Sunday, February 22, 2009

Game 23: US Portsmouth 2.0 Warminster Town (WESS 1) 21.02.09

While most of the new grounds I visit are in places I’m not too familiar with, US Portsmouth’s ground on Burnaby Road is one ground that I’ve seen hundreds of times. When I was a student in Portsmouth I would walk past it at least twice a day en route to lectures / library / student union.

Despite the familiarity with the location, this was the first time that I’ve been to a game here and it took me a while to find the entrance. I had approached the ground from the new shopping centre at Gunwharf and found that there wasn’t an entrance on that side of the ground. After walking round most of the perimeter, I reached the navy checkpoint and was directed down a small path. This took me past a hockey match and round to the football pitch, which is surrounded by an athletics track.

The sun was out and it felt more like a summer’s day as I made myself at home to the left of the main stand – a real contrast to last week’s snow! There was no one else around apart from a couple of home players who were warming up. The away team gradually trickled in as cars arrived at the ground and about five minutes before kick off a few spectators wandered around the pitch to the main stand. Over the course of the first half a few more people ambled in to watch the game, similar to the game I had seen at Fawley.

From my vantage point I could watch the trains heading to Portsmouth Harbour and back while in the distance I could see the Guildhall clock, origin of the original Portsmouth Chimes. After it had ticked around to 3pm, the referee started proceedings. A few minutes later a gentleman came round to collect admission and distribute programmes, asking first if I was in the service (and therefore entitled to free entry).

This was a 4th (US Portsmouth) v 5th (Warminster) encounter but the gap between the teams seemed a lot more than 2 points. US Portsmouth took the lead after 16 minutes from a goalkeeping error. The ball was crossed in from the right but the keeper was only able to dive out and push the ball away. It fell nicely for a US Portsmouth player who passed it into the net from 6 yards out.

Warminster had a couple of good runs but there was no real bite to their attack and any shots ended up well wide. Their midfield seemed to be having an off day and seemed disorganised as they kept passing to their blue shirted opponents. The Warminster keeper kept his team in the game after half an hour with a good save from a header and they had a chance to equalise from the counter attack. With three players in the box there were plenty of options but each player chose not to shoot and to pass instead to a team mate which allowed US Portsmouth to win the ball and clear it away.

On 36 minutes it took a last ditch tackle by a Warminster striker of all people to stop a US Portsmouth player from doubling the lead from 2 yards out. The same player almost pulled a goal back on 38 min with a long shot with the US Portsmouth keeper off his line but the keeper was able to coast back and make a save.

After an early Warminster goalbound effort was saved, the second half was a similar story of US Portsmouth dominance. They almost made the most of a very similar chance to the goal on 52 minutes when the Warminster keeper chose to push the ball out again from a cross. This time the shot went straight back to keeper so he was able to save it.

On 56 min Warminster had their best chance when a ball on right side was pulled back along the goal line and found a player on the far post. He should have hit it on target but instead played it flat to his right so it went across goal instead of scoring.

After 76 minutes, US Portsmouth made it 2.0. A corner was played to the near post and headed in by an unmarked player - an easy chance thanks to poor defending. Four minutes later a home sub dribbled through the Warminster defence and it was more luck than judgement that allowed the keeper to push the shot over the bar. Warminster had been poor throughout the second half and rarely managed to get the ball out of their half without conceding possession.

Both teams had a chance to score in second half injury time. The first chance fell to the home team who tried to beat the keeper from the halfway line with an audacious attempt that went wide. The away team then hit back as I started to walk around the pitch to the exit. The ball ended up in the air in the penalty area as a striker ran in past the defender but the keeper was able to grab the ball in time. As the final whistle blew I started a brisk walk back to Portsmouth Harbour for the train home. Made it with a few minutes to spare and watched the away team wandering back over the pitch to their cars from the comfort of the train.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Game 22: Biggleswade Town 4.2 Market Drayton Town (FA Vase) 14.02.09

When the draw was made for the 5th round of the Vase, I narrowed down the list of 8 games to 2 – this one and Bitton v Glossop North End. With the recent snow, I decided that a train ride to Biggleswade would be the best option as their website had confirmed that the game was still on. This may have been a surprise for some of the Market Drayton squad who found themselves in Las Vegas for a pre-booked stag do.

As the train started to slow down for Biggleswade station, I saw the ground and to my relief there were plenty of cars and a team coach outside. After walking through the town centre to get some lunch, I strolled under the A1 flyover and arrived at the ground a few minutes later. This is the first season that the ground has been open and I was impressed with the facilities and the friendly welcome.

I went for a walk around the ground and noticed that there were some patches of snow at the edge of the perimeter. The ground staff had done a good job to get the game on and although there was a lot of sand in some areas of the pitch, the big crowd of over 700 would get to see a game of football today.

Market Drayton Town started well, to the delight of their noisy travelling fans. They created a couple of half chances but shots were hit wide. In the 12th minute Biggleswade were unlucky not to score. The ball came in from the right hand side and the recipient looked like he would shoot but played a dummy and passed it to a teammate. The first shot was mishit and the second shot hit the keeper and went for a corner. The corner came in to the near post and was headed down. The keeper tried to smother it but it came off his arm and almost fell to a Biggleswade player before the keeper was able to grab the ball.

The pitch had started to cut up a bit and despite the sandy cover, was beginning to get quite muddy in places. There were a lot of balls being played in the air and Biggleswade began to settle and play some good football. After 20 minutes a high ball from the right fell to local starlet Jack Weeden who headed the ball down past the keeper from 6 yards to put the home team ahead.

Both teams continued to create chances and Market Drayton won a corner after 35 minutes. The ball was well delivered and Paul McMullen headed it in past the keeper for the equaliser. This gave Market Drayton some confidence and they pushed forward to try and get another goal before half time. Biggleswade conceded a free kick near the touchline following a mistimed sliding tackle but it didn’t come to anything. Market Drayton were playing some good passing football but were giving the ball away too often which allowed Biggleswade to counter attack. From one of these chances a shot beat the keeper but just went over the bar. A couple of minutes later there was a 3 v 2 situation in the penalty area but the striker chose the wrong option to pass when he could have got a shot away.

Just before halftime, the home team retook the lead from a great run down the left wing. The ball was crossed low into the centre and Redford got a sliding shot in just ahead of the defender marking him. The shot flew low past the keeper and into the back of the net. This was the last action of the half – to my surprise there was a fourth official and an electronic board for him to put up the injury time – unusual at this level!

At the start of the second half, Biggleswade created three good chances to score. There was a shot over the bar, a shot saved by the keeper and one opportunity to shoot where “Killer” Cooper didn’t know whether to pass to a team mate or attempt a shot himself. He dithered too long on the ball, allowing Market Drayton’s defence to get back and clear the ball.

It was no surprise when Biggleswade scored a third goal after 60 minutes. They won a corner when a shot from the edge of the box was tipped round the bottom of the left post. The ball was delivered into a crowded penalty area and Ryan Redford headed the ball down and just past the keeper’s right hand to rebound off the post and spin into the goal.

Going two goals down seemed to wake Market Drayton’s players up and they created the best chance of the half from a freekick. The ball was headed with pace towards the top left of the goal only for Biggleswade’s keeper to arch back and push the ball wide at full stretch – so graceful it almost seemed to be in slow motion. The corner was not so graceful and seemed to be a wasted opportunity as the ball was hit up in the air and straight to the keeper. However it ballooned out of his hands and fell to the ground – luckily for him there was a defender in line with the ball to clear it to safety.

Market Drayton continued to press and on 68 minutes it took a goal line clearance to keep Biggleswade’s two goal advantage. Weedon then took the ball from his own penalty area, outstripped most of the defence and passed the ball to Cooper on the edge of the Market Drayton penalty area. Cooper hit a good shot which took a deflection to loop over the keeper’s hand and just under the cross bar to give the home team a 4.1 lead.

Market Drayton didn’t give up but their luck had run out. After 75 minutes they had a shot from the left of the box that hit a Biggleswade player and bounced up over the keeper but came down onto the crossbar and went over. They changed their formation to 3-5-2 by putting on another midfielder and saw the substitute head over the bar from 6 yards out when he should have scored. The goal finally came after 80 minutes from a corner. The ball was headed down into the box and hit a Biggleswade player and went over the line for an own goal.

Both teams looked tired now and some players were finding it hard to keep up with play. Market Drayton’s impressive number 9 was able to outpace the defence but his ball into the box didn’t find a red shirt as none of his team mates were able to keep up with him. This was the final action of an exciting game and I was pleased that the journey had been worthwhile.