Hednesford Town 4 Burscough 0

Tuesday 27th September 2011
Hednesford Town 4 Burscough 0
Evo-Stik League Premier Division
At: Keys Park
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £10 (seat); Programme: £2 (44 pages)
Attendance: 451
Weather: mild, dry, clear sky
Duration: first-half: 46:03; second-half: 48:06

Back to midweek action for me after a two-week break and a short 15.6 miles round trip across Cannock Chase to Keys Park. Promotion-chasing Hednesford have an impressive unbeaten home record and never really looked like losing to bottom side Burscough. The Pitmen could have won with a bigger margin if they hadn’t eased off but allowed the visitors to create (and fail to convert) plenty of chances.

I like Keys Park as a venue; easy to find, easy to park, decent view from the stand, plenty to read in the programme, club shop, easy to obtain the line-ups, etc.

Looking at the league table, Hednesford (23 points from 11 games) occupied fifth position in the table, six points behind leaders Northwich Victoria on the same number of games. In contrast, Burscough (4 points from 11 games) were rooted to the foot of the table in 22nd and last position.

Burscough (green shirts, green shorts and green and white hopped socks) got the game underway attacking the Heath Hayes End, left to right in relation to my seat in the main stand. Managed by former Stafford Rangers defender Derek Goulding, they made a bright start and missed a couple of early scoring opportunities.

A couple of fans sat behind me in the stand started to reminisce about Hednesford in the FA Trophy Final and though Burscough were the opposition at Villa Park when the Pitmen won. In my mind I didn’t disagree though actually Hednesford beat Canvey Island in the 2004 final with Burscough winning the previous year.

Hednesford ( in all white), however, soon got going and took the lead in the 13th minute. Chris Clements delivered a delicious left-wing corner which Marvin Robinson headed home.

Totally unmarked Mark Beesley should have equalised when put clear by Adam Farley. But the striker slipped his shot wide of the target with just Dan Crane to beat.

Jamey Osborne doubled Hednesford’s lead in the 26th minute. He hammered home a rebound after Clements’s initial shot had been blocked by a defender.

Now well on top, Clements scored the third goal in the 37th minute, curling a free-kick expertly around the wall and into the corner of the net.

Hednesford continued to create chances before and after the interval, and it was no surprise when their fourth goal went in on the hour. Ex-Stafford Rangers striker Nick Wellecomme took advantage of a slip by defender James Connolly and fired home from 15 yards out.

With the points in the bag and the unbeaten home run extended, Hednesford allowed Burscough back into the game during the last 20 minutes and perhaps should have got on the scoresheet. Martin Crowder fired a long-range free-kick against the bar.

Man of the match was Hednesford keeper Dan Crane.

1-0 Marvin Robinson (13)
2-0 Jamey Osborne (26)
3-0 Chris Clements (37)
4-0 Nick Wellecomme (60)

Stafford Town 5 Pelsall Villa 0

Saturday 24th September 2011
Stafford Town 5 Pelsall Villa 0
FA Carlsberg Vase Second Qualifying Round
At: Evans Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Attendance: 47
Weather: cloudy, occasional drizzle
Duration: first-half: 45:10; second-half: 50:30

A third visit of the season and seventh in total to Evans Park for what was arguably the biggest game for Stafford Town since the two FA Cup Third Qualifying Round ties against Harrow Borough almost 11 years ago? The prizes on offer to the winner today were £700 and a home tie in the First Round against either Wolverhampton SC or Atherstone Town, and The Reds stormed into the next round with a five-goal haul against Pelsall Villa who were made to pay for failing to convert any of their numerous scoring opportunities.

Pelsall should have been two-goals up by the time Tom Smith opened the scoring for Town in the 19th minute. By half-time, Craig Hulme and Sam Agar had both increased the lead even though the visitors created the bulk of the chances. Daniel Battison saw ‘red’ for his part in an off-the-ball incident that few saw and Stafford finished off a memorable afternoon with late goals from Agar and Hulme.

Stafford Town (14 points from 7 games) went into the tie in 7th position in the West Midlands League Premier Division table on a decent run of six league and cup games without defeat. Visitors Pelsall Villa (5 points from 5 games) occupied 13th position in the Athium Midland Combination Premier Division table and they hadn’t tasted defeat since the end of August. The visitors included former Stafford Rangers defender Jon Patrick in their starting line-up.

In the previous First Qualifying Round, Town travelled to division rivals Goodrich and came out on top 7-6 after extra time thanks to a last minute penalty. Villa also won by the odd goal, 3-2 at home to Coleshill Town of the Midland Alliance.

Stafford Town (in their familiar all red kit) got the game underway attacking the cricket ground end – of should that be rugby end with St Leonards playing at home at the same time!

It really should have been 1-0 to Pelsall in the 12th minute after defender James Price failed to clear Ryan Williams’s low cross and unchallenged Daniel Battisson surprisingly fired the loose ball over the bar from just a few yards out. Ashley Lawley then saw a header blocked at the near post. Having survived these scares, Town keeper Andy Heal pulled off a superb save to tip over a dipping 20-yard volley from Phillip Gale. Nervous moments for the Reds.

But it was Town who took the lead in the 19th minute. Sam Agar stayed onside to latch onto a ball down the left and unselfishly squared a pass for Tom Smith to side foot home from 10 yards out (pictured right). Agar was again involved four minutes later when Villa keeper Chris Collins made a mess of dealing with his right-wing cross to present Craig Hulme with a simple tap-in.

Needing to get back into the game, Pelsall (in white shorts, black shorts and black socks) continued to create chances. Heal kept out a free-kick from Williams and did well to palm a dangerous corner over the bar delivered by the same player. Just before the half-hour, Jason Holmes fired against the bar and Heal saved Battisson’s follow-up shot.

The Pelsall defence was breached again in the 41st minute when unchallenged Agar converted a low left-wing cross at the far post.

The start of the second half continued in the same pattern with Pelsall continuing to create chances. A low right-foot drive from Williams flashed past the right-hand post and Holmes fired across the face of goal.

Just before the hour mark, Smith had the ball in the back of the Pelsall net but from an offside position. In the next attack, the same player surged between two defenders and fired narrowly wide.

Perhaps the only moment of real controversy occurred in the 71st minute which few actually saw and not by me sat in the stand. The assistant of the far side, running the line for the Stafford defence, raised his flag and as a result Villa’s Battisson was dismissed while Town’s Price escaped with a booking.

Even with ten men, Pelsall remained a threat and Heal was forced to make saves to deny Holmes and Williams. Stafford needed a fourth goal and though they’d got it when Carl Morris slotted home Matt Buckham’s pass. But celebrations were cut short by a raised flag for offside.

The fourth goal did come in the 89th minute to settle any nerves. Agar turned inside the area and fired a right foot shot past Collins into the bottom left corner. And Hulme netted his second and Town’s fifth in stoppage time. From out on the left he hit a low cross-cum-shot that ended up in the far corner of the net.

Full credit should be given to Stafford for converting their chances and working hard to keep a first clean sheet of the season. They now face a home tie with Atherstone Town in four weeks time.

1-0 Smith (19)
2-0 Hulme (23)
3-0 Agar (41)
4-0 Agar (89)
5-0 Hulme (90+3)

Romulus 1 Bridgnorth Town 2

Sunday 18th September 2011
Romulus 1 Bridgnorth Town 2
FA Cup with Budweiser First Qualifying Round
At: The Scholars, Chasetown FC
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1 (24 pages)
Attendance: 101
Weather: sunny
Duration: first-half: 47:02; second-half: 48:28

Midland Alliance side Bridgnorth Town pulled off an FA Cup shock to knock higher-ranked Evo-Stik League Division 1 South side Romulus out of the competition. They recovered from conceded an early goal scored by Peter Faulds to get back on level terms by the interval. Jason Pike reacted to fire home the loose ball after his own penalty was superbly saved by Romulus keeper Chris Jay. A draw looked the likely outcome until Bridgnorth were awarded another penalty in the closing stages which, this time, Pike fired straight into the back of the net.

The game was played at Chasetown FC as Romulus’s home ground (Coles Lane, Sutton Coldfield FC) now has a 3G pitch which is a surface not yet permitted for use in FA Cup ties.

1-0 Peter Faulds (5)
1-1 Jason Pike (38)
1-2 Jason Pike (84 pen)

Thurnby Nirvana 1 Barrow Town 1

Saturday 17th September 2011
Thurnby Nirvana 1 Barrow Town 1
FA Cup with Budweiser First Qualifying Round
At: Daykn Road, Leicester
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (12 pages)
Attendance: 87
Weather: sunny, occasional rain
Duration: first-half: 46:17; second-half: 48:50

My own FA Cup trail continued today in Leicester with an interesting tie between two league rivals, separated by just goal difference in the East Midlands Counties League table. The prize was huge for the winners – £3000 prize money and the chance of drawing a Blue Square North side in the next round.

Visitors Barrow Town took the lead just after the hour mark through Dan Stabik and looked to be heading into the next round until a stunning late strike from Ryan Walker earned Thurnby a replay on Tuesday evening.

One of the many enjoyable parts of the day was meeting a group of six predominately Kettering fans, most of whom are embarking on a ‘Road to Wembley’ this season. They started off at Rothwell Town in the Extra Preliminary Round tie then switched allegiance to Barrow Town who defeated Rothwell in the Premliminary Round two weeks ago. They’ll stick with Barrow until they are knocked out then follow the team that beat them, and so on, hopefully getting to watch the Final next May. One member of the group, from Northampton, was simply trying to watch as many FA Cup ties as possible this season. Good to meet you and best of luck on your journey to Wembley!

Once again Andy of Kent’s website (http://www.andyofkent.exofire.net/gtf/6memcl.html) provided all I needed to get to the ground from Leicester station by bus – 3.5 miles was a bit too far to walk even without a right thigh strain. I followed his advice and, after a short walk from the station along St Georges Way to Humberstone Road, caught the 38A bus to within a few hundred yards of the entrance on Dakyn Road.

The home side was formed as recently as 2008 following the merger of two clubs – Thurnby Rangers and Leicester Nirvana – playing senior home games at Rangers’s Dakyn Road ground.

In the middle of a large and spacious field was a fully railed-off pitch with two stands at the top of the grass bank behind the near goal – one covered standing and the other containing 60 seats. The two sides of the pitch without hardstanding were ‘out of bounds’.

Back to that league table and both Thurnby (8th GD +8) and Barrow (9th GD +2) had an identical record of played 4 won 2 drawn 1 and lost 1. Neither had played a league game since they met at Barrow on August Bank Holiday Monday – Barrow won 2-1.

Barrow (wearing red and black stripes, black shorts and red socks) got the game underway attacking the stand end in the first half though Thurnby (in all green) created several chances during the opening 10 minutes and Ryan Amoo saw a shot cleared off the line.

The visitors almost took the lead just after the half-hour mark when Jamie McKay lobbed the advancing keeper Wayne Connolly only to see the ball drop just over the bar. Connolly's opposite number Adam Wilcox produced a smart save in the 40th minute to keep out Pearson Mwanyongo’s angled shot at the end of a run into the area past several defenders.

Not long before half-time, I liked the comment of the referee when attempting to book a Thurnby midfielder – “I’ll double it if you don’t walk [to me]”, was clearly heard. The player did as he was ordered and escaped with just a yellow card! Also, in a separate incident, I think the official was correct in asking for a defensive free-kick to be retaken as it didn’t leave the penalty area.

On to the second half and eight minutes after restart, Connolly kept out Jon Coppard’s close-range header. Soon after, Carl Adams thought he had headed Barrow in front only to be disappointed to see a raised offside flag.

Barrow broke the deadlock in the 61st minute. Cameron Gray crossed from the right and defender Dan Stabik, Still up in the area following a free-kick, fired low into the bottom right corner of the net.

With Thurnby attacking with some urgency, Barrow should have wrapped up the win in the 82nd minute. With just one defender and keeper to beat, Adams squared a pass to unmarked Michael Paparozzi who saw his shot saved.

By this time I’d decided to watch the latter stages from the stand on the top of the bank, where the ‘Road to Wembley’ group had sat all game.

Paparozzi’s was almost immediately been punished as substitute Reece Morris fired against the right-hand post from 10 yards out. The ball rebounded across the face of goal and stayed out.

After Adams fired into the side netting from a narrow angle, Thurnby got the equaliser they wanted in the 88th minute. Ryan Walker sent an unstoppable right-foot drive from the edge of the area flying into the top-right corner of the net. Cue the celebrations (see photo).

Plans for Tuesday changed for the ‘Road to Wembley’ group with a replay in prospect though Thurnby could well have been awarded an injury-time penalty. The referee blew his whistle when Amoo went down under Niall Prenderville’s and look as if he was pointing towards the spot, only to award a free-kick to Barrow and book Amoo for diving.

Footnote: With this trip to Thurnby, I have now visited 17 of the current 19 East Midlands Counties League grounds – the two remaining are also Leicester-based clubs in Blaby & Whetstone Athletic and St Andrews.

0-1 Dan Stabik (61)
1-1 Ryan Walker (88)

Norton United 2 Eccleshall 0

Tuesday 13th September 2011
Norton United 2 Eccleshall 0
North-West Counties League Division 1
At: Community Drive
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (36 pages)
Attendance: 53
Weather: dry, cold blustery wind
Duration: first-half: 47:45; second-half: 46:34

Back in 1992, on my one and only previous visit to Community Drive ground, I saw a young player named Scott Dundas make his debut for Norton United. On that February afternoon, the opposition was Stafford Rangers Reserves in a Staffordshire County Senior League game and Scott opened the scoring in Norton’s 3-1 victory. He, of course, went to enjoy a successful playing career which included a spell at Stafford Rangers under Ian Painter as part of the Dr Martens League Western Division title winning side of 1999/2000, which I remember well. Almost 20 years after his debut, he was appointed as manager of Norton United back in May and recently had the honour of being named Division 1 Manager of the Month for August.

Community Drive is located in the Smallthorne district of Stone-on-Trent, around a mile from Vale Park. The turnstile was round to the right of the 3G court next to the cricket ground and the pitch ran widthways. Nine steps led down from the entrance at the top of a grass bank to pitchside with the stand to the left containing a row of red tip-up seats, two rows of benches and covered standing. Dugouts were opposite clearly labelled ‘home’ and ‘away’

As the August award suggests, Norton (3rd with 13 points from 5 games) have made a superb start to the season and are in fact unbeaten in the league. Four sides, in fact, had 13 points with Irlam topping the table on goal difference ahead of Abbey Hey, Norton and Wigan Robin Park. They also progressed in the FA Vase last Friday with a 5-2 win at Warstone Wanderers. Conversely, the first five or so weeks of the 2011/12 season haven’t got well for visitors Eccleshall (18th with 3 points from 5 games) who arrived at Community Drive at the foot of the table and also out of both the FA Cup and FA Vase. Their points came from a home win over Leek CSOB three weeks ago and they did win in the FA Cup at Bustleholme before being knocked out by Alvechurch in a replay. They lost heavily in the FA Vase on Saturday at home to Racing Club Warwick.

I borrowed the teamsheets from Sam Brotherton who I hadn’t seen for what must be nearly three years. During my stint as a non-league reporter with The Sentinel I got to know Sam when his son Wayne was playing for Congleton Town. Sam is now Match Secretary at Norton with Wayne as captain.

With lights on from the start, Eccleshall (in all yellow) got the game underway attacking the Community Drive end of the ground, left to right in relation to my initial vantage point near the home dugout.

Just like Sittingbourne of Saturday, it took almost 20 minutes for the first decent scoring opportunity. Dan Brown got on the end of a ball played down the left by Tom Fogg and fired a right-foot shot over the bar.

Norton (in red and black stripes, black shorts and scoks) almost took the lead just after the half-hour mark. Delroy Fox stayed onside to latch onto a pass down the left but Eccleshall keeper Jordan Carter rushed off his line to block with his feet. The ball ran to Mark McDonald who saw his shot cleared from in front of goal by a defender. Brown should have hit the target with a downward header in the 39th minute from Fox’s deep cross.

No goals at the interval. To be fair, the blustery wind made life difficult and defences were in charge.

Tea 50p from the refreshments bar at the side of the large pavilion and I heard of goals elsewhere: ‘Vale are winning, Arsenal winning, Barca drawing’.

Eccleshall won two corners at the start of the second half but it was Norton who broke the deadlock in the 50th minute. Carter failed to hold Fox’s initial shot and Brown was on hand to slot home the rebound.

Carter did well to keep out Lee Talbot’s low shot and claim the resulting loose ball at the feet of the pouncing Michael Machin. However, the Eccleshall keeper could do nothing in the 67th minute to keep out McDonald’s 20-yard volley that doubled Norton’s lead.

As I walked back to the car, I heard a loud cheer coming from the direction of Vale Park, which turned out to be either Tom Pope’s late winner or the full-time whistle.

With leaders Irlam losing 3-1 at home to Cheadle Town and second-placed Abbey Hey only managing a draw at home to Rochdale Town, Norton’s three points took them to the top of the table. Wigan Robin Park moved up from fourth to second spot thanks to a 4-0 win at Ashton Town.

1-0 Dan Brown (50)
2-0 Mark McDonald (67)

Sittingbourne 0 Bognor Regis Town 0

Saturday 10th September 2011
Sittingbourne 0 Bognor Regis Town 0
Ryman League Division 1 South
At: Bourne Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £8; Programme: £1-50 (32 pages)
Attendance: 122
Weather: mostly sunny, no rain
Duration: first-half: 46:06; second-half: 48:00

Since we moved to the Midlands from Tolworth in 2001, I hadn’t seen a match in Kent apart from when Stafford Rangers travelled down to Welling, Gravesend and Northfleet, Dover or Folkestone. Today provided a perfect opportunity to head to the 'Garden of England' as a neutral fan following my run this morning at City of London orienteering event.

I managed to complete my course by 11-30 am (some satisfaction as the first to finish the Newcomers Course and the early leader; final position 18th out of 61). So, there was plenty of time to get to St Pancras International station, catch the train to Sittingbourne (which followed the high-speed line to Ebbsfleet) and walk (slowly) the 1.6 miles from station to ground by 2 pm.

The match proved to be an anti-climax as my Ryman League Division 1 South ‘champagne job’ also turned into a ‘tram job’ as a 0-0 draw though ‘Garstang Bob’ wasn’t present to witness it!

Sittingbourne moved to Bourne Park around 10 years ago, a fact I wasn’t aware of until a couple of years ago as I had assumed they were still playing home games at the Central Park greyhound stadium (visited 1991). As I’d also seen Sittingbourne play at the old Bull Ground in 1990, I could only think of one other team off the top of my head I’d seen play home games at three different grounds – the old Runcorn FC at Canal Street, Halton Stadium and Prescot’s Valerie Park.

I pondered a couple of questions. My last Ryman League game? Not 10 years ago as I thought but April 2010 at Tooting and Mitcham United. And my last non-Stafford Rangers game in Kent? That was 10 years coincidently in Sittingbourne at the UK Paper Ground home of Milton Athletic with an impressive white pavilion.

I picked up both a badge and copy of Chris Harte’s Watching Brief from the club shop, tea from the refreshments bar, borrowed a teamsheet from a spectator sat near me and settled down for the game.

Looking at the league table in the programme, visitors Bognor Regis went into the game in second position (12 points from four games) with a 100% record. Dulwich Hamlet who defeated them in last season’s play-off topped the table on goal difference. Sittingbourne (4 points from 4 games) stood just below mid-table in 14th position and were looking to bounce back from two straight league defeats.

Bognor (in white shirts, green shorts and white socks) got the game underway attacking the entrance end in the first half.

At about the quarter hour mark, I looked down at my notes (or lack of them) and pondered what on earth I would I have written had I been in my former role of providing running copy for the Sporting Star and Green’Un. No attempts on goal, no corners, no bad tackles, no bookings, in fact only a contentious back pass in the 12th minute from Bognor defender Stuart Axten into his keeper’s hands which the referee chose not to punish. Defences were very much on top.

Then, in the 17th minute, Josh West, on the left, turned and fired a right foot shot straight at the Bognor keeper Craig Stoner. Sittingbourne by the way were wearing red shirts with two black vertical stripes, black shorts and socks.

Bognor started to create the odd chance and Tom Bond powered a free header over the bar from Ben Johnson’s corner.

Half-time – no rain, no goals – so tea and chips much needed from the excellent refreshments bar. I got chatting to one fan who asked how far I'd travelled after initially assuming I was a Bognor fan. He told me about his caravan trips to Cannock Chase and also that the stand at Bourne Park came from the old ground.

Sunshine greeted the start of the second half and Terry Dodd lobbed the advancing home keeper Tim Roberts only to see the ball land wide of an unguarded goal.

Roberts produced a decent dining save in the 65th minute to keep out James Fraser’s left-foot shot and ten minutes later Stoner tipped over a rising drive from Billy Manners.

And that was just about it. Sittingbourne won an injury-time corner from which substitute Carl Harold headed well wide.

Will there be a goal next Saturday when the teams meet again at Bognor for an FA Cup with Budweiser Preliminary Round tie?

The PA announcer kept us updated on the substitutions and minutes added by the referee. It liked his piece for every home change: “Please show you appreciation as he leaves the field for number 7 Jack Hooper!”

Neil Morris texted me to say the forecast rain had hit Bearsted during the match he was watching 30 miles away. I though the clouds had missed me – no, as they heavens opened during my walk back to the railway station!

Sittingbourne (red with two black vertical stripes / black / black): !. Tim Roberts, 2. Ryan Cooper, 3. Dan Palfrey, 4. Jamie Coyle (capt), 5. Jerry Nnamani, 6. Billy Manners, 7. Jack Hooper, 8. Colin Richmond, 9. Ryan Golding, 10. Josh West, 11. Hicham Akhazzan. Subs: 12. Sam Groombridge (for Hooper, 64), 14. Elie Kayembe (for Golding, 76), 15. Carl Harold (for Akhazzan, 34), 16. Luke Girt (not used), 17. Matt Read (not used).

Bognor Regis Town (white/green/white): 1. Craig Stoner, 2. James Crane, 3. Matt Whitehead, 4. James Fraser, 5. Stuart Axten, 6. Tim Bond, 7. Dan Beck (capt), 8. Kane Wills, 9. Jason Prior, 10. Terry Dodd, 11. Ben Johnson. Subs: 12. Luke Nightingale (for Dodd, 70), 14. Jon Marzetti (for Whitehead, 80), 15. Chris Breach (not used), 16. Lewis Ide (for Fraser, 88).


Sittingbourne: Jamie Coyle (YC, 87)
Bognor: none