Thursday, April 30, 2009

Game 36: Salisbury City 3.1 Swindon Town (Wiltshire Premier Shield Final) 29.04.09

The top four clubs in Wiltshire contest the Wiltshire Premier Shield – for the past few years this has been Swindon Town, Salisbury City, Chippenham and Swindon Supermarine. The rest of the Wiltshire clubs play in the Wiltshire Senior Cup. While this gives the smaller teams a better chance of a trophy, I do miss the days when all the teams competed for one trophy and you could end up in Westbury on a cold December night sheltering from the rain!

As the game clashed with a Champions League semi final, there was little interest from anyone else from attending (although to be fair Andy was somewhere else in Europe!). There was more of a pre-season friendly atmosphere to be honest – no programmes available (one of the officials came round with some team sheets which was a nice gesture), the 7.30ko became a 7.45 ko and Salisbury fielded a couple of trialists in their lineup. Swindon brought a reserve team with a couple of their up and coming youth players, all hoping to be the next Lukas Jutkiewicz.

Despite the difference in league rankings, the strength and experience of the Salisbury team came through from the start. The competitive nature of Fowler and Herring saw several strong tackles flying in the first fifteen minutes and this set the tone for the evening. Salisbury were attacking towards the In-Excess stand and the ball rarely left that half of the pitch.

On 17 minutes, Fowler headed in from a Rob Sinclair corner to beat Peter Brezovan at his near post.

On 28 minutes it looked like 2.0 as Sinclair shot past Brezovan but the effort was given as offside.

Swindon took 33 minutes to have their first meaningful attempt on goal but Bittner saved a tame effort. A minute later and Salisbury broke away and made the score 2.0. Sinclair took the ball down the left side and put an inviting cross in along the six yard line, perfectly weighted to allow Griffin to run in on the far side and bury a shot past the keeper from close range.

The second half was a similar story – there was only one team in this game. Sinclair scored a deserved goal on 55 minutes, sweeping the ball into the top left corner of the goal with a well placed volley. Swindon managed a consolation goal on 61 minutes as their pacy no 9, Lloyd Macklin shot low from the edge of the box and the pace of the ball took in past Bittner at his near post. The game fizzled out after that and Salisbury were able to hang on to register their second consecutive Wiltshire Premier Shield triumph.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game 35: Salisbury City 1.2 Cambridge United (Blue Square Premier) 18.04.09

My original plan for this Saturday’s game was to take a trip up to AFC Aldermaston to visit one of the two remaining Wessex League grounds I haven’t been to. However I had a change of plan after watching Friday night’s live TV clash between Burton and Oxford. Burton only needed a point to confirm their promotion to the Football League but Oxford’s Adam Chapman scored with a sensational free kick in the second half to give the visitors a 1.0 win. This result meant that Cambridge still had an outside opportunity to win the title if they could win their next two games, starting with their visit to Salisbury.

I was expecting a big crowd but was surprised to see some supporters in yellow shirts walking past me in the home end about half an hour before kick off. At first I thought they were some Cambridge fans who had sneaked through but when they turned round I realised that they were in fact some Burton fans who had come down to cheer us on! Cambridge had filled approximately two thirds of the away terrace and set up an enormous “United in Endeavour” banner on the side fencing. Before the game kicked off, James Bittner was awarded the supporter’s player of the year award for his goalkeeping heroics during the season.

Cambridge decided to kick off towards their fans and as expected, the early exchanges were all at the far end. Reason had a shot just wide with Bittner at full stretch while Willmott mishit a header over the bar when he should have scored. Salisbury’s first chance came on 17 minutes when Charlie Griffin found some space on the edge of the penalty area. He ran into the box and took a good shot but Danny Potter managed to stop it with his feet and the ball bounced clear.

Two minutes later Bittner showed why he had won the player of the year award. A great cross into the box was met with a bullet header from Rendell but somehow Bittner managed to push it out with a one-handed save. Rendell got his head to the ball first and I thought he was going to score but his follow up header hit the bar and went out of play. A minute later and it was one nil to the visitors. Cambridge were using the wings well and another cross from the left fell at Rendell’s feet, allowing him to pop the ball in from close range.

Cambridge continued to press but Salisbury started to create some chances. Bolland wrestled Griffin to the ground and following some handbags from both teams, both players were booked for the foul and the bad tempered reaction. From the resulting freekick, Griffin put his shot over. On 33 minutes Salisbury pegged Cambridge back with an equaliser. A freekick from a similar spot found Griffin again – this time it was a ball to his head and he managed to direct it over the Cambridge marker and into the net. This delighted the home supporters who had been frustrated by the whistle happy referee and the number of Cambridge pushes, trips and grapples that the officials were missing.

Griffin had another chance before halftime when a deep ball was sent across the box but he was unable to connect with it. It looked like the Whites were going to make it through to halftime with the scores level when Cambridge took a long goal kick towards the left flank where Parkinson had been left unmarked. He took the ball on, took the defence on and his reward was a second goal for Cambridge – an excellent individual effort.

The referee still had one more opportunity to show his ineptitude before bringing the first half to an end. Ademano was knocked to the ground and the game should have been stopped so he could receive treatment for his head injury. The referee saw what had happened but decided to wave play on until Cambridge were about to go through and score. At that point he decided that as Ademano hadn’t moved, he might need some medical attention so blew his whistle. After the treatment, the referee awarded a drop ball and blew the whistle so both sets of fans could unite in giving him some grief about his poor decisions.

The second half was an anti-climax after all the excitement of the first 45 minutes. Salisbury made a couple of changes to try and contain Cambridge and while this tactic worked well, there were few goal scoring opportunities created. Griffin headed the ball over from Salisbury’s best chance while Cambridge wasted a couple of free kicks. Cambridge almost scored a third just before the end but Salisbury were able to clear the ball off the line before it went over.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Game 34: Fleet Spurs 0.4 Tadley Calleva (WESS 1) 13.04.09

Drove up the motorway to Fleet on a pleasant sunny Bank Holiday afternoon. I had been tempted to take in the 11am kickoff at Farnborough North End but decided on a lie-in instead.

My original plan for my last three Wessex League games had been to take in a game at Fleet on Saturday, Portchester today and Aldermaston on the 18th but I’d missed Saturday’s game due to illness. A quick glance through the fixtures highlighted Portchester have a game against Totton & Eling on the 25th so a new plan was hatched.

I found the ground without a problem and squeezed the car through the narrow barrier before parking up. The ground is open on all sides and there was no-one taking admission or selling programmes. While Tadley didn’t have a good game against Warminster, I was hoping for a better performance from them today against the league’s bottom team

The first half hour didn’t live up to expectation. Both teams were struggling to put passes together or control the ball on the long grass. It was Fleet who had the first real opportunity after 22 minutes – a shot ended up over the bar after a good move down the right. They could have had more chances but their no 9 continually ran through too early and ended up offside.

On 30 minutes Tadley took the lead from a corner. The ball was floated into the box and the Fleet keeper punched it to the edge of the area. A Tadley player saw that the keeper hadn’t recovered his position on the line and chipped the ball over the keeper to find the back of the net.

Four minutes later and it was 2.0 – again from a corner. This time the Fleet keeper made a good save but was still on the ground when a Tadley player ran into the box and planted a strong header over the keeper and into the net. Tadley had all the play now but it was their turn to get the assistant referee busy with offside decisions. Fleet did manage a free kick on target but it was straight at the Tadley keeper who made an easy save.

The second half saw a much better performance from Tadley. They were almost gifted a third goal on 49minutes when a Fleet defender left a slowly moving ball on the edge of the penalty area, anticipating that his keeper would come out and collect it. This allowed a Tadley player to nip in before the keeper could react but his shot was smothered by the keeper and cleared. On 60 minutes a Tadley player hit a shot just over the bar. 2 minutes later and the same player hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area that flew into the top right corner of the net for 3.0.

Fleet didn’t completely capitulate and managed a shot (well wide) and a header over the bar. However there was little pressure on the away goal and it was no surprise when Tadley almost scored a fourth goal on 75 minutes. A low shot beat the keeper but hit the left post and bounced out.

It wasn’t long until Tadley did get their fourth goal. One of their substitutes waltzed though the Fleet defence and only had the keeper to beat as he ran in from the right hand side of the box. The finish wasn’t so clever – a weak shot that was more like a pass but the Fleet keeper had anticipated a stronger shot and the ball bounced off his backside and into the path of a Tadley player running into the centre. The Tadley player now had an open goal so rolled the ball slowly towards the goal, then dived down and headed the ball into the back of a net from 6 inches out. A cheeky goal to wrap up the game – one that will remain in the memory banks for a long while.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Game 33: Totton & Eling 3.1 Amesbury Town (WESS1) 07.04.09

A rare midweek trip for Andy and I outside the Salisbury area, with a trip down the A36 to watch champions elect Totton & Eling with Rob. The last time I visited this ground there was heavy rain throughout the game and tonight threatened more of the same. As the game kicked off I got a call from Amy to let me know she had forgotten to pick up her keys this morning so she was locked out of the house until I got back!

According to the programme, this game had been played earlier in the season but had to be replayed after it transpired that Totton had played an illegible player unknowingly.

Amesbury were almost gifted a goal after quarter of an hour. A Totton defender headed it back with pace towards the goal but away from his keeper, who couldn’t get across to stop the ball. Luckily for Totton, it went just wide of the goal. From the resulting corner, the Totton keeper redeemed himself with an excellent save. This gave Amesbury a bit of confidence and three minutes later they almost took the lead through their own efforts. This time the keeper acrobatically tipped a rising shot from the edge of the penalty area over the bar.

Totton started to dominate the game with some excellent passing and movement around the pitch but the Amesbury goal was leading a charmed life. Several times the Amesbury keeper made some good saves to prevent a goal. Totton had a lot of pace in the team, especially down the left side, which they were using to good effect. In the 40th minute Amesbury gave away a silly freekick with an unnecessary tackle about 30 yards from goal. The resulting freekick was special – from this central position the ball looped over the wall and curved away from the keeper into the top left of the goal to give Totton the lead.

Totton extended their lead two minutes into the second half. The ball was played forward and ended up with an Amesbury defender who was facing towards goal. A Totton striker chased this seemingly lost cause and managed to spook the defender into slicing a clearance up in the air and over the keeper before it bounced down and then up into the top of the net.

On 60 minutes it should have been 3.0. A Totton striker ran through after a long pass that reached the Amesbury keeper on the right hand side of the penalty area first. He spilt the ball up in the air as he slid in which allowed the Totton player to head it forward. The header was a bit strong so he had to cut the ball back to get a decent angle on goal. His touch was poor and this allowed a defender to get back and clear the ball before the striker could hit it into the empty net.

A minute later and Amesbury almost got themselves back in the game with a shot that hit the post. A minute after that and Totton did manage to get a third goal. The ball came in high into the area from a corner and was punched out to the far side. It was then played back to the edge of the area and a Totton player skipped around one challenge before taking a shot towards the players who were still bunched in front of the goal. One of the Totton players put his foot out and deflected it past the keeper and the two defenders nearest the goal-line who were playing him onside.

It took Amesbury another minute to get a deserved goal back. For the first time in the game the Totton defence allowed Amesbury some space on the right of the box and one of their players ran through and hit a shot across the keeper and in.

In the 83rd minute the Totton masterclass in missing goals continued. After a great run from the Totton 10, he dummied both the Amesbury keeper and a defender to dive towards their left as he moved towards the right. Sensing that his onrushing team mate would be in a better position to hit the ball into an empty net, he unselfishly played the ball across only to see his team mate blast the ball over the bar from 8 yards when a low shot would have extended their lead. This sloppiness spread to the defence and Amesbury almost profited just before the end but the shot went narrowly wide.

Game 32: Tadley Calleva 0.3 Warminster Town (WESS1) 04.04.09

It was a beautiful sunny day as I drove up to one of the northern outposts of the Wessex League, Tadley Calleva. I managed to find the ground without too many problems and parked up about 2.40pm. I had a text from Paul to say he would also be joining me but by 3pm (as I was wondering where he had got to) the phone rang. It was Paul – lost in the village having missed the turning for the ground. I gave him some directions just as the game kicked off and hoped he would make it in time to see any goals.

However Warminster had other ideas! On 5 minutes they earnt a freekick on the far side of the penalty area. I was expecting the ball to be crossed high into the box but the opposite happened – a low shot hit towards the near post surprised the keeper as well and Warminster were 1 up. The keeper then launched a tirade at his defenders for not positioning the wall correctly, somehow taking himself out of the equation.

A couple of minutes later Paul arrived – he had been parking the car when he heard the goal go in. His plan to avoid Newbury town centre had worked a little too well as the planned turnoff the A34 didn’t materialise and he had to detour via Whitchurch and back up to Tadley – nightmare!

I hadn’t been too impressed with Warminster when I had seen them at US Portsmouth other than one of their central defenders. They looked a lot sharper today while Tadley looked a pale imitation of the team that had earnt a draw at Amesbury. On 25 minutes they had a good chance from a corner but the header was well saved by the Tadley keeper.

Five minutes later and it was almost 2.0 from another free kick. This time the kick was about 35 yards out in a central position but it was strongly hit with the prevailing wind and smacked off the top of the post with the keeper just watching and praying it wouldn’t go in. He got his wish and the ball was cleared away.

The second half was a similar story of Warminster domination as they started to pass the ball with more confidence. These passing moves opened up a lot of space in the Tadley defence and it was no surprise when Warminster got a second goal after 52 minutes. The ball was played into the centre and the onrushing keeper had little chance when the ball was chipped over him and into the net.

We had noticed a lot of beeps during the first half and the penny finally dropped during the second half as to where this noise was coming from. Each assistant had a bulky wristband on their flag arm and each time they raised their flag, the noise sounded to let the referee know. This system is optional but we found it useful to follow the flow of play and pick up the decisions with our ears.

On 75 minutes the Tadley keeper made another good save to push a Warminster shot out for a corner. The ball was floated to the back of the six yard box and a Warminster player headed it towards goal. It looked like the keeper should save it but the ball deflected off the top of his hands and into the back of the net as he fell backwards.

Paul had been wondering if we would see a Tadley goal attempt during the game. In the last ten minutes they finally managed three decent attempts. The first was a one on one chance to beat the keeper but the shot went wide. The keeper comfortably saved the other two. Warminster continued to press but their final balls were either not good enough to beat the Tadley defence or so good that they evaded both the Tadley defence and the Warminster strike force.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Game 31: Downton 2.0 Amesbury Town (WESS 1) 31.03.09

The original plan was to go to Laverstock v Alton with Alan, as he hasn’t visited Laverstock’s ground before. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it up to Salisbury for the game so Andy and I drove out to Downton for our second visit of the season to Wick Lane. The appeal of this game was the visitors – a local derby against Amesbury.

Amesbury started the game well but Downton were gifted an opportunity to score on 11 minutes when the Amesbury keeper spilt an easy catch and let the ball go out for a corner. Downton played the ball into the centre and the ball was headed into the back of the net. After that the game settled down a bit although the referee was a bit of an enigma with his inconsistent and inaccurate decisions which wound up players from both teams. Amesbury put together some nice passes and moves but lacked the quality to take on the Downton defence and break them down. Too many balls from both teams were just hoofed forward hopefully with little end result. Neither Andy nor I could remember seeing a shot on target other than the goal by the time the referee whistled for halftime.

The second half started in a similar fashion. On 55 minutes Downton put together a good move and one of their players was about to shoot from outside the area when a sliding tackle from the side caught him. Although there were two other Amesbury players in line and running back, the referee decided that this was a goal scoring opportunity and sent the Amesbury player off. There were a few angry shouts from the away bench as a Downton player put the ball on the penalty spot – luckily the referee calmed the situation down by ordering a free kick to be taken from just outside the area. The kick was wasted – a high shot above the penalty box.

Amesbury didn’t seem too fazed by the sending off and put together some more good moves that the Downton defence had to be alert to. On 85 minutes Downton had a corner and forced two superb saves from the Amesbury keeper – one dive to the right to save a shot, one reflex save to the left to stop the rebound from hitting the back of the net. However he was unable to stop a shot a minute later that went through the net from close range. At first it looked like the ball had gone wide as it hit the hoarding at the side but the reaction of the players and the referee confirmed it had gone in.

The last couple of minutes saw a lot of dissent from the Amesbury players towards the crowd, their opponents, the referee and their own teammates. After the referee blew the final whistle, this verbal abuse was continued by one of the Amesbury players. To the surprise of the crowd, the player was shown a red card as he was still on the pitch. It could have been worse but the Amesbury manager was quickly over to order the player into the dressing room.