Saturday, February 27, 2010

Game 43: Salisbury City 1.1 Wrexham (Blue Sq Prem) 27.02.10

With a lot of rain during the week and heavy rain forecast for Saturday afternoon I decided against travelling up to the FA Vase quarter final at Needham Market as the train I would have to catch would leave before the pitch inspection and there were no alternative fixtures locally if it was called off after I arrived. A quick check at lunchtime revealed that the Western, Wessex and Ridgeons Leagues were suffering from postponements but the game between Needham Market and Wroxham had survived the weather!

With limited options in the local leagues, I decided to head up to the Ray Mac to watch the Whites take on Wrexham. The earlier rain had passed over and there was some sunshine as I drove up to the ground.

The first half started fairly quietly and the game had more of a pre-season feel to it. Salisbury had some injury problems in defence and Chris Bush made his first start in the centre with Patrick Cox. Wrexham had the best of the early exchanges and had one free kick narrowly over the bar. Salisbury had a brief flourish in the 14th minute when Matt Tubbs put a curling volley just over the bar from a Clohessy cross from the right wing.

The ball was soon at the other end and Wrexham were unlucky not to take the lead in the 16th minute. The ball was played into the near post from a corner and hit the post. The ball was cleared temporarily before being struck past Bittner and bouncing into the net but this effort was disallowed for offside.

In the 18th minute the lively Holden beat the offside trap and ran into the box where he was met by Bittner coming off his line. Holden got to the ball first and put a chip over Bittner's outstretched arms but past the post. Salisbury had a couple of chances after that with a header and a close range shot but both were hit straight at the goalkeeper.

Rob Sinclair made a trademark driving run through the centre of midfield on the half hour but looked to have overstretched when he passed the ball. He fell to the floor and had to be helped off as he was unable to walk unassisted. Stuart Anderson came on to replace him as it looked like a nasty injury.

Wrexham came close again to breaking the deadlock in the 32nd minute. The ball was worked out well to the right hand of the Salisbury penalty area and then crossed low into the centre. Andy Mangan had made a great run and pulled away from his marker only to see the ball fly through the crowd of players and end up just behind him.

Salisbury had a better start to the second half. In the 48th minute Tubbs ran onto a long throughball and took it past the Wrexham keeper but in doing so had to play the ball to the far left of the penalty area. He brought the ball under control and played a controlled chip looking to get the ball past the covering man on the line but the ball was headed away. The game seemed to settle down after that and both teams created some half chances but no clear cut scoring opportunities.

Wrexham finally got the break their approach play deserved in the 68th minute. The ball was played forward into the box from the right wing and looked to get a flick on past the defence. This allowed Wrexham's Christian Smith to run in on the far side and deflect the ball past Bittner into the net. A minute later and Salisbury were correctly reduced to ten men. Mangan had the beating of Cox as both players turned to chase down a throughball so Cox grabbed his shirt and pulled him back. The referee spotted this and had no choice but to send him off.

Wrexham should have extended their lead three minutes later. Holden played a superb cross from the left to an unmarked Mangan but from a few yards out his header flew over the bar. A really bad miss and one that gave Salisbury some hope of getting something from the game. In the 81st minute Adelsbury belted a shot from nearly 40 yards that flew over the defence and the goalkeeper but finished up wide of the post. If it had gone in it would have been in my top 10 nonleague goals of all time!

In the 88th minute Chris Flood ran into the box to chase a throughball and was brought down when defender Obeng tried to clear the ball and got the man instead. Matt Tubbs stepped up and beat the keeper from the penalty spot to give Salisbury a chance of a point that seemed unlikely twenty minutes before. The Whites managed to hold on against some belated attacking football from Wrexham through the 5 minutes of injury time to get the draw.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Game 42: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 1.2 Poole Town (WESS PREM) 20.02.10

This was one of the first fixtures I put in the calendar at the start of the season and not even an FA Trophy quarter final up at the Ray Mac was going to tempt me away. Must be something with being Poole born and Salisbury bred!

I arrived at the ground around 2.30 and wandered over to the usual spot on the terrace. By 3.00 the ground was fairly busy as Poole had brought a number of supporters up from Dorset. They didn't have long to wait to start celebrating. Bemerton lost the ball from kick off and it was worked out to the right wing channel and a Poole player got to the ball, evaded a challenge and put a superb cross into the box. The finish was equally as good, an effort with pace from 8 yards out from Preston that gave the keeper no chance.

It took Bemerton around ten minutes to settle down and create some chances. The first came on 9 minutes when a clever dribble set up a less than clever shot that flew wide. A couple of minutes later and a good cross into the box found an unmarked Bemerton player but he blazed his shot well over the crossbar. Before the game a couple of spectators near me stated that the referee was a stickler for the rules and he did seem a bit over officious when booking a Bemerton player for throwing the ball to (not away from!) a Poole player to let them take a freekick.

Now the game was ebbing and flowing from end to end. Bemerton hit another shot over the bar and almost over the mature conifer trees! Poole's 10 looked in pain as he overstretched for a ball and he stayed down for a minute or so while play continued. By not moving, he was in a good position to block a defender when the ball was played back over to the side nearest to us but the referee ignored the protests after the ball was cleared.

In the 25th minute Bemerton's keeper kept them in the game with a great low dive to deflect a header wide of the post. Bemerton created more chances but too often the final effort was taken in a hurry and flew well wide or over the frame of the goal. As it started to rain Bemerton gave the ball away in midfield and Poole were quick to try and take advantage. The midfielder ran into the box unchallenged but his shot was well saved by the Bemerton keeper. In the 40th minute a shot from outside the Bemerton box looked to be going in until the keeper managed to get his hands to the ball and pushed it wide for a corner.

While this corner was cleared, the keeper's luck changed in the 43rd minute. Poole had been playing some great through balls into channels for players to run into and a long ball was flicked into the area. It was picked up by a Poole player who volleyed the ball with pace into the top right corner, giving the keeper no chance again to make a save. Bemerton had a good opportunity before the break to pull a goal back when Sanger flicked his boot out and deflected a cross just wide.

There was even time for a Poole goal to be disallowed in injury time when the goalkeeper came out and grabbed the ball at the feet of a forward. The forward kicked the ball out of his hands and put it into the net but the referee decided that the ball had been under the keeper's control. From my angle this looked like the right call but it infuriated one Poole supporter who marched along the touchline and screamed in frustration at the referee that his assistant on the near side who had a better view hadn't waved for a foul.

As the teams came out for the second half the rain began to get heavier. If Poole had been aggrieved by the lack of a flag from an assistant at the end of the first half, they would have been consoled by a flag in the 51st minute that gave them a penalty. A Bemerton player was running with the ball towards his goal and played a backpass while in the area. As the keeper went to clear the ball, a Poole player who had been running behind the Bemerton player was brought down. It was hard to tell from where I was stood whether this was an accidental collision or whether it was preventing a goal scoring opportunity as the ball was with the keeper. The referee didn't give anything at first but the assistant then waved his flag to indicate a penalty and the referee pointed to the spot.

To make matters worse for Bemerton, the referee then consulted with his linesman and decided to send off the Bemerton defender. After the protests had died down, Poole took the penalty and ball was hit to the keeper's left. He guessed the right way and although he dived too far, he was able to bring his foot up and clear the ball to a team mate who booted the ball upfield.

Bemerton moved to a 3-4-2 formation and the loss of a man didn't seem to affect their play. In the 60th minute Poole had a shot marginally past the right post but less than a minute later Bemerton almost pulled a goal back. Sanger won the ball from the goalkick and broke into the box. He passed the ball back to Rowe in the centre rather than take a shot from the angle, only to see Rowe miskick and send his shot spinning wide.

The referee caused some confusion in the 64th minute when he overruled his assistant and gave a throw-in to Poole rather than Bemerton. As the Bemerton players protested, Poole took a quick throw in and three players charged towards the penalty area. The referee then whistled to bring play back which annoyed the Poole bench who couldn't see what the issue was in taking the quick throw in.

Bemerton were not seeing the opportunities to play the ball quickly and tended to dwell on the ball, allowing Poole time to get back in numbers defensively. Their shooting was also poor and off target as they allowed Poole to put pressure on them.The Bemerton keeper remained alert at the other end and made yet another save in the 68th minute by spreading himself wide to save another on target Poole shot. Both teams made substitutions to freshen up their lineups.

Poole won a corner in the 78th minute and when the ball was played into the area, a strong header looked to have beaten the keeper when inexplicably a Poole player tried to flick the ball on and ended up putting the ball over the bar from a yard out. This mistake looked to be costly as Bemerton increased the pressure on the Poole back line in the last ten minutes. In the 84th minute they had their best chance of the game when Rowe hit a great low shot on target that Poole's keeper did well to push wide. One of the Bemerton subs was in quickly to try and force the rebound past the keeper from a tight angle but the ball was deflected out for a corner.

Poole were hit on the counterattack after they lost posession from a corner in the 85th minute. The ball was played through to the same Bemerton sub who had almost scored and this time he made no mistake when curling a shot past the Poole keeper from close in to make the score 1.2

The game was now all about Bemerton and they came really close to snatching a draw that had seemed unlikely for most of the second half. The first chance came in the 90th minute when the ball was crossed into the Poole box and a close range header was on target but straight at the keeper. Poole tried to run the ball into the corners to waste time but this tactic wasn't effective and Bemerton had time for one more break. The ball was played long upfield and Joe Sanger was able to turn his marker and head for the goal from the middle of the Poole half. As he approached the keeper his touch appeared to be too heavy but he managed to toepoke the ball past the onrushing keeper. As the home supporters took a deep intake of breath, the ball bobbled to the right of the post and wide by what seemed to be no more than a centimetre.

An exciting end to a good game that felt more like a cuptie than a league match. For the second week in a row I found myself thinking that the man of the match was the goalkeeper of the team that had lost!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Game 41: Amesbury Town 6.0. AFC Aldermaston (WESS 1) 13.02.10

With the lunchtime kickoff for the South Coast derby between Southampton and Portsmouth, I decided to forgo a new ground and watch that game before venturing out to a local ground. The opportunity to see if Aldermaston could get their first point of the season was one reason for picking this game although their defensive record against a team that scored 9 goals the previous weekend was another!

After watching the Pompey win, jumped into the car and arrived at Bonneymead Park with a few minutes to spare before kick off. The Amesbury manager recognised in his programme notes that his team would have to be professional and not take a win for granted, noting that it was only a couple of seasons earlier that Aldermaston has beaten them 7.2 here.

After the obligatory handshakes, Amesbury got down to business and were unlucky not to take the lead in the first minute when 3 goal attempts were saved from close range before an offside flag was raised. In the second minute an unmarked player headed the ball over the bar from a corner and I started to wonder if there would be 90 goal attempts in the game. Aldermaston managed to get into the game and although their attacking options were limited by a lack of pace and poor passing they were able to limit the Amesbury attacks.

In the 23rd minute Aldermaston had their best chance of the game as a player took the ball through the Amesbury backline and went through on goal. Before he managed to get a shot away a defender appeared from the right side and won the ball with a good tackle. On the half hour Aldermaston's keeper came to their rescue again as the ball fell into the middle of a crowded penalty area and he scrambled to keep two close range shots out of his goal.

His luck didn't last much longer as Amesbury opened the scoring from the resulting corner. The ball was played deep to the back post and headed in. Aldermaston heads didn't drop and they created another good chance in the 37th minute from a break down the right that saw the ball reach the back of the penalty area in front of an open goal but no Aldermaston player had gambled on the ball reaching the area so Amesbury were able to clear.

Amesbury scored their second goal in the 37th minute when Danny Western broke the offside trap and took the ball into the penalty area. Despite having his heel clipped by the chasing defender, he was able to steady himself to take the ball round the keeper and then hit a shot past the covering defender on the line.

In the 40th minute the dangerous Danny Western was very unfortunate not to score from a free kick just outside the area. He curved a great shot over the wall that beat the keeper but it smacked into the left post and rolled down the pitch along the goal line without going over it. Amesbury then won a corner which was taken short. The recipient ran into the area and his cross fell kindly for the Amesbury 11 to tap it in.

Just before the kick off for the second half one of the Aldermaston players quipped with a smile on his face that the snow was coming and the game would have to be replayed. There were some dark clouds which led to some very light hail for a few moments but nothing to stop the game from being completed.

The referee requested that the lights were turned on but for a couple of minutes only the lights at the far end which Amesbury were attacking came on. I wondered if that was because the officials weren't expecting the ball at the other end but it turned out just to be a temporary delay. I'm not sure if the gloom affected the referee's eyesight but he appeared to miss a blatant handball by an Aldermaston player in the penalty area and turned down the penalty appeals.

Aldermaston had a chance to pull a goal back in the 55th minute from a freekick in a similar position to the kick Western had taken in the first half. This time the ball was hit directly at the Amesbury keeper and he made an easy save.

Amesbury scored their 4th goal of the afternoon in the 60th minute. The ball was played to Western in the area and he was able to take the ball round the keeper. Although he was tripped in the process he was able to pass the ball into the net as he fell and the referee sensibly waited to see the ball cross the line rather than blow for the foul. The excitement was all too much for one young spectator who wandered underneath the barrier to stand on the edge of the pitch to the assistant's surprise. Luckily a parent appeared to carry her back before play came back over to this side of the pitch.

Amesbury added a fifth goal in the 65th minute when the ball was crossed to the backpost and bundled across the line from short range. With 15 minutes to go it was 6.0 to the fury of the Aldermaston keeper. He made a great save from a Western shot but couldn't hold the ball which fell to an Amesbury player to tap in rather than to one of his team mates to clear.

This was the last goal of the game but there were several more chances for Amesbury who hit the post again and saw an Aldermaston defender almost gift them an own goal when chesting the ball down and only just wide of the right post. Aldermaston had one opportunity very late on when the Amesbury keeper dwelt on the ball for too long and almost allowed an Aldermaston player in to win the ball from him.

Right at the death the Aldermaston keeper made another fantastic save to tip a header over the bar when his defence failed to pick up a runner into the box at a corner. It's not that often that I'd give a man of the match award to a keeper who conceded six goals but without his saves Amesbury's score would have been in double figures.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Game 40: Whitehawk 1.1 Marske United (aet) (FA Vase) 06.02.10

For this round of the Vase I decided to head down to Brighton and watch the match between Whitehawk and Marske United from the Northern League. Due to engineering works I took the train up to Clapham Junction and then down to Brighton which took a couple of hours thanks to a quick dash across the platforms to get a connection.

After a wander around the shops I met up with Paul in the Lord Nelson pub for a spot of lunch. We decided that the best option would be to take a number 7 bus and jump off before the Marina to walk the rest of the way. This was the bus I used to catch on a regular basis when I lived in Brighton but the route has changed as it no longer terminates at the hospital, so I didn't get to see my old flat. While trying to work out where we were on the map and where the ground was, a guy behind us asked if we were heading to Whitehawk's ground. It turned out that he was a Brentford fan who gets out to non-league grounds and thought that he'd asked me for directions in the past. We decided the best option was to team up and try and work out the way to the ground.

When we got off the bus we spotted some playing fields where a couple of local league games were taking place. We crossed over the road and followed a long road / track for about 5 minutes before arriving at the aptly named Enclosed Ground. After buying a programme and grabbing some drinks we had a wander around the ground before finding a spot with the sun behind us so I could take some photos during the match.

We had heard reports of some of the Marske supporters travelling down on Friday while others had been on the road on a coach since 4am. When their coaches arrived at the ground they congregated in the terraced cover just behind us and soon had it decorated with their flags of support. There was a good turnout of away fans and they made a lot of noise throughout the match to encourage their team.

The first half started with a few strong tackles and a couple of yellow cards. Marske took control of the game and were unlucky not to take the lead after a great dribble from their no 7 wasn't matched by a finish when he hit his shot directly at the Whitehawk keeper. Whitehawk struggled to get their passing game going and it took until the 23rd minute for a clear opportunity when a mistimed shot was dragged wide of the post.

Marske came close to breaking the deadlock in the 28th minute. A long kick from the goalkeeper bounced all the way through the Whitehawk defence and into the penalty area. Marske's 10 tried to deflect the ball past the Whitehawk keeper who had come towards the edge of the box but the keeper managed to grab the ball. There was then a delay of several minutes as the keeper was injured in the process but he was alright to continue. As the game approached half time I was expecting Marske to break the deadlock but it was Whitehawk who scored first against the run of play. After the Whitehawk keeper tipped a shot wide, they broke away from the resulting corner and the ball ended up on the right side of the Marske area. A great low cross found Davis unmarked in the area and he smashed the ball into the net as the keeper dived the opposite way.

The locals celebrated loudly and some of them took the opportunity to goad the away supporters who fell silent for the first time in the match. They didn't stay silent for long. From the restart they moved the ball down the left wing and it was played out for a corner. A great cross high into the 6 yard box found defender Taylor's head and he powered the ball into the top of the net. The away support now found their voice and a few deserved comments were aimed at the Whitehawk supporters who now fell quiet.

The second half felt like an anticlimax after the two late goals in the first half. The game degenerated into a melee of players and handbags early on which the referee and assistant had to be quick to deal with. Whitehawk were giving the ball away in midfield on a regular basis but Marske were guilty of holding onto the ball too long, allowing their opponents to recover it.

In the 66th minute it looked like Whitehawk should have had a penalty. The number 9 who had been impressive at Bristol Manor Farm ran with the ball into the area and as he was about to shoot found his standing leg barged off balance by a defender. This allowed the goalkeeper to gather the ball but the referee decided that it was a lack of control rather than a foul, so waved play on. The general consensus from the home fans around us was that the player should have gone to ground and made the referee's decision for him.

The best chance for the visitors during this period was a fantastic shot from distance in the 82nd minute that looked to be dipping under the bar until the Whitehawk keeper made a spectacular diving save to push the ball over. Both teams now pressed for a winner to avoid extra time and Whitehawk came very close to scoring it in the last few minutes. The first opportunity fell to the 9 who took the ball round four Marske players but decided to pass the ball when he reached the edge of the area instead of taking a shot himself. In the last minute,the Marske keeper had to be alert to make a good save from a low shot.

With the sun finally setting, the referee blew to start the first period of extra time. Whitehawk started to dominate as Marske tired and again came close to scoring in the 100th minute. The ball was played high into the Marske box and the keeper came off his line to try and win it. He didn't manage to get it under control and a Whitehawk player got in front of him and cleverly passed the ball to the edge of the area for a team mate to take a shot on goal. There were several Marske players in the way so his shot had to be precise.He didn't quite manage to get the accuracy needed as the ball hit the edge of the post and went wide.

Whitehawk had another appeal for a penalty turned down in the second period of extra time. Paul and I had wandered around the ground to watch extra time from on top of the hill behind the dugouts and had a great view of the incident. Whitehawk broke down the right side closest to us and one of their subs took the ball past a defender and into the area. As the Marske goalkeeper came racing off his line and before he dived at the Whitehawk player's feet, the Whitehawk player started to go down as if he was expecting this challenge. The referee was well placed and booked the Whitehawk player for the dive. The Marske defenders were not amused and one called him a disgrace for trying to win the game by cheating.

Whitehawk's final chance came in the 110th minute when a shot from another good through ball was well saved by the Marske goalkeeper. With five minutes to go they were reduced to ten men as Fisk was shown a second yellow card for a late challenge in the middle of the pitch. Marske had run out of steam and were unable to take advantage of the extra man so the game will go to a replay next Saturday.

We departed swiftly and joined our new friend from Brentford and another non-league enthusiast for a taxi ride back to the train station. The journey was filled with talk about grounds and teams around the country and it was a pleasure to meet these fellow travellers. The journey back wasn't so smooth - the signals for the Brighton - London line failed so we took a punt on the train to Chichester, only for that line to be shut down temporarily to allow the police onto the track. We were lucky to get the last Cardiff train from Fareham to get us home.