Gornal Athletic 1 Wolverhampton Casuals 2

Saturday 5th May 2012
Gornal Athletic 1 Wolverhampton Casuals 2
West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division
At: Garden Walk Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (16 pages)
Weather: cold, occasional sunny spells and showers
Attendance: 130 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 45:58; second-half: 49:02

Gornal Athletic received the Premier Division shield at the end of this game which saw their long unbeaten run in the league was brought to an end by a decent Wolverhampton Casuals side. The result didn’t matter really as The Peacocks made sure they couldn’t be caught at the top last Saturday with an emphatic 8-2 win over Sporting Khalsa. Ricky Nicholls put Gornal ahead around the half hour mark and they held the lead until Casuals equalised through Tom Maydew in the 70th minute. Needing a win to boast their hopes of finishing third, Casuals pressed for a winner and got it ten minutes later courtesy of an own goal from Robin Keates.

There were a couple of things that persuaded me to head for the Garden Walk Stadium this afternoon, as an alternative to visiting any of the three ‘new grounds’ I could have easily reached. My last visit to the ground was in April 1990 when most of my photos turned out to be blurred and I also remembered seeing Blakenall being presented with the Premier Division shield way back in May 1986 (on the 6th, so a day short of being precisely 26 years ago). In that game I mentioned in 1990, Gornal entertained Cradley Town and draw 1-1 in the Banks's Brewery West Midlands (Regional) League Division One.

The Garden Walk Stadium is a wonderful venue which, according to Kerry Miller’s book, was opened in 1950. The main feature is the huge terrace on the entrance side of the ground, with around 20-25 steps, in two sections. In between, behind the home dugout are four rows of seats and an area of cover at the back. Opposite is a low stand containing two rows of individual red seats, frequented today by around 30 vocal youngsters, some wearing blue Gornal scarves.

I’ve touched on a ‘bucket list’ of grounds to visit before (Bourne Town report in January) and this place certainly should be guaranteed a place.

For those not familiar with Black Country geography, Gornal is located south of Wolverhampton and west of Dudley and covers the areas of Upper Gornal, Lower Gornal and Gornal Wood.

Programmes, which sold out more than 30 minutes before kick-off were on sale at the entrance and, helpfully, a teamsheet was displayed close by. I liked the cover design with a prominent brightly-coloured peacock.

As I mentioned, Gornal (champions with 105 points from 41 games, GD +103) couldn’t be caught at the top by second-placed Black Country Rangers. If third place is worth fighting for, and I think is certainly is, then visitors Wolverhampton Casuals (3rd with 81 points from 40 games) still had something to play for. They were four points clear of fourth-placed Bewdley Town (77 points from 39 games) who had a game in hand.

Before kick-off, Gornal received a guard of honour as they were applauded down the steps from the changing rooms to the pitch by the Casuals players and management.

Gornal (in all blue) got the game underway attacking from left to right in relation to the open seats and dugouts. Casuals soon got forward and almost took the lead after 54 seconds. Tom Maydew fired wide of the near post from an acute angle after rounding Gornal goalkeeper James Pemberton.

Befitting a side unbeaten in the league since mid-September, Gornal soon started to impress and were denied a goal by Dan Ware’s superb one-handed reaction save on the quarter hour to keep out Kristian Green’s close-range header.

Gornal took the lead on the half-hour when Ricky Nicholls sent a low drive past the diving Ware into the bottom left corner of the net. The local youngsters celebrated the goal in style from inside the low stand on the far side of the ground.

I was certainly enjoying the entertainment and watching two decent sides. Just before the break, it was Pemberton’s turn to prevent what looked like a certain goal. Dan Newman put Maydew clear inside the area and the advancing goalkeeper’s outstretched left hand kept out a low shot.

Maydew could have levelled things up four minutes after the restart when a backheader from defender Chris Waterhouse put Pemberton in trouble. However, the striker couldn’t hit the target from barely a yard out.

Casuals equalised in the 70th minute (see photo right for the celebrations). Maydew got on the end of a right-wing cross and placed a header wide of Pemberton into the bottom right corner.

Gornal hadn’t lost a home league game all season and prior today had won 16 out of 20 at the Garden Walk. That run came to an end when the visitors scored an 80th-minute winner. Maydew crossed low from the left towards the far post where defender Robin Keates turned the ball into his own net. The Peacocks had ten minutes plus stoppage time left to try and bag an equaliser.

After the second Casuals goal, I watched the final eight or so minutes from the top of the terrace even though rain started to fall increasing heavily. The home side were twice denied a goal in quick succession. Gurdeep Wilkhoo saw a header from Wherton’s left-wing corner headed off the line at the expense of a corner. Also delivered by Wherton this time from the right, substitute Matt Martin had a shot blocked right on the line. The home side appealed for a goal but the well-positioned Assistant decided the whole of the ball hadn’t crossed the line.

Gornal had one last chance to salvage a point in stoppage time. Matt Martin fired a 22-yard free-kick over the bar and referee Adam Dean blew of full-time before the goal kick could be taken.

Thankfully the rain had stopped by full-time so didn’t put a dampener of the presentation of championship medals and the Premier Division shield. Gornal can look forward to Baker Joiner Midland Alliance football next season.

Gornal Athletic (blue/blue/blue): 1. James Pemberton, 2. Kieron Parsons, 3. Robin Keates, 4. Conner Gater, 5. Chris Waterhouse (capt), 6. Kristian Green, 7. Gurdeep Wilkhoo, 8. Lee Wherton, 9. Ricky Nicholls, 10. Seb Craven, 11. Matt Weyman. Subs: 12. Marvin Nisbett (for Craven, 56), 14. Callum Martin (not used), 15. Mike Perks (for Nicholls, 60), 16. Richard Young (not used), 17. Matt Martin (for Parsons, 71). Manager: Ian Rowe.

Wolverhampton Casuals (green and white halves / green / green and white hoops): 1. Dan Ware, 2. Carlo Franco, 3. Luke Tudor, 4. Ray Facey, 5. Dan Lloyd, 6. Shaun Griffiths, 7. Dean Clarke, 8. Dan Newman (capt), 9. Tom Maydew, 10. Mike Davies, 11. John Aldridge. Subs: 12. Angelo Franco (for Davies, ht), 14. Giles Harvey (for Tudor, 78), 15. Simon Rowley (for Facey, 90+1), 16. Ben Wilkes (not used), 17. Lee Cooke (not used). Manager: Lee Cooke.

Referee: Adam Dean.

1-0 Ricky Nicholls (31)
1-1 Tom Maydew (70)
2-2 Robin Keates (80 og)

Gornal: Robin Keates (YC, 23)
Wolves Casuals: Mike Davies (YC, 41)