Monday, December 28, 2009

Game 35: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 4.2 Laverstock (WESS PREM) 28.12.09

For my last game of 2009 I decided to stay local and head over to watch the derby match at Bemerton. I had some concerns as to whether the game would be on due to the heavy overnight frost but the 2pm kick off time helped - according to one of the Bemerton officials if the game had been at the original time of 1pm it would have been called off - an extra hour in the sun made the difference!

Despite the visit of the Blue Square Premier league leaders Oxford United to Salisbury for a 3 o'clock game, there was a decent crowd of around 150 by the time this game kicked off and the terrace we normally watch from was packed. Bemerton were second at the start of play but from the opening period you could have thought the team in green and white were challenging for the title as Laverstock made several good chances. The final touch was lacking each time the ball came into the Bemerton box, otherwise they would have been several goals down by the fifteen minute mark.

The breakthrough finally came in the 16th minute. Laverstock's main threat was coming from pacy wide man Youseff Bamba and when he couldn't take the ball down the right wing he decided to cut in and take a shot from the edge of the area. Porter in the Bemerton goal didn't hang onto the shot and the spilt ball fell straight to one of the two onrushing Laverstock strikers. Without hesitation he volleyed the ball into the back of the net.

The lead only lasted four minutes as Bemerton managed to pull a goal back against the run of play. The ball was played down the right wing for a cross to come in from near the byline to the centre of the area. Jack Slade rose up and from my vantage point I could see his header was heading for the top corner as soon as the ball touched his head. The Laverstock keeper made a brave effort to try and reach the ball but to no avail.

The game then settled down as both teams pushed for another goal and also had a reasonable shout for a penalty turned down by the referee. There were some strong tackles and a nasty clash of heads just after the half hour which saw a Laverstock player requiring treatment from both physios before he could continue.

Bemerton took the lead from another cross in the 39th minute when they beat the offside trap and took the ball down to the left byline. A low cross found its way into the box and a Bemerton head stooped down in the centre to knock the ball past the keeper and into the back of the net.

The referee had kept good control on the game but there was a flurry of yellow cards just before injury time for some late tackles and verbals - two for Bemerton and one for Laverstock.

Laverstock had a great chance to equalise as the game went into injury time when the Bemerton keeper came well off his line to try and clear the ball and only succeeded in punching it to Bamba. He hit a first time chip wide of the post with an empty goal to aim at and should have taken some time to control the ball first. This mistake proved costly as Bemerton took the ball up the other end and scored a third. Another cross came in from the right and a missed clearance allowed a Bemerton player to kick the ball past the keeper who had dived the other way in anticipation.

These defensive frailties were addressed in the second half as Laverstock made two substitutions and went to a disciplined 3-5-2 formation. Their players stuck to their roles rather than pushing forward and leaving gaps for Bemerton to exploit. In the 51st minute Laverstock came really close to pulling a goal back as a superb dribble from midfield was followed up with a screamer that the Bemerton keeper just managed to touch onto the crossbar. The ball bounced over but the touch was missed by the officials who gave a goal kick.

Laverstock continued to press and managed to bring the scoreline to 3.2 in the 71st minute with an excellent shot from the left of the penalty area that curved round the keeper and into the side netting. Bemerton looked a bit nervous at the back and their passing wasn't as effective as the latter part of the first half. They brought on a sub up front who made all the difference in the last ten minutes.

In the 80th minute he crossed the ball from the left and found an unmarked Adam Jones who put his header onto the crossbar when it seemed easier to put it on target. The game was finally settled in injury time when he broke through the Laverstock defence on the right and drew a defender with him as he ran into the area. He then played a pinpoint pass to Joe Sanger who was unmarked in the area and calmly passed the ball into the back of the net to give Bemerton a 4.2 victory.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Game 34: Radstock Town 2.0 Brislington (Western Prem) 12.12.09

Decided to take in a game in the Western League today so after checking Frome Carnival didn't have a winter special, I drove up to Radstock and arrived at the ground just after 2.30pm. As on my previous visit to Radstock in September for a Welton Rovers match, I noticed that there was a children's playpark overlooking the ground.

The two teams walked through the main gateway on to the pitch in bright sunshine as the sun began to set over Somerset. After the teams were read out I realised that I didn't know which team was which but fortunately there was confirmation of the team colours in the programme.

Brislington (yellow and black striped shirts) took the game to Radstock (red shirts) from the kick off, earning a corner in the first minute that was headed over the bar. I thought that I might be in for a decent game but there were few chances in the first half. Brislington won a few corners but didn't put the keeper under any real pressure as the game degenerated into a kick and hope affair.

Neither team were able to keep control of the ball long enough to put together a decent attack and the nearest to a goalmouth opportunity was an occasional long distance shot high above the crossbar. It was difficult at times to see the match properly as the sun was very bright when it came out of the clouds and I didn't think I'd need sunglasses in December!

Brislington had a couple of penalty appeals turned down by the referee, a Mr Ganfield who I later learnt normally runs the line in Premier League and Football League fixtures. The first claim was for a push in the box which was ignored while the second claim was from a late tackle but it was given as a freekick outside the area.

I was expecting to see some cards for late tackles and other offences but the referee seemed content to talk to the offenders and resolve matters that way. As the players came off the pitch at half time, the home manager made his feelings known as in his opinion the referee was not in control of the game.

After warming up in the car over the half time interval, I ventured out into the cold to stand with the home supporters outside the club bar. One of these supporters was quite vocal in his support and coaching for the team, to the point where I started to wonder if he was able to string a sentence together without swearing or making reference to male genitalia. As in the first half Brislington had the better of the play but were unable to get the ball through the Radstock back line to create a clear opportunity.

With ten minutes to go I was convinced that the match was going to finish a goalless draw and the vocal home supporter appeared to agree as he pronounced that it was too cold to remain outside and departed to the bar to have another drink. Perhaps the absence of conflicting instructions from the touchline had a positive influence because with five minutes to go his team scored with their first shot on target of the entire game.

The ball was played up to a Radstock player in the penalty area and he managed to turn and hit a low shot that seemed to go under the keeper's body and into the net. Brislington seemed stunned by this turn of events as only a few minutes earlier they had almost scored following a goalmouth scramble.

Things went from bad to worse as they tried to create an equaliser. In the final minute of normal time a Radstock player won the ball in midfield and ran forward. With no passing options available he took aim and drilled a long distance shot low to the left side of the goal, past the keeper and in for a second goal.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Game 33: Chertsey Town 3.2 Sleaford Town aet (FA Vase) 5.12.09

After looking at the fixtures for this round of the FA Vase, I decided to visit Chertsey Town of the Combined Counties League for their game against Sleaford Town, who play in the United Counties League. Decided to let the train take the strain and was relieved to see a tracksuited Chertsey player cleaning his boots at Weybridge station as this meant the game should be on after some heavy overnight rain.

After wandering up the high street, I arrived at the ground in plenty of time for the kickoff. On the left was a main stand, with a long covered terrace on the far side and some cover behind one of the goals as well. I decided to watch the game from the shelter of the terrace and was pleased to note that the cover was overhanging the pitch. The weather was overcast and the expected rain duly appeared later in the afternoon so this was a good choice!

The game kicked off at 3 and was immediately halted as the referee blew his whistle for a retake as the home team's winger had started his run into the opposition half before the kick was taken. The white shirted Chertsey players managed to get the next kick right and put some early pressure on the green shirted visitors. Chertsey thought they had scored in the second minute but the headed goal was ruled out for offside. The pressure in the first quarter of an hour was all from the home team who had a penalty shout in the fifth minute denied when a player went through in the penalty area and was brought down. Three minutes later they did get a decision from the referee who awarded them a free kick that was hit over the bar.

Chertsey got the goal they deserved in the 23rd minute. Sleaford tried to clear their lines but the clearance was poor and fell to a Chertsey player on the right of the midfield. He played the ball to the edge of the penalty area and it was cleverly laid off to the left for Tyson to hit a first time shot past the keeper and into the top corner.

I thought that this would settle the home team but Sleaford went straight down to the other end from kick off and had a good shot on target that the keeper saved at his near post. In the 26th minute Chertsey needlessly gave away a freekick just outside the far right of their penalty area. The ball was quickly hit low past the wall and appeared to fool the goalkeeper who remained rooted to the spot as the ball ended up in the bottom corner by the right post. From the angle I was at it was difficult to see if it had gone straight in or if someone had deflected it in.

This gave Sleaford a boost and they began to dominate possession and attacking chances for the rest of the half. A minute after the goal they won another freekick which was taken quickly. The home team were expecting the ball to be crossed in but the player had hit a shot directly at goal and the ball fizzed just past the post with the home keeper again rooted to the spot. Chertsey reacted well to this and forced a corner a minute later. The ball was played high into the box and headed towards the goalmouth, only for the a defender's head to get in the way and stop the ball going in. The game now had a bit of edge to it and both teams were involved in some niggling challenges which the referee had to be quick to react too.

Sleaford took the lead moments after the restart. The ball was played forward down the middle and an opportunistic shot was parried out to the left of midfield by the Chertsey keeper. The ball wasn't cleared and fell to Waters who dribbled forward and hit an exquisite chip over the keeper who was just a few feet off his line. It looked the ball had gone over the bar at the far end but when it hit the ground and bounced up into the net it became clear that the visitors were 2.1 up.

If that goal had been scored in the Premier League it would have been a contender for goal of the season and Waters had another attempt in the 50th minute that matched that quality. As the ball was passed to him in midfield, it bounced up to chest height. This allowed him to swivel and hit a shot from 30+ yards out that looked to be dipping under the crossbar until the keeper jumped up and managed to get a hand on it to push it over the bar. From the resulting corner there was a goalmouth scramble before the ball ended up in the net. Before the visitors could celebrate, the referee blew his whistle and disallowed it for a foul.

The home team had been reduced to long "hit and hope" balls upfield and were being caught offside on a regular basis. The frustrations of an afternoon that had started so promisingly got too much for one of the home coaches and his vocal tirades at the officials saw him sent to the stand. Chertsey made a couple of substitutions to try and change the game and moved their ineffective left winger into the centre of midfield.

The adoption of a more attacking line up, the powerful runs of the new winger and an improved performance from the former wingman in the middle eventually changed the game. Chertsey managed to survive a couple of scares when Sleaford's otherwise impressive no 10 Hunter slipped when he went to shoot and put a shot well wide and a couple of minutes later when he lost the ball to the keeper in a one-on-one situation as the defence stood still and looked for a non existant offside.

In the 75th minute Chertsey won a corner and played a curving ball to the near post. After a Chertsey player stooped down to head the ball goalwards, the ball was cleared up into the air by the keeper which allowed Bamford to poke the ball in above the keeper's grasp for an equaliser. Sleaford's defence hadn't covered that post although they had a player covering the far post and this error cost them the goal.

Sleaford were starting to tire but it appeared that their manager had no faith in his substitutes as none of them were warming up which was a surprise. After the goal went in they adopted a more defensive 4-5-1 formation to try and cope with the Chertsey changes. This tactic took the game into extra time as neither team were able to add another goal.

In the second minute of extra time Sleaford were reduced to ten men. One of their players was running into the Chertsey penalty area with the ball but managed to overrun the ball. He stretched forward to try and regain the ball ahead of a Chertsey player who was odds on to intercept it but his tired legs mistimed the tackle and took out the Chertsey player, earning him a second yellow card and an early bath.

Chertsey came close to scoring in the 97th minute from a free header at the far post from a corner but the ball went wide when it should have been on target. It looked like Sleaford would earn a replay but as so often seems to happen in the Vase, a late goal in extra time settled the match. As a local shouted out to his team to have one more attack the ball was played out to space on the left wing. When the cross came in, the ball bounced around the area until Goddard managed to bundle the ball home. He ran over the the corner flag to celebrate, accompanied by his teammates and a good number of youthful supporters who had climbed over the barriers to run on the pitch and join their heroes. A thrilling end to an excellent cup tie.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Game 32: Salisbury City 0.1 Stevenage Borough (Blue Sq Prem) 28.11.09

After some heavy overnight rain the majority of games in the Western League's Les Phillips Cup had been postponed and with more rain forecast for the afternoon, I decided not to risk a two hour drive and decided to head up to the Ray Mac for the visit of Stevenage Borough and former Whites striker Charlie Griffin.

As I drove up to the ground the morning sunshine had disappeared and the ground was covered in a typical November gloom. There was a surprise when I got into the ground – regular keeper James Bittner wasn’t out on the pitch warming up and in his place another James – James Lester who had signed as an emergency keeper for the game. This was explained by Radio Wiltshire’s commentary team as a necessity as a new Bittner had arrived in the world earlier that day! Salisbury had another ‘new’ face, defender Chris Todd had been given permission to join the Whites on loan from Torquay.

Stevenage have been a bogey team for Salisbury in the past but there was a joke at the start of the match as Henry cried for handball. This time it was Ronny Henry rather than Thierry Henry whose handball earlier in the week had set up France’s appearance in next year’s World Cup.

Lester was kept busy and looked to be a useful substitute for Bittner, saving well from Yemi on three occasions in the first half but couldn’t do anything about the huge hole that opened between the Salisbury central defenders just before half time. Stevenage played the ball forward into the gap and Charlie Griffin ran through to collect the ball, take it round the keeper and slot it into the net. Salisbury’s best chance of the half came three minutes before that when Chris Flood headed just over the crossbar.

Salisbury didn’t have any luck in the second half as they tried to create an equaliser. Flood was denied a penalty in the 52nd minute as the referee missed him being held back by a Stevenage defender in the area. Clohessy and Flood both put headers straight at the keeper when well placed and Tubbs put a freekick wide of the post. Stevenage were more adventurous with the impressive Mitchell Cole coming on as an early substitute.

The game turned on two decisions by the referee as the rain started to pour on the 130 visiting supporters at the far end. In the 72nd minute Chris Todd was given a second yellow card and then a red card when he was adjudged to have brought down Griffin, despite an earlier offence not being spotted. Stevenage managed to miss an open goal before Matt Tubbs was sent through the middle only to by cynically tripped by Roberts. The referee appeared to signal that Roberts wasn’t the last man and only gave a yellow card but in reality the two players wouldn’t have reached Tubbs and a red card would have been the appropriate punishment as Tubbs would normally score in that situation.

Stevenage managed to force another excellent save from Lester who made a point blank save in the 87th minute from a corner. Salisbury had one final chance to get something from the game in injury time when a cross found substitute Bradley Gray unmarked in the box but he placed his header wide of the post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game 31: Salisbury City 1.3 Rushden & Diamonds (Blue Sq Premier) 21.11.09

A choice of two games locally with both Salisbury and Downton at home. After the heavy rain overnight and the heavy wind and rain forecast for Saturday afternoon I decided to play it safe and head to the Ray Mac. This turned out to be a wise decision as Downton's game against Horndean had to be abandoned after 65 minutes due to a waterlogged pitch.

As I left home it started to rain and by the time I got through the gridlock on Castle Street roundabout and made it to the ground the rain was torrential. I started watching the teams warming up and reading my programme in the usual spot to the left of the goal until the stewards decided that they would allocate that corner of the covered terrace to the visitors. Luckily there was some space directly behind the goal so I could stand at the back next to the barrier and stay dry!

Matt Tubbs had an early chance with a header that Abbey parried away but for the next half an hour or so the Rushden team were on top and putting Salisbury under pressure although there were few attempts on goal. Bittner pushed a shot wide that looked to be going wide of his left post and came out of his goal to make a couple of sweeper clearances. Rushden had one good chance spoilt by the weather as their players slipped up at the wrong time allowing Bittner to take the ball. The biggest cheer of the half came when one of the assistants tried to put his flag in the air only to see it fly out of his hand and hurtle down the touchline.

There was one ugly moment when Akurang launched himself into Bittner after the keeper had caught the ball but the referee was in quickly to prevent any trouble flaring up. Salisbury had a couple of half chances towards the end of the half, including a spectacular attempt at an overhead kick by Matt Tubbs but both efforts were well wide. Just before halftime Rushden had the best chance of the half when Byrne received a pass in space on the left and ran in on goal unchallenged by the defence. He took a shot that went past Bittner but the keeper got his angles right and the ball fizzed past the right hand post.

Rushden started the second half with a good chance when Akurang saw Bittner smother his shot when he was clear through. Salisbury gradually started to come into the game more and Clohessy had a shot well saved by Abbey. The Rushden keeper was getting some stick from the Salisbury fans for his name but took it in good humour. He managed to keep smiling when he got to a curling Tubbs freekick and was able to push the ball away from goal, just clear of the onrushing Bradley Gray who was looking for the rebound.

As the half went on a number of the Rushden supporters decided to brave the elements and head for the far goal to cheer their team on. I wasn't sure that was such a good idea as I was already starting to anticipate my first 0.0 draw since January 2008 but the game all changed in the 79th minute. Rushden put the ball into the box and it was headed clear by Darrell Clarke to the edge of the box where Paul Terry was waiting. He hit a great shot high into the top left corner and as I was directly in line I was left in no doubt that the ball was about to go in. Moments later the leaping supporters at the far end confirmed that the visitors had scored.

Salisbury had another scare three minutes later when Bittner ran out of his goal and took out Akurang while trying to slide in and clear a ball. Luckily for him the referee only gave a yellow card for the offence. Unluckily for Salisbury the freekick was whipped into the box with pace and ended up in the back of the net. At first I thought it had gone straight in but from the celebrations it became clear that the substitute O'Connor had scored with a glancing touch on the ball.

In the last minute Salisbury committed everyone forward when they won a free kick. The ball was played into the six yard box and led to a massive scramble in front of us, similar to a game you might have seen in a playground. Webb appeared to push the ball with his hand before it was hit in by Clarke but the officials couldn't have seen it and gave the goal. Abbey went mad and was booked for his furious protests. It didn't matter too much - from the restart Rushden went straight down the other end of the pitch and a shot across Bittner found it's target to give the visitors a 3.1 win. Not the result I was expecting with quarter of an hour to go!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game 30: South Korea 0.1 Serbia (International Friendly) 18.11.09

I was delighted to see an opportunity for an unusual fixture when I discovered that South Korea were playing a midweek afternoon friendly at Craven Cottage against Serbia during a week off work.

I took the train from Waterloo to Putney and wandered down the high street and across the Thames towards the glowing floodlights to my left. There were a few Korean fans heading the same way but it wasn't until I arrived at the ground that I got the normal match day buzz with supporters from both countries milling around and taking photographs.

I've been to Craven Cottage a few times before, including a boisterous afternoon with some Leicester fans at what was the last game at the Cottage back in 2002 before refurbishment. The terraced area we stood in along the side has now been replaced by an all seater stand while the old Putney End Terrace has been replaced by another huge all seater stand. I was surprised to find that I was really close to the touchline and the view wasn't obscured by any posts.

Both of these teams have qualified for next summer's World Cup Finals in South Africa so it was a good opportunity to see what kind of opposition England could be facing. I arrived in plenty of time and was able to watch both teams warming up in front of the TV Cameras - the game was kicking off in the afternoon so it could be shown live on Korean television. Gradually the ground filled up and the atmosphere was terrific with no segregation and both sets of supporters cheering on their team. The Serbian chants were similar to English support but when the Korean team came out it was more like a Beatles concert with high pitched squeals and orange inflatable clackers the order of the day.

Serbia started well and the Korean keeper had to make two early saves - one from a Danko Lazovic freekick and one from the resulting corner when Vidic put a header towards goal. Serbia then took the lead in the 7th minute from a deep cross from the left into the penalty area. Tall striker Zigic made a great run across his marker and got his foot onto tbe ball just ahead of the Korean defender, placing the ball to the right of the keeper and into the net.

Korea had a good chance five minutes later which was pushed over the bar. They began to settle and play some good passing football with a great sense of determination. When they lost the ball they harried the Serbian players and won it back to set up attacks on a couple of occasions. The experience of Vidic and the impressive Subotic kept them at bay and they weren't able to test the keeper further by creating any clear cut chances.

Serbia had a good effort in the 31st minute from a long cross from the left by Lukovic. It looked like the ball was meant to be aimed at the head of Zigic but it was mishit and almost ended up going over the Korean keeper and in. The ball looped down and came off the top of the crossbar before bouncing out for a goal kick. The Serbians liked to build the ball from the back and were content to pass it around the back four from side to side before moving it forward. This approach was risky as the Korean team liked to put them under pressure and were able to repossess the ball on a couple of occasions. Just before half time the Koreans managed to get a shot on target but the Serbian keeper made a good save.

The second half was similar fare although there was an interuption after 52 minutes when it all became a bit too exciting for one young Serbian supporter who ran onto the pitch with his scarf and went up to several of his heros to give them a hug before being escorted from the pitch by security. Once he had departed the Koreans had a good shot just wide. From the noise being made after that I fully expected my eardrums to explode if Korea scored and this almost happened in the 63rd minute when the ball ended up in the back of the net but was disallowed for offside. The teenage girls in front of us hit their chairs with such force in frustration that their clackers burst!

I enjoyed the second half more as both teams just went for counter attacking football and the ball moved quickly from end to end. South Korea had several freekicks on target that were saved and almost managed an equaliser late on when Lee Chung-yong rounded Stojkovic but couldn’t control the ball and stumbled before hitting a shot into the mass of white shirts that had come back to defend. I was impressed with Krasic who made some great runs down the wing and almost finished the game with a goal from a low shot that the Korean keeper did well to save.

In the absence of a programme (although there were some scarfs for £5) the line ups were:

South Korea -

Kim Young Kwang
Oh Beom Seok
Lee Jung Soo
Cho Yong Hyung
Lee Young Pyo
Kim Nam Il
Cho Won Hee
Lee Chung Yong
Park Ji Sung
Yeom Ki Hun
Seol Ki Hyun

Subs -

35' Kim Do Heon (for Oh Beom Seok)
46' Cha Du Ri (for Cho Won Hee )
46' Lee Keun Ho (for Yeom Ki Hun )
60' Lee Dong Gook (for Seol Ki Hyun)
68' Kang Min Soo (for Park Ji Sung)
81' Kim Hyung Il (for Kim Do Heon )

Serbia -

Vladimir Stojković
Branislav Ivanović
Aleksandar Luković
Neven Subotić
Nemanja Vidić
Zdravko Kuzmanović
Nenad Milijaš
Miloš Krasić
Milan Jovanović
Danko Lazović
Nikola Žigić

Subs -

46' Zoran Tošić (for Lazović)
60' Gojko Kačar (for Milijaš)
68' Miloš Ninković (for Jovanović)
72' Aleksandar Kolarov (for Vidić)
82' Radosav Petrović (for Kuzmanović)
88' Jagoš Vuković (for Luković)

A very enjoyable afternoon of football!