Saturday 24th January

Earlswood Town 2 Droitwich Spa 1
Midland Combination Division 1
At: The Pavilions, Malthouse Lane
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Attendance: 25 (headcount)
Weather: sunny

I was enticed to the Warwickshire countryside for what was my first sojourn into the second tier of the Midland Combination for almost 21 months and couldn’t have been more satisfied with my choice. I wanted an early kick-off not too far from home so I could have dinner fresh from the pan (rather than warmed up from the microwave). Also I’d read that Earlswood were regular programme issuers, another reason to pay them a visit.

No problems down the M6, M5 and round to M42 junction 3, until I decided to make a detour to have a look at the former home of Becketts Sporting, who I saw beat Stapenhill Reserves 13-0 on May day Bank Holiday back in 1992. The ground appears to be still used for football but the stand is now derelict. The fun started when I tried to navigate my way by memory from Becketts to Earlswood’s ground – I wanted to get to The Lakes railway station but could I find it? No! I should have just returned to junction 3 and that is what I ended up doing and then… south on the A435 towards Redditch, left onto the B4101, left again onto the B4102, over the M42, left into Springbrook Lane (signed Earlswood Lakes) then at the ‘T’ junction into Malthouse Lane, past The Lakes station and the ground was on the left. Got there!

What an idyllic location on a nice sunny January afternoon! There was a sufficiently-sized car park by the entrance and the pitch stretches lengthways. On the near touchline was an impressive recently-opened clubhouse with tarmaced hard-standing in front. The clubhouse building incorporated a covered vantage point and the dugouts were opposite on the far touchline. The pitch was railed off with a white rail down the sides and roped off behind the goals.

After parking up, I approached the clubhouse where I was warmly welcomed by a club official. He recognised I was a ‘groundhopper’ as I enquired about programmes and the official told me they hadn’t produced on for this game as the editor was in hospital for an operation. He gave me a couple of old copies, including one from last week’s home game with Brereton Social, and asked me to sign their visitors’ book.

Earlswood Town FC was founded in July 1968 and used a pitch in Lady Lane. An opportunity arose in 1975 to move to Malthouse Lane where they are currently based. The original clubhouse was purchased at the same time from Jack Mould Athletic FC for the sum of £200. It remained in use for nearly 31 years until being replaced by the current clubhouse, started in May 2006 and completed in August 2007. The club joined the Midland Combination in 1982 and remained in Division 2 until gaining promotion to Division 1 in 2007.

Earlswood made a great start to the current season, winning their first four games but have found points harder to come by over the past couple of months when the weather enabled them to play. They went into this game in seventh position with 26 points from 16 games. Visitors Droitwich stood fourth from bottom of the 16-team division with 15 points from 14 games.

I chose to watch the game stood in front of the clubhouse on the tarmac with the sun on my back!

Earlswood got the game underway defending the near goal next to the car park, forcing Droitwich to defend into the low sun. And the home side took the lead in the 10th minute. Adam Holland’s left-wing cross was punched by the Droitwich keeper straight to Richard Robinson who drilled a low shot into the bottom-left corner from 15 yards out. “Good start lads, keep it up”

With their one-goal advantage, Earlswood (red and white striped shirts, black shorts and socks) threatened to score again and it took the visitors a while to seriously trouble their hosts. However, Droitwich levelled things up in the 39th minute. Matt Crawford flicked the ball into the path of Sean Parrish who fired home a low shot from the right side of the area.

Three minutes after the restart, Aaron Parr got round the advancing Earlswood keeper Ian Kimberley and pulled the ball back to the far post where Parrish headed against the top of the bar. Droitwich (yellow shirts, blue shorts and socks), in fact, continued to create plenty of chances and Kimberley got down to hold a low shot from Parrish.

Earlswood, having kept on level terms, should have regained the lead in the 74th minute. Simon Luke put Michael Hollis clear but his shot was blocked in a one-on-one with Spa keeper Nick West. However, the home side scored what proved to be the winner two minutes later. Will Patz’s sliced clearance looped back and dropped in front of goal where Hollis forced the ball over the line.

“We should have been 3-1, 4-1 up,” said a Droitwich fan stood near me and I couldn’t disagree. The visitors won three corners inside the last ten minutes and Jamie Hatfield also got forward to fire a first-time shot wide of the near post.

The win was Earlswood’s first in the league since beating Archdale ‘73 1-0 at home back on 18th October, thus ending a run of six games without a win. The three points lifted them up two places to fifth in the table, just three points behind leaders Castle Vale JKS.

Earlswood Town (red and white stripes / black / black): Ian Kimberley, James Loney, Craig Cunningham, Simon Luke, Stuart Wood, Richard Robinson (capt), Gary Choi, Wayne Boyce, Wain Littlehales, Michael Hollis, Adam Holland. Subs: Craig Brooks, Leon Mooney, Mark Delaney, Richard Maguire.

Droitwich Spa (yellow / blue / blue): Nick West, Jamie Hatfield, Will Patz, Roger Derby, Chris Parrish, Dean Wise, Andy Pheasant, Aaron Parr, Matt Crawford (capt), Sean Parrish, Adam Khan. Subs: John Reid, Matt Bates, Dave Fox.

Referee: B. Taylor; Assistants: A. Buchanan, M. Powell.
Attendance: 25 (headcount).