Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Brightlingsea Regent 1 v 0 Heybridge Swifts

Sunday 27th December 2015
North Road, Brightlingsea
Isthmian League Division One North
Admission: £8.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 275
Match Rating: 3

After a rare Boxing Day without football due to family commitments, I was determined to catch some action today, although from the handful of games being played today in the south-east, this was the only game at a ground I had not previously visited, and so I made the relatively long trip to north-east Essex.

North Road is located just to the north of Brightlingsea town centre, and with the nearest train station four miles away with an irregular bus service from there to Brightlingsea, driving really is the best option for getting here. Located at the end of a road of terraced houses, spectators enter the ground through a turnstile hut, and find themselves pitchside along one length. To the right of the entrance is a small stand covering a standing area, whilst to the left is the modern metallic all-seater stand, and beyond that, there is a burger van and then the brick clubhouse. Overhang to the front of the clubhouse offers a covered standing area, and is where the most vocal home fans seem to congregate. Opposite the clubhouse is an all-seated stand, which apparently the club bought on ebay a few years ago, with a construction seeming to be made of scaffolding offering cover. There is just hard standing along the rest of this length and behind one of the goals, whilst spectators are not permitted behind the remaining goal closest to the clubhouse and "ebay" stand. All in all, it's quite an unremarkable, basic and fairly dreary ground, but is clearly in a transitional stage and as the club settles into Step 4 football, having played in the Essex & Suffolk Border League as recently as 2011, no doubt facility and cosmetic improvements to the ground will continue. The 32 page programme was laid out attractively and was a good and informative read, and for a remarkably cheap price of £1.00 following a similarly commendably cheap admission fee.

Brightlingsea Regent came into the Christmas period in 13th place in the 24 team division, although as they have played fewer games than everyone else in the division, a play-off place is not out of the question - currently they are 9 points shy of fifth placed Cheshunt, but with five games in hand. After struggling at the foot of the table for most of the season so far, Heybridge Swifts are upwardly mobile at the moment, having won two and drawn the other of their last three league games, and three wins and two draws from their last six games, and came into this game one place above the relegation zone, in 20th place, with 20 points from 26 games. When the two teams met in Heybridge last month, Brightlingsea won 1-5.

There was considerable doubt that I would even make this game, as I was stuck in traffic for over an hour approaching the Dartford Crossing, although with the roads behaving themselves across Essex, I arrived with 20 minutes to spare in the end. On yet another dull, overcast afternoon, the game started surprisingly evenly, with the visitors perhaps looking the more threatening team on the break. But on 28 minutes, Brightlingsea were awarded a penalty for a silly lunging foul tackle in the penalty area. Jake Turner shot the ball low into the bottom left corner to give the home side the lead. The game remained a tight affair up to half time, and the closest Heybridge came to an equaliser was on 39 minutes, when a free kick heading for the top right corner was well saved by the keeper.

Heybridge could probably feel slightly disappointed to be behind at the break, but Brightlingsea started the second half the brighter, creating the better chances, but still Heybridge were well in the game, and had a great opportunity to equalise on 77 minutes when they were awarded a penalty for another foul tackle in the area. But the opportunity was spurned as James Guy placed his strike wide of the right hand post. Things got worse for the visitors when they were reduced to ten men when their captain Liam Thomas was shown a second yellow card. They still had one more chance to grab a point, when a header from a corner was saved, but it was Brightlingsea who claimed the three points. Although Brightlingsea always had that extra bit of quality, Heybridge will feel disappointed to come away with nothing, but will surely take great heart from a solid performance which bodes well in their battle against relegation.

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