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.