Sunday, 24 September 2017

Poole Town 0 v 0 Chelmsford City

Saturday 23rd September 2017
National League South
Tatnam Stadium, Poole
Admission: “Pay What You want”
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 503
Match Rating: 3

I had originally planned to take in a FA Vase game today, however on seeing this game advertised as a “Pay What You Want“ fixture a few days previously, which offered the possibility of attending a Step 2 game for an equivalent amount that I would have paid at Step 5 or 6, I decided to make the long trip along the coast to Dorset.

The Tatnam Stadium is an easy 15 minute walk northwards from Poole train station, and it is fair to say it is a rather underwhelming venue, with more of a Wessex League feel to it than a host venue in the National League South. However that is more a reflection on the impressive speeds that they have progressed up the divisions, and also that they have developed what was a school playing field, and is difficult to develop. Spectators enter through one of two turnstile blocks, both of which lead to an open tarmac space between the clubhouse and behind one end of the pitch (although with a fence between). After entering the football ground in one corner, where there are a few picnic tables, there is just hard standing available along the closest length and byline. Straddling the half way line on the other length is the “main stand”, a fairly long, low metallic stand offering the only seating in the stadium. There are a few rows of uncovered metallic steps either side of the stand, as there also are either side of a stand  covering metal steps behind the goal opposite the clubhouse end. The ground is neat enough and serves its purpose at Step 2 level, but is certainly not atmospheric. The 44 page full colour programme covered the important stats and had plenty of interesting reading material.

After having been disqualified from entering the play-offs last season due to the Tatnam Stadium not passing ground grading to host Step 1 football after finishing in fifth place, Poole are having a much more tricky season so far. They came into this game in 20th place in the 22 team division, having won two and drawn two of their 11 league games, and had picked up just one point from their last seven games. They did win at Salisbury in the FA Cup last Saturday though, although Salisbury play two steps below Poole. Chelmsford finished one place (although 11 points) above Poole last season in fourth place, losing in the play-off final having taken the lead, and unlike Poole, have started this season in good form. They went into this game in fifth place, following six wins and three draws from their 11 league games.

After encountering cold and wet weather more akin to January last Saturday at Baldock, happily conditions today were almost the complete opposite, with pleasantly warm sunshine to enjoy today. There was little sign that this match would end in a stalemate as both teams did plenty of attacking, although particularly Poole, as a powerful shot was shot straight at the keeper, who then missed two high balls over his head from corners in quick succession to give the hosts plenty of encouragement. They also had a shot cleared close to the line, all in the opening few minutes of the match. The game then settled down, but throughout the half, Poole looked the better and more likely to score as Chelmsford really disappointed, given their lofty league position.

The visitors got more into the game in the second half, and both teams had good sights of goal, but the game increasingly had the feel of one when no team were destined to score, and so it proved. So, a valuable point for the hosts, but they probably deserved all three. It would be a worry that their forwards seemed to lose their way in the final third, but they looked solid enough. Presumably this was just an off day for Chelmsford, but they will certainly need to show a lot more invention and energy if they are to make another push for promotion this season.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hailsham Town 2 v 3 Littlehampton Town

Tuesday 19th September 2017
Sussex RUR Charity Cup
The Beaconsfield, Hailsham
Admission: £5.00
Programme: 50p
Attendance: 50 (estimate)
Match Rating: 4

Reasonable weather and an interesting looking cup tie inspired me to take in a rare midweek local game this evening, and my first visit to The Beaconsfield in almost two years.

There have been no obvious alterations to the Beaconsfield in the last two years, not there needed to be, as it is perfectly adequate for Step 6 football and remains a homely, friendly place to watch football. The programme also remains very similar to previous years and is exactly what programmes should be at this level, a very reasonable 50p for a interesting and informative read.

After enduring a miserable season last season, comfortably finishing bottom of the Southern Combination League Premier Division, accumulating just 8 points, they have not fared much better in Division One, with a win and two draws from their seven league games, and exited both national cup competitions and the league cup at the first hurdle. Littlehampton finished in 16th place in the 20 team Premier Division last season, and have won two and drawn one of their five league games so far this season.

On a dry, slightly chilly evening, this was an entertaining and enjoyable match, which was surprisingly even, and the final result was perhaps a little harsh on Hailsham. The hosts started on the front foot, but on 7 minutes, a Little game tonight forward surged into the box and struck the ball against the near post. But Like did take the lead on 12 minutes. A low cross into the box was fumbled, no defender could clear the ball and Alex Laing fired the ball home. On 15 minutes, a gentle looping far post header was tipped over by the keeper, but the reprieve lasted barely a minute, when the ball was curled from deep towards the post and Sam Divall headed the ball home to level the scores. It was Hailsham who created virtually all of the chances to take the lead, but the scoreline remained at 1-1 at the break.

Within a minute of the restart, Hailsham took the lead. The ball was crossed to the far post, was knocked down and Jack Divall took a touch before shooting the ball low inside the far post.  The score was level again seven minutes later, the ball was floated in from deep over the defence, and Lucas Pattenden headed the ball past the keeper. On 61 minutes, the visitors retook the lead. Following some neat passed inside the penalty area, Shaun Charles slotted home. Although Hailsham kept on battling away, they seemed to run out of steam and ideas, and never looked likely to get the goal to force extra time. And so it was Littlehampton who progressed to the next round, where they will face another Division One outfit, either St Francis Rangers or Selsey. Although Hailsham lost, they can take great encouragement from this display, but have the look of a team that was concede and score plenty.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Baldock Town 1 v 2 Aylesbury United

Saturday 16th September 2017
FA Cup Second Qualifying Round
New Lamb Meadow Stadium, Arlesey
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 335
Match Rating : 3

On FA Cup day, I shortlisted a visit to either of the two remaining clubs in the Spartan South Midlands League left in the competition, Colney Heath or Baldock Town. In the end, I decided to visit one of only  three Step 10 clubs left in the competition. I was also swayed by Baldock doing much more to publicise and build up their fixture, which included tweets of support from various celebrities including Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler, Darren Gough, Ricky Hatton, Shane Ritchie and Adam Woodyatt.

Baldock Town have had a nomadic existence since reforming in 2003, and since the start of this season, they are now sharing the home ground of Southern League Division One East outfit Arlesey Town. The New Lamb Meadow stadium is about a half hour walk southwards from Arlesey train station, after passing though the small town centre. After passing though gates, there is a large car park, and visitors can visit the clubhouse before entering, which is very homely, spacious and comfortable inside. Spectators enter the ground via a turnstile block towards one corner, and once inside, the stadium is neat and tidy and very sensible proportioned for a club in the Southern League. On the back side of the clubhouse building, which stretches along most of the length and is attractively decorated in linearly arranged cream and brown coloured bricks, there is covered seating, which is raised and thereby offers good views of the action. A tea bar hatch is located further along the length. On the opposite side is a fairly large stand, about two thirds of which offers terrace steps, and the remaining area has three rows of seating. Behind one goal there is a bank of uncovered terrace steps, and towards one corner, there is a covered area resembling a bike shed, which is intended for disabled visitors. Behind the remaining goal there is just hard standing. The programme was appropriately priced and had a good welcome message although lacked factual information and the page devoted to the visitors was partly outdated and partly factually incorrect.

Baldock Town came into this match bottom of the Spartan South Midlands League Division One, however that is more a reflection of their success in the national cup competitions. They have drawn their only two league fixtures so far, with at least two games in hand on all teams above them. They had already played three fixtures to reach this stage of the FA Cup, having beaten Ardley United 1-3 away, North Greenford United 3-1 at home, and Thame United 4-3 at home - the latter being the most impressive, with the visitors being from two steps above, and are in the same division as today's visitors, Aylesbury United. Aylesbury United have had an average start to their season, with two wins and three defeats from their five league games so far. Their FA Cup campaign has included a 4-1 home win against Leverstock Green in a replay, and a 0-1 away win at Tilbury.

Dry and slightly sunny weather on my train journey ride north was most certainly a false dawn, as heavy rain arrived as I was about half way walking to the ground and rain of varying intensity barely relented for the rest of the day. As might be expected, the underdogs took the game by the scruff of the neck, without looking likely to score for the first twenty minutes or so, until Josh Coley strode forward before firing shot from the edge of the area which went just over the bar. Both teams traded half chances, and the standout chance fell again to Baldock came close again on 35 minutes, when Harry Holland struck a powerful shot which forced a superb reflect save by the visiting keeper. Just as it looked like the underdogs would go in level at half time, the visitors took the lead in the last minute of the half. The ball was delivered from a free kick into the box, headed back across goal, and a defender's overhead kick attempting to clear deflected the ball at the feet of Ryan Kinnane, who fired home from a central position. It could have got even worse though, as Aylesbury's Tyriq Hunt was sent clear by a lovely through pass, but the referee controversially blew the whistle for half-time.

Being behind at the break was quite harsh on Baldock, but they came so close to equalising a minute after the break, Owen Robertson heading the ball against the bar. 6 minutes later, and a shot by Alex Coppin from the outside of the area drew a finger tip save. However, on 59 minutes, the visitors created real daylight in the scoreline when they scored their second. A low ball forward beat the offside trap and found Hunte in the box, who took a touch before calmly firing low under the keeper and into the net. That felt like the decisive goal, and although there was plenty of huff and puff from the Baldock players, they just couldn't put the ball in the back of the net until the fifth minute of added on time at the end of the match when a corner flicked off of the head of a defender, and substitute Zach Dyer volleyed the ball home through a crowd of players and via a deflection from a fairly tight angle. Unfortunately it was too little too late for the home side though, as the final whistle blew within a minute.

So Baldock's excellent cup run came to an end, but their players gave it absolutely anything on their big day, for long periods looking more likely to score, but Aylesbury's extra bit of quality made the difference in the end.

Video highlights of this match can be found here