Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Heybridge Swifts 5 v 0 Maldon & Tiptree

Monday 28th August 2017
Isthmian League Division One North
Scraley Road, Heybridge
Admission: £8.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 329
Match Rating: 3

For this Bank Holiday Monday, I decided to head for a ground that I had wanted to visit for many years, but its location some six miles away from the nearest train station had always made it difficult. With beautifully warm and sunny conditions forecast, it made a trip by car to the Essex coast ideal today, with a visit to nearby Heybridge Basin a very pleasant place to while away a couple of hours ahead of kick-off.

Scraley Road is situated on the eastern edge of Heybridge, and after passing through a small car park (an overflow one is available a short distance away), spectators enter through a turnstile block painted in club colours of black and white stripes behind one of the goals. Behind this goal, there is just hard standing, although beyond the players' tunnel, there is a large grass area with picnic tables on, with the clubhouse set some way back. Straddling the half way line on one side is an all-seater stand, but there is not much of an incline between rows, and there are supporting pillars along the front. On the opposite side, there is more traditional stand, which is longer and narrower, and with two rows of wooden steps to sit on. Behind the remaining goal, there is a stand covering two rows of terrace steps. All of the stands are attractively decorated with new signage, certainly enhancing the ground's appearance, and indeed there is a very pleasant mixture of buildings weathered with age and modern facilities which are more than adequate to host Step 5 football. There is a pleasing lack of the scourge of modern ground upgrades, such as dull metallic stands and the like, and a quiet, rural location completes a very pleasant place to watch football at. As well as a very reasonable entrance charge - the cheapest I have encountered recently and about what it should be for this level of football - the club issues a really excellent programme. In these days of people questioning whether programmes have had their day, and leagues like the Southern League now allowing clubs to not bother printing programmes if they publish one on-line, Heybridge produce a programme that shows there is still a place for a decent, informative publication. 28 pages in full colour, well designed and printed on good quality stiff paper, and with plenty of interesting reading material and all of the necessary stats presented, it is one of the best programmes I have encountered for a long, long time. Even better, team sheets were also freely available from the club shop.

This match was very much a local derby, with the two towns just about joined together, separated by the River Chelmer. Both clubs were fancied to do well this season. Heybridge only just survived in this division last season, but having made some good signings, they went into this game having won all three of their league games. After finishing second in the table last season, only to lose the play-off final to Thurrock to be denied promotion, Maldon & Tiptree have won one and drawn the other of their two league games so far.

On a very warm and sunny afternoon, few could have predicted what a one-sided game this would prove to be, as the home side pretty much won the game within the first quarter of an hour. With just 2 minutes on the clock, they opened the scoring with a powerful near-post header by Ryan Henshaw from a corner, and on 12 minutes, they doubled their lead, when some poor defending by the visitors allowed the ball to be passed to Harrison Chatting, and he struck the ball past the keeper. They made it three on 16 minutes following some great footwork to the byline by Juan Luque ended with a pass into the six yard box, which cause some confusion before Samuel Bantick bundled the ball into the net. Maldon had a great chance to pull a goal back on 32 minutes, but Junior Odendi-Uzokwe sent his bullet header wide of the post.

Heybridge held their three goal lead at half time, and it really did seem that they had done enough to win the game, as they looked solid back and a threat going forward - the complete opposition in both respects to the visitors. The second half was more even, but Maldon never looked likely to pull a goal back in the second half. Their task looked even more hopeless when they had Nicholas Akoto sent off on 71 minutes, on the advice of a linesman, seemingly for kicking a plastic bottle and it hitting a spectator's face. Heybridge duly made it 4-0 on 80 minutes when subsitute Joe Gardner dance past a couple of challenges, allowed the keeper to commit himself before passing the ball into the net. In added on time, Heybridge were awarded a penalty when Josh Fagbohun was tripped in the box, and then struck the spot kick low into the bottom left corner despite the keeper going the right way.

So local bragging rights were earned in some style by Heybridge as they maintained their 100% start to their season with four league games played. As for Maldon, this was a very poor performance and there certainly seems to be plenty work to be done by their manager Kevin Horlock if they are to make the play-offs again this season.

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