Hednesford Town 2 Warrington Town 1

Saturday 30th July 2011
Hednesford Town 2 Warrington Town 1
Pre-season Friendly
At: Keys Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: free; Programme: none; Press teamsheet: free (A4)
Weather: hot and sunny
Attendance: 650 (headcount/estimate)
Duration: first-half: 46:37; second-half: 51:18

A pre-season friendly between Hednesford and Warrington may seen an unlikely combination especially with a team from Evo-Stik League Division 1 North travelling around 70 miles south to face a team one step higher in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division. I wondered why, unless there was a connection between the two teams I wasn't aware of.

My curiosity to get an answer took me to the Hednesford forum where a posting by 'Billy' shed some light on the puzzle: ‘At the recent HTFCSA meeting Terry said both teams had [an] empty Saturday on the 30th July and were looking for a game. They are also [an] Evo-Stik Division One North outfit, so be a good chance to play against a team from "oop north" before the real thing and see how we fare.’

So this friendly was the result of some clever thinking to give Hednesford some match practice against a northern team following their switch from the Southern League during the summer. As part of the launch of this season’s Hednesford kit, no admission was charged today.

While Keys Park doesn’t yet have the charm that made the old Cross Keys ground one of my favourites, Hednesford new ground is certainly an impressive stadium. I say ‘new’ but probably Keys Park no longer needs the ‘new’ tag as it was opened some 16 years ago in 1995. It boasts cover on all four sides, an impressive main all-seated stand, more seats behind the goal at the Hednesford end and large covered terraces on both the Wimblebury side and Heath Hayes end. The best non-league stadium in Staffordshire?

Today was my 12th visit to Keys Park to follow 16 visits to the old Cross Keys.

So far this pre-season Hednesford have played six games with defeats coming just in the opening game at Halesowen (2-3 on July 12th) and the most recent at home to Mansfield Town (also 2-3 last Tuesday). The trip to Keys Park was Warrington’s third pre-season friendly to follow victories over Burscough and Newton.

Teamsheets were available to those who asked and the Hednesford line-up included two familiar names to me in Mark Danks and Nick Wellecomme, both ex-Stafford Rangers forwards.

Warrington Town (wearing yellow shirts with blue sleeves, blue shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking the Heath Hayes Terrace in the first half but were soon under pressure. And Hednesford (in all white) took the lead in the 10th minute. Chris Clements drilled a low angled shot towards the far left pots where Mark Danks fired home at close range.

The visitors were encouraged both vocally and by a drummer, and the small group of travelling fans on the Wimblebury Terrace were rewarded with a 26th minute equaliser. A quickly-taken free-kick, awarded for handball by Cheyenne Dunkley, was threaded through to Sam Finlay who rounded keeper Dan Crane and slotted home from a narrow angle.

It was substitute Nick Wellecomme who scored the winner in the 79th minute. He latched on to a ball down the right and lifted it over advancing keeper Paul Pritchard into an empty net.

Warrington thought they’d scored a late equaliser when Jamie Henders converted a pass from Michael Brown, only for the ‘goal’ to be crossed off by a raised flag for offside.

Referee Dragan Kuzmanovic was clearly enjoying himself in the sunshine as he decided to play 6 minutes and 18 seconds injury time before bringing this entertaining friendly to a conclusion.

Referee: Dragan Kuzmanovic.
Assistants: Lance Blackwood and Neil Faunch.

1-0 Mark Danks (10)
1-1 Sam Finlay (26)
2-1 Nick Wellecomme (79)

Rocester 1 Stafford Rangers 0

Saturday 23rd July 2011
Rocester 1 Stafford Rangers 0
Pre-season Friendly
At Hillsfield
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: free (8 pages)
Weather: sunny, strong wind
Attendance: 155 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 45:20; second-half: 45:03

Back to Rocester for my tenth visit and the seventh pre-season game I’ve seen at Hillfields between the Romans and Stafford Rangers.

Plenty of familiar faces in the crowd and it was good to spend some of the game in the company of former press box colleagues Gary Hazlehurst and Chris Elsley, who are still actively providing copy for various papers and the official Stafford website. It was also great to see and briefly chat with Bob Gee, who isn't too well at the moment, and his son Alan. Thank you to Rocester Secretary Barry Smith for a copy of the teamsheet.

For me it was the second time I’d seen Rocester and Stafford in action this pre-season. Since they lost 6-2 two weeks ago against Port Vale, Stafford have played two further games, a 2-0 defeat at Kidsgrove last Saturday and a 3-2 win at Stone Dominoes two days ago. Rocester I saw lose 5-2 at home to Burton Albion on Tuesday.

Rocester (in amber and black striped shirts, black shorts and socks) got the friendly underway attacking the mill end in the first half. They survived an early square when defender Darren Bullock headed Jon Sheldon’s free-kick against his own bar.

Stafford keeper Danny Rhead produced a superb save in the 9th minute to tip over a rising drive from the yellow-booted Chris Owen. At the other end, Rocester’s Richard Froggatt did well to turn over a shot from Liam Shotton.

Both Stafford skipper Paul Donnelly and Rocester’s Chris Sterling both picked up a yellow card following an incident that ensued inside the Stafford area after Sterling collided with Rhead.

Froggatt parried a low shot from Alex Forde and Sheldon’s cross-cum-shot rebounded off the bar as Stafford looked to take the lead before the interval.

While Rocester returned to the changing room at half-time, Greg Clowes camped his side on the pitch and sent out the same line-up for the second half. During the interval, a Vulcan bomber flew past to the south of the ground.

Paul McMahon, scorer of two goals on Tuesday against Burton was unlucky not to find the net again in the 49th minute. His header was headed off the line by Sean Jones. Clowes changed his forward line to introduce Neville Thompson and Chris Budrys to the attack and the pair certainly livened things up front. The introduction of Dan Skelton made a positive impact as well and the left midfielder saw a shot cleared off the line.

The previous six Rocester v Stafford friendlies have produced five Stafford wins and one draw. Today was different as the Romans scored the only goal of this game in the 82 minute. Substitute Jack Langston, on the left inside the area, fired a low angled shot into the opposite right corner of the net.

Thompson could have equalised when he got on the end of Rob Stevenson’s cross but couldn’t direct his shot on target.

1-0 Jack Langston (82)

Rocester 2 Burton Albion 5

Tuesday 19th July 2011
Rocester 2 Burton Albion 5
Pre-season Friendly
At Hillsfield
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £2 (16 pages)
Weather: cloudy, occasional drizzle
Attendance: 221
Duration: first-half: 45:46; second-half: 45:00

Good to catch up with John Scott (Coach Rangers manager), Andy Bates (Stafford Rangers coach) and Barry Smith (Rocester secretary) at a ground that has always been a favourite pre-season destination for me. In fact, Rocester is such a favourite that tonight’s game was my eight July friendly at Hillsfield.

Visitors Burton Albion from League Two split their squad this evening with one part heading for Alfreton Town and the other heading for Rocester. The side I saw at Hillsfield included 47-year-old veteran keeper Kevin Poole fresh from playing for Derby County in the Central Masters at the weekend.

Rocester’s side featured a handful of names familiar to me – Paul McMahon, Craig Holland, Chris Sterling and Kevin Millward (one of Coach Rangers’ Summer League stars).

Since my visit 12 months ago, when the area surrounding the mill was a building side, the new adjacent JCB Academy has opened. Hillsfield also boasts a new perimeter fence and new goal posts obtained from Chesterfield’s old Saltergate ground.

Programmes were available at the turnstile and Barry provided me with a teamsheet – a copy of which was displayed next to the tea bar and line-ups were announced over the PA.

Burton (wearing a change kit of white shirts with blue shorts and socks) got the game underway defending the mill end in the first half and they took a 3rd minute lead. Jack Dyer delivered a corner from the right and ex-Crewe striker Calvin Zola got in a near-post header which the keeper and a defender couldn’t prevent crossing the line.

The visitors continued to create chances before Rocester (in amber and black striped shirts, black shorts and socks) equalised in 24th minute. The lively Mensah Kinch crossed into the area and, at the same time a shout of “clear” by Poole, former Stafford Rangers and Stafford Town striker hammered the ball home.

The goal seemed to act as a wake-up call for the League Two visitors and, in response, Ethan Phillips fired just wide from well outside the area. Zola had a two ‘goals’ disallowed for offside and Burton regained the lead in the 38th minute. From a throw on the right into the area, keeper Richard Froggatt parried an initial shot from John McGrath and Jimmy Phillips fired home the rebound.

A couple of presentations took place at half-time and Secretary Barry Smith received the 2010/11 Midland Alliance ‘Best Administration’ award, a well-deserved silver salver.

Back to the action and as far as I could see, the sides came out for the second half with no further substitutions. And, as a real help to keep the crowd informed on the comings and goings to and from the pitch, the PA announcer acknowledged virtually every substitution.

The announcement of winning raffle tickets was made around the hour mark. With my well-documented bad luck in these sorts of things, I don’t know why I even thought that my yellow ticket ‘455’ had any chance of being called out. As usual, others with tickets ‘382’ and ‘413’ took away a prize each. Hope for better luck on Saturday!

Tonight’s attendance was 221 – again announced.

Burton scored their third in the 63rd minute. After being tripped in the area, Zola picked himself up to confidently convert the penalty to make the score 1-3.

But Rocester weren’t finished and McMahon scored his second goal of the game three minutes later. The Albion defence failed to deal with a corner and McMahon fired home after Chris Owen’s initial shot was blocked.

Changes were now being made at regular intervals and Millward got his chance in place of Kinch on the right.

Phillips scored his second goal and Burton’s fourth in the 75th minute, firing home into the roof of the net at close range. Substitute Evan Garnett completed the scoring in the closing stages with a spectacular 35-yard drive which flew into the left side of the net.

My next game, on Saturday, should be again at Hillsfield when Stafford Rangers are the visitors.

Rocester (amber and black stripes / black / black): 1. Richard Froggatt, 2. Dan McLeod, 3. Leon Pugh, 4. Chris McComisky, 5. Darren Bullock, 6. Matty Rutter, 7. Mensah Kinch (Smith, 75), 8. Craig Holland, 9. Chris Sterling, 10. Paul McMahon (Martin, 78), 11. Chris Owen. Subs used: 12. Kevin Millward (for Kinch, 75), 14. Trialist (for Rutter, 67), 16. Craig Smith (for McMahon, 78), 4. Trialist (for McComisky, 82), 15. Trialist (for Owen, 87).

Burton Albion (white/blue/blue): 1. Kevin Poole, 2. Tony James, 8. Andy Corbett, 5. Sylvanis Bockarie, 7. Aaron Webster, 9. Ethan Phillips, 17. Jack Dyer, 6. John McGrath, 14. Cleveland Taylor, 10. Calvin Zola, 11 Jimmy Phillips. Subs: 18. Brad Munn (for Ethan Phillips, 58), 4. Evan Garnett (for Jimmy Phillips, 79), 16. Jack Green (for Bockarie, 42), 19, Jason Davis (for Zola, 84), 15. Ryan Pirri, 13gk. Mikey Turner.

Referee: A. Sarginson (Cannock).
Assistants: G. Thomas and A. Mullins.

0-1 Calvin Zola (3)
1-1 Paul McMahon (24)
1-2 Jimmy Phillips (38)
1-3 Calvin Zola (63 pen)
2-3 Paul McMahon (66)
2-4 Jimmy Phillips (75)
2-5 Evan Garnett (88)

Footnote: The only competitive game I’ve seen at Hillsfield was my first visit in May 1989 for a West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division game against Blakenall. Time for to add to this list of competitive games during the coming season I think. My previous pre-season friendlies at Rocester were against Stafford Rangers in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, and last year’s Don Hill Memorial Trophy game against Gresley FC.

Ball Haye Green 1 Leek Town 4

Friday 15th July 2011
Ball Haye Green 1 Leek Town 4
Pre-season Friendly
At Ball Haye Green Working Mens Club
Kick-off: 7-30 pm
Admission: £2; Programme: none
Weather: cloudy, odd spots of rain
Attendance: 230 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 45:00; second-half: 44:51

Second visit to Ball Haye Green and it was great to meet up with photographer and videoman Malc Hampton who provided good company pre-match and during the first half.

I’ve said before that one good thing about pre-season, with the rules I have for choosing a game, it does provide me with an opportunity to revisit grounds visited many moons ago – Buxton (2008), Colwyn Bay (2009) and Matlock (2010) all string to mind of places given a second visit after a long absence. More recent was my one and only visit to Ball Haye Green (2003) but on that dark March night I didn’t really appreciated the gem that is the ‘Working Mens Club’ Ground, tucked away to the north of Leek town centre behind a row of terraced houses.

A driveway leads off Ball Haye Green Road past left-side of the Working Men’s Club bluiding from almost opposite The Green Ball Convenience Store and the pitch (orientated south-east–north-west) runs lengthways from the entrace. The most striking feature was the high sided factory building behind the right-hand touchline, with a narrow area of covered standing in front running from the near right corner to halfway. Adjacent to the near right corner was a pavilion style building housing changing rooms and The Green Kitchen tea bar, and another building used as a clubroom. The ground had five floodlight pylons down each touchline; Ball Haye Green the only first team in the Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division to have lights which doesn’t groundshare with a more senior club.

Last season Ball Haye Green enjoyed success both on and off the field. They won the Staffordshire County Senior League Premier Division title and secured a short-term extension to their lease of their ground. Following that success on the field, manager Lee Caswell has become the new manager of … Leek Town.

On to the actions and Leek Town of the Evo-Stik League Division One South (and wearing all blue) got the game underway attacking the WMC end in the first half. They went close to taking the lead midway through the first half. From Wayne Corden’s corner, Shaun Turner saw a header blocked in the line and James Brough headed the rebound against the bar.

Home keeper Mark Turner produced a fine save to keep out a volley from Ollie Edwards but couldn’t prevent Leek from taking a 24th minute lead. A low cross from the left was turned into his own net by defender Craig Turner.

Before kick-off I’d bought an ‘Opening Goal’ ticket but alas my time was ‘78th minute’. With the prize unclaimed, tickets continued to be sold and my second attempt – ‘72nd minute’ – fared no better!

The Blues doubled their advantage in the 35th minute against from a move down the left. Shaun Turner did well to head back a deep cross for former Stafford Rangers midfielder Tom Moss to head home.

My entrance ticket doubled up a strip of raffle tickets and just like the goal competition luck wasn’t with me.

After the break, ‘trailist’, a half-time substitute, scored Leek’s third with a spectacular volley in the 58th minute.

With both sides making changes, Ball Haye Green (wearing green shirts with green and white sleeves, green shorts and socks) pulled a goal back in the 73rd minute. Substitute Steve Sayer hooked home from close range after an initial corner wasn’t clear.

Matt Haddrell completed the scoring in the 87th minute, heading home Ricky Bridge’s left-wing cross, to complete a comfortable win for the visitors.

0-1 Craig Turner (24 og)
0-2 Tom Moss (35)
0-3 ‘Trialist’ (58)
1-3 Steve Sayer (73)
1-4 Matt Haddrell (87)

Belper Town 0 Parkgate 2

Wednesday 13th July 2011
Belper Town 0 Parkgate 2
Teversal Pre-Season Tournament Semi-Final
At: Carnarvon Street
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £2; Tournament Programme: £1 (16 pages); Teamsheet: free
Weather: mild, dry, sunny spells
Attendance: 91
Duration: first half: 45:22; second-half: 45:46

The inaugural Teversal Pre-Season Tournament sponsored by Sabre Sports and Premier Trophies is reaching a climax and tonight Teversal FC hosted the second semi final, tempting me to swap a live viewing of The Apprentice for a first visit to Carnarvon Street. And in somewhat of an unexpected result, it was Step 5 Parkgate doing the ‘firing’ to send Step 4 Belper out of the competition and earn themselves a place in Saturday’s final against Staveley MW.

Also at the game were Malc and Kev (the ‘dynamic duo’ of On the Road blog fame) as well as the man behind the 66POW blog and they provided enjoyable company. While I didn’t get to speak to him, Facebook friend Keith was also there taking photos for the Teversal website. And the lady who fetched me a teamsheet and Teversal official Kev Newton helped me to feel most welcome.

Last week saw the four quarter finals played:
Mon 4th July: Teversal 5 Kirkby Town 0
Tuesday 5th July: Handsworth 1 Staveley MW 4
Wednesday 6th July: Belper Town 2 v Maltby Main 0
Thursday 7th July: Parkgate 2 Pinxton 1

This week, hosts Teversal contested the first semi final on Monday, 11th July, with NCEL Premier Division newboys running out 4-2 winners. With all teams guaranteed two games, the four quarter finals losers were paired together in consolation games and last night Kirkby Town faced Handsworth, with the latter winning 3-0 on penalties after a 3-3 draw. Tomorrow, Maltby Main face Pinxton in the other consolation game.

The ground was straightforward to find with the aid of map and I guess easy as well to find without a map. Travelling away from Sutton Town Centre and Stanton Hill on the B6014, Carnarvon Street was easily spotted on the right between a bus stop and red post box with the ground at the end of the road. Next to the car park was a nice feature – the Teversal Coal Garden – which included ‘memorabilia’ from several local former collieries.

Available at the paybox entrance to the ground were tournament programmes and club badges, and later teamsheets were available for all who wanted one. The pitch (orientated south-east–north-west) ran lengthways from the entrance and, down the left-hand side was a seated stand. Behind the far goal were two separate areas of cover, which both once saw use in the car park of a well-known supermarket chain. Close to the entrance to the right around the south-east corner were the changing rooms, Tevi bar and well as the tea bar which did a roaring trade in chips and teas, etc.

To be honest, I’m not a prolific watcher of pre-season friendlies and the vast majority I’ve seen over the past ten years have involved Stafford Rangers. I do like league games and major cup competitions. But addition to this competition having a competitive edge with a trophy for the winners and runners up, I liked Rule 8: ‘Each team will be allowed to name 5 substitutes of which all 5 may be used, but no rolling substitutions will be allowed’.

On to the action and Parkgate (wearing red and white shirts with red shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking the ‘entrance’ end in the first half.

The opening goal came in the 13th minute. Parkgate full back Daniel Cardwell poorly delivered a left-wing corner which was cleared. A well-struck volley from Luke Fletcher was cleared off the line by defender Aaron Blake only to hit the back of teammate Matt Blake and rebound into the back of the Belper net.

Belper (in their familiar colours of yellow shirts with black shorts and socks) had a chance to level things up in the 34th minute. The nearest assistant referee harshly judged that Gareth Clayton handled Rob Ludlam’s shot and referee Stuart Richardson pointed the spot. However, Parkgate keeper James Jenkinson produced a vital save to keep Adam Walker’s resulting penalty.

Parkgate took full advantage of the let-off to double their lead in the 41st minute with a superb move. Keir Hannity unselfishly squared the ball to Daniel Cardwell inside the area who hit a low shot into the opposite bottom left corner of the net.

I have a terrible record for winning football raffles and tonight was no exception, though the fact that my ticket bearing ‘270’ was just 12 away from the winning ticket provides some optimism for the forthcoming season.

For the second half, Belper made no fewer than four changes but rarely troubled the Parkgate defence. Neither keeper was seriously tested though Parkgate’s Nathan Forbes-Swindells went close with a couple of free-kicks.

While Parkgate can look forward to Saturday’s final against Staveley, I certainly took home positive memories of my first trip to Carnarvon Road – I keep wanting to type Caernarfon for some reason – and promise to return for a Teversal league game sometime during 2011/12.

0-1 Matt Blake (13 og)
0-2 Daniel Cardwell (41)

Evo-Stik League fixtures and West Midlands (Regional) League

The Evo-Stik League fixtures were released this morning and Stafford Rangers could well attract their biggest home gate of the season on the opening day. Well-supported FC United of Manchester will be the visitors to Marston Road on Saturday 13th August. Two away fixtures of particular interest to me are the ones at Nantwich Town and Whitby Town, and the dates have turned out to be kind. Rangers visit Nantwich on Boxing Day and Whitby on Easter Saturday.

The confirmed line-up for the 2011/12 West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division is: AFC Wulfrunians (WV3 8NA); Bewdley Town (DY12 2TJ); Black Country Rangers (DY1 4AS); Bromyard Town (HR7 4NT); Bustleholme (DY4 0BS); Cradley Town (B63 2HB); Darlaston Town (WS10 8ED); Dudley Sports (DY5 3QJ); Dudley Town (DY5 4NE); Goodrich (WV10 7EH); Gornal Athletic (DY3 2NR); Lye Town (DY9 7DH); Malvern Town (WR14 2EQ); Pegasus Juniors (HR1 1EX); Shawbury United (SY4 5AP); Shifnal Town (TF11 8PD); Sporting Khalsa (WV13 8BB); Stafford Town (ST16 3TH); Wednesfield (WV11 1ND); Wellington (HR4 8AZ); Wolverhampton Casuals (WV10 7PR); Wolverhampton Sporting (WV11 1ND).

Champions Tividale have been promoted to the Midland Alliance with Malvern Town moving in the opposite direction. Pegasus Juniors have been transferred from the Hellenic League and two clubs Black County Rangers and Sporting Khalsa have been promoted from Division 1. No clubs have been relegated from the Premier Division though Bloxwich United have been transferred to the Midland Combination Premier Division.

West Midlands (Regional) League Division 1: AFC Smethwick (B63 2HB); AFC Wombourne United (DY6 0AX); Bilston Town (2007) (WV11 1HN); Blackheath Town (B65 0RR); Bridgnorth Town Reserves (WV16 4HL); Hanwood United (SY5 8JN); Leominster Town (HR6 8EA); Penncroft (WV6 9NW); Shenstone Pathfinder (WS14 0JR); Stone Old Alleynians (ST15 8EY); Trysull (WS10 7PR); Warstones Wanderers (WS3 2EG); Wellington Amateurs (TF2 6BQ); Wem Town (SY4 5AP); Wolverhampton United (WV11 1HN); Wyrley Juniors (WS15 1ED).

West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2: Ettingshall Park Farm (WV9 5HQ); Haughmond (SY2 6LF); Hereford Lads Club (HR4 9NA); Mahal (B66 4ND); Malvern Rangers WR14 2JY); Penkridge Town (ST19 5QP); Red Star Alma (WS2 0DQ); Riverway (WV11 2AA); St Martins (SY11 8AS); Sikh Hunters (WS2 9AF); Team Dudley (DY1 4AS); Tenbury United WR15 8SF); Wolverhampton Sporting Reserves (WV11 1ND).

Eight goals - eight different scorers

Saturday 9th July 2011
Stafford Rangers 2 Port Vale 6
Pre-season Friendly
At: Marston Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: none; Teamsheet: free
Attendance: 754
Weather: warm and sunny
Duration: first-half: 45:07; second-half: 44:50

The result didn’t matter. What did matter was a healthy attendance (yes, 754), a decent performance (yes, particularly in the first half) and fans going home happy (yes, I think most did). And to be honest, even though Rangers lost 6-2, I personally think the first game of the Clowes era was a success.

Not a single player who featured for Stafford last season was included in the starting line-up though two players – Glyn Blackhurst and Kevin Street – had previously played for the first team. Vale manager Micky Adams brought 22 played and all but two played an entire half, either the first or second half. Featuring for Vale were former Stafford Rangers loanees Stuart Tomlinson and Anthony Griffith, as well as former trailist Adam Yates.

Sky Sports News decided to cover the game with a reporter in the stand and satellite van in front of the refreshments bar.

Though cloudy before the game, Marston Road was bathed in sunshine by kick-off time. Port Vale (wearing sky blue shirts with navy blue shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking the Social Club end in the first half, and they almost took a first minute lead. Rob Taylor got down the left, crossed into the area where Ben Williamson saw a shot blocked by the boot of Danny Read.

However, it was Stafford (wearing all red) who scored the lead in the 13th minute. Kevin Street delivered a free-kick into the area where Liam Shotton turned and fired low past Stuart Tomlinson at close range.

It was good watch the game in the company of Facebook friend John Revitt and his sharp eyes noticed that two of the Stafford outfield players (no. 5 and no. 8) had white rather than black numbers. I wondered if these shirts were replacements for last season’s change kit wore on the final day at Stalybridge.

Back to the action and Mark Richards should have equalised with a free header that missed the target from Mike Green’s cross. That didn’t matter as Vale equalised four minutes later in the 29th minute. Defender John McCombe, up for a corner, powered home a header from a left-wing cross.

Vale got themselves in front two minutes later. Rob Taylor was left unmarked in front of goal and he headed home a diagonal ball from the right at the far post. And the visitors scored a third goal just before the interval. Read tipped over a rising shot from Sam Morsy and after the resulting corner was cleared back to the left wing, Ben Williamson headed home a perfect cross.

While Greg Clowes sent out an unchanged side for the second half, Micky Adams replaced ten of his eleven starters with just Adam Yates (swapping the ‘2’ shirt for one bearing ‘14’) remaining.

Port Vale scored a fourth goal in the 66th minute when Sean Rigg converted a low cross from the left. Moments later it should have been five. Lewis Haldane stayed onside and took the ball forward into the Stafford area before setting up an easy tap-in for Justin Richards who amazingly missed the target.

In the 76th minute, Stafford reduced the deficit through substitute James Marsden. Chris Budrys was brought down outside the area by Chris Martin and Marsden, spotting a gap, hammered the free-kick past the wall and straight into the bottom left corner of the net.

The visitors added two futher goals before the end. Former Stafford loan player Anthony Griffith (20 appearances, 0 goals, during the 2006/07 season) hit an unstoppable drive from 25 yards into the top-left corner in the 79th minute. Two minutes later Doug Loft dribbled through the Stafford defence and slotted home with ease past substitute keeper Gareth Barker.

Referee: Steve Martin.
Assistants: Dragan Kuzmanovic and Matt Jones.
Fourth Official: Andy Martin.

1-0 Liam Shotton (13)
1-1 John McCombe (29)
1-2 Rob Taylor (31)
1-3 Ben Williamson (44)
1-4 Sean Rigg (66)
2-4 James Marsden (76)
2-5 Anthony Griffith (79)
2-6 Doug Loft (81)

Stafford: none
Port Vale: none

FA Competition Draws

Ealier today, the FA released the draws for the first three rounds of the 2011-12 FA Cup with Budweiser have been released, as well as details for the early stages of The FA Carlsberg Trophy, Vase and Youth Cup.

In the FA Cup with Budweiser Extra Preliminary Round draw, Brocton visit Coleshill Town, Eccleshall visit Bustleholme while Stone Dominoes host Wellington from Herefordshire. Rocester also have a home game against Wolverhampton Casuals. Ties to be played on Saturday 20th August.

Stafford Rangers are exempt until the First Qualifying Round and once again have not been given a home draw. They face the prospect of a trip to either Castle Vale or Heath Hayes or Bloxwich United or AFC Wulfrunians.

The Carlsberg FA Vase gets under way over the weekend of Saturday 10th September at the First Qualifying Round stage and Eccleshall, Rocester and Stone Dominoes all have home ties to look forward to against Racing Club Warwick, Ellesmere Rangers and Alvechurch, respectively. Stafford Town travel to West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division rivals Goodrich and Brocton also face a short journey to Willenhall Town.

The draw for the The FA Carlsberg Trophy First Qualifying Round draw, Rangers face the intreging prospect of a trip to Newcastle Town should Greg Clowes' former club win their home Preliminary Round tie against Woodford United.

Hucknall Town 0 Notts County 1

Saturday 2nd July 2011
Hucknall Town 0 Notts County 1
Pre-season Friendly
At: Walnall Road
Kick-off: 3-15 pm
Admission: £8; Programme: £2
Attendance: 1200 (estimate)
Weather: Dry with prolonged spells of hot sunshine
Duration: first-half: 45:00; second-half: 46:00

The 2011/12 season is up and running with a fifth visit to Hucknall Town’s Watnall Road ground with League One neighbours Notts County being the visitors this afternoon.

Travelling to the game, I contemplated watching a pre-season game on the first Saturday of July and my mind flashed back to 1990 when I remember thinking that a friendly played on 14th July was ridiculously early. Of course back then it was early as league action didn’t get underway until late August. This season Notts County play their first league game in five weeks time and Hucknall in six weeks time so a first friendly on the first Saturday of July isn’t perhaps ‘ridiculous’ after all.

For the 2011/12 season, Hucknall find themselves back in Step 4 – Evo-stik League Division 1 South to be precise – following relegation from the Premier Division at the end of last season on the back of off-the-field problems. Notts faced their own relegation battle last season and avoid the drop by just three points.

Hundreds of Notts County fans boosted the crowd to what I estimated to be around 1200 and I wonder how many of them watched two County games today. The squad was split with one group playing at Ilkeston (1 pm) and the remainder at Hucknall. The cleverly scheduled kick-off of 3-15 pm made sure fans could comfortably make the 6-mile journey from the New Manor Ground in time for kick-off at Watnall Road.

Notts County (wearing their traditional black and white striped shirts, black shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking the covered end and their keeper Stuart Nelson was certainly kept busy during the first half.

Hucknall (in their familiar colours of yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks) almost took the lead in the 22nd minute. Martin Ball powered a header towards goal from a deep left-wing corner which Kyle Dixon headed off the line. The home side kept up the pressure and Nelson, who played for Hucknall eight seasons ago, did well to keep out a decent shot from Carl Westcarr. Just before the break, Westcarr hit a well-struck drive which was beaten away by the County keeper.

Goalless at the interval and both sides made wholesale changes for the start of the second half. Most were ‘mystery’ men as just the first-half starting line-ups were announced on the PA.

The only goal of the game came in the 76th minute. ‘Number 18’ fired a low left-foot shot from the edge of the area that beat the diving Hucknall keeper and went in via the left-hand post. And the identity of the scorer could remain a mystery as Notts County’s official website names him only as ‘trialist’.

Hucknall had chances to equalise and, just to prove how difficult it can be to accurately report a pre-season game, a player with no number fired wide of the left-hand post from a decent position. Karl Hawley, wearing the number 19 shirt for County, fired a 15-yard shot straight at the Hucknall keeper. In the closing stages, Hucknall’s no. 3 launched an incredibly long throw from the left which bounced inside the area which keeper Liam Mitchell palmed over the bar.

All-in-all it was a winning afternoon for both sides – County on the field and Hucknall off it with the proceeds of a bumper gate.

Next game for me will be at Marston Road next Saturday when Greg Clowes’ new-look Stafford Rangers side face a Port Vale XI.

Starting line-ups:
Hucknall Town (yellow/black/yellow): 1. Jack Harvey, 2. Romaine Graham, 3. Kieran Walker, 4. Wayne Duik, 5. Martin Ball (capt), 6. Jarrad Holmes, 7. Natahn Watson, 8. Dan Eilliott, 9. Grant Ryan, 10. Carl Westcarr, 11. Callum Lloyd.

Notts County (black and white stripes / black / black): 17. Stuart Nelson, 2. Julian Kelly, 3. Trialist, 4. Hamza Bencherif, 5. Christian Pearce (capt), 6. Curtis Thompson, 7. Kyle Dixon, 8. George Nichols, 9. Trialist, 10. Phil Brown, 11. Ishmel Demontagnac.

Referee: ???
Assistants: ???

0-1 no. 18 Trialist (76)

Hucknall: none
Notts County: none