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.