Sunday, 1 October 2017

House Buck In Second Half - AFC Hayes vs. Knaphill

Trees that enclose three sides of Farm Park
As I'm going away for two weeks on Monday I wanted to stay relatively close to home for a game this weekend. I had a choice between AFC Hayes and CB Hounslow and went for the former as it looked like their game had a bit more riding on it. AFC Hayes are a team I've been meaning to visit for a long time and had been saving it for a time like this. They were hosting Knaphill  and both sides were towards to the bottom of the table and so needed a win to pull away. In their last outing, Hayes lost  one nil away at Buckingham Athletic in the vase. I visited Knaphill quite a long time ago (Scunthorpe were still in The Championship it was that long ago) when they hosted Hayes Gate on the opening day of that Combined Counites season.

Kick off at Farm Park
Hayes are able to get in on goal at an angle very early on and the Knaphill keeper does well to save at his near post. They have another chance shortly afterwards which is a shot from the edge of the box which goes just wide. Knaphill's first effort on goal comes when the forward is allowed to advance to the edge of the box from where he hits the post with a low shot. They get in on goal again not long afterwards, the time the goalie makes a fantastic one handed save. There are chances being created at both ends, the next being a Hayes header at the back post from a corner which is blocked by the Knaphill defender. The Hayes defending is now getting more desperate as a shot on goal is headed off the line. Then the Hayes keeper makes another great save, this time from a header following a free kick from wide. Knaphill do eventually take the lead with a close range header from a corner. This sparks Hayes back into life and they create a couple of chances before Knaphill gift them an equalizer. As a Knaphill move breaks down, Hayes break at speed and when the attacker drills in a cross, the unfortunate Knaphill player hammers the ball into his own net.

Knaphill get the ball in during the first half
Knaphill retake the lead at the start of the second half. Unfortunately, at this time I'm at the tea bar with my back to the action. Like in the first half, both sides create a number of chances. The best for Knaphill during this period is a header from close range which goes well over while the best for Hayes is when the forward gets close to goal before lashing a shot just wide. Knaphill then go direct from a goal kick and when the forward gets in on goal he thunders a shot against the bar. Hayes are able to break from a Knaphill attack but this time the eventual shot goes wide Knaphill make the game safe in the closing stages as when the forward gets to the corner of the area he unleashes a powerful shot into the opposite top corner to seal the points.

The Hayes header that was blocked in the first half
I had planned to get the train from Paddington to Hayes and Harlington and catch the 90 bus to the ground from there however as The Northern Line was undergoing extensive engineering works this weekend I had to catch The District Line from Wimbledon to Notting Hill and from there I took The Central Line to Northolt. The journey on the 90 from there to the ground took 15 minutes despite the terrible traffic. Even without the engineering works I was always planning to have pre match drinks in The Brook House next to the ground which had the sports channels and a decent selection of lagers. The clubhouse was extremely welcoming and also had the sports channels. The programme was excellent and as always gets extra marks for having a quiz. If you're looking a game within the M25 that you can do via tube and buses then AFC Hayes is an excellent option.

Looking down the dugout touchline


Monday, 25 September 2017

Wastefull Lords Almost Made To Pay - Billingshurst vs. Lordswood

New stand next to clubhouse at Jubilee Fields
FA Vase action returned as the frantic early season cup scheduled continued. I had been through Billingshurst a couple of times on my way to games on the south coast but had never stopped there. Today Billingshurst were hosting Lordswood in their first season in The FA Vase. Lordswood are a team I've seen quite a few and I am keen to visit their Martin Grove ground. I'd seen them play another Sussex side, Mile Oak in the same competition a few years ago. Lordswood have made a good start to the season, sitting in third in The Kent League having played more games than Crowborough and Sevenoaks above them. Billingshurst however hadn't had the best start having once in the league so far.

Kick off in rural looking West Sussex
Lordswood start on the front foot with a couple of shots that just miss the target. The best being a snap shot from the edge of the box which goes just over. They take the lead as a looping ball to the back post is returned with interest past the keeper into the opposite corner to put the visitors one up. Billingshurst's first chance is gifted to them by the Lordswood keeper who flaps at a cross but his defenders bail him and hack the ball away. Lordswood make it two when after the Billingshurst goalie does well to block a one on one chance the forward is there to knock in the rebound. The hosts have a great chance to get back in the game just before half time. The Billingshurst forward controls a free kick in and finds himself all alone at the back post but he drags his shot just wide.

Lordswood launch the ball into the box in the first half
Lordswood start the second period like they did the first crafting a couple of half chances without seriously threatening the Billingshurst goal. Then the Billingshurst winger does well to hurdle a challenge but the final ball lets him down. Lordswood now begin to really press on and create a hat full of chances. Firstly a fantastic ball is put in the back post which manages to elude everyone. After that they create a number of free shots inside the box which all fail to find the target. They are then very nearly made to pay for their wastefulness. Lordswood give away a needless free kick which is dispatched into the top corner to give Billingshurst hope. Immediately afterwards, Lordwood give the ball away and it takes a great save from the visiting keeper to keep his side in the lead. Lordswood hold one and Billingshurst certanly gave a great account of themselves.

Lordswood looking to seal the tie
The trains from Victoria take just over an hour to get to Billingshurst. Then village centre is then a steady ten minute away with the ground a further ten minutes on. On the high street there are a number of pubs worth checking out. Firstly I went to The Kings Head which had multiple screens for the early kick offs as well as a couple of ales. The Kings Arms was a bit quieter but still had the sports channels as well as one ale. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks on offer. I really liked the set up at Billingshurst and the very rural feel makes it a great ground to visit. If Southern Rail are having their usual delays then The Railway Inn is a good place to wait.

Billingshurst look for the early goal

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Lions Fail To Regain Spark - Guernsey vs. South Park

Sheltering from the jolly inconvenient shower just before kick off
For my birthday this year, my Dad got me the excellent present of vouchers for money off a ferry trip to Guernsey with view to catching a game. This weekend I utilized this fantastic gift. Guernsey have enjoyed themselves since joining the English League System in The Combined Counties League Division One winning consecutive promotions to get where they are today in The Bostick Division One South. This season has been a struggle, with the club being on a six game losing streak but were hoping for a change in fortunes. It would be tough however against a South Park team who were on a four game unbeaten streak and were in fourth place in the table. South Park themselves had also won promotion from The Combined Counties in recent times. When I first saw them, they were playing be in the FA Vase against Hayes Gate which I remember being the windiest game I've ever been at. Then later that season I saw them playing in Division One at Chobham. 

Main stand at Footes Lane
In the heavy rain, Guernsey create the first chance as a bending cross to the back just eludes the diving attacker at the back post. South Park then have the first effort on target and after the Guernsey keeper does well to save the first effort, he is quickly back up to block the follow up. It is then the South Park keeper's turn to make a one on one save. Guernsey break out quickly allowing the forward to get on goal and the visiting keeper does well to keep the shot out. The opening goal comes when the South Park winger is able to get to the byline from where he squares the ball to the on rushing forward who slots home. There is time before half time for the Guernsey to make a great save from a cracking half volley from the edge of the area. 

A first half South Park corner
The second period has an edgy start with both sides misplacing passes. This is reflected in the Guernsey equalizer. Under very little pressure, the South Park goalie kicks the ball straight to the Guernsey forward who runs in on goal and slots home the equalizer. They then have a great chance to take the lead as they get in over the top but the South Park goalie redeems himself with a good block. South Park take the lead much to the annoyance of the hosts. A corner finds it's way to the back post where the ball is forced in from close range and the Guernsey players are adamant there was a handball in the build up. This frustration boils over as the Guernsey player is sent straight for a dangerous tackle. South Park now pile forward and the Guernsey keeper makes a succession of great saves to keep them in the game. He is however powerless to stop the third goal which is almost a perfect of the first one to seal the three points.    

A South Park cross in the second half
If you flew from Gatwick then you probably could the trip in a day. The flight takes just under an hour and there are buses from the airport to close to the ground. However, I recommend taking the ferry from Poole and spending a few days on the island. There is plenty to see just in St Peter Port and and you can take another boat to one of the other islands - Sark was fantastic. In St Peter Port there a couple of belting pubs. The Cornerstone had a good choice of ales including some from The White Rock Brewery as well as the sports channels. Just across the road there is a similar scenario in The Cock and Bull. To get to the ground from the bus terminus, you can catch the 51 / 52 bus to right next to the ground but these buses are infrequent. I took the bus to The Doghouse on Rhoais and a couple of routes stop on Rohais going back into town. With singles only costing a pound, it is the best way to get around. The clubhouse had a good selection of beers and can offer a view of the action. It is really is worth the effort as the club and the island itself is extremely welcoming and fantastic to explore.

Guernsey wing play in front of the stand

Monday, 11 September 2017

Worthians March On - Highworth Town vs. Easington Sports

Covered accommodation at The Elms
It was more cup action this weekend as The FA Vase began for another season. For my first game of this years competition I opted for Highworth Town against Easington Sports who play in the Premier and Division One West divisions respectively. Highworth had made a blazing start to their league season, winning all six of their league games so far this season. Highworth have history in this competition, reaching the semi finals in the 2014-15, losing to eventual winners North Shields. Easington have had a mixed start to the season. I really enjoyed my visit to their Addison Road ground on New Years Eve last year. This was their first match in the vase for sixteen years.

Kick off just as the storm clouds roll in
The match kicks off about fifteen minutes late but that doesn't break Highworth's stride. Highworth get in out wide and after the ball is squared across goal, it is slotted home from close range. They come close again shortly afterwards with a near identical move but this time the Easington defence is able to clear the danger. Easington's first chance comes when a long throw into the area is flicked on and the Highworth defence has to be alert to block the threat. Highworth come close again as the attacker gets to the byline before the Easington defence blocks the eventual shot on the line. Highworth double their lead just before half with a close range header from a corner.

Highworth on the attack in the first half
Highworth continue to attack in the second half and they come close again but lack the final touch from a cross across goal. Easington then have a great chance to get back in to the game. After a Highworth attack breaks down, they break out in to attack but the final shot fails to seriously trouble the home keeper. This sparks Highworth in to life and they create a number of chances. The best comes the attacker is played in on goal and after he rounds the goalie he is denied by a defender on the line. They get the third with a header at the back post following a cross from deep. In the closing stages Highworth get a slightly flattering fourth to seal their passage into the next round.

Easington defending in the second half
To get to Highworth from London, you first need to take a train from Paddington to Swindon and the fast trains take three quarters of an hour. Then from the bus station you can catch the regular number seven bus in to the centre of Highworth which takes about twenty minutes if Swindon are not at home. Even though there is no museum or big landmarks, it is worth having a quick walk around Highworth before a game. My favorite pub I sampled pre game was The Sarcens Head which had a couple of ales as well as the sports channels. Just up the road is The King and Queen which is also good for the early kick off. I really liked the clubhouse - good beer, food and the sports channels. The welcome at the ground was also second to none. The ground itself had a lot of character, I was a big fan of the uneven pitch.

View down the dugout side of the ground

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Chester Battle - AFC Portchester vs. Dorchester Town

There was a decent crowd at The Wicor. Including this excited seagull
After seeing the final of one famous cup competition last weekend (The Challenge Cup) it was back to the qualifying rounds of another (The FA Cup) this weekend. AFC Portchester were hosting Dorchester and it was all set up for a shock. Dorchester weren't having the best of seasons in The Southern Premier League and had lost their manager in the week. Portchester hadn't had a storming season themselves in the Wessex League (two divisions below Dorchester) but they would have fancied their chances. I had seen Dorchester in a similar situation previously at Abingdon United when they won two nil and I had also seen their Weymouth Road ground fromthe train on the way to, er, Weymouth. I'd seen Portchester also away in the cup when they beat Bournemouth comprehensively. To get this far, Portchester had to beat fellow Wessex League sides Christchurch and Amesbury Town.  

Kick off at The Wicor
Dorchester have a couple of early chances. The best is a free kick more or less right on the eighteen yard line which is sent right into the keepers arms. They have a better chance that sees them in on goal via a fortunate bounce and when the ball is pulled back to the man in space, the ball is lashed well over the bar. Portchester win a couple of corners as well as a couple of free kicks in decent spots but these are cleared by the visiting defence. The last chance of the half is a header from a Dorchester corner that is straight at the Portchester goalie.

The Dorchester keeper watches Portchester effort in the first half
Portchester emerge rejuvenated and it is them who make most of the running in the second half. They get into some decent attacking positions but they still fail to seriously trouble the keeper. It is in fact the Portchester goalie who makes the first save of the game. Dorchester are played in out on the right before the attacker forces the Portchester keeper into a brilliant save at his near post. Portchester then comes desperately close as a bending cross somehow manages to elude everyone. The deciding moment comes late on as when an effort is blocked on the line, the forward is there to force home the winner from close range.

Portchester look for the opening goal
Although you can catch a direct train to Portchester, it does take a little while to get there. Trains from either Victoria or Waterloo take the best part of two hours. It is worth getting to Portchester a bit early to wander around the castle and look across the bay to Portsmouth. If you do get up early then you can reward yourself with a pint at The Cormorant next door to the castle which had a good choice of beers. If you want to see the early kick off then The Wicor Mill half way between the station and the ground does the job. The ground is a brisk half hour walk from the staiton. The clubhouse at the ground had a good selection of drinks as well as Sky Sports.

Dugout side of The Wicor

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Cup Classic In The Fens - Wisbech Town vs. Spalding United

Storm passes over The Fenland Stadium
After a week of revisits and weddings, it was good to get back on the cup trail and get to a new ground. The one tie that really screamed out was the Fenlands derby between Wisbech Town and Spalding United. There was a division between the two teams with Wisbech in The United Counties League and Spalding in The Southern Division of The Northern Premier League. Unfortunately I missed out visiting the fantastic Fenalnd Park but as far as new builds go, The Fenland Stadium wasn't too bad. Wisbech went into the match in a confident mood after putting nine past Sleaford in midweek and they had won 4-1 at Biggleswade in the previous round. Spalding themselves have had a good start to the season, winning both of their opening games. The only time I'd seen either club play before was when I saw Spalding play at Soham Town Rangers in an FA Trophy tie which they won 6-1 so I was hoping for a closer game today.

Start of a cracking cup tie
Wisbech have the first chance of the game as a free kick into the box is flicked just wide. Spalding however make even better use of a free kick as they take the lead. The free kick in question is headed back across goal and is lashed in from close range to give the visitors the lead. Wisbech level things up midway through the half as a ball in is recycled as it is squared across the six yard box and slotted home from close range. Then just before half time, the hosts complete the turn around. A ball up the right flank plays the attacker in before he powers a shot past the keeper at his near post.

The Wisbech fans and players celebrate the equalizer
Wisbech look to extended their advantage as the forward cuts in from the flank but his effort goes just wide of the target. It is another Spalding free kick into the area that produces the equalizer. They are able to put the ball in twice and on the second occasion, the ball is flicked in from close range. Both teams throw caution to the wind as they look to win the tie at the first attempt. The closest either side comes is when Spalding fail to fully clear the danger but the resulting effort goes just over and they have to do it all again on Tuesday night. 

The Spalding defense stands tall in the second half
The trip from London to Wisbech ended up taking quite a while. I first had to take a train from Kings Cross to Peterborough with the fast training 45 minutes. The then twice hourly X1 from the bus station should have taken a similar amount of time but the stereotypical traffic on the single carriageway East Anglian roads meant the bus portion of the trip took nearly an hour. Wisbech was pleasent enough to make it worth while though and I was able to take in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Pubwise, The Globe on the market place had a good choice of beers as well as the sports channels. If you want to try beers from the local Elgoods Brewery then The Angel Inn had a couple on. A good way of breaking up the twenty minute walk to the ground is to pop into The Black Bear which was a welcoming locals pub. The clubhouse also had Elsgoods beers on and the burgers are also recommended. The ground and town were definitely worth the long trip.  

Decent cup tie crowd in front of the clubhouse

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Stong Second Half Seals It - Whyteleafe vs. VCD Athletic

First half action in front of the stand
For the second consecutive Tuesday I revisited a ground from my formative ground hopping days and headed to Whyteleafe vs. VCD Athletic in the Ryman South. When I'd previously visited either of these sides grounds it was for a pre season game. My visit to Church Road was for a friendly with Carshalton Athletic whilst my visit for Oakwood was for the Kent League charity shield where they played Croydon. Since I'd first seen both sides, they'd moved around the leagues a bit. VCD had a spell in the Ryman Premier while Whyteleafe spent a short period in the Kent League. On opening day Whyteleafe drew 1-1 at Greenwich Borough and VCD suffered a five nil reverse at home to Faversham.

Pre match formalities under the Surrey dusk
VCD acquit themselves well on the plastic pitch and the first half is an even, fairly cagey affair. Whyteleafe take control at the start of the second half and the opening goal comes when the keeper is stranded someway off his line and the ball is drilled home from some distance. They get the second goal from the penalty spot before adding a third late in the game.

Whyteleafe look to get the ball in during the first half
To get to Church Road you can get a train from either London Bridge or Victoria to Whyteleafe South or Upper Warlingham. Both journeys take around half an hour. In between the two stations is the great Radius Arms which had a good choice including a seasonal one from the Oakham Brewery which I'd never tried before. There is also the tasty Salisbury Fish Bar which is the best chippy so far this season. The ground is then a short five minute walk from either establishment. The clubhouse had a wider choice of drinks than most clubhouses and also had the sports channels. A really enjoyable evening.

View from the stand in the second half