St Martins 1 Malvern Rangers 2

Saturday 14th May 2011
St Martins 1 Malvern Rangers 2
West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2
At: St Martins Playing Field
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: £2 (20 pages inc free raffle ticket)
Attendance: 60 (headcount)
Weather: sunny and showers, strong wind
Duration: first-half: 47:07; second-half: 48:24

There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not Premier League games should be played on Cup Final day. Four games – at Blackburn, Blackpool, Sunderland and West Brom – had lunchtime kick-offs and I felt that these top-flight games should have been played on another day. While listening to comments on the radio, there was me driving to a 3 pm kick-off which was played at the same time that Manchester City faced Stoke City at Wembley! Hypocrite? Not me as I don’t think I’ve watched an entire Cup Final from first whistle to full-time since 1990 and I don’t think there is anything wrong with lower non-league clubs without floodlights taking advantage of a spring Saturday to complete their fixtures.

Whether planned or a coincidence, the final day of West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2 fixtures included a ‘winner takes all’ top of the table clash in north Shropshire between St Martins and Malvern Rangers. With around 100 miles separating the two clubs in terms of mileage, the game just couldn’t have been scheduled at any time other than 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon.

As John Smout, the St Martins FC Manager, explained in programme notes: ‘After a long and hard first season in the West Midlands Division Two league this weekend is what is comes down to. A win for us and we are league champions, lose or draw and Malvern take the honours. Going into the final game, visitors Malvern (54 points from 23 games) topped the table by a point from their hosts (53 points from 23 games).

Home side St Martins, reformed in 1948, have enjoyed two recent promotions first as Shropshire County League Division 1 champions in 2007/08 and last season as Premier Division champions to move up into the lowest of the three West Midlands (Regional) League divisions. As the league tables highlights their first season in Division 1 has been a highly-successful one which could have ended in a third championship in four seasons. Incidentally, the village of St Martins is located five miles north-east of Oswestry and my journey via Whitchurch and Overton took me briefly into Wales and back into Shropshire.

The pitch, orientated roughly north-south and located behind Stans Superstore and the Jet petrol station, fits into an awkwardly-shaped sloping field and mostly railed-off with a large fence behind each goal to prevent off-target shots from flying over the hedge. There is now covered standing and the dugouts straddle the far touchline (west side), furthest away from the changing rooms which are 20 yards from the nearest corner in a community centre.

According to the programme, the home side were missing suspended duo of Andy Webb and Paul Hughes as well as holidaying Chris Smout. Leading scorer Tim Nunnerley was in the side and the visitors had their top marksman Lee Hooper starting as well.

Teams changes ends after the toss and to an audible shot of “Rangers, from the off boys”, it was St Martins (wearing yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks) who got the action underway attacking the south end in the first half. The aforementioned Nunnerley had the ball in the back of the Malvern net in the 11th minute but raised offside flag ruled out the ‘goal’. Malvern’s Edward Lyons, wearing pink boots (and blue shirts, shorts and socks), fired against a post, also from an offside position, and as the interval approached Nunnerley had another ‘goal’ disallowed. Goalless at half-time and everything to play for in the second half with rain visibly on the way from the north and west! Just about the only shelter when the rain did fall on the ground were trees and hedges at the north end.

St Martins made a vital breakthrough in the 51st minute to take the lead. Guy Culliford crossed low from the left and Ian Heathcock sidefooted home at close range. Needing a goal Malvern gradually showed more urgency and created opportunities to equalise with Bryon Craven glancing a header wide and Lyons firing past the near right post. Hooper also headed over the bar from Joseph Leighton’s corner. Eventually in the 78th minute, Paul Edwards fired home a right-foot shot into the bottom left corner to level things up and, as things stood, gave Malvern the point they needed to become champions. Almost unnoticed, one of their unused subs was booked before the restart, presumably for something he did during the goal celebrations.

Both sides were reduced to 10 men in the 83rd minute. Several players got involved in a flare-up after Oliver Endacott brought down Nunnerley just outside the Malvern area. Ednacott and St Martins’ goalscorer Heathcock were both shown a straight red card.

The destination of the title was put beyond doubt a minute later when Malvern scored the winner. Lyons latched onto a long ball and slotted home from inside the area. The visitors had turned things around with two goals in six minutes. Now needing to score twice in five minutes plus stoppage time, St Martins faced a uphill task but the closest they went to a consolation equaliser was Shaheen Miah’s 20-yard free-kick which hit the outside of the left-hand post.

A presentation of the winners and runners-up shields, and medals took place after the final whistle and Malvern Rangers can now look forward to next season in Division One. I do hope that St Martins, as runners-up, can go up as well.

1-0 Ian Heathcock (51)
1-1 Paul Edwards (78)
1-2 Edwards Lyons (84)