Sunday, 14 April 2013

Balcombe 5 v 3 Phoenix United

Saturday 13th April 2013
Mid Sussex League Premier Division
Recreation Ground, Balcombe
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 17 (head count)
Match Rating: 4

Fancying a grass roots game - partly due to taking in the Kent Senior Trophy final tomorrow and also the ability to double this game with another game in the vicinity - I headed to West Sussex for a 1.30 kick off and an interesting looking match with both teams still having plenty to play for at the business end of the season.

The Balcombe Recreation Ground is located about a ten minute walk from Balcombe train station. Via a path from the village centre, the changing rooms are located immediately as one enters the recreation ground, a long and narrow complex with the pitch located in the distance beyond play and grassed areas. Once one reaches the football pitch behind one of the goals, along one length of the pitch a footpath provides hard standing and overhanging trees provide good natural shelter - which would come in very useful today. Along the other length, which only has sporadic trees along it, it is much more exposed. Behind the remaining goal is a bench and a grass area in front of housing.

Balcombe came into this match in terrific form, winning their last five league games, and have given themselves a real chances of winning the Mid Sussex League Premier Division. They were in second place, having gained 42 points from their 20 games, three points behind Cuckfield Town but with a game in hand. Crawley based Phoenix United have been in good form too, having won their last three games but in their case it has improved their chances of beating the drop. They were fourth bottom, three points above the bottom two but with games in hand on most teams around them. The reverse fixture of today's game only took place less than two weeks ago, on Easter Monday, and Balcombe won 3-6.

Overcast skies gave away to rain just before kick off, rain that intensified as the game wore on. Combined with a strong gusty wind and an increasingly saturated pitch after heavy recent rain, conditions were pretty miserable, it is fair to say. Perhaps conditions were a leveller as there was little to choose from the teams in the opening exchanges, if anything Phoenix looked slightly the better side. So they could have counted themselves somewhat unfortunate to fall behind in the 19th minute when the ball bobbled around the six yard box and neither attackers nor defenders could make meaningful contact until the ball was prodded into the corner of the net. Both sides then had good chances within a couple of minutes - for Balcombe, a powerful drive from the edge of the box clipped the crossbar before going over on 35minutes, then two minutes later there was another scramble in the six yard box but no Phoenix player could turn the ball home. And entertaining half ended with a narrow one goal lead for the home side.

The second half started much the same as the first and with Phoenix United still very much in the game. However, at the start of what would be a crazy 12 minute spell, Balcombe doubled their lead on 53 minutes with a very good goal. After a quick break down the wing to the edge of the penalty area, a Balcombe player cut inside, dummied a defender and slid the ball to another player on the edge of the box, whose powerful shot the keeper could only get the bottom of his hand to and the ball trickled goalwards before coming to a rest seemingly on the line before being hit home to be sure. Four minutes later and Balcombe seemed to have won the game when the ball was placed low inside the near post from 12 yards which the keeper really should have stopped. Less than a minute later, Phoenix pulled a goal back when the ball was pumped forward and a Balcombe defender and keeper got in a terrible mix and the ball bounced from some distance into the net. On the hour mark Balcombe restored their three goal lead and another goal the Phoenix keeper should be disappointed with as he failed to gather the ball from a free kick and the rebound was tucked home. On 65 minutes the scoreline became very harsh on Phoenix when Balcombe scored a fifth, when the ball was controlled well on the edge of the box before the ball was dispatched emphatically into the top corner giving the keeper no chance. The home team went off the boil after scoring their fifth and credit to Phoenix for keeping on battling even as the game had reached a hopeless cause for them. Soon after forcing a great save from a free kick, Phoenix scored their second on 85 minutes when the ball was played across the penalty area before being struck firmly into the net. In injury time they scored another when a free kick rebounded wide of the penalty area and another Phoenix player flighted a wonderful strike over the stranded keeper and into the net from a fairly tight angle. There wasn't time for further goals and a two goal cushion was a fair reflection on the quality of both teams, which was enough for Balcombe to move to the top of the table on goal difference. Full credit to both teams for producing an entertaining game in increasingly dreadful conditions.

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