Riverway (Stafford) 2 Team Dudley 3

Saturday 3rd March 2012
Riverway (Stafford) 2 Team Dudley 3
West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2
At: Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: none
Attendance: 25 (headcount)
Weather: sunny and showers
Duration: first-half: 45:00; second-half: 48:21

A family commitment forced me to stay local today and I couldn’t have got much more local than a five-mile round trip to watch Riverway (Stafford) host Team Dudley at Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club. In a hard-fought and entertaining game, Dudley were two-up by the 32nd minute but Riverway got back on level terms with two goals in seven minutes either side of half-time. Ryan Spittle scored his second goal of the game just after the hour mark and Dudley held on to extend their unbeaten run to three games.

Not to be confused with Stafford Town’s Evans Park, which is close by, Riverway’s current pitch is close to and parallel with the road on the outfield on the Cricket Club’s second pitch. It was roped-off on two sides with dugouts though lacks any spectator facilities. I’d previously seen a game on the pitch way back on Christmas Eve 1988 when Stafford Town beat Audley and District 2-0 in the Staffordshire Senior League.

While looking up that 1988 game, I became curious to know where I’d been in the past on today’s date (surprisingly just six previous games):

1984: Morecambe 0 Stafford Rangers 0
1990: Bognor Regis Town 0 Marlow Town 2
1992: Cove 4 Collier Row 1
1993: Brockenhurst 1 Horndean 1
2001: Cambridge City 1 Stafford Rangers 1
2007: Stafford Rangers 1 Cambridge Utd 1

Back to today’s game and I’ve got a copy of an old Riverway programme from 2003 which includes a potted history. They were formed in 1986 as a Sunday League club and have also played under previous names of Greyhound Yarlet FC and The Lord Nelson. Picking up the story from the club’s website, the Saturday team began in 1999, playing in the Wolverhampton Combination, and joined the West Midlands League in 2002. They spent two seasons in Division 1 North at Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club for two seasons and after league was reorganised in 2004, Riverway retained a place in Division 1 by leaving Stafford to groundshare at Wyrley Rangers’ Long Lane ground.

Continuing with the potted history, in 2010, they took voluntary relegation to Division 2 and returned to Stafford to play home game on a pitch at Staffordshire University. They moved to Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club earlier this season, though on a different pitch to before which is now used by St Leonards Rugby club (the rugby club today used the pitch on the opposite side of the road).

The League’s Full-Time website showed that Riverway (8th position in the 14 team division with 25 points from 17 games) had only played two league games during the past six weeks, both at home with a 6-3 win over Tenbury followed up by a 1-1 draw against Ettingshall Park Farm. Visitors Team Dudley (11th position with 21 points from 18 games) had been less active in the league with just two games during the past three months – a 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Sporting Community Reserves (7th January) and 5-1 home win over Malvern Town Reserves last Saturday.

Team Dudley were making a swift return to Stafford after facing Riverway in the Division 2 Cup just two weeks ago. Riverway won the tie 4-0 with Tom Duffy bagging a hat-trick and Matt Rhodes also scoring.

Team Dudley (in a change kit of all blue) got the game underway attacking the ‘Sea Cadets hut’ end in the first half. They made an impressive start and Riverway keeper produced a superb save to palm over Casey Pole’s angled shot across the face of goal from the right.

Playing with the wind in the first half, Dudley took the lead in the 7th minute. Pole launched a long throw in to a packed area from the right which Myles Nettleford flicked into the far corner of the net.

Nettleford, wearing distinctive red boots, should have doubled Dudley’s lead when got on the end of James Ward’s cross from the right but couldn’t keep his shot down.

On the quarter hour, Tom Duffy got down the right for Riverway and got in a shot from an acute angle which deflected off defender Rob Elvins into the Liam Jones’s hands. Duffy soon went close again as, this time, his shot was cleared from in front of goal by Lee Corners. Duffy got a second bite as was the ball wasn’t cleared and fired wide.

Riverway won a free-kick near the left corner of the area from which Earl Grant headed over, while good defending on the half-hour by Chris Knight prevented Duffy from breaking clear.

Both sides were looking to extend their current two-match unbeaten run in the league and, in the 32nd minute, Team Dudley did their chances of doing so a power of good with a second goal. Ryan Spittle, who played for Gresley FC in 2009, sent an angled shot from the left into the far corner of the net.

I felt that Riverway needed a goal before the interval to give themselves a chance and they did just that in the 44th minute. Martin Wheeler took a quick throw-in on the left to Dave Wilcox on the edge of the area who slipped a pass for leading scorer Duffy to slot home from 10 yards out.

While the Riverway players and bench stayed on the field, most of the crowd, including myself, and Team Dudley players headed for either the Function Room in the cricket pavilion or changing rooms. As before half-time, tea and coffee were amongst the drinks on offer!

Sunshine had been replaced by rain for the start of the second half. Now attacking the ‘Sea Cadets hut’ end with the aid of the wind, Riverway levelled things up six minutes after the restart. Matt Rhodes curled a left-foot free-kick from the right into the far left corner of the net with Birch claiming the goal with a feint touch.

With rain stopping, albeit briefly, Wheeler crossed deep from the left to the far post where unmarked Duffy stretched to head straight at Jones.

Riverway were in the ascendency and Duffy cut in from the left and and sent a low well-struck shot straight at Jones.

It was Team Dudley, however, who scored the next goal in the 62nd minute. Spittle latched on to a perfect pass through the Riverway defence and finished with a low left-foot shot into the bottom right corner past the diving Ryan Woolridge.

Bright sunshine replaced the showers for the last 20 or so minutes and Jones, who had made several decent saves, almost gifted Riverway an equaliser. He allowed Matt Bickley's over-hit forward ball to slip through his hands though the keeper recovered to prevent the ball going in – I think the ‘shot’ was missing anyway.

Time was running out for Riverway to snatch an equaliser. Rhodes delivered a delicious corner which Chris Hall headed over.

Deep into stoppage time, the referee said it was “20 seconds [left] when the ball [comes] back in” before Jones took a goal-kick. But there was really no time for Riverway to mount one last attack.

Riverway FC (red/red/red): 1, Ryan Woolridge, 2. Jamie Lowman, 3. Martin Wheeler, 4. Alex Birch, 5. Steve McCabe, 6. Chris Hall, 7. Matt Rhodes, 8. Dave Wilcox (capt), 9. Tom Duffy, 10. Earl Grant, 11. Ryan Pugh. Subs: 12. Ryan Brown (for Birch, 71), 14. Chris Jones (not used), 15. Alex Peatfield (not used), 16. Dave Abelwhite (for Pugh, 56), 17. Matt Bickley (for Lowman, 56). Manager: Jake Robinson.

Team Dudley (blue/blue/blue): 1. Liam Jones, 2. Casey Pole, 3. Lee Corners, 4. Matt Simmons, 5. Rob Elkin, 6. Chris Knight, 7. James Ward, 8. Jay Hawthorne (capt), 9. Ryan Spittle, 10. Myles Nettleford, 11. Steve Whitehouse. Subs: 15. Nathan Jones (not used), 16. Damon Rogers (for Ward, 87), 17. Simon Rogers (not used). Manager: Stewart Holmes.

Referee: A. Hall.

0-1 Myles Nettleford (7)
0-2 Ryan Spittle (31)
1-2 Tom Duffy (44)
2-2 Alex Birch (51)
2-3 Ryan Spittle (64)

Riverway: Dave Abelwhite (YC, 65), Alex Birch (YC, 67)
Team Dudley: Matt Simmons (YC, 70)