Wolstanton United 3 Sandbach United 1

Wednesday 8th April 2009
Wolstanton United 3 Sandbach United 1
Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division
At: Bradwell Community Centre
Kick-off: 6-30 pm
Attendance: 25 (headcount)
Weather: sunnny
Duration: first-half: 45:00; second-half: 47:00

The recipe for this evening was exactly the same as last Wednesday – an early kick-off and back home in time for The Apprentice – and Stoke-on-Trent-based Wolstanton United fitted perfectly!

Wolstanton’s ground is located on what was the former Bradwell High School and now Bradwell Community Centre. I guess the old school buildings are the ones still in use. From the A500 take the A527 exit and follow signs to Wolstanston, up the hill to the next roundabout. Continue on the third exit, Bradwell Lane, and after passing the Potters Wheel pub take the second right into Arnold Grove. Go straight over at the next roundabout into Riceyman Road and the Community Centre is almost immediately on the right.

From the car park, the entrance was round to the left of the buildings and the pitch (orientated west-east) ran lengthways. The gate into the pitch itself was on halfway. It was railed off with no cover or hardstanding. Dugout were opposite each other on halfway, with the home one on the near side (two dugouts) and away one on the far side. A grass banking behind the far touchline would provide an elevated vantage point (and I sampled it briefly during the second half). Refreshments were served from the Sandy Hulstone Room inside the building – and a proper mug of tea was most welcome before the game!

Wolstanton normally produce programmes for Saturday games, not in midweek, so ‘admission’ for this one was an entry into the raffle – again I was out of luck.

Postponed games and cup ties have provided Wolstanton with a mountain to climb if they are catch leaders Stretton Eagles and win the Premier Division title for a third consecutive season. They went into this game in sixth position, thirteen points behind the leaders but with five games in hand (44 points from 21 games). After today, Wolstanton still had to play a further 12 league games over the next 4 ½ weeks as well as a home League Cup semi final and possibly a final as well. Stretton visit Wolstanton on Saturday 2nd May so that game could well decide the destination on the 2008/09 title. Visitors Sandbach United (22 points from 25 games) were in third-from-bottom position in the 18-team division.

Three other travellers provided good company during the evening. We all saw Sandbach (blue and maroon striped shirts, blue shorts and socks) get the game underway attacking the Riceyman Road end in the first half – or right to left from our vantage point near the home dugouts.

The home side, on a run of three straight league wins since losing at Stretton, quickly got forward and visiting keeper James Freeborough tipped over a dipping volley from Mark Nolan. At the other end, a slip by Matthew Hancock let in Nathan Mulrooney but Douglas Hughes left his line to parry the ball to safety.

I felt confident there would be goals and the deadlock was broken in the 9th minute. Prolific marksman Mark Grice, who I saw net FIVE goals at Barlaston last April, was on target again. He intercepted a poor defensive header and fired low across the face of goal from inside the area into the far left corner of the net.

Grice sent a fierce volley across the face of goal midway through the half as the home side went close.

Wolstanton United (wearing all red) doubled their lead in the 43rd minute. Nolan got free of his marker down the right and squared a perfect low pass for Grice to slot home from 10 yards out.

With both teams staying out for half-time, there was sufficient time to pop back to the Sandy Hulstone Room to settle my debt for the previous cuppa and get another one.

Grice almost scored again early in the second half. Daniel Hancock’s corner wasn’t cleared and Grice fired wide at close range.

I decided to walk round the pitch and got a good view of Sandbach halve the deficit in the 55th minute. Chris Jackson crossed from the left and unmarked Mulrooney sent a free header past the helpless Hughes.

Once I got round to behind the goal being defended by Hughes, the low sun was just above the houses at the far end and made it barely possible to keep a track on the game. May be it was the sun that made Jackson’s assist difficult to defend?

The visitors gave a good account in the second half and I wondered if they were going to equalise. However, Wolstanton nerves were eased in the second minute of stoppage time. Brought down inside the area by Neil Bate, Grice picked himself up to confidently send Freeborough the wrong way with the resulting penalty to complete a hat-trick.

The full-time whistle not only signalled another victory for Wolstanton which lifted them up over Florence FC into fifth position but also a partial ‘champagne job’ for me. I’ve now seen a game at all current Premier Division grounds. Leaders Stretton maintained their advantage at the top with a narrow 1-0 win at Eccleshall AFC.

I got back home in time to see The Apprentice and the firing of Maj.

Wolstanton United (red/red/red): 1. Douglas Hughes, 2. Ross Cope, 3. Nicholas Jones, 4. Matthew Hancock (capt), 5. Neil Morrell, 6. Daniel McIntosh, 7. Robert Edwards, 8. Daniel Hancock, 9. Mark Nolan, 10. Mark Grice, 11. Peter Ford. Subs: 12. Andrew Brownsword (for Cope, 69), 14. Jamie Kempson (not used), 15. Simon Wilshaw (not used), 16. Martin Davies (not used), 17. Ashley Moran (not used).

Sandbach United (blue/blue/blue): 1. James Freeborough, 2. Dan Lindstrom, 3. Anthony Swindells, 4. Leigh Amery, 5. Andy Parkinson, 6. Neil Bate, 7. Craig Malbon (capt), 8. James Jones, 9. Nathan Mulrooney, 10. Chris Jackson, 11. Dean Andry. Subs: 12. Adam Stubbs (for James Jones, 83), 14. Matt Jones (for Andry, 83).

Referee: John Burgess.

1-0 Mark Grice (9)
2-0 Mark Grice (43)
2-1 Nathan Mulrooney (55)
3-1 Mark Grice (90+2 pen)

Wolstanton: none
Sandbach: ??? (YC, 85)