Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hungerford Town 2 v 1 Concord Rangers

Saturday 18th March 2017
National League South
Bulpit Lane, Hungerford
Admission: £12.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 271
Match Rating: 3

After planning all week to go down to Dorset today, nervous noises coming from Gillingham Town last night regarding a pitch inspection (which is subsequently failed) made me reconsider, and with rail engineering works favouring a journey through via Surrey Hills, I eventually chose to tick off another ground in the National League South.

Bulpit Lane is about a 15 minute walk northwards from Hungerford train station, and following the club’s rapid rise through the divisions – playing in the Hellenic League as recently as 2008 with, as the programme proudly presents, higher league rankings every season since - it is fair to say the ground has not kept up with the club’s progress. It currently feels much more like a second tier Southern League ground, although perhaps today was not an ideal time to visit, with a lot of building work preparation in evidence to upgrade facilities. Spectators enter the ground in one corner, and behind the goal is the brick clubhouse, with the tea bar to one side and the changing rooms to the other. Straddling the half way line on both sides are low all-seater stands. To one side of one of them is a modern metallic stand covering steps, whilst on either side of the opposite stand, foundations are being made for a further stand and terrace steps. Behind the remaining goal there is a fairly narrow stand covering a couple of terrace steps. There is quite a pronounced slope of the pitch from end to end. Today’s programme was a double-issue, also covering Monday evening’s game, and was pretty average. Containing 60 pages, 25 of which were advertising, it contained the essential stats and penpics, but lacked interesting reading material.

Having been promoted via the play-offs after finishing in fourth place in the Southern League Premier Division last season, Hungerford were comfortably inside the play-offs again this season, before picking up just one point from their last three games, leaving them in seventh place, five points adrift of the play-offs, following 15 wins and nine draws from their 32 league games. Concord Rangers still have work to do to avoid the possibility of relegation, they were in 17th place in the 22 team division, following eight wins and ten draws from their 33 league games. When the two teams met in October, Hungerford won 2-4.

On a dull, overcast aftercast, Concord Rangers kicked down the slope in the first half, but into a very strong wind. With conditions tricky for both sides, the game was even, the visitors looking the more threatening in the attack although for the most part it was a midfield battle. However on 31 minutes, the visitors took the lead. A cross from the left was knocked down beyond the goal to Adam Nasha in a central position 12 yards out, and he fired the ball home. They held onto their lead fairly comfortably until half time, with plenty of work to do for the home side to get their push for the play-offs back on track.

And on 52 minutes, the home side were level. As they did throughout most of the match, the visiting bench loudly protested a free kick being awarded against them, the ball was swung in from the deep wing, and found its way through a crowd of heads to allow Jon Boardman to tap the ball home. The game was getting increasingly niggly, and the visiting manager Adam Flanagan was sent from the dugout after seeming to take objection to nearby spectator comments. Both sides looked lively without threatening as the game meandered towards its conclusion, but on 83 minutes, Hungerford took the lead. A high looping cross was sent in from close to the corner flag, and Stefan Brown headed the ball home at the far post. That sealed the three points as the visitors never looked likely to get back on level terms, and the result meant Hungerford rose to within 3 points of the play-off positions, while Concord Rangers are still looking for the couple of wins which would probably ensure their survival.

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