Sutton Coldfield Town 4 Kidsgrove Athletic 3

Saturday 29th December 2012
Sutton Coldfield Town 4 Kidsgrove Athletic 3
Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division One South
At: Coles Lane
Kick-off: 3-00pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1-20 (24 pages)
Weather: showers, heavy at times
Attendance: 170
Duration: first-half: 47:00; second-half: 48:50

“That was one hell of a comeback”, said one supporter at full-time after Sutton Coldfield recovered from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Kidsgrove 4-3 with a spectacular winning goal scored by Luke Chapman. Sutton’s four-goal haul included a ‘double’ from Mark Danks who took his tally since joining the Royals to ten goals in eight games. He gave Sutton an early lead before Kidsgrove responded with three unanswered goals including two in four minutes from Andy Kinsey. The Royals fought back through Danks, Jamie Sheldon and Chapman’s unstoppable 35-yard screamer to make it four league wins in a row.

I fancied this game whatever the weather as it pitted a decent and entertaining Sutton Coldfield side against Kidsgrove who I’ve got fond memories of visiting several times during my stint with The Sentinel. It turned out that only a handful of non-league games on grass throughout the Midlands survived the rain and none locally.

As I mentioned on Boxing Day in my blog of the 2-0 win over Halesowen Town, Sutton are chasing promotion to the Premier Division and went into this game in third position with 24 points from 24 games. Kidsgrove, however, found themselves at the wrong end of the table in 19th position with 23 points from 22 games.

Several other familiar faces had the same idea as me with ‘Stourbridge Tim’, ‘Gornal Grumpy Dwarf’, ‘Albion Steve’ and ‘Albion Paul’ also at Coles Lane this afternoon. Teamsheets were available in the clubhouse foyer – much appreciated!

Kidsgrove (in a change kit of all red) got the game underway attacking the car park end in the first half – right to left in relation to my seat in the stand.

The first decent chance came in the 11th minute when a miss-directed pass from the Kidsgrove midfield ended up at the feet of Daryl Taylor on the right. He fed Luke Chapman who saw a low near-post shot kept out by the boot of Dave Dyson. As the game came to life, Kristian Ramsey-Dickson fired low across the face of goal in Sutton’s next attack.

It was no surprise when Sutton took the lead in the 17th minute when Mark Danks beat one defender before firing low past Dyson from 15 yards out.

Like Boxing Day, the Sutton defence looked tight and in no mood to concede. No sooner had I jotted down this comment… a lapse at the back gifted a goal to Kidsgrove in the 34th minute. Liam Shotton, brother of Stoke’s Ryan, crossed low from the right-bye line and unmarked Kinsey fired home the equaliser at close range.

Louis Keenan thumped a 21-yard free-kick inches wide of the right-hand post before Kinsey struck again to give Kidsgrove an unexpected lead. The prolific striker had time to pick his spot before shooting past Lee Evans from a few yards out.

Sutton quickly responded only to have a ‘goal’ disallowed for offside. Taylor’s weak shot rolled into the net past Dyson but Kristian Ramsay-Dickson was flagged offside for interference in front of goal.

Heavy rain before and during half-time kept me firmly in my seat though ‘Albion Steve’ decided to brave the elements to pick up the half-time scores, especially for his Albion at Old Trafford and rivals Villa at home to Wigan.

At 1-2, I felt that the first goal of the second half would determine which side would claim the three points. Shotton went close as he beat Evans with a 20-yard shot which narrowly missed the target.

It was Kidsgrove who scored the next goal six minutes after the restart. Evans needed to leave his line for the edge of the area and prevented Shane Reaney from getting in a shot. The ball, however, was laid back to Dan Skelton who drove into an empty net from 25 yards out.

If my theory was correct, then game over and three points for Kidsgrove.

Wrong. Neil Tooth made a bold change by replacing a defender, Keenan, with a forward, Jamie Sheldon, and the move paid dividends within three minutes of the substitute’s arrival. Ramsay-Dickson found Taylor on the right who crossed to the far post where Sheldon sent a right-foot shot past the partly unsighted Dyson to make it 2-3.

The comeback continued in the 71st minute. A long throw from the right by Ramsay-Dickson into the area wasn’t cleared and Danks’ low shot found the bottom-left corner of the net to make it 3-3.

With their tails up, Sutton won a corner which Sheldon delivered into the area. Ramsay-Dickson powered a first-time header towards goal which Jack Sherratt headed off the line.

Pressure continued and eventually Sutton bagged the winner in the 81st minute. And what a goal. Luke Chapman picked up the ball 35-yards out and hit an unstoppage swerving 35-yarder which gave Dyson no chance whatsoever of keeping out. 4-3 to Sutton.

Sutton made a couple of further changes – including the welcome re-appearance of Stuart McNaught at Coles Lane who has recovered from a broken leg.

With just one other Division One South game surviving the weather – Brigg Town 3 Rainworth Miners Welfare 2 – Sutton took full advantage of their rivals’ inactivity to move level on points with second-placed Stamford AFC.

So that wraps up my 116th and final game of 2012, a year which has brought me a mammoth 524 goals - at an average of 4.5 per game - and just one goalless draw. Local trips have dominated the past two months and I look forward to continuing this next year mixed in with some longer journeys.

Sutton Coldfield Town (blue/blue/blue): 1. Lee Evans, 2. Scott Lycett, 3. Louis Keenan, 4. Lee Parsons (capt), 5. Joel Kettle, 6. Phil Male, 7. Daryl Taylor, 8. Danny Edwards, 9. Kristian Ramsey-Dickson, 10. Mark Danks, 11. Luke Chapman. Subs: 12. Jamie Sheldon (for Keenan, 54), 14. Reece Leek (for Taylor, 86), 15. Carlos Thompson (not used), 16. Stuart McNaught (for Danks, 90), 17gk. Jake Bedford (not used). Manager: Neil Tooth.

Kidsgrove Athletic (red/red/red): 1. Dave Dyson, 2. James Curley, 3. Paul Taylor, 4. Paul Donnelly (capt), 5. Phil Parkinson, 6. Karl Espley, 7. Shane Reaney, 8. Dan Skelton, 9. Liam Shotton, 10. Andy Kinsey, 11. Jack Sherratt. Subs: 12. Alan Nagington (for Reaney, 87), 14. John Johnston (for Sherratt, 77), 15. Ashley Hill (not used), 16. Jordan White (not used), 17. Kevin Street (not used). Manager: Shaun Hollinshead.

Referee: Kevin Andrews.
Assistants: Shaun Willoughby and Andrew Stickley.

1-0 Mark Danks (17)
1-1 Andy Kinsey (34)
1-2 Andy Kinsey (38)
1-3 Dan Skelton (51)
2-3 Jamie Sheldon (57)
3-3 Mark Danks (71)
4-3 Luke Chapman (81)

Sutton Coldfield: Lee Parsons (YC, 82), Phil Male (YC, 85)
Kidsgrove: Karl Espley (YC, 90+2)

Photo on programme cover by Ian Hartwell

Sutton Coldfield Town 2 Halesowen Town 0

Wednesday 26th December 2012
Sutton Coldfield Town 2 Halesowen Town 0
Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division One South
At: Coles Lane
Kick-off: 3-00pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1-20 (24 pages)
Weather: mild, showers
Attendance: 202
Duration: first-half: 46:50; second-half: 49:32

Two unanswered goals in nine minutes at the end of the first half from Lee Parsons and Mark Danks gave Sutton Coldfield Town a 2-0 victory over Halesowen Town. The win, in front of the biggest crowd of the season at Coles Lane, kept the promotion-chasing Royals in touch with the top two while the Yeltz slipped a bit further away from the play-off zone.

Whatever the weather, I’d always planned to visit one of my favourite local non-league grounds, especially as this game pitted 3rd-placed Sutton and 7th-placed Halesowen. Waterlogged pitches first at Stafford Town (v Brocton) and then at Heath Hayes (v Rocester) put paid to the ‘first leg’ of a Boxing Day ‘double’. By the time I found out that Sutton United’s 11-30 am kick-off was on, I’d already committed to dropping the family off at Star City to watch Skyfall before continuing to Coles Lane.

As I mentioned, Sutton (39 points from 23 games) went into the game in third position, six points better off than Carlton Town, the first team outside the play-off zone. Visitors Halesowen (30 points from 21 games) stood one place below Carlton in seventh. The programme included a form guide table covering the last six games which showed Sutton third (four wins, one draw and one defeat) and Halesowen (four wins and two defeats) fifth.

Heavy rain preceded kick-off and Halesowen (in a change kit of all green) got the game underway attacking the car park end in the first half. As usual I sat in the stand, today in the company of Steve Munday who HAD watched the earlier game Sutton United which the hosts won 6-0.

Sutton had Lee Evans in goal and the former Chasetown and Stafford Rangers man tipped over an early 30-yard shot from Mitchell Botfield. The Royals’ first chance came from a free-kick which Mark Danks curled over the bar (photo right).

The diving Evans was also called into action just after the half-hour mark to turn round a well-struck 20-yard left-footer from ex-Sutton striker Craig Milligan.

Someone one in the stand commented that “Halesowen look strong defensively” and I felt he should have gone further to add that Sutton looked strong at the back as well.

Often in tight games, it takes something exceptional to break the deadlock and this was the case in the 37th minute. From fully 35 yards out in the middle, Lee Parsons hit an audacious lob which cleared Dean Colemen and also the bar. The assistant gave a goal kick then suddenly Sutton started to celebrate when the Halesowen goalkeeper retrieved the ball from the back of the net.

The goal got Sutton’s ultras singing!

While the opening goal was a bit bizarre, the best way of describing Sutton’s second goal was ‘clinical’. Danks, who netted four times on my last visit to Coles Lane, latched on to a throughball into the area and hit a first time shot low past Coleman into the bottom-left corner.

Halesowen made a change at the interval and came out for the second half on the attack. Evans produced another decent save to get down and turn a low 25-yard free-kick by Brendan Kelly round for a corner. The Royals ‘number one’ again excelled just before the hour mark to keep out a shot by substitute Luke Corbett hit from just outside the area.

With Evans in top form and the Sutton defence solid, the Yeltz found it difficult to create decent chances especially for Ben Haseley, the division’s leading scorer with 17 goals. Haseley got a sniff around the 79th minute when he first shot against the bar, then volleyed over in Halesowen’s next attack.

The win kept Sutton in touch with the two teams above them. Leaders Coalville, averaging over three goals a game, could only draw 0-0 at home to Loughborough Dynamo while second-placed Stamford beat Kidsgrove Athletic 4-1.

Sutton Coldfield Town (blue/blue/blue): 1. Lee Evans, 2. Scott Lycett, 3. Louis Keenan, 4. Lee Parsons (capt), 5. Joel Kettle, 6. Phil Male, 7. Daryl Taylor, 8. Danny Edwards, 9. Kristian Ramsey-Dickson, 10. Mark Danks, 11. Luke Chapman. Subs: 12. Reece Leek (for Danks, 79), 14. Jamie Sheldon (for Taylor, 71), 15. Carlos Thompson (not used), 16. Andy Ling (not used), 17gk. Jake Bedford (not used).

Halesowen Town (green/green/green): 1. Dean Coleman, 2. Eric Bowen, 3. Nathanial Caines, 4. Mitchell Botfield, 5. Gavin Winsper, 6. Brendan Kelly, 7. Aaron Griffiths, 8. Neil Barnfield (capt), 9. Craig Milligan, 10. Ben Haseley, 11. Jean-Michel Gueyes. Subs: 12. Naveeed Arshad (for Botfield, 83), 14. Joe Hull (for Winsper, 87), 15. Luke Corbett (for Griffiths, ht), 17gk. Paul Evans (not used).

Referee: Neil Pratt.
Assistants: Robert Hathaway and Paul Wainman.

1-0 Lee Parsons (37)
2-0 Mark Danks (45+1)

Cards: none

Photo on programme cover taken by Ian Hartwell

Riverway FC 4 Ettingshall Park Farm 1

Saturday 22nd December 2012
Riverway FC 4 Ettingshall Park Farm 1
West Midlands (Regional) League Division Two
At: Rowley Park, Stafford
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: none; Programme: £1 (12 pages)
Weather: occasional drizzle
Attendance: 45 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 47:10; second-half: 45:02

The Saturday before Christmas has posed problems in the past in terms of finding a game on amid hundreds of postponements. Two years ago it was snow and freezing temperatures (, today it was rain (and lots of it). Fortunately, the West Midlands (Regional) League ‘fixture computer’ played a blinder by giving Riverway a home fixture on a day that the only other games to survive for miles around were at Walsall, Bilston and Kidderminster. Perfect opportunity to see one of my local sides for the first time this season at a venue – Rowley Park –which has been transformed this year to include a floodlight 3G pitch inside the eight-lane athletics track.The game, which attracted plenty of groundhoppers, saw home side Riverway win 4-1 thanks to doubles from both Jonathan Arnold and Earl Grant despite visitors Ettinghall Park Farm taking the lead.

Before going any further I must acknowledge some of those working behind the scenes. The ladies manning the tea bar kept the larger-than-normal crowd ‘fed and watered’ and another lady showed great patience in producing a much-appreciated 12-page programme as the game progressed.

I know I bang on about my new-found love of Twitter but once again it proved invaluable in making sure there were no last-minute hitches at Rowley Park that could threaten this game. I say ‘hitches’ because Romulus’ game on the Coles Lane 3G pitch was postponed. Thankfully there were none here.

Looking at the league table, both Riverway (12th with 16 points from 15 games) and Ettingshall Park Farm (15th with 9 points from 14 games) occupied positions in the lower reaches of the 17-team division. Leaders Newport Town held a five-point lead over second placed Ledbury Town.

Riverway (in sky and navy blue) got the game underway attacking from left to right in relation to the pavilion and, to be honest, the opening 18 minutes were largely uneventful. Then Earl Grant fired into the near side netting from the right inside the Ettingshall area and leading scorer Tom Duffy fired across the face of goal from a similar position.

Eventually the deadlock was broken in the 41st minute by the visitors. A ball into the area posed problems for Riverway goalkeeper Steve McCabe and when it wasn’t cleared, Adam Hill sent a low shot into the far bottom left corner from 15 yards out.

It was perhaps appropriate that an even first half should finish level as Riverway equalised in stoppage time. Grant got on the end of a right-wing cross and headed home with the aid of a deflection.

As before the game, the tea bar inside the clubroom proved popular. I felt appreciative of the lady busily and patiently printing an in-demand 12-page programme.

A slip on the Riverway left by the bandaged Ben Roberts let in George Nock who fired over the bar.

Having survived the scare, the home side took the lead in the 57th minute and never looked back. Jonathan Arnold, out on the right, went for goal and sent a well-struck left-foot shot across the face of goal into the far corner of the net. Some wondered if a defender got a touch to score an own goal but there was no taking away the goal from Arnold.

Arnold doubled Riverway’s lead two minutes later. Charlie Marshall crossed low from the right and Arnold clinically thumped the ball past Aaron Morris from a few yards out.

Now well on top, Riverway sensed more goals and Morris did well to beat away a well-struck shot from Martyn Wheeler. Morris also produced decent saves to deny both Duffy and Arnold.

Riverway wrapped up the win with a fourth goal in the 82nd minute when Grant powered a 30-yard shot past the helpless Morris. Final score: Riverway 4 Ettingshall Park Farm 1.

For the record, this was my third visit for football to Rowley Park as I can't remember refereeing or running the line on the old grass pitch inside the athletics track: 28/12/1991 Stafford MSHD v Stafford Rangers Reserves (; 24/4/2000 Brocton v Hanford (

Riverway (sky blue and navy blue stripes / sky blue / navy blue): 1. Steve McCabe, 2. Charlie Marshall, 3. Simon Dawson, 4. Matt Bickley, 5. Chris Hall, 6. Ben Roberts, 7. Matty Rhodes, 8. Jonathan Arnold, 9. Tom Duffy (capt), 10. Earl Grant, 11. Martyn Wheeler. Subs: 12. Alex Peatfield (not used), 15. Gary Todd (for Roberts, 82), 16. Dave Wilcock (for Dawson, ht), 17. Tom Lane (for Arnold, 76), x. Jake Robinson (not used). Manager: Jake Robinson.

Ettingshall Park Farm (red/red/red): 1. Aaron Morris (capt), 2. Tim Lake, 3. Chris Lake, 4. Adam Walton, 5. Rich Lewis, 6. Scott Parker, 7. Adam Hill, 8. Steve Hill, 9. Lee Hayward, 10. Chris Clarke, 12. George Nock. Subs: 14. Luke Abley (for Chris Lake, 72), 15. Lee Brown (for Clarke, 60). Manager: Phil Brown.

Referee: B. Priest.

0-1 Adam Hill (41)
1-1 Earl Grant (45+2)
2-1 Jonathan Arnold (57)
3-1 Jonathan Arnold (59)
4-1 Earl Grant (82)

Cards: none

Wolverhampton Casuals 4 Darlaston Town 2

Tuesday 18th December 2012
Wolverhampton Casuals 4 Darlaston Town 2
West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division
At: Brinsford Lane, Coven
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 50 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 46:05; second-half: 47:26

This was my first visit of the season to Brinsford Lane and I saw Wolverhampton Casuals move up into third position in the Premier Division table with a 4-2 victory over bottom side Darlaston Town. After Joe Clayton gave the visitors a surprise lead on the quaret-hour mark, Casuals hit back with three unanswered goals from leading scorer Mark Bellingham, Angelo Franco and Luke Tudor. Darlaston reduced the deficit through Emmanuel Gueyes before Casuals wrapped up the win with a fourth goal from Tom Maydew.

Casuals (4th with 44 points from 20 games) went into this game in need of a win to keep in touch with leaders Black Country Rangers after picking up just one point from their last two league games. Opponents Darlaston (22nd with 4 points from 20 games) had lost their last twelve league games and picked up their solitary win on the opening day of the season.

Teams were announced over the PA (I’d obtained them earlier from a helpful club official) and I took my place in the stand (four rows of benches) just before kick-off.

Wolverhampton Casuals (in green and white) got the game underway attacking the ‘A449 end’, left to right in relation to my seat in the stand. While the league table suggested otherwise, the opening 15 minutes were fairly even though Casuals’ Mark Bellingham headed the best chance over the bar from a few yards out.

Poor defending in the 15th minute allowed Darlaston to take the lead. No one took responsibility for dealing with Dale Blackham’s low cross from the left and Joe Clayton fired home at the far post.

Casuals got back on level terms within three minutes. Bellingham got the better of two defenders before burying the ball in the bottom-left corner past the diving Steve Booth.

Booth, a former Casuals player, kept out a shot from Bellingham and in the next attack, Tom Maydew hit the right-hand post. The home side started to dominate like a side chasing promotion and took the lead just before the break. Craig Love delivered a right-win corner to the far post where Angelo Franco headed home.

Casuals extended their lead six minutes after the restart. Angelo Franco, on the right, crossed to the far post from where Luke Tudor ran in to head home. To their credit, Darlaston kept battling and reduced the deficit midway through the second half. A slip by Simon Rowley let in Emmanuel Gueyes who hammered the ball past the diving Henderson.

Barry Evans replaced Love in the 76th minute and his first touch, a deep cross from the left, fell to Maydew at the far post who fired home Casuals’ fourth goal.

In the closing stages, Booth produced another excellent save to turn round a shot from Bellingham and Carlo Franco failed to converted a decent chance to make it 5-2.

The win moved Casuals up one place into third place in the Premier Division table, just two points behind leaders Black Country Rangers, both having played 21 games. Second-placed Lye have a game in hand. On Saturday, Casuals entertain mid-table Wellington Amateurs who beat Sporting Khalsa 2-1 in tonight’s other game.

Wolverhampton Casuals (green and white stripes / white / green): 1. Todd Henderson, 2. Carlo Franco, 3. Luke Tudor, 4. Dan Pilgrim, 5. Simon Rowley, 6. John Clapp, 7. Tom Maydew, 8. Craig Love (capt), 9. Mark Bellingham, 10. Angelo Franco, 11. Adrian Jones. Subs: 12. Daniel Lloyd (for Clapp, ht), 14. Shaun Williams (not used), 15. Barry Evans (for Love, 76), 16. Leon Taylor (for Jones, 54), 17. George Williams (not used).

Darlaston Town (blue and white hoops / blue / blue): 1. Steve Booth, 2. Dale Blackham, 3. Lukaes Lema, 4. Dan Martin, 5. Kabamba Mukengeshayi, 6. James Higgins, 7. JJ Melligan (capt), 8. Daryl Westwood, 9. Kevin Montcheu, 10. Emmanuel Gueyes, 11. Joe Clayton. Subs: 12. Dennis Robinson (for Clayton, 57), 14. Daniel Tonks (not used), 15. Josh Cook (not used), 16. Amadou Jallow (not used), 17. Flavien Chambaud (not used).

Referee: Matthew Bond.
Assistants: Richard Booth and Jason Main.

0-1 Joe Clayton (15)
1-1 Mark Bellingham (18)
2-1 Angelo Franco (44)
3-1 Luke Tudor (51)
3-2 Emmanuel Gueyes (69)
4-2 Tom Maydew (76)

Wolves Casuals: Angelo Franco (YC, 78)
Darlaston: none

Brighouse Town 3 Nostell Miners Welfare 0

Saturday 15th December 2012
Brighouse Town 3 Nostell Miners Welfare 0
Baris Northern Counties East League Premier Division
At: Dual Seal Stadium, St Giles Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (24 pages)
Weather: cloudy, dry
Attendance: 115 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 45:52; second-half: 47:10

Brighouse Town (orange/black/orange): 1. Tom Taylor, 2. Tom Brown, 3. Leon Henry, 4. Adam Wilson, 5. Nick Jaggar (capt), 6. Joe Mitchell, 7. Ryan Hall, 8. James Hurtley, 9. Ernest Boafo, 10. Tom Matthews, 11. Daniel Naidole. Subs: 12. James Sutcliffe (for Brown, 68), 14. Ben Thornton (not used), 15. Craig Thompson (for Boafo, 59), 16. Luke Gibson (not used), 17. Ben Charlesworth (for Wilson, 17).

Nostell Miners Welfare (blue/blue/blue): 1. Jamie Ord, 2. Glen O’Gara, 3. Mitchell Pearson, 4. Craig Tonkinson, 5. Toby Rutter (capt), 6. Wayne Ball, 7. Adam Knight, 8. Darren Rushton, 9. Graham Marchant, 10. Danny Critchlow, 11. Nash Connolly. Subs: 12. Dave Nicholls (for Critchlow, 71), 14. Fidel Mhlolo (for Knight, 71), 15. Mick Brookes (for Connolly, 85).

Referee: James Bateman (South Yorkshire).
Assistants: James Bell (South Yorkshire) and Peter Sporne (South Yorkshire).

1-0 James Hurtley (31)
2-0 Tom Matthews (61)
3-0 Tom Matthews (63)

Brighouse: Daniel Naidole (YC, 71)
Nostell: Fidel Mhlolo (YC, 78)

Rocester 2 Long Eaton United 1

Saturday 8th December 2012
Rocester 2 Long Eaton United 1
FA Carlsberg Vase Third Round
At: Hillsfield
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (28 pages)
Weather: sunny, dry
Attendance: 147
Duration: first-half: 48:19; second-half: 49:00

The Romans continued their march towards Wembley with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Long Eaton United and now eagerly await Monday’s Fourth Round draw. Before the biggest crowd of the season for a competitive game at Hillsfield, they took the lead though Mensah Kinch just after the half-hour mark but Matt Savage equalised for the Blues in stoppage time. Savage then found the net again (wrong one this time) in the 64th minute and his own goal proved to be Rocester’s winner.

The phrase ‘the biggest game since…’ is often over-used and today it really did apply to Rocester’s biggest game in the FA Vase since the 1986/87 season. Back then, the Romans won six ties in progressing to the last 16 of the competition 25 years ago before bowing out against Garforth Town at Eastwood Hanley’s ground. That was their first season in the competition and since then successive Rocester teams haven’t able been able to emulate Alan Beaman’s side with just the odd highlight along the way.

This season’s Vase run began with a 2-1 win at Sporting Khalsa, with has been followed by victories over Castle Vale JKS (4-0 at Hillsfield), Bewdley Town (also 4-0 at Hillsfield) and Shepshed Dynamo (3-1 away). With potential Third Round opponents being holders Dunston UTS, Vase specialists Whitley Bay and AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Rocester were given a home tie against either Southam United or Long Eaton United. This much-postponed tie was finally settled as recently as Tuesday with Long Eaton winning 1-0 at Coventry Sphinx’s ground.

Visits by me to Hillsfield have been more frequent this season and, as usual, Secretary Barry Smith kindly provided me with a teamsheet and one was also pinned up next to the tea bar hatch. Today’s visit was my 15th to the ground which moves into joint-seventh position on the list of my most-visited alongside Altrincham’s Moss Lane and Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough.

1. Stafford Rangers (Marston Road) 604+
2. Sheffield United (Bramall Lane) 24
3. Stafford Town (Evans Park) 22
4= Aldershot (Recreation Ground) 17
4= Hednesford Town (Cross Keys old ground) 17
4= Port Vale (Vale Park) 17
7= Altrincham (Moss Lane) 15
7= Rocester (Hillsfield) 15
7= Sheffield Wednesday (Hillsborough) 15
10= Bath City (Twerton Park) 14
10= Hednesford Town (Keys Park new ground) 14
10= Wembley Stadium (old twin towers) 14

One day I’ll explain why the Blades, Shots and Owls feature in this ‘top 12’.

While there was a difference in league games played and points gained, the points-per-game-average (1.5 v 1.7) showed a similarity in league fortunes this season between Rocester (13th in the Midland Alliance with 21 points from 14 games) and Long Eaton (10th in the Northern Counties East league Premier Division with 34 points from 20 games).

As Rocester’s last two games were abandoned and a trip to Coventry Sphinx postponed, they were without Darren Bullock and Jack Langston who both had not been able to complete their suspensions in time to feature this afternoon. Craig Holland was at the game today as he begins his recovery from a broken leg while leading scorer Edwin Akenkorah was only fit enough for a place amongst the substitutes.

Rocester (in amber and black) got the game underway attacking the mill end in the first half and had the ball in the back of the net after just 58 seconds. Mensah Kinch flicked the ball into the path of Ryan Grocott who fired home, only to be flagged offside.

Chris Sterling sent a decent chance wide of the target from Ryan Pirrie’s pass before Long Eaton gave the Romans a couple of warning shots. On the quarter hour, Danny Gordon broke down the left into area but Richard Froggatt got down to save the resulting shot. Matt Savage was also given the space to get forward with the ball and he fired wide past the diving Froggatt.

The Romans, however, took the lead in the 33rd minute with a big slice of good fortune. From a move down the left, Sterling on the left side of the area shot towards got and the ball cannoned off Kinch and flew into the left side of the net. This was the first goal that Long Eaton had conceded in this year’s Vase.

Froggatt did well to keep out a low shot from Gordon but Long Eaton equalised in first-half stoppage time. Carl Allen headed a deep left-wing cross from Kial Thurman out for a corner which was delivered into the area by Gordon. The ball was partially cleared to Michael Armstrong who crossed it back into the area for Savage to head home.

Rocester threatened early in the second half and Grocott sent a 25-yarder over the bar.

Just after the hour mark, Kinch on the left hit an angled shot towards the near post where Long Eaton goalkeeper Scott Miles saved at the expense of a corner. Grocott delivered it to the near post where Savage, under pressure from Darren Alexander, could only deflect the ball into his own net.

Sat in the stand during the second half, I couldn’t help being impressed by the encouragement given by three supporters near me: “C’mon Rocester, you can do it, get another goal”. Like them I wanted a third goal to settle the nerves.

That third goal almost came in the 80th minute. Grocott found Nick Ward who drove against the bar from 30 yards out. The ball flew into the area and dropped agonisingly out for a goal kick.

Needing just one goal to send the tie into extra time, Long Eaton forced Rocester to defend during the closing stages. Danny Chambers sent a free header wide of the near post from Gordon’s corner and, as the visitors threw men forward, Jacob Webster hooked a shot over the bar.

Long Eaton had one last opportunity in stoppage time but Froggatt leapt to hold a long throw propelled into a packed area. And that was it.

The win pocketed the Romans £1500 in prize money and they can look forward to exemption to the Second Round of next year’s competition (if it follows the same pattern as this season).

Rocester (amber and black stripes / black / black): 1. Richard Froggatt, 2. Ryan Pirrie, 3. Carl Allen, 4. Joe Rogers, 5. Wayne Johnson (capt), 6. Chris Sterling, 7. Nick Ward, 8. Dean Bromley, 9. Mensah Kinch, 10. Adam Swain, 11. Ryan Grocott. Subs: 12. Darren Alexander (for Bromley, 59), 14. Dan McLeod (for Grocott, 90+3), 15. Robert Perks (not used), 16. Darren Leonard (not used), 17. Edwin Ahenkorah (for Kinch, 74).

Long Eaton United (red/red/red): 1. Scott Miles, 2. Mark Littlewood, 3. Adam Holmes, 4. Michael Armstrong (capt), 5. Kial Thurman, 6. Jacob Webster, 7. Shay Wiggins, 8. Darryl Hawkins, 9. Matt Savage, 10. Kelvin Mushambi, 11. Danny Gordon. Subs: 12. Danny Chambers (for Hawkins, 72), 14. Zak Hilton (for Wiggins, 78), 15. Cameron Martin (for Mushambi, 82).

Referee: J. Hull (Bramhall).
Assistants: D. Deakin (Bramhall) and W. Smith (Stockport).

1-0 Mensah Kinch (33)
1-1 Matt Savage (45+2)
2-1 Matt Savage (64 og)

Rocester: Nick Ward (YC, 61)
Long Eaton: Michael Armstrong (YC, 66), Mark Littlewood (YC, 78), Jacob Webster (YC, 90+2)

Heath Hayes 0 Gornal Athletic 2

Tuesday 4th December 2012
Heath Hayes 0 Gornal Athletic 2
Baker Joiner Midland Alliance
At: Coppice Colliery Ground
Kick-off: 7-45 pm (delayed until 8-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (24 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 58
Duration (45): first-half: 49:06; second-half: 49:10

Where do I start with this incident-packed game? Floodlight problems, Heath Hayes goalkeeper sent off in the 10th minute, Gornal reduced to nine men, seven bookings, four different captains or a goal in each half clinched the points for the visitors? The result was certainly tough on Heath Hayes who looked a better side than one near the foot of the Baker Joiner Midland Alliance table.

Of the local games on tonight, this one appealed the most. Postponed last Tuesday, it pitted Heath Hayes looking to pick-up points to move up the table and Alliance newboys Gornal Athletic who were unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season. And, the Coppice Colliery Ground is a nice place to visit as well.

Though 11 points clear of basement side Ellesmere Rangers, Heath Hayes (21st position with 14 points from 17 games) went into this game in second-from-bottom position in the table. They had lost their last four league games including a 5-3 defeat at Tividale on Saturday.

I saw visitors Gornal lift the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division shield back in May ( which earned a place for this season in the Midland Alliance. They lost their opening game 5-1 at Rocester and since then have been unbeaten in their last 12 league games to occupy seventh position with 26 points from 13 games. Gornal trailed leaders Stratford Town by 17 points with five games in hand.

Briefly the pitch at the ground runs lengthway from the entrance with no access behind the far goal. All the facilities are down the left-hand side including three stands and a tea bar. A teamsheet was displayed outside the chaning rooms.

Drama before the game centered around two of the eight floodlight pylons not working (photo right) and as a result kick-off was delayed while the problem was rectified.

Eventually, 15 minutes later than scheduled, Gornal (in yellow and green) got the game underway attacking the entrance end of the Coppice Colliery Ground in the first half.

Both sides created chances during the opening exchanges and Gornal’s goalkeeper Matt Martin, deputising for James Pemberton, produced a couple of decent saves to keep out headers both from Lee Smith. The second save kept out a bullet header from Leadrun Dunlevy’s corner. In between Martin’s two saves, Gornal defender Curtis Tilt sent a free header over the bar from a right-wing corner delivered by Lee Wherton.

Then, the game erupted into life in the 10th minute, if it hadn’t already, with a hotly-disputed decision by referee Kevin Allsopp which left Heath Hayes fuming. Dave Meese put Rion Francis-Mills clear in the area only for the Gornal striker to be brought down by Adam Lane. The challenge resulted in a penalty and a red card for the unfortunate goalkeeper. After a few minutes delay, Ben Maddox went in goal and Wherton hammered home from the spot to give Gornal a 13th-minute lead.

Lane was sent off when I last visited Heath Hayes in October for the Staffs Senior Cup tie against Rocester and someone commented that tonight’s red card was his third of the season.

My initial view of the sending off of the goalkeeper didn’t contradict the referee as Lane appeared to deny a goalscoring opportunity. Maybe my eyes were focussed on Lane and Francis-Mills as ‘Grumpydwarf’ and ‘Coxey’ pointed out at half-time that, in their option, a covering defender had got back to potentially clear any shot from the striker. A yellow and not red card?

Undeterred, Heath Hayes continued to create the better chances and, in the 17th minute, Matt Martin produced a diving save to keep out a downward header from Brad Grice. As someone from Gornal commented, “Matt Martin, man of the match so far”.

My thoughts then turned to a small green raffle ticket ‘404, wondering if my luck was in tonight – no raffle wins since picking up a Cheryl Cole poster and head massager at Aberystwyth University back in March – and none tonight!

Mr Allsopp returned to centre stage with bookings for Gornal duo Pete Wood and Lee Wherton which were to prove crucial. Wherton, the Gornal captain, was sent off in the 32nd minute for retaliation following a foul by Adam Wood which earned the Heath Hayes midfielder a booking. The assessor sat behind me in the stand continued to make copious notes!

It was now 10 v 10.

Lifted, perhaps, by shouts of “Blues, keep working hard”, Heath Hayes finished the first half on the attack. They should have been awarded a penalty following a challenge inside the area on Smith. In stoppage time, Smith saw a shot blocked by a defender and Wallis had another attempt saved at the near post by Matt Martin.

Both sides demanded penalties early in the second half for fouls first on Chris Rabone and then David Waple. When Dave Meese went down inside the home area minutes later someone wondered: “either a penno or a dive?”. Neither!

The drama continued. Mr Allsopp then required brief treatment for what looked like a thigh problem. As a qualified but no longer registered referee, I did wonder for a moment if I’d be needed.

Gornal doubled their lead in the 60th minute with a goal on the break. The clearance of Smith’s long throw allowed Rabone to break upfield down the left all the way to the Heath Hayes area. He sent angled shot towards the far right post which hit backtracking John Littler before entering the net.

Joy for Gornal turned to further worries three minutes later when Wood, now wearing the captain’s armband, picked up a second booking for a foul on Dunlevy. Now 10 v 9, Curtis Tilt took over the ‘cursed’ armband.

Perhaps to the relief of the referee this was the last key incident on an eventful evening.

Could Heath Hayes make their one man advantage count? They certainly gave it a go. Smith sent a free header over the bar and Wood did the same in the space of a couple of minutes. Matt Martin continued to thwart the homesters by tipping over a cross-sum-shot from lively substitute Ryan Burgwin.

Pressure on the visitors continued and, from Burgwin’s long-throw, Andrew Davis saw a shot blocked by a defender and the impressive Matt Martin kept out a header from Grice.

Three other Midland Alliance fixtures survived the weather: Alvechurch 4 Ellesmere Rangers 2, Causeway United 1 Tipton Town 3 and Highgate United 1 Stratford Town 2. The wins lifted Gornal up to sixth position in the table while Heath Hayes remained second from bottom.

Heath Hayes (blue and white stripes / blue / white): 1. Adam Lane, 2. Brad Grice, 3. John Littler, 4. Andrew Davis, 5. Ben Maddox, 6. Adam Wood, 7. Leadrun Dunlevy, 8. Lee Smith, 9. Tom Green, 10. David Waple (capt), 11. Karl Wallis. Subs: 12. Harry Phillips (not used), 14. Adam Robinson (for Littler, 78), 15. Ryan Burgwin (for Wallis, 67), 16. Chris Deakin (for Green, 67), 17. Hayden Marklew (not used).

Gornal Athletic (Yellow/green/green): 1. Matt Martin, 2. Kristian Green, 3. Pete Wood, 4. Scott Moore, 5. Curtis Tilt, 6. Gurdeep Wilkhoo, 7. Dave Meese, 8. Lee Wherton (capt), 9. Calum Martin, 10. Rion Francis-Mills, 11. Chris Rabone. Subs: 12. Ravi Sangha (not used), 14. Matt Weyman (for Rabone, 88), 15. Kieron Bennett (for Francis-Mills, 88), 16. Ricky Nicholls (for Calum Martin, 90+3).

Referee: Kevin Allsopp (Stafford).
Assistants: James Cox and B. Tudgay.

0-1 Lee Wherton (13 pen)
0-2 John Littler (60 og)

Heath Hayes: Adam Lane (RC, 10), Adam Wood (YC, 32), Karl Wallis (YC, 36)
Gornal: Pete Wood (YC, 22), Lee Wherton (YC, 27), Lee Wherton (YC/RC, 32), Pete Wood (YC/RC, 64), Chris Rabone (YC, 67)

Irlam 1 West Didsbury & Chorlton 1

Saturday 1st December 2012
Irlam 1 West Didsbury & Chorlton 1
North-West Counties League Division One
At: Silver Street, Irlam
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1-50 (48 pages)
Weather: very cold, dry
Attendance: 45
Duration: first-half: 45:50; second-half: 46:45

For a moment in second-half stoppage time I thought I’d seen something occur at a match for the very first time – a goalkeeper scoring in open play. Trailing to a nice bit of clinical finishing by West’s Tre Baldwin Willis in first-half stoppage time, Irlam threw everyone bar one defender forward in a bid to grab a last-gasp equaliser. Goalkeeper Jamie Brewer headed Chris Rowan’s corner towards goal and Theo Bailey Jones got the final touch before the ball entered the net.

Around eight hours before that equaliser, I got a bit of a surprise on opening the curtains; instead of an expected frozen winter wonderland, I was greeted by weak sunshine and light rain. I had thought my only option was going to be a 3G pitch so it became a question of which direction to head especially as a possible 2 pm kick-off in Sutton Coldfield ended up being out of reach due to an overrunning family commitment.

Twitter again provided valuable information and a message from Irlam FC (@IrlamFC) persuaded me to head up the M6 to make a first visit to Silver Street in over 21 years:

1st team game is on 3pm kickoff at sliver street vs west didsbury and chorlton

Like a lot of grounds I visited at night during the early 1990s, I’ve got little recollection of my previous visit to Silver Street on Tuesday 10th September 1991 to watch now defunct Irlam Town and Congleton Town in the NPL Division One which finished 5-3. With no photos to look at, my old plan of the ground shows that the three stands which stood back then have disappeared as has the clubhouse. I’m enjoying returning to some of these long since visited grounds and Irlam’s home was no exception.

I approached from M6 Junction 21 along the A57 and B5320. After passing Irlam railway station, I knew I needed to turn left but found street signs difficult to spot. Most helpfully, immediately after passing the Co-op, a sign pointed the way down Silver Street to ‘IRLAM FC’ and ‘Animals in Distress sanctuary’.

The programme today included the history of Irlam FC, which was formed as Mitchell Shackleton FC in 1969 by a group of employees working for Mitchell, Shackleton and Company Limited, a well established engineering company based in Patricroft. The club changed name to Irlam MS, then moved to Silver Street in 2003 and subsequently changed name again to Irlam FC. The club joined the North-West Counties League in 2008.

I saw West Didsbury & Chorlton play their first-ever North-West Counties League game back in August when they lost 3-2 to Formby ( We didn’t know at the time how good that narrow defeat was as Formby began the season with nine straight league victories.

League table wise, Irlam (12 points from 15 games) went into game in 16th position with West Didsbury (26 points from 16 games) pushing for promotion in fourth position, seven points behind leaders AFC Darwen with a game in hand.

Teams were announced over the tannoy, the turnstile man went out of his way to sell me a programme (I was an early arrivee) and the tea bar was a nice place to relax out of the cold before the game. Just before kick-off, I was approached by a fellow traveller, Colin, who had made his way up from Birmingham. Nice to meet you.

West Didsbury (in white and black) got the game underway attacking the entrance end in the first half – left to right in relation to a seat in the stand.

Defences were very much on top from the off and the first decent scoring opportunity didn’t come until the 11th minute. A good move by Irlam set up Theo Bailey Jones who forced West’s goalkeeper Ben Simpson to dive to his right to hold a low shot.

As the half wore on, I felt that the touch-tackling visitors were starting to get on top and, in the 36th minute, Tre Baldwin Willis picked up the ball in space on the left and fired low across the face of goal. Lee Shillito also shot across the face of the Irlam goal and wide of the far right post a few minutes later.

It looked like the first half would end goalless until the visitors took the lead in stoppage time. Baldwin Willis got clear and confidently hammered a well-struck shot past Jamie Brewer.

For the second half, I stood between the two dugouts and saw West Didsbury continue to threaten after the restart. Shillito stayed onside as he broke down the right and cut in to hit a low shot which Brewer parried at the near post.

Just before the hour mark, Callum Jones latched onto a pass from Anthony Potts down the middle and poked the ball past the onrushing Brewer just past the unguarded goal.

The Irlam defence was certainly forced to work hard to keep their side in contention. Gareth Thomas played the ball to Danny Summers who took it into the area with two players unmarked at the far post. But Irlam’s Jordan Smith blocked the cross amid unsuccessful appeals for handball.

With 20 minutes remaining, I started to feel that West’s one goal advantage might not be enough especially when Irlam really started to pose problems in what was a really absorbing contest.

A corner from Chris Rowan wasn’t completely cleared and Liam Morrison drove low past the right-hand post.

“Millsy, keep us going, pressure,” shouted the home bench, “keep working”. An Irlam equaliser was a distinct possibility. Yet, while they were pushing forward, the defence continued to work hard.

Irlam made a third and final chance with Liam Pennington replacing Morrison in the 83rd minute (photo right).

With time running out, Rowan’s corner fell to Pennington at the far post who saw his shot cleared. Paul Monk tried to put Bailey Jones clear but Simpson raced out of his area to boot the ball out of the ground.

Dramatically, Irlam gained one last chance to equalise from a corner. Everyone bar one defender and one attacking packed the area including Brewer wearing a bright orange top. Rowan delivered the ball into the area, Brewer headed it goalwards and it ended up in the net. Bailey Jones was credited with the equaliser – a just reward for the hard work put in by the home side.

This was a fitting end to an enjoyable, though cold, afternoon at Silver Street.

Irlam (blue/blue/blue): 1. Jamie Brewer, 2. Paul Monk, 3. Barry Lomas, 4, Steven Mills (capt), 5. Connor Braithwaite, 6. Jordan Smith, 7. Mark Ratcliffe, 8. Liam Morrison, 9. Richard Chetcuti, 10. Darron Green, 11. Theo Bailey Jones. Subs: 12. Chris Monaghan (for Chetcuti, 69), 13. Chris Rowan (for Ratcliffe, ht), 14. Liam Pennington (for Morrison, 83), 16. Ryan Hutchinson (not used).

West Didsbury & Chorlton (white with black sleeves / black / black): 1. Ben Simpson, 2. Callum Jones, 3. Scott Jones, 4. Callum Schofield, 5. Anthony Potts, 6. Mike Aston (capt), 7. Danny Summers, 8. Mark Woodcock, 9. Tre Baldwin Willis, 10. Lee Shillito, 11. Lewis Schofield. Subs: 12. Gareth Thomas (for Baldwin Willis, 60), 14. Conrad Britton (for Summers, 79), 15. Tommy Walsh (not used), 16. Matt Eckersley (not used), 17. Paul Lewis (not used).

Referee: Abid Hussain (Oldham).
Assistants: D. Crompton and A. Hodgkinson.

0-1 Tre Baldwin Willis (45+1)
1-1 Theo Bailey Jones (90+1)

Irlam: Darron Green (YC, 60)
West Didsbury: & Chorlton: Mark Woodcock (YC, 61)