Sunday, 17 April 2011

Phoenix Sports 2 v 1 Canterbury City

Saturday 16th April 2011
Kent County League  Premier Division
Phoenix Sports Club, Barnehurst
Admission with Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 40 (estimate)
Match Rating: 4

Today was to be one of those days where I just couldn't make my mind up where to go until mid morning, with no games really standing out. In the end, I decided on attending a Kent County League game, which in truth is always something of a lottery, a league in which - even in the Premier Division - clubs vary wildly in terms of their facilities and issuing of programmes. Some clubs have a set-up which would require minimal upgrading to move into senior football, whereas at some clubs, a roped off recreation ground pitch is the extent of the facilities provided for spectators.

The Phoenix Sports Club, which is about a twenty minute walk from Barnehurst rail station in the outermost extermities of south-east London close to Dartford, turned out to be rather a pleasant surprise. Located a very short distance away from the home of Kent League side VCD Athletic, the ground is pleasing on the eye and very well maintained. One enters the ground through a small car park behind one of the goals, where there is a wooden changing room building (the front of which provides the only cover for a very small number of persons), the clubhouse, and a small tea bar. Hard standing is available behind this goal and half of the length where the dugouts are, with grass standing around the remainder of the pitch, all of which has railing around it. The ground is also fully enclosed and the whole set-up has the scent of a well organised and ambitious club. It would appear the only obstacles for moving into senior football - should the team finish high enough in the table to qualify for promotion - are the lack of floodlights and a seated stand, and apparently planning permission has already been obtained for both. A programme is included with the £2 admission, which is pretty basic, consisting of a 12 page glossy surround consisting primarily of adverts but with an attractive front cover, with 8 pages of a welcome message and basic statistics for today's encounter inside - although lacking a league table which would have been useful. However, it's a reasonable effort, and full respect should be given to any Kent County League club bothering to produce a programme.

Today's match pitted the fourth and fifth placed teams in the league, with Canterbury just a point better off than Phoenix Sports but have played three games less, and whilst unbeaten Hollands and Blair have run away with the league, a good end to the season could easily result in a top two finish, and possibly promotion to the Kent League, although most likely they will both have to make do with a place in the recently announced new Step 6 Kent league next season - a very welcome addition to County League football in Kent, to bridge the vast gulf in quality both on and off the field between the Kent League and the Kent County League. In the corresponding fixture, played less than a month ago, Canterbury won by the three goals to one at their hopefully temporary home at Herne Bay.

On a fairly warm but overcast afternoon, the first half was a fairly even affair, with Phoenix Sports slightly shading possession without ever seeming to threaten to score. So it was a bonus for them that the Canterbury goalkeeper Giga Zulmalushelli gave Phoenix Sports a helping hand, when a ball was played back to him by a defender, and in rushing to kick the ball away first time - which he did not need to do - sliced the ball straight to Alfie Harris, who could barely believe his luck on the edge of the penalty area and shot into an empty net. A very fortunate but just about deserved lead then for Phoenix Sports. However, just five minutes later and Canterbury were awarded a penalty, but a weak penalty by TJ Moncur was comfortably saved by the Phoenix Sports keeper Chris Tuley. Canterbury were given a second chance though presumably for encroachment, much to the anger of the home players which earnt two yellow cards, and this time Moncur sent the keeper the wrong way.For a short time, one feared that the home side were losing their heads as they felt aggrieved by some of the referee's decisions as well as the retaken penalty decision, yet just as it looked that the scores would remain even going into the half-time interval, Phoenix Sports retook the lead with a fairly scrappy goal following a corner, the ball falling to Mark Greatorex at the far post for a tap in no more than a couple of yards out. The ball was cleared, but not before it comfortably crossed the line.

The second half was a fairly sterile affair which suited Phoenix Sports, who seemed to be happy to hold on to what they had as Canterbury rarely threatened, although Canterbury had a golden chance to equalise just as the game entered added on time at the end of the match, a powerful header from about 8 yards out miraculously saved by the Phoenix Sports keeper. The home side held on though, to move above Canterbury in the table.

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