Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bloods Stain First Game - Stanway Rovers vs. Saffron Walden Town

Saffron Walden attack in the first half
This weekend I had intended to finally visit Rottingdean Village in the Sussex County League but the Southern Rail farce meant that this would run the risk of a nightmare trip and so I played it safe and opted for Stanway Rovers against Saffron Walden in the Eastern Counties League. This was the first game in charge for new Stanway manager Karl Duguid after Angelo Harrop stood down in December. The only time I can remember seeing Stanway play previously was against Hanworth Villa in an FA Vase tie six years ago. Saffron Walden is one of my favourite places I've visited for football - although I made the mistake of walking there from Audley End - they were hosting Stowmarket on that afternoon. Stowmarket are second in the table, sixteen points behind run away leaders Mildenhall while Saffron Walden were in mid table. Stanway won the reverse fixture four one back in October.

Kick off at Hawthorns
Both sides have free kicks in decent positions early on but nether cause any serious threat and they are headed away by the respective defences. The first clear sight of goal comes when the Saffron Walden player is played in on goal but his effort is blocked by the keeper. The visitors then almost gift Stanway the opener as they play the Stanway attacker in with a poor back pass and he drags his shot across the goal and wide. Stanway then struggle to fully clear a Saffron Walden free and they regain their composure to scramble the ball away. The away side take the lead in slightly fortuitous circumstances as a header hits the post and the rebound bounces off the keeper and into the net. Saffron Walden come very close to doubling their lead shortly before half time when the ball is played back in after a corner is cleared and the resulting header thunders off the bar and just about out to safety. 

Stanway look to put the Saffron Walden defence under pressure
Stanway push for the equaliser straight after half time and the forward has a shot blocked after being played in on goal. Then a well hit corner kick manages to elude everyone. It is however Saffron Walden who score the next goal. A cross into the box isn't fully cleared and after the second one is played in, the attacker gets ahead of his marker to score their second. Stanway half the deficit shortly afterwards as the forward is allowed to turn on the edge of the box and fire home from the edge of the box. Stanway now pile forward and the midfielder goes on a meandering run from around half way only see his shot blocked by the Saffron Walden defence. Stanway soon have a great chance for the equaliser, but a great last ditch tackle keeps Saffron Walden ahead. Saffron Walden are able to see out the remainder of the game to seal the three points.

The Stanway attacker looks to get behind the defence
To get to Stanway I took the train to Colchester Town which takes just over an hour and then from across the road on Osborne Street you can take the 65 bus to just outside the ground. The bus portion takes about ten minutes dependent on traffic. I wouldn't recommend heading straight to Stanway as there are things to see in the town such as the castle and it's grounds. There are also two brilliant pubs in the centre. Firstly there is The Three Wise Monkeys which a great choice of beers including the excellent 'Schmankel' wheat beer from The Tapout Brewery. Then around the corner is the more intimate Queen Street Brewhouse which has more ales and I tried 'Orange' from The Green Jack Brewery. Then in Stanway itself is The Live And Let Live which also had a couple of ales on as well as BT Sports. Here I tried 'Bengal Flare' from the Box Steam Brewery which a good chilli after taste. The clubhouse located outside the ground had a good selection of beers as well as BT Sports. All in all, a fantastic day out in Essex.

The Saffron Walden winger runs on in front of the stand

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Apparent Late Goal Rush Secures Win - Easington Sports vs. Shortwood United Reserves

Watching on Addison Road
For the last match of the year, I needed an early kick off at a game fairly close to London. My choices for a new ground were Sittingbourne or Easington Sports. As the walk from the station to the ground is fairly long at Sittingbourne I opted for Easington Sports. They play in The Hellenic League Division One West and they were playing Shortwood United Reserves. I have never seen a game in this division before. I had visited Abingdon United for an FA Cup tie a couple of seasons ago but never actually seen a game in this division. I'd always enjoyed my visits to Hellenic League grounds, Brimscombe and Thrupp being a particular highlight earlier this season. Before this fixture, Easington were towards to the top of the table with Shortwood not far behind them in mid table.

Last kick off shot of 2016
Shortwood have a glorious chance in the opening minutes as a ball forward is well controlled by the forward and he rounds the keeper only to see his goal bound effort stopped by a sliding defender. Easington have a couple of chances to get balls into the area and these fail to sufficiently test the Shortwood keeper. Then a searching ball forward just eludes the reaching of the stretching Shortwood striker. Easington come desperately close to the opener when the attacker gets free of his marker at a corner and he thunders a header against the post. Despite the heavy pitch it is a really open game and Easington are relived when a Shortwood ball across goal manages to elude everyone. They come closer just before half time as the Shortwood attacker finds space in the box and forces the Easington keeper to save with his legs. 

An Easington cross in the first half
Easington have their tails up attacking the clubhouse end in the second half and the attacker gets to the byline before the eventual effort on goal requires a smart save from the Shortwood keeper. They then manage to get in out wide and this time the effort goes wide of the goal. Next time the attacker gets in out wide he elects to play the ball across the goal but there is no touch forthcoming. This is the point sadly where I had to catch my bus back into Banbury so I could catch my train and proceed to miss all three goals which is special even by my standards. Shortwood manage to score twice before a late Easington goal leads to a nervy finish.

First half action with the clubhouse in the background
The closest railway station to Addison Road is Banbury and this is reached by taking a train from Marylebone which takes just under an hour. I'd visited Banbury before for games at Brackley and Banbury itself and the pleasant town centre is worth exploring. To get to Easington you take the hourly 488 bus to the pub of the same name. This portion of the trip takes ten minutes or so depending on traffic. The Easington is a decent pub with a wide selection of beers and is a steady fifteen minute walk from the ground. The clubhouse sells cans as well as tasty smelling bacon rolls at half time. It also had BT Sports. At three pounds admission and programme, you are unlikely to find a better value match day experience. I fully recommend visiting Easington Sports and also recommend staying until the end of the match too.

Shortwood throw in front of the stand

Monday, 2 January 2017

Still Foggy In Essex - Aveley vs. Haringey Borough

The stand is out there somewhere
The final weekend of the Christmas period provided plenty of options for football. I opted for a Friday / Saturday combination and my first match was Aveley against Haringey Borough in The Ryman League Division One North. As with my last in Essex at Coggeshall, I had concerns on my way to the ground regarding fog but the game just about survived. This was the last scheduled mid week game for Aveley at Mill Field before they move to a new ground next season. I'd visited Mill Field before for an FA Trophy tie with Carshalton many seasons ago. Aveley also featured in one of the most incredible games I'd ever seen - an exhilarating last day match with East Thurrock on the last day of the season where they snatched the title. When I went to Haringey Borough's Coles Park when they were still in The South Midlands League. There have been many changes since, namely the introduction of an artificial pitch. Both sides needed the points - Aveley to cement their play off place while Haringey wanted to keep in touch with the sides in the play off places already.

Conditions at kick off at Mill Field
As you can see from the pictures, conditions weren't the best and was at times difficult to tell which team was which on the opposite side of the pitch. I could see enough to see Aveley take the lead in the first half when the forward is played in on goal and he makes no mistake to make it one nil. Then in the second half, they double their lead when the attacker slots in at the back post following a cross from the left. Haringey get a late goal back but Aveley hold on for the win.

An Aveley throw in the first half
I fully recommend a visit to Mill Field before the end of the season, it really is a fantastic ground. To get there from London you have to take a train from Fenchurch Street to Rainham which takes just over twenty minutes. Then from the station you can take the 372 into Aveley and this takes ten minutes if traffic isn't too bad. Pub wise in Aveley there is The Old Ship Inn and The Crown And Anchor which are both friendly locals that had decent selections of beer. The ground is then a steady five minute walk from the village. The clubhouse was welcoming and also had BT Sports. The bacon burgers from the tea hut are also worth trying out.  

Close up view of the stand

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Maltby Main vs. Harrogate Railway Athletic

Covered accommodation at Muglet Lane
With Christmas day being on Saturday this year lead to me having an extra day up north and so I managed to convince the powers that be to spend the afternoon in South Yorkshire. The game that influenced this choice was The North East Counties Premier Division match between Maltby Main and Harrogate Railway Athletic. I'd visited other colliery related teams such as Askern, Thorne, Hemsworth (although the game was postponed less than an hour before kick off on opening weekend!) and Glasshoughton the previous day, but I'd never seen a railway works team. While both sides were just above the relegation places, they both had a comfortable points cushion. Maltby won their last game two nil against local rivals Parkgate but they lost the reserve fixture five one away at Station View.  

Kick off at Muglet Lane
The first chance of the game comes when the Maltby player doesn't fully connect with a header but the Harrogate keeper still needs to palm the ball around the post. They come close again as the Maltby attacker turns his man and it requires a great save by the Harrogate keeper with his feet to keep the game goalless. It then the Maltby keeper's turn to save a difficult bobbling shot that also needed to be pushed around the post. Harrogate take the lead shortly afterwards when a cross from out wide is headed home from close range. They are then gifted a second when following a ball forward, the Harrogate attacker gets across the defender who in turn kicks the ball past his own keeper. Harrogate should then really have a third following a corner to the back post which the attacker heads wide despite being in plenty of space. They are left to rue that miss as when the ball is headed back into the Harrogate box, the forward has the space to fire home to half the deficit. Just before half time, Harrogate regain their two goal advantage from a looping header following another free kick into the box.

One nil Harrogate
Maltby have a couple of half chances at the start of the second half but it is Harrogate who have the best opening from a ball which is driven across the goal but no one can get the final touch. Maltby have a long throw specialist in their side and a couple of these throws into the area lead to couple of chances for the home side. Firstly when one causes a bit of a scramble in the box, the eventual shot is blocked and then the Harrogate keeper is able to deal with a header from another. The Harrogate however then nearly gifts Maltby a way back into the game when he loses the ball but the mistake goes unpunished. Maltby have a strong case for a penalty when it appears that the attacker is kicked in the chest following a corner but the referee is unmoved. Maltby get the second goal they deserve when the winger gets to the byline and the Harrogate keeper prevents an own goal but he is powerless to keep out the rebound. The closest they come to the equaliser is when the forward powers through but the keeper makes a good save. Harrogate are reduced to ten men in the closing stages but they are able to hold on.

A Maltby cross in the first half
The closest station to Maltby is Rotherham Central which requires you to catch a train to Doncaster from Kings Cross and change there for a train to Rotherham which takes about two and a half hours. From the bus station next to the railway station you can catch the number one bus to right outside the ground and this portion of the trip takes 45 minutes. On our way to the ground we visited The Lumley Arms which is a Sam Smiths pub on the edge of the town and there is also a Wetherspoons a short walk from the ground. There is no clubhouse at the ground itself but the Miners Welfare around the corner does the job and has the sports channels for the early kick off. I really liked the ground and the friendly welcome was second to none.

Open side of the ground

Dronfield Show Fight - Glasshoughton Welfare vs. Dronfield Town

The Dronfield Keeper watches on
I was back up north for Christmas again and this meant I'd resume my yearly delve into the North East Counties League. The closest game from base was Glasshoughton Welfare against Dronfield Town in Division One. This year was different to previous Boxing Days in that we were able to pick a fixture earlier in the month and the weather didn't affect the fixtures leaving us watching our fifth or even sixth choice. Despite the game never being in any doubt, the strong wind made it extremely cold. Glasshoughton were in mid table while Dronfield were sixth from bottom.Just before kick off, I heard that Dronfield only had ten players available but as the headline suggests, they more than held their own despite the final score line.

Kick off at Leeds Road
Any early Glasshoughton corner almost causes panic but the ball goes into the side netting. The home side take a fortunate lead when a shot from the edge of the area bobbles in front of the keeper, deceiving him and hits the back of the net. Glasshoughton almost gift Dronfield an equaliser when the keeper miss hits a clearance and the lobbed effort from distance bends wide of goal at the very last minute. They come close again as a corner finds the man at the back post but his effort goes just wide. It is Glasshoughton however who get the next goal. A free kick into the area is not cleared and the ball falls to the Glasshoughton player who beats the Dronfield keeper at the near post to double the lead.

The Dronfield defence awaits a ball into the box
Glasshoughton almost go further ahead and it takes a brilliant save by the keeper with his feet to keep the difference to two goals. A Glasshoughton free kick then leads to a bit of a scramble but the Dronfield defence eventually clears the danger. There is very little the Dronfield defence can do about the third goal. The Glasshoughton midfielder pinches the ball and then hammers a shot from distance into the top corner to make it three nil. Dronfield then put together a couple of good passing moves but fail to properly connect with the final shots on goal. Glasshoughton's fourth comes when the winger gets to the byline and his pull back is slotted home from the middle of the goal. Then in the closing stages the Dronfield keeper makes a great close range save. Despite having ten men for the entire ninety minutes, Dronfield played the game in a good spirit and played some good football.

A Dronfield cross in the second half
If you did fancy the lengthy trip from London to Glasshoughton then you would need to take a train from Kings Cross to Pontefract Monkhill and change there for a train to Glasshoughton and the whole journey lasts two and a half hours. The walk from the station to Leeds Road would take no longer than half an hour. Around the corner from the ground is The Royal Oak which has the sports channels for the early kick off as well as a good selection of beers. The clubhouse is part of a local sports facility and had a decent selection of cans. 

The standard of NECL programmes is impressive

The Glasshoughton winger in front of the clubhouse building

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Seed Growers Harvest Three Points In Fog - Coggeshall Town vs. Woodbridge Town

Throw up the line in front of the stand at The Crops
Ever since their promotion into The Eastern Counties League from The Essex and Suffolk Border League at the start of this season, Coggeshall Town have been on my radar. They've taken to Eastern Counties football very well, and were top of the table as well as being top scorers in the division. This weekend they were playing the second top scoring team, Woodbridge Town and so it seemed the perfect time to visit. I visited Woodbridge Town's Notcotts Park this time last year when they drew 2-2 with Diss Town in a thrilling game. As the pictures show, it was an extremely foggy day and at times before reaching the ground, I was concerned that the game may not go ahead. The weather however did prevent an exciting match.

Kick off at The Crops as the fog closes in
Woodbridge start by taking the game to Coggeshall and the home keeper has to make a great save from a powerful low drive following a cross into the box. It is however the team at the top of the league who strike first. On their first real attack the Coggeshall player gets the ball into the box and the forward is left alone in the box to power a header into the corner of the net. Woodbridge continue to press and the Coggeshall defence does well to block a shot on the edge of the box. The game is very open even at this early stage and the Woodbridge keeper makes a smart save from a flicked header. Then at the other end, Woodbridge have an effort cleared off the line by the Coggeshall defender. Just before half time, Coggeshall double their lead with a brilliant strike. A Coggeshall corner isn't fully cleared and from the subsequent move, the man is found on the corner of the area and he bends a fantastic shot into the opposite top corner.

The Woodbridge winger strives to get to the ball
The fog is really closing on the start of the second half and it looks like Woodbridge head just over form a corner. Coggeshall then try to punish a poor goal kick from the Woodbridge keeper but the keeper redeems himself by saving the eventual shot on goal. The Woodbridge keeper is then unfortunate to be involved in the third Coggeshall goal. A Coggeshall ball forward leads to a 50 / 50 challenge between the Woodbridge keeper and the home forward, which the keeper just wins but all he can do to hit the ball against the forward and the ball trickles in for the third goal. The home side make sure of the points when they break forward and the attacker is played in before he lashes his shot into the top corner. In the closing stages Woodbridge get a consolation goal when a free kick is played across the six yard box and slotted home from close range.  

Coggeshall attack the clubhouse end in the first half
There is no railway station in Coggeshall. The nearest station is Braintree which can be reached by trains from Liverpool Street which takes just over an hour. From Braintree bus station you can catch the 70 bus to right outside the ground or if you stay on for a stop or two you can explore the town. It is well worth doing this as the town is an interesting mix of buildings on winding, narrow streets. One of these interesting buildings is The Woolpack, a short distance from the centre and is collection of small rooms with a good selection of beers. In the town centre is The Chapel Inn which also had a good selection of ales. The ground is then a five minute walk away. The homey clubhouse had the sports channels for the early kick offs and sold delicious sausage rolls. A really good day all round.

View up the dugout side of the ground

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

United Complete Double - Hadley vs. Biggleswade United

View of the trees at Brickfield Lane
I had a mid morning appointment which restricted how far I could travel and ideally needed a game in London. Fortunately Hadley were at home and recently got round the NIMBYs and were able to return to their own ground in Barnet. They had in recent times being ground sharing at Potters Bar but now had everything in place to return to their own ground. Their opponents in this Spartan South Midlands Premier Division match were Biggleswade United. I'd visited Second Meadow a couple of seasons ago for another South Midlands match with Hanwell Town a couple of seasons ago. Today's match pitted a side who were just above the relegation zone against a team that was in mid table. The reverse fixture was the opening league game of the season and saw Biggleswade win two nil.

Kick off in the drizzle
Hadley gift Biggleswade an early chance when they give the ball away on the edge of the box and the resulting cross is blocked with an arm and when the free kick is taken quickly the keeper is alert to make a good save at his near post. Hadley then have a couple of chances to get the ball into the danger area but both of these come to nothing. After another Hadley attack breaks down, Biggleswade are able to break and the first chance comes to nothing. However, they still have the ball in a dangerous area and the forward is able to get in a powerful shot which beats the goalie at his near post to give the away side the lead. Hadley then put together a good passing move which ends in them winning a corner. From the resulting corner they get a header in on goal which is kept out by an amazing point blank save.

The Biggleswade keeper comes out to claim the ball
The Biggleswade keeper gives the ball away at the start of the second half and the eventual shot is blocked and the worse that happens is they give away a corner. After the first one is cleared, the second one falls to the Hadley player and when his shot is blocked the rebound is slotted home for the equaliser. This sparks Biggleswade into life and they have a couple of half chances. They retake the lead when the forward is able to power through the Hadley defence and he lashes a shot into the top corner to restore the way side's lead. They further extend their lead as a ball in is allowed to bounce and the Biggleswade attacker makes no mistake in hammering the ball home. Hadley get a late second but Biggleswade hang on to complete the double.

Moments before the Hadley equaliser
This was the first new ground in a long time I was able visit using only TFL services. I took the tube to High Barnet which takes about half an hour from town if you take The Victoria Line to Euston and change there for The Northern Line. From High Barnet you can catch the 107 bus to the entrance of Brickfield Lane. In High Barnet itself, The Kings Head was a good bet for the early kick off. Then a little bit out of the town centre, The Black Horse had a good collection of ales as well one of its own (Glory from memory) which was worth trying. Then opposite the bus stop is The Gate which is more of a restaurant but still had a good selection of beers. The clubhouse is a work in progress but had decent beer and sold amazing hot dogs.

Wooden cover down one side of the pitch