Monday, January 02, 2012

Game 20: Hengrove Athletic 2.1 Almondsbury UWE (Western 1) 02.01.12

After missing out on a Western League double on Boxing Day when both games were postponed (Larkhall and Oldland) I was keen to see if I could get a couple of games in today. My plan was to take in the 12 o clock kick off at Hengrove then head down the A37 and A368 to Bishop Sutton for the 3 o clock kick off. Before I left home I had spotted a pitch inspection was due at Bishop Sutton but hadn't heard anything about Hengrove so decided to take a gamble and head north.

Driving through Wiltshire in bright sunshine made it a pleasant trip but once I hit the outskirts of Bath, the clouds drew in and soon heavy rain was lashing down on to the windscreen. As I approached Whitchurch the sun came out again and I arrived at Hengrove in the dry. After paying £5 to get in (no programmes due to Christmas), I parked up and wandered round to the ground.

The pitch was set back next to the social club with a couple of pitches behind it and a cricket scoreboard indicating this open area serves more than one sport in the area. The main pitch was fully railed with the far goal next to the fence of a local garden centre. There was one main terraced stand with a regular 50 seater stand next to it. I was pleased to see there was some cover as the clouds in the distance were ominously dark grey and heading this way.

The pitch itself looked a bit heavy in places with sand in the nearest goalmouth to help soak up some of the water. The teams came out and the match kicked off on time in bright sunshine. Both teams had a couple of half chances in the first period and Almondsbury managed to get the ball in the back of the net after 23 minutes but the assistant had a flag up for offside and the goal was disallowed. By this time I had wandered round from the far touchline to take shelter in the terraced stand as the rain started to pour down.

In the 25th minute Almondsbury did take the lead with a good move down the right side. A defender slid in to try and win the ball (ideal conditions for lunging at the ball) but missed it. The winger lost his feet for a moment on the slippery surface before regaining his balance and getting a cross over to the far side of the six yard box. His teammate controlled the ball before whacking it in off the left post. The conditions got worse and both teams struggled to adapt to the physics of playing on this slippery muddy surface. It wasn’t until the 40th minute when the sun had reappeared before we saw another goal.

This one seemed to come from nowhere. The ball was on the left side of the Almondsbury half before being knocked into the six yard box, finding a Hengrove player in space. He turned and popped a shot against the post, beating the keeper’s dive. The ball then span out and presented a team mate with an open goal and an equaliser.

I was a little concerned that the game may not reach it’s conclusion as when the teams came out again for the second half, they were greeted with another monsoon like downpour which lasted for most of the next 45 minutes. The officials allowed the game to continue and to be fair, it wasn’t until the last 5 minutes or so that tackles got a bit reckless as the players tired on the heavy surface.

Both teams worked out that running with the ball on this surface was a better option than passing but Hengrove reacted better to the way the ball would stick to the surface on a tackle and created a number of openings that way. They were denied a clear shooting chance by a last ditch sliding tackle that deflected the ball out for a throw early on. Almondsbury won a couple of corners with shots from distance but were unable to capitalise on these set plays.

In the 73rd minute we finally saw a breakthrough. The Hengrove 11 won the ball on the right wing then dribbled his way through several players before setting up a shot on the edge of the box. The ball seemed to be covered by the keeper’s dive but it managed to slide under him and headed to the net, only to be caught in the mud/sand mix on the goal line. Two Hengrove players reacted ahead of the defence and one put his boot behind the ball and whacked it into the open goal.

Almondsbury got into some good positions but time after time they wasted them with shots flying well wide or over. In the last few minutes some of the sliding tackles were unnecessary and late, leading to a booking for a home player who protested his innocence even after the referee pointed out they were for an accumulation of fouls. By now I’m sure most of the players would rather have been inside rather than being pelted by hail and it was a relief when the referee brought the game to an end.

By the time I got back to the car and checked the phone, all my 3pm options for new grounds had gone and an accident on the Shepton Mallet road meant a decision to divert for home rather than wait in the traffic and hope to make kick off there. Still, it was good to get a game in today and I enjoyed the friendly welcome at the club.