Saturday, January 31, 2009

Game 21: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 0.2 Poole Town (WESS PREM) 31.01.09

Decided to head up to Western Way to see if Bemerton could manage to do something no other team has done in the league – beat leaders Poole Town. The last time that I saw Poole play here was a bad tempered affair and this game was no different.

Neither side created much in the first half hour and there were some heavy sliding tackles that the referee took exception to. The assistant on the near touchline missed a number of Poole offsides but they were unable to take advantage until a Bemerton player handled in the box and conceded a penalty.

Top scorer Charlie Austin placed the ball in front of the spot, forcing the referee to respot the ball due to the loud protests from the local supporters. Austin then walked forward, picked up the ball and put it back in front of the spot again. This time the referee didn’t take any action and the distraction worked as it seemed to divert the keeper’s attention. He dived to his left, only to see the ball rolled along the ground to his right and into the goal. Austin then ran to the corner flag and used it like a punchbag in his celebration. This didn’t go down too well as it was in front of the Bemerton support and the atmosphere on the covered terrace turned very sour.

One Poole fan on the terrace started to slag Bemerton off for not ‘enjoying the goal’ and ended up in a verbal slanging match with the Bemerton Chairman. The supporter was lucky not to be asked to leave as he continued his arrogant sniping about the team, the officials and the ground before commenting that he wouldn’t miss coming to this ground when Poole got promoted. It will be interesting to see if he turns up next season if Poole’s ground isn’t passed for Southern League football!

The atmosphere was bad on the pitch as well – two minutes after the goal Bemerton were reduced to ten men when a second yellow card was given for a late sliding tackle. Near the end of the half, Poole should have been reduced to ten men as well when a late, studs up, pre-meditated tackle almost broke a Bemerton ankle but was only deemed worthy of a yellow card by the referee.

In the second half Bemerton managed a couple of decent attempts at an equaliser. In the 60th minute a shot went just past the post from a corner when the keeper was still off his line. Five minutes later and the keeper just got his fingertip to a shot from the right, which was enough to push it onto the post.

In the 75th minute, Poole increased their lead from a corner. The ball was floated in for Taffy Richardson to head – although it was blocked near the line, the ball fell to Luke Whitley who swept it in to the net. After the goal, Bemerton manager Ian Chalk had some strong words with the referee about something he was unhappy with. Chalkie was sent from the dugout but instead of walking away, stayed where he was, had another verbal rant at the referee who was walking away and was sent off again.

The game was restarted as he walked down the touchline and as the ball was passed into the far corner, it looked like he tripped a Poole player as he went past. The referee decided it was the Bemerton player running alongside the Poole player and gave him a yellow card. By the end of the game Bemerton had received 10 bookings, 1 red card and a managerial sending off. They had also used all 3 subs (some of whom were included in the booking count!).

The lack of discipline spread to Poole and two of their experienced players. Brown and Richardson had a huge row after Richardson picked up ball in midfield, ran back under pressure and gave ball to keeper to clear rather than pass to a teammate. In the end the referee had to intervene as the language got worse and it was no surprise when Richardson was substituted a few minutes later.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Game 20: Gillingham Town 3.4 Calne Town (Les Phillips Cup) 27.01.09

Andy and I decided on a change of scenery for Tuesday night and drove down to Gillingham (Dorset) to watch Gillingham Town take on Calne. Earlier in the day Andy had received an email at work from Paul to say that he would be at Gillingham for a new ground visit - think Paul was surprised to find out that we would be there too! After a quick drink in the bar we met up with him in the stand. The reason for heading to the stand was that there was a steady drizzle throughout the evening which turned into heavier rain every now and then. The pitch was quite muddy and in the far left corner it looked like someone had tried to plough the pitch.

Calne are a division above Gillingham and according to Paul either play like Brazil (good) or play like Southampton (bad). They certainly started like Brazil - after 3 minutes they took the lead and after 5 minutes they were 2.0 up! The first goal saw some good passing and movement down the right hand side followed by a cross to the centre where an unmarked striker tapped the ball past the keeper. The second goal came from a freekick. The ball was played high into the penalty area and one of the Calne players headed the ball straight to an unmarked team mate who passed the ball into the net. Gillingham managed a couple of long distance efforts but didn't really trouble the Calne goal.

As Calne pushed forward for more goals, only the Gillingham goalkeeper kept them in the game with some excellent saves, especially from one-on-one situations where he kept on his feet and made himself big. A third goal finally came on 29 minutes thanks to a kind deflection that took the ball away from the defender who was trying to clear it, allowing the Calne striker to place a low shot past the keeper. Two minutes later a fourth goal was disallowed for an obvious handball in the buildup.

It seemed like Calne were going to run up a cricket score but against the run of play, Gillingham managed to pull a goal back. The ball was played into the area and the Gillingham player following it in managed to hold off the Calne defender accompanying him long enough to poke the ball in from close range. Calne continued to press and on 37 minutes had 3 chances to score. Another one on one situation created by an intelligent pass behind the defence but the keeper managed to save the first shot, the second shot and then clear the ball away before a third shot could come in. He was lucky that both shots were played directly at him but made his own luck by forcing the Calne player to take a shot rather than dive early and allow a chip.

After half time it was a different story as the Southampton version of Calne Town took to the pitch. The manager made a couple of substitutions early in the half which did not go down too well with the travelling fans in the stand. Gillingham were making all the running and on 60 minutes forced the Calne keeper to make a double save following a quick free kick. The Calne keeper had to contend with a couple of difficult shots to handle in the wet conditions and Gillingham were able to exploit the difficult condition by forcing him to parry the ball rather than catch it.

On 72 minutes Gillingham made the score 2.3 with a fluke goal. The ball was loose in the Calne penalty area and one of their players kicked it up the pitch, only to see the ball rebound back off a Gillingham player and fly over the keeper and in. This really brought Gillingham to life and 2 minutes later they almost equalised but the Calne keeper came out quickly to smother the shot.

On 82 minutes Gillingham were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area to the left of the goal. The freekick was direct and you wouldn't have seen a better effort from Ronaldo, Giggs or Gasgoigne. The ball was flighted over the wall, over the keeper's hand off the crossbar and into the top right corner. Superb! The Calne supporters around us seemed to be in shock at this point and were worried that the momentum was now with Gillingham. On Saturday they had conceded 4 goals against Bristol Manor Farm after being in the lead and ended up drawing 4 all. However they need not have worried as the Brazillian Calne Town appeared and on 84 minutes they retook the lead. A freekick from just inside their own half was floated into the area, headed down and a close range shot beat the Gillingham keeper at his near post.

Gillingham tried to get another equaliser and made the most of Calne's poor attempts to keep the ball in the corners with some breakaway attacks but ran out of time. An exciting match to watch despite the poor weather conditions.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Game 19: Salisbury City 2.4 Stevenage (Blue Square Premier) 24.01.09

My original plan was to head to one of Hythe, US Portsmouth or Aldermaston in the Wessex league but after heavy overnight rain the latter two were cancelled and I wasn't confident about the first being on. With that in mind, I decided to stay local and decided to head up to the Ray Mac.

There wasn't much on display from either team in the first half an hour. Salisbury had a lot of the possession but didn't make the most of the corners and other half chances that they made. Perhaps this was due to them having to kick towards the Inexcess Stand rather than the away end in the first half but more likely due to the makeshift nature of the team - two of the starters had never played at the Ray Mac.

Stevenage looked quite dangerous on the break but seemed to trouble the assistant referee's arm more than the Salisbury goal with a number of offsides given against them. It was hard to see where a goal might come from but in the 30th minute, new loan signing Dave Winfield played a suicidal backpass that was far too short for the keeper to reach. This allowed Mitchell Cole to nip in and place the ball past Bittner into the back of the net. Matt Tubbs had looked quiet and just after the goal he was replaced by Danny Webb. On the radio at halftime they said that there was a bug going around the club and he could be the latest victim.

The second half was more of the same - lots of hustle and bustle but few chances for either team to score. On 66 minutes one of the Stevenage midfielders picked up the ball, ran at the Salisbury defence and mesmerised them with his footwork long enough to run into the box and hit a superb shot past Bittner. A great goal but marred slightly by the rest of his teammates joining him and aiming their celebrations at the home fans, some of whom had been applauding the goal only moments before.

At this point I was taxting Alan and Andy to tell them that this was the worst Salisbury performance I'd seen for a long time. However this second goal seemed to focus the minds of some of the Salisbury players. All of a sudden passes were finding their man and players were moving forwards rather than sideways. 3 minutes later Liam Feeney hadn't looked his normal sharp self but suddenly he burst forward on the right side and hit a low cross into the box. Charlie Griffin was in the middle and managed to steer it past the keeper much to everyone's surprise.

Things got even better for the Whites 9 minutes from time. Feeney started a run from the halfway line and dribbled his way across the centre of the pitch before he was brought down just outside the area. When the freekick was taken, it was tapped to Charlie Griffin who hit a low shot that managed to squeeze past the keeper and into the bottom right hand corner. The 900 or so Salisbury fans in a crowd of 1,015 went absolutely crazy as the scorer and his teammates ran towards the home bench to celebrate. All of a sudden it looked like Salisbury would get an improbable result.

Stevenage had other ideas. On 87 minutes, Steve Morison broke away down the left wing. He looked to be offside when the ball was played but this was not spotted by the officials and play continued. He took a shot that deflected off a defender and straight into the path of Cole who slotted it in past Bittner. 3 minutes later and it was a Wessex League scoreline - Salisbury gave the ball away cheaply on the edge of the area and a cross found Cole in a similar spot in the box with a similar outcome.

Game 18: Hungerford Town 3.2 Leiston aet (FA Vase) 17.01.09

Drove up to Hungerford with Alan via the A303 due to roadworks on the A338. After dodging a tractor or two, we arrived at the ground and managed to get one of the last parking spaces in the overflow carpark. After purchasing a programme outside the gate and paying our admission, bumped into Andy who had driven over from Calne after a model railway exhibition. While he headed to the bar to catch the end of the Preston v Burnley game, Alan and I had a wander around the ground. There were a number of different stands dotted around which we were grateful to see as heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon. The ground had a fair slope to it but the wind was hurtling by in the other direction to even things up. Hungerford were noted in the programme as being the outsiders, with odds to win the Vase of 40-1 compared to Leiston at 12-1.

The local paper had reported the previous day that Hungerford would be trying an all out attack approach and the play in the first ten minutes certainly backed that up. Within a minute, their first attack saw the ball heading just over the bar from a shot that really should have found the back of the net. This period of play saw 3 corners and a good opportunity for a 1 on 1 with the keeper that was wasted as the through ball was just too far from the stretching striker's right boot. It was no surprise when Hungerford took the lead from a corner on 9 minutes. The ball was passed from the left corner to the edge of the box where a Hungerford player hit a superb shot through the crowd of players and into the left side of the goal.

Hungerford had a chance to make it 2.0 a minute later but the Leiston keeper outwitted the striker who had gone through 1 on 1 to make the save. The visitors gradually started to play some football and on 25 minutes managed their first shot on target. The wind was certainly affecting the play, with Hungerford's goalkicks hardly making the halfway line despite the advantage of the slope.

On 29 minutes, Leiston equalised much to the delight of the 30 or so fans behind the goal and a few others dotted around the ground. The ball was swung in from a free kick about 10 yards from the penalty box towards a mass of players. It was too high for anyone to head and it looked like the keeper's dive to the left would be a comfortable catch. However the keeper spilt the ball and it hit Leiston's no 10 on the knee, pushing it away from the keeper. The two Hungerford players sliding in on the ball and goalmouth were not quick enough to beat the oncoming Leiston player who slid the ball in. This gave Leiston a bit more confidence and 3 minutes later the Hungerford keeper pulled off a tremendous point blank save from a header in the box.

Hungerford didn't let the goal stop their attacking play and as the game moved toward half-time, put together a super pass and move counter-attack from their own half that lead to a long distance shot just past the Leiston post. While Hungerford had missed some good chances in the first half, they will have been pleased to have missed the last chance - when a Leiston ball was crossed from the left it found a defender's head and the ball hit the post and flew just wide. There was no time left to take the corner and the arguments of one of the Leiston players to the contrary led to a booking.
At the start of the second half Alan was still in the slow moving queue at the teabar - luckily he turned round to see a Hungerford header flash just wide of the goal when all around us thought it was in. Hungerford continued to put pressure on the visitors to score and looked like they would in the 60th minute when a cross came in from the right and two players failed to make a connection. 5 minutes later they should have scored again - this time a Hungerford player went through on goal but delayed his shot which allowed the keeper to grab the ball at his feet. The locals started to look a bit nervous and one mentioned it was like the previous Tuesday when they had made all the chances and had lost 2.1

The nerves disappeared a few minutes later. Leiston's no 10 had been booked for a late challenge just after that chance and hadn't calmed down. He lost the ball on the left side, lost his temper and decided to kick out at a Hungerford player once the ball had gone. The referee spotted this late infringement and had no choice but to give him a second yellow. Hungerford took the lead a minute later. From a freekick, the ball was swung into the area and a Hungerford player got his head to hit ahead of the outcoming keeper. The ball looped over the keeper's hands, under the crossbar and in.

To give them their credit, the rest of the Leiston players didn't give up and continued to play good football in their search for an equaliser. Four minutes after the Hungerford goal and they had it - a great turn on the edge the area to create space on the left hand side and then a sublime cross shot over the keeper and into the back of the net. The goalscorer and his team mates then raced down towards the stand we were in to celebrate in front of some of their supporters. A fantastic goal that wouldn't have looked out of place on Match of the Day.

Hungerford looked to have paid for not taking their chances earlier in the game in what was turning out to be one of the best games I'd seen for a long while. Both teams now tried their best to get a goal before extra time - Leiston almost won it on 88 minutes when a ball came in to the box and bounced kindly off a Hungerford leg to one of their strikers. He turned well and dug the ball from under his foot, past the keeper but direct onto the post. Hungerford waited until injury time for their best chance - Leiston's keeper couldn't hold onto a shot from the left but when it bounced to a Hungerford player he was given as offside just as he hit the ball into the back of the net.

So another 30 minutes in the cold but after the excitement of the first 90 minutes I wasn't unhappy at the prospect of more football. 1 minute and 26 seconds (thanks Andy!) after the restart Hungerford took the lead again. A header from a corner hit the crossbar, the follow up shot was saved and pushed onto the post only for the original header of the ball to be given a second chance. This time he managed to get his header on target and past the keeper. Hungerford made the most of the extra man and almost got another goal from a corner 8 minutes into the first half of extra time - this time Leiston managed to get a man on the line to clear the ball. The second half continued in a similar vein - Hungerford creating most of the chances but not converting them. Despite this, they did enough to prevent Leiston from earning a replay.

As we walked out of the ground, the Hungerford players celebrated by bouncing up and down and singing Wembley songs. A genuine cup upset and who knows - if they continue to create chances and maybe score a few more of them, they might be there in May.