Thursday, 8 October 2015

Wood Fell Oak - Mile Oak vs. Lordswood

Elevated view at The Mile Oak Rec
It was the latest round of The Vase last weekend and as I hadn't visited a new Sussex League ground yet this season, I opted to travel to Brighton for Mile Oak against Lordswood of the Southern Counties East League. After seeing Wellingborough and Edgware share nine goals in the previous round, I was hoping for another glut of goals. Mile Oak had made a steady start to the season and had only lost one of their three home league games this season. The visitors had made a very good start to their league campaign and were in third place behind Erith Town and newly promoted Hollands and Blair. In the previous round both sides defeated Sussex League opposistion - Mile Oak beat Seaford while Lordswood defeated Southwick.

Kick off at an angle
Early on in the tie, both sides have a set play each but neither delivers a threat to the goal. Lordswood should really take the lead when the Lordswood player is allowed a free header from a corner but the effort goes wide of the post. Lordswood come close again when the attacker powers through the home defence and the Mile Oak goalie makes a good save to keep the scores level. The Mile Oak defence then almost gift Lordswood the opener. A weak back pass is pounced on by the Lordswood forward and the Mile Oak keeper saves the day again when he some how gets back to block the shot on the line. Mile Oak take the lead when a corner to the back post is flapped at by the Lordswood keeper and the ball is put back into the six yard box where it is lashed into the back of the net. Lordswood have a great chance for an equaliser shortly afterwards when a free kick is split but the keeper redeems himself, making a great close range save from the rebound. The Mile Oak keeper is yet again called into action shortly before half time, making a fantastic low save after the Lordswood striker found space in the box.

Lordswood attack in the first half
Lordswood equalise shortly after half time. The Mile Oak defence doesn't fully clear a ball into the area and the forward is then played in and he slots the ball past the keeper to make it one one. Lordswood are then awarded a penalty when the player is chopped down as he takes a shot and despite the goalie getting a hand to the ball, it still finds the back of the net to give the visitors the lead. Lordswood are awarded a second penalty in a short period of time as the Lordswood player is fouled by the Mile Oak keeper after a scramble in the box and the penalty goes the same direction with the same result to make it 3-1. Lordswood make the tie safe when following a ball to the near post, the forward is allowed to turn and he scores the visitors' fourth goal. In the closing stages the Lordswood keeper has to make a sharp save to tip over a drilled effort from the edge of the area before Mile Oak get a late consolation goal.

Mile Oak push for the opener
The closest station to The Mile Oak Rec is Portslade. There is one direct train an hour from Victoria or you can catch a train to Brighton and change there for a train to Portslade. Either way, the journey takes around an hour and a quarter. The ground is then a half hour walk away or the number one bus from close to the station drops you very close to the ground and the service is pretty regular. On the way down to the seafront from the station is The Blue Anchor which is good for a drink if you've been for a walk on the front. Half way between the station and the ground is The St George's Inn which has Sky and BT Sports for the early kick offs. There is no clubhouse at the ground but you can get warm drinks and cold snacks from the school hall next to the ground. The nearby Mile Oak Inn hosts post game drinks and is the best bet for a drink before a game. 

Very impressive programme
Long throw up the line in front of the stand

Monday, 28 September 2015

Blues Steal Points With Second Half Revival - United Services Portsmouth vs. Amesbury Town

Watching from the trees at The Victory Stadium
When I first started taking interest in non league football, one of the teams that really intrigued me was Metropolitan Police. Since my knowledge of non league has expanded, United Services Portsmouth were another team I had found interesting especially as I had seen the seen the ground from the train when arriving into Portsmouth Harbour Station when I went to watch Gosport. United Services play in The Wessex League Division One and this weekend they were hosting Amesbury Town in what was another second versus clash. After a slow start to the season, United Services had won their last four league games and had beaten Clanfield of the Hampshire Premier League in The Portsmouth Senior Cup in midweek. Amesbury had not lost a league game so far this season and the stage was set for a great match.

Kick off at The Victory Stadium
The game takes a little while to get going and the first half chance of the game comes as the United Services forward is almost played in but the Amesbury defender makes a great last ditch tackle to deal with the danger. Amesbury's first chance comes when following a period of United Services pressure they are able to break out of defence but a heavy touch at the critical moment sees the chance go begging. The home side take the lead when the Amesbury defenders look for an offside flag after a long ball forward, it never comes and the United Services forward is left to slot the ball past the keeper to put his side one nil up. United Services are now well on top and a great footballing move results in the keeper having to make a great save with his legs. The hosts double their lead as the attacker is played in out on the wing and he lashes the ball in. Amesbury have a great chance to half the deficit just before half time but the striker blasts the ball over from a good shooting position.

United Services attack in the first half
Amesbury look to get back into the game right from the kick off of the second half and they create a couple of half chances without troubling the goalie. However, it is United Services who force the first save of the half as the keeper tips a low effort around the base of the post. Amesbury get their first goal when the centre forward is played in by a ball from midfield and he makes no mistake to make it 2-1. The visitors should really level the scores when a great cross finds the man in space but he puts the head wide when unchallenged. United Services nearly restore their two goal advantage as the forward is able to get in on goal and he drags his shot wide when he could have squared the ball. They are made to regret that missed chance as Amesbury get an equaliser shortly afterwards. After a couple of blocked shots, the ball comes out to the left winger who's driven cross is put past his own keeper by the unfortunate defender. Both sides have chances to score the winner and it is the visitors who complete the comeback and take the three points. The Amesbury attacker shows great control to kill the ball and he is then able to knock the ball past the onrushing keeper.

Front on view of the stand
As I alluded to earlier, the closest station to The Victory Stadium is Portsmouth Harbour. Trains here depart from Waterloo and the journey takes about an hour and three quarters. The ground is then a ten minute walk from the station. Pre match I explored Old Portsmouth and there are great views of the bay from The Round Tower. Right on the dock is The Bridge Tavern which has a great selection of beers and has outdoor seating on the dockside. A short distance away is The Spice Island Inn which provides a great view of The Spinnaker Tower. On The High Street, opposite the cathedral is The Dolphin which apparently is the oldest pub in Portsmouth and had a decent selection of ales. The Sportsman's Arms at the ground serves the numerous sports clubs at the complex and offers elevated views of the rugby and hockey pitches. It had a couple of offers on drinks and doubled up as the tea bar. I spoke to the vice chairman upon entering the ground and he said they were keen to attract more people into the ground for games and I can thoroughly recommend a visit to The Victory Stadium.

Another view of the stand with the tower in the background

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Humbugs Lose Home Record - Halstead Town vs. Great Yarmouth Town

The main stand at Rosemary Lane
I was keen to get to an Eastern Counties League game last weekend and there was a cracker at the top of Division One to break my duck. Halstead Town in second were hosting Great Yarmouth Town in fourth. Until last weekend, Halstead were unbeaten so far in all competitions, their first defeat came in a 5-1 loss away at Stowmarket Town. The week before their first defeat, they dumped out Premier Division Haverhill Rovers in The FA Vase at home. Great Yarmouth had only lost one so far in the league this season which had come in the same weekend as Halstead's first loss in the league. I visited the fantastic Wellesley ground last season for an FA Vase tie with Boston Town, who they also knocked of The Vase this season.

Pre kick off necessities
The opening action of the game are probing long balls from either side which both come to nothing. Great Yarmouth take the lead when a ball into the area isn't cleared and The Bloaters force the ball in from close range to go one up. The visitors come close to doubling their lead with a half volley but the Halstead keeper makes a good save to tip it around the post. The Great Yarmouth goalie's first save is from an acrobatic effort which is straight at him. The Great Yarmouth centre midfielder then finds the man free at the back post but his weak shot goes harmlessly wide. There are no further major incidents as the visitors go in one up.

Halstead Town winger on the ball as the home support looks on
Great Yarmouth come close to doubling their lead shortly after half time when a half volley from the edge of the area is headed off line the line by the Halstead defence. The Halstead keeper then makes two excellent saves from efforts following two successive corners. From the third corner in quick succession, the ball is slid home from close range to make it two nil to Great Yarmouth. The visitors further extend their lead when the forward is found by a cut back and he bends the ball into the top corner. Halstead then get into a similar position but there is no one there to collect the pass. The game is now end to end as the home side try to get back into the game and the Great Yarmouth winger gets in behind the defence but the defender gets back in time to deflect the eventual shot wide. In the closing stages there is a bit of an altercation which sees both sides reduced to ten men.  

A Great Yarmouth attack in the first half
There is no train station in Halstead. To get there, you first have to catch a train from Liverpool Street to Braintree with this section of the journey taking around an hour. Then from the bus station, which is a five minute walk from the station you can catch the 132 bus and this part takes twenty minutes with there being two buses an hour. Halstead is an attractive market town which is worth exploring before a game. On The High Street is The White Hart which has a good selection of ales. Also on The High Street is The Royal Oak which has BT Sports for the early kick off. A short walk from the ground is The Locomotive which is popular with home supporters and does awesome looking food. The clubhouse was welcoming and had the usual selection of drinks.

The sun shining on the fantastic Rosemary Lane

Monday, 14 September 2015

Rovers Force Replay - Needham Market vs. Stanway Rovers

General view of Bloomfields
The FA Cup is now at the stage where teams at step 3 enter the competition and this provides teams in the lower leagues to produce a shock against a team that may have had a bad start at this level. I went to such a game as Needham Market of The Ryman Premier League were hosting Stanway Rovers of The Eastern Counties League. Needham Market had found life tough going in their first season in The Premier League with no wins in nine league games so far and having lost 6-0 away at Wingate and Finchley in midweek. Stanway had made a better start to their league campaign, winning four and losing one of their league matches. To get to this stage, Stanway had beaten two Essex Senior League sides in Clapton and Ilford and this was their third away game in the competition so far this year. 

Kick off at Bloomfields
There is a nervous early moment for the Needham Market defence when a long ball forward is allowed to bounce and this nearly presents the attacker with a one on one chance but the Needham keeper is just there first. Stanway come close again as the ball is flicked on at the near post but no one can get the killer second touch. Needham's first chance comes from a low shot from the edge of the area which goes just wide of the post. Stanway take a shock lead when a free kick into the area isn't dealt with and the ball is turned in from close range. The lead doesn't last long however, the Needham winger is able to get beyond the full back and the cross finds a team mate in the area and he is able to equalise for the home side. Stanway have a good chance to regain the lead with a free kick just outside the area but the effort is straight at the goal keeper.

Moments before the equaliser
The second half takes a little while to get going and the first attack of note is a Stanway free kick in a decent position which comes to nothing. Needham come close to taking the lead for the first time when a cross into the area takes a nick off the defender and this just takes the ball away from the striker. Stanway are then able to break out of defence but the final shot goes harmlessly wide. The Stanway defence then does brilliantly to block a shot when the attacker is able to cut through the defence and they stay alert to block a second chance. Needham have the ball in net following a long ball forward which is poked home but the goal is disallowed for a push on a defender. Needham have a lot of the ball in the final moments but they fail to prevent the tie going to a replay.

Needham push for a late winner
There are no direct trains to Needham Market from London. You have to take a train from Liverpool Street and change at Ipswich for a train to Needham Market with the journey taking around an hour and a half. The Tour of Britain was coming through the town the day I visited and so a lot of shops had displays and bunting up and there were a lot of people about. Just off The High Street is The Three Tuns which had a couple of ales as well as Sky Sports. On The High Street its self is The Limes Hotel which has quite a small bar but is a cool timber framed set up and also had the sports channels for the early kick off. Bloomfields is then a short walk from The High Street. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and a TV to show the Tour of Britain going past only a couple of hundred meters away. While I was waiting for my train I popped into The Rampant Horse which did the job and sold awesome sausage rolls.

Covered standing down onside of the pitch

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Enthralling Start To Vase - Wellingborough Whitworth vs. Edgware Town

Turning in the shadow of the factory
Wellingborough has been on my radar for a while and after a friend from university moved to the local area, I arranged a trip. There are two teams in Wellingborough and they are next door to each other. The team I saw this weekend were Whitworth who were at home to Edgware. Both sides play in division of their respective leagues, Whitworth play in The United Counties while Edgware play in the South Midlands. Edgware have reformed since they folded after losing their fantastic White Lion Ground in 2008. I was lucky enough to visit The White Lion Ground for a Ryman League game against Wivenhoe in one of my first hopping seasons. The two sides have had contrasting starts to the season with Whitworths having only won one game so far this season while Edgware had won four. One thing the two starts to the league campaigns had in common was that there had been a lot of goals - a total of 48 goals in the nine league games involving the two sides.

Kick off at The Victoria Mill Ground
Both teams have early chances but it is Whitworths who take the early lead. Following a cross from the right, the forward is allowed a free header and he buries it into the back of the net. Edgware then have a free kick on the edge of the Whitworths' area and from this the home side break and a long ball finds the attacker through on goal and he dinks the ball over the on rushing keeper to double the home sides lead. Edgware now go on the attack to try and get back into the game and they come close when the Whitworths keeper does well to block a header from a corner on the line. The home side then gift the visitors a way back into the game. Under very little pressure, the Whitworths centre back powers a header past his own keeper following a long throw into the box. Edgware come close to an equaliser as the Whitworths keeper does well to keep out a header from a free kick. They do get an equaliser when Edgware break out of defence and the centre midfielder times his through ball to perfection and the forward beats the keeper to level the scores. Whitworths are unlucky not to regain the lead when a long range effort hits the top of the bar. It is Edgware who go in at half time in the lead as they score just before the whistle.

The Whitworths winger takes on the full back
Whitworths look straight away to get the equaliser and the Edgware defence has to be alert to clear a dangerous cross into the box. Edgware however extend their lead when after a neat one two, the winger gets in on goal and he makes no mistake to make it 2-4. The visitors further press home their advantage after a diagonal ball in is squared back across the six yard area and the forward makes no mistake from close range. Whitworths are still in this and after they get to the byline and deliver a cross and the Edgware keeper makes a great save from the resulting effort on goal. Edgeware come close to making the game safe when a a ball over the top finds the winger in space and after he unselfishly passes the shot is cleared off the line. Whitworths get within one as the Edgware keeper spills a shot from the edge of the area and the forward is on hand to force the ball home. Whitworths almost send the game into extra time when they hit the bar with a header from a long throw. Unfortunately for the hosts, Edgware score a late sixth to seal their passage into the next round.

Whitworths hit the bar for a second time
Trains to Wellingborough depart from St Pancras and the journey takes around forty minutes. Tickets on the day are very expensive considering the length of the journey and so I recommend booking in advance. The ground is then about a thirty minute walk from the station. If you have time to stop off in the town centre I thoroughly recommend The Olde England which had an incredible selection of ales and is a fantastic pub without loud music or TVs. If you do want to watch the early kick off then The Horseshoe Inn just down the road does the job. A couple of years ago a fire destroyed the old clubhouse at The Victoria Mill Ground. The replacement is fantastic and offers the usual selection of drinks as a view of the pitch for colder days.

Edgeware attack the clubhouse end


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Crocs Beat Rain But Not Visitors - Crockenhill vs. Orpington

Fans stood next to the fantastic stand at Wested Meadow
In a repeat of the previous season, I was scrambling around the Kent Invicita League looking for a game which would beat the Bank Holiday rain after going to The Challenge Cup Final on the Saturday. I hedged my bets and headed to Swanley as there were two games scheduled there and waited for any news. After hearing from the Orpington Twitter account that the Crockenhill pitch was playable I headed south and this proved to be a good decision as I heard shortly afterwards that Sutton Athletic's pitch had failed an inspection. Crockenhill won their first two games of the season and had lost and drawn the next two so they had made a decent start to their league campaign. The visitors had made an almost identical start and they had a slightly poorer goal difference. Crockenhill won the corresponding fixture two nil last season and so were hoping for more of the same.    

Derby day kick off at Wested Meadow
Orpington have a couple of half chances at the start of the game. Firstly the forward is nearly played in but the pass is just cut out and then a shot is blocked at the last moment at the back post. Crockenhill's first chance of the game is free kick from the edge of the area which lacks the power to seriously trouble to the keeper. Orpington continue to attack and the Crockenhill keeper makes a decent save from a volleyed effort following a lofted free kick into the area. Crockenhill then have their best chance of the half as the winger gets in on the left flank and his pull back finds the man at the edge of the area and the Orpington keeper does well to hold on to the deflected effort.

Orpington attack in the first half
Orpington have the first chance of the second half when they are played in via a defensive mistake and they fail to take advantage despite having two goes at a shot on goal. Crockenhill are unlucky not to equalise when the winger gets to the byline and the shot is deflected wide and from the resulting corner a header is blocked on the line. The opening goal comes following a long ball forward which the Crockenhill defence fails to deal with and the attacker ghosts past the defender and slots the ball home to put the away side one up. Shortly afterwards Orpington go two up. A free kick from out wide is drilled towards the back post and thunders off the back post and into the net. Crockenhill still go looking for a goal to get back into the game and the Orpington keeper does well to punch away a free kick under pressure and Orpington see out the rest of the game to seal a two nil win.

Just after an Orpington chance in the second half.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the closest station to Crockenhill is Swanley. Trains to Swanley depart from Victoria and the journey takes around half an hour. Crockenhill itself is then a steady fifteen minute walk from the station. In the centre of the village is The Chequers Inn which is an excellent village pub and had a good selection of beers. From there it is another fifteen minute walk to the ground. A fair proportion of this walk is along unlit and unpaved roads so I would not recommend making this walk in the dark. Wested Meadow is an absolute gem of an non league ground. The stand is fantastic and the clubhouse is adorned with football memorabilia all over the walls and the ceilings. Despite being a bit of a tricky walk, Wested Meadow is a ground which is really worth a visit.      

Collection of scarfs in the clubhouse

Monday, 24 August 2015

Wasps Regain Sting - Chalfont Wasps vs. Old Woodstock Town

Tree enclosed view at Crossleys
It what is becoming a recurring theme this season, this weekend I ticked off a ground that I've had my eye on for a long time. The ground in question this weekend was Crossleys which is the home of Chalfont Wasps who were hosting Old Woodstock Town in The Hellenic League Division East. I have also enjoyed visiting grounds in this division (Rayners Lane, Henley Town and Holyport) and Crossleys would continue the trend. Both teams had identical league records so far this season having won one and lost one so far this season although today's hosts had the better goal difference. Chalfont had also been at home the previous weekend and were two nil before they were reduced to ten men and eventually lost 2-3. 

Kick off at Crossleys
Early on in the game, the Chalfont centre back gives the ball away on the edge of the area but luckily for him the mistake isn't punished. Old Woodstock then play a chipped ball over the top and the Chalfont keeper has to make sure he is first to the ball, which he is comfortably. It is then the Old Woodstock defence's turn to give the ball away but they recover enough to block the shot on goal. The defence has to be alert to block another dangerous ball in the area after the winger is able to get beyond the full back. The best chance of the half comes when the Old Woodstock attacker gets to byline and his pull back finds the striker only for his shot to be blocked right on the line. They have another great chance shortly afterwards as a cross to the back post finds the man in lots of space but his diving header misses the target. Chalfont have a brilliant chance of their own right at the end of the half. A good cross finds the unmakred striker but he slips and can't get enough power or direction on the shot.

The Chalfont cross into the area is blocked by The Old Woodstock defence
The first chance of the second half is a Chalfont free kick which goes well over the bar. Old Woodstock's first chance comes as a result of a quick break but this chance is also skied. The Chalfont forward is allowed to turn in the penalty area and this forces the Old Woodstock keeper into a great low save. The hosts come close again but this time a deflection off a defender sends the ball wide of the post. Old Woodstock then get in on goal following another deflection and the Chalfont keeper makes a great save to keep the scores level. The hosts then take the lead mid way through the half which is also when I elected to take a toilet break which is another theme of the season so far. Chalfont have a chance to seal the points but this time the shot on goal is deflected on to the post. Old Woodstock's best chance of an equaliser comes when they are able to get to the byline following a break from a Chalfont corner but the ball in is cut out by the home defence. There is a scramble in the area in the dying seconds where Chalfont can add a second and after the first shot is blocked, the Chalfont attacker balloons the ball over from a yard or so out.  

The only seating at Crossleys
Chalfont Wasps play in the picturesque village of Chalfont St Giles which is as close to the rural ideal as you can probably get. The nearest station to Chalfont St Giles is Gerrards Cross and trains here depart from Marylebone and the quick trains take just over twenty minutes. From Gerrards Cross you can catch the 730 bus to the top of The High Street and this section of the journey takes quarter of an hour. A very short walk from the village green is The Fox and Hounds which had a great selection of ciders which was perfect in the sunny weather. On The High Street itself is Feathers which has Sky and BT Sports for the early kick off. Crossleys is then a steady ten minute walk from the village centre. The clubhouse is shared with the cricket club and in summer you can watch the cricket with a drink while you wait for the game to start. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks as well as the sports channels. Programmes are sold from behind the bar and at £2 for a decent programme and entry, Chalfont Wasps are great value for money.

Another view of the cover at Crossleys