Sunday, 1 January 2017

Staines Town 3 v 2 Hendon

Saturday 31th December 2016
Isthmian League Premier Division
Wheatsheaf Park, Staines
Admission: £12.00
Programme: £2.50
Attendance: 251
Match Rating: 3

Unfortunately there was not a great selection of new grounds for me to choose from today. With a reduced fixture list ahead of a more complete schedule on Monday and a rail strike by Southern making trips westwards south of London a chance not worth taking, the only real option was a visit to a club that I had put off visiting in recent years due to their relatively expensive entry and programme prices for Isthmian League football. But today did give me the opportunity to tick off my penultimate ground in the Isthmian League Premier Division, for my last game of 2016.

Wheatsheaf Park is about a 20 minute walk from Staines train station, and spectators enter the ground via a brick turnstile block. To the right of the entrance is a large brick building housing a fitness and leisure centre, as well as a sports bar which football visitors can use. At the foot of this building by the entrance there is a tea bar window, a table from which programmes and raffle tickets are sold, and a double-decker portakabin which houses the club shop on the ground floor. On the back of the leisure centre wall there is covered seating, and this area, which is elevated with quite steep inclines between rows and no obstructing pillars, offers excellent views of the action. Along most of the opposite length is a metallic stand covering half a dozen metallic steps. Around most of the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, apart from immediately behind one of the goals, where there are a couple of narrow uncovered steps of terracing. The 40 page programme was reasonable enough, printed in black and white inside a glossy colour cover, covering the important facts and stats and some plenty of interesting articles, but cannot be considered good value at a higher than average price.

Staines came into this game in 12th place in the 24 team division, with nine wins and five draws from their 27 league games, and we’re six points adrift of the play-off positions and eight points clear of the relegation zone. Hendon are in trouble, in the relegation zone in 22nd place having won five and fpdrawn nine of their 25 league games and although they were just a point adrift of safety, they have played between two and five games more than all teams immediately above them.

On a mainly overcast and cool afternoon, this match had more than a passing resemblance to the game I watched at Witham on Boxing Day, with the visiting underdogs who were in the relegation zone looking the better team in the first half, taking the lead, before the higher placed home team came back strongly in the second half to claim the points. With just six minutes on the clock, the visitors took the lead. Following a long throw in into the danger area, the ball was headed out by a defender but it fell to Casey Maclaren around the penalty spot, and he drove the ball home. Hendon looked the better team for most of the first half as Staines struggled to get their game going, although the hosts did come very close on several occasions to grabbing an equaliser, looking dangerous when they did get into attacking positions.

Hendon certainly had a precious three point haul in sight as they held on to the lead until the 60th minute, when a disastrous ten minute spell took the game away from them. First Afolabi Coker headed the ball into the net off the inside of the post, and two minutes later, Adrian Clifton pounced on a loose ball that no-one was able to deal with following a corner to drill home. On 70 minutes, Staines made it three. A free kick was drilled low towards the six yard box and Clifton stabbed the ball home first time. The game calmed down after that, although Staines still looked the more likely to score. However, Hendon pulled a goal back in the second minute of added on time when Maclaren headed the ball in at the far post from close range, but it was too little too late to give themselves any realistic chance of salvaging a point as the final whistle blew shortly afterwards.

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