Saturday, December 29, 2007

Game 22: Shaftesbury 0.0 East Cowes Vics (Wess 1) 29.12.07

Alan and I drove down to Shaftesbury for our first visit to the ground. On arrival, it looked like the parking spaces were all taken other than a spot in the bus 'station' next door so we decided not to risk it and parked in a council car park at the bottom of the hill.

Once we had parked up, we walked back to the ground but found that it was closed to spectators so we wandered over to the club bar and watched Sky Sports for a bit before wandering back to the now open ground.

Having seen East Cowes Vics lose heavily earlier in the season, I had predicted a home win but there was little to excite us in the first half. The ball was mainly with the home team but the passing and crossing were both poor and neither side tested the goalkeepers at all. The only clear cut chance actually fell to East Cowes when the Shaftesbury keeper dropped the ball from a corner but there was no-one near enough to take advantage. The game was so dull that one of the Shaftesbury officials had his spade out and was tidying up the walkway on the far side of the pitch!

The start of the second half was a bit more promising. The crowd enjoyed seeing the referee slip over before Shaftesbury managed to put the ball in the back of the net. Unfortunately for us, the goal wasn't given as their player was offside. East Cowes had a couple of shots as both teams started to set up some attacks.

East Cowes hadn't played on Boxing Day and the rest appeared to have done them some good as they pressured Shaftesbury into giving the ball away. The game started to get a bit niggly and some strong challenges weren't being punished. It was only after the fourth attempt to take a player out that the referee decided to get his yellow card out. The Shaftesbury players and crowd started to argue with the officials over minor decisions that the officials had in fact got right (from this neutral's vantage point).

By 85 minutes we had given up hope of there being a goal in the game. As the rain started to come down, we moved to the cover behind the goal only to hear that Reading were 6.4 down at Tottenham. Alan was gutted - not just about the scoreline but the fact that he would have been there had Spurs not drawn Reading at home in the FA Cup the following week, a match he would be attending.

In the last minute there was the chance of an upset. Shaftesbury had committed too many players forward and one of the East Cowes subs took a long ball forward and had a one on one opportunity against the keeper. It looked like he would score but his shot went wide of the post. We trudged back to the bar to check the fulltime results then rushed back to the car in the rain to avoid a ticket as our alloted time had almost run out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Game 21: Salisbury City 1.1 Weymouth (Blue Square Premier) 26.12.07

After spending last Boxing Day on another island in the Atlantic, it was good to have the option to partake in the traditional post Christmas feast game again.

The two teams had met in the Setanta shield a few days before and Weymouth had won that match 2.1. From the opening passage of play it was clear to see why as they started very well. Beavon had a shot that was cleared off the line and the follow up shot was just wide.

Salisbury were under a lot of pressure and at times it was only Ryan Clarke who was keeping them in the game. Weymouth made some good chances to score and Beavon in particular looked dangerous. He had one shot well saved and played a superb back heel to a team mate to put him clear, only to see the shot go wide of the post.

When Salisbury finally managed to get a breakaway attack, Herring was unable to make it count as the Weymouth defence got back and Critchell made a good block tackle to stop the Whites man in his tracks. Beavon had to go off just before halftime with an injury, which was good news for Salisbury.

Even better news was a goal in the first minute of the second half against the run of play. Herring’s throw found Wayne Turk who played the ball into Marvin Brown to volley in. This knocked Weymouth and Salisbury went in search of a second. Robbie Matthews was unlucky not to get it a few minutes later when he hit the post with a shot.

Weymouth were not done and got themselves back into the game after 53 minutes from a Vernazza long throw. The ball fell to Jombarti who slipped it past Clark from a couple of yards out. A soft goal to concede and Weymouth now continued their domination of the game.

It fell to Ryan Clark to protect Salisbury’s point with a superb reaction save near the end. Salisbury were lucky to get anything from the game, as Weymouth had been the better team.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Game 20: Laverstock & Ford 4.0 Totton & Eling (Wess 1) 01.12.07

With tonight's Slade gig attendees in town, it was a full car that Andy drove to Laverstock & Ford (via the Duck). Although the weather forecast was for sun until 4, the sunshine didn't last more than a minute or two before kickoff. Paul and I left the car for a few minutes but soon the heavy rain forced us to seek cover in the car with Rob and Andy.

There was little to talk about in the first 20 minutes until a rainbow appeared in front of us. A moment later, Laverstock won a corner and when the ball was swung over from the far side, a couple of shots were blocked on the line - the final one being a clear handball from the defender. There seemed to be some confusion whether the referee was going to award a penalty or give a goal but after some discussion with the assistant on the far side, the goal was awarded.

5 minutes later and it was 2.0. A cross came in from the left which was missed by all of the defence and allowed a striker to move in from the far side and score from a tap-in. Paul and I had just got out of the car as the rain subsided but the conditions weren't helping the players. There were a number of sliding tackles missing the ball and the Totton keeper had a number of difficult backpasses to deal with, one of which he missed completely (luckily for him the ball went wide of the goal!). In the final minute of the half, Totton managed to put the ball into the net but it was disallowed for offside.

The second half started much better than the first, with the ball flowing from end to end. The Totton players were unhappy with some of the decisions that were going against them and the decisions that the referee was making - only giving a booking for a handball on the last man (which the assistant explained to the bench was the correct decision). Both teams had chances from free kicks but both were hit straight to the keeper. On 49 minutes McGregor (ex Salisbury City) had a clear chance but hit the ball over from 8 yards when it seemed easier to score.

On 60 minutes Laverstock extended their lead to 3. As the ball was played forward into the channel, the defender challenging from the ball slipped and fell over, allowing the striker to take the ball unopposed into the penalty area and shoot along the ground, across the keeper and into the back of the net. Three minutes later and it looked like McGregor was going to be in on goal only for the last defender to wrestle him to the ground. McGregor reacted badly to this and got up and tried to push the defender down. This multiplied as players ran into assist their team mate and started their own scuffles. The referee managed to calm the situation and gave the original protagonists a yellow card each for their troubles. Totton then tried to get McGregor to react again - 3 players surrounded him with the ball and one slid in with a deliberate attempt to play the man instead of the ball. McGregor kept his cool but there were a couple of other flash points before the end of the game that could have seen him sent off if his teammates hadn't pulled him away in time.

Laverstock finished the game off on 86 minutes with another well taken goal. A long ball from the middle of their half found a striker who then ran past 2 defenders before shooting past the keeper.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Game 19: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2.1 Hamble ASSC (WESS PREM) 27.11.07

Another trip up to the Heath, this time to catch a league game. Bemerton had lost their last two games in the last minute (conceding a 4th goal against Romsey on Saturday to lose 4.3 after their Vase exit to Bideford) so we wondered if they could keep going to the end tonight.

It was however a question of if / when the game would start as the assistant referee requested some work on one of the nets which took about 10 minutes to resolve. Once the game finally started, Hamble took control and won a corner in the 11th minute - much to the disappointment of the crowd and Bemerton players who felt that the ball had gone straight out from the attacker. From our viewpoint, the ball clearly took a deflection off the Bemerton defender's shin as it went through to the goalline so the decision was correct. From the corner, a Hamble player headed the ball high and looping over the keeper to put them in the lead.

In previous games this season, Bemerton have looked like a team with some purpose and invention but this was lacking this evening. Passes were overhit, played to the wings rather than into the box and the few attacking chances were easily dealt with. Hamble hadn't won a game since September but it was difficult to see why as they looked dangerous each time they went forward. The assistant referee on our side made a couple of errors to bring play back for offside when Hamble attackers had gone through the offside trap fairly in my opinion, so a couple of 1 on 1's didn't work out. The game didn't really have much to offer other than an opportunity for Andy and I to discuss the usual hotchpotch of work, pubs, tv, footie and music.

In the second half Bemerton made Hamble pay for some slack defending (and for their subs using the goalmouth for practice at halftime, ignoring Steve Slade's requests not to) by scoring from a cross on the right in the 49th minute. This time a header was placed down into the wet turf and bounced over the keeper from close range. There had been a light rainfall in the first half and for a short period this drizzle got heavier, causing a few spectators to vacate the area behind the goal for the stand.

Hamble still looked the most likely team to grab an winner. They had two big shouts for a goal following a goalmouth scramble that the assistant on the far side ruled had not crossed the line and a legitimate claim for a penalty after 70 minutes when the ball struck a Bemerton player's arms. Bemerton managed to apply some pressure in the last ten minutes and a good run from a substitute striker managed to beat the offside trap, allowing him to toepoke the ball past the keeper on 84 minutes. This time it was Hamble's turn to complain to the assistant referee on the nearside about the decision, which they felt was offside, but again he had got the big decision right as the player making the most noise was actually the player who played Bemerton onside. The substitute almost added a third on 90 minutes when he chipped the keeper from the edge of the box but the ball went just wide of the far post.

Not the greatest game but it did mean that a 3 goal tally to add to the 1,5, 6 and 8 goal hauls from previous visits this season.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Game 18: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2.3 Bideford aet (FA VASE) 17.11.2007

After a couple of weeks in the soaring heat of Texas, it was reassuring to be back in England for a 'proper' cold November day and a shorter trip to Bemerton Heath with Andy for this FA Vase tie.

Bemerton took the lead after 15 minutes when a breakaway attack down the right saw the ball crossed into the middle of the penalty area for a Bemerton player to chest it down to a team mate to shoot past the keeper. Both teams created some good chances in the first half and it was down to both keepers that there were no more goals after 45 minutes. Bideford had a couple of shots that went just wide, a clear one on one chance that the keeper saved and a good penalty shout turned down while Bemerton had a couple of efforts from free kicks that the Bideford keeper seemingly flew across the goal to keep out.

Bemerton edged the first half but the second half was dominated by Bideford who had brought a vocal bunch of supporters up from Devon. They had a goal disallowed after 50 minutes when the ball trickled past the keeper from a corner and might have gone in, only for an offside player to try and make sure and get penalised in the process. Bemerton kept trying to break on the counter and on 75 minutes were again denied by the Bideford keeper who pulled off another stunning save. Andy reckoned that it would take a low daisycutter shot to beat him as anything in the air was not getting past him.

The away support was starting to get frustrated with the number of times their team were getting caught offside but on 80 minutes, as a Bemerton midfielder lay injured from a 50/50 tackle, Bideford pushed forward and from the resulting cross, the ball was headed low past the Bemerton keeper.

Back came Bemerton and on 86 minutes another counter-attack found it's way through the Bideford defence. Perhaps they had been listening to Andy as a crisp, one touch passing move found Sanger in the box and his low shot beat the keeper to give what seemed to be the winner to Bemerton. All credit to Bideford, they continued to try and get back into the game again and with a minute to go it was 2 all. A free kick was played into a melee of players in the box and the ball broke to a Bideford sub to poke it in.

As this was an FA Vase game, there was some debate about whether the game would have extra time and penalties or just extra time. Looking at the number of Bideford supporters who left the terracing on the final whistle, you wondered whether they had realised that there was still more to play for. Most of them were back shortly after the extra time started so it was probably the search for a pint to steady the nerves that was the priority!

In the first half of extra time, Bemerton had a goal disallowed from a corner while Bideford had another good shout for a penalty turned down by the referee. The second half of extra time built up to a frantic finish. With 4 minutes to go, Bideford's no 12 went past his man and into the box for a shot that looked to be heading in but finished up going just wide. Bemerton then broke away but Bideford's keeper saved the point blank shot.

Just as everyone started to prepare themselves for a midweek replay, Bideford's sub took a last minute shot along the ground with plenty of power from 20 yards, through a melee of players and the Bemerton keeper's hands to trickle into the goal. While the Bemerton players collapsed to the ground in disbelief, the Bideford supporters and players went crazy. There was just enough time to kick off after the goal before the final whistle was blown.

A very entertaining game for the neutral and one played in a good spirit as there were no bookings or sendings off throughout the 120 minutes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Game 17: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 6.0 Aldermaston Town (WESS LC) 30.10.07

The original plan for this evening was to head over to Laverstock with Andy and Alan to watch the local derby against Downton in the Wessex League Cup. However the game got moved to Wednesday evening which meant Andy would be in Austria and I would be about to get on a plane to the USA, so we decided on another visit to Bemerton.

Alan got stuck on the motorway so we went straight to the ground and parked up at 7.30. As we got there, 2 blokes were walking away from the ground and providing directions on a mobile phone. We thought that it was unlikely to be another Aldermaston fan given their average attendance of 15 and it turned out to be the team minibus as it arrived 10 minutes later. This meant that the game kicked off at 8.15, half an hour later than advertised.

With Aldermaston rooted to the bottom of Wessex 1, we anticipated a goal feast - Alan predicted 7.2 to Bemerton. While Aldermaston played well in patches, they were not able to finish any of the handful of chances they created. Indeed their best chances came when the Bemerton keeper kicked the ball to them from free kicks and had to rush back to protect the goal, only to see the shots sailing wide.

Bemerton almost scored after 30 seconds and dominated play. Their passing and movement was far superior to Aldermaston and it was no surprise that they scored 6 - indeed they should have scored more as they took their time with chances and almost wanted to play the perfect ball when a direct "shoot on sight" attitude would have lead to at least another couple of goals.

The scoring went as follows:

13 min - cross from the right headed past the keeper.
29 min - shot from close range, with a headed goal disallowed for offside in between.
48 min - a quick turn and shot from the middle of penalty area to the right side of the keeper
77 min - free kick on the left passed into the centre and smashed in

At this point, Aldermaston brought on a young goal keeper.

81 min - two players went sliding in on a Bemerton striker at the left of the box, bringing him down for a penalty which was duly converted.

Not to be outdone on the substitutions, Bemerton brought on player-manager Ian Chalk, much to Alan's delight as he's always been a big fan of Chalky.

82 min - Chalky takes the ball down in the penalty area, advances and chips the keeper less than a minute after coming on. Class finish.

Aldermaston went down to ten men after this, a late sliding tackle earning a defender a second yellow card. Bemerton were unable to add to their goal tally for the evening but thoroughly deserved the win.

Game 16: Salisbury City 0.0 Stevenage Borough (FA Cup 4QR) 27.10.07

I had contemplated going to a Wessex game as this tie didn't really appeal but Andy persuaded me to attend as Stuart was coming down from Stevenage for the game. With Pete recovering from a hangover at 2pm, I drove up to the layby and picked them up for a Wembley and playoff final reunion.

This was Stevenage's first visit to the Ray Mac and the programme highlighted what pedigree they had in the FA Cup. However the recent resignation of their manager and injuries to a number of key players seemed to have an effect as a busy Salisbury team limited their first half chances to single figures. Despite this, they were the best chances of the half as Morison put a shot well wide of the post when put through and McMahon shot straight at Ryan Clarke from close range.

In the second half, Stevenage's play was better and they created more chances with some good passing and intelligent use of the ball. One shot came back from the crossbar with Clarke well beaten while other shots were either directly at Clarke or were deflected wide. Salisbury had been pressing well but started to get tired which allowed Stevenage more time on the ball. Then came a great opportunity for the Whites. The assistant flagged as a shot was blocked on the line - at first I thought he'd given a goal but it turned out to be a penalty as a Stevenage player had handled in the box.

Matt Tubbs stepped up to take the kick and I wasn't confident as he'd missed the last penalty I'd seen him take against Cambridge last year. Perhaps the delay in getting the kick taken didn't help as he put his shot past the keeper but past the left hand post as well. If it had gone in then Salisbury would have been into the First Round again but a replay will be needed on Tuesday night.

When we got back to watch the Pompey v West Ham game, we joked that there would be a late penalty after seeing Solano miss 2 glorious chances for the away team... on 94 minutes Benjani stepped up to take a penalty and the keeper saved it so the game ended 0.0 - almost a carbon copy of the game we'd watched earlier in the afternoon. Still, when the FA Cup 1st round draw came through from the BBC website, we weren't too disappointed to see Exeter (a) - while a win at Stevenage was possible we felt it was unlikely that they would play that poorly again so at least we wouldn't miss out on the chance to giant kill a League team.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Game 15: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 0.1 Fareham Town (WESS PREM) 23.10.07

Met up with Andy and Ferg at Andy's house for a short stroll round to watch Bemerton take on Fareham. We were a bit concerned on arrival to see that the floodlights on the main pitch weren't on but the turnstiles were open so we made our way into the atmospherically lit ground. As kickoff approached, the main floodlights were turned on and the players came through the back of the ground from the practice pitches to the dressing room.

Both teams were in the top half of the table and honours were pretty even for the first 20 minutes. Fareham took the lead with a breakaway on the right side after 26 minutes. As the ball broke to a Fareham player on the right of the penalty area it looked as if his first touch was too strong and the keeper looked favourite to gather it as he rushed out. Somehow the Fareham player managed to toepoke it past him and across the goal where Guise tapped it into the unprotected net.

Bemerton made a number of chances after that but couldn't finish. In the second half, a superb freekick bent around the wall but crashed against the post and out. A breakaway attack saw the keeper beaten again with a shot from the left hand side of the area, only for the ball to whistle past the wrong side of the post. Fareham also made some chances and it looked as if they were going to be granted a penalty for a bearhug, only for the officials to decide that the original offence was just outside the box. The player who took the kick made his point by putting the ball just inside the line!

The referee had another gaff earlier in the game when he decided to approach his assistant for advice on whether it was a throw in or goalkick on the farside. The assistant correctly determined that he should give Bemerton a throw but the ref didn't understand and gave it to Fareham instead (his original decision was to give them the goalkick).

The drama continued into injury time when Bemerton were awarded a penalty for a late tackle in the box. The shot was well struck along the ground towards the left corner of the goal but the keeper was equal to it and stretched out to push it. Perhaps this evened up the Bemerton keeper's blinder of a save from a point blank header earlier in the half but the disappointment of the locals around us (compared to the yells of joy from the noisy Fareham contingent!) was plain to see.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Game 14: Salisbury City 3.3 Altrincham (Blue Square Premier) 13.10.07

Sometimes it's best not to open your mouth and give your opinion on a scoreline. After 30 minutes of a scoreless first half I turned round to Andy and said that I really couldn't see a goal in this game. 30 seconds later an Altrincham player picked up the ball in midfield and belted it from distance over Ryan Clarke, under the cross bar and in. The first goal of a quite remarkable 3.3 draw!

Altrincham brought a decent and noisy contingent down South for this game, which kicked off at 1pm due to the England Euro qualifier later that afternoon. Picked up Andy from outside the Old Castle (that layby pickup is getting to be a habit!) and got to the ground in plenty of time. We decided to head to the far end (which Salisbury were attacking) only to find that while we were allowed to that end, the Altrincham fans were not allowed past the stewards. It subsequently turned out that this was due to the bar segregation at half time but it did seem petty to be honest.

Before the Altrincham goal Salisbury were well in control of the match and had created a number of chances - Fowler had a shot deflected wide and Feeney put a couple of half decent crosses into the box for Tubbs. After the goal went in they looked a bit shell shocked - which might explain why Clarke went running out of his goal again to play the sweeper and ended up taking out his man for a penalty which was duly converted.

After a change of ends and a stop off at the mobile tuckshop in the corner, we hoped for a change of fortune in the second half. Brown had a good chance early in the half but ended up kicking the air instead of the ball. Prince and Clay replaced Fowler and Bass, with Bartlett dropping back into defence but the change didn't pay off immediately as Altrincham hit the bar with a strong shot from close range and then scored a third. This time the ball wasn't cleared in the box and the Altrincham striker swept the ball into the net.

Salisbury tried to get back into the game and on 70 minutes an unmarked Marvin Brown rose up and headed in what we thought would be a consolation goal from a Luke Prince corner. Luke Oliver was moved upfront and Salisbury looked to play the ball high to him at every opportunity. After 87 minutes, another Prince corner was headed into the net - this time by Oliver at the near post - and an unlikely comeback seemed to be possible. With the crowd urging the Whites forward, Marvin Brown headed an equaliser a minute later to the relief of the home fans. Salisbury almost snatched a winner in injury time but the momentum couldn't quite stretch that far.

As we walked out to the car, an Alty fan wandered by looking shellshocked but still taking the time to wish us all the best and to tell us 'well played'. I think we could sympathise with him having seen similar games go against us over the years!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Game 13: Andover New Street 1.2 Petersfield Town (WESS 1) 06.10.07

Another grey day early in the season so decided to visit Andover New Street's ground - the weather must have reminded me of the previous game I'd seen them play (a 6.2 defeat at Laverstock last season).

After last Sunday's visit to the O2 Arena for the NHL game between Anaheim Mighty Ducks and LA Kings, it was nice to get back to a new non-league ground. Andover New Street had won their midweek game at Shaftesbury, only their second win of the season, so there was a bit of optimism around the ground when I arrived. Had a read of the programme (included in the admission price of £3) and watched some highlights from the Man Utd v Wigan game before having a look around the ground. There was a small stand that wasn't being used next to the main clubhouse. On the other side, a sight that reminded me of my younger days at Victoria Park, a small playground with slides and swings.

While the referee dealt with the kickoff, the assistant referee on the near side joked that I should do the offsides for him. While I didn't stay in that location for long due to the sun making a brief appearance over the other side of the ground, the Petersfield Town bench's comments about him later in the game made me wonder if it was a genuine request!

Petersfield dominated the first half with the majority of possession and one goal disallowed for offside. Andover were helped by some dubious offside decisions but were playing with a lot of determination to try and keep a second clean sheet in a week.

It was a surprise when Andover took the lead just before half-time. Petersfield pushed up for a corner and when it was cleared with a big kick up field, they only had one defender back to cover. An Andover striker chased the ball down and beat the defender to it, then chipped the advancing keeper from 35 yards out.

The second half followed a similar pattern, although Andover were looking more dangerous on the counter-attack. Petersfield's players were getting frustrated as time went on and more chances were missed but they managed to equalise after 65 minutes. I thought that the player should have hit the ball earlier and the chance had gone but he managed to shoot from the edge of the 6 yard box across the keeper and into the corner of the net.

Petersfield continued to miss good chances with shots flying over the bar from all angles. With 85 minute gone, it looked like the game was going to end up a draw and the Petersfield subs warming up were complaining that this was down to their manager and his poor tactics - althought it was quite likely to have been motivated by their non-selection / appearance on the pitch!

Luckily for the manager, his team's fortunes changed with 5 minutes to go. The Petersfield no 2 had been making good runs from the back thoughout the game and found himself in the penalty area when his legs were taken in a tackle. The referee did not hesitate to point at the spot and when the penalty was finally taken, it was hit down the middle with enough pace to squeeze under the keeper, despite him guessing where the ball would end up.

The small crowd continued to encourage Andover to get something from the game and they almost did in the final minute. A long, high ball was punted into the box and one of their strikers managed to plant a firm header past the keeper to the delight of the home fans. The delight was short lived as the inconsistent referee waved his arms around to signify a push and so the goal was disallowed.

Looking at the league table later, it showed that neither Andover New Street or Petersfield Town have drawn a league game this season. While this game had come pretty close, Petersfield would have been hard done by if they hadn't won all 3 points today.