Monday, 30 March 2015

Tough Draw In West Sussex - Chichester City vs. Eastbourne Town

Match action in the shadow of The Festival Theatre
This weekend my parents were visiting and so I needed somewhere where my Mum could have an enjoyable afternoon while me and my Dad were at a game. Arundel and Winchester were away so we opted for a day trip to Chichester for their Sussex County League clash against Eastbourne Town. This was the visitors' first season back in The County League following last season's relegation from The Ryman League. It was a Ryman League I attended when I saw them defeat much fancied Dulwich Hamlet a couple of seasons ago. They were having a good season, sitting in fourth place, just too far back to challenge either Dorking and Littlehampton for the title. Chichester were three places above the relegation zone but had a big enough barrier between themselves and Hailsham in the final relegation place. In the reverse fixture at The Saffrons, the game ended in a two two draw.

Kick off at Oaklands Way
There are no chances of note early on and the game is delayed by a head injury before the game can get going. The Chichester player is knocked unconscious and eventually leaves in an ambulance. The first real chance comes when the Eastbourne defender sells his keeper short with a weak back header but the attacker can't get enough on the ball and he is able to claim the ball. There are a lot of heavy tackles flying in and the referee does well to keep his cards in his pocket. Eastbourne take the lead with their first effort on goal with a well placed header following a driven cross from the right. The home keeper almost gifts the visitors a second when he spills a free kick but he is able to claim it at the second attempt. Chichester's first major chance is a header that is flashed just wide after a good run and cross down the wing. They have another chance when the Chichester forward controls a long ball and passes to his team mate who puts the ball well over. the home side finish the half the stronger as another great cross just eludes the head of the onrushing striker.   

Chichester attack in the first half. The cathedral spire is in the background.
Chichester push on from the restart and equalise very early in the second half. Unfortunately all we see of the goal from the clubhouse is the players celebrating. Eastbourne have a chance to get the ball in with a free kick but it is wasted. Chichester then have a great chance to complete the turn around when the forward traps the long ball but his effort goes just wide of the target. The game is still very full bloodied as both sides look to get a foothold in the midfield. The home side fashion another good chance when the pacey forward gets one on one with the defender but he stands his ground and the attack breaks down. Both teams have decent chances to win the game in the final five minutes. Firstly, a fantastic crossfield ball finds the Eastbourne winger in space but his cross is a poor one. Shortly afterwards, the Chichester forward finds space in the area and the Eastbourne keeper makes a great save to keep the scores level. From the resulting corner, a Chichester player has a free header which is unfortunately put well over. The referee blows for full time immediately afterwards.  

Another view of the stand
As I eluded to earlier, there is a lot to see in Chichester. The main thing being the impressive Cathedral which is half way between the ground and the station. There is also the attractive high street and several other interesting buildings. To get to Chichester you take a train from Victoria and you get there in around an hour and a half. The ground is then a steady twenty minute walk from the station. Just around the corner from the ground is The George And Dragon Inn which had a couple of ales on and did tasty looking food. There are two bars at the ground, one upstairs and one downstairs. Apparently, the upstairs one is nicer so went there and there were the usual drinks and it also had BT Sports. In terms of food, I thoroughly recommend the hot dogs. Before we went for our evening meal we popped in to The Fountain which is a good half way house on the way to the station.

Clubhouse and covered standing

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Visitors Keep Up Title Pressure - Rusthall vs. Lydd Town

Rusthall attack towards their clubhouse.
After weeks of having my match choices limited by the weather it was now the turn of railway engineering works to restrict my choices. My first choice was Risborough but there were works on the Wycombe line. There were a couple of interesting games in The Eastern Counties League but there is a seemingly lengthy programme of works on the London to Norwich line. My attention then turned to The Kent Invicita League but even this wasn't straight forward. I had been meaning to visit Hollands and Blair for a little while but unsurprisingly there were no trains running to Gillingham. I finally settled on Rusthall and it turned out that all those engineering works were a good thing. The visitors to Jockey Farm were second placed Lydd Town. Lydd were six points behind leaders Hollands and Blair and they had played a game more and so desperately needed a win to keep up the pressure. The hosts also needed the three points to pull themselves away from the foot of the table. The reverse fixture in November resulted in a narrow two one win for Lydd. 

Lydd prepare to kick up the slope in the first half.
There are chances in the game for both sides early on. Firstly a Rusthall shot from outside of the area is well blocked and then Lydd manage to get in behind the defence but the weak shot is easily dealt with. The hosts take a shock early lead when a corner kick isn't dealt with by the Lydd defence and the ball is forced in from close range. Lydd immediately go looking for the equaliser and a good chance is wasted when the forward perhaps shoots a little too early. They don't have to wait too much longer for the equaliser to come. In similar circumstances to the Rusthall goal, a set piece in to the area isn't cleared and the ball is headed home from close range. Lydd now have their tails up as the Rusthall keeper is forced in to a great save following a good break. Another Lydd attack sees the Rusthall defender make a fantastic last ditch tackle to prevent a shot on goal. Lydd have one final chance in the first half but the forward puts his shot well wide after finding himself in a good position.

Lydd make it one one
Lydd start the second half in the same vein as the first and a good break ends with the poor shot being aimed straight at the keeper. Lydd take the lead when a through ball on the half way line puts the forward through on goal and he makes no mistake to put his team two one up. This sparks Rusthall in to life and they win a couple of free kicks in decent positions. The closest they come with these set pieces is when a free kick finds the man at the back post but his header goes just wide. Something then provokes the Lydd manager and he is sent from the dugouts. His mood is helped as his side add a third goal. Yet another set piece isn't dealt with and again the ball is put in to the net from close range. They add a fourth as they again break quickly and after the first effort hits the post, the ball is slotted home. In the closing stages, Lydd add a fifth to keep alive their title hopes.

Looking towards the clubhouse
Rusthall is a village and so has no train station. The nearest train station is Tunbridge Wells and you can catch a train here from either Cannon Street or Charing Cross with the journey taking just under an hour. From just across the road from the station you can catch the 281 bus to Rusthall. There are up to five buses an hour and the journey takes ten minutes. The main thing to see in the village is The Sitting Toad which is a sandstone outcrop and there are several others on the common. Right next to the common is The Toad Rock Retreat which had a couple of ales on and looked to do decent food. further in to the village is The Red Lion which also had some ales on a looked like a very good pub. Jockey Farm is a five minute walk from the high street. The clubhouse is very cosy and had the usual drinks. As the name suggests, Jockey Farm has a very rural feel (see picture below) and is actually next to a farm. The village, the ground and the welcome made Rusthall one of my favourite visits of the season.      

The Invicita has a fantastic standard of programmes

Lydd attack the farm end

Monday, 16 March 2015

Wessex High Flyers Draw A Blank - Winchester City vs. AFC Portchester

Clouds moving in at The City Ground
The weekend just gone, there were interesting games at either end of The Wessex Premier Division. At the top, second played fourth as Winchester City hosted AFC Portchester. At the bottom, second from bottom Fareham Town travelled to bottom placed Totton and Elling. After seeing a bottom of the table clash recently at Romsey, I went for the top of the table option. Winchester were only a point behind current leaders Petersfield but The Rams do have two games in hand over Winchester. Portchester were sat in fourth, eight points behind the teams chasing the title but they too had games on Winchester and Moneyfields in third. In the reverse fixture at The Wicor in December, Winchester had come out on two by two goals to nil.

Ready to jump in to action at The City Ground
As with some many games at the top of leagues previously, the game has a nervy, tense start. This is not helped by the pedantic referee who doesn't let the game flow. The first half chance comes when the Winchester forward is almost played in but the keeper is just first to the ball. The forward then almost gets in again and the defender has to remain strong to shrug him off the ball. Portchester now get a foot hold in the game as free kick is just about cleared after causing panic in the Winchester penalty area. They then hit the post with a powerful free kick which cannons off the post. Shortly afterwards the Winchester keeper makes a great save as he tips the ball over following a well hit dipping effort on goal. In the closing stages Portchester hit the post as the first half ends goalless.

Portchester attack in the first half
Portchester carry on where they left off and there is a half shout for a penalty as the keeper and forward together. The Winchester keeper then makes an incredible close range save from a header and his defenders then block the rebound. Winchester City's first chance of the half comes when the winger cuts in and forces a good low save with a shot from the edge of the area. The game is now really end to end and a Portchester pull back just eludes everyone. Both teams have very good chances to win the game. Firstly a close range header falls kindly for the keepers where he could have maybe done better. Then at the other end, the Portchester keeper misjudges a long ball but the forward fails to punish the mistake. In the very final moments, Winchester think they should have a penalty but the referee books the player for diving which turns out to be his second as the home side finish with ten men.

Seated accommodation at The City Ground
Winchester is a town with a lot of history and there is plenty to see before a game. There is the impressive Cathedral and lots of museums to look around. Trains to Winchester depart from Waterloo on a regular basis and the trip takes just under an hour. The ground is then a steady fifteen minute walk from the station. There are also a lot of good pubs. The first one I visited was The St James Tavern which had a lot of ales and had a very friendly canine presence. Then just over the hill is The Fulflood Arms which is more of a locals pubs but friendly and also had a couple of ales on. Finally, a short walk from the ground is The Mucky Duck which is perfect for any sport you want to watch before the main event. The clubhouse does the job and had Sky Sports on a big projector screen.   

The Winchester winger attacks the clubhouse end.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Phoenix Rise To Claim Draw - Phoenix Sports vs. Fisher

Spring had arrived in Barnehurst
After a weekend away in Antwerp, it was back to reality this weekend. I didn't want to travel too far out of London and so I had a choice between Phoenix Sports versus Fisher in The Southern Counties East League and Hollands and Blair against Glebe in The Kent Invicita League. Engineering work forced my hand and so I headed to South East London. This is Phoenix Sports' second ever season at this level following their title winning season in The Invicita League in 2013. They are having a phenomenal season and had only dropped two points in the league all season - the only game they hadn't won was last weekend at Woodstock Sports. As well as the impressive league form, they also managed to reach the last 16 of The FA Vase. The only other time I'd seen Fisher play was away to Clapton in The London Senior Cup several seasons ago. The visitors were keen for points to pull themselves away from the bottom of the league table. In the reverse fixture, Phoenix won 3-0 at Dulwich Hamlet's Champions Hill Stadium.

Kick off at Phoenix Sports Club
The opening stages are fairly scrappy and the only real early chance of note is a Phoenix header from a corner which is blocked by the defender. Fisher's first real chance is an in swinging corner which is cleared off the line by a Phoenix defender. It is then the home side's turn to come close with a set piece but the diving header at the back post misses the target. Fisher then take a shock lead as the ball is prodded through the defensive line and the forward beats the keeper to the ball and he slots the ball in to the empty net. Phoenix go on the attack and a long throw in to the area causes panic. Fisher further extend their lead when the forward evades several challenges and gets his shot away. The keeper gets a strong hand to it but the ball is well over the line to put the visitors two up. Phoenix half the deficit almost straight away. A diagonal ball in to the area is flicked on in to the net. In the closing moments of the half, the Phoenix player is shown a second yellow and a mass brawl erupts. For a moment it looks like the referee is going to abandon the game but is able to restore and finish the half. 

Phoenix attack in front of their new stand
Fisher have a chance to restore their two goal lead when the ball falls to the attacker at the edge of the area but his effort is well over. Despite the numerical disadvantage, Phoenix push on for the equaliser. They get in a couple of good positions, the best being when the winger gets to the byline and his pull back is hacked away by Fisher defence. The numbers are levelled when the Fisher keeper handles the ball outside of the area and is he is shown a second yellow card. There is no sub keeper so an outfield player goes in goal and he is bailed by his defence when he misses a long throw. Phoenix can smell blood and the attacker should do better with a chance from around the penalty spot. The home side do eventually get the equaliser when every stops to look at the referee following a possible infringement. One Phoenix player does play to the whistle and curls the ball in to the net while everyone else is stood still. There are no further goals as Phoenix Sports draw their second game in a row.

Fisher attack the clubhouse end in the first half.
The closest station to Phoenix Sports in Barnehurst. As I eluded to earlier, the journey doesn't take too long and is about forty minutes. Trains depart from either Charing Cross or Victoria. If you walk away from the ground in to Northumberland Heath you can visit The Brewers Arms which despite the poor reviews is a fairly decent pub. Right next to the station is The Red Barn which did the job and had Sky Sports. The ground is then a steady twenty minute walk from the station. The clubhouse seems fairly new and had the usual selection of drinks as well as BT Sports on a big projector screen.

Uncovered side of the ground

Monday, 23 February 2015

Late Goals Snatch Draw For Town - Romsey Town vs. East Cowes Victoria

Rainbow and hail stones at The Bypass Ground
Yet again the weather in the second half of the working week made choosing a game tricky but the Southampton area seemed to avoid the worst of it and so I punted for Romsey Town at home to East Cowes Victoria in The Wessex League Division One. This was a big game as the two sides were the bottom two sides in the league and both needed a positive result to give themselves the best chance of catching third from bottom Andover New Street. Romsey had recently changed managers and the new manager's first game was a decent 2-2 draw with then league leaders Tadley Calleva. It was Tadley who I saw win 9-1 away at East Cowes Victoria earlier in the season. Oddly, in a league with only fifteen teams, this was the first time the teams had faced each other this season - the return fixture being played in just two weeks time.

Kick off at The Bypass Ground
Things start badly for East Cowes. In the opening minutes of the game, Romsey get through on goal and the forward is pulled back by the defender who was extremely lucky not to receive any further punishment. The penalty is put in to the bottom corner to give the home side the lead. The visitors first sight of goal comes when a corner flashes right across goal but no one gets a touch. They come even closer when following a good passing move, they put the ball into the net but the strike is ruled out for offside. The game was open from the start and a Romsey cross finds the man at the back post but his pull back is just cut out by the East Cowes defender. East Cowes get an equaliser when a free kick isn't fully cleared and the ball is slotted home from the resulting second cross. Romsey have a good chance to reclaim the lead as the East Cowes centre back misjudges the bounce which presents the forward with a good one on one chance but the goalie is equal to the shot. In the closing stages of the half, the East Cowes keepers makes another save, this time from a header following a corner.

East Cowes defending as the storm clouds move in
Romsey have a great chance to retake the lead at the start of the second period as corner is allowed to get to the man at the back post but he blasts the ball high and wide. It is then East Cowes' turn to have an early chance but the forward perhaps shoots a touch too early when played in on goal. The Romsey keeper then has to be alert to tip over an audacious lob from long range. East Cowes win the second penalty of the game when the forward is clumsily chopped down and the penalty is again buried past the goalie. East Cowes now sense blood and a shot following a pull back from the byline is cleared off the line. The visitors get a third when a long ball forward is allowed to bounce and the forward chips the ball over the advancing keeper to put them in control. East Cowes have another couple of half chances and they are made to pay for not making more of them. Firstly, the home side win the third penalty of the game following another heavy tackle and the penalty is again dispatched. Then in the final few minutes the Romsey attacker is played in and he makes no mistake to make it 3-3.

The Romsey keeper awaits a first half cross.
There are no direct trains to Romsey to London. You have to take a train from Waterloo and change at either Southampton Airport Parkway of Salisbury for a train to Romsey. The journey takes about an hour and forty minutes. Like Saffron Walden the previous week, Romsey is absolutely worth exploring before a game. There is a house which once belonged to King John and there is also the imposing abbey. A short walk from the abbey was The Tudor Road which was very much a locals pub but in no way unfriendly. A bit closer to the ground is The Old House At Home which was very busy at lunch but had a couple of ales on. The clubhouse just by the turnstiles had the usual selection of drinks and is worth visiting before a game.

Additional cover by the clubhouse

Monday, 16 February 2015

Bloods Continue Rich Vein Of Form - Saffron Walden Town vs. Stowmarket Town

Natural cover at Catons Lane
The now seemingly guaranteed Friday night deluge of heavy rain threatened to make finding a game which was definitely on tricky. Fortunately much of the Eastern Counties catchment area seemed to miss the worse of it and I was able to see Saffron Walden Town at home to Stowmarket Town in Division One of The Eastern Counties League. Catons Lane has been on my radar for a long time due to the scenic nature of the ground and hopefully my pictures will do it justice. Saffron Walden were hot favourites today, having not lost in the league since the second game of the season against another team with a fantastic ground, March Town United. This meant that they had gone twenty one league games unbeaten, one short of the club record. They had also had a decent run in the FA Vase where they reached the fourth round before going out to fellow Eastern Counties side Stanway Rovers. The closest I'd come to ever seeing Stowmarket Town play is going past the ground on the train to Norwich. Earlier in the season, Saffron Walden won one nil at Green's Meadow.       

Kick off in the shadow of The Church of St Mary
Stowmarket have an early let off when the Saffron Walden attacker can't fully connect with a decent cross into the area and the loose ball is lashed well wide. Stowmarket then have an early chance of their own as a shot following a good pull back is put well over the bar. Both sides are attacking from the off and the Stowmarket forward can only shoot straight at the goalie after a good break. It is then Saffron Walden's turn to hit their opponents on the break and this time the keeper is forced into a good low save from a close range header. From another cross into the area the Saffron Walden player heads the ball just over the cross bar. Stowmarket are then almost caught out by a quick throw but the cross just eludes everyone. The home are almost undone by a long ball forward and it takes a great one handed save to keep the scores level. Just before half time, the Saffron Walden defender almost lets the bounce get the best of him but fortunately for him the keeper is first to the ball and saves his blushes.

Throw down the touchline in front of the wooden stand
The attacking nature of the match continues in the second half and the Saffron Walden player comes close with a diving header from a long throw. The Stowmarket defender then makes a great defensive header from another ball in to the box shortly afterwards. The home side are then given a let off when a poor touch by the centre goes unpunished by the visitors. The away side do however take the lead shortly afterwards. The Stowmarket forward gets in behind the home defence and he is first to the ball and he is able to prod the ball home past the advancing keeper. Saffron Walden now pile to forward to keep the unbeaten run going and the Stowmarket defender does well to clear under pressure. The Saffron Walden winger is next to test the Stowmarket defence, cutting in off the wing but the keeper is able to make a good low save to keep his side ahead. The defence has to be on their game to make a vital block and the ball goes out for a corner. From this corner, a Saffron Walden player is able to get free of his marker and power the ball home to equalise. Stowmarket are undeterred and a long range effort goes just over and lands on top of the net. Saffron Walden do however claim the winner in the closing stages. Another long throw is flicked on and the flick on finds the attacker at the back post and he heads home.

Saffron Walden attack in the first half.
The closest station to Saffron Walden is Audley End. Trains here run from Liverpool Street and the journey takes forty five minutes. While the walk doesn't look too bad on a map, it is a punishing two mile march up and down hill. I thoroughly recommend catching a bus unless you fancy some serious exercise. I took the 301 bus back to the station after the game and I believe a couple of routes go back to the station. While the walk was fairly devastating, Saffron Walden is definitely worth the effort. It is a gorgeous market with plenty to see. In terms of pubs before the ground I first went to The Duke Of York at the top of the High Street which had BT and Sky Sports for the early kick off. After that I went to The Kings Arms which was good but also very popular and there was sadly nowhere to sit or I would have stayed longer. The ground is then a short ten minute walk from the town centre. The clubhouse did the job and had the usual selection of drinks. The bacon burger from the tea hut was the best (although probably worst for me) that I have had this season. While I was waiting for my bus I went to The Victory which is right next door to the ground. The bus then took five minutes to get back to the station.

Stowmarket attack The Church End in the first half

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Robins Boss Top Of The Table Clash - Bosham vs. Langley Wanderers

Clubhouse at Walton Lane
After a short break to see Scunthorpe stroll to victory at Leyton Orient last weekend, it was back to non league this Saturday. There were two top of the table clashes this weekend - Hollands and Blair versus Lydd Town in The Kent Invicita League and Bosham at home to Langley Wanderers in Sussex League Division Three. I opted for the later as Bosham seemed like a more interesting place to visit. I also very nearly came to Bosham after Arundel was postponed a couple of weeks ago but opted for Rustington instead. Bosham were sitting at the top of the table, six points ahead of today's visitors but Langley do have four games in hand. Bosham travel to third place Sidlesham next week and so were coming in to a vital stage of the season. Both teams had scored a lot of goals so far this season - they had both scored 42 goals at the start of play - so it promised to be a great game.

Kick off at Walton Lane
The highlight of the opening exchanges comes when the Bosham winger battles through to the byline but his cross is blocked and the subsequent corners come to nothing. Bosham then score a controversial opener. The Bosham forward is correctly flagged offside by the linesman but the referee opts to play on with the Langley player under significant pressure. He loses the ball and the ball is forced home from the resulting cross much to the justified anger of the away side. Langley are now wound up and the forward is lucky not to even receive a booking for a heavy challenge in front of the dugouts. Langley then begin to settle down and put some pressure on the Bosham goal. The home defence is just about able to clear a dangerous cross into the area. The game now becomes very open and the Langley keeper then makes a terrific save to tip a rasping drive on to the cross bar. It is then the Bosham keeper who makes arguably an even better save from very close range after a good cross from the right. Bosham score a second when the right winger escapes his marker and he squares the ball to his team mate who hammers the ball home to double the lead. In the closing stages of the first half, the Langley number ten just can't connect with another dangerous cross.

Bosham attack in the first half
Langley have the first attack of the first half and the Bosham defence manages to block a couple of shots on goal. Bosham's first chance of the half comes when the ball comes to the forward at the edge of the box but he drags his shot wide. Bosham get the third when the ball comes to the Bosham attacker and he keeps his feet as he gets in to the box and he slots the ball home. Bosham are now rampant and the bounce deceives the forward after the ball is pulled back to him in the area. The Bosham winger is then able to get into a good shooting position and it takes a brilliant saving tackle to stop him getting a shot in. Langley's first effort on goal for a short while is a long range effort which goes just wide of the upright. Not for the first time season, I miss a goal while in the toilet and it is Bosham who score it to go four nil up. In the closing stages, the Bosham winger gets in behind the defence but he greedily shoots when probably should have squared it to his team mate in the middle. They do get a fifth when the Langley goalie is wrong footed by a speculative long range effort to seal the win.

A first half Langley ball into the area.
As I mentioned earlier, I chose Bosham on the basis that it looked a more interesting place to visit. The place has a lot of history and is even mentioned on The Bayeux Tapestry. It is well worth getting there early enough to have a walk around the bay on the waterside road if the tide is out! There are no direct trains from London to Bosham. You have to take a train from Victoria to Barnham and change there for a train to Bosham. The journey takes the best part of two hours. The ground is then a fifteen minute walk from the station. If you do get there early enough for a walk around the bay then it is worth visiting The Anchor Bleu which had a number of ales on. In between the bay and Walton Lane is The Berkley Arms which is a good half way house. The clubhouse and the club in general is extremely friendly and everyone was keen to hear where I'd come from for the game. They also produce a brilliant match day programme and is yet another reason to visit Bosham on a Saturday. On the way back to the station I popped in to The White Swan which is perfect for a drink while waiting for your train. 

The crowd at Walton Lane