Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Game 16: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 3.1 AFC Totton (Friendly) 28.11.11

Browsing the Sport4Salisbury website on Sunday I discovered that AFC Totton had arranged a friendly at Bemerton Heath Harlequins ahead of their big FA Cup match against Bristol Rovers next weekend. Seemed like a good excuse to watch some football so after preparing for a cold night on the terraces I stepped out of the house to discover it was warm and wet! The rain was quite heavy when I arrived at the ground and I was grateful for cover in the darkened ground. I was charged £2 for admission to go towards the cost of the officials which was a bargain.

The match was due to kick off at 7.30 but the teams didn't enter the pitch on time and kick off was a couple of minutes later than scheduled. The game started at a great pace, both teams having an attack in the first minute. I recognised a few of the AFC Totton team as first teamers, noticeably Jon Davies who started his career at Salisbury and Grant Porter who was with Bemerton a couple of seasons ago. Bemerton's keeper had to be careful when sliding into a tackle outside the area in the wet conditions, conceding a corner in the process. The first was cleared, the second a few moments later was wasted when Davies slipped when taking the kick and limped away having tackled himself. The visitors came close again with another corner on 5 minutes, the ball bouncing down and wide from a header.

Despite the near constant pressure on the Bemerton goal, the wet conditions seemed to favour the home team as Totton didn't produce the ball control necessary to break down the defence. When they did, shots were either hit wide or directly at the keeper to make some straightforward saves. Bemerton didn't have a clear chance until the 35th minute when Sanger broke through but his shot was deflected over the bar for a corner. The next chance fell to Young a couple of minutes later after he flew down the left wing from a Sanger flick on and put a shot past the keeper but narrowly wide of the far post. It looked like the half would finish goalless but in the 43rd minute a Totton player went down in the box near the goaline and the referee awarded a penalty kick. The ball was hit hard past the Bemerton keeper to give Totton the lead their earlier play had deserved. There was still time for a nasty challenge on a Bemerton defender which drew blood and he had to limp off as the referee blew for half time. If this had been a competitive league or cup game then a card probably would have been shown but the referee was content to talk to the player instead and exercise a bit of common sense.

After 55 minutes both teams made changes to their strikeforces with both Totton strikers being replaced and Slade coming off for Bemerton. The change seemed to work to Bemerton's advantage. They won a corner a couple of minutes later when a defender misjudged a long ball and put it out of play. The ball was crossed into the centre with pace and while a defender blocked Mankin from getting a header, the deflection fell to Gallacher who controlled the ball and hit a shot past Porter. It took Bemerton a minute to win a corner, putting pressure on 3 different defenders to keep the ball in the Totton box before it went out. The corner was sliced and span towards the near post where it bounced off a defender's shin and out. He made no attempt to clear the ball, which allowed Mankin to smash the ball into the top of the net. An unlikely lead!

The Totton players weren't happy to be behind and it required a world class save to keep the score at 2.1 in the 69th minute. The ball was whipped into the box from the right and a Totton striker curved a first time shot towards the post at close range. The Bemerton keeper dived low and his reflexes were quick enough for him to get a hand to the ball and put it wide for a corner. Things got worse from Totton in the 75th minute as Bemerton carved open their defence with some quick passing. Sanger burst forward into the box and crossed it low for Eves to slam the ball past Porter. Despite further pressure from the visitors, the home defence kept the ball out of the net to give Bemerton a good win against a strong side.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game 15: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 3.1 Saltash United (FA Vase) 19.11.11

This was my first visit to Bemerton this season, partly due to the number of away games they've had to play in a row. The FA Vase draw had been kind and thrown up a home tie against Cornish side Saltash United from the South West Peninsula league.

Bemerton have been in good form, top of the Wessex League and on a 16 game unbeaten run (5 home, 11 away) but the form book was thrown out of the window in the early minutes of the game. In the 2nd minute they put a free header past the far post from a corner. In the 4th minute they took the lead with a break down the right and a cross from the touchline. The keeper was guarding the near post but couldn't prevent the ball going across the box and to a player at the far post to tap past the defender's challenge.

Both teams had opportunities to score and it was defensive blocks and clearances off the line that saved the day. Saltash were playing some tidy football and it took a special move from Sanger to equalise. He twisted his way though the defence before burying a shot from distance past the keeper. Three minutes later and Bemerton took the lead from a corner. The Saltash keeper pulled off a great double save from close range shots but the ball fell kindly for Mankin to bundle home. Slade came close to a third with an unmarked header at the far post that went wide. In the last minute of the half, Bemerton appealed for a penalty when Slade was taken out by the visiting keeper but it wasn't given.

Bemerton killed the game off in the 48th minute with their third goal of the afternoon. Williams gambled on winning the ball on the left wing and took the ball forward before placing an excellent cross past the keeper to Sanger on the far post who knocked the ball into the empty net. Slade came close to adding a fourth after 55 minutes when his shot came off the inside of the post, hit the bar and then was cleared for a corner. In the 68th minute it took an unconventional save to deny Williams. He walloped the ball from outside the area and the keeper saved it by chesting the ball out in mid-air, the follow up shot striking the post and going wide.

Both teams suffered as the referee got very picky and started to dish out yellow cards alongside some strange decisions. Saltash didn't give up hope and came close with a couple of late efforts. In the 85th minute a long cross dropped over the Bemerton keeper's head but landed in the top netting by the crossbar. In injury time a good pass to the backpost saw the ball flicked up into the air but the Bemerton keeper was alert and pushed it away before anyone else could make contact. A good win for the home team to keep them unbeaten for 17 games.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Game 14: Salisbury City 3.1 Arlesey Town (FA Cup) 12.11.11

After sitting through a nerve wracking draw waiting for Salisbury's ball to appear, it was great to see a home tie but perhaps a little disappointing not to see a Football League club preparing to head to the Ray Mac. However the visit of Arlesey Town of the Southern Premier league did give the Whites an opportunity to progress to the second round of the FA Cup for only the second time in my lifetime. Arlesey had beaten Forest Green from the Conference Premier in the last round and a couple of Conference South sides in earlier rounds so not a team to be underestimated.

I walked over to the ground at 2.15 and got through the turnstiles in a couple of minutes. The ground seemed fairly empty and didn't start to fill up until 2.45 when I had finished reading the programme. That reading time was slightly spoilt by the realisation that I wouldn't be able to make the next round unless Salisbury were lucky enough to get a Friday or Sunday TV game. An announcement came over the tannoy that due to big queues outside the turnstiles, the kick off would be delayed until 3.15. With the England friendly against Spain due to kick off at 5.15 there were a few groans as people realised that they wouldn't have much time to get back home. I could still see cars coming up to the ground at 3 and the terrace behind the goal was much busier by the time the teams came out. The final attendance was later confirmed as 1298. As it was the nearest game to Remembrance Sunday, two serving soldiers led the teams out with a couple of poppy wreaths that were laid in the centre circle for the minute's silence.

As Salisbury were kicking towards the Portway end for the first half I decided to wander round and took up a spot near the goal. A number of Arlesey supporters had stayed down this end and it was nice to have the unsegregated freedom to wander around the ground. Arlesey looked well organised and I recognised David Perpetuni from his time in the league at Watford.

The first goalscoring opportunity fell to Salisbury in the 10th minute from a corner. As a couple of players ran forward towards the corner taker, the ball was played to the back post where Salisbury's number 3 headed it just over the bar. In the 12th minute Salisbury took a throw on the left side and a pass was played to Fitchett in the area. His first touch looked a little strong but it took the ball past the covering defender. From an acute angle he placed a high shot away from a defender's sliding leg, over the keeper and under the crossbar at the near post- a fantastic finish!

There weren't many chances after that, the closest to a goal came in the 26th minute when Reid overran the ball and it went out of play before his cross to Adlesbury. His shot found the back of the net and many supporters further away thought that Salisbury had extended their lead. It was a shame that the low drive was disallowed as it was a great controlled finish but the assistant called it right. Salisbury came close to adding a second when Knight flicked a shot from outside the area over the keeper's dive, only to see the ball crash down off the crossbar. Quick reactions saw a Salisbury player reach the bouncing ball ahead of the defence but the header was straight to the goalkeeper.

Arlesey had forced a couple of corners early on but didn't have a clear goal attempt until the 35th minute when Smith had to be alert to tip a dipping shot over the crossbar. From the corner, the next shot cleared the top of the stand and flew out of the ground but the intent from the visitors to get back into the game was clear. In the 40th minute a good run down the right wing saw the ball cleared to the edge of the Salisbury area. Some good passing then found a fullback in space on the left side and he put a dangerous cross to the far post. An Arlesey player hit his shot straight onto a Salisbury player's boot and the ball cannoned up into the air. A Salisbury player got a head to it but his header was weak and didn't clear the ball away from danger. Instead it went back to an Arlesey player who hooked a shot over Smith and in. It later turned out to be Dean Sinclair, brother of ex-Salisbury player Rob Sinclair. In the final moments of injury time Arlesey won a corner which was flicked on at the near side of the area and flew across goal and off the top of the crossbar with Smith stranded. From looking down and out, the visitors were back in the game and unfortunate not to be in the lead at the interval.

For the second half I decided to wander around to the touchline and watch from the opposite side to the main stand. The earlier warm weather had me wondering whether I just needed a shirt on but I was glad that I had opted for the fleece jacket as it started to get cold once the sun went down. The half didn't kick off until 4.21 at a time when most of the other ties were three quarters of the way through. There were a couple of potential upsets I noted, including Maidenhead United leading Aldershot by a goal to nil.

The first chance of the half fell to Salisbury, a lucky bounce of the ball after Reid lost it in the box fell to Fitchett and his shot looked in from my angle but went just past the post. Two minutes after this Arlesey had a great counter-attacking move as they played a long ball down the right side for a player to chase. He beat a defender then played the ball to a team mate who ran onto the ball in the area. With one touch he played it back to the first man who continued his run into the area. He dummied a shot to take the covering man away from the ball, then hit a shot that Smith had covered.

Smith threw the ball out to Adlesbury who had plenty of space to run forward. As he approached the halfway line he played a long ball up towards Reid and Fitchett who were on the edge of the area. Fitchett ran across to the left side and behind the defender who mistimed his header and allowed the ball to fall behind him. Fitchett ran onto the ball while the defender recovered and ran back towards the touchline. Fitchett dropped his shoulder and tried to get the ball round the defender. His second touch put the ball past the defender's foot before leg's made contact. Although the keeper had grabbed the ball, the referee had already blown and was pointing to the spot for a penalty. He booked the defender for the challenge and after a few protests, Reid stepped up and blasted the ball low to the right, just beating the keeper's dive.

It summed up the drama of the FA Cup - moments before the underdogs had come close to scoring and now they found themselves behind. They didn't let their heads drop and took the game to Salisbury. In the 56th minute they came close again to equalising. Another good move saw the ball played into the area and the striker managed to get the ball round Smith only for the keeper to use his leg to tap the ball away to a team mate to clear.

We were being treated to an end to end game as both teams decided to attack. Reid saw a shot from a tight angle tipped over the bar, Adlesbury had a trademark thump at a freekick punched out by the keeper and substitute Kelly saw a clearance balloon off him towards goal, only for the keeper to push it over the bar. In between those Salisbury chances Arlesey thought they had an equaliser but the goal was disallowed for a foul on Kelly in the buildup to the disappointment of the away support. Both teams looked to have one more goal in them and it finally came in the 89th minute. Reid took the ball down the left wing before passing to Anderson. He looked to be about to shoot only to roll the ball across the edge of the penalty area to an unmarked Kelly in space. He hit an exquisite high curling shot that bounced into the net via the post to kill the game off. It could have gone either way but the Whites were into round 2, 90 minutes and 1 win away from joining the Premier League superstars in the hat.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Game 13: Corsham Town 1.2 Street (Western Prem) 29.10.11

I've been meaning to visit Corsham for a match for some time now and when I discovered that they would be playing their 500th Western League match it seemed like a good opportunity to tick off the ground. I had arranged to meet Paul at the ground and after I missed the entrance and taken a brief detour I saw a familiar car pulling in ahead of me. Paul and I parked up along the touchline and had a chat while reading the programme from the warmth of our cars.

As kick off approached we wandered around to the teabar and picked up a free teamsheet from the official's entrance - something Paul advised was a regular occurrence. I had hoped that the afternoon would bring a home win given the occasion but Street were reading a different script and took the lead in the first minute. The ball was played up from the back and a header set a striker in past the defence. He carefully chipped the ball over the keeper and into the net. Corsham equalised in the 13th minute with a chance from nothing. Ledgister took the ball in the centre of the half and hit a long shot across the goal. He got the angle just right to beat the scrambling goalkeeper and put it inside the far post.

We wandered round behind the goal for a while but there really wasn't much entertainment on offer as neither team seemed capable of getting an effort on target. Paul was wondering if this lack of goal attempts would be a record for a first half of a game he'd been too. Street put a shot over the bar from the edge of the area and just before half time Corsham had a couple of opportunities. The first was a freekick that just needed a touch from an onrushing player as it flew along the goalmouth and wide. The second was a header from a corner which also fell wide.

For the second half we took another position opposite the main stand and next to the dugouts and hoped that the match would improve. It did - slightly - as Corsham's near misses continued, a cross in the 48th minute inches away from being converted by the onrushing striker. Street retook the lead in slightly bizarre circumstances. The ball was played to the left side of the area and there was enough space for their player to get a shot on goal before the defence got back. While it was on target, the keeper looked to have it covered until he moved his hand and allowed the ball to bounce off his fingers and in.

Corsham pressed for the equaliser but they couldn't get the final pass right or headers on target. Street were prepared to play counter-attacking football to defend their lead and both teams came close in the last 15 minutes to another goal. Corsham managed to get a shot past the keeper but it went just wide. Street had a good opportunity as a player took the ball round the goalkeeper but the angle was too acute for a shot so he brought it back past the keeper to line up another shot. While team mates in better positions screamed for the ball so they could shoot at an unmarked goal, the cutback and delay allowed the keeper to recover and push the ball out for a corner. Street resorted to time wasting at the end and Corsham's frustration came out as a bad tackle took a Street player out. The final whistle quickly followed to Paul's relief.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Game 10: Pewsey Vale 4.3 Stockbridge (WESS 1) 11.10.11

A rare midweek trip with Alan saw us heading up the A345 to Pewsey Vale for their Wessex league match against Stockbridge. We made good progress following the X5 bus for most of the route and arrived in the main car park with plenty of time before kickoff. After paying £4.50 for entrance and a programme we wandered around the ground and found a vantage point near the halfway line.

I hadn't paid too much attention to the team's recent league form but a quick browse in the programme gave an indication that Stockbridge were the favourites for the win as Pewsey were 3rd from bottom with only 1 win in their first five league matches.Stockbridge had played four more games and recorded 3 wins, 4 draws and 2 defeats.

The first period of play was fairly open with both teams pushing forward but there were few incidents of note other than a great headed clearance by the Stockbridge "sweeper keeper" who was a good 10 yards out of his area at the time. Stockbridge took the lead after 16 minutes when the home defence let a cross drift past them to an unmarked Stockbridge player who headed the ball low into the right hand corner. Three minutes later and it was 0.2 when a Stockbridge player was tripped in the area and the referee awarded a penalty. The keeper guessed wrong as he dived to his left only to see the ball nestle into the other corner.

The play was all down at the Pewsey end and their keeper made a fantastic save to push a close range header over from under the crossbar. Stockbridge even managed to pull off a maneuver that I've been waiting to see for a long time - usually all the outfield players traipse to one side when the keeper takes a kick, leaving half the pitch empty. On this occasion the winger stuck to his side of the pitch and was able to move the ball quickly up the empty section when the keeper passed to him. Stockbridge added a third goal on the half hour with a great dribble into the area and a placed shot low past the keeper.

Alan had a great welcome in the clubhouse at halftime, enjoying a huge cup of tea and a pasty for £1.50. He felt that Stockbridge had done enough to win the game and perhaps that's what the visitors felt too. Pewsey had different ideas and in the 50th minute pulled back a great goal. The ball was crossed from deep and a Pewsey player powered a header in from a central position. Three minutes later and it was game on - a freekick was awarded on the right side and when the ball came in it was headed back to a player in space near the penalty area. He took his time to place a shot to the right of the keeper and in to make the scoreline 2.3

The game settled a little after this flurry of goals but it was certainly Pewsey who were the dominant team. They saw an on target header cleared off the line from a corner and a fantastic close range save from the Stockbridge keeper deny them the equaliser. Stockbridge had lost their way although they did appeal for a handball in the area on a rare attack.

The equaliser finally arrived in the 76th minute when a well placed backheel set up a Pewsey player to smash the ball into the top corner. I thought that both teams would be satisfied with a draw at this point but Pewsey had other ideas and completed the most unlikely of comebacks by scoring again in the 86th minute. A quick pass and move put one player in for a shot in the area. The keeper did well to get down and deflect the ball to his right only to see a Pewsey player in space receive the ball with an empty net to aim at. He didn't miss and the game ended 4.3 to the home team.

It wasn't until the following day that I spotted a report of Stockbridge's match at Ringwood on the previous weekend. On that occasion they were also 3.0 up at half-time only to see the home team come back to win 4.3. It will be interesting to see how they get on at home to Portchester on Saturday!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Game 9: Blackfield & Langley 5.1 Downton (WESS PREM) 08.10.11

In previous seasons I've tried to use Saturday's games for longer trips to new grounds but I'm now finding that a 75-100 mile round trip for a new ground is becoming the norm. I hadn't spotted anything with particular appeal for this Saturday's match and was tempted to watch the Amesbury v Westbury fixture in the Wiltshire Senior Cup until I got a text from Paul to advise he was looking at doing a new ground in the Wessex League. After comparing notes of where he hadn't been and what time he could arrive for a lift, we narrowed the options down to matches at Fawley or Blackfield & Langley. With local side Downton the visitors at Gang Warily we agreed on a trip to Blackfield.

I recalled that on my last trip to Blackfield there had been a local league match on the outside pitch and when we pulled up in the car park we found this was the case today as well. The game kicked off a later than expected but we were able to watch a couple of goals from a team. A bit of investigation later and it turned out to have been a Southampton Saturday league match between Forest Town Reserves and AFC Gulf Western that finished 2.5 - both goals we saw had been scored by the visitors.

After leaving the warmth of the car for the grey and chilly pitch at Gang Warily we saw Downton take a 5th minute lead when the ball was played high into the box from a freekick and found an unmarked defender who jumped up and volleyed the ball past the keeper. Blackfield won a few corners after that and should have done better in the 15th minute when the ball was flicked back from the near post and ran along the goalmouth before going out for a corner. When they managed to get an effort on target, Downton's keeper was well placed to make the save.

The equaliser arrived in the 23rd minute from a free kick on the edge of the area awarded for a high footed challenge. The Downton keeper set up his wall but was unable to do much when the shot was curved low into the bottom corner. Another defensive mistake allowed Blackfield to take the lead in the 28th minute. A good high cross came in from the right but it looked like the keeper had it covered to make an easy catch. He over stretched and didn't manage to gather the ball which dropped onto an attacker's head and bounced into the net.

Downton were unlucky in the 32nd minute when Turpin won the ball from the last defender and moved in on goal only to hear the referee's whistle for the challenge. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with it and a good chance to equalise was lost. Blackfield had a couple more chances towards the end of the half, seeing a shot cannon back off the underside of the bar and the Downton keeper atone for his earlier error with a dramatic save. With two minutes left to play they added a third goal when a well worked pass into the middle was swept past the keeper.

Downton rearranged their team with a couple of substitutions at the start of the half and we moved under the makeshift shelter as it started to rain. Despite the change the style of play was unaltered and the midfield continued to overhit passes for the strikers and fail to support play further up the pitch. Blackfield were stretching the play and putting the Downton defence under a lot of pressure. They had already put one shot wide and another into the side netting when they won a penalty in the 70th minute. The Downton keeper came out to try and win the ball in the area but ended up taking the attacker's feet. Again he atoned for an error by guessing the right way and diving to the left to save the ball but he was unable to hold it and it rebounded back to the penalty taker to control and shoot into an empty net.

At 4.1 down Downton's heads were starting to sink and with four minutes to go Blackfield wrapped up the game with a close range header that gave the visiting keeper no chance as the ball had been crossed with such pace. The match finished 5.1 and we were soon back in the car and listening to an earlier than usual Non League Show on Radio Solent on the drive back up the A36.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Game 3: Tintinhull 1.4 Hamworthy Recreation (Dorset Prem) 13.08.11

Photolink: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjvELtcM

For the first competitive match of the season I decided to make the most of the dry forecast and drive down to Tintinhull to watch their first Dorset Premier League match against Hamworthy Rec, league champions for the past two years. The drive was straightforward, a turn off the A303 led into the village where the ground parking is found at the end of a lane, helpfully signposted. I managed to squeeze the car into one of the few remaining spaces which was blocked in for a short time after the match as latecomers had parked behind me.

Wandering through a gateway in the fence with the teabar prices on display, I took up a spot close to the dugouts. The changing rooms, tea bar and practice pitch were behind the main pitch which looked to have had metal railings installed recently around it's sides. The teams were out early and the referee blew to kick off the season a few minutes before 3pm. The first few minutes of the match summed up the game - Hamworthy pressing forward, seemingly a step ahead of their opponents, keeping the home keeper busy. They won two early corners, one shot wide and one header over. Tintinhull had one opportunity very early on, a high ball towards goal ended up just over the bar. In the 10th minute Hamworthy took the lead following a break down the left. The winger pulled the ball back to space outside the area and a teammate hit a powerful drive past the dive of the Tintinhull keeper. A minute later and it was almost 2.0 when a deflection fell kindly and allowed a chipped effort that the keeper did well to push over the bar.

The attacks seemed never ending as Tintinhull found it difficult to get quality possession in their opponents half. Hamworthy were trying to play the ball into space behind the defence to allow players to beat the offside trap and take the ball on. This was often successful but didn't translate into goalscoring opportunities as often as it should have done. The home keeper was still kept busy, pulling off a couple of saves at full stretch when the ball looked destined for the back of the net. Tintinhull made a couple of naive defensive mistakes with passes going astray or being telegraphed and easily intercepted by the alert Hamworthy forwards. The second goal finally arrived in the 35th minute, a player taking the ball from diagonal pass into space to the right side of the area. Before a defender could get back to cover he hit a low shot past the keeper into the far corner via the post. Tintinhull were unlucky not to get a goal back just before the end of the half when a freekick found a player on the right side of the area. He hit a first time shot but misdirected it slightly and it ended up wide of the post with the keeper beaten.

After a quick halftime break, the second half kicked off at 3.55pm. I moved round to the other touchline where there was a lovely scenic view of the fields in the background. The play was similar to the first half as Hamworthy would win the ball in their half and play it quickly upfield. On occasion I wondered if they overcomplicated matters by trying to play a pass rather than keeping the ball and trying to beat the defence for pace to get behind them. They were close to extending their lead in the 54th minute when a high backpass caught out the home keeper. He did well to take the ball down on his chest near the edge of the area but the bounce took the ball out of the area where a Hamworthy player ran onto it. He took a heavy touch in trying to bring it under control and round the keeper, who tripped him as he went by. The referee awarded a free kick but nothing more, deciding that the heavy touch meant the ball wasn't under control. The freekick didn't come to anything but the third goal wasn't long in coming. Following a corner two minutes later, the ball was deflected into the box, allowing a Hamworthy player to smash a shot past the keeper from close range.

The Tintinhull keeper had been lucky not to see a yellow card for his challenge outside the area but learnt from his mistake on the hour. The same Hamworthy player took the ball in space in the area with just the keeper to beat but again played the ball with a heavy touch. This time the keeper held back from a challenge and the ball went out of play for a goal kick. His luck was out when Hamworthy added a fourth goal after a defensive mix up in the 65th minute. The keeper was forced to come out to try and win the ball, leaving his goal unguarded. A low cross into the middle set up a Hamworthy sub with an easy tap in. He was also kept busy in the 70th minute, a spectaular reflex save pushing the ball over the bar.

Despite the scoreline, Tintinhull didn't give up and were playing some nice one touch football. They managed a consolation goal in the 80th minute, exploiting space on the right side to draw the keeper out. His dive slowed the ball down but deflected it towards goal where a Tintinhull sub tapped the ball in to make the final score 1.4. Both teams made this an enjoyable game to watch with little for the referee to do - to his credit, his common sense decisions assisted.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Game 2: Salisbury City 2.1 Hayes & Yeading United (Friendly) 30.07.11

Photolink: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjvwd9R2

After last weekend's mix-up on kickoff times,I had considered going to Melksham v Amesbury for a new ground tick but decided to play safe and take the short trip up to the Ray Mac for a confirmed 3pm start. It turned out to be a good choice, partly as it later transpired that Amesbury pulled out an hour before kickoff and partly as this was a really entertaining match.

I wasn't expecting many at the ground and was able to park fairly close to the turnstile for a change. I decided to watch from the sideline rather than an end and this put me in a good position to get a teamsheet when they appeared before kickoff. The Salisbury team was made up of a couple of trialists alongside the first team. I recognised a few of the names of the Hayes & Yeading team and it appeared that they had brought down a strong team.

The first half was the most entertaining no goal half of football I've seen in a long time as both teams came as close as you can get to scoring without the ball crossing the line. Hayes almost scored in the first minute when Salisbury lost possession in the area but the shot was blasted into Puddy, the trialist keeper. In the 7th minute the ball was chipped over Puddy but a defender got back in time to clear - a similar story two minutes later when the ball looked to be in but was hooked off the line by the other trialist, right back Pattison.

Salisbury had the next effort in the 10th minute, Wright getting a header on target that the Hayes keeper had to stretch to tip onto the crossbar. After these initial efforts, the game settled down with the next clear chance in the 32nd minute when an unmarked Hayes player put a header wide of the goal. The game was played in a good spirit apart from the Hayes number 3 who was pulled up for late tackles and on one occasion for leaving his knee in Kelly's face when he moved away. Just before halftime Hayes were again unfortunate not to score. A shot in the area was deflected by a defender's leg and rolled onto the post before the Whites defence cleared it. Moments later Puddy missed his attempt to catch the ball from a corner and another header had to be cleared off the line.

I was hoping that the second half would bring a goal and it wasn't long in coming. In the 55th minute Hayes made a number of substitutions and before they had time to settle they were a goal down. Kelly received the ball on the left side, cut in past one defender and from outside the box hit a quick shot before the next defender could get a tackle in. The ball flew into the goal before the keeper's dive could reach it to give Salisbury an unexpected lead.

Hayes continued to press and were denied a penalty when the referee ignored their shouts of handball as the ball was crossed into the box at the far end. It was too far away for me to see but the bench were indicating that the ball had hit the Salisbury player on the arm when it was deflected out for a corner. Salisbury had a couple of half chances, Clarke almost getting onto a through ball after coming on as a sub, but the team was defending more and more. Smith had replaced Puddy in goal and was forced into several smart saves before Hayes hit the post again in the 65th minute.

The equaliser finally came in the 77th minute when substitute Agyemang picked up the ball on the left side, span round his marker and fired home from close range. I thought that Hayes would press on to win the game and it was only a fine reflex save from Smith that kept the ball out of the net from a close range header in the 86th minute. The ball went for a corner which Smith gathered before sending the ball upfield for Reid. He took the ball down the left wing and won a throw near the corner flag. Before the Hayes defence could get organised he played a quick throw to Fitchett who passed back to the centre of the D where Clarke hit a belter into the top left corner. Somehow Salisbury were in the lead again!

There was still time for Smith to thwart Hayes with another diving save before the referee brought the game to a conclusion. The crowd of 294 had certainly witnessed an exciting game but perhaps not the expected outcome as Salisbury got their first pre-season win.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Game 1: Downton 0.0 Amesbury (Friendly) 19.07.11

Photolink: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjvANx29

For the first game of the season I decided to take the short drive down to Downton for a local fixture against Amesbury Town. My record at Downton wasn't great last season - while the team won 27 home games on their way to the Wessex 1 title, I managed to see both their defeats in the FA Cup competitions and the best league performance I witnessed was a draw. It was a nice surprise to bump into Mike Turner on the gate and discover he's been appointed as Downton's secretary for the forthcoming season.

While I've seen some high scoring friendlies in the past at this ground, this match went the way of the last competitive game I saw here and finished in a 0.0 draw. Both teams looked a little rusty with passes going astray and heavy first touches giving the ball away. When there were chances, neither team had the killer instinct from close in and efforts from distance were either well saved or well over the bar.

The best chance of the first half fell to Amesbury when a Downton player hit a backpass too short without considering the players around him. The Downton keeper rushed out but wasn't able to beat the onrushing Amesbury player to the ball. However his race out of the box led to the Amesbury player pushing the ball too far ahead and wide, allowing the Downton defender to get back and put a tackle in. This was enough pressure to see the Amesbury player hit the ball wide of the far post. Downton for the most part were in control of the game but their shots were mostly daisy cutters that the Amesbury keeper dealt with easily.

The second half was similar fare, enjoyable to watch as both teams created chances and kept the keeper's busy. After a multitude of substitutions while the sun set, it was Downton who controlled play and came close with a Gain shot that flashed wide. Amesbury had the best chance to win the match midway through the half with a stunning shot that the Downton keeper did well to get a hand to.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

2010-2011 Season Summary

Games seen: 60

Goals scored: 226

Highest Scoring Game: 7 - Longwell Green Sports 5.2 Odd Down, Bemerton Heath Harlequins 5.2 Lydney Town (aet)

Lowest Scoring Game: 0 - Downton v AFC Portchester

Goal Average: 3.76

Grounds Visited: 33

New Grounds Visited: 22

Game 60: Coalville Town 2.3 Whitley Bay (FA Vase Final) 08.05.11

It's been an ambition of mine for a few years to watch a match in each round of that season's FA Vase. In previous years I've made it through to the latter stages only to find that the logistics and/or costs of getting to a ground that one step too far. With Poole having a good run in the competition I had made it to the semi-final stage and now with a straightforward train ride to London out of the way, I was ready for my first FA Vase final.

I had arranged to meet Alan at the ground with a detour to meet Paul and his mate at a pub near Baker Street to drop off their tickets. The Whitley Bay end was the preference of a couple of the group so I'd booked tickets via their website - £25 for a Wembley final (plus p&p) was a bargain compared to the inflated price for FA Cup and England matches.

Arriving at Wembley, I called Alan and we soon concluded that we were at different stations near the ground so we arranged to meet up by the Bobby Moore statue. We hung around there for a while waiting for the ground to open up, watching the massed crowds arriving from the Midlands and the North East. A wander around the stadium shop to pick up a program and marvel at some of the retro FA Final kits was followed by a walk around the ground before we decided to go in. Once inside, Alan decided he wanted to put on a lucky bet so I decided to join him on a random flutter. As the last final I saw at Wembley finished 3.2 (Stevenage v Kidderminster) I decided to double that scoreline with Paul Chow to score the first goal - 75/1 for the customary lucky bet £1 stake.

The weather looked a little unsettled but when we found our seats it didn't matter as we were right at the back of the 1st tier and under cover. After watching the teams warming up, the ground began to fill up and by the time the two sides came out the half of the lower tier allocated to spectators was looking fairly full. Both teams came out and lined up on the traditional red carpet for the National Anthem and then the game began.

I had put my bet on with a high scoreline as I felt that both teams had played with different attacking style when I had seen them earlier in the competition - Coalville with their pace sparring with Whitley Bay and their guile. For the first period of the first half it was the pace of Coalville that impressed as they overran Whitley Bay and won a series of corners, one being cleared off the line. Paul and I both noticed the Coalville 10 was trying to cause some confusion for the keeper by waiting off the pitch behind the goal line and the goal net and then moving forward into the keeper's line of movement when the ball was crossed into the box. The referee didn't do anything on the first couple of corners but eventually noticed and called the Coalville player over for a word.

The first goal came from a simple counter-attacking move in the 28th minute. A Whitley Bay player on the right side pushed the ball towards the goal line and burst forward, beating the first man with the pass and the second man for speed to reach the ball. He fired in a low ball into the centre where an unmarked Chow pounced to slot a low shot past the Coalville keeper and in. A great move from the forward who noticed the defence was ball watching and ran off his marker's shoulder into space. The first part of the lucky bet had worked out!

Coalville had dominated before the goal and continued to dominate after it, seeing a 'goal' disallowed for offside with a late flag and a dipping volley fly just over the crossbar with the back peddling keeper beaten. They were very unlucky not to get an equaliser when the ball was hurled into the area from a long throw. The ball fell for a Coalville player and he hit a shot across the goal towards the far post. The shot beat the keeper but then rebounded back off the post and towards the keeper who grabbed it at the second attempt. Near the end of the half Chow had a half chance but hooked his shot over the bar from a difficult angle.

Coalville managed a deserved equaliser after 58 minutes. The ball was worked down the left side and a swerving high cross found Moore's head in the middle of the 6 yard box. His header had just enough pace to go over the line despite the best efforts of the Whitley keeper, who managed to push the ball down with a great reflex save. I thought that Coalville would press on for another goal but the next effort came from Whitley Bay in the 61st minute. The ball was on the wing and after a quick turn and shimmy, the winger got enough space to cross the ball to the edge of the penalty area. Lee Kerr rose up and glanced his head against the ball to send it towards the near post. One bounce was enough to take it past the keeper and into the netting inside the goal just behind the post to give Whitley Bay a 2.1 lead.

The game had really come to life now and both teams continued to press for a goal. Coalville thought that they had got the equaliser in the xx minute when the ball was swung into the area to find a Coalville player ahead of the defence and heading the ball towards the ground at point blank range. He glanced the header towards the keeper's right, only to see it bounce onto the post and fly out towards the penalty spot where a Whitley Bay player gratefully booted it clear.

Coalville were dominating and got behind the Whitley Bay defence again. This time the ball was cut back to a Coalville striker who took the ball past a defender before hitting a shot hard towards the top corner. Somehow the Whitley keeper managed to dive to his left and reach the curving shot to push it onto the crossbar. The Whitley goal was certainly leading a charmed life - moments later another cross found another player lining up a shot towards the other top corner but with the same result as the Whitley keeper pushed it over the bar for a corner.

With the holder's defence sitting deeper and deeper it only seemed like a matter of time before Coalville would score and the inevitable goal came in the 80th minute. Another cross from the right took out 6 blue and white shirts and fell kindly for the middle of a trio of white shirts on the 6 yard line. He stooped to head the ball low between the keeper and a defender before racing off to celebrate the equaliser.

I was starting to wonder if my decision to go for a 3.2 win might have been slightly misguided - right scoreline, wrong team as the momentum was all with Coalville. Whitley managed to push forward and won a free kick on the left of the penalty area as we faced it following a late challenge by the Coalville captain. Looking at the angle of the ball and goal I was suddenly convinced that Whitley would score - the angle was the same as the marvellous late winner they had scored at Poole and the same player, Kerr, lining up to take it. Kerr hit a similar free kick, this time over the wall and on target, only for the ball to deflect off Chow's head and onto the bar. As the keeper stretched up, the ball came down and from half a yard out it rolled off Chow and into the net to give Whitley Bay the lead again.

'Oh you of little faith' I thought as the second part of the the lucky bet came in and I joined in the celebrations for rather less altruistic reasons than those around me! The pace of the ball made if difficult to tell if Chow had deliberately intended to head the ball up or not as he moved in front of the keeper but it was certainly a striker's finish after that.

There was still 4 minutes and stoppage time to go and it seemed like an eternity as Coalville hit long balls up into the area, hoping for a slice of luck to go their way. As the game went into injury time I thought that they had scored at the far end as the ball went over the keeper but it dropped onto the roof of the net. Eventually time ran out and the referee blew his whistle to bring to an end one of the best games I've seen and a very enjoyable season.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Game 59: Roman Glass St George 1.2 Shepton Mallet (Western 1) 02.05.11

I hadn't planned on being at a match on this Bank Holiday Monday but glancing through the fixtures in the Non League paper I noted that Roman Glass St George would be playing their last match at their Bell Hill ground, their home since 1894. Paul had recommended a visit here so after a bit of research I worked out that I could walk to the ground from Lawrence Hill railway station and decided to make the trip. After taking an early morning train up from Salisbury, I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads and waited on the platform for my connection - luckily a bit warmer than the wait earlier in the season for a train to Weston Super Mare.

The train didn't take too long to get to Lawrence Hill and I strolled up the main road and past a park before turning off and wandering up a hill towards the ground. I wasn't the only person looking for the ground as a car pulled up and the driver asked me if I knew where the ground was. After a quick conversation he offered me a lift as he was heading there to assess the referee. Using my memory of Google's street view, we found the gap between two houses that led to the ground and parked up after I had paid for my entry and programme.

I had a bit of time to spare as I built in some contingency so I went for a wander around the pitch, stopping off in the main stand to get some respite from the sun and the very strong wind that was blowing across the pitch. The ground backed on to a number of houses, with some trees on the far side and behind one of the goals. On the other side there was space for what appeared to be a cricket pitch. The pitch certainly had an end of season feel to it with areas around the corners quite bare. There looked to be a few other 'travellers' dotted around the ground who were here to see the last game, speaking to one of them it turned out that he had come down from Oldham for the match!

The strong wind was certainly a factor in the match and we saw the first goal kick from the Shepton keeper land deep in the Roman Glass half before bouncing over the crossbar. Conversely, the Roman Glass goal kicks were barely clearing the penalty area before circling back with the breeze. Shepton had the first 'normal' chance in the 2nd minute and took the lead with a header from a long throw beating the keeper. Roman Glass attacked from kick off and almost equalised, hitting the post with a shot.

Shepton made the most of the conditions and almost scored in the 5th minute, the ball hitting a Roman Glass leg that deflected it wide of the goalmouth. A free kick in the 13th minute was headed out for a corner and while that corner was cleared, the ball fell to a Shepton player who dribbled round two defenders to find a gap. He used this gap to run forward and place a shot past the keeper to give the visitors a 2.0. lead. The defence started an inquisition and there were a few choice words flying around.

The rest of the half didn't see another goal but there were some good attempts. Shepton Mallet were lucky to clear the ball in the 19th minute when the keeper dropped a cross. A Shepton attack in the 25th minute saw a good breakthrough the middle ruined by wasteful finishing as the ball was walloped out of the ground. Three minutes later and a better shot from Roman Glass following a good break down the left was saved by the Shepton keeper's legs, although appeared to be more by luck than judgement.

Roman Glass were getting back into the game. A header flew narrowly over from a corner on the half hour and three minutes later two on target headers from corners where headed off the line by Shepton defenders. Nothing seemed to be going for them and some of the players frustration boiled over just before the end of the half when a handball decision was given against them. Shepton somehow missed a golden chance in injury time when a player got on the end of a cross and knocked the ball past the starfish dive of the keeper only to see the ball go over the bar.

The two teams disappeared into the changing rooms on the whistle but it looked as if they were going into someone's house with the design matching the neighbouring properties. When the teams came back out it was poignant to think that this would be the last half of football the club would play at the ground before their move to Almondsbury.

Shepton Mallet were in no mood for nostalgia and came close to a third goal in the 48th minute, hitting the left post after a good run and shot. The home keeper had to be on his toes, making a couple of saves in close succession with help from a defender sliding across the line on one occasion to keep the ball out. At the other end, we were treated to a spectacular long range shot that dipped over the keeper with the wind but went just over the bar.

Roman Glass finally got the goal their second half play deserved in the 70th minute, a pass and move into the centre before a shot whizzed past the keeper from close range. A minute later and it should have been 2.2 - a pass into the box found it's target again only for the resulting shot to fizz narrowly wide of the post.

The home team continued to press for the equaliser - a cross was spilt by the Shepton keeper to a Roman Glass player but his toepoke went wide when he should have put it in. The last clear cut chance came with ten minutes to go, a quick corner led to a cross from a better angle that was caught in the wind and hit the bar before bouncing out.

The referee blew the whistle and brought the game to an end. As the spectators folded up their picnic chairs, I wandered round towards the bar and took some pictures of the groundsmen taking down the nets for the last time before taking a final shot looking towards the old stand.

I used the time waiting for a lift back to Bath station with the assessor to check on Salisbury's progress in the Southern Premier playoff and found that match had finished 1.1 and was about to go into extra time. By the time I got on the train at Bath, Hednesford had taken a 2.1 lead and the twitter updates indicated that this was likely to be the final score. Suddenly I got a text from Pete to let me know that Ben Adelsbury had scored a beauty in the final seconds to force a penalty shoot out. Twitter soon confirmed and so I found myself refreshing tweets and waiting for text updates on the shootout. I wouldn't recommend this method - refreshing after one tunnel took forever but eventually news came through from Pete that Tommy Smith had saved the final penalty and Salisbury were promoted back to the Conference South. A good ending to a great day out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Game 54: Salisbury City 3.1 Brackley Town (Southern Prem) 19.04.11

A bonus game this evening as the first attempt to play this match had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch with 3 minutes left to play and Salisbury leading 3.2. With the Whites still in the title race, the three points for a win were essential as Truro had a 5 point lead with 2 games to go at the start of play. Brackley had been one of the early season favourites for the title but had a poor start to the campaign and were mid-table, out of reach of the playoffs despite a good run of form. I was expecting a big crowd but it didn't materialise and the attendance was given as 565.

Neither team were able to create a clear chance in the first 20 minutes, Salisbury had a weak header saved from a corner while Brackley saw a freekick sail over the bar. Turley had to be alert on a couple of occasions to cut out some dangerous passes while Dutton earnt a yellow card for a poor tackle on halfway after giving the ball away. In the 21st minute McLaggon took the ball towards the left wing and played a great pass behind the defence, the space allowing Fitchett to burst forward and put a low cross into the middle for Wright to bundle past the keeper.

Despite having a 1.0 lead, Salisbury weren't allowed to settle and Brackley had a couple of decent chances, earning a corner in the 28th minute that saw more dancing round the keeper than a handbag at a disco. This ploy didn't work but a cross in the 30th minute almost did. The ball looked to be going well wide before it dipped and creeped towards the back post. The Salisbury keeper could only watch as the ball fell the wrong side of the post. In the 37th minute McLaggon picked up the ball from a poor Brackley pass in the middle of the pitch and raced forward. His pace was too much for the defence and he soon placed a shot past the keeper. The ball was heading just wide but Fitchett caught up with the ball and tapped it in, only to see the goal disallowed for offside. This decision didn't go down well with the home fans.

Brackley were starting to stretch the play and the ball was spending much of the time in the Salisbury half. In the 40th minute the ever dangerous Owen Story took the ball on the edge of the area, dummied a defender before hitting a shot low into the left of the goal. A deserved equaliser that meant the half time score was 1.1

The first response from Salisbury in the second half was to put Stuart Anderson into midfield, replacing Charlie Knight. The second was a golden opportunity for McLaggon who was unmarked when he glanced a header towards goal but his effort flew wide. Wright had the next chance, taking the ball in on goal but putting his shot wide. That didn't matter as the assistant had his flag up for offside but that seemed to be a strange decision as he had run from behind a defender to pick up the ball.

The play was all Salisbury now, the referee ignoring shouts of 'handball' from the crowd when a penalty should have been awarded. McLaggon then played a superb through ball for Wright but he didn't have enough time to control the ball as the defence got back, leading to a tame shot at the keeper. The roles were reversed a minute later as Wright headed the ball down to McLaggon who took the ball round a defender before hitting a fierce shot across the goal and in.

Brackley made a double substitution shortly afterwards, including ex Oxford United striker Steve Basham as they tried to get back into the game. Wright saw his long shot curve past the post but that was a rare opportunity as the Whites failed to keep possession. There were certainly some nerves on the terraces until the 87th minute when Mclaggon was played in again by a Wright header. He took a great first touch to bring the ball under control before hitting his shot across the keeper and in. An important 3.1 victory to move the Whites back into second place, 2 points behind Truro.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Game 52: Wincanton Town 4.0 Sturminster Newton (Dorset Prem) 09.04.11

Not quite a day at the races but it seemed appropriate on the day of the Grand National to take in a game at Wincanton Town, close to the Wincanton race course. I retraced my drive of the previous weekend in bright sunshine before turning off the A303 and into Wincanton. The ground here is out of the town centre but was straightforward to find thanks to a quick gander at Google Maps before I left. As well as football the complex has tennis courts and a bowls green with plenty of parking available.

After following the signs to go through the bar, I walked along a pathway to the pitch. After paying £3 for admission and a programme I wandered over the touchline and had a read before wandering round to a spot near the impressive stand. There was only one other person there when I arrived and the crowd was only 6 when the teams came out. Gradually the locals turned up so by kick off the crowd had risen to around 30 or so. I recognised the referee and his assistants from my visit to Sturminster Newton a couple of weeks earlier.

Wincanton took the lead in spectacular fashion after 10 minutes. The ball was not cleared away from a corner and a great volley saw the ball fly into the top left corner past the keeper's dive. Sturminster Newton came close to an equaliser a minute later when they won a corner. The ball was aimed into the middle of the area and they managed a couple of efforts on target that were cleared by the bodies of defenders on the goal line before a shot was hooked just wide.

Wincanton should have extended their lead on the quarter hour when they won the ball on the halfway line. A player took the ball forward but with only the keeper to beat he sliced his shot well wide. Two minutes later a long kick from the keeper presented a similar opportunity for Wincanton as a player raced past the Sturminster defence to run onto the ball but he also failed to get a shot away on target as the visiting keeper closed in on him.

Wincanton made an early substitution in the 26th minute, a switch in central defence. Three minutes later and they went 2.0 up following a mistake in the Sturminster midfield, giving the ball to a Wincanton player who had plenty of space to run into. The defence couldn't get back to cover and while the keeper made a good save to stop the first shot, he couldn't hold onto the ball and was powerless to prevent the Wincanton player from running onto the rebound and tucking the ball in from a tight angle.

The long balls from the home keeper were presenting a number of one on one opportunities for shots as balls over the top Sturminster defence weren't being cleared. One shot almost squeezed under the keeper but he managed to sit on the ball as it passed under him. Sturminster had an opportunity to pull a goal back in the 37th minute from a freekick. The ball was played high into the area and as it came down a shot was fired just wide of the goal with the home keeper motionless. With five minutes left to play I was surprised to see Wincanton make a second substitution as there didn't appear to be any injuries. Just before half time the home crowd weren't happy with a marginal offside call from the assistant on the near side although none of them were actually in that half to be able to see any better than the assistant!

Wincanton were soon on the attack in the second half, a header from a very long throw into the box went just wide. Neither side seemed to have the final ball when in good positions and while the game was fairly end to end it didn't seem likely that either side were going to score as the half went on. When there were shots on target, they were either hit directly at the goalkeepers or the keepers made good saves. This changed in the 77th minute as another long deep ball from the Wincanton keeper flew over the heads of the defence and into space ahead of the Sturminster keeper. A Wincanton player was quickly onto the ball and played it around the keeper before tapping in his team's third goal of the afternoon.

As the clock wound down I listened to a couple of Sturminster followers behind the goal come to the realisation that it wasn't going to be their day. Wincanton wrapped the game up in the 87th minute when they won a freekick in the centre of the pitch just outside the penalty area. The keeper lined the wall up and positioned himself by the right post. The ball was curled to the opposite side and the pace beat his dive, an excellent strike to give Wincanton a deserved 4.0 win.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Game 51: Westland Sports 2.3 Merley Cobham Sports (Dorset League Cup) 02.04.11

After the glamour of an FA Vase semi-final last week, I decided to head to Westland Sports near Yeovil for another semi-final. This one was in the Dorset League Cup with Merley Cobham Sports the visitors. I had seen a couple of different kick off times advertised so I decided to play safe and head down a bit early. As I turned off the A303 and headed towards the ground I found myself in a queue of traffic heading to the Yeovil v Bristol Rovers match. The road ran to the side of the Westland pitch and I was concerned to see that there appeared to be a match in progress. After making it to the next roundabout and turning away from the flow of traffic, I navigated past the Premier Inn and into the ground.

I soon realised that there were two pitches at the complex and was pleased to see players from Merley warming up on the far side. It turned out that the game that was taking place on the other pitch was a match between Westland Sports Reserves and Martock United. I later found out that this was also a semi-final for a place in the Yeovil and District League's Charity Cup. I watched the remainder of the first half, including one of the Westland goals in their 2.1 win, as it turned out that the first team game had been moved back to a 3pm kickoff.

As this game reached half-time, I wandered around to the main pitch and waited for the teams to come out for the match I had intended to see. I hadn't appreciated how close Yeovil's Huish Park is to this ground and it was somewhat surreal to hear the chants and noise from a League fixture blowing across on the wind.

On form it appeared that Westland Sports would be the favourites for this match but I had been impressed with Merley Cobham when I saw them earlier in the season. This impression was not unfounded as the visitors dominated play for the first twenty minutes. Merley had a good opportunity ruled out for offside, the ball had already been struck at goal and was about to bounce off the post when the referee blew for the infringement. Two minutes later and the home keeper committed himself to win a ball heading towards the far left of the area and lost the race. The ball was played into the centre of the area but the shot from a Merley player went over the bar with only a defender on the line to beat. The pressure finally told in the 17th minute when a defender missed his clearance, allowing a Merley player to run onto the ball and place a shot low to the left of the keeper and in.

Westland Sports had a couple of chances after this and on both occasions the Merley keeper covered the shot but allowed the ball to bounce away before grabbing it and bringing it under control. In the 41st minute the ball was crossed into the area for a Westland player to head down. The keeper had the initial header covered but again allowed the ball to bounce out. This time there was a Westland player close enough to him to beat him to the ball and tuck it under him for the equaliser.

The second half started in dramatic fashion. In the 47th minute a Westland player was clearly pushed in the area and the referee gave a penalty without a moment's hesitation. The penalty kick was struck low to the right but the goalkeeper guessed correctly and as the ball wasn't hit too far from him, made an excellent save. In the 50th minute Westland's made amends from their next attack. The ball went for a corner and was played deep towards the back of the area. A Westland player jumped above the defence and placed a high header on target. The ball looped over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to give Westland Sports a 2.1 lead.

The lead only lasted for two minutes. Merley won a corner. One of their players suddenly ran forward and drew two defenders out with him as they anticipated a short corner. With those players out of position the ball was hit into the area and in a near repeat of Westland's goal, one of the Merley players got his head in above the depleted defence and powered the ball in under the crossbar. Merley came close again from a header minutes later but on that occasion the ball was headed over the bar. Four minutes after equalising, Merley took the lead. A great through ball found a Merley player in space and he took the ball round the keeper before slipping it into the empty net. The same player went through again shortly afterwards but his shot rolled narrowly wide after beating the keeper.

The game settled down after that as Westland tried to get another equaliser. There was a huge roar in the distance in the 75th minute as one of the teams at Yeovil scored (it turned out to be the Bristol Rovers goal in a 1.0 win) but little to shout about here. Westland had a couple of shots wide while Merley were happy to counter-attack, using the wings to good effect. Westland had one late effort that almost paid off but the final shot was hit wide. The clock was against them and it was the visitors who celebrated a cup final appearance at the final whistle.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game 48: Salisbury City 2.0 Swindon Supermarine (Southern Prem) 22.03.11

Another Tuesday night, another visit to the Ray Mac as Salisbury continued to catch up on the fixtures that were delayed due to their FA Trophy run and the bad weather earlier in the season. After losing at the weekend Salisbury were still top of the division but only had a 2 point lead over second placed Truro with no games in hand so it was vital for them to pick up a win against mid-table opposition. Swindon Supermarine had a couple of familiar faces in their line up - former loanee Ashan Holgate was starting up front while joint player manager and former Whites defender Matt Robinson was in his familiar right back role.

Salisbury had not been at their best defensively on my previous visits and came really close to another defensive calamity in the first minute. A back pass was rolling sideways in the area for Smith to clear but he decided to let it run without looking to his left. A Swindon player was running in to the area and couldn't believe his luck, knocking the ball past the keeper. Luckily for Salisbury his first touch was far too heavy and on the damp surface the ball skidded out of play before he could re-direct it into the empty net.

Salisbury picked themselves up and put together a good move in the third minute, cumulating in Clarke hitting a low shot narrowly past the keeper. I was surprised to see the ball get to him as there were earlier chances to have a shot and this became a trend throughout the half. Salisbury would break away but not have the confidence to take on the last player so the ball would come back out again, allowing Swindon to regroup and make it even more difficult for the second wave of attack to break through.

Despite this flaw, there were some good chances to score in the first ten minutes. McLaggon hooked a shot over the bar from a Reid knockdown and Shephard hit a dipping, curving freekick from the right onto the top of the post with the keeper well beaten. As the game wore on, the finishing began to get a bit more desperate. McLaggon was the worst culprit, hitting an early shot that was so far wide that it was closer to the corner flag than the goal at the point it crossed the line. Some of the passing became hit and hope, one wag in the crowd reminding the team in white that 'Robinson doesn't play for us anymore' as the experienced defender cut out another mishit pass.

The 26th minute saw a good move from Kelly who passed the ball into McLaggon. His confidence appeared to be low as he decided to take an extra touch instead of hitting the ball first time. This control didn't help with the final shot as the ball was hit wide, perhaps not helped by the defenders having an extra second to put in a challenge for the ball. A freekick in the 29th minute brought out a good save from the visiting keeper at the near post.

Swindon hadn't had any real opportunities of note but came close to taking the lead in the 40th minute from a shot from outside the area that took a dip towards goal and looked to be heading over Smith's head and in. The keeper was alert to this and dived backwards to tip the ball over the bar. There were a number of heavy challenges on McLaggon but the referee took no action until the 42nd minute when he flashed a yellow card at a defender. I thought that there were grounds for a red, especially when you could hear the impact from the other end of the pitch. By the time the referee blew the whistle, the optimists around me seemed happy enough and the general consensus was 'at least we're not losing!'.

I felt that Salisbury needed to be more direct with their play in the final third and not be afraid to take players on as this would be their best opportunity to score. I was pleased to see McLaggon was of the same opinion as he burst through in the 49th minute, only to see his shot saved by the keeper's legs. In the 54th minute a superb through ball across the area by Clarke allowed Reid to run onto the ball and take on the last man. Reid used his physique to shield the ball before hitting a low shot under the keeper and in. An excellent finish and one that was well received by the majority of the crowd of 604.

At 1.0 Swindon were still in the game and they came close to an equaliser in the 62nd minute. The ball was played long upfield and flicked on to a player in space. He drove forward and hit his shot just wide of the left post. The number of backpasses were making the crowd a bit nervous as they wanted to see the ball up at their end of the pitch. In the 72nd minute a great pass by Shephard put Clarke through on the right side and his shot was deflected wide for a corner. That came to nothing, allowing Swindon to regroup and take the ball to the other end of the pitch to win a corner themselves.

From the corner Holgate had a shot that was cleared for another corner. That corner was played out by the keeper and the third corner that followed saw a desperate scramble after a goalbound shot was blocked by a player. Eventually the ball was hit upfield and from the breakaway a good through ball saw McLaggon accelerate to outpace the covering defender, take the ball round the keeper then slip the ball into the empty net from the acute angle to give Salisbury a 2.0 win. The player was delighted to break his recent goalscoring duck although he was substituted moments later.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Game 47: Sturminster Newton 0.4 Portland United (Dorset Prem) 19.03.11

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I took a relaxing drive through the Wiltshire and Dorset countryside to arrive at Sturminster Newton's ground in plenty of time to park up before kickoff. After listening to the end of the lunchtime match on the radio I grabbed my camera and wandered up the pathway to the ground entrance. After paying £3 admission I wandered up the slope to the pitch. With a rising field and copse of trees behind the ground it was a superb setting for a football match. The ground had 1 small standing area with cover and a bench surrounded by daffodils on the right hand side. There were floodlights around the pitch although one pylon in the corner was missing lights.

I haven't seen Portland since they were in the Wessex League but glancing at the league table earlier in the day I noted that they had risen to second place in the DPL. Sturminster Newton United were rooted to the bottom with only 2 home wins this season. The two teams were warming up on the pitch before wandering off to get final preparations completed. When the sides came out it took a little while to get organised and the Portland players were left waiting as the Sturminster players continued their huddle well after the coin toss. The game finally kicked off at 3.04

Portland took the lead after 6 minutes with a fortunate goal. The ball was played forward to a striker and although he was surrounded by a couple of defenders, he managed to get a low shot off before falling to the ground. It looked as if the keeper had it covered but the ball somehow found it's way past him and in off the far post. In the 8th minute there was an accidental collision between two players right in front of the covered terrace. The force of the challenge led to the Portland player flying off the pitch and into the metal, with the handrail where I was stood bouncing back and forth after the hit. The player looked a little dazed at first but after some treatment he was able to get up and joke that the railing was more likely to be damaged than his head. The good news was that he was fine to continue.

The game was fairly open but Portland were creating most of the chances and should have extended their lead in the 14th minute when one of the players was through on goal but put his shot over the bar. Sturminster won some corners but each time elected to play a deep cross towards the back post which didn't trouble the Portland defence a great deal. Portland scored again in the 29th minute from a freekick awarded after a good run down the left wing was halted by a late tackle. The ball was whipped into the area and a Portland player flicked his head at it and diverted the ball past the keeper. Just before the half time whistle, Sturminster had a good chance to go through on the counterattack as the ball was played long to one striker with his team mate in space and only one defender between them and goal. The first touch was good but the player then slipped before he could play the pass and the chance was lost.

I had a wander around the pitch at halftime and decided to watch the game from the other side of the covered terrace as it could provide some shade from the sun. Although standing on the line an assistant is running up and down is not my first choice when taking pictures, I had noticed that this assistant was using his experience and wasn't often coming up as far as the halfway line. At times he was two or three paces onto the pitch when the play was at the other end instead but he had good awareness to step back as the ball started to move towards his half. He certainly had a sense of humour, asking the Sturminster defenders before the kickoff if they wouldn't mind staying in line as it made his job easier!

The second half was fairly similar to the first and Portland continued to dominate in the final third. In the 46th minute a good break and cross from the right was unfortunate not to find a blue shirt to head in. In the 49th minute Portland were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty and then had the misfortune to see a shot on target deflected wide only for the officials to signal for a goal kick when the players were convinced it should be a corner. One of them took the protests a little too far and the referee had a quick word to calm him down.

Sturminster then had a good spell of play and earnt their first corner of the half. Instead of hitting another long, deep cross for the keeper to deal with they decided to play the ball short. This certainly fooled the Portland defence which gave Sturminster time to hit a cross into the box. The ball whizzed across the six yard line in front of goal and only needed a touch to knock it in but no-one was close enough to reach it. A minute later and one of their players took an early shot that went just wide before the ball was brought back for an offside.

Portland thought that they had added a third goal in the 57th minute. The ball was played through the centre of the defence for a midfielder to run onto and he kept his calm before slotting the ball past the keeper. As he wheeled away to celebrate he realised that the assistant on our side had flagged him for offside - a marginal decision that was perhaps given for a team mate being offside and interfering with play by blocking the defender's run. In the 60th minute Portland came close again - an excellent reflex save to push the ball onto the crossbar keeping the ball out - before they managed a goal seconds later. The ball came to the edge of the area and a great cross was headed past the keeper. This time he couldn't get close enough to the ball to tip it away and Portland could celebrate again.

Sturminster didn't help themselves at times. They won a rare freekick in the Portland half and one of their players tapped it to a team mate to try and catch Portland off guard. His team mate wasn't paying attention and picked the ball up, thinking that he would be taking the kick. This misunderstanding didn't last long as the referee blew his whistle and gave a freekick the other way. When the player protested after the ball went out of play, the referee firmly explained what had happened but didn't lose his cool and kept his cards in his pocket to diffuse the situation.

Portland were denied on a couple of occasions by the offside flag but finally got it right in the 80th minute. A long ball was headed over the defence and a sub ran on to the ball, took it round the goalkeeper and slotted it into the net for a 4.0 win. A very enjoyable game to watch in a perfect sunny day setting.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Game 46: Salisbury City 1.3 Cambridge City (Southern Prem) 15.03.11

Since my last Tuesday night visit to the Ray Mac, for the 6.0 defeat to Truro, Salisbury had moved back to the top of the table with a 5 point lead over Truro with a game in hand. This match against 3rd placed Cambridge City had been rearranged from February and I expected a close match given the league positions and the 3.3 draw at Cambridge earlier in the season. The weather had been bright and sunny during the day but as I left home it started to rain. There was a minute silent before the match and all you could hear was the rain bouncing off the terrace roofing as 860 spectators fell quiet.

The game was surprisingly open as both teams came out with the aim of securing all three points. Salisbury were missing a few players through injury and suspension but had secured Hart as defensive cover on loan from Bath City for a month. Salisbury were playing some close passes but the accuracy was lacking at times, allowing Cambridge to build attacks. Salisbury's team was also lacking in height with several players up against opposition who were 6-7 inches taller. This was evident in the 9th minute when Cambridge were able to outmuscle the defensive cover to get a header on target.

Cambridge weren't the only ones making passing errors, one promising move came to an end when a player completely missed the ball, letting it go for a throw in. An underhit pass in the 13th minute let Reid in but his run at goal was soon brought to an end when he overhit the ball and had to scuff a shot quickly before the defender could get to the ball. Reid was causing some problems for the Cambridge defence, having a penalty shout turned down and shrugging off defenders to hit a shot over the bar in the 23rd minute. Cambridge ended up with the first booking when Shephard was brought down when moving on to a clever pass but the freekick was wasted with the ball hurtling well over the bar from an unmarked header as the player got under rather than over the ball.

Cambridge took the lead in the 28th minute in controversial circumstances. A high ball was lofted into the area and it looked as if Smith had an easy catch to make when a header bounced up off the turf in the six yard box. To my surprise he seemed to make no attempt to catch the ball and it looped over his head and in. The assistant referee had his flag up but the referee awarded the goal. After some prompting from the Salisbury defenders the referee went over to his assistant but didn't change his mind and the goal stood. It appeared that the goalkeeper had relied on the flag rather than wait for the whistle - a really soft goal to concede.

Cambridge came close to adding a second goal on the half hour when an unchallenged player put a cross in from the left that went over the keeper's head, with the crossbar coming to the rescue. A lucky escape at one end was matched by another lucky escape at the other - a deflected Salisbury shot went just the wrong side of the post with the Cambridge keeper stranded - the two chances were almost a cameo of two of the goals Hayles had scored for Truro! The goal seemed to have reduced the Salisbury players confidence and they were making some basic errors in dangerous positions. The short passing patterns they were keen to use at the back were being cut out by Cambridge players pressing high up the pitch. Free kicks were being rushed and ended up putting the team in trouble with no advantage. They did come close to scoring just before halftime when the ball bounced back into play from a corner flag - this set up a passing move that saw the Cambridge keeper make a good save. From the resulting corner Cambridge had to be alert to kick the ball off the goal line.

During the half time interval Cambridge's supporters moved their flags onto the back wall of the away end with three on display. Salisbury didn't spend long in the dressing room and were out a good five minutes before their opponents, carrying out some warm ups. This seemed to pay dividends in the 48th minute when Shephard skipped round three challenges before playing in Clarke. His shot was rising but on target until the Cambridge keeper managed to dive across and tip the ball wide. From the corner the ball was played into the middle of the goal out of reach of the keeper to Turley who powered a header in to equalise.

It looked like Salisbury had got themselves back in the game but the momentum was lost thanks to some dreadful decision making at the back. In the 61st minute a poor goalkick almost allowed Cambridge into score but the keeper redeemed himself with a good low save. A minute later another poor pass let Abbs in and he put his shot low past Smith to score. Salisbury brought on McLaggon and won a corner. New defender Hart was caught on the edge of the box as he tried to shoot and was left hobbling back into position. While he managed to head the ball clear moments later he didn't look comfortable and was left exposed as Salisbury pushed forward. Reid was brought down in the area but the referee waved play on. The keeper booted the ball upfield quickly and Hart was only able to head the ball slightly backwards, allowing Kolodynski a run on goal. He took the ball into the area, wide round Smith and hit a shot across goal and in off a post before a defender could get back to give the visitors a 3.1 lead.

After Hart was substituted to allow for some treatment, the game kicked off and Salisbury pushed forward in search of a goal. It wasn't to be their night - Shephard hit a shot just over the bar through a crowd of players from a corner, two decent penalty shouts were turned down, Clarke hit a tame shot at the keeper and just before the end McLaggon attempted a clever backheel on target but got his angle slightly out so the ball went wide. McLaggon had the last effort of the night in injury time but put the shot over. Another frustrating night for the Whites fans as defensive errors and a lack of finishing finesse cost them the 3 points.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Game 45: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2.3 Hamble ASSC (WESS PREM) 07.03.11

Headed over to Andy's to find that Liz would be joining us for her first ever live football match. Before leaving the house it felt quite mild outside but as we wandered around to the ground it started to get a bit chilly and I was glad that I had brought a hat along.
Flicking through the programme it was interesting to note that Bemerton had managed to keep their first clean sheet since the start of January on Saturday. They recorded an impressive 2.0 win against Brading Town although the visitors had been reduced to 9 men by the end of the game. Bemerton had also recorded a 6.2 victory in the reverse fixture back in November.
It didn't take too long for the first goal. The ball was passed into the Hamble penalty area in the 5th minute and Young hit an absolute screamer with his left foot that flew into the top corner of the net. However the lead and the clean sheet didn't survive past the 9th minute as the Bemerton defence parted as the ball was played through the middle, allowing a Hamble player to run onto the pass and place a low shot past the keeper.
While the Bemerton players looked frustrated about conceding an equaliser, they took it out on the Hamble defence by creating a number of chances to retake the lead. Sanger had a shot wide and a couple of headers from good positions ended up over the bar. In the 21st minute the pressure looked to have payed off when a Bemerton player was tripped up in the box and the referee awarded a penalty. The Bemerton player hit the ball low to the keeper's right but the keeper guessed correctly and saved the shot, gathering the ball at the second attempt.
Hamble were lifted by this and moved the ball forward down the left side. The ball came into the box and the defence managed to half clear it, only to see a shot from the edge of the area fly over the goalkeeper before hitting the bar and bouncing down over the line. It wasn't clear whether it was a deliberate shot or a cross that got lucky but the Hamble players weren't too bothered.
Bemerton continued to apply pressure and glanced a header from a corner wide. The Hamble keeper appeared to be caught and stayed down for a few minutes while he was treated. The game seemed to lose momentum after that and it wasn't until injury time that we saw some attempts at goal. Hamble had a shot that was tipped wide for a corner and Bemerton had another header over the bar.
After a Bovril break for my fellow spectators, the teams came out for the second half. It didn't take too long for the first goal in this half either - Sanger played a great cross that went over the heads of the defenders running into area and found Slade in the middle. He dived forward and put his header to the right of the goal, just out of the keeper's diving reach. Bemerton were pushing forward to try and retake the lead but the final ball was lacking and nothing came from the chances they created. Hamble had a rare attack down the right side in the 69th minute. When the ball was crossed into the area a group of players challenged for the ball in the air before it was cleared. The referee blew his whistle and it wasn't immediately clear what the offence was. He then pointed to the spot and awarded Hamble a penalty. The Bemerton keeper dived to his right, only to see the ball fly into the left of the goal to give Hamble a 3.2 lead.
Bemerton almost equalised three minutes later when a ball was cleared out of the Hamble six yard box only to deflect back towards goal as it hit another Hamble player. The keeper didn't have time to react but got lucky as the ball cannoned back off his legs and was cleared.

The game turned a bit nasty towards the end as Bemerton continued to press for an equaliser. It looked as if one of the Bemerton players kicked out at a Hamble player following a tackle but none of the officials spotted the offender and play continued. Joe Sanger was then taken out by a shocking tackle from the Hamble captain - last seen trying to get sent off at the abandoned match at Fareham - who was only booked for the offence after both teams squared up to each other. Sanger hobbled off the pitch and took no further part in the game.

Joe Fisher went up front as Bemerton moved to a 4-3-3 formation and he didn't pull out of a challenge on the keeper which caused another flare up. The keeper seemed to be fairly wound up and after the final whistle shouted abuse and squared up to the spectators behind the goal. A poor end to an entertaining game.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Game 44: Poole Town 2.1 Torpoint Athletic (FA Vase) 05.03.11

After the draw was made for this round of the FA Vase I was pleased to see that it would guarantee at least one "Southern" based side in the Semi-Final with this tie although my hopes for a trip to Cornwall to watch Torpoint were dashed. After consulting the atlas, train timetables and bank account I decided to head down to Poole for the second time in the FA Vase this season. Arriving in Poole at lunchtime, Paul and I wandered into the town centre to pick up a copy of the Good Beer Guide so Paul could plan some pub visits to go with his non-league football trips. Sadly, the only "real" pubs in Poole were in the opposite direction to the ground so after aborting a food stop at Weatherspoons as it was heaving, we strolled back up to Tatnum.

On the way up to the ground we passed by a number of people with black and gold scarves and realised that the visiting team's supporters coaches must have arrived. Once we got to the ground we had a friendly welcome from the ladies at the gate and selling programmes. As the sun was out we made our way down to the far side to get a vantage point near the goal, away from the assistant's line and with the sun behind us so I could take some photographs. The ground started to fill up nicely and by 3pm there were people standing on the bank behind us as all the space around the edge of the pitch was taken. Torpoint had brought a splendid crowd up to support them with Cornish flags and even a full sized cardboard cut out (with scarf) on display. The attendance on the day was later announced as 964.

Pre-match Paul and I had debated the scoreline - Paul had gone for a 5.0 Poole win while I went for a more conservative 2.1 win based on my previous visit and their FA Vase form - all matches had been settled by the odd goal. Having seen Poole concede an early goal in that game, I speculated that Torpoint's best bet would be to try and get the early goal and try and frustrate Poole. It was still a surprise though when in the first minute, Torpoint played a ball over the top of the defence that caught the Poole defence cold. Torpoint's Carter suddenly found himself racing through on goal with a decent headstart on the defence as he was the right side of the last man to stay onside. He ran into the box before carefully placing a shot over the Poole keeper and in to the joy of the visiting supporters who were leaping around behind the goal.

While the goal had been a surprise, the response to it wasn't as Poole pressed forward in search of the equaliser. In the 5th minute a header was cleared off the line from a corner and moments later a shot flashed just wide of the post. Poole won a number of corners but couldn't get the finish they were looking for. In the 15th minute a superb dummy let a Poole player through but his shot was well tipped wide for another corner. The goalkeeper went up for the catch and almost spilt the ball before recovering.

By the 20th minute the home supporters were looking a bit anxious as chances weren't being taken. They soon had something to cheer though as a long ball was played forward and Taffy Richardson found some legs to run through the Torpoint defence to take on a long ball. He had the strength and vision to keep the defender at bay until he reached the penalty area where his advance was brought to an end by a clumsy challenge. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot for a penalty! Hubbard picked up the ball and after a short delay thrashed the ball past the keeper to equalise.

Poole continued to push forward and should have done better moments later from a corner when a shot was hit straight at the goalkeeper. Richardson was really unlucky not to score himself from an acrobatic overhead kick that bounced just wide of the post. Torpoint were restricted to the occasional counter-attack but almost made one count in the 30th minute when the ball was played into space for a player to run into at the edge of the area. Luckily for Poole their keeper was alert and got to the ball just in front of the attacker.

Poole took the lead after 32 minutes with a delightful through ball finding Sturgess. He took the ball in to the area before lifting it over the keeper and in. Both teams then missed out on good chances to score - Torpoint in the 35th minute saw a rare shot from the edge of the penalty area fly just over the bar while Poole were denied by the Torpoint keeper's legs in the 43rd minute.

The second half followed a similar pattern to start with, Poole pressing forward and Torpoint breaking upfield occasionally. The Torpoint keeper was kept busy but he was proving to be very capable and this was demonstrated in the 56th minute with one of the best saves I've seen this season. Sturgess hit a screamer that was flying towards the top left hand corner but somehow the keeper flew across goal and stuck a hand out to deflect the ball onto the bar. Five minutes later and the woodwork was rattled again when Smith came off the bench and hit the bar with his first touch of the ball.

As the game progressed without Poole scoring, Torpoint had opportunities to take the game into extra time in the last ten minutes. A mazy run opened up the Poole defence but the shot that followed gave the keeper no problems. A quick free kick from a Poole offside set Torpoint away again but the Poole keeper was alert to the danger and narrowed the angle well to make the save. With time running down a cross was hit into the Poole area but it was over the onrunning player's head. Finally the referee blew the whistle and the Wessex side were through to the semi-final.