Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Game 30: Kidderminster Harriers 1.2 Salisbury City (Blue Square Premier) 23.02.08

Andy, Pete and I got up early and headed up to Kidderminster to give us time to get to one of Andy’s favoured drinking and eating establishments, the Red Lion, on the outskirts of the town. The food was excellent and after that we had no room left for one of the normal highlights of a trip to Aggborough, the local catering.

We arrived at the ground about an hour before kick off and were able to park opposite the ground in a club carpark. To our amusement there was a ‘No ball games’ underneath the painted KHFC logo on the stand. The ground itself had four separate stands, with terraces behind the goal and seats along each touchline. It felt like a ‘proper’ football ground, a world apart from the away days of the past.

The game didn’t start well for the Whites as they conceded a penalty after five minutes when Cook was outpaced by Penn and brought him down before he could reach Kenna’s through ball. However help was at hand when Christie took a gentle kick to Clarke’s right which allowed the Salisbury keeper to save the shot.

There was no respite for the Wiltshire side and the first twenty minutes were dreadful to watch. Kidderminster were well up for the game and seemed to be a step ahead of the Salisbury players for the ball. With Tubbs and Brown both out injured, the makeshift frontline of Matthews and Feeney were dropping back deeper and deeper to try and get the ball. Kidderminster took the lead on 11 minutes when Penn ran down the right from his own half, took on Cook and beat his man before curling a left foot shot into the net.

Salisbury gradually settled and managed to get back into the game after 25 minutes when Feeney and Kidderminster keeper MacKenzie collided at the edge of the box. Feeney got to his feet first and slotted the ball into the net with the keeper staying down. I thought that the referee would disallow the goal but he allowed it to stand which didn't go down well with the locals.

Four minutes later and the pace of Feeney unlocked the Kidderminster defence again. A quick break down the left and he crossed the ball into the middle for Robbie Matthews to slide the ball under the keeper’s dive and in. Amazing celebrations followed, as we couldn’t believe that we had scored, let alone take the lead after the poor start to the game.

Salisbury were now dominating play and Feeney was unlucky not to add a third before halftime when his shot was well saved by the keeper. However Kidderminster couldn’t be underestimated and almost equalised after that when Kenna played a cross in to the box only for an unmarked Jeannin to scoop the ball over the bar and into the crowd.

The second half was more even and both teams created one good chance to score. Robbie Matthews had an angled shot saved and Christie went through one on one with Clarke only to delay his shot and allow the Salisbury custodian to save at his feet. Our hearts were in our mouths on more than one occasion but the team held on for the away win.

After the game we drove up towards Stourbridge to another of Andy’s favourite drinking establishments. This one was a very old fashioned pub which felt more like being in a 1960’s wallpapered living room, albeit one we had to queue up outside until it opened. The drinks went down well and we were able to revisit the victory thanks to the copy of the Saturday evening ‘Pink’ sports paper from the newsagents opposite.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Game 29: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 1.5 Wimborne Town (Wess LC) 12.02.08

Decided to take in a cup game at Bemerton this evening with Andy. Wimborne are traditionally one of the stronger teams in the Wessex league and normally come away with a win from their travels to Western Way.

Wimborne took the lead after 21 minutes with a shot following a cross from the right side, a dubious goal as the scorer looked offside to me. The Bemerton keeper was injured soon after, stretching to make a save. Wimborne took advantage and doubled their lead on 29 minutes. The keeper saved a shot by pushing the shot out of the area. The Wimborne player lobbed the ball over the keeper who couldn’t move freely. He did manage to get a hand to the ball but only succeeded in pushing to Wimborne’s right back who headed it on the line and in. The player had made some hostile remarks to the crowd earlier about them "paying his wages" and the goal was met with jeers from the home fans.

On 34 minutes the visitors scored their third goal of the evening from a corner. The ball was headed into the top of the net and the keeper tried to keep the ball out. It looked like it had been cleared but according to the referee and his assistant he had been unsuccessful and the goal was given.

In the 51st minute, Bemerton pulled a goal back from the penalty spot after one of their players was chopped down in the area. The game then settled down with a few half chances going wide. In the 80th minute Wimborne scored a fourth. A very shallow pass from the left side allowed their substitute striker to run through the line of defenders and take the ball on. He then took it into the area and passed it wide of the keeper and in.

Despite Bemerton’s best efforts to score another consolation goal, they ended up conceding a fifth goal in the 88th minute. A long ball was chased down by a sub who hit a long shot to the keeper’s left and into the net. This kept the Wimborne fans happy as the league game earlier in the season had also finished 5.1 to them.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Game 28: Fawley 0.1 Verwood Town (WESS 1) 09.02.08

Decided to take a trip down to Fawley, the first of three new grounds off the A326 on the list to visit (the others being Blackfield & Langley and Hythe & Dibden).

Arrived at the ground in good time and cut across the back of a rugby pitch (there was a game on at the time) to get to the football pitch, remembering that the part behind the posts is a bit more important in Rugby. Paid £4 to get in - this was nominally for a programme as they can't charge for admission.

Fawley started the game strongly and the ball was mainly in the Verwood half for the first 15 minutes. Both teams weren't keeping possession with balls being hit first time back to the opposition. Verwood started to put some pressure on Fawley with some good counter-attacking football. Both of Fawley's centre backs should have been booked for fouls but they were punished by one of the freekicks they gave away. Verwood took it quickly and found one of their strikers in space. He ran forward through the left of the box and hit a shot past the keeper.

Verwood were unlucky a few minutes later when a cross-cum-shot beat the Fawley keeper but came back off the crossbar to be cleared away. The bright sunshine was making it difficult for the players to see the ball and there were a couple of occasions where high balls were missed as a result.

The second half was dominated by Verwood but they were unable to add to their first half goal due to a lack of clinical finishing. When they were able to create good chances, shots were either hit wide or straight at the keeper. There was one glorious chance where a striker took the ball round the keeper only to hit the ball straight at the covering defender when a bit of composure would have put his team 2.0 up. At other times, good runs weren't spotted and the Verwood bench weren't too happy about this.

Toward the end of the game the wind direction changed and the acrid smell of the refinery wafted over the ground. Perhaps this inspired the former Esso team as they created a couple of chances late on, hitting the crossbar with one header in injury time.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Game 27: England U21 3.0 Republic of Ireland U21 (Euro Qualifier) 05.02.08

Travelled down to Southampton with Amy to meet up with Chris & Elaine, Matt & Jo, Alan, Andy and Rob for this England u21 game. It had threatened to rain while we walked across from the station to the ground to meet the others and started to drizzle while we waited outside. Once Chris and his group arrived, we headed into the ground and just in time. By the time we were in the concourse and could see onto the pitch, there was a torrential downpour and it continued to rain heavily. Andy and Rob joined us in the seats ten minutes later and were absolutely soaked!

This was Amy’s first international match and she was impressed with the atmosphere and the number of England flags in the ground. The announcer made one mistake in the excitement – asking us to stand for the anthems of England and the Republic of Northern Ireland – that led to a few confused faces around us!

The wet weather made a passing game difficult and neither team got going in the first period. The initial excitement led to boredom and the local element of the crowd seemed more interested in singing anti-Pompey songs then getting behind their national team. The England formation didn’t seem to be working to me – lots of pace with Walcott and Lennon on the wings but no real strength to the play to go with it.

Both teams improved in the second half and while England had the most of the play, Ireland had the best chance of the game with a breakaway attack. Andy Keogh was played in and only had Hart to beat in the England goal but put his shot wide.

England took the lead after 60 minutes. The ball was passed out to James Milner on the right wing and as the crowd shouted “Shoot!” he pulled his foot back and aimed a low shot towards the far post. It was directly in line with where we were sitting and looked to be in all the way. Despite a late deflection, the ball made it into the back of the net. A second goal for Milner and England followed 8 minutes later – a low shot from 20 yards out hit the inside of the post and went in.

England scored a third goal after 78 minutes. This time it was the local favourite, former Southampton player Theo Walcott, who scored – taking the ball, running at the defence and opening up for a shot across the keeper and in. Keogh had a couple more chances for Ireland but each time he went through he hit his shots direct to the keeper and should have done better.