Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sawbridgeworth Town 2 v 1 Tower Hamlets

Saturday 17th September 2016
Essex Senior League
Crofters End, Sawbridgeworth
Admission including Programme: £7.00
Attendance: 85
Match Rating: 3

I had difficulty in deciding where to head to today, and not feeling like a complicated journey with long connection times or a long walk from a train station, I eventually decided to head to the Hertfordshire / Essex, to tick off one of the few venues I had not been to previously in the Essex Senior League. My mind was made up on reading a tweet from a club official pointing out that much work had been done there very recently to improve the appearance of the ground.

Crofters End is about a 15 minute walk from Sawbridgeworth train station and is indeed quite an attractive, neat ground but with plenty of quirkiness to make it interesting. The ground is situated at the end of a short residential road, and spectators enter via turnstile along one length. To the right of the entrance and towards the corner flag is a covered area with two rows of seating (the top row some height above the lower), and then a tea bar and a room housing junk. To the other side of the entrance turnstile is the clubhouse which is basic with a very small bar area but was comfortable enough. In front of the clubhouse is overhang to cover a standing area. Further along, by the half way line, is the players tunnel coming out from the changing rooms attached to the clubhouse, and beyond the tunnel is the modern metallic all-seater stand. Although the various buildings along this length are of varying shapes and sizes, it all looks very neat and cared for, painted in club colours and joined together. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, with colourful trees enclosing both ends to give the ground a pleasant background, whilst a training pitch is situated behind the remaining length. A 20 page programme was included with admission and was sufficiently informative.

Both of today’s teams have had slow starts to their seasons. Sawbridgeworth have won two (which came in their most recent two games, both away, including a 1-5 win in their last game) and drawn three of their eight league games so far, while Tower Hamlets have won two and drawn one of their six league games so far. Today’s team have already played each other at Crofters End in the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round, with Sawbridgeworth winning 4-2 before bowing out to Isthmian League Premier Division outfit Harrow Borough in the next round.

It was hard to imagine that just a few days previously saw the hottest September day for over 100 years in the south-east. Today, conditions were dank and felt very cold with a stiff breeze blowing damp air. Sawbridgeworth had the better of the opening exchanges and took the lead on 6 minutes. The ball was played from a free kick into the box, and a header was deflected to the side of the six yard box and Gavin Cockman struck the ball low just inside the far post. The home side continued to do much of the attacking although Tower Hamlets did look lively on the break, and they equalised on 21 minutes. Joel Ramos showed excellent, pacy footwork to create an opening to shoot low past the keeper. On 40 minutes, the home team were awarded a penalty as the onrushing forward was tripped in the box. But Cockman saw his strike saved low to the keeper's right before the ball was hacked away.

Into the second half and the match followed a similar pattern to the first and they almost took the lead just after the break when a back post header was blocked by the keeper and then a shot on the stretch saw the ball trickle against the far post and stay out. Tower Hamlets did more than their fair share of fouling throughout the match and the inevitable red card was shown to Samuel Olanipekun on 65 minutes. The home side made their extra man count on 77 minutes when, following yet another foul by Tower Hamlets, the ball was lofted from deep into the box and somehow the ball bundled through a crowd of players and 16 year old debutant Ronnie Bird got the final touch to score on a dream debut. Sawbridgeworth saw the game out fairly comfortably to claim the three points.

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