Sunday, 25 September 2016

North Greenford United 1 v 2 Oxhey Jets

Saturday 24th September 2016
FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round
Berkeley Fields, Greenford
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 56
Match Rating: 3

On FA Vase day, I decided fairly early on to tick off one of my last two unvisited grounds in the Combined Counties League Premier Division today. Both were at home, but as Abbey Rangers were playing against a team from the same division, and I had visited that area of London just a couple of weeks ago, I decided to head to north west London, and visit a ground that hosted Step 4 football last season.

Berkeley Fields is about a 15 minute from Greenford train and underground station, and after passing by fields, car park and the clubhouse of a Gaelic sports club, spectators reach the football club through a gate and then pass through a neat wooden turnstile block to enter the ground. The clubhouse is located to the right as one enters, and is spacious, welcoming and comfortable. Outside there are about half a dozen picnic tables placed on a patio area, from where a path leads up to one corner of the pitch. Behind this end and close to the corner flag is a covered flat standing area, whilst immediately behind the goal is a modern metallic all-seater stand, and a similarly bland identikit stand covering terrace steps is located by the half way line. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing. So this is a rather sparse and basic ground, surprisingly so for a club that was only relegated from step 4 football last season after six seasons at that level, and this is not a place to admire architectural delights, however it is neat, tidy with a surprisingly rural appearance and feel to it, given its Greater London location. The 20 page programme was informative enough to provide a good preview to the match.

Since relegation from the Southern League, North Greenford United find themselves third bottom in the Combined Counties League Premier Division, with one win and two draws from their six games, but they do have up to four games in hand on all teams above them. They have performed well in the FA competitions this season, winning through two rounds in the FA Cup before exiting away at Isthmian League Premier Division outfit Folkestone Invicta, and beat Spartan South Midlands Premier Division side Stotfold in the previous round of the FA Vase. Oxhey Jets were in tenth place in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division, having won three and drawn one of their seven league games, and they received a bye in the last round of the FA Vase.

On a mercifully warm afternoon, following the bitter conditions I encountered at Sawbridgeworth last Saturday, it came somewhat against the run of play when the home side took the lead on 9 minutes, Sandro Costa striking the ball from 25 yards and although the ball bounced in front of the keeper, there was no obvious reason apart from a bizarre misjudgement, why the ball went straight through him. On 25 minutes came what turned out to be the game changing moment. An Oxhey goalbound header was palmed onto the bar by a defender, to prompt the inevitable penalty award and red card for Ansah Palmer. Martin Netzer fired the ball low into the bottom right hand corner from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way. Things got even worse for the hosts on 38 minutes, when the ball was lofted from deep on the right wing, and Sim Armstrong met the ball with a lovely glancing header to guide into the far inside of the net.

It would be a tough ask for North Greenford to salvage their stay in the FA Vase, playing over an hour with ten men and they did battle hard to create openings, but rarely looked likely to score an equaliser. The closest they came was on the hour mark on 53 minutes, when a far post header hit the cross bar, and the rebound agonisingly just evaded a North Greenford player lurking in the six yard box. But it was the visitors who progressed to the 1st Round Proper.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sawbridgeworth Town 2 v 1 Tower Hamlets

Saturday 17th September 2016
Essex Senior League
Crofters End, Sawbridgeworth
Admission including Programme: £7.00
Attendance: 85
Match Rating: 3

I had difficulty in deciding where to head to today, and not feeling like a complicated journey with long connection times or a long walk from a train station, I eventually decided to head to the Hertfordshire / Essex, to tick off one of the few venues I had not been to previously in the Essex Senior League. My mind was made up on reading a tweet from a club official pointing out that much work had been done there very recently to improve the appearance of the ground.

Crofters End is about a 15 minute walk from Sawbridgeworth train station and is indeed quite an attractive, neat ground but with plenty of quirkiness to make it interesting. The ground is situated at the end of a short residential road, and spectators enter via turnstile along one length. To the right of the entrance and towards the corner flag is a covered area with two rows of seating (the top row some height above the lower), and then a tea bar and a room housing junk. To the other side of the entrance turnstile is the clubhouse which is basic with a very small bar area but was comfortable enough. In front of the clubhouse is overhang to cover a standing area. Further along, by the half way line, is the players tunnel coming out from the changing rooms attached to the clubhouse, and beyond the tunnel is the modern metallic all-seater stand. Although the various buildings along this length are of varying shapes and sizes, it all looks very neat and cared for, painted in club colours and joined together. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, with colourful trees enclosing both ends to give the ground a pleasant background, whilst a training pitch is situated behind the remaining length. A 20 page programme was included with admission and was sufficiently informative.

Both of today’s teams have had slow starts to their seasons. Sawbridgeworth have won two (which came in their most recent two games, both away, including a 1-5 win in their last game) and drawn three of their eight league games so far, while Tower Hamlets have won two and drawn one of their six league games so far. Today’s team have already played each other at Crofters End in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round, with Sawbridgeworth winning 4-2 before bowing out to Isthmian League Premier Division outfit Harrow Borough in the next round.

It was hard to imagine that just a few days previously saw the hottest September day for over 100 years in the south-east. Today, conditions were dank and felt very cold with a stiff breeze blowing damp air. Sawbridgeworth had the better of the opening exchanges and took the lead on 6 minutes. The ball was played from a free kick into the box, and a header was deflected to the side of the six yard box and Gavin Cockman struck the ball low just inside the far post. The home side continued to do much of the attacking although Tower Hamlets did look lively on the break, and they equalised on 21 minutes. Joel Ramos showed excellent, pacy footwork to create an opening to shoot low past the keeper. On 40 minutes, the home team were awarded a penalty as the onrushing forward was tripped in the box. But Cockman saw his strike saved low to the keeper's right before the ball was hacked away.

Into the second half and the match followed a similar pattern to the first and they almost took the lead just after the break when a back post header was blocked by the keeper and then a shot on the stretch saw the ball trickle against the far post and stay out. Tower Hamlets did more than their fair share of fouling throughout the match and the inevitable red card was shown to Samuel Olanipekun on 65 minutes. The home side made their extra man count on 77 minutes when, following yet another foul by Tower Hamlets, the ball was lofted from deep into the box and somehow the ball bundled through a crowd of players and 16 year old debutant Ronnie Bird got the final touch to score on a dream debut. Sawbridgeworth saw the game out fairly comfortably to claim the three points.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Spelthorne Sports 0 v 0 Tring Athletic

Saturday 10th September 2016
FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round
Spelthorne Sports Club, Ashford
Admission: £7.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 48
Match Rating: 2

As the FA Vase is a competition I probably enjoy following more than any other on my travels, my choice of venue was dictated by the Preliminary Round fixtures available today, ideally between two clubs from different divisions, and at a ground I had not previously visited. I decided to take one step closer to completing the Combined Counties League Premier Division with a trip to the south-west extremity of Greater London.

The Spelthorne Sports Club is about a 15 minute walk westwards from Sunbury train station, with the football ground a little further beyond the cricket field and club house along the busy A308 Staines Road West. Spectators enter the football ground via a turnstile block in one corner and once inside, one finds a surprisingly neat and attractive ground that is well maintained. To one side of the entrance turnstile is a large garden shed which is a hospitality area, whilst to the other side is a brick building housing the changing rooms and refreshments bar. To the other side of the goal is a small wooden stand with a couple of rows of yellow seats. A very similar stand is located just down the length from the entrance corner, whilst further wooden cover but of standing area straddles the halfway line. Compliments to the club for installing some attractive give, easy on the eye wooden stands, rather than the usual identikit metallic ones. Around the rest of the ground is just hard standing. Colourful trees around three sides give a surprisingly rural appearance to the ground despite blocks of flats and a Water Treatment Works building being visible, although the constant traffic noise certainly detracts from the pleasantness. The programme was simply made but no matter as the content is more important, and it was a sufficiently informative publication.

Spelthorne Sports have made a solid start to their league season in the Combined Counties League Premier Division, winning two and drawing three of their opening six league games. Tring Athletic have made a similarly solid start to their campaign in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, winning three and drawing one of their five league games.

On an afternoon of miserable weather, with constant murky drizzle during the first half which relented to mainly grey overcast conditions in the second half, this was not a game that will live long in the memory. The visitors just about had the better of the first half and did most of the attacking, and the highlight of their chances came on 35 minutes when a free kick heading for the top left corner forced a fine save.

In the second half, and it was the home team who had the better of things, coming very close to scoring on a few occasions up to the hour mark, but after that, the game developed into a real midfield battle and the game petered out to a goalless draw after 90 minutes. Although I understand that FA Vase rules dictate that extra time should be played if the the scores are level after normal time, the players shook hands and left the field and head to Tring on Tuesday evening for a replay to earn the right to travel to Winslow United in the next round.