Thursday 6th August 2009

Hilton Athletic 1 Bradley 4
Summer League
At: Village Hall Ground, Peacroft Lane
Kick-off: 7-00 pm
No admission or programme
Attendance: 15 (headcount)
Weather: cloudy, dry
Duration: first half: 40:46; second half: 40:41

We have reached the business end of the 2009 season and tonight’s visitors Bradley found them on the verge of making Summer League history. Unbeaten in the league all season, and indeed since early July 2008, they needed simply to avoid defeat to claim a fifth straight league title.

Whatever the outcome – home win, away win or draw – there was going to be a big headline whether it be ‘Bradley are Champions!’ or ‘Hilton produce shock win to end Bradley’s unbeaten record’.

The name of ‘Hilton Athletic’ has been a new one in the Summer League this season. The side were previously known as Holly Bush and played home games at Church Broughton. They didn’t have the best of starts to the current campaign by gaining just one point from their opening 12 league games, Since defeating Biggin in game 13, Hilton have fared much better since that first win and have gone on to record another six league wins to move up to a current position of 10th. They went into this game with Bradley on 24 points from 25 games.

Visitors Bradley have had another fantastic season and arrived at Hilton with 68 points out of a possible 72 from 24 games. They were on a run of 18 consecutive league victories.

In planning my route, I was aware of the problems previous travellers have had in finding the ground. So, I left home armed with a map of the village with the ground clearly marked from checking the location via the trusty Google aerial photos. Travelling on the A50 from Uttoxeter, I took the A516 exit went under the dual carriageway and headed towards Hilton on the A5132. After going over the first roundabout and entering the 30 mph zone, I took a sharpish left turn by the tall blue Millennium Clock into Eggington Road (signed ‘Village Hall’). After 100 yards, opposite a yellow fronted house, there was a right turn into Peacroft Lane and the ground was straight ahead through the black gates as the road bent round to the right to become Back Lane.

I immediately spotted the referee and confirmed I’d got the correct place. Parking was a choice between the marked-out tarmac on the left or a undulating area a bit further on the right. I opted for the latter, like most of the others early arrivals. Changing rooms were tucked away in the corner near the car park.

The pitch itself, orientated roughly north–south, was behind the court and ran lengthways on a large area of grass. It had been freshly moved with clumps of cut grass littering the surface. The pitch was unroped and a bench behind the near goal provided a seated vantage point.

Over the Top made it to the game just before kick-off along with Graeme, and Veteran also joined our small group as well. We opted to stand down the right-hand touchline.

One of the Hilton players was most obliging in providing the names of his teammates and, as usual, the Wilson brothers of Bradley were again more than happy to provide their side. I, and Over the Top, appreciated all their help.

Bradley (grey shirts, black socks and either black or black and white hoped socks) got the game underway defending the near end in the first half. They created an early chance with Jez Oborn heading over Nick Stubbs’ right-wing cross.

Hilton (sky blue and white striped shirts, nay blue shorts and socks) soon got forward and almost took a fifth-minute lead. Dan Purcell threaded a pass through to Alex McCall who found himself unmarked in front of goal just few yards out. But McCall could only manage a weak shot which a relieved Ollie Maudling gathered up. Steven O’Donnell hammered a well struck shot just wide of the target as Hilton continued their bright start.

These chances were certainly a wake-up call for the league leaders and they got an every bigger one in the 10th minute. O’Donnell burst through into the area down the right to latch onto a neat throughball and confidently fire into the back of Maudling’s net. Was there there going to be a shock outcome?

Bradley looked to respond. Richard Gage got to the right bye line and pulled the ball back into the path of Jez Oborn in front of goal who forced a good save out of Hilton keeper Rory Woolley.

It was all-square again in the 13th minute when leaders got their plans back on track. Jez Oborn was found inside the area eight yards and managed to flick the ball into the net when defender Rick Steele had looked favourite to make a saving tackle.

Midway through the first half, Wayne Archer whipped in a cross from the right to which Scott Smith got forward into the area to head over.

Maudling was twice called into action. First he was well positioned to hold Purcell’s 30-yard right-foot volley and a minute later did well to hold onto a low effort by O’Donnell.

Bradley took the lead in the 32nd minute from Steve Coates’ corner. The ball was cleared to Archer who saw a well-struck 20-yarder fly into the net via a hefty deflection off defender Tommy Smith. Archer was credited with the goal.

The visitors thought they’d scored again 80 seconds later. Jez Oborn headed home Archer’s cross, only to have strayed offside. But Oborn was celebrating again in the 35th minute. The prolific striker netted his second goal of the game and Bradley’s third with a low shot from inside the area despite defender Rick Steele making a valiant effort to clear off the line

Before the break, Jez Oborn looked set to score yet again until the Hilton defence managed to scramble the ball clear.

Half-time came with Bradley having recovered from their early score to move mightily close to clinching the title.

Neither side made any changes at the interval and Woolley produced a superb save a minute after the restart to deny Bradley another goal. The keeper stretched out a right hand to stop Smith’s downward header.

The Hilton keeper again did well to prevent Bradley finding the net. Gage hit a 20-yard rising drive which Woolley turned round at the expense of a corner.

Hilton made a triple chance in the 48th minute. We spotted Josh Bowater and Bill Cox replace Purcell and Steele but not the third change. It was down to OTT to notice three players walking round the pitch together and he established that Ryan Jordan had come on for O’Donnell. In fairness to us, it can be difficult to spot substitutions in the Summer League when the sides don’t start with 1-11. Then again, I did get plenty of practice reporting games with squad number reporting Stafford Rangers’ two-year stint in the Conference Premier. No excuse for initially missing it!

After a quiet spell without chances, my pen and notebook were out again in the 57th minute to record Matt Howson’s long-range shot which Maudling comfortably held.

Bradley won three corners in quick succession, before Jez Oborn fired against the left-hand post from 20 yards with Woolley beaten.

Play was briefly halted just after the hour mark by a small brown dog which ran onto the field. It ended up sitting inside the Bradley area waiting for Maudling to throw the ball for the said dog to fetch!

One the action resumed, Bradley were awarded a 64th-minute penalty when Matt West brought down Jez Oborn. Archer stepped to send Woolley the wrong way to score his second and his side’s forth goal. Before the game resumed, the visitors made a change with Andrew Wilson coming on in attack in place of Karl Grocott. Surely the title belonged to Bradley?

Both sides continued to create chances even though the outcome was seemingly beyond doubt. Wilson headed over Gage’s corner and Maudling got down to hold a well-struck 25-yard drive from Howson which took a deflection.

Referee Chris Cope blew the final whistle and Bradley were able to celebrate a fifth-successive title.

1-0 Steven O'Donnell (10)
1-1 Jez Oborn (13)
1-2 Wayne Archer (32)
1-3 Jez Oborn (35)
1-4 Wayne Archer (64)