Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Game 43: Salisbury City 0.6 Truro City (Southern Prem) 22.02.11

Since the start of the season this match between the two pace setters in the Southern Premier title race was much talked about as being a championship decider. In recent weeks Salisbury's fortunes had improved without playing league matches for Truro dropped points while Salisbury were playing in the FA Trophy. Salisbury had taken the top spot with a 4.0 win at Halesowen at the weekend so I was expecting a big attendance but I wasn't expecting to be in a queue of traffic back to the roundabout 30 mins before kickoff. I eventually pulled up in the carpark 25 minutes later and joined a queue for the turnstiles. I was lucky to get one of the last programmes from the clubshop and was pleased to hear the kick off had been delayed by 15 minutes due to the crowds. The final attendance was announced as 1682, the highest in the league this season.

Once I got into the ground I made my way on to the terrace to meet Paul and watched the traffic and spectators flooding into the ground. Truro had brought a good number of fans who were in the away end - segregation due to police advice following some trouble at the recent fixture away at Weymouth. The first action of the half saw a Truro defender stretchered off after 4 minutes and a quick substitution to bring on the experienced Alex Jeannin. A few minutes later saw another Truro player collapse onto the turf, this time a fierce shot from a corner hit him in the face. The medical team were on quickly and the player was ok to continue after treatment.

Salisbury had a good chance from a corner in the 15th minute when an overhit corner managed to find a Whites head at the far post but the ball was headed wide. Truro hadn't created much in the final third during the first quarter of the match but the experience of former Premier League striker Barry Hayles in playing to the ref helped them win some 50/50 decisions. He was also part of a good passing move in the 23rd minute, when the ball ended up being crossed low into the box and Taylor got a deft flick on the ball to play it in slow motion past Smith in the Salisbury goal. It seemed to take a while to cross the line but finally got there to give Truro a 1.0 lead.

Reid had a good chance to score in the 27th minute but he took a heavy first touch instead of shooting and the chance was wasted. Five minutes later saw a touch of real class from Hayles. He took the ball on the left side of the area and cut in towards the penalty area. The Salisbury defence seemed to want to guide him along the line without making a challenge which gave him time to hit a strong shot towards the right of the goal. Smith was well beaten by the pace of the ball and it crashed off the bar and into the net for a 2.0 lead. Salisbury seemed to be frustrated that the only times that they had given Truro a chance to shoot they had conceded and this may have lead to an awful challenge by Adelsbury just before the half time whistle. He launched into a late sliding tackle that took out a Truro player and it was no surprise to see the referee pull out the red card. Truro's dominance of midfield had lead to the Whites launching a stream of high long balls for their front men to chase and it was hard to see how they would come back with a man down. The visiting fans didn't think they would and were olaying with each blue shirted touch of the ball.

At halftime Salisbury made a couple of changes, bringing on Fitchett and Brett to reshape the side and try and get back into the game. This change was effective as the Whites made light of the sending off and made an attacking start. After a decent penalty shout was turned down by the referee Fitchett sliced a shot wide and Clarke hit a freekick just over the bar. From a corner both Kelly and Fitchett tried to stab the ball through a bundle of players to no avail. Truro's keeper must have been concerned as each time he took a goal kick he wasted more and more time in setting it up which didn't win him any popularity awards with the home fans.

In the 64th minute Reid took the ball down the right wing and put a splendid cross into the middle. Kelly ran onto it but it was just too strong for him to be able to direct the ball and he headed it over. Fitchett went through three minutes later but his shot flew just wide for a corner. From the corner the ball was cleared to the edge of the area and Brett hit a rising shot over from a good position. Salisbury brought on McLaggon to try and keep the pressure up but Truro started to threaten again. In the 75th minute a long ball was headed on only for the shot to fly well wide. There was no such luck in the 77th minute as Hayles ran onto a pass and took the ball towards goal with a Salisbury defender covering the space in front of him. Hayles fired a weak shot at goal which Smith would have had covered if it hadn't deflected off the defender. The ball was diverted it to the opposite side to give Truro a 3.0 lead.

Salisbury didn't give up and managed to get the ball past Rice and into the goal twice, only to see both goals disallowed. The first effort from a Reid shot was ruled out for a marginal offside, the second one was no surprise as Turley lashed the ball into the goal with a flailing arm after leaping up to try and get on the end of a cross. Salisbury were starting to look tired and Truro exploited this three times in the last six minutes with some excellent counter-attacking play. Afful ran into the area to score a fourth in the 86th minute. Hayles completed his hat-trick in the 90th with a shot across goal that bounced in via the post before Afful scored again in injury time to give the visitors a 6.0 win.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Game 42: Laverstock & Ford 0.3 Hayling United (WESS PREM) 19.02.11

With some heavy rain overnight and a number of games throughout the South being called off, I decided to leave the choice of game until lunchtime. After assisting Paul on his travels to find a game, I consulted the Wessex League site and decided to take in the match between Laverstock and bottom club Hayling United as it meant I could be back home in time to watch non league Crawley take on Manchester United in the FA Cup 5th round.

I was pleased to see the carpark by the side of the pitch was in use when I arrived as it meant that I could use the car as a temporary stand if necessary! The pitch looked fine with no evidence of water on the surface and after the traditional handshakes the two teams were ready to start the match.

Laverstock started well but their control seemed to be lacking at times and this allowed Hayling opportunities to win the ball back. When they got into a good position to cross in the 5th minute after a well worked move down the right, the chance was wasted by a poor cross that the Hayling keeper gathered with ease. Laverstock had a half chance when a shot went just wide of the left post.

Hayling were working hard to close down play and managed to close down the keeper twice in quick succession as he tried to clear the ball from a back pass. They conceded some free kicks in dangerous areas as a result of being too keen to win the ball back but Laverstock continued to be wasteful and overhit the ball to the keeper or out of play.

By the 20th minute play was flowing from end to end. Laverstock were using a long throw specialist to put Hayling under pressure but they managed to clear the ball out of danger. Laverstock put a shot over the bar and Hayling had two shots blocked by last gasp challenges when the ball fell to an unmarked player in the box.

In the 23rd minute the ball was played to the edge of the Hayling area. It looked too far away from the Laverstock striker to reach but he decided to slide towards the ball and ended up colliding with the keeper. The Hayling bench were furious as the keeper came off worse from the studs up tackle but the referee was content to award a free kick and book the Laverstock striker.

Hayling had another chance to score in the 26th minute but the player took too long to set himself up, allowing Laverstock to clear the ball. They went up to the other end of the pitch thanks to a great throughball that found Perrett unmarked and running through on goal but he scuffed his shot wide. It should have been on target and he looked disappointed to miss.

Hayling broke down the right in the 39th minute and their player cleverly dribbled into the box and took the ball round a couple of players before crossing and earning a corner from the clearance. The corner was wasted as it was played too close to the keeper but when they won the ball back and crossed in the 40th minute the result was different. This time the ball was kept out of the 6 yard box and reached a player in the middle left of the area with his back to the goal. He leapt up and hit a superb overhead kick into the net to give Hayling the lead.

It looked like that would be the last action before the end of the half until the Hayling 9 tried to win the ball in the corner in a tussle with a Laverstock defender. He reacted badly to the challenge and appeared to kick out as his opponent was on the ground. Another defender reacted to this and started to square up to him. The referee was quickly over to the corner and after calming the players down gave the Hayling player a straight red card. The player stormed off the pitch and then got into a shouting match with one of the spectators behind the goal. Hayling's players lost their heads and their number 8 was booked shortly afterwards. It was perhaps a relief that the half time whistle came to give the manager the opportunity to calm the players down.

Hayling didn't seem to be affected by going down to ten men and had the first opportunity of the second half, a shot over the bar after 47 minutes. There was a pause a couple of minutes later and the assistant on the far side waved his flag for the referee's attention. The referee walked over and after a brief discussion called the Hayling 10 over and booked him, presumably for something he had said earlier when the play was on that side. Laverstock may have had the advantage of the extra man but their touch was still letting them down.

That advantage didn't last for long. In the 63rd minute a though ball caught out the Laverstock defence. As a Hayling player raced towards the ball the Laverstock keeper came out of his area and handled the incoming shot. He fell to the ground clutching his face but the referee wasn't taken in by this. After a short delay for treatment the referee produced the second red card of the match and sent the keeper off.

Hayling won a freekick in a good position as a result and hit a low shot just past the left post. Their next chance came five minutes later when they won the ball in midfield. A couple of runners headed over the halfway line but the pass was delayed until they were beyond the defence and the flag went up for offside as soon as the pass was played.

In the 70th minute Hayling extended their lead. A long ball over the top of the defence allowed one of their players to run into space, pick up the ball and then guide a shot low past the substitute keeper. They almost picked up a third goal shortly afterwards from a corner. The ball was headed out but straight to a Hayling player who leaned back at the wrong time and hit the ball over the bar from the edge of the area when he should have done better.

While Hayling had the upper hand in goals, they were also taking the lead in bookings to the dismay of their bench. One of their subs was booked for arguing with the officials and one of his team mates was soon in the book for an accumulation of poor challenges.

The game was all Hayling now and were unfortunate with a low freekick that the Laverstock keeper spilt at his near post. The ball bounced up and was knocked just wide of the goal. When the ball was hit back into play by the keeper, Laverstock gave the ball away in midfield and this allowed a Hayling player to run into the area, take the ball around the keeper and then hit the ball into the net from a tight angle for their third of the afternoon.

Both teams had a final chance in the last five minutes to score. Hayling had a shot just wide while Laverstock had a rare attack from a high long ball that dropped just before the area and bounced up. The Hayling keeper waited for the ball, allowing a Laverstock player to head the ball over him. The ball didn't have enough pace to reach the goal line before the keeper and covering defender and it was cleared away. There was just enough time left for another booking, another Hayling sub received a yellow for kicking the ball away.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Game 41: Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2.1 Moneyfields (Russell Cotes Cup) 14.02.11

As the romantic option for Valentine's evening wasn't a possibility due to Amy's shifts, I made the most of the time before her train arrived by taking in a charity cup quarter final match between Bemerton Heath and Moneyfields. I timed my arrival to perfection as no sooner as I had purchased my programme and walked round to the darkness of the stand, the heavens opened and it began to rain heavily.

I had expected to see Moneyfields in their traditional home strip of all yellow but to my surprise they were wearing an all white kit tonight that partially clashed with Bemerton's black and white quarters.

Moneyfields had an early opportunity to capitalise on a rebound in the third minute but the resulting shot went over the bar. They were made to pay three minutes later when Jack Slade took a shot from distance. The shot was on target to the keeper's left but he seemed to have it well covered until it bounced up off the wet turf and looped over the keeper's outstretched arm to give Bemerton a 1.0 lead.

The lead didn't last for long as Moneyfields equalised in the 9th minute. A hopeful long ball was played into the box and looked to be covered by the defence but the player missed the ball. This allowed a Moneyfields player to flick the ball up and it deflected off a Bemerton player and into the net.

Bemerton hadn't settled and were giving the ball away all round the pitch far too easily. Moneyfields had a couple of shots over the bar but didn't get the ball into the area enough to create any clear chances until the 32nd minute when they hit the bar with a close range effort. Moments later they could have taken the lead with a free header but it was steered wide of the goal. Moneyfields thought they had won a penalty in the 40th minute but the referee ignored their shouts of handball and waved play on.

Bemerton finally started to show some urgency in their play in the last five minutes of the half. A freekick from distance was a yard wide of the post and Renyard made an excellent surging run down the sideline before crossing into the middle. The ball fell to Sanger but his flicked header ended up going wide as well.

The Moneyfields players were out first for the second half and one asked the referee to hurry things along as he wanted to go home and make some love. They were in a hurry to get a goal and could have taken the lead in the 47th minute when a cross flew across the box from the right but fell behind the attackers in the area.

Bemerton's Sanger had the next opportunity when he anticipated a backpass from a defender and took the ball to the line. He crossed without looking up which wasted the opportunity as none of his team mates had caught up the play. Sanger had a more straightforward chance on the hour when he latched onto a though ball but his poor control allowed the ball to bounce up and he had to take a shot with a high foot as a defender caught up to him.

Bemerton did take the lead in the 63rd minute following another surging run by Renyard. He took the ball round a couple of Moneyfields players before launching an early cross into the area. The ball glanced off Michael Pratt's forehead and span past the keeper and into the net via the far post. The goalscorer was about to be substituted and a couple of minutes later O'Kane took his place.

There were few chances after that as Bemerton settled for their one goal lead. Sanger looked disinterested in chasing the ball down or working for the team. Slade was unfortunate not to score min injury time when he closed down a defender in the corner, won the ball, cut into the area and hit a shot that beat the keeper but bounced back out off the post.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Game 40: Stansted 0.2 Dunston UTS (FA Vase) 12.02.11

The draws for the later stages of the FA Vase are always of interest, especially the balance of time and cost in visiting a new ground when deciding where to go. Having visited Poole earlier in the competition the nearest option was discounted and I started to look around the London area. I decided to head to Essex to watch Stansted from the Essex Senior League take on Dunston UTS of the Northern League. Paul had debated a trip to Devon to watch Torpoint Athletic's tie against another Northern League team, Billingham Symphonia but the transport connections weren't the best so we agreed to meet at Liverpool Street.

After taking the train through London and into the Essex countryside, we disembarked from the Stansted Express train at the wonderfully named Stansted Montfitchett station and wandered up the main street so Paul could investigate the beer options. We also counted a number of takeaway options including a chip shop close to the station that we visited after the game and would recommend for the delicious chips. We found a pub and sat down for a chat. Some of the locals were discussing the game so 'Cup Fever' could be said to be in town. The home team have an excellent unbeaten league record this season while Dunston are in the top half of the Northern League, traditionally a strong league for Vase games.

We arrived at the ground around 2.15 and picked up a special edition programme. There was no sign of Paul Gasgoigne, Dunston's most famous old boy but plenty of Geordies had made the trip down to support their team. I wandered around the ground to take some pictures and didn't hear one local accent. The game was a popular choice and the ground filled up nicely as kick off approached. Both teams normally play in blue so Dunston were wearing their yellow change kit.

Stansted were quick to put some pressure on the visitors, winning a corner in the first five minutes, leading a shot being pushed up and over by the Dunston keeper for another corner. Dunston fought back, a low shot well saved by the Stansted keeper after six minutes. He then launched a quick attack that finished with the Dunston keeper making another good save. The game flowed from end to end and by the 12th minute Stansted had won 5 corners without reply.

The pace of the game slowed after that and while it continued to be end to end, there were few goal attempts. I was enjoying watching the Dunston 9, an old fashioned centre forward, battling with Stansted's central defenders to win the ball and bring his team mates into play. In the 27th minute one of the Stansted central pairing limped off after overstretching for a ball.

The change led to the first goal on the half hour. A long ball was played up towards the edge of the Stansted area before bouncing up high. The keeper came racing out of his area as the ball didn't drop back where he could catch it while the covering defender slowed his run and waited for the ball to drop down. This allowed a Dunston player to run up behind the defender and shove him in the back. This lead to the defender heading the ball back into the area and it looked like the goalkeeper would gather the ball. However he collided with the off balance defender and when the ball was split, it was cleared towards the far touchline. A Dunston player ran onto the ball and with the keeper out of position he took careful aim and curved a shot over the covering defender and in.

Tempers were running a little high now and there was some pushing and shoving between the teams when the referee didn't allow an advantage to be played. A Stansted player was booked for his part in the matter. Stansted certainly appeared to lose their way and their earlier bright play was replaced with aimless longballs that the Dunston defence dealt with ease.

In the 40th minute we were treated to some great wing play as Dunston broke down the left side. The player took the ball into the area, dummied to beat the defender and take it round him before accelerating towards goal. He took a couple of strides before hitting a shot across the line. It was on target to go in at the far post but the goalkeeper managed to get a touch on the ball to deflect it wide. Another Dunston player ran in and slid towards the ball but couldn't direct it back on target and hit it into the side netting.

Dunston were playing with confidence and had a couple of chances to add to their lead before the end of the half. The first came from a deep ball into the area that was flicked up and over the bar. The second was a similar chance with a similar outcome as the player couldn't keep his header down.

Paul wasn't happy with the referee's performance and I shared his concern that the official wasn't allowing the game to flow and wasn't waiting to see if an advantage could be played. Both of us agreed that Stansted needed an early goal to get back into the game as their play before conceding the goal had been tidy and controlled.

Dunston had other ideas and it was their players who created the early chances in the second half. The first came after 49 minutes from a freekick from the near touchline was hit into the Stansted area with pace. The ball ended up flying into the keeper's arms when the slightest of touches would have beaten him. In the 54th minute a Dunston shot was cleared away from the target by a Stansted defender and ended up out for a corner.

In the 57th minute a route one ball was blasted out of the Dunston defence with a defender and attacker chasing the ball down. The defender reached the ball first and tried to play a backpass but it was severely underhit, allowing the attacker to race past him and onto the ball. Both players tussled to try and win control and it was the Dunston player who got to the ball first and hit a shot high towards the top corner. The Stansted keeper did well to get a hand to the ball to push it up but it had enough pace to continue heading towards the goal. It bounced down and then over the line before the defender could reach it to give the visitors a 2.0 lead.

Stansted didn't give up and won a couple of freekicks in good positions but continued to waste their opportunities as balls were overhit or knocked over the bar without troubling the visiting keeper. Dunston continued to create chances, keeping the Stansted keeper alert and he made a good save from an angled shot to concede a corner on the hour. In the 65th minute Dunston won another corner. The ball was delivered into the area only for a Dunston player to head it wide of the far post. That was the last action for the defender who had come on as a sub only to see his lack of aerial confidence lead to two goals as he was substituted.

The visiting supporters had been in good voice throughout the match and we were treated to a traditional round of the 'Blaydon Races'. Stansted were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the 70th minute when a good run down the left was brought to an end by a clumsy tackle. The player's momentum took him well into the area as he fell but the referee decided that the challenge had been just outside the area. Sadly for the home team they wasted the opportunity with a tame shot over the bar. We had seen a lot of England rugby supporters on their way to Twickenham earlier in the day and Paul speculated that if the same scoring system was used for kicks over bar, Stansted would have a narrow lead at this point. We wandered round the pitch to watch the last period of play from behind the goal but the game fizzled out and Dunston held on for a deserved win.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Game 39: Downton 0.0 AFC Portchester (Wess 1) 05.02.11

Due to family commitments I had to narrow the choice of games down to the two local fixtures at Laverstock or Downton. I decided to head down to Downton as it was a top of the table clash against 2nd placed AFC Portchester and with one eye on the weather forecast, considered that there's more cover there for spectators.

The game started off in a competitive manner. Downton had the first clear chance after 11 minutes when Dec McGregor received the ball from a quickly taken freekick, but he hit the shot over the bar. Portchester's number 9 looked a handful and won his team a freekick in the 14th minute but they wasted it as the ball was hit into the wall. A minute later and they won another freekick when a Downton defender pulled back the 9 outside the area. The visiting supporters were looking for the referee to produce a red card but he decided to book the player as there was another defender who was covering. From this position they proceeded to hit the ball into the wall again.

The game was played at a good pace from end to end but both teams were cancelling each other out. Freekicks were being cleared easily and any shots weren't only target. Portchester created a good chance in the 23rd minute when the ball finally made it into the penalty area from a cross but there was no-one close enough to get onto the ball. They made some space a minute later when the Downton midfield didn't close down a runner but his shot was rising from distance and flew well over the bar.

Portchester almost got through the Downton backline in the 25th minute when the 9 latched onto a through ball but the Downton keeper was quick to come to the edge of the area and block the shot.

Portchester were forced to make a change when one of their players collapsed to the floor off the ball. There weren't any players around him and it appeared that he had twisted an ankle as he hobbled off after some treatment. The substitute had an unfortunate first touch when the ball was kicked back to the keeper and the ball hit him in a painful place just below the midriff. Luckily he was ok to continue.

Downton put some pressure on in the final 15 minutes of the match. On the half-hour a player took the ball into the area but a covering defender was able to delay the shot, allowing the keeper time to position himself to make the save. After a couple of breaks in play to treat injuries, Downton had some success in beating the defence with balls played into the channels but on both occasions the pace of the ball took it out of reach of their players. In the 37th minute the ball was cleared to the edge of the Portchester box from a corner and Halski hit a shot over the keeper but just over the bar.

Portchester could have been awarded a penalty in the 39th minute when their number 9 went down in the area after tangling with a Downton player off the ball but the referee waived play on. Downton took the ball down to the other end and came close to opening the scoring just before half time with a good dummy that freed space for a shot that again went over the bar.

The second half was more of the same. Downton had a couple of early shots wide of the post and Portchester attacks were broken up by some late tackles. On the hour, Downton were reduced to 10 men when their captain was sent off for a second yellow card. This swayed the balance back into Portchester's favour and they had two shots well saved shortly afterwards. The Portchester 9 was coming in for some heavy treatment but at the same time seemed almost eager to go down at the slightest touch. The referee didn't give him much protection which was frustrating his team mates and supporters.

Downton made a couple of substitutions, bringing on Holmes and Gain to steady the team. I felt that they would probably settle for a 0.0 draw to keep their unbeaten record going which was a concern as my record of not seeing a 0.0 draw was 141 games since Salisbury v Torquay in January 2008! The game became a bit of a stop start affair as there were some injuries to treat. The substitutions seemed to work as Downton grew in confidence and pressed forward towards the end.

I was now resigned to the draw, especially after seeing McGregor's point blank header, created by anticipating a poor Portchester backheader, tipped over by the Portchester keeper. In the dying seconds of injury time I held my breath as McGregor beat the offside trap and raced towards goal. As a covering defender got back to him he passed the ball to his left to an unmarked teammate with just the keeper to beat.

It was the best opportunity of the match and I was getting ready to pump my fist in the air to celebrate but had to watch as the shot scuffed low and into the keeper's diving body. The last chance of the game and the run was finally over. As I drove back into Salisbury I heard that Laverstock had lost 6.0 to Hamble and contemplated that I must be the only person to visit Downton five times this season without seeing a home win!