Monday, 15 September 2014

Heathens Ascend From The Depths To Claim Replay - Flackwell Heath vs. Wantage Town

Wilks Park in autumn
Cup season is well underway and the national cup rounds are coming thick and fast. My latest cup match was the FA Cup first qualifying round match between Flackwell Heath and Wantage Town. Flackwell Heath play in the Hellenic League Premier Division and until last season Wantage Town also played in the same division. They won the league title for the second time in four seasons to gain promotion to the Southern League South and West Division. They had made an inconsistent start to life at the higher level winning seven points from their opening eight games. Flackwell Heath had only lost one game all season, against Bracknell Town in the Floodlit Cup the previous Tuesday. Flackwell had already beaten a team from Wantage's division - North Leigh - in the previous round. Wantage also played a team from their opponents league when they defeated Kidlington.

Kick off at Wilks Park
Wantage have an early let off as the defence miss judges a long ball forward but the forward rushes the chance and puts the ball over the bar. The visitors defence don't learn their lesson as they are caught out again and the keeper this time has to pull off a good save with his feet. Wantage have their first chance when the forward is played in but the Flackwell keeper is alert to the danger. Wantage are finally made to pay for not judging the long ball shortly afterwards. The defender heads past his own keeper following another long ball forward. Flackwell Heath now enjoy a good spell and the winger gets to the byline but lashes the ball in to the side netting. The forward gets to the byline again and this time able to find someone. The Wantage keeper makes another good save with his feet to keep the difference to one goal. Right before half time. Wantage equalise to punish the home side for not taking their chances.     

A first half Flackwell corner
Flackwell come out all guns blazing and an early chance is blocked on the line by the Wantage defence. A second effort soon afterwards is beaten away by the keeper. Flackwell create a number of half chances but fail to retake the lead. The sucker punch isn't long in coming. Wantage attack and the the ball lands at the feet of the forward who slots in from just inside the area. The away team then take a two goal lead as the striker knocks the ball in after the initial shot hits the post. Flackwell respond almost immediately. The ball is headed back to the midfielder on the edge of the area and he powers the ball home. Flackwell are well on top and they create yet more chances but still remain behind. They eventually claim a deserved equaliser as a free kick from wide is headed in. Wantage are still well in the game and a cross come shot flashes past the post. The Wantage keeper makes one final great save as he is able to tip the ball over the bar following a rasping effort from the edge of the area.

Wantage attack in the first half
There is no station in Flackwell Heath and the nearest station is High Wycombe. Trains to High Wycombe depart from Marylebone on a regular basis and the quick trains take twenty five minutes. You can take either the 35 or 36 to Flackwell Heath from the bus station with this journey also taking twenty five minutes. There are two buses an hour. Right next to the bus stop in the centre of the village is The Cherry Tree which has Sky and BT Sports and is ideally located. A short walk past the entrance to the ground is The Stag which is more of a gastro pub but the garden provides incredible views of the Buckinghamshire countryside. The clubhouse has a couple of ales from the Rebellion Brewery and also had Sky Sports. If you have a little bit of time while waiting for your train in High Wycombe then I fully recommend visiting The Bootlegger opposite the station, which has literally hundreds of bottles of beer on offer.

Headed clearance in front of the changing rooms and tea hut

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hospital Players Put On Five Star Show - St Francis Rangers vs. Oakwood

Match action with the hospital in the background
This weekend I saw two teams play who I'd seen several times before meet in the FA Vase. The two sides in question were St Francis Rangers and Oakwood, both of the Sussex League with the hosts playing in the higher division. I first saw St Francis Rangers in my first ever FA Vase game against Mosley quite a few seasons ago. I visited Oakwood's Tinsley Lane Ground for a Sussex League Division Two game against Shoreham in the same season I saw St Francis in the FA Vase. I have since seen them at Littlehampton Town in the same division. The home side were looking to bounce back after being knocked out of the FA Cup the previous weekend by Southern Counties East side Greenwich Borough.  Both sides had made decent starts to their league campaigns and were in the top half of the fledging league tables.

Kick off at The Cowell Ground
St Francis Rangers should take the lead in the opening seconds of the game as a free kick in to the box is allowed to bounce and find the forward free at the back post but he somehow wastes the chance. The St Francis midfielder then goes on a mazy run but his effort comes to nothing. Oakwood's first clear cut chance comes as a ball to the back post falls to the winger and he puts his shot well over. Shortly afterwards, the home side take the lead. Following a quick break the forward is able to angle a shot across the keeper in to the opposite corner of the net. The lead doesn't last long however. The home side fail to clear the ball out the box and the ball is put in to the net from close range. A third goal soon follows. The Oakwood defence allows a free header from a corner which re-establishes the home sides advantage. St Francis have a half shout for a penalty when the forward goes down in the box but the referee is unmoved. Towards the end of the half, Oakwood have a couple of corners which ultimately come to nothing.   

Oakwood attack the clubhouse end in the first half.
Oakwood come close to equalising early in the second half with a dipping effort which goes just over. St Francis then have two chances in quick succession. Firstly a shot from the edge of the area is deflected wide. From the following corner there is a scramble in the area but the Oakwood defence eventually get it away. Oakwood cause the home defence problems with a great cross in to the box which requires an equally good header to clear the danger. St Francis extend the lead with another free header from a delivery in to the box.Oakwood go on the attack to try and save the game and a long ball forward catches the home defence out but the ball is poked just wide. The home side make sure of victory when the midfielder powers through and lashes in a powerful fourth goal. They add some gloss to the scoreline with a fifth following a passing move.  

The St Francis midfielder watches his corner
The closest station to The Cowell Ground is Haywards Heath which is a good forty minute, up and down hill walk away. Trains to Haywards Heath depart from Victoria on a regular basis and the journey takes about an hour. Before the game I revisited The Star which is about half way between the station and the ground. A bit closer to the ground is The Heath which is a good sports pub with a few ales on. There are two clubhouses which is a first. The one at the ground is quite basic and served cans. There is an actual social club which you pass on your way through the hospital grounds. On the way back I stopped off at The Burrell Arms which is ideal if you have a wait for your train.

Vital first half tackle

Monday, 1 September 2014

Goal In Each Half Sees Mildenhall Go Through - Peterborough Northern Star vs. Mildenhall Town

Peterborough restart the game
It was FA Cup weekend again and this weekend I met my dad half way between London and Scunthorpe for the Preliminary Round tie between Peterborough Northern Star of the United Counties League and Mildenhall Town of the Eastern Counties League. The home side's name comes from two brickworks which were involved in the founding of the football club. Both sides had identical league records going in to the tie. They both had won two and drawn two so far this season. In the previous round, Northern Star had beaten another Eastern Counties side in the form of Team Bury while the visitors had also beaten Gorleston another Eastern Counties side in the Extra Preliminary Round.

Kick off at The Mick George Arena
Mildenhall have an early free kick in a decent position but it is easily headed away by the Northern Star defence. From Northern Star's first cross in to the box, the ball is almost luckily deflected in to the net. Another Mildenhall ball in to the area is only half cleared and the resulting effort is lashed in off the post to give the visitors an early lead. Northern Star then begin a good period of possession with a long range effort which goes just wide. The Northern Star number nine is able to jinx his way through the Mildenhall defence but once he gets enough space for a shot it goes high and wide. Northern Star are almost made to pay for that miss as the keeper has to make a good save from a dipping effort from just outside the area. The home side then almost catch a break as a deflection results in the forward baring down on goal but the keeper makes a good save with his feet. The final half chance of the half is a brilliant corner Northern Star which unfortunately eludes everyone at the back post.      

A first half Northern Star corner is watched by the Mildenhall defence
Northern Star go on the attack immediately after half time and the winger is able to get to the byline. His cross is spilt by the keeper, who's defence is on hand to clear the danger. Mildenhall's first chance comes following a pass in to the area, the ball is laid back but the shot is put well over. Mildenhall put the defence under further pressure and a great defensive header prevents the creation of a clear cut chance. Northern Star then get to the byline for a second time and for the second time the forward is unable to find anyone. Mildenhall then win a penalty as the forward is taken down. The ball is smashed to the right to put the away side two up. Northern Star then have no chance but to go on the attack. The first chance comes from a free kick and the Mildenhall centre back has to make a last ditch header. The home side create a couple of half chances but Mildenhall see out the game to go through.

Northern Star hunt for a late goal
Trains depart to Peterborough from Kings Cross and you have two options. The quicker, more expensive East Coast trains take around forty minutes while the slower First Capital Connect trains take close to an hour and twenty minutes. The ground is over two miles from the station. The number 5 bus departs from the bus station to very close to the ground every ten minutes and the journey also takes ten minutes. The clubhouse at the ground is large and very friendly. They also have Sky Sports for the early kick off. We didn't see any pubs near the ground but there are two very good pubs next door to the bus station. The first one is The Wortley Almshouses which is a Sam Smith's pub. The other one is The Brewery Tap which is the main pub of Oakham Ales. I can strongly recommend the Scarlet Macaw.

Mildenhall celebrate going one up

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Visitors Maintain Perfect Start - Sheppey United vs. Hollands And Blair

Storm clouds above Holm Park
After a brief break for The Challenge Cup Final, it was back to football on Bank Holiday Monday. After evaluating the choice of leagues and navigating the mixture of kick off times, I opted for The Kent Invicta League match between Sheppey United and Hollands And Blair. This was Sheppey United's first season in The Kent Invicta League and after wins in their first two games, they had to face the top two from last season. They lost three nil to runners up Lydd Town on Saturday and were hoping for a better result against last seasons run away champions Hollands and Blair. The visitors had won the league by ten points but were denied promotion. They had made a good start to the current season, winning all three games.

Moments before kick off
Sheppey have a couple of half chances in the opening minutes but they fail to really test the goal keeper. Hollands and Blair then begin to get on top of the game. Their first one on one chance is put well wide. Shortly afterwards the ball breaks at the edge of the Sheppey United box and the home keeper makes a good save to put the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner a header is flashed just wide of the post. Another Hollands ball in to the box finds the forward and it takes a fantastic block from the home defence to prevent a clear chance. Sheppey win a couple of free kicks in decent areas but they fail to fully utilise the opportunities. Hollands again create a one on one chances and the Sheppey keeper makes another good save. Sheppey then have a long range effort which is straight at the keeper. Hollands come closer at the other end as they hit the post following another good chance.

A lofted ball in to the Hollands and Blair box
As the rain continues to pour down at the start of the second half, Sheppey almost gift the visitors the lead. A long ball in to the box catches the keeper out but Hollands players cannot take advantage and the chance is headed over. Sheppey's first chance is a vicious in swinging corner which is just cleared. The Hollands forward is then able to round the keeper but he goes too wide and it looks like the chance is gone. However he keeps on going and is fouled which results in a penalty. The penalty is smashed home and the visitors go in to the lead. They soon double the lead as a corner is not fully cleared and the ball is lashed home from the edge of the area. The away side then go on the search for the third goal. They get in a couple of times but fail to take advantage. Sheppey are restricted to half chances. A good free kick in to the box which eludes everyone sums up their afternoon. Hollands have yet another chance in the finals stages but the keeper just about gets to it and they have to settle for two nil.  

The Hollands And Blair players celebrate in front of the massed media
The closest station to the ground is Queenborough. There are no direct trains to Queenborough from London and you have to change at Sittingbourne. Trains to Sittingbourne depart from either Victoria or St Pancras with the trains from the later being the quick service. The journey takes just over an hour. I got to the isle a lot later than I intended and didn't get to explore Queenborough as much as I wanted. The walk from the station to Holm Park takes around twenty five minutes. Half way between the station and the ground and is The Aviator which had a few Kent ales. The clubhouse at the ground has Sky and BT Sports for the early kick offs. The walls of the clubhouse are covered in old programmes and match posters from the old club's time in The Southern League.

Another brilliant programme from a Kent Invicta club

View across the pitch towards the clubhouse

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

All Essex Tie Goes The Distance - Bowers And Pitsea vs. Clapton

Welcome to The Len Salmon Stadium
The weekend just gone was the very first qualifying round of The FA Cup which I always look forward to. However, this year I was in Prague for a stag do and missed the first set of games and I therefore made an extra effort to catch one of the replays. I opted for the all Essex Senior League tie between Bowers and Pitsea and Clapton. The first game at The Old Spotted Dog ground had ended one one. The home side were yet to lose this season (albeit after only three games) while Clapton had obtained of each outcome so far. I had been to Clapton's fantastically named ground a few seasons ago for a London Senior Cup tie against Fisher. Things have changed in terms of atmosphere since my visit. The club are now supported by a very enthusiastic and vocal ultras section.

Kick off just before the supernova struck
Clapton have a chance after only a couple of minutes but the forward bends his effort well wide. Clapton are well on top in the opening exchanges. A weak back header by the Bowers defender plays Clapton in again and again the effort is lashed well wide. Clapton come close again with a whipped cross which is unfortunately spooned straight up in to the air by the forward. Bowers have there first meaningful attack when the ball is flicked in and the Clapton keeper is alert to claim the ball. Clapton do eventually take one of their early chances. The forward is played in and he places the ball across the keeper and in to the far corner of the net. The Clapton goalie is then caught out by a bouncing long range effort which fortunately he is able to push wide. Clapton are then able to battle through in to a good position. This time the Bowers defenders are able to make a vital block. The Clapton keeper is again caught out, this time from a corner and he is grateful for his defenders who scramble the ball away. The last chance of the half sees a Bowers shot from the edge of the area deflected just wide by a Clapton defender.   

First half action in front of the stand
The Clapton keeper almost gifts the hosts an equaliser at the start of the second half but the chance is blasted over. Clapton's first chance of the half is a long range effort which goes just wide. Bowers are having more of the ball in the opening stages and desperate defending blocks two efforts in a minute. The visitors have a lucky escape as the defender slices a clearance over his own bar. Bowers are getting closer and it takes another great block to prevent the equaliser. Bowers then have their best chance of the half as a cross finds the forward alone in the six yard box who somehow puts the ball wide. The pressure finally pays off when Bowers win a penalty for handball which is lashed home. This sparks the visitors in to action who come close with a couple of long range shots. With five minutes to go, Bowers win a free kick on the edge of the area. The effort breaks through the wall and lands at the feet of the forward who smashes the ball home. Bowers think they have won it but there is more drama to come. Clapton pile forward from the kick off and the resulting attack finds a Clapton player at the back post who slams the ball home much to delight of the ultras behind the goal. There is barely time for the restart and the game goes to extra time.

Bowers attack the Clapton Ultras end
In the opening minutes of the first period of extra time, Bowers win another penalty. The keeper is able the penalty itself but is helpless as the rebound is smashed home. Having been stung by aiming for last buses and trains in the past I elect to leave to ensure an easy journey home. I miss another Clapton goal which takes the game to penalties where the home side finally prevail.

Clapton attack in the first half
The closest station to The Len Salmon Stadium is Pitsea which is a steady half hour walk away. Trains to Pitsea depart from Fenchurch Street on a regular basis and the quick trains take forty minutes. There is very little around Pitsea Station and I did not see a single pub while I was there. It may be best having a drink in London or getting off a stop early and seeing what is on offer in Basildon. The clubhouse was worth the walk and had a good bar and appeared to be a focal point for the community.

First half wing play in front of the dugouts

Monday, 11 August 2014

Defensive Blunder Hands Hill Opening Day Three Points - Hythe Town vs. Burgess Hill Town

Sunny Kent afternoon
I was keen to see a game on the coast this weekend and I took the opportunity to tick off one of the few remaining Ryman League grounds I had left to visit. The ground in question was Hythe Town's Reachfields Stadium where Burgess Hill were the visitors in the Ryman Division South. I have seen both sides in action once before although both occasions were some time ago. I had seen Hythe put up a brave fight against Woking in an FA Cup replay in the 2009-10 edition of the competition. Even further back in time, I saw Burgess Hill entertain Tooting and Mitcham in a pre season friendly. Both sides finished just outside the play offs last season and they were looking to go at least one more step further this season.

Start of the 2014-15 Ryman League season
Burgess Hill have the best of the opening stages. They have a couple of free kicks in decent positions with the Hythe keeper making a good save at the back post following the second one. Hythe then have their first and it is the Burgess Hill keeper who has to make a good low save from a well hit half volley. The visitors then put a decent ball in to the box which eludes the Burgess forwards. Getting in to good positions without trouble the keeper would prove to be a constant theme. Hythe come close with a looping header from a corner which floats just wide of the opposite post. Hythe then gift the away side the lead as a poor back pass is seized upon by the forward who keeps the ball despite the keepers best effort and rolls the ball in to the goal. The last significant chance of the half is a weak Hythe effort which the keeper easily deals with.  

The Hythe goalie claims a cross
Hythe open the half with a couple of free kicks and they both fail to seriously threaten the Burgess Hill keeper. The closest they come is one from the edge of the area which goes just over. Burgess Hill then have their first chance of the half. The ball reaches the centre forward via a deflection but the keeper is able to make a good one handed save. The centre forward again finds himself in a good position. Unfortunately for the visitors he gets caught in two minds and the chance is gone. Towards the end of the game Hythe begin to have more of the ball. They create a couple of half chances but the Burgess Hill keeper isn't really tested and the visitors claim the three points. 

Hythe attack the firing range end
There is no rail station in Hythe and the best bet is to get a train to Folkestone and catch a bus from there. Fast trains to Folkestone depart from St Pancras and the really quick ones take forty five minutes. The slower trains depart from Charing Cross and these trains take nearly two hours. There are several bus routes which go to Hythe (I took the 101) and this section of the journey takes twenty minutes. Once in Hythe there is a fair bit to see. There is of course the sea front but there is also St Leonard's Church which has a rare example of an Ossuary in Britain. Pub wise I visited the The Three Mariners and The White Hart. At the later I would recommend trying the Blue Top from the Old Dairy Brewery. The ground is a ten minute brisk walk from the High Street. The club house is welcoming and if you get there early enough you can watch the game from the balcony. While I was waiting for my bus I popped in to The Red Lion which is right next to the bus stop.

As I eluded to earlier, the ground is located next to a MOD firing range which provides a unique background noise to proceedings.

Coverd standing down one flank

Monday, 4 August 2014

Badgers Sett Out Stall For New Season - Brockenhurst vs. Newport (IOW)

View from the trees at Grigg Lane
So after what seemed to be an eternity, it was back to real football this weekend and my first game of the season was between Brockenhurst and Newport (IOW) in the Wessex League Premier Division. The Wessex League was my only real choice on opening weekend as I'd been to every ground in the Combined Counties League and didn't fancy the large crowds which would be at The United Counties League ground hop. Brockenhurst achieved national attention last season when in a penalty shoot out against Andover Town, twenty nine consecutive penalties were scored which is an English record. Newport were hoping for another top four finish this season and were also hoping to improve on a nil nil draw which they gained in the fixture last season.  

Kick off of the 2014-15 season
The Newport keeper almost has an awful start to the season as he misjudges a long ball forward and he is thankful for the Brockenhurst forward taking too long and he puts the ball well over. Newport then create their first chance as the ball gets right to the back post but the forward somehow puts the ball wide when unmarked. The Newport keeper then again misjudges a long ball and Brockenhurst again fail to take advantage. The keepers seem to be still on holiday as the Brockenhurst keeper then gets caught out and again the defence has to bail out their goalie. Newport then have a flurry of chances where the winger is able to get to the byline but they fail to test the goalie. The visitors continue to create chances and it takes a vital touch from the Brockenhurst defender to prevent a great ball in to the box from finding it's target. Towards the end of the half, Brockenhurst have a lot of the ball but they are unable to create any serious chances.

A first half Newport attack
At the start of the half, Brockenhurst have a free kick and the the ball is put in to the box but unfortunately no one gets the telling touch. Newport then have the best chance of the game so far as the forward is put clean through but rather then shooting he tries to round the keeper which allows the goalie to claim bravely at the feet of the onrushing forward. They are then made to regret that miss as Brockenhurst take the lead shortly afterwards with a free kick from out wide which goes straight in via the back post. The Newport forward then tries to win a penalty with a theatrical dive which fails to impress the referee. As Newport push for the equaliser the game begins to get a little tetchy. Newport have two goes at a quick free kick and it again takes a vital touch from a Brockenhurst CB to prevent a clear goal scoring opportunity. In the closing stages, Brockenhurst catch Newport on the break a couple of times but on neither occasion they extend their lead and they have to settle for the one nil win.

A first half Brockenhurst is headed away
Trains to Brockenhurst depart from Waterloo twice an hour and the journey takes around an hour and a half. If you make the journey in the next couple of weeks you can take advantage of the Southern Trains summer offer and get a return journey for fifteen pounds. Brockenhurst is a stunning village in the New Forest and it worth visiting for amongst other things, to see the donkeys which are free to wander around the village green. Before the game I visited the The Foresters Arms which had several ales and a large beer garden. Grigg Lane is a five minute walk from the station. The clubhouse is friendly and had BT Sports for the early kick off. While I was waiting for my train I popped in to  The Snakecatcher  which is ideally located placed for a pre train drink.

Dugout side of the ground