Monday, August 31, 2009

Game 12: Whitchurch United 3.3 Andover New Street (Wess 1) 31.08.09

While my main aim for the day was to visit AFC Aldermaston for their 3pm game against Fleet Spurs, I wanted to make the most of the bank holiday and found two early kick offs en route. I decided to go to Whitchurch as it kicked off an hour earlier than the game at Tadley Calleva which would give me more time to get to Aldermaston for kickoff.

I left home slightly later than planned - after taking a couple of wrong turns only to find the planned route was blocked by a tractor cutting down a tree I was pleased to arrive at the ground with five minutes to spare before kickoff.

After paying my £4 and discovering no programme had been issued for the game, I wandered round behind the goal that Whitchurch would be attacking during the first half. The weather was overcast and when the teams came out a few minutes after twelve it gave the game a real bank holiday feel!

I was certainly glad to have arrived in time for kick off when Whitchurch scored from their first attack. The ball was played down the left wing and a Whitchurch player ran into the box and took a shot while under pressure from a defender. The rotund Andover New Street keeper managed to get his hands to the ball but couldn't catch it. The ball rebounded out to another Whitchurch player who wellied it into the open net.

The force of the shot was strong enough to loosen the net and the connecting rope behind the goal and the referee asked that the goal was repaired before the game continued. I then realised that the referee had run the line at Chichester a couple of days earlier - it's a small world!

It took a couple of minutes to repair the goal and when play restarted Andover went straight onto the attack. They almost equalised straight away but the goal was disallowed by an assistant's flag waving for offside. In the seventh minute they won a freekick outside the penalty area and lined up to take a shot. The Whitchurch wall was prepared to block the attempt but weren't expecting the taker to pass the ball to a team mate to his right. The ball was hit first time and appeared to take a deflection off a defender to wrong foot the Whitchurch keeper before flying into the back of the net.

The excitement didn't stop there. After the celebrations the referee blew to restart the game. The Whitchurch player receiving the ball decided to try and lob the Andover keeper from the halfway line. The keeper had come a long way out of his 6 yard box and was cursing as he retreated to try and block the ball. He managed to make it to the 6 yard line before jumping up and backwards to make the save, only to see the ball dip over his hand, below the crossbar and in to the back of the net. An outrageous but successful goal attempt!

Whitchurch extended their lead in the 18th minute from the penalty spot. One of their players went down in the box and the referee waved play on only to see an Andover player kick out at his opponent on the ground. This offence was deemed worthy of a penalty. There was a quick discussion with the sideline to decide on the kicker - a good choice was made as the ball was dispatched to the bottom left corner past the keeper's dive. The New Street players complained that some of the Whitchurch team had illegally entered the box before the kick was taken but the referee ignored their protests.

Whitchurch came close to adding a fourth goal in the 25th minute when a shot hit the crossbar and was cleared for a corner. From the corner the Andover keeper had to be alert to tip the ball over the bar from a header. Despite the good save, it wasn't the keeper's day. After half an hour he kicked the ball up field only to collapse in agony and lie prone in the penalty area. After some attention on the pitch it became clear that he couldn't continue and he had to be substituted. It looked like he had torn a muscle in his leg as he hobbled off.

This left Andover with a problem as they didn't have a substitute keeper on the bench. One of their defenders donned the green jersey and they brought on a tall central defender to give themselves a full complement on the pitch. At the time it seemed like an invitation for Whitchurch to push forward and put the new keeper under pressure but they didn't really take the opportunity to test him until just before half time. On this occasion the ball beat the keeper's dive but bounced back off the crossbar to the left side of the box. A Whitchurch player tried to hook it back towards the goal but couldn't get the direction he wanted onto the ball and it was cleared.

Before the second half started I wandered round to the opposite side of the pitch as I felt that it would only be a matter of time before Whitchurch scored again. I'm not sure what was said at half time but Andover started to dominate the midfield and press for another goal. They created a couple of good chances and in the 55th minute managed to reduce the deficit. The ball was played down the left side and the Andover player jinked past the defender and crossed the ball low into the middle. The Whitchurch keeper missed the ball and the Andover player running into the goalmouth poked the ball into the net.

This gave Andover more confidence to press forward and they were unlucky not to equalise 5 minutes later when a shot hit the crossbar and the rebound was too high for the onrushing player to reach before the keeper jumped up and caught it. Whitchurch were sitting back and trying to play deep balls from the back to try and beat the defence with pace. This tactic was ineffective as Andover's sub defender was very capable in the air and was able to head the ball back into the midfield for his team mates to pick up. When Whitchurch were able to bypass this route they had a couple of shots but nothing to trouble the keeper. Andover were using the midfield to switch the ball from side to side and exploit areas with less defensive cover.

This tactic paid off in the 75th minute. The ball was switched from the right side of the halfway line to the left side halfway in the Whitchurch half. The recipient took the ball on, ran through a couple of challenges and then placed a shot past the keeper to equalise.

As in the first half, Whitchurch reacted quickly to an equaliser. They had brought on a young striker and after some buildup play from the kickoff he received the ball 2 yards out from goal. He should have scored but didn't connect properly with the ball which allowed the keeper to tip the first effort back to him. The second effort was struck better but his aim was off and the ball sailed past the post for a goalkick.

In the final minute Andover almost scored again. The ball was played to the left side of the penalty area and the player hit a shot across the goal and just past the right hand post.

Game 13: AFC Aldermaston 0.4 Fleet Spurs (Wess 1) 31.08.09

After leaving Whitchurch I drove up the backroads to Aldermaston although a missed turn just outside Whitchurch that led me towards the A34 caused some confusion! Aldermaston's ground is found in the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment complex. While entrance to the sports ground doesn't need security clearance, discovering the gate to the carpark was locked up was a surprise.

I drove round the roundabout again and headed towards another possible entrance which to my relief was open. This led into a big car park and I was able to park up with 20 minutes to spare before kickoff. After a quick bite to eat, I wandered towards the entrance to the pitch and managed to snag one of last programmes. I was glad that I didn’t go to Tadley as it would have been a shame to miss out on the programme for my last new Wessex League ground.

There are two pitches at Aldermaston and the nearest pitch to the clubhouse was used for the game. The sun had come out and the sky was a gorgeous bright blue. I spent a bit of time reflecting on the grounds that I had visited in the league and the pleasure I've had from watching football at this level. I'm sure that I will be enjoying revisiting some of those grounds again in the future.

Neither of these teams have enjoyed a good start to the season. Looking at the league table in the programme Aldermaston were bottom having lost all their games while Fleet Spurs were three places higher having won one game.

Fleet opened the scoring in the third minute. They won a freekick near the touchline just in front of me and the ball was floated into the penalty area. As players from both teams ran into the box, one of the Fleet players wasn't picked up by his marker and he headed the ball past the keeper.

Fleet almost doubled their lead ten minutes later from a corner. The ball was played in and hit towards goal. One of the Aldermaston players had stayed on the goalline and managed to get in the way of the shot. The ball span backwards off him and looped up in the air before dropping down, bouncing on the top of the crossbar twice and then falling into the top of the netting behind the crossbar.

Aldermaston created a couple of chances and had a good opportunity to equalise from a freekick that went just wide of the post. An even better opportunity was gifted to them by the Fleet keeper in the 35th minute. He took a goalkick but mishit the ball so it didn't travel far and found an Aldermaston player who took a shot towards the unguarded goal. The keeper scrambled back to try and cover the shot but didn't have to worry as the ball flew well wide of the post.

Fleet Spurs had been the better of the two teams in the first half and it was no surprise that they started the second half well. Within a minute of the restart a well executed pass found a Fleet player running into the box. His chip beat the keeper but rebounded off the crossbar and was cleared away.

In the 48th minute Fleet doubled their lead. They spread the ball well to the left wing but when the ball was crossed in it appeared that the Aldermaston keeper would cut it out. He was challenged in the air for the ball by a Fleet player and both of them missed it. This left an open goal for a Fleet player to aim at from the centre of the six yard box and he didn't miss the ball, tapping it into the back of the net.

Fleet Spurs scored again in the 62nd minute with another cross from the left and another unmarked player in the penalty area. On this occasion the keeper didn't come out for the ball and the cross just needed a controlled header which it got. The ball was glanced to the right and bounced down and then up into the side of the net.

In the 72nd minute the visitors added a fourth goal. Their keeper took a freekick following an Aldermaston offside and punted it forward into the Aldermaston half. The ball was headed forward and straight to a Fleet Spurs striker who ran into the box and struck the ball well into the right of the goal.

Fleet were now totally dominant and Aldermaston were often pinned back into their half although to their credit they still attempted to play the ball to feet and switch play from wing to wing. In the 80th minute Fleet were denied a fifth goal by another goalline clearance and in the 85th minute it was the Aldermaston keeper who kept the scoreline down with a superb double save.

The drive home was more straightforward now I had a better understanding of the route, helped by Radio 1's bank holiday takeover with the Wurzels, Status Quo and the Lemonheads replacing the normal chart fodder.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Game 11: Chichester City 1.3 AFC Totton (FA Cup) 29.08.09

Decided to head down the south coast to the FA Cup preliminary round game at Chichester. After wandering round the town centre shops for an hour I wandered up to the far end of North Street and found the ground on the other side of the road.

The clubhouse in the corner of the ground was quite busy as a number of Totton supporters had made the journey across to Sussex, some sporting their pink FA Vase final special shirts from a couple of seasons ago. The sun was shining out occasionally through the clouds and there was a strong breeze across the pitch.

While the teams warmed up I had a read through the programme and found a 4 page insert with a replica programme from 1909 - two programmes for the price of 1! There was a wipeboard on the side of clubhouse and one of the club officials was writing up the lineup's - not just the players but also the managers, assistants, directors of football.

One Totton wag put himself forward as Fan no 1 and asked when the names of the gateman and the PA announcer would appear. He might have been waiting a while as there was no PA at the ground! It was interesting to note that seven substitutes are now permitted in FA Cup games to fit in with the Premier League. While Totton were able to field seven alternatives, Chichester stuck with the regular five.

I decided to watch the first half in the shelter of the terraced stand to get some protection from the wind. Before the game kicked off there was a one minute silence but there was no indication of who it was for in the programme. I was later advised that it was for one of the league's stalwarts who had recently passed away. If anyone complains about the younger generation having no respect, I'd point them towards the group of elderly men in the corner of the stand who continued their loud discussions throughout this period of contemplation.

Totton play in the Southern League which is one step higher than Chichester who play in the Sussex County League. This difference was soon evident when Totton took the game to Chichester and forced five corners in a row in the first three minutes. None of these corners led to a goal thanks to some well timed defensive clearances and an acrobatic save from the Chichester keeper to push one shot over the crossbar.

It was no surprise when the first goal came early but it was a surprise to see the home team score in the 9th minute against the run of play. The ball was played into the box and deflected kindly off a defender into the path of a Chichester player on the right side of the penalty area. He took the ball into the box, held off a challenge and put his shot past the keeper.

Two minutes later and the home team should have scored again. On this occasion Totton were caught napping at the back and didn't mark all of the Chichester players in the box. A good cross found one unmarked player who headed the ball on target but straight at the keeper who had taken his position in front of him. It was one of those chances where if the ball had gone to either side, the keeper wouldn't have been able to stop it.

Totton continued to put pressure on the Chichester back line and this paid off in the 16th minute. A Chichester player lost possession in midfield and the Totton player who won the ball used his pace to push the ball forward, run it into the box and take a low shot that skimmed past the keeper and in. A goal from nothing to the disappointment of the home fans.

The rest of the half was mainly Totton pressure but they were unable to convert the chances that they created, not helping themselves by committing a number of fouls in the home team's penalty area. Chichester were restricted to occasional counter-attacks but almost retook the lead just before half time. One of their players took the ball through the Totton defence and just had the keeper to beat. He delayed his shot which allowed the keeper to advance and smother the shot. The ball skidded to the right and was pushed out for a corner.

Just before half time there was an unsavoury incident as the Totton goalscorer took out some frustration on the home keeper. Both players were challenging for a low through pass and when the striker left his boot in and caught the Chichester keeper when he had time to avoid the collision. The referee agreed as he booked the forward but there were some arguments between the supporters to my right as to who was at fault.

During the half time interval I wandered around the pitch as the wind had died down a little and the sun had come out. A number of supporters headed for the bar in the clubhouse and took their time over their drinks which meant that they missed the next goal.

In the first minute of the half, a Totton player hit a long high ball forward and the Chichester keeper decided that he would act as the sweeper by running out of the box and heading the ball away. It turned out to be a poor decision as he miscalculated the flight of the ball and missed his header completely. The ball sailed past him and allowed a Totton player to run past him, collect the ball and pass it into the back of the net.

Totton increased their lead in the 60th minute from a corner. When the ball was cleared, it fell to the edge of the box and a Totton player connected with a great half volley. It was one of those rare occasions where I was inline with the shot and the goalmouth and could see it was going to hit the target before the ball had reached the goal. The keeper had no chance to reach it and the Totton player celebrated his hat-trick.

Totton were now well in control of the game and started to play some good pass and move triangles to keep possession and wear down their opponents. The assistant referee nearest me commented that with the sun out the windscreens of the cars behind the far touchline were causing a problem as the glare from the sun was in his eyeline. I suggested that he went with the colour of the car which may not have helped that much as there weren't any blue or white coloured cars in that section! I had to agree with his comment that the game had got scrappy towards the end and a couple of players were booked as the referee lost his patience with some repeat offenders.

This was Chichester's first defeat of the season but on this showing against higher league opposition they should have a good campaign.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Game 10: Dulwich Hamlet 1.1 Leatherhead (Ryman Division 1 South) 22.08.09

After spotting that there is a Bank Holiday double header with Tadley Calleva (1pm kick off) and AFC Aldermaston (3pm kick off), decided to make the most of the discounted SWT trainfares and head into London to catch another match. After some deliberation over the backpage fixtures in the Non League Paper, decided to head to East Dulwich to watch Dulwich Hamlet play Leatherhead.

Looking at Googlemaps, the ground seemed to be fairly close to the railway station and so it proved to be. After turning left and walking up a shallow hill I took another left turn towards Sainsbury's and found the ground was signposted straight ahead. The main entrance is next door to the supermarket while the turnstile entrance was next to a busy carwash. It reminded me of the changes at Weymouth and Dorchester where sale and redevelopment of land by supermarkets had paid for the development of a new ground.

I hadn't realised that Dulwich Hamlet had been a supplier of players to the full England team until I spotted a blue plaque on the wall commemorating Edgar Kail who was the last English nonleague player to represent his country back in the 1920's. It was good to see that the locals hadn't forgotten the man who only ever played domestically for his hometown club.

When the two teams came out I realised that this would be a first for me as I hadn't seen a team wearing a pink and black strip before. I also spotted one familiar face in the away team line up in Craig Bradshaw who used to play for Portsmouth and Dorchester.

Dulwich took the lead after 7 minutes when they won a corner. The ball was played with pace towards the near post and when a defender failed to clear the ball a scrambled shot was hit across the goal, past the keeper and in.

Neither team found it easy to get past the opposition's defence and there were few efforts on target. I was impressed with the Dulwich central defensive pairing who looked organised and committed to winning everything in the air. Dulwich preferred to play the ball around at the back and then launch longballs to their pacy forwards while Leatherhead preferred to push the ball into midfield to try and break down the Dulwich backline with runs.

Both teams had a banner behind the goal their team was attacking - Leatherhead opting for the traditional St George's flag and team name combo while Dulwich had a black-pink-black striped affair with "Up the Hamlet" in white lettering across it. Both of these banners were small fry in comparison with a huge banner being towed across the sky by a helicopter. The banner read "There's only one Freddie Flintoff" along with an advert for a deodorant company. Freddie wasn't on the pitch at Champion Hill - the England cricket team were playing the final Test of this year's Ashes series at the nearby Oval ground which will be Flintoff's last Test Match.

While Leatherhead had most of the possession it was Dulwich who came closest to scoring again in the 30th minute. A cross came in from the right and found a Dulwich head in the centre of the box, only for the ball to fly wide of the post. In the 37th minute Leatherhead also came close to scoring from a header. This time a close range header directly at the keeper was pushed up in the air and over the crossbar.

Leatherhead had won a number of corners that had amounted to little during the first half but this corner almost led to a goal - but for the opposition! When the corner came in it was cleared quickly and Dulwich took the ball to the other end of the pitch. Rather than play it into the box the player on the ball decided to hit a dipping shot to the far corner which Bradshaw managed to get his hands to and push it wide for a corner.

Both sets of players were vocal in encouraging, supporting and discussing play with their colleagues and the ball control and first touches displayed were much better than the majority of Wessex League teams. During the half time break I wandered back to the main stand seats to rest my feet and catch up with the scores from around the country. It was interesting to hear the announcer plug the club's 1893 club which apparently puts all proceeds towards the running of the club and then criticise the supporter's trust for running a similar scheme where the proceeds sit in a bank account. It certainly seemed to contradict the idea of cultivating good relations with your supporters!

Leatherhead started the second half brightly. In the first minute they earnt a corner after a header was well saved by the Dulwich keeper. The corner looked to have been played too long as it sailed over the penalty area but it was picked up by a Leatherhead player. He moved the ball into the box only to see a teammate beat the offside trap but put his shot well over the bar as he stretched to try and reach the ball.

Dulwich had a few attacks down the left hand side and managed to move the ball into the box on several occasions but couldn't find an end product. In the 65th minute they came close to adding to their lead. A great low shot had Bradshaw scrambling across his goal and he managed to get a hand in front of the ball to push it out. The ball zoomed out to the left hand of the box, giving a Dulwich player an opportunity to pass it into an open net. At the last moment a Leatherhead defender got back to put pressure onto him and the ball was hit wide.

Dulwich lost their influential central defender to an injury after 76 minutes and I wondered if that might give Leatherhead an opportunity to get back into the game. A minute later and they almost did from a corner. The ball was hit high to the backpost and the substitute didn't react quick enough to the danger allowing a Leatherhead player to head the ball on target. Luckily for the home team their keeper made a great reflex save to prevent the goal. The vocal Leatherhead fans behind the goal continued to get behind their team and make a lot of noise to show their support.

While the ball spent most of its time in the Dulwich half, the home team were able to clear their lines occasionally and from one of these clearances they should have been awarded a last minute penalty. As a Dulwich player ran into the box he was shoulder to shoulder with a Leatherhead player who tussled with him and clearly fouled the Dulwich player, bringing him to the ground inside the area. Despite being well positioned, the referee decided to ignore this foul and waved play on. It was now the turn of the home fans to be vocal and they were not happy!

Dulwich managed to create more chances in the last couple of minutes of injury time then they had during the rest of the half. They won the ball and held it up in the far corner before some good dribbling saw the ball on the edge of the 6 yard area with only the well postioned keeper to beat. Instead of playing a cross into the box to see if the ball could be deflected in the player paused and this allowed Leatherhead's keeper to win the ball. The ball was played up the pitch and Dulwich gave away a foul on the halfway line.

All of the Leatherhead players went into the penalty area apart from their keeper who was to take the free kick. It was now or never time as there were only seconds left to play. The keeper lofted the ball to the right of the area and for what seemed to be the first time in the game the ball was headed towards goal by a Leatherhead player rather than out of danger. The header was well placed down and flew across the goalmouth, over the line and into the side netting for the equaliser. The Leatherhead supporters went crazy and rushed down to the pitchside barrier to celebrate with their team.

The equaliser came with the last meaningful touch of the game. The referee blew for the restart and as soon as the ball was kicked blew again to signify the end of the game.