Wrens Nest 3 St Martins 1

Saturday 17th December 2011
Wrens Nest 3 St Martins 1
West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2
At: Handrahan Stadium, Mile Flat, Wall Heath
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: none
Attendance: 15 (headcount)
Weather: rain
Duration: first-half: 47:23; second-half: 47:55

Another nostalgic revisit, this time to a ground previously visited 13 years ago in December 1998. Back then, Handrahan Timbers defeated Dudley Sports in the Midland Combination and this afternoon Wrens Nest recorded their sixth straight league victory thanks to a hat-trick from striker Ricky Hammond.

This morning, partly through looking out of the window at the sleet and partly through reading about postponements on the Non-League Matters Forum, I really wasn’t sure what was in store today. I’d also noticed games at Bromyard, Darlaston and Warstones were postponed but a quick phone call to Wrens Nest Chairman Malcolm Guy proved to be very positive. He suggested the pitch was thawing nicely and would phone me back if the game was off. Thankfully, no phone call was received and what was probably my first choice game went ahead as planned. Once at the ground, I was made to feel very welcome by Mr Guy and others, and enjoyed the company of visiting officials and fans during the game sat in the stand.

The ground, around 8 miles south of Wolverhampton, was easily found less than a mile from the centre of Wall Heath. Travelling on the A449 towards Kidderminster shortly after the junction with the A491, turn right at the second of two consecutive mini roundabouts into Enville Road, which becomes Mile Flat straight on after the traffic-lighted crossroads. The ground entrance was about 400 yards on the right.

Handrahan Timbers left the Midland Combination at the end of the 2003/04 and over the years the Handrahan Stadium (known as the Mile Flat Sports Ground in 1998) has also been home to Dudley United, AFC Wombourne, and currently Dudley United Ladies.

The pitch, with four floodlight pylons down each side, was fully railed off with changing rooms behind the near goal. At the far end along the near touchline was an area of covered standing with the words ‘DUDLEY UNITED FC’ on the roof. A small stand opposite on halfway, the ‘D.A.W. Stand’, contained a couple of rows of bench seating and proved to be good shelter from the elements all afternoon!

On the back of their winning run, Wrens Nest (22 points from 17 games) have risen up the table to sixth position with visitors St Martins (22 points from 14 games) one position above with a better goal difference. Both were 20 points behind leaders Haughmond.

Wrens Nest (in orange shorts, black shorts and socks) opted to attack the changing rooms end in the first half so St Martins (in yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks) got the action underway on a firm pitch with a soft top inch.

Rain soon started to fall and in the 11th minute Wrens Nest midfielder David Jones hit a fiercely swerving right foot drive that Carl Edwards did well to hold. Edwards then produced a decent one-handed save to keep out Scot Foster’s right-foot volley during “[t]his is a good start, this is” for the home side.

Wrens Nest suffered a blow when central defender Ben Podmore limped out of the game but that didn’t matter as they took the lead barely 20 seconds later in the 26th minute. Defender Chris Smout couldn’t stop Ricky Hammond latching on to a throughball and the tall striker rounded Edwards before slotting into the far right corner of the net.

Certainly in good form, Edwards pulled off a superb save to tip a rising drive from Jones on to the bar as the Wrens looked for a second goal. However, at the other end, Liam Bailey sent a 20-yard volley flashing past the home goal. Edwards soon excelled again to block another shot from Foster at the near post.

A foul by Smout on Foster inside the area – captain on captain – left referee Mr Read little option other than to award a penalty which Hammond confidently fired home to score his second goal of the game in the 33rd minute.

With Wrens Nest on top, St Martins were urged to “liven it” and they did just that by pulling a goal back in the 39th minute. Tim Allen played a free-kick forward into the area where Tim Mackerel sent a looping header past Grant Trevis into the net.

After Karl Bailey replaced his brother Liam in the St Martins defence soon after the restart, Wrens Nest restored their two-goal advantage in the 53rd minute. Jones crossed from the right and Foster saw his shot well saved by Edwards. However, the ball rebounded off the keeper’s hand straight to Hammond who fired home to complete his hat-trick.

Hammond almost scored a fourth goal with a well-struck 20-yard drive which thundered past the goal and Foster also fired against the bar just before the hour mark.

The woodwork denied Evans a place of the scoresheet in the 67th minute, The midfielder stayed onside to latch onto a ball down the right and saw his low shot rebound off the near post.

Hat-trick hero Hammond continued to look for more goals and the striker drove over from Ryan Yeomans’ pass.

Needing a goal themselves, St Martins created some decent chances during the final 15 minutes. Mackerel ran into the area and unleashed a low shot which Trevis kept out with his boot and the diving Wrens keeper did well in the 78th minute to turn round Allen’s shot at the expense of a corner.

In the end, Hammond’s finishing proved the difference between two evenly-matched sides. Wrens Nest were able to celebrate a sixth straight league win which moved them above St Martins in the Division 2 table.

I did wonder about detouring on the way home to watch the last half-hour of nearby Gornal’s home game with Sporting Khalsa. Good job I didn’t as this fixture was one of 11 West Midlands League games to fall foul of the weather. Nearby Dudley Sports and Team Dudley were amongst the postponements. I did pass Molineux (where Wolves lost 2-1 to Stoke) and Brinsford Lane (where Wolves Casuals beat Pegasus Juniors 2-0) on my way home.

Wrens Nest (orange/black/black): 1. Grant Trevis, 2. Sean Wynne, 3. Matthew Stevens, 4. Dean Stevens, 5. Ben Podmore, 6. Ryan Yeomans, 7. David Jones, 8. Dale Evans, 9. Sam Pearson, 10. Scott Foster (capt), 11. Ricky Hammond. Subs: 12. Richard Price (for Podmore, 26), 14. Keith Dalton (for Matthew Stevens, 69), 15. Paul Annis (for Evans, 82), 17gk. Dana Meddings (not used). Manager: Shane Stevens.

St Martins (yellow/black/yellow): 1. Carl Edwards, 2. Liam Bailey, 3. Wayne Batha, 4. Mark Coles, 5. Chris Smout (capt), 6. Joshua Sumner, 7. Daryl Davies, 8. Ryan Butcher, 9. Tom Mackerel, 10. Ashley Jones, 11. Tim Allen. Subs: 12. Lee Thomastone (for Batha, 85), 14. Karl Bailey (for Liam Bailey, 49), 15. Wayne Withers (for Davies 63), 16. Brian Wood (not used). Joint Managers: Paul Huggins and Tim Allen.

Referee: Neil Read.
Assistants: Steve Theo and Alex Thomas.

1-0 Ricky Hammond (26)
2-0 Ricky Hammond (33 pen)
2-1 Tom Mackerel (39)
3-1 Ricky Hammond (53)