Skelmersdale United 0 Curzon Ashton 1

Tuesday 28th April 2009
Skelmersdale United 0 Curzon Ashton 1
Unibond League Division 1 North Play-off Semi Final
At: Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £7-50; Programme: £1-50
Attendance: 324
Weather: mild, rain during second half
Duration: first half: 46:14; second half: 47:34

I’ve only been through the lottery of the play-offs once as a supporter. I only know how the elation feels when the team I was supporting got through the semi final and ended up winning the final via a penalty shoot-out. Last May, I was at the Pirelli Stadium to see Barrow beat Stalybridge in an upset, which showed the final league positions often count for nothing. How apt that last statement was this evening as Skelmersdale, nicknamed simply ‘Skem’, hosted Curzon Ashton who were separated by 18 points in the final league table.

A week ago, Skelmersdale were in pole position to gain automatic promotion from Unibond League Division One North to the Premier Division. After winning nine league games in a row, they trailed leaders Durham City by one point with a game in hand. Skem played their game in hand last Thursday but suffered 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Newcastle Blue Star.

So after that Blue Star loss, Skem went into last Saturday’s final game needing to win themselves and hoping that Durham wouldn’t win their final game at Woodley Sports. At half-time in their respective games, Skelmersdale led Curzon 2-0 and Durham were losing 3-1 – Skelmersdale were going up. Skem went on to record a 4-0 win but Durham hit back to win 4-3 and secure the automatic promotion spot.

This game tonight could be rightly described a true ‘groundhog day’ game. Last season the same teams met at the same semi final stage at the same ground with Skelmersdale going through to the final with a 3-0 win. Of course the teams met on Saturday at the Tameside Stadium. Will the luck change for Curzon Ashton this time round I wondered before setting off up the M6?

Skelmersdale are on the list of clubs who have moved to a new stadium in recent times. Back in 2002, they vacated White Moss Park (which I visited in March 1992) and had a spell groundsharing at Burscough before playing their first game at their current home in September 2004. Today, the ground is known by its sponsored name of ‘The Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium’ and also as ‘Stormy Corner’. I tried to Google a reason for the name ‘Stormy Corner’ but only found out it is the name of a six-piece inde band in the town and the name of an old street that now longer exists. I think it may be the district of the town that the ground is located.

The ground was in the Stanley Industrial Estate to the west of the town centre. From the M58 junction 4, follow Skelmersdale signs on the dual carriageway and straight over the next roundabout (Hope Island). At the next roundabout (the amazing Half-Mile Island), turn left into Neverstitch Road, then right at the next roundabout (signed (signposted Stanley Ind Estate) into Staveley Road and left into Statham Road. The ground was about 400 yards on the left in Selby Place.

The entrance, to the left of the social club was through the car park and once inside the pitch (orientated east to west) ran lengthways. Programmes (£1-50) were sold from the kiosk immediately to the right of the entrance. Behind the near goal to the right of the entrance was an area of covered standing along with hospitality rooms and a food outlet. On the right-hand touchline was a seated stand consisting four rows of blue individual tip-up seats in two bocks separated by the players’ retractable tunnel. For a newly ground, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of grass banking – along the near left-hand touchline, behind the far goal and either side of the stand down the right. Dugouts were either side of the halfway line down the right.

I really felt a big match atmosphere, helped by a group of vociferous away fans gathered at the far end of the seated stand. Music blasted out. Channel M were also present to record the game for their Greater Manchester Football Show. The announcer, who was excellent on the night, tried to whip up the home fans – the Standbangers?

The programme was bang up-to-date. Full marks, therefore, to the editor as this match wasn’t certain to take place until around 4-45 pm on Saturday. But I’m sure he/she would have gladly sent anything prepared in advance to his computer recycle bin had Skem gone up automatically. It contained plenty to read and plenty of stats as well. One stat Curzon Ashton had to overcome was the fact they had lost each of their last seven visits to face Skelmersdale.

Curzon Ashton (wearing all red) got the game underway attacking the entrance end in the first half, or right to left from my seat on the third row of the stand. Most of the early play was inside the Skelmersdale half. The visitors won the first corner and had the first chance when Alex Elliot fired wide from 25 yards out. Set-piece man Elliot wearing white boots curled a 19-yard free-kick over the wall and bar.

Home fans around me were concerned about their side’s slow start. “C’mon United, C’mon Michael drive them forward.”

On the quarter hour, Phil Edghill went down inside the area and appealed for a penalty. The referee, who was superb all evening in my opinion, said no and booked the Curzon striker for simulation instead.

Curzon continued to enjoy procession and Elliot delivered another corner just as the vocal visiting fans decided to hold an impromptu conga in front of the stand! Don’t know where they disappeared to as things went quiet.

Play settled down into a quiet phase either side of the midpoint of the first half until the 37th minute. James Ogoo fed the overlapping David Birch who hit a well-struck diagonal ball low across the face of goal, past a couple of waiting forwards. A Skem defender must have got a vital touch as the referee gave a corner. Cue vocal support from the home fans in an attempt to lift their side.

Just before the interval, Birch crossed from the right into the area to unmarked Elliot who sidefooted wide from 10 yards out.

The ‘conga boys’ returned to clap off their team at half-time. Curzon had dominated the first half, so would they pay for not turning their dominance into a least one goal.

The visitors were keen to get on with the second half and came out fully three minutes before the home side, who returned to a rousing reception.

Skelmersdale (wearing all blue) were much better in the second half. Soon after the restart, Birch needed to make a desperate clearance to prevent Kevin Towey from have a clear shot on goal from barely 8 yards out. Much better and game was very much on as a contest. And 11 minutes into the second half Martin Crowder delivered sent a free-kick forward into the area. Keeper David Carnell dropped the ball and Michael White fired it over the bar.

Rain was falling quite heavily now and Ryan McMahon produced a superb save in the 67th minute to tip over Dean Hasim’s powerful header from Elliot’s free-kick. In response, Skelmersdale got forward with a delightful passing move which ended with Carnell almost fumbling Crowder’s near post shot into his own net.

I was beginning to wonder if my run of games without a 0-0 stretching back to Boxing Day was going to come to an end at one with the prospect of extra time.

Play was really open and end to end. Steve Akrigg hit a low long-range drive which Carnell claimed at the second attempt.

Eventually, the deadlock was broken in the 84th minute when Edghill sent an unstoppable shot flashing past McMahon into the far right-side of the net.

Manager Tommy Lawson responded with a double change – his side had to throw everything forward.

I’m sure I heard the odd groan when the fourth official indicated two minutes of added time, followed by an announcement for those who hadn’t seen the board. The groans were from Skem fans worried that there was so little time left for them to grab an equaliser and that the ball was deep in their half.

The fact that 18 points separated the teams counted for nothing – Skelmersdale simply had to score to keep their promotion dream alive. Then they got forward down the right and the ball was delivered into the area. It fell to Thomas Moore who agonisingly fired wide of the near post. He looked gutted and was consoled with a pat from the Curzon skipper.

Forward went the ball again into the Skem half and it never left until the referee blew the final whistle.

“Best of luck Curzon in the final on Saturday,” said the sporting announcer. Curzon Ashton face a trip to either Newcastle Blue Star or Colwyn Bay as they continue their bid to reach the Unibond League’s top division for the first time in their history.

Skelmersdale United (blue/blue/blue): 1. Ryan McMahon, 2. Michael Duffy, 3. Martin Crowder, 4. Steven Akrigg, 5. Michael White (capt), 6. Aaron Turner, 7. Adam Wade, 8. Adam Birchall, 9. Mark Houghton, 10. Kevin Towey, 11. Kyle Armstrong. Subs: 12. Steve Morrison (not used), 14. Paul Prescott (for Houghton, 86), 15. Dave Wright (not used), 16. Tom Walker (not used), 17. Thomas Moore (for Towey, 86).

Curzon Ashton (red/red/red): 1. David Carnell, 2. David Birch (capt), 3. Matthew Russell, 4. Dean Hasim, 5. Adam Jones, 6. James Agoo, 7. Chris Worsley, 8. Chris Curley, 9. Michael Norton, 10. Phil Edghill, 11. Alex Elliot. Subs: 12. Michael O’Connor (for Elliot, 90), 14. Jordon Goodeve (not used), 15. Tyler Devlin (not used), 16. Gavin Affleck (not used).


0-1 Phil Edghill (84)

Skelmersdale: none
Curzon Ashton: Phil Edghill (YC, 18)

Ludlow 3 Pelsall Villa 1

Saturday 25th April 2009
Ludlow 3 Pelsall Villa 1
FTL Futbol West Midlands League Premier Division
At: SBS Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 30 (headcount)
Weather: sunny spells, breezy, cool in the shade
Duration: first half: 45:57; second-half: 46:20

After a week of really nice pleasant Spring-time weather, guess what on Saturday morning – rain! Thankfully, the weather forecast suggested it would soon clear and it had by the time we got to Ludlow.

With the family dropped off in the town near the castle, which turned out to be well worth the visit, I headed out of town in the direction of Shrewsbury on Broomfield Road towards the ground. Known as the SBS Stadium, in recognition of a sponsorship agreement with Shropshire Building Supplies Ltd, it was located between the A49 bypass and the Leisure Centre/Ludlow School. Before the bypass slip road and immediately after leaving the 20 mph zone, there was a drive to the left (signed) which led to the stadium itself.

From the car park and through the entrance, the pitch (orientated south-east to north-west) stretched lengthways. There was hardstanding all round with a clubhouse and changing rooms block on the near touchline. In front of the building facing the pitch were four rows of red individual tip-up seats, separated into two blocks by the players tunnel. There was also a balcony overlooking the pitch to provide an elevated vantage point. On the other side the club building was a floodlight 3G pitch with its own seated area.

The stadium has been Ludlow’s home for around six years after they sold their previous ground at Riddings Park in the town. A plaque commemorates the laying of the new ground’s foundation stone in December 2002.

As a gesture to their fans, no admission was charged but the club were unable to issue a programme to spectators. Before the game I enjoyed time in the impressive function room inside the club building, from where hot and cold refreshments were available. One of the officials, who turned out to be with Pelsall, kindly provided the lineups.

Both sides went into the game in bottom five of the Premier Division table with poor recent form. Ludlow, 17th position in the 21 team league on 35 points from 38 games, had enough points in the bag to stay out of the bottom two despite losing their last four games. The need for points was more necessary for Pelsall (18th position with 33 points from 37 games) as they still could be caught by second-from-bottom Ledbury Town (on 31 points) and third-from-bottom Wolverhampton Casuals (32 points) who were both playing their final games today. Pelsall were on a run of eight league games without a win and lost 3-1 at home to Ludlow last month.

Before the teams emerged, the referee requested that Ludlow change their socks from red to blue, avoiding a clash with those worn by the visitors.

Ludlow (red shirts, black shorts and blue socks) got the game underway defending the southern end; in other words attacking from right to left in relation to my vantage point of the back row in the John Nash Memorial Stand. And no sooner had play got under way, it stopped briefly after just 16 seconds when Pelsall’s Michael Griffiths was accidently hit in the face by the ball. The midfielder was able to continue and ended up later finding the net for his side.

A nice 5th-minute move led to Ludlow opening the scoring with the first real shooting chance. Simon Newhill, in space on the left, squared a pass into the area where loosely-marked Gareth Ayres fired low into the bottom-left corner from no more than 10 yards out.

Chances were scarce during the opening quarter hour. Then, Newhill got forward into the area and sent a lofted shot dropping no too far over the bar. In the next attack, Ludlow skipper Lewis Ayres got in a close-range shot which the diving Pelsall keeper Luke Harling turned round the right-hand post. Harling also did well to keep out a low shot from Archie McIlhatton with another diving save at the expense of a corner.

Ludlow doubled their lead in the 23rd minute. Gareth Ayres turned provider with a low ball from the right to the far post where Paul Whatmough slotted home at close range. “Do the simple stuff,” cried one frustrated Pelsall player.

Pelsall (white shirts, red shorts and red socks) twice went close around the half hour. John Bettrey sent a 20-yard drive flashing past the left-hand post and Ian Humphries turned on the right inside the area and fired over from a narrow angle.

The visitors were awarded a free-kick just outside the area for a foul on Humphries. While Ludlow were organising their defence, the ball was tapped to Bettrey who fired low against the left-hand post.

At half-time, I popped up to the refreshments bar for another hot tea and noticed on Sky that Stafford were losing their final game of the season 1-0 at home to Hinckley United. With me not deciding to head to Marston Road today, 2008/09 has been the first one since 1973/74 that I’d not seen them play all during the entire season.

Back to the action in the second half, Pelsall reduced the deficit ten minutes after the restart. Griffiths sent a low well-stuck shot into the bottom-left corner from 15 yards. Lee Hodgson-Bridge and Danny Horrall had set up the chance by exchanging a one-two to cut in from the left.

Ludlow introduced Martin Jones on the hour in place of Whatmough and the tall substitute made an immediate impact by scoring his side’s third goal just 40 seconds after coming one. He picked up the ball 30 yards out and beat two defender to get clear before hammering an unstoppable shot past Harling. With the home side on course for the points, it was very much ‘squeaky bum’ time for Pelsall who, I guess didn’t know what was happening in the games involving Ledbury and Wolves Casuals.

Pelsall didn’t lie down and looked to reduce the deficit once more. Hodgson-Bridge got down the left and crossed low into the area. The ball was cleared to Bettrey who fired wide from 20 yards out. Two minutes later, a long ball forward fell for defender Tom Baggott to shot wide from well outside the area.

In the closing stages, Ludlow also added a fourth goal. Harling, however, did well to save from Jones and the ball was scrambled clear.

The full-time whistle signalled a double for Ludlow over Pelsall. In terms of the fight against relegation, the visitors’ defeat didn’t actually matter for much as both Ledbury and Wolves Casuals lost their final game. Stafford, as I heard via my Dad’s full-time phone call, came from behind with three unanswered second-half goals to beat Hinckley 3-1.

Dosthill Colts 1 Fairfield Villa 2

Thursday 23rd April 2009
Dosthill Colts 1 Fairfield Villa 2
Midland Combination Division 1
At: Rene Road (Bolehall Swifts FC)
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 50 (headcount)
Weather: mild, dry, overcast
Duration: first half: 50:11 ; second half: 53:39

After family friend ‘Timperley Roger’ cancelled his visit to us, I decided to head out to a ground – Bolehall Swifts FC – I’d previously visited once some 20 years and 15 days ago.

Back then on Saturday 8th April 1989, it was a Midland Combination Challenge Cup which finished Bolehall Swifts 0 Evesham Town 1 in front of an estimated attendance of 100. This evening, it was also Midland Combination fare with groundsharers Dosthill Colts entertaining Fairfield Villa in an important Division 1 game.

I found the ground without a hitch. I knew my way into Tamworth from the A5 and to Tamworth FC. From the northern of the two roundabouts, close to ‘The Lamb’ ground, I took the road towards Amington, under the railway bridge and eventually past The Amington pub. There was a left turn off Amington Road into Leedham Road, then a right folk into Rene Road. The ground entrance was on the right immediately after passing the school.

From the car park, the entrance to the pitch itself was round to the left of the changing rooms block and a really good full-colour 32-page programme was available for £1.

Looking at the pitch (orientated south-east to north-west) from in front of the changing rooms, it ran widthways with a stand behind the right-hand goal containing several rows of bench seating. On the opposite touchline (the side nearest the railway) was a brick-built area of covered standing with trees immediately behind.

I must admit my recollection of the ground had me comvinced the railway was a lot closer to the pitch on which I saw Bolehall play all those years ago, so I wondered if that previous game was played the other side of the hedge. A local man, with whom I had a good chat during the first half, confirmed that the pitch hadn’t been moved so the one used today was in the very same place as before. He told me the changing room block was built around 1995 to give a short walk to the pitch rather than the previous longer one from the Social Club.

Dosthill Colts (52 points from 26 games) went into the game in second position in the Division 1 table, three points behind leaders Castle Vale JKS who had also played 26 games. So, with four games remaining including this one, Dosthill needed at least a draw to keep the pressure on the leaders. Visitors Fairfield (43 points from 25 games) had the incentive of moving up from ninth to fifth position with a victory.

“Welcome to Dosthill Colts,” was the announcement on the following by the reading of the respective lineups for both Dosthill and Fairfield. Club merchandise, including a pin badge, were also advertised along with a forthcoming club Gala Dinner in the company of Paul Merson. “Enjoy the first half,” concluded the announcer and I thought the use of the tannoy was a fabulous idea.

Fairfield Villa (red and black striped shirts, black shorts and black socks) got the game underway defending the stand end in the first half. They almost took the lead in the second minute when Dean Beagan slipped the ball into the path of the forward-rushing David Rousell who fired just wide.

With Dosthill told to “switch on”, Fairfield continued to threaten and Joe Walsh sent a well struck shot flashing across the face of the home goal from the left. Walsh had another chance in the 19th minute. He got on the end of Duncan Tye’s diagonal forward ball and sent a header no to far away from the top-left corner.

Trains, mostly red pendelino trains heading to and from Euston, hurtled past at frequent intervals.

It took Dosthill 25 minutes to have their first decent attempt on goal. Good work by Jamie Lake set up a chance for Ryan Haddock who fired wide. Liam Rowley then hit a right 20-yard drive which was just a few inches too high.

It was perhaps no surprise that Fairfield took the lead in the 31st minute. Home keeper Paul Hathaway could only parry an initial shot and Scott Walsh was presented with the simple task of slotting home the loose ball at close range.

Fairfield keeper Marc Rogers, wearing a black baseball cap back to front (in the style of tennis player Lleyton Hewitt), had little to do during the opening 40 minutes, until Dave Yorwin finally got a shot on target for the home side. Rogers then produced a good save to turn round a header from Craig Ridsdill as the interval approached.

The referee made sure both sides had 11 players on the field before getting the second half underway. As with the first half, Fairfield continued to create chances. The pacey Beagan stayed onside and raced clear, only to be thwarted by the advancing Hathaway. Tye, following up, couldn’t get in a shot from the loose ball.

Dosthill almost equalised on the hour when Yorwin headed against the bar and sent a follow-up header over. It wasn’t going to plan for the Colts.

However, to make matters worse, it was Fairfield who netted the next goal to double their advantage in the 66th minute. Stuart Hall delivered a free-kick from the left into the area low towards far post where the unmarked and unchallenged Beagan sidefooted home from a few yards out. It was a simple goal and would have had Hall’s namesake purring about it had the great man been at this game to provide one of his trademark radio reports.

With a mountain to climb for Dosthill simply to get a point, substitute Alex Charlton delivered a free-kick into packed Villa area where Anthony Fallon headed wide. Rogers, who had shortly before had up an injury, was unable to continue in the 83rd minute and replaced in goal by substitute Richard Colson, normally a centre-half.

A lifeline for Dosthill? The home side were awarded a penalty in the 87th minute for handball by Atli Coakley and Yorwin gave Colson no chance of keeping out the resulting penalty.

There were still several minutes of stoppage time for Colts to snatch an equaliser – but they couldn’t find one despite late pressure.

0-1 Walsh (31)
0-2 Beagan (66)
1-2 Yorwin (87 pen)

Footnote: When I was previously at Bolehall all those years ago, I didn’t know until subsequently reading his article in Non-League Traveller that Mick Burt was also at the game. In his Burt’s Travels piece (vol. 2 issue 34), Mick described the set up back then in 1989: ‘The pitch is 40-50 yards from the dressing rooms … railed off on three sides with bushes and hedges enclosing the pitch on the side furthest from the clubhouse. There is no covered accommodation at all.’

Bartley Green 1 Heath Hayes 2

Tuesday 21st April 2009
Bartley Green 1 Heath Hayes 2
Midland Combination Premier Division
At: Illey Road, nr Halesowen
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 45
Weather: sunny, mild
Duration: first half: 46:08; second half: 47:52

(see also 2/12/08)

Second time lucky at Illey Road after my previous attempt to watch a Bartley Green home game back in December was thwarted by a late postponement.

This time round, Bartley Green took the lead with a 33rd-minute penalty scored by Elliot Nash, only to go down to a second-half double netted by Heath Hayes substitute Alan Haycock in the 64th and then 78th minutes.

On the way to the game, I called in for possibly a last look at the soon to be demolished Oldbury Leisure Centre (pictures).

Oldbury Leisure Centre

Tuesday 21st April 2009 - On the way to watch Bartley Green v Heath Hayes, I called in for possibly a last look at the soon to be demolished Oldbury Leisure Centre, current home of Continental Star and Oldbury Athletic. I saw my one and only game at the venue back in August 1989 when it was used by Sandwell Borough.

Holt JCB 2 Ashbourne United 0

Saturday 18th April 2009
Holt JCB 2 Ashbourne United 0
Staffordshire County Senior League Divsion 1
At: JCB Lakeside Club, Station Road, Rocester
Kick-off: 2-30 pm
Attendance: 11 (headcount)
Weather: warm and sunny. blustery wind
Duration: first half: 47:04; second half: 49:07

As we were celebrating my Dad’s birthday in the evening, I didn’t want to travel too far. With the lower divisions of the Staffordshire County Senior League providing options, I decided upon the Division 1 local derby between Holt JCB and Ashbourne United, who actually groundshare at the JCB Lakeside Club. With Holt in with a real shout of winning the division, the added bonus was something at stake rather than simply an end-of-season fixture.

On the way to the game, I thought about any previous occasions when I’d seen two teams who shared the same ground face each other. The only one I could recall was a fixture back in 1989 when Newport AFC hosted their landlords Moreton Town in a Hellenic League game. I’m sure there must be one or two others.

I’d driven past the ground on many occasions. The JCB Lakeside Club was on the left when travelling north on the B5030 from the A50 towards Ashbourne. After passing the lake and playing fields, turn left into Station Road, signed ‘Hollington’ and also ‘JCB Theatre, Corporate Events, I. T. C.’, and the car park entrance was 200 yards on the left.

The changing rooms were round to the left of the plush club building looking out over a large playing field from an elevated position. The pitch sued for this game was on the far side from the changing rooms, parallel with the road and one of three available. It was roped off down each touchline with dugouts facing each other on opposite sides of the halfway line. There was no covered accommodation and an artificial cricket pitch provided a bit of hand standing.

No admission money was taken and the club didn’t issue a programme.

Home side Holt JCB went into the game in third position (39 points from 19 games), four points behind leaders Barton United who had played four games more and two points behind second-placed Northwood Town who had played six games more. With four-placed Manor Inne also having several games in hand on the top two, it appeared the Division 1 title race was really a straight fight between Holt and Manor.

Opponents Ashbourne were 12th in the 14-team division with 21 points from 22 games. Following success in the Midland Regional Alliance, they spent four seasons between 2002/03 and 2005/06 in the West Midlands League, sharing at RocesterFC, before joining the Staffs County Senior League.

Ashbourne (wearing blue and white striped shirts, blue shorts and blue socks) got the game underway attacking the Station Road end. I opted to watch the game from the far side, the one nearest the road and the Holt JCB dugout.

The game’s first attempt on goal came in the 7th minute. Sam Lambert hit a low shot from near the right corner of the area aimed for the far corner which the diving Holt JCB keeper Andrew Cooper comfortably claimed.

It wasn’t long until the deadlock was broken in the 12th minute by Holt JCB (wearing all green). A fortunate rebound allowed Steven Brentnall to carry the ball forward into the area on the right. He delivered it low to Chris Mason who slotted home at close range. Someone in the Ashbourne defence was annoyed: “We’ve given them a goal, now we’ve got to start.” It was a perfect start for Holt.

The home side continued to push forward in search of a second goal. A poor headed clearance by Richard Naylor inside the area fell to Tony Hulse on the left who sent a low shot across the face of goal. The ball hit the inside of the far right-hand post and, fortunately for Ashbourne, rebounded clear across the face of goal.

In the next attack, Mason saw a shot turned round the right0-hand post by the diving keeper Will Naylor.

In the 42nd minute, Mason got down the left and squared a pass to Robert Barker, a few yards out, who miss hit his shot and the ball was cleared by a defender.

Ashbourne went close to an equaliser just before the interval. They won three corners in as many minutes and from the first of them Holt keeper Andrew Cooper tipped over a rising shot from Sam Lambert.

With a long walk back to the changing rooms, both teams stayed out during half-time and spent it on opposite sides of the pitch near their respective dugouts.

The interval lasted around seven minutes and soon after the restart Lambert fired into the sidenetting.

Ashbourne continued to threaten as they had done in the closing stages of the first half and the vast majority of the chances.

I started watching the second half from near the Ashbourne dugout, through quickly moved back round to the other side which, as it had in the first half, provided more shelter from the wind.

Just after the hour mark, Richard Naylor got on the end of a forward diagonal ball and forced Cooper into an excellent diving save to keep out a diving header. Within a minute, Naylor headed against the right-hand post and Mark Robinson fired the resulting loose ball straight at Cooper. The keeper was kept busy and he gathered up David Shipley’s long-range shot at the second attempt. Cooper also did well to turn round another header by Naylor, this time from Nick Birds’ free-kick.

Ashbourne’s pressure deserved a goal and they were dealt a real blow when Holt JCB scored against the run of play in the 71st minute. Holt were awarded a free-kick for handball just outside the Ashbourne area. The referee initially tried to play advantage but brought the ball backwhen Holt were flagged offside. Thomas Poole free-kick was parried by Will Naylor and Mason was on hand to slot home the loose ball at close range for his second goal of the game.

With a two-goal cushion, Holt were in the diving seat and the lively Mason almost completed a hat-trick with a shot that flashed across the face of goal.

“Five minutes left fellas,” said the referee 90 seconds before the start of injury time, though Ashbourne’s challenge had petered out.

1-0 Chris Mason (12)
2-0 Chris Mason (71)

Gap Connah's Quay 3 Porthmadog 1

Monday 13th April 2009
Gap Connah's Quay 3 Porthmadog 1
Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League
At: Deeside Stadium
Kick-off: 2-30 pm
Attendance: 115
Weather: sunny, windy
Duration: first half: 46:17; second half 49:17

I’d been aware for a few weeks that Gap Connah’s Quay were likely to leave the Deeside Stadium and of the proposed merger between the club and near neighbours Flint Town. So with just two home league games left to play, today against Porthmadog and on Friday 17th April against Caernarfon Town, I decided to make a Bank Holiday trip to the Deeside Stadium.

An article in the programme explained the workings of the proposed merger. A new club named Gap Flint Nomads would play home games at Flint’s Cae-y-Castell ground, which will be improved with new lights and new stand. Gap Connah’s Quay Reserves, currently members of the Clwyd League Division 2, would be launched as a fully independent club playing home games elsewhere in the town at Dock Road.

With the aid of a borrowed SatNav, the Deeside Stadium was easy to find. I approached from the M56, continued on the dual carriageway and took the A548 exit, signed Flint. After crossing the River Dee via the impressive bridge (seen in the background of some of the photos), I took the next exit (B5126) signed Connah’s Quay into Kelsterton Road. The ground was 400 yards on the right in the Deeside College campus.

The ground was an athletic stadium with the pitch inside an eight-lane running track. On halfway, on the near side, was a large elevated seated stand with changing rooms and offices below. On the far side was a television gantry building. Dugouts were positioned on the near side.

Programmes (£1-50) were available at the entrance to the left of the stand and badges (£3, two designs) were sold from a club shop table inside. Team line-ups were announced twice over the tannoy. Before kick-off, the raffle ticket seller came round – no surprise I was out of luck yet again when the winning ticket was revealed at half-time. Around 15 minutes before kick-off, ‘Bar-Y-Celstryn’ next to the players tunnel opened for business.

This game should have been played on New Year’s Day but bad weather forced a postponement. The programme mentioned that the reverse fixture at Portmadog played just after Christmas was ‘amazing’. Connah's Quay led 5-1 with just 19 minutes to play, only to lose 6-5 after Phil Doran was sent off.

Since I saw them lost 6-0 at Newi Cefn Druids at the end of last month, Connah’s Quay won their next two league games to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t finish in the bottom two. They went into this Bank Holiday clash in 11th position with 37 points from 31 games.

Third-from-bottom visitors Porthmadog, in contrast, were in need of points to make sure they stayed out of the dreaded bottom-two. They had 29 points from 32 games (two left – this one and at home to Aberystwyth on the final day), just five points clear of Caersws who faced Newtown this afternoon. The maths was simple: a win of Porthmadog today and anything less than a win for Caersws would guarantee another season in the Welsh Premier League.

The teams turned round after the toss so that Porthmadog were defending the Kelsterton Road end looking into the sun during the first half. The visitors got the game underway attacking from left to right from my vantage point on the fourth row of the stand.

Connah’s Quay (white shirts, black shorts and black socks), nicknamed the ‘Nomads’, had the first chance in the 4th minute. Phil Doran propelled a long throw into the area from the left which was cleared to Danny Forde on the edge of the area who fired wide of the left-hand post.

Prolific goalscorer Marc Lloyd-Williams, who netted his 300th Welsh Premier League goal in Porthmadog’s 2-1 home win two days ago, got the sniff of a chance. He latched onto a pass from John Rowley, only to see his shot from the left side of the area cut out by a defender for a corner.

A poor headed back pass almost let in Ronnie Morgan but Porthmadog keeper Richard Harvey raced off his line to claim.

The deadlock was broken in the 12th minute when the home side took the lead. Michael Cronshaw, out on the right, delivered a perfect cross for Forde to head home from just inside the area.

Porthmadog (yellow shirts, red shorts, yellow socks) could have equalised eight minutes later. Chris Parry’s free-kick forward into the area fell to unmarked defender Ryan Davies who shot wide of the near right post. The visitors went close again when Parry’s rising shot his the top of the bar and over for a goal kick.

Chances were scarce during the final 20 minutes of the first half, during which time the Nomads were forced to make a change when Morgan limped off.

Back to the same seat for the second half. Before the action resumed the announcer gave the attendance of 115 and thanked “everyone for coming out on Easter Monday”.

Six minutes after the restart Cronshaw turned from provider of the first into goalscorer of the second. Fed by Craig Jones, he sent a low shot across the face of goal into the far right corner via the fingertips of the diving Harvey who couldn’t keep the shout out.

Ben Alston sent a free-kick forward into the area where skipper Liam Loughlin turned on the edge of the area and fired over the Porthmadog bar. The visitors responded with a double substitution in the 56th minute.

Lloyd-Williams was frustrated not to make inroads into the deficit when he latched on to a throughball. However, with the close attention of defender Ben Alston, the prolific striker fired a left-foot shot over from 15 yards out.

Instead, it was the Nomads who were next to find the net in the 68th minute. Rowley, in acres of space, got down the left all the way to the bye-line before pulling the ball back for Conshaw to sidefoot his second goal of the game from 12 yards into the bottom left corner.

During the final 10 minutes, perhaps recalled what happened at Christmas, Porthmadog kept plugging forward for a way back. Rhys Roberts headed across the face of goal from Cai Jones’ free-kick and Kehoe’s 35-yard free-kick was held by the diving Terry McCormick.

A moment of magic from Lloyd-Williams eventually reduced the deficit in the 87th minute. Harvey’s long clearance from inside his own area was flicked on and fell to Lloyd-Williams 35-yards out. He got past the challenges of two defenders before turning a third one before sending an unstoppable 25-yard left footer into the top-right corner, out of reach of the leaping McCormick.

Porthmadog finished with ten men when Kehoe was given a straight red card for retaliation after being initially fouled by Paul Addo in the first minute of stoppage time.

Relegation rivals Caersws gained a vital point with a 1-1 draw at home to Newtown, so it will be tense final fixture for Portmadog as long as Caersws don’t lose their game in hand.

Highlights were shown on S4C and available on the S4C website.

1-0 Danny Forde (12)
2-0 Michael Cronshaw (51)
3-0 Michael Cronshaw (68)
3-1 Marc Lloyd-Williams (87)

Droitwich Spa 3 Mile Oak Rovers 2

Saturday 11th April 2009
Droitwich Spa 3 Mile Oak Rovers 2
Midland Combination Division 1
At: King George's Playing Field, Briar Mill
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 20 (headcount)
Weather: warm and sunny
Duration: first-half: 45:41; second-half: 49:24

Televisual viewing again dictated where we went – they (the family that is) wanted to be back home in time for Dr Who – so this trip to Droitwich Spa was an obvious choice. It turned out to be great one with good company at the game, an interesting town centre for the family, fab programme and an unexpected twist on the field.

Droitwich Spa, who got the game underway defending the far bypass end in the first half, should have been awarded a penalty with less than a minute on the clock. Matt Crawford was cleared impeded, in my opinion, but the referee waived play on.

The home side (wearing black and red striped shirts, black shorts and socks) could have taken the lead twice during the opening 18 minutes. Roger Denby sent a low free-kick from out on the left through the populated area. No one got a touch and the ball flew inches wide of the far right-hand post. In the 17th minute, Mitchell Parrish stayed onside to latch on to Sean Parish’s defence-splitting throughball but couldn’t get in a shot after rounding the keeper.

Mile Oak (wearing sky blue and navy blue striped shirts, sky blue shorts and socks) went close just after the half-hour mark. Daniel Gilbert sent a fierce volley towards goal only to see the ball hit a teammate and loop over the bar.

A couple of good Droitwich chances went begging. Sean Parish was denied by keeper John Carpenter’s legs and Dave Fox lashed another shot wide of the target.

After a bit of chat about a potential 0-0, Mile Oak broke the deadlock in the first minute of stoppage time. Kye Smith’s low cross-sum-shot from out on the left went in off the inside of the far post possibly with the aid of a deflection. The referee played on for just 12 more seconds before bringing the half to a conclusion.

I read in the programme that ‘refreshments are available’ so I got myself a tea from inside the changing rooms block.

With no breakthrough at the start of the second half, both of Droitwich’s starting strikers were replaced as manager Goss shuffled his pack. However, the home side were left stunned as Mile Oak doubled their advantage in the 67th minute. James Evans, wearing distinctive yellow boots, burst down the middle and outpaced Denby the last defender. Evans slipped the ball past the advancing keeper, Nick West, before slotting into an unguarded net.

Game over? Would Droitwich simply give up? The answer to both questions was ‘no’.

Droitwich made a third change and reduced the deficit in the 70th minute. Jamie Hatfield rose inside the area to head home Fox’s left-wing corner.

Five minutes later, Droitwich were awarded a penalty for a foul on Sean Parish and Denby hammered the ball into the bottom corner in a manner not dissimilar to the way Stuart Pearce used to convert them.

The turnaround was completed in the 80th minute for another penalty. Carpenter was lucky to escape with a booking for bringing down Matt Bates inside the area and Denby stepped up again to put away another ‘Stuart Pearce style’ spot kick.

It could have been four a couple of minutes later. Carpenter produced an acrobatic save to turn round a well-struck shot from Hatfield. Fox almost scored as well with a 25-yarder that just cleared the bar.

The Droitwich bench were forced to endure a tense final few minutes as the visitors looked for an equaliser. Kenny Hawkins fired straight at West and Gilbert sent a free-kick forward into the arms of West as well.

Droitwich Spa (black and red stripes / black / black): Nick West, Jamie Hatfield, Roger Denby, Tom Sanders, Chris Parish, Dave Fox, Sean Parish, (17.) Dean Wise, Matt Crawford, Andy Pheasant (capt), Mitchell Parrish. Subs: Matt Bates (for Pheasant, 54), Adam Khan (for Crawford, 61), John Reid (for Wise, 69).

Mile Oak Rovers (sky and navy blue stripes / sky blue / sky blue): John Carpenter, Rene Lucas, David Holmes, Kenny Hawkins, Darren Morton, Luke Hitchman (capt), Daniel Gilbert, Jamie Evans, Scott Baker, Kye Smith, James Evans. Subs: none.

Referee: S. Gudger Assistants: R. Usher, J. Widdett.
Attendance: 20 (headcount).