Monday, 13 January 2014

Rye United 5 v 4 St Francis Rangers

Saturday 11th January 2014
Sussex County League Division One
The Salts, Rye
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 47
Match Rating: 5

Although I originally planned to travel down to Hampshire today to take in a new ground at Sholing or Portchester, still feeling the effects from an attack of gout earlier in the week, I decided to stay local With heavy rain finally abating during the last couple of days, there was more choice today than in recent weeks, although my favoured game in the East Sussex League at Ninfield United was still called off due to waterlogging. So I decided to revisit one of the more pleasant grounds in Sussex, with it being something of a surprise that The Salts, usually more susceptible to most to waterlogging. It certainly turned out to be the right decision as I was treated to one of the most entertaining and drama filled games I have watched this season.

The Salts is located about a ten minute walk east from Rye train station and just a couple of minutes from Landgate, the historic fortified entrance to the town. Entering the ground in one corner, one passes by a modern but attractively constructed pavilion housing the clubhouse and changing rooms, built in the same position to replace the previous pavilion that was burnt down in 2010. Along one length,  a small green tin stand has been relocated from its original position straddling the half way line and is now close to the corner flag, and in its original place is now a modern metallic Arena all-seater stand. It is not allowed to stand along the other length, as white sheeting is placed there on matchdays, more permanent fencing not being allowed as the facilities are shared with the cricket club. Behind the remaining goal is hard standing and a slight grass bank with trees. From this end, it is possible to watch the game for free from the public footpath, and so it surprising that this is allowed at a senior football venue. In fact, gaping holes in the fencing means that it is easy to walk into the ground without paying. The ground does have a very pleasant, rural setting, with plenty of trees around and the town of Rye closely visible perched above. The 52 page programme was very impressive indeed, the best I have encountered for a long time at this level, with plenty of interest to read, more than enough facts and stats to digest, some interesting quirky articles and not too much advertising – all in all, really excellent value for money.

Today’s game would be between two teams in the bottom half of the table separated by just one place and one point, with the visitors in 14th place and one point better off having played a game more. Recent form wouldn’t necessarily be much of a guide to either team today, this being the first game both have played since 14th December due to the wet weather. However, Rye had an excellent home win against high flying Littlehampton Town last time out, but before that had picked up just two points from their previous five league games. St Francis Rangers had lost their previous two league games, but before those had won their previous two league games. Today’s teams met on the opening day of the season, playing out a 2-2 draw, and they also met in Haywards Heath in early September in the John O’Hara Cup, with St Francis winning on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

On a beautiful day of bright sunshine and clear blue skies, but with the pitch very heavy and sticky, the visitors took the lead with four minutes on the clock, when Charlie Pitcher pounced on a suicidal backpass, took a touch before slotting low past the keeper. Rye were back on level terms on 13 minutes when a free kick from deep inside their own half was played high and long to the left of the penalty area, and some dreadful defending allowed Ade Olorunda all the time in the world to get the ball under control before firing across the keeper into the net despite a desperate scramble by a defender to clear the ball on the line. Rye took the lead on 17 minutes.  The keeper came to the edge of his area to foul Olorunda  as he was about to take his shot, and although he still got his shot in which went wide of the post, the referee awarded a penalty, which Ben Billings converted high to the left of the goal with the keeper diving the other way. Their lead was to last just five minutes though, Pitcher scoring again having latched onto a forward pass and fired powerfully into the net from an angle. Rye then went back into the lead on 25 minutes, another long high free kick was pumped into the box and this time a defender spectacularly hooked the ball into his own net. On 28 minutes, the sixth goal of the game was scored, when St Francis Rangers got back on level terms, Tom Barnes driving the ball high into the net after the ball was played low across the edge of the area. And on the stroke of half time, the visitors were awarded a penalty when one of their strikers was pulled back as he drove into the box. Aaron Walsh drove the ball powerfully down the middle to give a 3-4 scoreline at half-time.

Three minutes into the second half and the chances of such an open, free scoring half were diminished when the visitors were reduced to ten men just three minutes after the restart, Daniel O’Farrell being shown a straight red card for a late and high challenge from behind. It would be a backs-to-the-wall effort for the visitors to retain their lead, a man down on the heavy pitch, and although Rye tried to play expansive football, it looked more and more that they would not be able to get anything from this game, although on 65 minutes, a flicked header from Olorunda – despite being wrestled by the defenders – hit the crossbar. Finally, after countless occasions of Olorunda being grappled and hugged by the St Francis defenders in the area during the second half, the referee did award a penalty on 81 minutes when Olorunda was almost rugby tackled to the ground as he tried to run towards goal. Liam Upton hit the ball powerfully down the middle to make it 4-4. Two minutes later and Rye took the lead, a penetrating run in from the left ended with a powerful shot that was parried away by the keeper, and after several scrambled attempts to shoot, Liam Upton applied the finishing touch. St Francis almost got yet another equaliser four minutes from time when a lovely curling shot was saved at full stretch by the keeper, but in the end Rye held on for the three points. This was a thoroughly entertaining game of football, and credit to both teams for that on a tricky pitch.

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