 56 minutes they were awarded a penalty, following an excellent jinking run to go past defenders and although as he approached the keeper, he seemed to knock the ball too far but he went over the keeper's trailing leg to win his side a penalty. Aaron McLeish fired the spot kick down the middle to give his side a comfortable lead. That, finally, really opened the game up, as both teams started to show a lot more attacking intent than previously, with both teams having efforts well saved, go just wide of the post, and also both teams saw headers following corners hit the bar within a minute of each other around the 80 minute mark. Although Southall had slightly more of the chances, it was not to be their day, and they might rue not coming alive as a team well before the went two goals in arrears. On this evidence, they will do well to extend their FA Vase odyssey beyond next weekend's tough tie at Knaphill.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Bracknell Town 5 v 2 Thatcham Town

Saturday 19th November 2016
Hellenic League Premier Division
Bottom Meadow, Sandhurst
Admission: Free
Programme: Free
Match Rating: 4

This was one of those days when nothing really stood out for me as an attractive fixture, but in the end I chose this match, between two clubs going well in their division, and with this being the last “home” game being played at Sandhurst Town’s home ground whilst the finishing touches are made to the redevelopment of their own home ground, Larges Lane. An announcement on the club's Twitter feed in the morning that this game would be free entry for all sealed the deal for me.

Although Sandhurst train station is closer to Bottom Meadow, with less frequent trains stopping there I decided to walk from Blackwater station, taking in a very pleasant half hour walk along the Blackwater Valley Path, through Shepherd Meadows to Sandhurst Memorial Park, amongst which the football ground is located, neatly mainly natually enclosed away from the rest of the parkland and recreational facilities. Spectators enter in one corner of the ground, next to the brick clubhouse which is located behind a goal. It is rather cramped and basic inside but nicely decorated, and outside there is some overhang to provide covered standing on a tiled area, and there are also some tables and chairs. There is a modern metallic all-seater stand beyond the half way line on the opposite length, whilst there is just hard standing around the rest of the ground. Trees surround the ground and being quite colourful today, made for a really pleasant enclosure to the ground. As well as free admission, programmes were available free of charge from the clubhouse and was a decent effort, professionally produced and covered the essential stats to preview the match.

Thatcham Town came into this game top of the table, with twelve wins and five draws from their 17 league games, although they have played more games than all teams immediately below them. Bracknell Town were in fifth place, with nine wins and two draws from their 14 league games, and with games in hand on all teams above them. On Tuesday, they inflicted the first league defeat of the season on Thame United, to really propel themselves into the mix at the top of the table. This match was the fourth time the two clubs had met this season, and Bracknell certainly have had the upper hand in those meetings, winning 2-3 away in the FA Cup, 1-4 away in the league, and 2-1 at Sandhurst in the Berks & Bucks County Cup.

This turned out to be a truly remarkable game, beginning with a lightening start which saw the visitors race into a two goal lead inside the first four minutes. Virtually straight from the kick off, Thatcham wanted through Bracknell’s midfield and defence before James Tennant slotted the ball low across the keeper and into the net. In the third minutes, a close range shot forced a good reflex save by the keeper, but from the resulting corner, Tennant headed the ball past the keeper’s dive and into the net. Thatcham had another great chance with just eight minutes on the clock when a rasping drive from a fairly tight angle saw the ball take a slight deflection to divert the ball into the woodwork. The match was looking remarkably one sided, although as the half wore on, Bracknell came more and ! more into the game, creating some presentable chances. But the visitors went into the half time interval two goals to the good and well placed to go on and claim a valuable away win to consolidate their place at the top of the table.

What happened after the break was quite astonishing, as Thatcham contrived to completely implode and convert a winning half time position to be on the wrong end of a thrashing. It was Bracknell's turn to score quickly at the start of the half, within a minute of the restart a quickly taken free kick caught Thatcham napping and some slick passing through midfield and defence ended with TJ Bohane firing low past the keeper. On 50 minutes, Thatcham had a goalbound shot hacked away by a defender, but that was a good as it got for the visitors in the second half. On 52 minutes, a powerful first time near post shot went just wide of the post, and three minutes later, a far post header following a free kick went wide of the post. But on 57 minutes, the scores were level. The ball was floated towards the far post and Adam Cornell headed home. On 65 minutes, Bracknell were awarded a penalty for a foul tackle on Cornell towards the left edge of the penalty area. Seb Powerman drilled the ball into the bottom right corner despite the keeper diving the right way. On 69 minutes, Bracknell scored a fourth, when the ball was again floated towards the back post and Cornell headed home. Thatcham had really lost the plot by now, and following some increasingly robust challenges, what felt was inevitable happened on 75 minutes when they had a player, Callum Wilmoth, sent off for a stamp which also provoked handbags amongst most of the players on the pitch. They had another player sent off on 83 minutes for a second yellow card, and in truth they should have had at least one further player sent off with sustained mouthing off to the referee. Bracknell scored a fifth on 86, minutes when a delicate little flick sent the ball past a defender down the right, before the ball was passed low into Cornell, who had the easy task of slotting the ball into the net to complete his hat-trick.

So, in the end a convincing win for Bracknell which no-one could have predicted after the first quarter of an hour. Thatcham's implosing was amazing, and came out of the game with little or no credit, with some increasingly agricultural tackling developing into a complete lack of discipline and composure for the most part in the second half, and one felt that, in the end, something of a thrashing was exactly what they deserved.