Saturday, March 27, 2010

Game 49: Bracknell Town 2.0 VT FC (Southern League Div 1 S&SW) 27.03.10

With my midweek games rained off this week, I decided to venture a little further today and take the train up to Bracknell to watch their Southern League fixture against VT FC, who were promoted from the Wessex League last season.

Bracknell have endured a difficult season with just one win back in October. Two consecutive 9.0 defeats in the past week have confirmed their relegation to either the Combined Counties or the Hellenic League. After wandering around some local back roads to the ground, I wandered down to the seating to read the programme and wait for Paul to arrive. Both teams were out training with the home players playing some one touch football and having a joke with some piggybacks while the away team did some stretches, runs and ball control exercises. The programme was unusual as it included coverage of German football and the Northern Unibond league as well as the standard fare about the visitors.

Paul arrived in good time for the kickoff and we wondered whether Bracknell would be able to improve on their earlier performances. VT started with some urgency and won an early corner after a goalmouth scramble. This lead to another corner and a shot that was cleared off the line by a defender. We anticipated that this would set the scene for the match but Bracknell surprised us in the 8th minute. After winning a corner, the ball was played into the box and headed out. It fell nicely for Smith who hit a great shot into the top left corner to give Bracknell the lead.

Bracknell appeared to be playing a 3-5-2 formation with one defender playing in a sweeper role and the two wide midfielders dropping back in when necessary to a 5-3-2 formation. VT had a lot of possession but weren't able to break down the Bracknell defence as the home team threw themselves into every challenge to try and keep the ball away from their goal. This limited Bracknell to occasional attacks but they were unlucky not to extend their lead after 24 minutes from another corner. The ball was played towards the back post and only needed a touch to force it home but there wasn't a red shirt close enough to get to the ball before it was cleared.

It seemed that the goal had knocked the stuffing out of VT as their passing in the final third and finishing was at times woeful. They seemed to be trying to overcompensate and perhaps felt under a bit of pressure as they were losing to a team that they would have expected to beat comfortably. It also appeared that they had rested a couple of players that could have made a difference with the experienced Bowers and Ashcroft on the bench.

The closest that they came to a goal in the first half was from a corner in the 40th minute that was played very deep and past the far post. The ball was hooked back in and was headed towards goal where a Bracknell player moved away from the post to clear it before it crossed the line. As the ball came out there was a clear division in the area with 5 red shirts to the left and 6 yellow shirts to the right. The ball fell to a VT player but his snatched shot went into the crowd of yellow shirts and was deflected wide for a goal kick.

When the referee blew for halftime, the home fans and neutrals all applauded the home team off the pitch to recognise the way that they had worked so hard to give themselves a chance to win the game.

We expected VT to come out and impose themselves on the game in the second half. There was a brief rain shower as they kicked off and headed down the slope towards the Bracknell goal. Within seconds the ball was crossed from the right side and fell to a VT player at the back post. I was expecting to see the net rippling but his shot lacked any power and allowed the Bracknell keeper to dive across and save what looked to be a certain goal.

The first five minutes of the half saw the ball move from end to end. Bracknell had some pace up front and used it to good effect with some breakaway chances but were unable to trouble the visiting keeper. VT came close to scoring again when a cross was slightly mishit and ended up hitting the crossbar before going out of play.

It wasn't long before we saw some changes with Bowers and then Ashcroft coming off the bench to try and rescue the game for the visitors. Bowers played a great through ball in the 60th minute to a team mate only to see a horribly mishit shot fly well wide of the goal. A couple of minutes later VT won a freekick centrally outside the area. A great shot was on target when the Bracknell keeper timed his move across goal well and managed to punch the ball out of the area. VT continued to apply pressure and Bowers had a shot blocked in the area. Bracknell were being penned in their half as their clearances weren't getting too far with 9 or 10 men behind the ball.

With 15 minutes to go, a Bracknell player sliced his clearance which looked to have put VT in on goal, only for the shot to fly just over the bar. VT managed to put the ball into the net 5 minutes later with a lovely hooked shot but the assistant's flag was already up for offside. From the restart, Bracknell played the ball up field and took a shot from distance. The VT keeper managed to block the ball and it flew out of the area.

In the 88th minute, Bracknell cleared the ball out to the left wing and two of their players launched a counter attack. The first player reached the ball ahead of the defence and brought the ball forward. His team mate, Small, strayed offside before slowing down his run to get back onside again and at that moment the ball was played forward into space. Small took the ball towards the area and calmly placed a low shot to the left of the onrushing VT keeper. The whole ground seemed to erupt as the ball rolled into the back of the net and all of the Bracknell outfield players followed Small into the corner to celebrate.

The first clean sheet of the season for the home team and the second win to double their points tally. Not the result we were expecting but a well deserved one and a very enjoyable game to watch as a neutral.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Game 48: Portsmouth 3.2 Hull City (Premier League) 20.03.10

Headed down to Portsmouth for the annual trip to Fratton Park and a reunion with some old friends.Met up with Matt, Alan and Chris in the Weatherspoons on Fratton High Street and learnt that our old post match drinking haunt has been closed for a few months now. Since my last visit to Fratton Park in 2008, the club has gone from FA Cup winners to near bankruptcy and relegation was realistically confirmed as the club were docked 9 points midweek for going into administration.

We sat in the old Milton end, sharing the stand with the Hull fans who had travelled down to Portsmouth hoping to see their team's first away win of the season. Looking around the ground with ten minutes to kick off and it looked halfempty but I had forgotten about the 2.55 rush as people head out of the pubs at the last moment. By kick off the ground looked fairly full and most of the support were interested to see new Hull manager Ian Dowie in the dugout - always a figure of derision at Fratton Park for his connections with the team up the road!

Pompey have had some selection problems this season but it was good to see David James back in goal after injury and a strong line up. I was hoping to see Altidore line up for the Tigers but it turned out that he was injured.

The first clear opportunity fell to Hull in the 4th minute. A cross by Kilbane into the area saw Vennegoor of Hesselink (not a name you'd see in the Wessex League!) head the ball across James. It looked to be going in and Folan started to celebrate, only to see the ball come back from the post. If he hadn't started to celebrate he would have been ideally placed to dink the ball into the net - an early let off for Portsmouth.

Pompey were restricted to a few long shots but didn't create much in the final third. In the 27th minute Hull won a corner when a Bullard shot was deflected wide. Bullard's corner was poor and easily headed out of the area, only for Fagan to hit a strong low show into the area for Folan to get the slightest of touches with a backheel and put the ball past James. Portmouth pulled back an equaliser ten minutes later from a corner just in front of us. The ball was played high into the area and Piquionne leapt high above the defence only to miss the ball with his head. The ball bounced off a Hull defender and straight into the path of Smith who tapped it in.

A draw seemed a fair reflection of the first half and the second half continued in the same vein. Portsmouth had a lot of play in the midfield but weren't able to convert the possession into chances. Hull made a substitution and brought on Garcia for Vennegoor of Hesselink which paid dividends three minutes later. Garcia played a throughball that deflected off the referee and so prevented the Pompey defence from clearing the ball. Folan ran through and brought James out of his goal before slipping the ball past him for his second goal.

The Hull fans were celebrating wildly and were soon pointing out that Pompey must be bad if they were losing at home to Hull with their away record. Their luck ran out in the 88th minute. O'Hara lined up a freekick on the edge of the area and Alan turned to me to say he felt confident of a goal and a draw after a couple of earlier attempts had been close. I disagreed as I thought he would score and Pompey would go onto win the game. We were both right on the first point. O'Hara bent the ball around the wall and put the ball into the top corner to make it 2.2

This goal lifted Pompey and they pressed for an equaliser into injury time. Belhadj went storming down the left wing to try and get onto a through pass. The defender beat him to the ball and tried to play a shortpass to a team mate, only to see Belhadj continue his run and intercept the pass. Both players were caught out by this and Belhadj took the ball to the line before playing a low cross between two other defenders who were sliding into try and win the ball. It fell perfectly for Kanu who was unmarked on the 6 yard line and he carefully sidefooted the ball through a crowd of players on the line and in. Alan grabbed me and leapt around - he couldn't believe my prediction was right and to be honest, neither could I! The late winner was a great way to end the game and we headed off to join up with some friends in the bars of Southsea.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Game 47: Salisbury City 0.1 Barrow (FA Trophy) 13.03.10

Decided to head up to the Ray Mac today to watch the FA Trophy Semi Final match between Salisbury and Barrow. This was the first leg of tie with the winners facing either Stevenage or Kidderminster at Wembley in May. It was no surprise to see a busy car park at the Ray Mac and a decision was made to put the kick off back to 3.15, as there was still a long queue outside the turnstiles at 2.50. The crowd was later given as 1782 with around 270 supporters from Barrow.

The first half was poor. Salisbury were playing a 4-5-1 formation leaving Matt Tubbs up front by himself. There was more head tennis than football on display and neither keeper had a busy half. The crowd was fairly quiet at the Salisbury end and the nerves on the terraces seemed to be affecting the players.

Barrow’s gameplan seemed to be to keep things tight at the back and catch Salisbury on the break and it wasn’t until the 17th minute that the game produced it’s first clear cut chance, with Turley unable to divert a cross from Anderson into the goal. In the 40th minute Giles had a shot over the bar and this seemed to spark the game into life. Barrow won a central freekick outside the area and Bittner made a good save from a strong shot on target.

The second half continued in a similar vein. Salisbury had most of the possession but weren’t able to break down the Barrow defence. In the 60th minute Tubbs had a good chance from a Clohessey cross, bursting through the defence and forcing a good save from Deasy. Deasy was in action a couple of minutes later when he beat Connolly to the ball only to be caught by the Salisbury striker’s late challenge. Connolly was given a yellow card after a minor scuffle with the Barrow central defenders.

In the 73rd minute Flood played a deep cross into the area and Tubbs managed to get a shot away that Deasy saved low by the left post. From the resulting goalkick, the ball was launched into the Salisbury area and Gregg Blundell ran onto the ball, beating the Salisbury defence. Bittner saved his first shot but it rebounded back to the striker. He then headed the ball past the stranded Salisbury keeper only to see it rebound off the post and up into the air. Turley was heading back to goal to try and cover the header but was powerless to stop Blundell bundling in the ball by the left post.

Salisbury pushed forward to try and get an equaliser. Clarke had a great chance from a flick on but his shot was aimed straight at the keeper. In the 7th minute of stoppage time Clarke tried to win the ball back in midfield with a sliding tackle. Although it looked to be a fair challenge, the referee decided that it was a dangerous challenge on the Barrow player and gave Clarke a red card. A bad end to a disappointing afternoon for the Whites.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Game 46: Laverstock & Ford 1.1 Hamworthy United (WESS PREM) 06.03.10

After another Saturday lunchtime watching FA Cup football on TV, I had a limited choice of games I could get to so decided to head over to Laverstock.

Former Salisbury City captain Simon Browne is now the manager of Hamworthy and this was the second time I’ve seen him at Laverstock this season, having played in the Poole Town team who won here 1.0 thanks to a Charlie Austin goal back in August.

Laverstock have been through some managerial changes of their own this season with their second manager this season departing midweek and chairman Gino Nardiello back in the dugout for this match.

Hamworthy began the first half well but weren’t able to convert any of the numerous chances they made. In the 8th minute a well placed header was tipped over the crossbar by the Laverstock keeper who followed up this save with a great catch from a freekick a minute later. Laverstock did manage to find the net in the 10th minute with a low shot but the assistant had already raised the flag for offside.

In the 29th minute Laverstock found a way through the Hamworthy defence with a great pass but the striker played through stumbled before he could get his shot away. Hamworthy had to make a substitution in the 31st minute and the sub almost made an immediate impact. From a corner he placed a header on target but the goalkeeper was well positioned to make the save. Laverstock had a great chance to take the lead in the 39th minute. The ball was played to an unmarked player on the edge of the area. He had time to run into the box with the ball but decided to try and chip the keeper. The chip wasn’t powerful or high enough to beat the keeper who managed to palm the ball down.

The start of the second half was delayed by a few minutes as the referee sprinted back to the dressing rooms after both teams came out. It turned out that he had forgotten his whistle to the amusement of the spectators and the bemusement of the managers. The whistle came in handy in the 56th minute when the referee awarded Hamworthy a penalty following a trip in the box. The penalty was placed to the left of the goal while the keeper decided not to dive and watched the ball into the net. In the 65th minute Hamworthy had a good chance to extend their lead with a good run into the box. Laverstock’s keeper kept his team in the game with a great save.

Laverstock equalised in the 73rd minute from a corner. The ball was played long to the back post where Perrett hit the ball over the keeper and in. The Hamworthy bench were furious with the poor marking that led to the equaliser. Hamworthy had a good chance to retake the lead in the 78th minute from a corner but they weren’t able to scramble the ball across the line and the game finished as a draw.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Game 45: Downton 1.1 Amesbury Town (WESS 1) 05.03.10

Driving down the A338 on a Friday evening, it was great to see the floodlights appear in the distance to confirm that the local derby between Downton and Amesbury was on. The match was moved from Saturday to try and boost the gate and there was a good crowd in the ground when the two teams came out, including a rabbit who was last seen running down the touchline towards the new houses at the back of the ground.

The first half didn't produce too many chances. Amesbury controlled the first ten minutes which saw two shots fly over the Downton bar and a low freekick from distance saved by the home team keeper who was directly in line with the ball. Downton wasted a good opportunity in the tenth minute which was set up by a long freekick to the back post. The ball was headed back across goal and then headed on target, beating the keeper but not the man on the line who headed the ball back out into the penalty area.

Both teams were playing some good football and the match flowed from end to end but neither team were able to test the keepers. Downton had an effort ruled off for offside just past the half hour and wasted another good chance from a header a couple of minutes later. The ball came down the right side and a great cross in with pace found an unmarked player in the box but he got his angles wrong and placed the ball wide. Just before halftime Downton came even closer to scoring. With his back to goal and two defenders around him, one of the Downton players chipped the ball up and then hit an overhead kick up into the air. The ball went over the defenders, past the keeper and landed on the crossbar before bouncing back into play.

Downton kicked off the second half and took the lead less than 10 seconds later. From the kickoff one of their players took the ball forward and dribbled through the Amesbury midfield who seemed to be half asleep. As he reached the penalty area he seemed to lose control but the ball looked to spin off a defender's leg at pace and this momentum allowed the ball to run past the keeper's dive and end up in the back of the net.A fluke goal but a great way to start the half for the neutral and the home supporters who had made it out of the bar in time to see it.

Downton should have extended their lead in the 54th minute when McGregor hit a first time volley wide of the right hand post. From the goalkick, the ball was worked to the left side of the Downton half where an Amesbury player was brought down. Danny Western took the freekick and curled the ball over the wall, over the keeper and skimmed the bottom of the crossbar before crashing into the net. A spectacular equaliser!

Amesbury took the game to Downton and were unlucky when a break down the left wing beat the defence and the offside trap, only for the shot to bounce past the far post with the keeper beaten. Downton then took the ball up the other end and a good pass found a striker in space with only one defender to beat. He forced the Downton player to take a quick shot and this flew just past the post with the keeper beaten.

The Downton keeper was giving his team some cause for alarm with his first touches whenever the ball was played back to him to clear. In the 70th minute he tried to act as a sweeper and came rushing out of his area only to clear the ball to Western, who placed a delicate lob over the keeper but it didn't have enough pace to beat the covering defenders.

Amesbury had a penalty appeal turned down in the 84th minute when a player ran into the area with the ball and went down under a challenge. In the 90th minute they had another opportunity when the goalkeeper came out of his area again and lost the ball to Western. He looked to be holding back and pulling down on the Amesbury player to prevent him from taking a shot but when Western went down, the referee blew and awarded a freekick to Downton instead. In the aftermath of the decision the referee went back to an Amesbury player and showed him a red card (presumably for something he said) before giving Western a yellow for diving which looked harsh. However the Amesbury player didn't leave the pitch and it appeared that the referee changed his mind - this caused some confusion for the spectators!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Game 44: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 1.2 Totton & Eling (WESS PREM) 01.03.10

An unusual situation at this Monday night game as the reverse fixture had only been played 48 hours previously - a 3.1 win for Bemerton. It certainly seemed like both teams knew what to expect as they cancelled each other out for nost of the first half and the only talking point early on was the collapse of two slabs from the terrace when one of the locals decided to crawl under the barrier to walk round to the stand. The general concensus was frost damage as he tried to move them back into place.

Bemerton took the lead in the 27th minute when James Rowe picked up the ball in midfield and went on a mazy run from the left wing to the right side of the penalty area. He then let fly a low shot towards the left post which the keeper couldn't reach and the ball ended up in the back of the net. Bemerton almost extended the lead a minute later but a header ended up just wide of the goal. Sanger also came close to scoring with a header placed high into the centre of the goal but the Totton keeper flew up into the air and made a spectacular save to tip the ball over the bar.

Totton scored the equaliser five minutes before the break with a great overlapping run from the fullback down the right wing. The ball was played forward and into his path. There was no cover on that side and he was able to take the ball into the box and place a shot under Porter's dive and in - a well worked goal.

Five minutes after the break and Totton scored again with a fluke goal. The ball was cleared from a corner and fell to a Totton player on the right side of goal. He hit a low shot without much power but Porter wasn't able to see it in time due to the number of players from both teams who were in front of him. The ball ended up in the back of the net despite a desperate scramble to try and palm it away to give the visitors a 2.1 lead.

Bemerton came close on a number of times to an equaliser but their shooting was rarely on target. Totton started to take control of the game, aided by Bemerton's poor ball control, passing and a lack of width. When Bemerton's attacks broke down they were quick to try and exploit the space behind the defence and it was only a couple of last ditch interceptions that kept the score down. Porter pulled of a great one on one save to keep his team in the game but it was a frustrating night for the home team who were unable to pull a goal back. A third home defeat in a row and in all probability an end to Bemerton's title aspirations.