Monday, 7 March 2016

Whitton United 3 v 3 Brantham Athletic

Saturday 5th March 2016
King George V Playing Field, Ipswich
Eastern Counties League Premier Division
Admission: £6.00
Programme: Sold Out
Attendance: 161
Match Rating: 4

At the conclusion of my 3pm kick off game at Hadleigh, I set out on the 20 minute drive eastwards to the northern outskirts of Ipswich for my third and final match of the day today, this match kicking off at 6pm.

The King George Playing Field is located just off of the A14, passing through a large retail and factory complex which dominates the background view of the ground. After passing along a narrow lane, there is a clubhouse to the right with  the changing rooms housed in an old fashioned cricket pavilion painted in club coloured stripes next door, looking out towards separate playing fields. Opposite the clubhouse is the entrance turnstile. I had already been quite impressed with the attractive signage and neat and tidy nature of the place on approaching the turnstiles, and this feeling certainly continued once inside. Spectators enter behind a goal, and to the right is the tea bar, whilst to the left is a fairly rudimentary hospitality area, and immediately behind the goal is an all-seater stand. Along half of the length closest to the tea bar is covered standing, whilst straddling the half way line on the other side is a small covered standing area. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, apart from behind the goal furthest from the entrance, which is out of bounds. Programmes had sold out by the time I had arrived, over half an hour ahead of kick off, as the club underestimated the numbers of hoppers who would attend this game, both in terms of programme numbers and being prepared for serving refreshments.

Relegation surely beckons for Whitton United, six points adrift at the bottom and 13 points adrift of safety. They have four wins and two draws from their 26 games, although one of those wins came in their last home game. Brantham Athletic were in eighth place, with 12 wins and three draws from their 27 games. When the two teams met in December, Brantham won 3-0.

With conditions stille feeling very cold with a biting breeze, this match started as one might have expected, with the visitors very much on the front foot, and a rather controversial moment came with just five minutes on the clock when the ball was played upfield with a straight race between Brantham's Simon Mann and the keeper. The keeper clattered Mann to concede a foul outside his area, but it was somewhat surprising that he was only shown a yellow card, although a couple of defenders were in the vicinity. The resultant free kick was hit against the wall, but James Crissell pounced on the loose ball, took a touch, before firing into the net. This was actually a surprisingly even game though, and Whitton were still very much in the game. After hitting the side netting on 20 minutes, they equalised on 27 minutes when Wesley Doyle dribbled through the defence before placing a low shot inside the post. Unfortunately for the strugglers, they were only on level terms for about a minute, when Sean Gunn clipped a shot in off the underside of the bar. Again, Whitton did not let their heads drop, and on 39 minutes they got back on level terms again. A free kick was looped in from the left wing, and Gianfranco Mallard poked the ball home at the far post.

2-2 was how it remained at half time, a fairly surprising scoreline based on league positions, but Whitton fully deserved parity. Brantham came close on a few occasions to taking the lead once more, but it was Whitton who went into the lead on 75 minutes. Josh Herbert managed to connect with a corner played in with an overhead kick while falling to the ground and the ball found the back of the net. It did seem that Whitton would hold on to a priceless three points to give them some hope of survival, but in added on time, Matt Travis managed to poke the ball home from a tight angle. It could have got worse for Whitton, as within a minute, Brantham saw a header from a corner fly over the bar. But in truth, a share of the points was a fair reflection of the match, and although Whitton really needed to hold on for the win, surely the performance will give them great heart.

And so at the end of this match it was time to head back down the A12. Despite cold conditions and the disappointment of rain preventing me from visiting a third new ground, this was a most enjoyable day, and good on the Eastern Counties League for continuing to organise Groundhopper days, unlike most other leagues at that level.

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