Sunday, 15 January 2017

Sutton Coldfield Town 1 v 0 Ilkeston

Saturday 14th January 2017
Northern Premier League Premier Division
Central Ground, Sutton Coldfield
Admission: £10.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 283
Match Rating: 3

For the first of four consecutive Saturdays taking advantage of return tickets from London with Megabus for no more than £1.50 return, today I had the choice of games in the Birmingham area. This game was actually about fifth choice when I set off this morning, however a 45 minute delay due to an accident at Junction 1 on the M6 meant that visits to Kidderminster or Halesowen became out of the question. Whilst a visit to a Midland Football League game held some appeal, I decided to visit what would presumably be the better ground, for a game between two evenly matched teams battling against relegation.

The Central Ground, which is also home to Romulus and was, up to last summer, home of Aston Villa Ladies, is about a 20 minute walk from Sutton Coldfield train station, and spectators enter via a prefab turnstile block, behind one length. Immediately to the right of the entrance is the main stand. It is tall, narrow and being quite old fashioned, certainly has character. Spectators have to walk up a steep, enclosed staircase to get to the seating area, which only spans the middle third of the available space. Whilst the elevated view from there is a bonus, railings and supporting pillars obstruct the views. Behind one end there is a very small covered area close to the corner flag, seemingly intended for disabled supporters, whilst behind the other corner is a brick, flat roofed clubhouse. In the front wall of this building there is a refreshment window. Just beyond that corner and moving along the length is a recently installed small metallic all-seater stand, next to which is a small wooden hut housing the club shop. Along the rest of this length there are a couple of uncovered terrace steps. Behind the remaining goal there is a building not used for football but with some cover to the front for spectators. The area from the goal around the corner to a toilet block next to the main stand is currently out of bounds. Some old fashioned panel fencing in club colours of blue and white makes for a fairly nice background, and indeed the ground has a nice mix of a weathered appearance offering character, with some modern touches, with some colourful signage and the installation of a 3G pitch. The 28 page programme, printed on standard paper but using colour printing was an interesting enough read, containing the essential stats.

Both teams came into this match deep in trouble in the relegation zone, with Sutton Coldfield fourth bottom having won four and drawn eight of their 27 league games so far, but six points adrift of safety. Ilkeston were two places and two points worse off, having won five and drawn three of their 24 league games, but have three games in hand on the three teams immediately above them.

On a bitterly cold afternoon with occasional sunshine but which was mostly overcast, this was a surprisingly entertaining game, played at a high tempo, although perhaps predictably the quality tended to fizzle out the closer they got to the final third. The home team certainly were the better team, and came close on several occasions to opening the scoring, although the visitors were more than holding their own. On 32 minutes, Sutton Coldfield were awarded a penalty by the referee, but after conferring with his assistant referee, he changed his mind and awarded a corner instead, jointly deciding the sliding tackle by the defender made contact with the ball. But in added on time, the home team took the lead with a rather fortunate goal. Debutant Max Wright, signed earlier in the week on loan from Grimsby Town, cut back on the right touchline and sent in a high looping cross into the area and the ball went over the keeper and just inside the far post.

The second half was a quieter affair in the main, with Sutton Coldfield looking happy to stick with what they had, but it was Ilkeston who had two great chances to claim a precious point. On 66 minutes, Atkinson broke clear but he scuffed his eventual shot so badly a team mate actually ran onto the ball out wide, and a couple of minutes before the end of normal time, their keeper launched a free kick from just inside Sutton Coldfield's half into the penalty area, and Tehvan Tyrell struck the loose ball goalwards, forcing a very good save by the keeper low to his right.

And so Sutton Coldfield held on for a precious three points, to move within three points of Frickley Athletic (who did not play today) and safety, whilst with their games in hand, Ilkeston have as much chance of staying up - as long as they can start winning games, and will rue losing against one of their biggest rivals in the battle against relegation.

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