Wednesday, 4 May 2016

End Of An Era - APM Contrast vs. Sutton Athletic

View from the trees at Cobdown Sports Club
I planned to see one last game on Bank Holiday Monday depending on how I felt upon returning from Hamburg over the weekend and luckily I didn't too horrific. There were a few play off games going on but I didn't fancy the crowds and really wanted a new ground. There were a few games happening in The Kent Invicita League - where I started my league campaign - including APM Contrast hosting Sutton Athletic. This was APM Contrast's final game under this name before they change their name next season to K Sports. Also according to the informative programme they are also moving to a new ground but I don't know if it's at completely new site or another pitch in the complex. Until recently Sutton Athletic had a shout for promotion but Bearsted and Sheppy United sealed the top two spots. The two sides were next to each other in the form table and so it looked like an entertaining end to the season. 

Kick off in front of the awesome stand at Cobdown Sports Club
Sutton Athletic have a lot of possession to begin with and they believe they should have a penalty early on but the referee wasn't impressed with the energetic fall. APM Contrast's first decent attack ends with a good cross into the box which is headed away under significant pressure. APM Contrast take the lead when the forward finds space on the right hand side and he catches the keeper out with an angled shot into the opposite top corner. APM Contrast are having a lot more attacking play and the Sutton Athletic keeper has to be alert to claim a corner which is taken by the strong wind. Sutton Athletic then have a great chance to equalise but the header from a teasing cross is straight at the goal keeper. APM Contrast have the final chance of the half as the ball is poked just wide from a dangerous free kick.

Sutton Athletic player controls under pressure
The Sutton Athletic keeper almost gifts APM Contrast a second goal when he a drops cross in the box but the error goes unpunished. APM Contrast come close again as a corner is headed off the line. Sutton have a glorious chance to equalise when a throw is headed down in the box but the attacker can't fully connect with his shot after turning the defender and the keeper saves comfortably. Sutton Athletic are nearly played in on goal and the APM Contrast defence are saved by the bounce of the ball. APM Contrast then have a couple chances to seal the game. Firstly the forward lashes the ball wide after controlling a cross field pass. Shortly afterwards no one takes advantage of a ball played right across the six yard line following a good run by the winger. They aren't made to regret these missed chances as they seal their last three points as APM Contrast.

Throw in down the roped side of the ground
The closest station to Cobdown Sports Club is Aylesford. There are no direct trains and you need to catch the supposedly high speed service to Strood from St Pancras and change there for a train to Aylesford with the journey taking just under an hour. The train station is located in between the village itself and the ground. The picturesque village is located on The River Medway. At opposite ends of The High Street are The Chequers Inn and The Bush which both had a good selection of beers as well as the sports channels. There is also the picturesque priory in the village to visit. The ground is then a good half hour from the village. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and also had the sports channels. If you fancy grabbing something to eat for the train home I fully recommend Papa's Barn Chippy which is just round the corner from the ground.

Side on view of the stand

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Swifts Soar To Safety - Heybridge Swifts vs. Phoniex Sports

View from the terrace at Scraley Road
For what was likely to be my last weekend of football this season I had originally picked out Larkhall Athletic against Cinderford Town in the South and West Division of The Southern League but I had to be back in London at reasonable time so I had to rethink and went for Heybridge Swifts' critical home tie with Phoenix Sports in The Ryman League North. Heybridge needed to avoid defeat to guarantee survival which they could have done in midweek had they not lost 4-0 away at neighbours Maldon and Tiptree. This was Phoenix Sports' first season at this level and had adapted well obtaining a mid table finish. I saw them in their promotion season as they drew 2-2 with Fisher FC. The only time I'd watched Heybridge previously was in the same division in my second year in London away at Cheshunt. In the reverse fixture in South East London, Sports had won 3-1. 

Kick off at Scraley Road
The game has an uneventful start with most of the play in the middle of the park. The first chance follows a long Heybridge ball forward which results in a shot which the Phoenix defence is able to block. Phoenix then begin to get on top of the game and a deep cross results in a looping which the Heybridge keeper claims comfortably. The Heybridge keeper makes a great low save when the forward is found from a pull back and the Phoenix players think the forward in unfairly blocked from getting to the rebound. The winger is then able to cut inside and his shot goes just over the bar as Heybridge have the point they require as things stand at half time.

A long Heybridge throw in the first half
Heybridge seem to be dropping deeper at the start of the send half and Phoenix fail to take advantage of a good passing move. Heybridge are then able to break out and although that comes to nothing it sparks the home side into life. The Heybridge winger is able to dance through the Phoenix defence and his shot thunders the crossbar and the rebound is put into the side netting. The home side are then gifted the opening goal. A weak head back is seized upon and the attacker's low shot from the edge of the area makes it one nil. They make is two nil when the winger gets into space and he finds the forward who lashes it in to seal the all important three points.

Match action with the main stand in the background
Heybridge is a long way from any railway station and it seems I took the longest possible route to get there. I took a train to Chelmsford from Liverpool Street and from there took the 31X bus to Maldon, which took half an hour. On the map it didn't look that long a walk but it was and there would be a hefty uphill walk on the way back. The walk to Heybridge took twenty minutes or so. I was still able to get to Heybridge in decent time which allowed me to walk along The Chelmer And Blackwater Canal to Heybridge Basin. At the end of the canal is The Jolly Sailor and The Old Ship Inn both of which are worth the pleasant walk and both served the locally produced Maldon Gold ale. If you don't fancy the walk or want to watch the early kick off then The Heybridge Inn is perfect. The ground is about ten minutes walk away from the town centre. The clubhouse was very reasonably priced and had the sports channels on a big screen. On the journey back I was lucky to catch the 90 bus back into Maldon where I caught my bus back to Chelmsford.  

Heybridge celebrate the second goal

Monday, 18 April 2016

Lambs Spring Towards Play Offs - Tamworth vs. AFC Flyde

Spring time weather in the Midlands
So after missing out on a game at Arundel the previous weekend, the weather decided to continue with my plans in what is likely to be my penultimate weekend of watching football this season. Torrential rain overnight in the south east put my first choice of Maldon and Tiptree out of commission and so I opted for Tamworth vs. AFC Fylde where they were sure the game would go ahead. This was my second game in The Conference North this year after seeing Corby host Gainsborough a couple of months ago. This was a vital game for both sides with Fylde looking to make mathematically sure of their place in the play offs while Tamworth needed a win to have any chance of joining them. The only time I'd seen either side before was in Fylde's previous incarnation as Kirkham & Wesham in The FA Vase at Wembley against Lowestoft. The reverse fixture ended in a two all draw back in September.

Main stand without hail
Tamworth cause early panic in the Fylde box with a dangerous cross into the area which the keeper just about claims. The Tamworth midfield then lets the Fylde centre midfielder come a long way with the ball but the home keeper is equal to the shot. Tamworth are allowed in on goal as the Fylde defence lets a long ball forward bounce and fortunately for the visitors the chipped effort doesn't cause any serious alarm. Then just before the heavens open, Tamworth take the lead with an excellent goal. Following a quick throw, the winger drives in on goal and he fires a great low shot past the keeper. The heavy hail seriously disrupts the flow of the game and there are no more chances of note before half time. 

The Fylde defence battles the elements as well as the Tamworth forwards
Tamworth catch Fylde on the break at the start of the second half and the Fylde keeper makes a great save to keep his side level. Fylde then win a free kick on the corner of the area which finds the man in the area who is fouled and the referee awards a penalty to the away side. The penalty is lashed straight down the middle to level the scores. They aren't level for long as Tamworth soon regain the lead. The ball is played over the top of the Fylde defence and the Tamworth attacker is able to control the ball and angle his shot across the keeper into the far corner. They make sure of the points as the right winger is played into space and he is able to find his team mate completely alone at the back post and he slides in the third goal. Fylde still look for a way back into the game and the Tamworth keeper makes a great save to tip over a shot from the area and this is the last real chance of the game.

Covered stand down one side of the pitch
Trains to Tamworth depart from Euston and the journey takes an hour and forty minutes. The London Midlands trains are considerably cheaper than The Virgin ones although they are of course slower. In terms of consistency in quality of pubs, Tamworth has been the best place so far this season. Closest to the station is The Kings Ditch which is a fantastic micro pub with an incredible selection of ales and ciders. Then a short walk down the road is The Sir Robert Peel which as well as a choice of ales also had an extensive range of bottled beers. Then finally a short walk from the market place is The Market Vaults which has a variety of ales as well as the sports channels for the lunch time kick off. The Lamb is then a ten minute walk away which is mostly spent negating the succession of roundabouts. The clubhouse has the usual selection of drinks and I fully recommend the hot dogs.

The Fylde keeper keeps out a second half shot
 The Tamworth YouTube channel has highlight of the game which you can watch here.

The next band of rain rolls in

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Crusade For Play Offs Continue - Hungerford Town vs. Merthyr Town

1st half throw down towards the clubhouse
This weekend I mistakenly thought that the weekend engineering works on the Norwich Line out of Liverpool Street had finally finished and I planned to visit Heybridge. Sadly this wasn't the case and I instead went to watch Hungerford Town against Merthyr Town in The Southern League Premier Division. I'd seen Merthyr earlier this season against Slough Town in very different weather and they lost three one on that day. I've seen Hungerford play at least twice previously, at Arlesey and Bedford being the times I can remember. These two sides met in a play off final a couple of years ago in The South and West Division with Hungerford winning on that occasion. Back to today's game and Hungerford had a great chance of making the play offs as they occupied the final play off spot at kick off while Merthyr were comfortable in mid table. In the reverse fixture The Martyrs came out 4-1 winners.

Kick off at Bulpit Lane
Both sides have early free kicks in half decent positions but near side make them count. The first chance of the game comes from Merthyr and is a low shot on the turn following a cross into the box that requires a good reaction save. Then Hungerford has their first chance as a header from a free kick is headed into the ground and just wide of the goal. Merthyr are played in on goal shortly afterwards but the forward scuffs his shot and the chance goes begging. The next effort on goal comes from a Hungerford shot from just outside the area which the Merthyr keeper saves comfortably.

The Merthyr keeper just about claims the ball at the near post
Hungerford come close to the opening goal in the opening stages of the first half but the ball is flicked just wide of the post. The hosts then have a couple of chances in a matter of seconds when the first shot is blocked by the defender before the second effort goes just over the bar. Merthyr then almost gift Hungerford the opening goal as a poor back header puts the forward in on goal and the defender is relived to see the strike lashed against the post. Then comes the match defining and highly controversial moment. From a Hungerford corner, a header is powered towards goal and is handled on / behind the line. The referee reacts immediately and awards a penalty and sends the Merthyr player off. However, after consulting with the linesman, they decide the ball had already crossed the line and they award the goal and have to retrieve the Merthyr player from the tunnel. This proves to be the winner and Hungerford continue their play off push.

Hungerford attack in the second half
I'm adamant that when I caught trains to Thatcham and Newbury in the past the train was direct but that doesn't seem to be the case any more. To get to Hungerford you have to catch a train to Reading from Paddington and change at Reading for a train to Hungerford. The journey takes around an hour and forty minutes. I seem to have been really lucky with visiting picturesque towns this season and Hungerford continued this trend. Hungerford also has a great selection of pubs. A little way away from the top of The High Street is The Sun Inn which had a couple of ales as well as the sports channels. At the top of The High Street is The John O'Gaunt Inn which a lot of ales on hand pull as well as a large selection of Belgian bottled beers. Then next to the common is The Downgate which offers rural views as well as a good selection of beers. The ground is a fifteen minute walk from the station and the clubhouse had the usual selection of beers as well as the sports channels. If you want to get beers for the train home then The Naked Grape on The High Street is the place to go. Or if you just want a pint while waiting for a train than The Railway Tavern is perfect. 

Another view of the covered accommodation down the car park side of the ground

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Double Late Drama - Eastbourne Borough vs. Havant And Waterlooville

Priory Lane corner shot
For the final leg of my Easter Extravaganza I headed almost to the coast for Eastbourne Borough against Havant And Waterlooville. As with The Essex Senior League game on Saturday, this was my first game in The National League South for a while. The previous match in this league also involved Havant And Waterlooville and they hosted Concord Rangers on that occasion. I have visited Eastbourne's other two sides - United and Town before but these grounds are a lot closer to the town centre. Before The Easter Weekend, Borough had an outside chance of getting into the play offs but a defeat to St Albans on Saturday made these chances seem even more remote. Havant were just outside the relegation places going into the festive weekend and they secured a vital victory at home to Hayes And Yeading to maintain their three point cushion above the last relegation place. In the reverse fixture in August, Havant triumphed four nil.

Kick off at Priory Lane
The game has a quiet start and the closest we get to a chance is when the Eastbourne full back makes an over lapping run but his cross loops straight into the hands of the Havant keeper. They have another chance to get the ball into the danger area and again the cross is easily claimed by the goalie. The Havant defence lets a long ball forward bounce and the Eastbourne forward is almost in but the keeper does well to out muscle the onrushing attacker. Havant's first half chance is a cross from the right hand side which almost deceives the keeper and bend into the goal. Havant are now getting more time on the ball and the forward just can't get enough on a header from a cross to trouble the keeper. They do however take the lead with the first clear cut chance of the game. Eastbourne are caught napping from a short corner and this allows the Havant attacker the time to pick his spot to put his side one up.

Havant deal with a high ball into the box
Eastbourne come out on the front foot and the forward just can't control the ball when he is found at the back post. They get the equaliser as an original ball in is taken away from the striker by a vital header and the Eastbourne player then chips the second effort out of the reach of the goalie and into the net. Eastbourne then nearly gift Havant the lead back when they make a hash of a free kick routine allowing Havant to break but luckily for the home side the cross in manages to elude everyone. Eastbourne are now really piling on the pressure and the forward manages to sky the ball when found by a pull back from the byline. As the game enters injury it explodes into life. Firstly, an Eastbourne ball into the box is inadvertently flicked on by a Havant defender and the Eastbourne player is first to the second ball and he sends a looping header in to give what the hosts believe to be the winner. However, Eastbourne give away a needless free kick out wide and from the resulting cross the ball is headed home at the back post to send the visiting fans wild.

Eastbourne pile forward late in the game
As I said earlier, Priory Lane is on the very edge of Eastbourne and the closest station to the ground is Pevensey and Westham. If there are no late arriving members of the train crew or debris on the line then journey takes about an hour and forty minutes. Even though it is only a small village, Pevensey has a castle and this is located five minutes away from the station. In between the station and the castle is The Heron which seems to be the only choice for a pre game drink and fortunately it is a great pub with a couple of ales on. From here Priory Lane is a twenty minute walk away. As with Havant And Waterlooville's West Leigh Park, the clubhouse is a pub located just outside of the ground. It is a great clubhouse with a wide selection of drinks and served tasty looking food.

Eastbourne celebrate in front of the stand

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Bees Maintian Title Buzz - Basildon United vs. Eton Manor

Match action at Gardiner's Close
For the second part of Easter extravaganza I made the short into Essex for Basildon United against Eton Manor in The Essex Senior League. It has been nearly two years since my last game in this league which was Great Wakering Rovers versus Southend Manor during the formers promotion campaign. The reverse fixture was played in midweek and Eton Manor claimed a shock 3-2 to put a dent in Basildon's title ambitions. Going into the game Basildon were four points behind leaders FC Romania while Eton Manor were just below mid table. I saw Eton Manor in an FA Cup tie against Stanway Rovers when they were ground sharing at Barking.

Just before kick off at Gardiner's Close
Eton Manor come close in the first few minutes when a header from a cross into the area is headed just over the bar. Basildon take an early lead when the winger is allowed to cut and he hammers a shot off the underside of the bar to make it one nil. They create a half chance with a defence splitting pass which is just out of reach of the onrushing forward. Basildon continue to attack and a back post header goes just wide of the post. Eton Manor then begin to get back into the game and the Basildon keeper has to be alert to be first to a flick on from a long ball forward. They equalise when a wind assisted corner goes straight in. The wind is making things difficult for the Basildon keeper and he has tip a free kick from around the half way line on to the crossbar.

The Basildon winger takes on the full back
Conditions begin to get worse in the second half as rain joins the heavy winds. Basildon push on to try and claim a vital three points and an early free kick goes just over the bar. They retake the lead when a free kick from the right is headed in at the back post. They almost create a third but the Eton Manor keeper makes a great strong challenge to prevent the attacker getting a shot in. The Eton Manor keeper then makes another great save to save a half volley at his near post. Basildon continue to dominate possession but the nearest they come to third is another back post header which goes wide as they see out the rest of the game to claim the three points.

2-1 Basildon
Trains to Basildon depart from Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street and the journey takes forty minutes. A short walk away from the station is The Owl And Pussycat which was very welcoming and also has the sports channels. Across the road from the station itself is The Beehive which does the job and also has the sports channels. Gardiner's Close is walk able from the town centre with the walk taking half an hour but there a few hills. On the way back I caught a bus from Whitmore Way / Church Road which is ten minutes from the ground and there was a regular stream of buses back into town. The clubhouse was friendly and had the usual selection of drinks.

Basildon on the attack in the first half

Zebras Claim Derby Spoils - Sherborne Town vs. Gillingham Tow

Perfect football weather in Dorest
On Good Friday last year I watched my first game in The Western League which was Gillingham Town hosting Sherborne Town and on Good Friday this year I went to watch the reverse fixture. For the first fixture it was Gillingham who needed the points to pull away from the bottom of the table and this time round it was Sherborne who wanted to get themselves towards mid table. Gillingham won 3-1 last year and they were unbeaten in the last three matches against Sherborne. Today's host won in midweek against Hallen and were looking to build on a three game unbeaten run.

Kick off at The Terrace Playing Fields
Gillingham create a decent opening in the early stages and it takes a last ditch tackle to stop a shot on goal. They come closer when the winger beats the full back on the byline and he is able to find his team mate who then blasts the ball well over the bar. Sherborne's first chance comes after a great passing move and the Gillingham keeper makes a good low save. The hosts take the lead as the forward hammers in a half volley when he was found by a good pull back from the winger. Gillingham come close to creating a decent chance to equalise but the Sherborne defender gets a vital touch to take the ball away from the attacker. The Gillingham keeper then has to make another good save to tip over a dipping shot from the edge of the box. From the resulting corner a Gillingham player heads the ball just over the bar.

Sherborne pressure the Gillingham defence
At the start of the second half Gillingham play a brilliant free kick into the box which somehow manages to elude everyone. Gillingham are now having a lot of the ball but they fail to create any clear cut chances. Sherborne then double their advantage as the first shot in the area is blocked but the second effort flies into the back of the net to make it two nil. Gillingham continue to press after the second goal and a shot from the edge of the area is hit straight at the goalie. Their next chance comes following a break and results in a header which requires a smart save. Gillingham are gifted a way back into the game as the Sherborne keeper inexplicably drops the ball and the loose ball is slotted home. In the closing stages Gillingham come close to a leveller as the forward powers his way through but the keeper redeems himself with a comfortable save.

Side on view of the stand
Despite being in Devon, it is relatively easy to get to Sherborne from London. Direct trains depart from Waterloo and the journey takes just over two hours. Sherborne itself is a beautiful town with an abbey and the ruins of castle all within walking distance of the station. At the top of the high street is The George which had a couple of ales on and has a fantastic interior. Then just around the corner from the abbey is The Digby Tap which is a brilliant pub and had a good selection of ales. The Terrace Playing fields is about a fifteen minute walk out of the town. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and I can strongly recommend trying The Sherborne Whopper which is an absolute steal at just £3. 

Gillingham attack in the first half with the clubhouse in the background