Sunday, 12 April 2015

St Francis Rangers 0 v 2 Pagham

Saturday 11th April 2015
Colwell Ground, Haywards Heath
Sussex County League Division One
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 45
Match Rating: 3

Wanting to watch a senior game today without a long or complicated journey, I had little choice but to revisit a ground. However, my only previous visit to the Colwell Ground was over ten years ago, and I recall it being quite a scenic ground with a certain rural charm to it.

The Colwell Ground is a brisk half hour walk from Haywards Heath train station, and is located close to the Princess Royal Hospital, but otherwise is very difficult to follow, with no signs pointing the way to the ground until a couple of small club signs immediately outside the entrance. Facilities here are basic and rustic, but it is refreshing to note that there is not an identikit stand in sight. One enters behind a goal, where there is a green coloured double decker clubhouse with a corrugated iron exterior and has certainly seen better days - apparently plans are in place to replace it. A very limited range of drinks and snacks (disappointingly including out of date chocolate bars)  are available from a small room that has the feel of a scout hut (although spectators are encouraged to proceed to the clubhouse in the nearby hospital complex for alcoholic drinks and hot food after the game), and facilities do not appear to be much better for players or officials, but it will still be a shame when this rustic building on the groundhopping circuit is consigned to history. Hard standing is available behind this goal, and along one length, where there are also a couple of wooden stands covering a flat concrete area up to the dugouts, whilst on the far side of the dugouts is a small all-seater stand, with three rows very closely packed together resulting in an absolute minimum of leg room. From this side, former hospital buildings now converted into housing perched above the ground provides an imposing and attractive backdrop. Behind the other goal is hard standing, although spectators did not seem to be encouraged to venture there, whilst along the other length there is just grass to stand on, and from this side, this time the backdrop is green countryside leading up to the South Downs in the distance. Trees lining both goals completes a pleasantly rural feel to the ground. The programme was dreadful - a classic example of where charging a pound is naughty and if the club is to produce such a poor programme, then in my opinion it really should be included with entry or a nominal amount charged. Just a potted history of today's opponents and predicted line ups was of any relevance to today's game.

Coming into this game, there was certainly more in this game for the visitors, Pagham looking to consolidate their third place position in the league, four points ahead of fourth placed Eastbourne Town, and with faint hopes of catching the top two, but were six points behind second placed Littlehampton and ten points behind leaders Dorking Wanderers (although Pagham have a game in hand), with four games left to play. They came into this game in good form, winning their last three games. St Francis came into this game in twelfth place, with seemingly nothing left to play for. They have drawn their last two games and have won only once of their last six games, that win coming against one of the division's two whipping boys, Crawley Down Gatwick. When today's teams met in January, Pagham won 4-2.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, after a fairly even opening to the game, but once Pagham took the lead on 20 minutes, they were completely dominant for the rest of the half, as St Francis struggled to stay in the game, and the only surprise was that the visitors had only opened up a two goal lead by half time. On 20 minutes, some good quick passing inside the box resulted in a cross to a more central position, and Howard Neighbour poked the ball home first time under pressure from defenders. On 28 minutes, Pagham scored their second with a lovely free-kick from right on the edge of the area, curled into the top left hand corner despite the keeper getting good hands to the ball. Four minutes later and only the woodwork denied Pagham a third, and by the time half time arrived, St Francis would have been glad to have only conceded twice.

The second half was very competitive, and St Francis came much more into the game, but one always felt that Pagham were just doing enough to keep the home side at bay and could have stepped back up a level had the home side got a goal back. St Francis twice came close to getting on the score sheet, first on 66 minutes when the ball was swung into the box and a free header went just wide of the goal, and on 81 minutes, a powerful header from a cross came back off the underside of the bar and bounced clear. But in truth, Pagham held on quite comfortably to secure the three points, and following news that fourth placed Eastbourne Town lost today, Pagham look certain for at least a third placed finish, and with leaders Dorking Wanderers losing and second placed Littlehampton only drawing, Pagham can dream of an even better finish.

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