Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Game 19: Downton 1.1 Christchurch (aet) 5.6 (pens) (Wessex League Cup) 29.09.09

Decided to head over to Downton with Andy this evening for a Wessex League game against their higher league opponents Christchurch. Arrived at the ground in good time and had a browse through the programme. Andy was concerned for my well being – no jumper to keep out the cold – but I thought I’d be fine with a shirt and jacket. Downton were without their regular keeper Colin Hopkins and their manager was concerned that they might struggle without him and a couple of other regular players.

I had been disappointed with Christchurch when I saw them against Bemerton earlier in the season but their start to the game was good, putting Downton under pressure right from the kick off. After 9 minutes they took the lead. The ball was played long through a gap in the defence and a Christchurch player beat the offside flag, took the ball on. The Downton keeper had started to come for the ball and now found himself stranded and struggling to get back into position. He wasn’t able to get down to stop a low shot from flying past him and into the net.

The referee seemed rather particular and gave out three yellow cards for tackles and verbal questioning of his abilities before the next clear cut chance in the 23rd minute. Christchurch worked the ball to the edge of the box and a cross was fired into a crowded penalty area. It looked like one of the waiting forwards would connect with it but it went past all of them and ended up just wide of the far post.

Downton hadn’t offered too much going forwards but came close to an equaliser on the half hour. Kevin Thick dribbled to the edge of the box and then cut the ball back, beating two defenders in the process. He then fired in a shot on target but it was straight at the goalkeeper. A minute later and Downton were back in the game when a long range shot from the left of the area flew towards goal and bounced up and over the keeper. This gave the home team some confidence and they created another chance a couple of minutes later but the shot didn’t test the keeper.

The second half saw some controversy as two goals were disallowed in quick succession. The first “goal” was a close range header from a corner for the home team in the 60th minute. It was disallowed for a foul and the referee had blown just after the header so there weren’t too many complaints. Three minutes later and Christchurch put the ball into the net from a free kick that was taken long towards the penalty area. The ball was flicked on and then hit past the keeper. Both teams had got ready to start the game again and the Downton players were in the centre circle with the ball at their feet. The referee suddenly walked over to his assistant on the near side and after a brief conversation awarded Downton a freekick for what we assumed was an offside. No flag had been put up at the time and understandably the visiting team were furious with the delayed decision.

It looked like the game would be heading to extra time as wave after wave of Christchurch attacks were cleared by a tiring Downton team. In the last minute of the game, the ball was played into the Christchurch area and the Downton recipient went to ground. The referee decided that this was due to a tackle from his marker and pointed to the spot. After a bit of a delay, the penalty was taken and was hit low to the bottom right corner. The keeper guessed the right way and made an excellent save to push the ball towards the far touchline. There was still time for another penalty appeal, this time for handball, but the referee didn’t give it and continued to mystify both sets of supporters with his decision making.

The first half of extra time continued with the same pattern of Christchurch dominating possession but not being able to convert that into chances. In the 95th minute they had a corner and took a shot that hit a Downton defender and winded him. He collapsed on the goalline but instead of putting the ball out, Christchurch played it back into the penalty area and took another shot. The player who had gone down had managed to lift himself up using the post and was trying to get off the pitch when this second shot hit him. The shot would have beaten the keeper so it was a good job he was able to get up again to clear the ball!

There were no clear chances in the second half and while Downton came under a lot of pressure they worked hard and kept the visitors out. So the match then moved to a penalty shoot out. All the players moved to the centre circle and Christchurch prepared to take the first kick. To our surprise the Downton keeper chose to go to the right and managed to save the low shot to give the home team a boost! The scoring went as follows 0.0, 1.0, 1.1, 2.1,2.2,3.2,3.3 as each player put his penalty on target. Downton then missed their next penalty – the ball was hit high to the left and bounced down off the crossbar without crossing the line. Both of the final regular penalties were scored so we went into a sudden death shoot out at 4.4. The scoring then went 4.5, 5.5, 5.6 before a Downton player put the ball wide of the right post to send Christchurch through to the next round.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Game 18: Welton Rovers 1.2 Dawlish Town (Western Prem) 26.09.09

Frome Carnival isn't well advertised in South Wiltshire. So when I left home to drive up to Radstock through Frome I wasn't aware that there was a road closure and diversion in place to avoid the afternoon's parade. When I got to Frome I still wasn't aware where to go as the diversion signs weren't clear and it wasn't until I got stuck in a traffic jam with 20 minutes to go that I realised that there was no way I would make kick off in time. After following some locals down an alternative route I managed to get back onto the main road and continued my drive to Radstock, arriving at Welton's ground at 3.10.

I had contemplated giving up and heading home but I thought that with a bit of luck there wouldn't have been any goals. When I drove up to the gate I asked what the score was (as the pitch was in view from the carpark) and the chap was about to answer when he said "hang on". I looked to my left and saw the ball up in the air by the goalmouth, followed by the players heading back to the centre circle. "That's 1.1" he said, "Dawlish have just equalised". The curses I was saying in my head shall remain there!

From the match report I read in the Non League paper, Welton scored after 2 minutes and had some good chances to extend the lead before Dawlish equalised. So having kind of seen the second goal I was anxious to see at least one more before the end of the game. It looked like my wait might not be too long as Welton put a shot just wide of the keeper in the 14th minute but as time went on I started to worry. Welton had another shot straight at the keeper after half an hour but both teams didn't really create any decent chances for the rest of the half.

During the interval I had a read of the programme that one of the gatemen had kindly offered me after I explained that they had sold out at the main gate. The ground was in a nice setting with the Somerset hills in the background although I was surprised to see a slag heap to the left. I hadn't realised that this was an old mining area. The ground had a distinct slope and the main stand was rather dilapidated - half of it was crumbling and the other half looked like it hadn't been maintained for many years.

In the second half both teams hit the woodwork on more than one occasion. In the 49th minute Welton took a shot from the edge of the box that rebounded out of the edge of the post with the keeper beaten. There were a number of heavy sliding tackles that pleased the home supporters when it was their players making them. When the players from Dawlish (who didn't possess the "balls of steel" referred to by one local) produced the same type of tackle the supporters were baying for blood.

There was a rare Dawlish attack in the 70th minute that seemed to be going nowhere. The ball had been played into the box but the player was surrounded by 3 Welton players who were protecting their goal. One of them jumped in to make a tackle but only succeeded in bring the Dawlish player to the ground. The referee awarded a penalty which was converted to my delight as I had started to worry that there wouldn't be any goals in the second half.

Welton continued to dominate play and made some good chances to score. In the 75th minute they put a header just wide from a corner and five minutes later managed to hit a corner over the keeper's head and onto the top of the crossbar. Dawlish had almost scored again between those chances when a Welton defender had slipped, allowing Dawlish in for a one on one against the keeper. The player got a shot away but the ball hit the post and went out for a goalkick.

The game was now flowing from end to end. In the 80th minute the Dawlish keeper ran out of his area to clear the ball and hit it short - Welton regained possession but put the shot wide as the keeper scrambled back. Three minutes later and Dawlish were unlucky not to extend their lead. A shot hit the crossbar and bounced down, hitting the body of the diving keeper. Luckily for Welton it was not enough for the ball to roll back across the line and they managed to clear it.

In the last minute Welton earnt another corner. The ball was hit deep and headed back into the centre, where a Welton player headed the cross against the crossbar and another player headed the rebound onto the bar again. The ball bounced back to the first player who chose to shoot but he couldn't get the ball past the bodies on the line. The referee blew the final whistle and the locals decided it was their turn to hit the bar. I wandered back to the car and planned a route home to avoid any carnival traffic!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Game 17: Salisbury City 1.1 Chester City (Blue Square Prem) 22.09.09

Decided to head up to the Ray Mac for the visit of former league club Chester City this evening. Like Salisbury, Chester have been deducted points for financial reasons this season although their offences meant that they eventually started the season with 25 points to win before they hit the 0 point mark. It was also an opportunity to see Greg Blundell – infamous from the post match pub conversations with his near namesake Gary Blundell.

The first half didn’t offer too much in the way of excitement until James Bittner decided to spice things up by hitting his clearances short. After the first one went out for a throw, he decided to boot it up the pitch again to allow some time to get back in goal before the throw could be taken. This didn’t go down too well with the visitors and he was lucky just to get a warning from the referee. The second one allowed Blundell to bring the ball forward but he was dispossessed by the defence close to the penalty area and was unlucky not to get a freekick.

The game then turned into an end to end encounter – Salisbury hit a freekick into the wall, Chester’s Luke Chadwick (ex Everton) almost got onto a cross, Flood had a shot just wide for Salisbury and Chadwick ran in after a defensive slip but couldn’t beat Bittner at the near post from the acute angle. In the 30th minute it looked like Salisbury would score from a great header which looked to be going into the top centre of the goal until the Chester keeper appeared from nowhere and tipped the ball over the bar.

There were a few more half chances for both teams but nothing to really test the goalkeepers. Tubbs was cynically fouled on the halfway line as he was beginning to start a run on the Chester defence and Clohessy put a shot out of the ground following some good build up play down the left side.

The second half was a similar story. Both teams were creating half chances and Salisbury came very close to a goal in the 60th minute when Tubbs took the ball past the keeper from a cross but took too long to take a shot and the ball was cleared off the line by a defender’s header. One key chance to the second half was the way that the Salisbury team were spreading the play and using both wings to try and break down the Chester defence. The players didn’t have the confidence to take on the defence though and the balls were being hit into the area were hit forward rather than backwards which made it easy for the Chester keeper.

Given the distances involved and the costs of segregation there were a few Chester supporters to our left and one of them was becoming more and more agitated as his team weren’t performing as expected. Sinclair and Tubbs both had shots just wide and it only seemed like a matter of time before Salisbury would score. In the 78th minute there was a goal but it was very much against the run of play. Another long kick from the Chester keeper was headed to the right and found Blundell. He played the ball into Wilkinson who put a shot from the right side of the box past Bittner and into the back of the net.

Salisbury were not behind for long. Four minutes later they won a corner and the ball was played high into the goalmouth. The Chester keeper went up with Danny Webb and didn’t collect the ball, allowing Sean Clohessy to bundle it into the net. Matt Tubbs tried to take the ball out of the net to get the game restarted again and in turn provoked a couple of Chester players which led to a nasty altercation. The Chester keeper hurt himself in the process of trying to clear the ball and had to be substituted which led to 6 minutes of injury time. In the final seconds it looked like Salisbury had won the game when Darryl Clarke shot past the keeper but this final kick of the game was disallowed for offside.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Game 16: Sherborne Town 0.5 Bishop Sutton (FA Vase) 19.09.09

Up until Friday night my plan for the day was to head down to Swanage for their match against Plymouth Parkway. When I saw the BBC weather forecast was for heavy rain I had a rethink and decided to head to the East Somerset Railway, followed by the match at Shepton Mallet. This would have been fine if I had woken up in time but I didn't so it was time for plan C. I was tempted to join Andy and Paul at Bemerton but decided to make the most of the day and go to a new ground in the Western League.

After doing some research settled on Sherborne Town as it wasn't too far to travel and Google Maps showed that there was a stand for shelter if needed. I considered catching the train as it's quicker than driving but I was nervous about only having half an hour to find the ground from the station and the suggested route appeared to take me onto a major road with no pavements. With that in mind I set off down the A30, past Shaftesbury's ground and on to Sherborne.

When I arrived I found a big carpark and a sign advertising the day's game - shame about the verses instead of versus! The BBC weather forecast had got it wrong as there no sign of any rain and it was warm enough to be wearing a short sleeve shirt. After paying the £5 entrance and an additional £1 for an excellent all colour programme I wandered over to the far side of the ground. The two teams were warming up and the teamlist was available on a board near the entrance to the ground.

This part of the ground was elevated and had a good view of the farmland behind the ground. As the teams came out you could hear the churchbells ringing from the town and that certainly added to the picturesque setting. After the obligatory handshakes, there was a one minute silence and the teams then prepared for kick off. While Bishop Sutton's players were ready to go, the Sherborne players were still in a huddle with their manager. This continued for a minute or so and after some gesturing from the away bench the referee had to intervene to get the game started.

The first half seemed to be a contest in who could play the worst. Bishop Sutton were finding some openings down the right hand wing but weren't able to create a goal scoring opportunity from them. There was one superb dribble through a crowd of defenders but as the keeper prepared for a shot the player decided that an underhit pass to a team mate marked by two players would be a good idea. Sherborne seemed lacking in ideas and the ability to control the ball. Too often passes were under or overhit and on the rare occasion that they did get to a Sherborne player, a heavy first touch meant that they were under pressure to keep the ball.

By the 40th minute I was starting to despair at seeing any goals as neither team had a meaningful attempt on goal. Bishop Sutton played a high hopeful ball into the penalty area for one of their strikers to chase. The ball bounced up into the air and it looked like the covering defender would head it out for a corner. However he mistimed his header and instead of his head, he used his hand to knock the ball down. There was no real explanation for this and it was punished as the referee saw it and gave a penalty.

Once the protests had subsided the kick was ready to be taken until the referee noticed that one of the Bishop Sutton players was so keen to follow up the ball he was inside the penalty area. The player decided to argue with the referee about his position and one of his team mates had to run in and pull him back outside the box before he got into trouble. When the penalty was taken the player put his kick low to the left while the keeper dived low to the right. The first attempt on target and the first goal!

Bishop Sutton were unlucky not to be awarded a second penalty five minutes into the second half. One of their players appeared to be held back by his shirt in the box but still managed to get a shot on target, the keeper this time in the right place to push it wide for a corner.

This didn't matter as two minutes later they extended their lead. Sherborne lost the ball in midfield and Bishop Sutton broke down the left wing. The ball was delivered to the back post allowing an unmarked player to volley it into the top right of the net.

After 60 minutes Bishop Sutton scored again from a Sherborne error. This time one of the Sherborne players overran the ball and lost control on the left of midfield. A Bishop Sutton picked up the ball, pushed it forward and then hit a chip from 30 yards over the keeper and in.

Sherborne were finding it difficult to get past the Bishop Sutton defenders and were not helped by the assistant referee on the far side. On several occasions the ball was played over the defensive line for one of the Sherborne attackers to chase down. The Sherborne players had the pace to do this but even when they started running a yard in front of the defence when the ball was played, the assistant flagged for offside.

In the 82nd minute Sherborne created their best chance of the game. The ball was crossed into the penalty area and for the first time all afternoon there was only one Bishop Sutton defender to cover the area. The Sherborne player ran forward to take the ball on and then back heeled it for a team mate who was arriving in the box. If only the execution was as good as the set up - instead of keeping the ball low and on target the player hit his shot well over the bar.

Bishop Sutton were unlucky not to score a fourth goal in the 84th minute after one of their players found some space in the box and hit a shot from an acute angle against the near post. The ball was cleared out to the right hand side and then crossed into to an unmarked player on the left of the penalty area. He slid in to take a shot which was saved but the keeper couldn't hang onto the ball and pushed it back out. The player got up off the floor and hit a second shot over the keeper and in.

In the final minute Bishop Sutton scored again from a defensive error in the Sherborne penalty area. This time the defender went to head a cross from the right near the D and completely missed the ball. The ball then fell kindly for a Bishop Sutton player who hit an excellent volley up and into the top left corner.

Having expected to see a 0.0 game before the penalty, I was pleased that the second half play had improved. Texts from Andy and Paul confirmed that I hadn't missed much at Bemerton - a 1.0 win for the home team. Checking the FA site later in the evening I noticed that Swanage had earnt a replay after a 1.1 draw and Shepton Mallet had lost 2.0 so my late choice had proved to be a good one. I also found out that Sherborne's manager resigned after the game so not a good day for his former club.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Game 15: Amesbury Town 1.2 Milton United (FA Vase) 05.09.09

With England playing Slovenia this evening and the potential for a drawn game and extra time, I decided to stay local with my choice of FA Vase games and went to Amesbury's first home game of the season against Milton United from the Hellenic League.

When I arrived I found that Milton's coach was parked in the usual spaces so I had to drive further down towards the ground. The weather was overcast and although there wasn't much wind it looked like it could rain at any time. While the two teams warmed up on the grass behind the pitch I had a read through the excellent Amesbury programme. While the programme said that there would be no extra time the tannoy announcer corrected this statement and confirmed it would extra time and then a replay if scores were level.

As the game kicked off it started to rain. Luckily the wind was blowing the precipitation away from my face so my glasses didn't get covered in water. The rain was fairly light so I remained in my spot on the near touchline but I was ready to wander round to the main stand if it became heavier.

Amesbury took the lead after 7 minutes from a long kick out by the keeper. The ball was headed on and an Amesbury striker picked it up and placed a shot to the right side of the goal past the keeper.

It took another 7 minutes for Milton to equalise. The ball was played down the right wing and then into the penalty area. There were three Amesbury players hustling one Milton player to try and win the ball off him but none of them were successful and the Milton player was able to place his shot under the keeper.

Milton had a couple of quick forwards and they tried to keep on the shoulder of the Amesbury backline before chasing long balls from the back into the space ahead of the keeper. When they won free kicks this strategy changed. Instead of playing a long ball up to the front they played short balls sideways to a team mate and started to build from the back again.

The play was end to end and Milton were unfortunate in the 16th minute that the referee didn't allow an advantage after a foul on the halfway line as their player was racing in on goal as the referee blew the whistle to bring play back.

Amesbury were also unlucky in the 20th minute. The ball was played across to the right and just as an unmarked Amesbury player was about to hit a shot past the keeper a defender slid in with a perfectly timed challenge to block the shot. In the 28th minute Amesbury almost took the lead again when most of the players missed a corner, allowing a shot towards the far post that the Milton keeper managed to get down to and push around the post.

There were a couple of late challenges on Milton players and the referee had no choice in the 35th minute to book an Amesbury central defender for a scything tackle that brought a Milton player to the ground.

The same two players were involved in a similar challenge in the 43rd minute with the same outcome. After showing the second yellow card, the referee pulled out the red card but the Amesbury player was already walking off the pitch. The ball was played into the area from the resulting freekick and cleared out.

The Amesbury players moved up the pitch quickly and as a Milton defender pumped a through ball back up the field it looked like there were 3 Milton players in an offside position. One of the players had moved forward from an onside position and took the ball into the penalty area. While the Amesbury players appealed for offside play continued as the run had been well timed and the assistant kept his flag down. The keeper came off his line and although he managed to stop the first shot, the ball bounced back off the Milton player and allowed him to tap in the second goal for the visitors.

After the excitement of the last couple of minutes of the first half, the second half was an anti-climax. Milton didn't press home their man advantage and it was Amesbury who kept possession and dominated periods of play. In the 60th minute a long ball down the left found an Amesbury player. He cut inside and took the ball round a couple of Milton players before hitting a good shot that the keeper saved. Amesbury forced a number of corners but didn't manage to get any headers on target.

Amesbury made a couple of attacking substitutions although one wasn't popular with a couple of players on the side furthest from the dugouts as they felt the player who went off was playing well. The best chance of the half fell to Amesbury in the 83rd minute. They pressed down the left side and their lively striker took possession of the ball towards the penalty area. He managed to work some space and took aim. The shot beat the defenders, beat the keeper but cracked into the post and the ball came straight back into play.

Milton had a couple of half chances in the final minutes but didn't exploit the space at the back that Amesbury left as they pushed forward for an equaliser. The sending off changed the course of the game and as the referee blew the final whistle I wondered whether Amesbury would have got through if they had kept all the players on the pitch.