Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Saltdean United 3 v 0 AFC Varndeanians

Tuesday 27th December 2016
Southern Combination League Premier Division
Hill Park, Saltdean
Admission: Free
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 103
Match Rating: 3

For Bank Holiday Tuesday, although it would be possible to take in up to three matches today, I decided to settle for just the one. Although it would mean a revisit, I was sufficiently tempted to revisit a lovely ground that would look at its best on a beautifully sunny and surprisingly mild morning.

I last visited Hill Park for a double-header of pre-season friendlies in 2013, and there have been no major alterations pitchside saved for some different advertising boards, but there are some club badges stuck to the side of the clubhouse, which is attractively designed inside. On that July day in 2013, the large grass bank made a lovely place to watch on a hot sunny day - today, it still provided a great vantage point to watch the match below on a much colder (but mild) sunny winter's day. Admission was free of charge today, usually £5.00, and the programme was very decent considering the level of football, Consisting of 20 pages, it was very well presented, had some colour in it, and covered all of the basics to provide a good preview to the match.

Almost a year to the day, I watched Saltdean play at Seaford in a dire game between two very poor teams at the foot of this division, both occupying the bottom two places by some distance, Saltdean finished bottom and were only reprieved from falling into intermediate football thanks to ground grading. Following the arrival of a new chairman, things are looking completely different for the club this season, and went into this game in third place, following 12 wins and five draws from 20 league games, and were only three points adrift of Little Common. After back to back promotions from the Mid Sussex League culminating in finishing last season as champions in the Southern Combination League Division Two, this is AFC Varndeanians first season in senior football. They had something of a false dawn back in August, picking up a win and draw from their opening 3 league games, but have failed to win since, and came into this game in 16th place in the 18 team division, with just the one win and eleven draws from their 19 league games.

On a beautifully sunny morning, as one would have expected, this match was rather one-sided. Although the youthful visiting team battled hard throughout, they carried very little threat, whilst the home team looked bright, confident and a regular goalscoring threat. Saltdean opened the scoring on 6 minutes, when Andy McDowell got on the end of a low ball forward and just beat the keeper to knock the ball towards goal from a slight angle and the ball crossed the line just before the defender's desperate attempt to hack it clear. On 24 minutes, they nearly doubled their lead when a free kick went over the keeper and came back off the far post, and six minutes later, a dreadful miscued clearance by the keeper fell at a Saltdean player at the edge of the box but after taking a touch, his shot was deflected wide by the keeper's legs. But on 32 minutes Saltdean did double their lead. A free kick from close to the right corner flag was floated to the back post and Joe McTiffen bundled the ball in from close range. 2-0 was how it remained at the interval, and was a good reflection on the first half.

Saltdean made the three points safe with a third goal on 51 minutes. Following a few ricochets, the ball landed at the feet of McDowell, who took a couple of touches before tapping the ball home past the keeper from a slight angle. That rather killed the game as Saltdean coasted to a comfortable victory, and whilst the visitors displayed commendable spirit, they just couldn't mount any kind of threat.

So a most enjoyable morning of football enjoyed in glorious sunshine and mild temperatures, and indeed it did feel pleasantly strange to have watched three games immediately after Christmas in perfect conditions, instead of the more usual frosty or wet conditions. A visit to Saltdean comes highly recommended - facilities may be rather thin on the ground, but the setting is beautiful and is a breath of fresh air in the sea of soulless grounds usually found these days at step 6 thanks to ground grading regulations.

No comments: