Sunday, 23 April 2017

Kempston Rovers 4 v 1 Histon

Saturday 22nd April 2017
Southern League Division One Central
Hillgrounds Leisure, Kempston
Admission: £1.00 (usually £8.00)
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 288
Match Rating: 3

As the regular senior football season starts to wind down, I shortlisted two matches for today, both in the Southern League Division One Central, and both in close proximity to Bedford. Bedford Town were offering free entry for their game against Aylesbury United, but a three mile distance from the nearest train station, and with nothing riding on that game, meant I chose to head for Kempston Rovers instead.

Hillgrounds Leisure is about a half hour walk south west from Bedford train station, and after delighting in  wonderfully ramshackle nature of Ipswich Wanderers' ground on Monday, there was little to get excited  the ground I visited today, its modest, modern facilities reflecting a club in its first season in step 4 football. Spectators enter the ground through a turnstile block and enter the ground behind one length. To the right is a long brick building stretching along about two thirds of the pitch length, reaching the far corner, and containing all of the facilities of the ground. Inside are the changing rooms, various other rooms and a bar, which has a wooden decking area outside. To the front, there are a few rows of seating up to the half way line, with a few terrace steps the other side, and with a tea bar in the rear wall. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, with wooden fencing acting as the perimeter behind both goals, and some 3G cages and a grass pitch behind the remaining length. It is a peaceful place, but has that community facility feeling about it which, whilst in itself is a positive thing, inevitably detracts from having “proper” football ground character, although mention should be made of a very friendly feel all around the place. The 20 page programme was fairly priced at £1, being rather basic and lacking interesting reading material but it contained what it needed to. Similar to the ground, the programme is Step 5 standard. Team sheets were available free of charge, which was a nice touch.

Going into the final day of the regular season in the Southern League, Kempston Rovers have had an excellent first season after winning the United Counties League last season. They were in pole position to claim a play-off berth before Easter Monday’s round of fixtures, when defeat to local rivals Barton Rovers and wins for two clubs below them saw them drop out of the play-off positions. Going into this game in seventh place following 20 wins and 10 draws from 41 league games, they needed to win this game and hope neither Egham Town nor AFC Dunstable, to claim an unlikely play-off spot. Today’s visitors Histon were a Conference National club as recently as 2011, but their relegation to Step 5 football was already confirmed on Monday, having won nine and drawn seven of their 41 games. When the two teams met in September, Kempston Rovers won 1-2.

On a generally warm and sunny afternoon, this match soon went to form and with 6 minutes on the clock, Kempston took the lead. Jake Newman ran onto a low ball forward which sprung the offside trap, Jake Newman running, before slotting low past the keeper. Histon were presented with a great chance to equalise on 8 minutes when a suicidal blind back pass was intercepted, but the striker couldn't get his shot away. But that was a rare ray of hope for the visitors as the home side dominated, see a header from a free kick hit the crossbar on 15 minutes, before they doubled their lead on 19 minutes, when Ben Shepherd struck the ball from just outside the penalty area and went in off the inside of the post. Kempton held their two goal lead to the break, and they at least were doing their side of the bargain in booking a play-off spot, and news came through that AFC Dunstable were losing at half time, although Egham were 1-0 up.

Within 9 minutes of the restart, Kempston all but sealed the three points with a third goal, Newman heading home from close range after the ball was whipped across goal. However, Histon did pull a goal back two minutes later, when a good cross was controlled by Tommy Wright, and he lobbed the keeper with the ball going in off the underside of the bar. That never looked likely to herald a comeback though, and the home side restored their three goal advantage on the 71st minutes as Newman just managed to cross the ball as it was about to cross the byline, and Ash Fuller headed home from very close range. The game rather petered out after that, and Kempston claimed a comfortable victory. Egham had doubled their lead to win though, which meant that Kempston were denied a play-off spot, finishing one point and one place adrift after Dunstable could only draw their game. But sixth place represents an excellent finish in their first season in Step 4 football. As for Histon, they will presumably head to the Eastern Counties League and look to regroup.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Ipswich Wanderers 0 v 3 Felixstowe and Walton United

Monday 17th April 2017
Eastern Counties League Premier Division
Humber Doucy Lane, Rushmere
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.50
Attendance: 103
Match Rating: 3

For my final game of the Easter weekend, I decided to drive to Suffolk today, to visit a ground that has long been on my radar following reports from fellow groundhoppers of it being a rather old-fashioned, quirky ground with plenty of character. It certainly did not disappoint.

Humber Doucy Lane is located almost three miles to the east of Ipswich town centre, just as the urban area gives way to countryside, and some old fashioned signage by the main road provides the first indication of a ground oozing with character. Spectators enter at the end of the car park, into one corner of the ground, and immediately after the turnstile, a homely clubhouse is located to one side, a tea bar to the other, and an open area with picnic tables for fans to mingle with their refreshments. Stretching along this length, first there is a brick built stand covering a standing area, straddling the half way line is a fairly narrow stand covering wooden seats, and towards the other corner flag, 2 rows of plastic seats have some rather rudimentary cover held up by scaffolding poles. Behind the goal closest to the entrance, there are a couple of further blue small buildings, beyond which there is covered standing stretching to the far corner. There is just hard standing around the remaining length and behind the other goal. In the modern era, it is a really delightful ground - not a modern "off the shelf" metallic stand in sight, no unnecessary modern additions to the ground just to satisfy the ground graders, just a collection of stands of various heights, other random buildings, corrugated iron sheets acting as a boundary around much of the ground, all of which are painted in club colours of blue and white, and finished off with some nice touches of signage around the place. A further nice touch is that the song "The Wanderer" is played over the tannoy as the players come out of the dressing rooms.The programme could not be considered good value at £1.50 though, 10 pages out 24 were advertising and although it did cover the basics, it was rather light on content for the price.

Ipswich Wanderers are heading for a mid-table finish, coming into the Easter weekend in tenth place, following 16 wins and four draws from their 36 league games. Felixstowe and Walton have had a great season, and are certain of a top three finish. They came into this game with a mathematical chance of winning the league, but with a nine point deficit behind Mildenhall with four games left to play, their best hope would be to hold on to the second place they occupied for this match, having won 25 and drawn three of their 36 games. It was something of a coincidence that I watched the reverse fixture of today's game at Felixstowe on Boxing Day, which the home team completely dominated to win 3-0.

On an afternoon that was chilly when the sun went in but pleasantly warm when the sun came out, there was a real false dawn to this game, as Ipswich Wanderers dominated the opening exchanges and did most of the attacking ion the opening 20 minutes. It was certainly against the run of play when the visitors opened the scoring on 21 minutes. Following a corner, the ball fell to Craig Jennings at the edge of the area, and he curled a delightful shot over the crowd of players into the top corner. The visitors doubled their lead three minutes later, when Nick Ingram poked the ball home following a bit of a scramble inside the box. Just after the half hour, it seemed that the game was all over when Rhys Barber powerfully headed the ball home following a free kick, but the goal was ruled out for offside. But it was Felixstowe who looked fairly comfortable with their two goal lead at the break.

The second half was not much of a spectacle, which suited Felixstowe just fine as they controlled the game, never really giving the home side any hope of being able to get back in the game. Jordy Matthews scored the visitors' third when the ball ricocheted in after his initial shot was blocked. Ipswich did manage to mount a few attacks, but as frustration mounted towards the end, so their hope faded away too.

The three points keep Felixstowe on course for a runners-up spot, being a point ahead of Newmarket with just two games left, but their very faint hopes of claiming the title were extinguished when news came through that Mildenhall had won their game and the title.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Andover Town 0 v 1 Moneyfields

Saturday 15th April 2017
Wessex League Premier Division
Portway Stadium, Andover
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 144
Match Rating: 3

For my Easter Saturday action, rail engineering works very much facilitated a journey along the Surrey Downs, and I decided upon a second visit of the season to Andover, for another tick in the Wessex League.

The Portway Stadium is about a half hour walk from Andover train station, and it’s out of town location on an industrial estate does not bode well, however it is actually an interesting ground, with decent facilities along with a pleasantly rural feel to the place. With some attractive club signage outside the ground, spectators enter through a turnstile block in one corner. To the rught, between the turnstile and the goal, is a small white stand covering a standing area, while stretching along the length is a two floor brick building housing the changing rooms and the bar, whilst straddling the half way line is a stand which is not easy on the eye, with mainly bench seating inside. Along this length and behind both goals, there is a grass bank down to pitch level, thereby offering spectators a slightly elevated view. Along the remaining length, there is just hard standing. With plenty of trees around to naturally enclose the ground and the surrounding area peaceful and quiet on a weekend, this is a nice place to watch football. The 20 page programme most of the essentials such as results, league tables and introduction of the visiting club, but lacked any welcome message, comments from club officials and other interesting articles.

With just one more game to play after today, there isn’t much left to play for for Andover this season, as they came into this game in 13th place in the 22 team division, with an 11th place finish the best they could hope for. They had won 15 and drawn six of their 40 league games. Moneyfields are having a much more exciting end to their season. Already assured of promotion to the Southern League, they were top of the league and five points clear of second placed Portland United, although Portland have a game in hand compared with Moneyfields' two remaining games, and Moneyfields are likely to have 3 points deducted if their appeal fails for fielding an ineligible player. They have won 30 and drawn five of their 40 games, but have picked up just a point from their last two away games. When the two teams met in October, Moneyfields won 2-0.

On another cool, mostly cloudy afternoon with sunny spells, the visitors dominated this match for long periods and it is fair to say that the Andover goalkeeper was man of the match by a country mile, making several crucial saves. Andover competed well though, looking fairly dangerous on the occasional break and in fact came closest to breaking the deadlock on 36 minutes, when a looping cross from the left wing hit the top of the crossbar.

Into the second half and Moneyfields continued to dominate, but with Andover no longer threatening on the break, and on 68 minutes, a half volley from the edge of the area came backnoff the crossbar. As the clock ticked by, a frustrating goalless draw looked increasingly inevitable, to really hand the initiative to Portland United in the race for the title. But with just four minutes remaining, Moneyfields found a way through. A free kick from wide was launched into the ball, and the ball fell to Steve Hutchings, who drilled it low across the keeper and into the net, to curl wild celebrations amongst the players. They held on for the crucial win which, as things stand, would have sealed the title, but with the likely three point deduction to come, a win at home to Newport (IOW) on the final day will confirm the title to be theirs. After the game, spectators were encouraged to remain pitchside for a few minutes along with the Andover team, to thank various club officials, players, and the manager giving a rousing speech, promising to emulate Moneyfields’ achievement next season.