Sutton Coldfield Town 0 Kidsgrove Athletic 2

Saturday 4th February 2012
Sutton Coldfield Town 0 Kidsgrove Athletic 2
Evo-Stik League Division 1 South
At: Coles Lane
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1-20p (24 pages)
Attendance: 141
Weather: snow
Duration: first-half: 45:46; second-half: 41:48 or c47:00

On a day when the wintry weather claimed the vast majority of non-league games, the players of Sutton Coldfield Town and Kidsgrove Athletic coped admirably with blizzard conditions on the snow-covered Coles Lane 3G pitch. After a goalless first half of few clear-cut chances, the finishing of Liam Shotton proved the difference between the teams as the striker netted both goals to give in-form Kidsgrove a 2-0 victory.

After days of sub-zero temperatures, it was no surprise yesterday evening and this morning to read about postponement after postponement on the Non-League Matters Forum. Indeed, once I’d decided not to head to Wigan v Everton or the evening rugby league at Salford City Reds, it was a case of which 3G pitch to head for. Fortunately, I opted for the easy option of Sutton Coldfield by train rather than a ‘new ground’ at either Salford Victoria or Manchester Gregorians. A good decision on two counts: Salford Vics was off and the afternoon snow would have given a ‘horrible’ drive back to Stafford from Sutton.

Snow started to fall as the train pulled into the station around 1-30 pm and grew heavier as I walked to the ground. Programmes were on sale by the entrance next to the stand. I was last at Coles Lane in 2006 and don’t think anything has changed apart from the playing surface. The tall stand with changing rooms below was still there as was the cover behind the right-hand goal and the cover on the far side near the clubhouse. I did spot some terracing on the far side of the stand.

Teamsheets were available though a late change saw Liam Shotton move up from the bench in place of Dave Walker in the Kidsgrove starting line-up. One player I was hoping to see in action this afternoon was former Stafford Rangers defender Ed Booth, Unknown to me, however, he left Sutton for Rugby Town in November after making 203 appearances for the Royals.

Looking at the Division 1 South table, Sutton Coldfield (44 points from 29 games) stood in eighth position, five points off the play-off zone. Poor recent form of just one win from their last seven games had hit their promising promotion bid. In contrast, Kidsgrove (34 points from 28 games) had eased their earlier relegation fears with a run of six league games without defeat to move up the table to 13th position. Topping the table were Neil Grayson’s Carlton Town on goal difference from Grantham Town.

Sutton Coldfield Town (in all blue) got the game underway attacking the clubhouse end in the first half, right to left in relation to my seat in the stand. The only thing of note during the opening 14 minutes was a booking for Kidsgrove defender Paul Taylor. Around the quarter hour mark, Sutton had a couple of opportunities but Scott Rickards fired a free-kick against the wall and Jon Jones headed wide from Matt Jackson’s left-wing cross.

Managed by Peter Ward, the January Evo-Stik League Division 1 South Manager of the Month, Kidsgrove were inches away from taking a 17th minute lead. From a foul on Andy Kinsey on the left, Ash Carter delivered the resulting free-kick to the far right post where Paul Taylor ran in to fire just wide.

The Royals went even closer to taking the lead on the half-hour. Andy Taylor was booked for a trip on Jon Jones just outside the Kidsgrove area and Mark Bellingham hit the left-hand post with a left-foot free-kick.

With snow continuing to steadily fall and the greenness of the pitch fast disappearing, Luke Chapman looked to catch out Grove goalkeeper Steve Hodgson from 30 yards out with the ball dipping over the bar.

Both sides created a chance each just before the interval. Paul Taylor drove over the Sutton bar and, in stoppage time, Bellingham sent a well-struck free-kick across the face of goal and not too far wide of the far left post.

So, goalless at the interval and out came several officials to sweep snow from the obscured pitch markings. I headed for the tea bar at the side of the clubhouse behind the goal!

Now attacking the clubhouse end, Liam Shotton broke down the right a minute after the restart and cut in before firing low into the near sidenetting. By now, players were forced to play in a proper blizzard.

Shotton was certainly troubling the home defence and played a low ball across the face of goal which the sliding Karl Charlton couldn’t quite reach.

Two minutes later in the 58th minute, Charlton and Shotton combined to beat the offside trap. Shotton got clear and beat the advancing goalkeeper Niall Cooper before slotting into an empty net.

The PA announcement of the “golden goal time 58th minute” reminded me about the scratch card I’d bought earlier. As I revealed the time on my card, hopes were raised with a second digit of ‘8’. Alas, the first digit was ‘6’.

Shotton, who returned to Kidsgrove in December following a spell with Stafford Rangers, doubled his side’s advantage in the 66th minute. Once again the Sutton defence was opened up with another perfect throughball from Charlton which Shotton fired home despite the attentions of Cooper and two defenders.

With the pitch completely covered in snow and not even a hint of green visible, I felt the referee was becoming concerned about the lines being obscured. He was, and called a temporary halt to the game in the 78th minute. “Five minutes break,” the referee announced as players returned to the changing rooms while the lines were again swept clear of snow.

Even though snow persisted, the game resumed after a break of around six minutes with a Kidsgrove throw-in on the far side. Little of note happened up to the full-time whistle, other than a glancing header from Charlton which Cooper held.

During the closing stages, I overheard one spectator in the stand wearing a red Walsall hat comment that "it must be 28 years since I've seen a game in conditions like this". It made about think about snowy games I'd seen - Nottingham United in 2010 and Stafford Rangers v Altrincham in 2005 immediately came to mind. Neither had snow falling during the game.

At the top of the drive on Coles Lane, I had another chat with ‘Groundhopper Dave’ who had a far more treacherous journey home than me to face.

As a footnote, just two Evo-Stik League games survived the weather, both on 3G pitches: the one I saw at Sutton and another at Durham. The scheduled game at Woodley Sports on the league other 3G pitch was postponed due to snow as was Salford Victoria’s Manchester League game. Manchester Gregorians did play on a 3G pitch at Platt Lane as did Salford City Reds on a snow-covered pitch.

Sutton Coldfield Town (blue/blue/blue): 1. Niall Cooper, 2. Nick Heath, 3. Matt Jackson, 4. Jon Jones, 5. Gareth Johnson, 6. Luke Edwards, 7. Matt Dodd, 8. Scott Rickards (capt), 9. Chris Gumery, 10. Mark Bellingham, 11. Luke Chapman. Subs: 12. Lee Parsons (not used), 14. Jimmy Quiggan (not used), 15. Marcell Simpson (for Johnson, 56), 16. Lyndon Weller (for Heath, 66), 17. Joel Fuller (for Rickards, 38). Manager: Chris Keogh.

Kidsgrove Athletic (red/red/red): 1. Steve Hodgson, 2. Danny Smith, 3. Paul Taylor, 4. Andy Taylor, 5. Jonathan Crompton, 6. Karl Charlton, 7. Ross Davidson, 8. Craig Dove, 9. Liam Shotton, 10. Andy Kinsey, 11. Ash Carter. Subs: 12. Sam Hall, 14. Dave Walker (not used), 15. Geoff Basford (not used), 16. Daniel Bull (not used), 17. Andrew Turner (not used). Manager: Peter Ward.

Referee: Bruce Rogers.
Assistants: Matt Giblin and John Harris.

0-1 Liam Shotton (58)
0-2 Liam Shotton (66)

Sutton: Jon Jones (YC, 56)
Kidsgrove: Paul Taylor (YC, 9), Andy Taylor (YC, 29), Craig Dove (YC, 55)