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.