Lewisham Borough 1 Woodstock Park 5

Saturday 28th January 2012
Lewisham Borough 1 Woodstock Park 5
Kent Invicta League
At: Ladywell Arena
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £3 including 16 page programme
Weather: cold, dry, sunny spells
Attendance: 31
Duration: first-half: 47:57; second-half: 46:22

With the forecast freezing overnight temperatures a reality this morning, I decided to press ahead with my plan to head to the capital on a £20 London Midland day return with watching a first-ever game in the new Kent Invicta League in mind. From a shortlist of three options, I chose Lewisham Borough’s Ladywell Arena, once I established I’d not been there before, and saw an entertaining six-goal encounter; unfortunately for the home side five of the six were scored by opponents Woodstock Park.

Last night on the Non-League Matters Forum in response to my query about previous teams using the ground, ‘Main Drain Man’ wrote that: Catford Wanderers in London Spartan League played there and were definitely around in that league in season 1991/2. They may have started playing there in early the noughties, outside your target dates, but Groundhoppers FC (honestly) in the Kent League at the time also played there.

A quick call from London Bridge to Chief Executive Ray Simpson confirmed the game was on (I guessed that anyway but wanted to make sure) so I headed to Catford Bridge station and a 10-minute walk past the site of the former Catford greyhound stadium to the ground. The ease of the final leg of the journey was in contrast to the part from Stafford Station to Euston as an incident at Atherstone, which closed the direct Trent Valley line, meant a longer and slower route via Birmingham New Street.

As usual, Andy of Kent’s directions proved invaluable: Left out of station, left into Doggett Road, then at end (road bends sharply right and becomes Silvermere Road) go straight on into ground.

On arrival, I was warmly welcomed by the programme seller who pointed out Ray Simpson to me. He came over for a chat and filled me in with information about the club, ground and plans for the future, as well as making sure the Assistant Secretary showed me the teamsheets.

Lewisham Borough (Community) FC, to give the full title, was formed in 2003 from the merger of Moonshot FC, Ten Em Bee FC and Elms FC.

The Kent Invicta League was formed during last summer as a step 6 feeder to the Kent League. Of the 16 founder members, 14 were members of the Kent County League last season along with the reformed Ashford United and newish club Erith and Dartford Town.

The ground itself is a multi-use venue with the football pitch inside a six-lane athletics track. The reception building at the near end incorporated changing rooms and a tea bar but, at present, there is no covered standing or seats. The left-hand touchline was roped off up to the half-way line and spectators watched the game from here or near the changing rooms. Dugouts were positions either side of half-way down the right-hand side. I was told of plans to erect a stand and a separate hospitality building.

Lewisham (33 points from 20 games) went into this fixture in 5th position as one of the league’s form sides. Visitors Woodstock Park (30 points from 21 games) stood three places below in the table. Last Saturday, Lewisham suffered a ‘terrible day’ by losing 4-0 at bottom side Orpington while Woddstock Park recorded an emphatic 6-3 home win over Crockenhill.

The referee wrong-footed me by lining up the players for the fair-play handshakes with their backs to the crowd facing the totally empty dugouts! “As we are lads, blue kick-off,” he announced after the toss and Woodstock Park (wearing all navy blue) got the game underway attacking the Silvermere Road end in the first half.

The visitors, no doubt buoyed by their win last Saturday, created several chances during the opening five minutes. Lewisham keeper Rilwan Anibaba leapt up to his left to palm round Liam Lewry’s 30-yard rising drive at the expense of a corner.

Despite Lewisham starting to enjoy plenty of possession, Woodstock Park took the lead in the 20th minute. Following a foul on Sabeur Trabelsi by Marvin Alebiosu near the left-corner of the area, deal ball specialist Craig Harvey delivered a delicious free-kick which the leaping Adam Overton headed home to score his ninth goal of the season (see right).

Anibaba may have had no chance of keeping out the first goal but six minutes later he did well to keep the deficit to just one. After having trouble dealing with a bouncing ball on the edge of his area, the keeper stuck up an arm to block Tommy Price’s resulting shot that seemed destined for the unguarded net.

Lewisham needed to reorganise at the back with the departure of defender Peter Adewumi-Martin through injury and could have equalised in first-half stoppage time. Alebiosu rounded the keeper inside the area only to see his angled shot deflected out for a corner by a covering defender.

I watched the first-half (and indeed the second-half as well) from around the half-way line behind the rope. Close to me were two supporters who, through their chat, sounded like groundhoppers from their chat. Alas, they did not want to engage in any conversation as I started a walk round the pitch at the interval.

Now attacking the far end, dominated the large University Hospital Lewisham, Woodstock Park doubled their advantage five minutes after the restart. Once again the home side were undone by a set piece when Overton headed home Jamie Sharman’s left-wing corner.

Needing a goal to get back into the game, there was hope for Lewisham when Alebiosu received a pass from Enoch Adjepong-Akosah and forced a save out of Ryan Bolton who hadn’t had a lot to do up to this point.

Hope, however, turned to despair when Woodstock Park scored their third goal in the 63rd minute. With a suspicion of offside, Tommy Price flicked the ball into the path of substitute Pat Bishenden on the right who fired home a low drive.

Needing to get forward and test Bolton, the home side did just that when Darren Flaherty, marked by two defenders managed to get in a low right-foot shot which the diving Woodstcok keeper got down to hold.

The two hoppers (see photo right) chatted about the Hellenic League!

Two more goals scored for the visitors in the space of 150 seconds turned what was a comfortable lead and into an emphatic one.

In the 73rd minute, Dave Boichat played the ball forward to Price who stayed onside and got down the left before crossing low across the face of goal where Bishenden bundled home at close range.

Two minutes later, after Alebiosu saw a shot blocked inside the Woodstock area, the visitors broke forward and exploited gaps in the Lewisham defence. Price fed Overton who completed his hat-trick with an angled shot from the left.

With the points secure, the aim of Woodstock Park was “clean sheet, all of us” and keeper Bolton did his bit with a diving save to keep out Kemo Darboe’s well-struck shot.

Not content with five goals, the visitors continued to press forward. Overton, looking for his fourth goal, saw a shot blocked and Craig Harvey’s effort was deflected wide for a corner.

I was pleased that Lewisham got on the scoresheet in the 83rd minute thanks to “a bit of quality”. Darboe battled inside a populated area and set up Flaherty who fired home a left-foot shot from eight yards out.

Lewisham keeper Anibaba prevented the visitors from scoring again with a superb double save in the 85th minute. He first kept out Aron McMullen’s initial shot and somehow regained his position to brilliantly keep out the follow-up from Overton.

At full-time, I had a quick chat with Ray Simpson and offered his club “best of luck for the rest of the season”, making it back to Catford Bridge in time to catch the 17:08 train to London Bridge.

I certainly have fond memories of my visit to the Ladywell Arena. As Mishi wrote on the Non-League Matters Forum, ‘the people who run Lewisham are very friendly’ and I totally agree!

Lewisham Borough (red/red/red): 1. Rilwan Anibaba, 2. Peter Adewumi-Martin, 13. Tashin Nicholas, 4. Enoch Adjepong-Akosah, 5. Nicky Brown (capt), 6. Nytram Dixon-Baker, 7. Dwayne Morris, 15. Durrand Iemott, 9. Matt Piper, 10. Marvin Alebiosu, 11. Darren Flaterly. Subs: 12. Jason Piper (for Adewumi-Martin, 27) 14. Kemo Darboe (for Piper, 67).

Woodstock Park (blue/blue/blue): 1. Ryan Bolton, 2. Marc Morrison, 3. Elliott Chandler, 4. Dave Boichat (capt), 5. Steve Collar, 6. Aron McMullen, 7. Craig Harvey, 8. Sabeur Trabelsi, 9. Adam Overton, 10. Tommy Price, 11. Liam Lewry. Subs: 12. Patrick Bishenden (for Trabelsi, ht), 14. Jamie Sharman (for Lewry, ht), 15. Lee Dengate (for Morrison, 62).

0-1 Adam Overton (21)
0-2 Adam Overton (50)
0-3 Pat Bishenden (63)
0-4 Pat Bishenden (73)
0-5 Adam Overton (75)
1-5 Darren Flaherty (83)

Lewisham: Nicky Brown (YC, 84)
Woodstock Park: none

Castle Vale JKS 2 Bartley Green 0

Wednesday 25th January 2012
Castle Vale JKS 2 Bartley Green 0
Athium Midland Combination Premier Division
At: Vale Stadium
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £3; Programme: £1
Weather: mild, showers
Attendance: 53
Duration: first-half: 46:09; second-half: 49:35

This was my fourth visit to the Vale Stadium where, tonight, first-half goals from Alex Henrey and Nathan Thompson gave Castle Vale JKS maximum points against Bartley Green in a game between two sides at the wrong end of the Premier Division table.

The Vale Stadium, easily spotted from the M6 down to the left between junctions 5 and 4, was opened in 1998 as the new home of Paget Rangers. I visited for the first time in March 2000 when Stafford Rangers played Paget and won 2-0. But, two years later, Paget had folded and subsequently the Vale Stadium become home to Continental Star, Castle Vale and Castle Vale JKS. This season, following a move by Castle Vale to groundshare with Boldmere St Michaels, Castle Vale JKS to my knowledge are now the sole Saturday club using the ground.

Before tonight’s game, both Castle Vale (19 points from 22 games) and Bartley Green (13 points from 19 games) occupied 14th and 16th positions, respectively, in the 17-team Premier Division.

Bartley Green (in red shirts, black shorts and black socks) got the game underway attacking the M6 end in the first half and defending into the slanting rain.

No real scoring opportunities were created until Castle Vale JKS took the lead in the 9th minute. Leroy Williams broke down the right on the break and crossed low into the area. Nathan Thompson saw his initial shot parried by Bartley goalkeeper Aaron Gayle but Alex Henrey, who had raced forward from midfield slotted home the loose ball from 10 yards out.

Bartley were awarded a free-kick on the left which Martel McGreevy fired across the face of goal from a narrow angle and just wide of the far post.

The visitors had one last chance for a consolation goal in stoppage time. McGreevy delivered a free-kick from the right into the JKS area where Simon Redhead sent a first-time volley over the bar. I think they deserved a goal for their second-half showing.

JKS almost made it 2-0 in the 19th minute. Williams took full advantage of an awkwardly bouncing ball just inside the visitors half and took it forward. When his path was blocked, he laid the ball off to Thompson who curled a shot just wide.

The home side didn’t have to wait long to double their lead. On the half hour, Williams again fed Thompson who this time finished with an unstoppable right-foot volley from the edge of the area which drew applause and “great goal” comments.

I watched the game in the company of ‘Albion Steve’ who I’d last seen at Brocton back in November. During the first sat behind, on the back row, a young referee was observing the game with, I presume, his coach/mentor who was explaining the decisions by referee on the field. It certainly made interesting listening for me being a former unsuccessful referee and a lot more successful linesman.

Bartley should have pulled a goal back in the 42nd minute and I’m sure that Carl Tromans won’t want reminding about his miss. Put clear on the right inside the area and with Odane Barnes unmarked in front of goal, Tromans went for goal himself and saw his weak shot saved by Mark Hadden.

At half-time, there were two choices – back into the bar area or find the source of cups of tea. The lure of a warm drink won me over and mobile Kinsbury CafĂ© by the turnstile came up trumps with tea and chips!

With a two-goal deficit to close, Bartley Green needed to make a bright start to the second half and did just that. Three minutes after the break, Barnes broke down right, cut-in and fired into the near sidenetting. As the visitors continued to threaten, McGreevy found Anthony Miller on the edge of the area. Miller, with his back to goal, turned and sent a right-foot hsot just wide of the far right-hand post.

JKS responded. Thompson, on the break, looked to get clear until Craig Collingwood’s tackle saved a possible goal.

Around the hour mark, mark Rollins’ header was scrambled clear inside the JKS area and, in the next attack, McGreevy went down under Ricky Willars’ challenge but the referee waived away mild appeals for a penalty.

Shortly after, as Bartley kept pressing, McGreevy tried to catch out Hadden with a ‘banana-like’ curling free-kick but the keeper remained alert to save.

If Thompson’s goal drew comments like ‘great goal’, I wonder what superlatives would Henrey’s effort have attracted had ne scored the game’s third goal in the 69th minute. Found by Phil Collins’ cross, Henrey attempted a Rooneyeque scissor kick (the one from the Man City game last season) which missed the right-hand post by inches.

A minute later, Henrey attempted the shot again, this time from Williams’ cross, but failed to make clear contract with the ball.

As the game headed towards full-time, a club official came round with one of those football cards. I chose ‘Clydebank’ though, as the winner was to be announced after full-time, I couldn’t wait to find out if I’d won. On my past record with raffles and competitions, probably ‘not’!

With the driving rain returning, Bartley Green had one last chance in stoppage time to get on the scoresheet. McGreevy delivered a free-kick into the area which Simon Redhead volleyed over the bar. I think they deserved a goal for their second-half performance.

So, the end of my fourth visit to Vale Stadium and the first time that the home side had taken maximum points after Paget’s defeat to Stafford Rangers (2000), Castle Vale’s draw with Southam United (2008) and JKS’s heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Brocton (2010).

1-0 Alex Henrey (9)
2-0 Nathan Thompson (30)

Leominster Town 2 Penncroft 1

Saturday 21st January 2012
Leominster Town 2 Penncroft 1
West Midlands (Regional) League Division 1
At: Briarwood Stadium, Bridge Street
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £2-50 including 8 page programme
Weather: cloudy, dry, blustery wind
Attendance: 19 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 46:00; second-half: 47:09

'Plan B' came to the rescue this afternoon after a later than desired departure from home and delays getting through Kidderminster scuppered plans for a visit to Tenbury United. Before I discovered the River Teme bridge into Tenbury was closed, I’d already decided to ditch 'Plan A' and head instead to the only West Midlands League Division 1 ground not previously visited – Leominster Town’s Briarwood Stadium. And, it proved a good choice in the end!

With both sides in need of points to move away from the ‘relegation’ zone, Leominster came out on top by the odd goal with all three goals stemming from goalkeeping errors. Dan Stack put the home side ahead just after the quarter-hour mark though visitors Penncroft were back level around the half-hour mark through Jason Hadley. Sam Pearson regained the lead for Leominster and they held on to end a run of four straight league defeats.

Leominster Town (amber/black/black): 1, James Panniers, 2. Tom Murphy, 3. Keiran Davies, 4. Matt Williams, 5. Dylan Barrington, 6. Mark Rusling (capt?), 17. Lewis Jones, 8. Sam Thomas, 9. Sam Pearson, 10. Dan Stack, 11. Ben Price. Subs: 12. Mike Symonds (for Barrington, 88), 14. Josh Griffiths (not used), 15. Ian Morris (not used), 16. Neil Parsons (not used), 17. Steve Williams. Joint Managers: Nick Barnett and Mike Symonds.

Penncroft (red with black sleeves / white / white): 1. Remigijus Stanciukas, 2. Matthew Brooks, 3. Simon Byrne, 4. Dan Lothian (capt), 5. Matthew Jones, 6. Ian Ralph, 7. Jason Hadley, 8. Nick Priest, 9. Chris Jones, 10. Chris Brown, 11. Adam Walters. Subs: 15. Alex Murphy (for Byrne, 77), 16. Shaun Ralph (for Priest, 77), 17. Peter McAuley (not used). Manager: Reg Priest.

Referee: Ben Morris.
Assistants: Tony Baker and Alan Robinson.

1-0 Dan Stack (17)
1-1 Jason Hadley (28)
2-1 Sam Pearson (60)

Leominster: Ben Price (YC, 37)
Penncroft: Dan Lothian (YC, 71)

Knutsford 3 Lostock Gralam 0

Saturday 14th January 2012
Knutsford 3 Lostock Gralam 0
Cheshire League Division 1
At: Manchester Road
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: £1; Programme: 50p (4 pages)
Weather: dry with sunshine throughout though increasingly cold
Attendance: 65 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 46:34; second-half: 49:47

Knutsford moved to the top of the Cheshire League Division 1 table with a 3-0 victory over previous leaders and local rivals Lostock Gralam. Just like the Stafford Town v Brocton FA Vase derby I saw back in November, this game also generated plenty of talking points with differing opinions on the three key incidents.

Early on, a Knutsford defender appeared lucky to escape without even a booking for a professional-looking foul. Then, in between the half-time whistle and the start of the second half, Lostock had both a defender and unused substitute sent off for their part in a flare-up as the players headed for the changing rooms. And, deep into stoppage time at the end, Knutford’s keeper was sent off for handball outside his area. Three goals were scored amongst the controversy, all by Knutsford, from debutant Tom Rutter (13th minute), Dean Warburton (38th minute) and substitute Lee Shakoor (87th minute).

With freezing overnight temperatures and the grass in shade at home being white with frost, I decided to head somewhere close to a 3G pitch where Romulus (Sutton Coldfield) or Woodley (near Stockport) were playing home games in the Evo-Stik League. The added news that Brighouse’s NCEL game was definitely on encouraged me to head up the M6 with the hope that Knutsford’s home game was not marked as ‘P-P’ on the Cheshire League Full-Time website for a positive reason. I received no text message about Knutsford from someone at home checking Full-Time and arrived at Manchester Road around 1-15 pm to find a perfect green pitch bathed in winter sunshine.

I must say I’ve got ‘Shacker’ on the Non-League Matters Forum for flagging up this game earlier in the week. ‘This is the big derby match between the top 2 sides in the table,’ he wrote temptingly. Home side Knutsford (31 points from 14 games) went into the fixture in second position, a point behind their opponents Lostock Gralam (32 points from 18 games) with four games in hand.

Having driven past the ground on many occasions in the past I knew exactly where it was – on the right-hand side of the A50 heading north from the town centre and a large sign marked the entrance. The pitch was fully railed off with covered standing down the near touchline and club buildings behind the near goal. An area of hand standing led from the clubhouse to the stand.

Programmes were on sale for 50p at the entrance pay table, though as an early arriver, the Secretary pointed me to the clubhouse where I picked up a copy for the four-pager. The Knutsford badge gives 1888 at the club’s formation date while the programme gives Lostock Gralam’s date at 1892 – hence this game’s billing as ‘the 120 year old local derby’.

“Plenty of sound, plenty of encouragement,” urged one Lostock player before Knutsford (in red shirts, black shorts and block socks) got the game underway defending into the low angled sun and attacking the clubhouse end.

The game’s first talking point came in the 10th minute. Lostock’s Mike Butters was brought down on the edge of the area when bearing down on goal. I was down the other end but, to me, the guilty defender was lucky to escape with just a chat from the referee. From a distance, it looked like a booking or even sending-off offence. Knutsford keeper Mark Higgs produced a diving save to keep out the resulting free-kick hit by Martin Bell and Kyle Wilding, following-up, sent the loose ball wide of the right-hand post.

Having survived the scare, Knutsford took the lead three minutes later. Simon Williamson, on the left, found debutant Tom Rutter who lifted the ball over keeper Mike Langley and into the net (see photo above right).

The home side continued to dominate and create a number of decent chances. Midway through the half, Langley produced a diving save to parry a well-struck shot from Rutter looking for a second goal. Then, Mike Cartner drove across the face of goal and, on the half hour, Rutter set up Lee Jackson who fired straight at Langley.

Lostock (in all blue) won their first corner in the 38th minute which unmarked Mike Brandon headed wide at the far post. “Let off” for Knutsford and within a minute they doubled their lead. Williamson got down the left and crossed low for Dean Warburton to slot home his ninth goal of the season at close range.

The visitors quickly got forward and Wilding saw a deflected shot flash past the right-hand post.

Cartner and Warburton both fired over the visitors’ before the interval and Lostock’s Josh Smith picked up a booking in stoppage time.

Things boiled over at the half-time whistle and Smith was shown a straight red card for his part in an unsavoury flare-up. An unused Lostock substitute was also red carded after the players emerged from the changing rooms for the second half.

With ten men, the visitors made a positive start after the interval and Brandon cut in from the left before shooting low into the near sidenetting.

Lostock’s response was causing concern for Knutsford who had “gone flat” and needed to “raise [their] standard”. They did and substitute Paul Barry forced Langley to parry a well-struck shot.

The visitors continued to threaten, however, and a nice move involving Phil Parkinson and Chris Latham ended with Butters seeing his shot kept out by the legs of Higgs. It was a decent save and went close again soon after as Ryan Jackson saw a shot blocked by a defender.

“We’ll get another chance,” said one Lostock player encouragingly said to his teammates and James Horne sent a free-kick straight at Higgs.

Knutsford, working hard to protect their lead, put the outcome beyond doubt with a third goal scored in the 87th minute. Lee Jackson got down the left and crossed low for substitute Lee Shakoor in orange boots to slot home at close range for his sixth goal of the season (see photo right).

That wasn’t the end of the drama and controversy. In the third minute of stoppage time, Higgs rushed off his line to block Brandon’s lob after the striker had latched on to a long ball from defence. The linesman immediately flagged and it could only mean one thing… Higgs had made the save outside the area and he was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity as Brandon’s shot may well have found the net.

Steve Jenyons took over in goal and all he had to do was watch the resulting free-kick, taken by Brandon, fly over the bar before the referee blew for full-time before the goal-kick could be taken.

Overall, Knutsford can be added to the list of friendly welcoming clubs that are a pleasure to visit.

As a footnote, I must express sympathy to the aforementioned and luckless ‘Shacker’ He not only flagged up this game on the Non-League Matters Forum but also posted that Brighouse’s game was on. His reward? Suffering a late postponement at AFC Liverpool along with the Silsden squad after being told the game had ‘passed an inspection and was on’.

1-0 Tom Rutter (13)
2-0 Dean Warburton (38)
3-0 Lee Shakoor (87)

Stafford Town 2 Bloxwich United 0

Tuesday 10th January 2012
Stafford Town 2 Bloxwich United 0
Walsall Senior Cup Quarter Final
At: Evans Park
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Attendance: 45 (headcount)
Weather: mild, dry
Duration: first-half: 45:07; second-half: 45:34

Stafford Town booked their place in the Walsall Senior Cup semi finals, and a short trip to Brocton in March, with two second-half goals from Sam Agar. Extra time and possibly penalties looked a distinct possibility after a goalless and largely chanceless first half on an unusually mild January evening. However, Town’s leading scorer found the net on the hour and later added a second to take his tally for the season to 42 goals.

In all my years of watching football, I’d only seen one previous game in the Walsall Senior Cup - a first round tie at Audley which visitors Armitage 90 won 2-0. To be honest, I really though tonight was a first for me. Assuming Wikipedia was accurate in 2007, apparently the cup has been contested on 127 previous occasions with Rushall Olympic being the current holders. To reach the quarter finals, Stafford Town defeated Romulus and Darlaston Town while Bloxwich, given a First Round bye, beat Walsall Wood in the last round.

The programme editor highlighted in his editorial that Bloxwich (26 points from 17 games) went into the tie in ninth position in the Athium Midland Combination Premier Division table. Stafford Town (26 points from 21 games) stood in 16th position in the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division table. Last season, Town and Bloxwich were in the same division before Bloxwich switched to the Combination last summer. I saw at home them back in August in the FA Cup against AFC Wulfrunians.

Stafford Town (in all red with black trim) got the game underway attacking the cricket ground end and few decent goalscoring opportunities were created during the first half. Worrying with no replay and the prospect of extra time and even penalties.

Joshua Jones got down the left and looked to impede a defender before striking a rising drive which the well-positioned Stafford keeper Andy Heal held. That first effort on target came in the 8th minute and it wasn’t until the 35th minute that Town tested Matthew Edwards in the Bloxwich goal. Mat Dockerty’s free-kick played forward into the area found Agar who shot straight at the Bloxwich keeper. Just before the break, Jack Milgate found Agar on the right who crossed low into the area but a defender made a vital block for the ball got to Craig Hulme.

After my usual half-time tea and chocolate bar, Hulme saw a decent shot blocked by the boot of Edwards within 34 seconds of the restart. Agar was soon going for gaol again with dipping shot just over the bar despite being marked by two defenders.

Eventually, it was Agar who broke the deadlock on the hour. Mark Johnson took the ball forward on the left and fed Hulme who in turn found Agar. The prolific striker turned inside the area and clinically hit home a low shot from eight yards out.

Bloxwich (in all blue) were told to “liven up, all of us,” and Josh Jones sent a left-foot shot over the bar. However, the Reds kept up the pressure and Agar saw an initial shot blocked by Jon Walker and Jack Milgate’s follow-up effort deflected wide off a defender. From the resulting corner, a header from Agar was cleared off the line by Adrian Jones.

During the second half, I got chatting to a spectator near to me at the back of the stand. He turned out to be Harry (aka ‘glossop terrace’ on the Non-League Matters Forum’) wearing a warm red Porthmadog hat and who had travelled down from Birkenhead.

We wondered if Bloxwich would snatch an equaliser to force extra time but those thoughts were eased in the 79th minute when Agar netted his second goal. Josh Anderson delivered a free-kick into the area from the left which Agar flicked home.

The Reds almost scored a third goal following a delightful move involving Mat Dockerty, Dave Woodvine and Agar. The ball fell to Hulme who saw a deflected shot hit the left-hand post.

With Brocton defeating Wolverhampton Casuals at the same time, Stafford Town will face the Badgers at Silkmore Lane in the semi-finals on Tuesday 12th March. The other semi-final is Chasetown v Ellesmere/Rushall.

1-0 Sam Agar (60)
2-0 Sam Agar (79)

Coventry Spartans 2 Perrywood 1

Saturday 7th January 2012
Coventry Spartans 2 Perrywood 1
Athium Midland Combination Division 2
At: Westwood Heath Sports Ground Pitch 1
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Attendance: 10 (headcount)
Weather: cloudy, dry
Duration: first-half: 46:26; second-half: 51:47

No weather worries so I used the trusty ‘name out of the hat method’ to decide where to head this afternoon and it gave me a pleasant trip to Midland Combination rookies Coventry Spartans. All the goals came in the first half in this contest between two evenly-matched sides at Coventry University’s Westwood Heath Sports Ground. Spartans took a 19th minute lead through Luke Thompson but Wes Joyce equalised for the visitors just before the half-hour. Scott Lindley soon restored Spartans’ lead and that was it for the scoring though Perrywood twice hit the woodwork deep into stoppage time at the end. A bonus today was a 20-page programme on sale inside the main building bar area and Pat Brunning provided good company.

I have Mike Greaves and Laurence Reade for flagging up that Coventry Spartans are a new club in 2011/12, playing at a different ground to Coventry Amateurs on Westwood Heath Road. Since the end of last season, then Midland Combination side Coventry Amateurs split into two clubs with the reserves staying put at the David Sinclair Goulding Sports Ground and retaining the name. What was last season’s Amateurs first team formed a new club with the players, as the Secretary told me, deciding on the suffix of ‘Spartans’.

The ground was straightforward to find off the A45 Coventry by-pass. Travelling south past the retail park, which includes Sainsbury’s and McDonalds, and crossing the railway, I turned right at the next roundabout. Following signs for ‘Warwick Arts Centre’, I continued along Kirby Corner Road until the Arts Centre was off to the left and went straight on into Westwood Heath Road. The ground entrance was around 200 yards on the right opposite the church.

Inside the complex there were a number of sports pitches for rugby and football with an impressive main building sports pavilion in the middle. Four games were due to be played with Spartans on the floodlight ‘Pitch 1’ immediately to the left of the entrance. It was roped off only on the near side with dugouts opposite part way up a grass bank. Elsewhere, a team in red and white stripes played a team in yellow, assuming the team in red were Stourbridge but, if so, in what competition.

Laurence mentioned on his blog report that, at the time of his visit in early September, Spartans were rock bottom on the division without a win but he saw them defeat Enville 2-1. Since then they have added three more wins to their tally and moved up to 11th in the 15-team table with a current record of 16 points from 17 games. Worcester-based visitors Perrywood (20 points from 15 games) were three places higher in eighth.

On to the action and Spartans (in sky blue shirts, navy blue shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking the Westwood Road end in the first half. They created the first decent chance when Giovanni Green fed Luke Thompson who slipped the ball past the advancing Perrywood keeper Carl Preece and agonisingly inches wide of the far left post.

Spartans took the lead in the 19th minute. Thompson latched on to a low ball down the right and lifted it into an empty net after Preece rushed off his line to challenge.

Perrywood (in red shirts, red shorts and white socks) got back on level terms 10 minutes later. Jon Mann delivered a hanging cross from the right which Spartans keeper Tony Johnson missed and Wes Joyce forced the ball over the line.

But, the scores were level for less than three minutes as Spartans quickly scored what proved to be the winner. Benjamin Owusu crossed from the right which, like the equaliser, was missed by the keeper and Scott Lindley hooked the ball home at close range.

Green considered himself unlucky to be booked for diving soon early in the second half after a tackle by Perrywood captain Neil Mogford.

The visitors started to threaten. Mann’s angled shot was gathered up and Joyce fired across the face of goal.

“Get the next goal and we’ll win this game,” was the opinion of one Perrywood player and his teammates continued to press for an equaliser. Johnson produced a diving save in the 71st minute to keep out Lee Seldon’s header from Joyce’s long throw.

Having survived the scare, Spartans quickly turned defence into attack. Tristan Kabongo fed Green who beat the diving Preece only to miss by inches. One spectator shouted “yes” and like me, he thought the ball was going in.

Johnson kept his side in front in the 85th minute with one of the best saves I’ve seen all season at non-league level. Seldon hit a seemingly unstoppable close-range volley which the diving keeper kept out with a one-handed save.

Deep into stoppage time, Mann exchanged passes with Joyce on the left and hit a low drive which rebounded off the far post into the hands of Johnson.

Seconds before the full-time whistle, Perrywood won a corner from which the ball deflected off a defender and hit the bar.

The win lifted Spartans up one place into tenth while Perrywood remained two places above in eighth.

Coventry Spartans (sky blue / navy blue / navy blue): 1. Tony Johnson, 2. Kobi Ntim, 3. Ben Vallance, 4. Steven Young, 5. Rory Anaughe, 6. Benjamin Owusu, 7. William Waddell, 8. Tristan Kabongo (capt), 9. Luke Thompson, 10. Giovanni Green, 11. Scott Lindley. Subs: 12. Kenroy Dennisur (not used), 13. Peter Slatford (for Lindley, 81), 14. Scott Broadbent (not used), 15. Kieron Grant (for Thompson, 90), 16. Simon Sinkolongo (not used).

Perrywood (red/red/white): 1. Carl Preece, 2. Logan Stoddart, 3. Chris Moores, 4. Carl Smith, 5. Neil Mogford (capt), 6. Jordan Stoddart, 7. Matt Andrews, 8. Nick Pearce, 9. Wes Joyce, 10. Lee Seldon, 11. Jon Mann. Subs: 12. Dave Budden (for Pearce, 60), 14. Joel Harris (for Moores, 65), 15. Tom Baker (not used), 16. Tiago Ribero (not used), 17. Ian Urry (for Stoddard, ht).

Referee: J. Insley.
Assistants: D. Withers and J. Wright.

1-0 Luke Thompson (19)
1-1 Wes Joyce (29)
2-1 Scott Lindley (31)

Coventry Spartans: Giovanni Green (YC, 47)
Perrywood: none

Bourne Town 4 Raunds Town 0

Monday 2nd January 2012
Bourne Town 4 Raunds Town 0
ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Division 1
At: The Abbey Lawn
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4
Weather: sunny though cold in the shade
Attendance: 72
Duration: first-half: 47:55; second-half: 47:55

I decided to head further away from home into Lincolnshire after the Rushden & Highham game and made the 46-mile journey to Bourne for the second leg of today’s ‘double’. Like Hayden Road, Bourne’s Abbey Lawn ground also boasts character with the old-style stand. Unlike the recent UCL Division 1 games I’ve seen, this one pitted two sides in the lower half of the table and Bourne ended a run of six winless games with an emphatic 4-0 victory. Jason Kilbridge scored twice during the opening nine minutes and substitute Glenn Spearink also bagged a brace in the second half. Both sides were evenly matched except for Bourne’s clinical finishing. Former Stafford Rangers Stripes midfielder Fernand Bass played for the visitors, though I wasn’t aware of this until later checking spellings of some the names in the Raunds squad.

Finding the Abbey Lawn should have been simple but, without any homework or a map, I certainly made it difficult for myself. I even parked up in the correct place before deciding something wasn’t right and drove around for five minutes ending up on Coggles Causeway. Thankfully a pedestrian suggested returning to where I’d previously been! So, from the centre of Bourne, take the A151 (signed Spalding) next to the Nags Head into Abbey Road then park-up on the right opposite and along from the Marquis of Granby. At the far end of the long parking bay, walk through the gates into the park to the ground entrance.

The Abbey Lawn is certainly full of character with a seated stand on halfway down the left-hand touchline and nearer area of covered standing. Certainly a place I’d recommend gets added to a bucket list of ‘grounds to do’.

Bourne Town (15th with 18 points from 12 games) were a long-standing United Counties League Premier Division club from 1972 to 2010 when they were demoted to Division 1 because the Abbey lawn failed to meet Grade F standard. Visitors Raunds Town (12th with 18 points from 16 games) had four seasons Southern League before returning to the United Counties League in 2000 and they suffered further relegation to Division 1 at the end of last season.

Line-ups and match officials were written on a white board displayed near to the refreshments hatch.

Just like Rushden & Higham a few hours earlier, this game also began in winter sunshine with Bourne kicking off attacking the far end (left to right in relation to the side opposite the stand).

It was the home side that broke the deadlock in the 6th minute. Andy Moss crossed from the right and Jason Kilbride stooped at the near post to head home past Raunds keeper Michael Freeman.

Bourne (in all claret) doubled their lead three minutes later. Martin Brown brought down Steve Mastin inside the area and Kilbride converted the resulting penalty to score his second goal of the game.

“Bourne, great start – all of us, well done!” and it really was a great start for the homesters, especially when Jake Mason soon fired just over the bar.

Naturally, Raunds were told that they “need to wake up”.

Chances continued to be created and Andy Moss fed Jake Mason on the right inside the area. The striker rounded Freeman and got in a narrow-angled shot which Marc Harrison cleared via the bar.

Raunds enjoyed a good spell after the half hour mark. Marc Harrison sent a left-foot free-kick wide of the near post and a rising 35-yard drive from Tristan Clarke was held by the diving Bourne keeper Matt Gilson.

“Raunds, looking better,” and John Gull hit a low long-range left-foot shot just past the right-hand post with Gilson scrambling across.

The visitors nearly pulled a goal back in stoppage time., Karl King saw a shot blocked from Marc Harrison’s long throw and Eddy Zacharius’ follow-up was deflected for a corner.

Even though Bourne were two goals up, I felt the first half was an pretty even contest. Alas, no luck with the raffle again and, for a quick warm, I popped into the Len Pick Suite (Wakes Club) before returning to the stand for the second half with another tea and chocolate bar in hand.

Now attacking the far end, Raunds created an early chance at the start of the second half. Gull aimed a low diagonal ball to the far post but unmarked Zacharius couldn’t make contact for would have seen a simple tap-in.

Quickly responding, Mastin fed Kilbride who went for goal to try and complete a hat-trick but only succeeded in driving over the bar.

The Bourne bench was concerned, however, which prompted calls for the side to “get ’em picked up”.

Just before the hour mark, Gilson parried a rising shot by Gull from Clarke’s pass.

The home side survived an added a vital third goal in the 63rd minute. Substitute Glenn Spearink evaded the tackle of Marc Harrison and carried the ball into the area before confidently firing past Freeman.

There still wasn’t a lot between the teams, in my opinion, other than Bourne’s finishing and the Wakes added a fourth goal in the 73rd minute. Alec Robinson fed Spearink who took the ball forward before firing past the helpless Freeman to score his third league goal of the season.

Freeman did well to prevent Bourne from adding a fifth goal during the final 10 minutes. He blocked an initial shot by Mastin and parried a follow-up shot from the same striker after the loose ball wasn’t cleared.

Bourne moved up one place over Northampton ON Chenecks, who lost 5-0 at home to leaders Harborough and, as I said, I’d recommend adding the Abbey Lawn to a bucket list of ‘grounds to do’.

Bourne Town (claret/claret/claret): 1. Matt Gilson, 2. John Curran, 3. Tom Cardall, 4. Andy Moss, 5. Dan Smith (capt), 6. Aaron Jesson, 7. Dan Mason, 8. Seb Hodd, 9. Jake Mason, 10. Steve Mastin, 11. Jason Kilbride. Subs: 12. Glenn Spearink (for Mason, 56), 14. Alex Brockbank (not used), 15. Ashley Firth (not used), 16. Craig Rook (for Mason, 81), 17. Alec Robinson (for Hodd, 69).

Raunds Town (sky blue and white stripes / sky blue / sky blue): 1. Michael Freeman, 2. Connor Montone, 3. Martin Brown, 4. Tristan Clarke, 5. Darren Capps, 6. Marc Harrison, 7. Fernand Bass, 8. John Gull, 9. Nick Harrison, 10. Karl King, 11. Eddy Zacharius. Subs: 12. Nat Gosnal-Tyler (for Zacharius, 53), 14. Simon Duggan (for Brown, 53), 15. Ryan Asher-Powell (for Bass, 73), 16. B. Sandhu (not used).

Referee: Neil Smith.
Assistants: Dave Rimmer and Thomas Woolley.

1-0 Jason Kilbride (6)
2-0 Jason Kilbridge (9 pen)
3-0 Glenn Spearink (63)
4-0 Glenn Spearink (73)

Bourne: none
Raunds: Tristan Clarke (YC, 89)

Rushden & Higham United 2 Bugbroke St Michaels 1

Monday 2nd January 2012
Rushden & Higham United 2 Bugbroke St Michaels 1
ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Division 1
At: Hayden Road, Rushden
Kick-off: 11-00 am
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (32 pages)
Weather: sunny though cold in the shade
Attendance: 96
Duration: first-half: 47:11; second-half: 48:53

The first action for me in 2012 was another of my much-enjoyed nostalgic revisits, this time to the former home of Rushden Town and now home to Rushden & Higham United. It was also my third time I’d seen Bugbrooke St Michaels play away in eight days and, just like Saturday at Huntingdon, they lost 2-1 to a promotion rival. Bugbrooke’s keeper was forced off injured just before the end of a goalless first half and replaced by outfield player Ryan Dufty. Rushden & Higham United took the lead four minutes after the restart through Mark Weekley’s header and doubled their advantage in the 81st minute when Lewis O’Dell scored at close range. They held on to temporarily move up to second in the table despite Ashley Bradshaw pulling a goal back to set up what I considered an exciting finish.

I was previously at Hayden Road in 1984 when Stafford Rangers drew 3-3 in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round. The resulting replay is a game that will always stick in my mind as one that Rushden Town won 3-1 when the referee frustrated Rangers with a series of strange decisions and fans invading the pitch at the end of the game to confront the match official. Rangers, if I recall correctly, were fined £25 for failing to control their fans!

I knew that Rushden Town merged with nearby Irthlingborough Diamonds to form Rushden & Diamonds. However, I wasn’t sure if the ‘Rushden’ in ‘Rushden & Higham United’ related to the old Town club or not. Thankfully, Wikipedia provided the answer that the present occupants of Hayden Road resulted from a merger of ‘Rushden Rangers’ and ‘Higham United’. A sign on the back of the stand states ‘RUSHDEN & HIGHAM UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB incorporating Rushden Rangers Youth F.C.

Present-day Hayden Road is a mixture of old and modern; the ‘old’ being the stand on the road side of the ground which is no longer in use and areas of terracing around the pitch. During the 27 years since my previous visit (see old photo right taken in 1984), the roofs of the two covered terraces on the cricket side have gone and one has been replaced with a modern stand containing around 100 black seats. Also a row of tall conifers separates the football and cricket ground beyond, and new lights have been installed.

Inside the Social Club was good friend Paul ‘Splodge’ Proctor and at pitch-side, amongst a decent gathering of hoppers, were Chris Garner and James Rennie. Dave Meeson also arrived but he was one of several to be disappointed that programmes sold out before kick-off.

As the only morning kick-off in the division, both sides had the opportunity to move up above second-placed Huntingdon Town. Bugbrooke (3rd with 34 points from 14 games) were looking to get a run going after picking up just four points from their last four games while Rushden & Higham (4th with 32 points from 17 games) needed a win to keep up with the top three who all had games in hand.

In winter sunshine, Bugbrooke (in blue and yellow halves, blue shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking down the slope. I enjoyed the first half even though precious few scoring opportunities were created and just one corner. Good work by Damon Herbert down the Bugbrooke left in the 39th minute set up a chance for Nick Worley who rifled a low shot just wide of the left-hand post.

Bugbrooke lost Antonio Aguilar-Rohan just before half-time who was hurt in a challenge with Craig Harrower who picked up a booking. The keeper, who did have his right knee bandaged up from the start, limped away after lengthy treatment and central defender Ryan Dufty took over the gloves. In stoppage time, Dufty made a confident save from Barry Deacon’s shot but Ashley Green’s cross caused all sorts of problems.

Now attacking down the slope, Rushden & Higham took the lead in the 49th minute. Lewis O’Dell crossed from the right for Mark Weekley to head home into the bottom left corner through the hands of the luckless Dufty (see photo right).

Acting as a “wake up” call to the visitors, Michael Parkes delivered an excellent cross from the right which Craig Patterson dropped and Nathan Lacey had a shot blocked.

Bugbrooke won several corners as they pressed for an equaliser though it looked like being one of those games they’d get nothing from. However, the home side remained threatening and a good move saw Harrower hit an angled shot straight at Dufty.

Patterson produced a flying catch in the 73rd minute to hold on to a glancing header from Danny Barnes. Three minutes later Ashley Bradshaw had the ball in the net only for the referee to spot a foul on the home keeper.

Rushden & Higham, who responded to calls to “raise it” after “walking around happy with this”, got a vital second goal in the 81st minute. Dufty failed to deal with a left-wing cross and O’Dell forced the ball home.

To their credit, Bugbrooke lifted themselves to pull a goal back three minutes later. Chris Davies, fouled 25 yards out, stuck a free-kick past the wall which Patterson failed to hold and Bradshaw converted the rebound. They looked for an equaliser as the home side defended their slender lead in depth and Lacey saw a shot blocked inside the area.

Overall, this was a decent game at a ground I’d wanted to revisit for some time. Back in the car, I asked someone to check mitoo for me and, with no UCL postponements, I decided to head for Bourne Town for the second leg of this ‘double’.

Rushden & Higham United (orange/black/black): 1. Craig Patterson, 2. Ben Lord, 3. Ashley Green, 4. Chris Walton (capt), 5. Ryan Kalla, 6. Tyler Merries, 7. Lewis O’Dell, 8. Darren Farrar, 9. Mark Weekley, 10. Craig Harrower, 11. Barry Deacon. Subs: 12. Jack Dyson (for Weekley, 90), 14. Tony Graham (not used), 15. Matthew Jones (not used).

Bugbrooke St Michaels (blue and yellow halves / blue / blue): 1. Antonio Aguilar-Rohan, 2. Chris Dickens, 3. Damon Herbert, 4. Danny Barnes, 5. Ryan Dufty (capt), 6. Nick Ling, 7. Michael Parkes, 12. Adam Balme, 9. Ashley Bradshaw, 10. Nick Worley, 11. Damon Black. Subs: 14. Chris Davies (for Balme, 53), 15. Ben Foster (not used), 16. Nathan Lacey (for Aguilar-Rohan, 45), 17. Dave Drinkwater (for Parkes, 77), X. Richard Dannell (not used).

Referee: Mark Wardell (Wellingborough).
Assistants: Kevin Davis and Piotr Roj.

1-0 Mark Weekley (49)
2-0 Lewis O’Dell (81)
2-1 Ashley Bradshaw (84)

Rushden & Higham: Craig Harrower (YC, 42), Darren Farrar (YC, 66)
Bugbrooke: none