Sunday, 8 March 2015

Bowers and Pitsea 0 v 0 Barking

Saturday 7th March 2015
Essex Senior League
Len Salmon Stadium, Pitsea
Admission: £6.00
Programme: Sold Out
Attendance: 91
Match Rating: 2

This match was not even on my radar until after 2pm. After eventually deciding against a game in the East Sussex League, I headed towards Essex for Concord Rangers' Community Day, which offered free entry to their Conference South game against St Albans City and various activities including the Barclays Premier League trophy being present. However, as I approached the Dartford Tunnel, the M25 was jammed solid, and despite attempting to negotiate my way around the back streets of Swanley and Dartford, the added delay in missing a turning meant that I would not get to the ground in time for kick off. And so a quick scan of the Essex Senior League fixtures resulted in what was, on paper, an attractive looking fixture at Bowers and Pitsea. If fate drew me to this fixture, it certainly dealt me a bad hand...

The Len Salmon Stadium is situated to the north east of Pitsea, close to the A13 and a mile and a half walk from Pitsea rail station, and is a rather unremarkable ground that is not pleasing on the eye, in a rather ramshackle state set amongst not a particularly pleasant housing area. After passing by the social club brick building and through some of the car park, one enters the ground through a decent turnstile block, along one length of the pitch. To the left, there is a tea bar room and officials area, in front of which are a couple of rows of terracing, whilst beyond that is a small stand offering three rows of seating. Beyond that and the players' tunnel are a couple of uncovered terrace steps. To the other side of the entrance are a couple of portakabins, one housing the toilets, whilst behind the goal closest to these portakabins, cover extends from corner to corner. Behind the other goal is just hard standing, whilst the remaining length is out of bounds to spectators, chiefly as it is closely lined by trees. It appears that the club underestimated how many spectators would attend this game, as they had sold out programmes by the time I arrived ten minutes before kick-off - although apparently that was arguably a piece of good fortune for me, as the programme had extremely limited content - and the tea bar had sold out of hot food by half time.

The omens were very good for this game, with both teams in the hunt for the title and came into this game in fantastic form. Barking had won 11 of their last 13 games and topped the table, with 70 points from 28 games, although they were only three points ahead of Haringey Borough having played three games more. They had scored four goals in each of their last three matches, two of them away from home. Bowers and Pitsea were in fifth place in the table, with 47 points, but had only played 20 games and so have between five and eleven games in hand on the clubs above them. They had won their last 12 games, ten in the league. They won 1-6 at home in midweek and had not failed to score in a game since early November. When today's two teams met in August, the match finished goalless.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, this match turned into a huge disappointment, partly due to a pitch in a terrible condition that was soft underfoot, patched up and uneven, and also partly due to both teams adopting a very physical approach to nullify the attacking threat of the other, with aggressive late tackles, elbows and blatant pushes, which the referee, who was inconsistent all game, failed to deal with adequately, and the only real surprise was that the game did not really descend into a war zone thanks to his lack of consistent and appropriate control, and that none of the players came away with serious injury. Barking, who had a very decent following today, had the better of the first half, their more direct, lump it forward approach better suited to the tricky surface, and they saw several attempts on goal go just high or wide of goal, or were denied by a last ditch tackle.

The home side had the better of the second half, which happily became less physical than the first half, although Barking saw a header go just over the bar shortly after the break, and another shocking decision by the referee saw him award Barking a free kick in their own half whilst their striker had got on the end of a long ball forward and was bearing down on goal. Bowers and Pitsea had the more chances to break the deadlock overall in the second half, but in the end, the two teams cancelled each other and they both took a point which did little for either team's title challenge. Barking remained top but only by one point having played three games more, after Haringey Borough scored a last minute winner today, whilst Bowers and Pitsea drop a place to sixth.

Video highlights of the first half can be found here, whilst highlights of the second half can be found here

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