Saturday, 30 April 2016

30/04/2016 Review: Salford City vs Workington

Salford City 3-2 Workington (Evo-Stik Premier Division, Playoff Final)
Moor Lane

Match two of two for Pint of Football Reviews today, and this time it is the main event and a thrilling game at Moor Lane, the home of Salford City. Possibly the most recently-famous club in the non-league, The Ammies are known for being the club taken over by Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers (who now own 50% of the club). This reign has so far brought success both on and off the pitch for the club, who were promoted last season and looked for a second successive season in which they could climb the non-league ladder. With a prize of a spot in the National League North next season at Stake, Workington were the eager visitors this afternoon and the club which Grant Holt started with were looking to upset the Class of 92' by taking the spoils in what proved to be a classic. My prediction would be for Salford to win by a close margin- and little did I know how close of a margin it would actually be! Having left the Macron Stadium at 2:25pm from my first game of the day, I bombed down the M61 to arrive at Moor Lane with just a couple of minutes to spare. Having seen pre-match Tweets from the club stating to get there early, I feared I wouldn't get in. Luckily, I did get into the ground and I was astounded at the amount of fans at the game- there must've been a couple of thousand there.

Room for a little one?
I shuffled my way through the Salford faithful and got around to the outdoor bar to join the queue, a move which seemed to bring me into disrepute from the home fans. As I crossed the main stand in the ground, donning a yellow scarf (which I purchased at my trip to Sporting Khalsa), a selection of fans started to shout out "You've only come to see the Salford!"- I was unsure of this chant was aimed directly at me, so I just put my head down and carried on moving! Whilst in the queue, I just about saw between a couple of heads that the home side had fallen behind within 4 minutes. Not the start they wanted- Kyle May had silenced the fans momentarily, and caused people to remember that this game wasn't going to be a walk in the park today. Salford 0-1 Workington.

1-0 down after 4 minutes- the fans weren't happy
Despite finishing in the final Playoff space in the League, Workington stunned runners up Blyth Spartans on Tuesday night to set up this tie and they were clearly intent on doing the same again here today. Whilst the game took a few minutes to settle down I took a minute to pop into the Club Shop and bought myself another scarf to add to my collection, which now includes Khalsa, Harrogate Railway and Salford City. When I came out I found myself a decent spot to stand with my pint and I was just in time for the first equaliser of the day. Only 15 minutes had passed by and and it was left-back O'Halloran who headed home to the delight of the majority. Salford 1-1 Workington. The game was already proving to be entertaining and goal-filled, just like Workington's Tuesday night thriller which ended 4-3 thanks to an Allison hat-trick.

Every cloud Salford, every cloud
Now that they were back on level terms, Salford didn't really take the initiative and ended up sitting on the back foot again, which in all fairness was due to some cutting passes from the away side. Eventually, the pressure took its toll and when the ball came out to the left-hand side of the goal, a cross-shot sizzled across the 6-yard box and it was Arnison who restored the lead with just 20 minutes played. Salford 1-2 Workington. All of a sudden the importance of the fixture seemed to dawn on some fans, as the pre-match jokes and laughed faded and all vocal efforts were focussed on cheering on The Ammies. The first-half settled down a bit after the early flutter of goals, and a bit of solidarity from the defences meant that there were to be no more goals in this 45. Not that there wasn't the odd half-chance though, one looping header from a tight angle almost landed in the Workington net, and some cracking skill from a travelling midfielder was met by a crunching tackle, ending with a 17-player gathering which had it not been for the scale of the game could've concluded with something more than just a modest parting and a booking. Salford continued to pressure, but the whistle soon came around for half-time it was the home side who had the work to do in the second-half.

Potential future Salford stars are unmoved by the lads on the pitch so far
It's not every day that you attend a non-league fixture with sporting legends, so I decided to use the break to go over and see if Gary Neville and Paul Scholes would be willing to get a picture with me to have as a further souvenir for my Blogging ventures. A queue had already formed with youngsters and adults alike getting Manchester United merch signed, having selfies and even just showing their appreciation for the Ex-England players and Champion's League winners. They were both very nice chaps, and had they not had so much attention I would've loved to talk to them for more than a couple of seconds and quiz them about their future plans for the club.

A great "Pint of Football" moment right here...
And another!
With the crowds coming thick and fast to meet the co-owners, I absconded back to the standing area and prepared for the sides to rejoin the field. Surely enough, the Salford lads came out with all guns blazing and they looked like they really wanted to make the comeback. The belief was there, the pressure was constant and the fans were really getting behind them- the perfect concoction for when you are up against it.

The "Fast" Bar could never live up to its name on a day like today
As the game got more edgy and time started to run down, the fans were flooding to the bar to buy preparation celebratory/commiseration drinks and one fan shouted out in the most broad of Mancunian accents, "Fuck off, soft arse number 6! Fat twat, you are fucking shiiiiite!"- probably the most hilarious and well put piece of fan abuse I'd heard this season.

Speaking of "soft arses"
Joking aside, Salford were playing some great football and it looked like the equaliser must be on its way. Danny Webber, who joined Salford from League Two Accrington Stanley, was replaced by Gareth Seddon- a man who was playing upfront with Jamie Vardy for Fleetwood just 5 years ago. In my attempt to be ready for the post-show trophy presentation, I left pitch-side for the bar and I'm sure you can guess what happened next. Just as I was handing over the money for my drink, the roar from outside told me that Salford had equalised again! I went out as quickly as possible and heard that it was a goal from the midfield, not that anyone cared who it was- the fact was that it was game on with 10 minutes to go. Salford 2-2 Workington. City had took Ashton United to extra time and won 3-1 in the Semi-final, and it seemed as though we'd be in for another instalment of extra time. Salford wanted to end it sooner though, and pressed for the late winner. Chances came and went, Workington had a couple of counter-attacks too and everybody was on their feet for the nervy ending. And then, the moment of magic, the moment of the season and the moment of Salford City's history happened. The ball came in from a throw-in on the right, it was flapped by the keeper into the path of an attacker who headed it on to the post, before coming to Jordan Hulme who stretched out a volley from point-blank range, which the keeper kept out somehow, but only to palm it back to Hulme who this time sealed his place in the record books. An absolutely magic moment for Salford in the 89th minute, and a soul-crushing one for a Workington side who had looked capable of stealing themselves just a minute before. Salford 3-2 Workington.

It doesn't matter what level you play at, this moment is what football is all about
With all the excitement, I forget what else happened for the remaining 4 minutes of added time- but none of that is important really because Salford kept going until the final whistle and when the referee blew for full-time, the almighty Salford roar bellowed through Moor Lane and fans overcome with excitement flooded on to the pitch to celebrate a second successive promotion.

In a career full of highlights, the Class of 92' I'm sure will be thrilled now to have given this club the foundation to achieve their own highlights. A club which were sitting in the midst of the Evo-Stik are now going to be a National League North team next year, which means that they will be on Football Manager! How exciting for them.

The fans are chuffed
And so is Neville
Time to party, lads!
Back on the pitch, one last time
A nice moment for Danny Webber

30/04/2016 Review: Bolton Wanderers vs Hull City

Bolton Wanderers 1-0 Hull City (Championship)
Macron Stadium

Match one of two for Pint of Football Reviews today, and a first ever trip to the Macron Stadium (which I still refer to as the Reebok, for old time sake). Being a game picked to be shown live on Sky Sports, this 12:30pm kick-off allowed me to take my Ground-hopping adventures to a new high, with the potential of attending back-to-back games in the same day. Being a Macc Town fan, I want to start by bringing back some happier memories I have of the two sides in action today. The first time I saw Bolton in action was when they were fighting for Premier League survival back in 2012, and they visited Moss Rose for an FA Cup ding-dong of a clash which eventually ended 2-2. A great result for the Silkmen and also the occasion of the best live goal I've ever seen. Arnaud Mendy's volley is worth a watch if you've not seen it before. The 2011/12 Season also saw Macc come across Hull City and this Capital One Cup First Round Fixture resulted in a famous 2-0 victory for the Silkmen at the KC. Not bad!

That's enough history for one day, let's get back to the present
Arriving at the ground at exactly 12:30, I didn't really have the time I'd wanted to scout around the stadium that I'd been eager to visit for a while, and so I headed straight to the car park and then made a mild jog towards the entrance. As this wasn't my usual non-league cup of tea, I had to actually spend time finding out which entrance to enter by and then even more time finding my seat.
I accidentally walked in on what looked like the briefing for the police. At the ready, lads
The visitors today were The Tigers, who were sitting pretty in 4th place in the Championship, and they arrived knowing that they were already guaranteed a spot in the Playoffs. With an almost certainty that they would be facing Derby County in the two-legged fight for a spot at Wembley, the final two games for Hull would be hopefully about building momentum and not picking up any injuries or suspensions. For Wanderers, however, this would be their last game as a Championship club for the time being, as they had already been relegated at the beginning of the month. For them, it would be nice just to pick up a bit of confidence and attempt to end a run of 14 matches without a win. With financial calamity hitting Bolton since they fell out of the Premier League, Bolton have been on a terrible downwards spiral which will see them follow in the footsteps of Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool and many others in falling much further than expected. My pre-match prediction was for a 2-1 Hull victory.

Thankfully, I only missed the first few seconds
The thing that I love about the larger grounds in the country, baring in mind I'm used to watching teams from the Evo-Stik divisions, is the first sight you get when you walk through the tunnel and walk into a stadium which contains history, memories and 22 players ready to fight for victory, and the Macron (Reebok!) was no different. The away crowd were singing loud and proud, the cameras were out to capture the live footage and the managers were yet to sit down and watch the match unfold, it was a good first image to enter into the game. I took my seat after standing and absorbing the view for a minute, and no sooner had I done so did we get the first moment of many to come from the big man upfront, Emile Heskey. A throw-in was launched up to the big target man who rumbled past his defender and tried to knock the ball into space down the line. Unfortunately for the former England star he fell over and was met by a hail of laughter and sarcastic comments- and that was just from his own fans!

Besides the odd Heskey-slip, the Bolton crowds haven't had much to laugh about lately
It is worth pointing out that I am a big fan of Emile Heskey, having followed his England career and seen him play (and score!) many a time for Liverpool in Europe, back in the days when European football was on poor-folk TV. Even in his prime, the 38-year old powerhouse from Leicester had never been posted as a thriving goalscorer and it seemed odd to me that a team would choose to use him as a sole striker playing so high up the pitch and with little support, but I suppose that may be because of a lack of other options for Bolton at the moment. In fairness, from the start of the game he posed a threat to the Hull City defenders and at times they couldn't handle his hold-up play, but with Zach Clough and Darren Pratley often being late to the party to aid his play, it was often a cause of much frustration amongst fans. One fan had already turned to his son during the early proceedings and said "I wash my hands". However, from my point of view it seemed to be that Hull hadn't had the best of starts either, with only Akpom coming close with a header, and it could well be one for the taking if they could rally round and play for the fans. On the 20 minute mark, Bolton had a great chance and were very unlucky not to score. First, a shot from Pratley was well saved by Jakupovic, to which the rebound fell to Clough who's shot was blocked and then it finally came to Neil Danns outside of the box- he lined up a shot and just dragged it wide. Hull were looking slightly frustrated at the way they'd struggled to grasp the game in the opening half and as the clock kept ticking, the game began to get physical. After Robert Snodgrass had a tussle with with Bolton's Wilson and Darren Pratley was ridiculed for a tumble in the opposition's penalty area, there was a crunch tackle on Heskey which led to the ball being kicked out- and a chance for everybody to take a minute to calm down a bit.

A water-break came at the right time as tempers started to rise
Having already seen Bolton take on Port Vale in pre-season back in July, I had been impressed by Osede Prieto (aka Derik) and I was looking forward to seeing how he had developed. When I watched him play at centre-back he looked confident, strong and he was also capable of picking a pass. At the time, I had thought after him as a young Iván Campo- and not just because he was also a former Real Madrid player with a funky hair-do. However, today he was playing as a holding midfielder and he quite simply looked lost in the midst of the action. When Bolton won a throw-in, they often ended up throwing it to him when you could tell that he didn't want it, and his passing wasn't what I'd remembered- perhaps the Galácticos effect had worn off? As half-time approached, Hull City won a free-kick in a promising place and Snodgrass swung his left-footed drive over the wall and it hit the top of the crossbar and bounced out for a goal kick. Unlucky, 0-0 at the break.
Time for a pie
With 15 minutes to grab some food, I quickly headed to see what was available. When in a long queue, I tend to change my mind so many times that I never know what to get- I mean, footy match food is all so so good! Having started at the back of the queue as a "Pie and Pint" guy, I eventually changed my mind to getting the cheaper Burger and Soft Drink Meal Deal, but then when the lady said "next please" I made a last minute change again and asked for a tea and a Meat and Potato Pie. She told me there was only Peppered Steak left, which therefore rendered my last 5 minutes of internal debate as mute. I grabbed my pie, which was actually delicious, and headed back to my seat where I watched a half-time penalty shoot-out between two local kiddies teams. When a Youngster slotted home the winning penalty against Bolton's mascot, I was treated to the loudest cheer I'd heard so far this afternoon.

"No alcohol beyond this point"- you wouldn't get none of this garbage in the non-league!
Another excitement came for the home fans at the end of half-time, when the result of the "Golden Gamble" came. This was a random lottery-style draw in which one row of seats within the ground would win free pies- only in the North! After the climax of fun, the teams jogged back out and got into position for 45 minutes which would hopefully at least bring a couple more chances. The first ten minutes were as tense and slow-paced as the majority of the first half, but there was one great chance for Danns and had he hit his shot closer to either post it would've gone in. Fortunately for the away keeper, it was within his reach and he pulled out a good save. This piece of play was encouraging for the home fans, who were seeing their side tear apart a top Championship club at times. The only issue was that for each time they pressed, Hull looked a danger on the counter and Bolton often relied on the solid defensive efforts of Wheater to prevent Akpom the chance to run into the Wanderers box.

It just wasn't Hull's day, and it was about to get even worse
A moment of comedy fell upon the ground next, one which I'm sure had the viewers watching at home laughing too. A large pink balloon blew on to the pitch before a Bolton goal-kick and the referee halted play to spend the next few moments half-heartedly following the balloon around, which resulted in a universal build-up of cheers until the moment where he penultimately caught and popped the balloon- "Whaaaaaaaay". Shortly after this, we were treated to some football-related action as Akpom blasted a rifling effort on to the underside of the bar- a chance that you felt at the time could have made the difference. It certainly was one that they would rue, as Bolton's break was just around the corner. Bolton subbed off Heskey, to which around a dozen people gave him a standing ovation, and he was replaced by youngster George Newell. The lad came on and looked lively, popping the ball about and looking lively with runs at the Hull defence. Wasting no time in taking advantage of the chance in tempo, Lawrie Wilson centred a ball through the crowded box and another substitute, Stephen Dobbie, slid home from a few yards out. Bolton 1-0 Hull. The Tigers made attempts to get back into the game from this killer blow, bringing on the big guns from the bench. Aluko and Diamé replaced Akpom and Maloney and with this Bolton shut up shop to sit back and digest 20 minutes of pressure from the visitors. With one eye on the clock, and a second match to get to, I edged closer towards the exit and was just in view of the Bolton goal by the time the extra time was indicated- which was all that I really needed to see. Hull couldn't take their chances though and Bolton ended their winless run to secure a pride-restoring 3-points. 

I quickly ran back to my car and set up my sat nav to take me to Moor Lane, which stated I would arrive at 2:55pm. I knew I'd be cutting it fine, and having already read on Twitter that the Salford game would probably sell out, I wasn't even guaranteed to get in once I arrived. Being the ground-hopping adventurer I am though, I took off to go and see some more of the game that I love.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

26/04/2016 Review: Coalville Town vs Basford United

Coalville Town 5-0 Basford United (Evo-Stik First Division South, Playoff Semi-Final)
Owen Street

Ahh, the Playoffs. That time of the season where it's all or nothing. A whole season of consistency and form, culminating in a one-off fixture in which you cannot afford a bad day. After watching the Conference Playoff Final at Wembley last season between Grimsby Town and Bristol Rovers, I can honestly say that the only people who enjoy them are the neutrals. Being a Macc Town fan, I have never had anything to do with a Playoff match with my team, meaning that I can freely attend them and watch other nervy sets of fans go through the motions. At the top level, Playoff Semi-Finals are made up of two legs and would have a home and away tie, followed by a trip to Wembley for the winners. At the foot of the ladder though, it is much more harsh in its format. One match, hosted by the higher finishing teams from the league, decides the game and the final is 4 days later at the ground of the highest league-ranked team. On first glance, it seems ruthless and befitting of the team finishing in 2nd place in the Evo-Stik Divisions. However the more I think about it, the more I think that it is in fact the best way. So often in the professional leagues, the team that sneaks into the Playoffs last minute wins them because of their decent late form. The difference being here that the teams who earn the top spots (2nd and 3rd in Evo-Stik) will have home advantage.
3rd Place Coalville Town welcomed 4th Place Basford United
Not that I'm saying home advantage is the be-all and end-all of being a success, as this fixture has proven already this season. When Coalville visited Basford they beat them 1-0, and in the return fixture Basford came to Owen Street and also won by a single goal. With that being said, I had predicted this tie to be closely fought and I expected a 0-0 or 1-1 draw which would lead to penalties.
I expected the weather to put a dampener or the proceedings
Living in Stoke, I was slap bang in the middle of two Evo-Stik Playoff games and had to choose between a trip to Coalville in the Southern Division, or a drive up North to watch Salford City take on local rivals Ashton. Needless to say that when it's snowing it is never a good idea to head Northbound! As their club badge would suggest, Coalville Town are nicknamed "The Ravens" and it seems fair to say that the club is looking to fly to new heights, having been runners up in the division in the 2013/14 and 2012/13 seasons and losing in the Playoffs. Basford United on the other hand are the new boys in the division and a seemingly possible achievement of back-to-back promotions was what the Nottinghamshire-based club would be dreaming of at this stage in the season. With Shaw Lane Aquaforce or Lincoln United to come in the final, the stage was set for a snowy April eve in the heart of rural England.

Big night, albeit a familiar scenario, for the Ravens
Only 3 days ago did the League come to a conclusion here at Owen Street and it was in the most dramatic of fashions. Stafford Rangers came to Coalville on Saturday afternoon needing just a point to secure the title. In the end, a 1-1 draw was enough to give Boro the trophy and also reassure the home side that they were as good as anyone in the division. United had ended their regular season with a 1-0 defeat against Romulus and had also held Stafford in the previous weekend. I arrived at the ground having never seen any images of what to expect (which is the way I like it, I'm a Grounhopper who doesn't like spoilers!). I was grateful to arrive early enough to get a parking space in the ground's car park and upon jumping out of my car I was instantly greeted by a local who simply zipped up his thick sports jacket and said to me "you're gonna be cold, young lad". I walked away from him and headed to the turnstile, where I paid up and bought myself a Programme to read at the bar pre-match. Not many had arrived as early as I, and those who had seemed to be away fans. My first impression of the ground was that it had, to put it nicely, certainly seen some action. A worn, but still decent, pitch stood upon me, which was surrounded by small green stands at three sides. Further in the background (as pictured above) was a fantastic looking clubhouse, which was still being finished, and so I swiftly headed to the old one for a beer.

Let the snooping begin
With the temperature plummeting, I joined the couple of dozen folk in the upstairs bar and sought out a couple to sit with and talk gibberish with. In an amazing case of coincidence, it turned out that the man and wife were Stokies and followed the mighty Kidsgrove Athletic, a team that I had previously visited and thoroughly enjoyed back in September. We got chatting and it turned out that they were also non-league enthusiasts who loved to visit teams around and about the Midlands. They had told me of their hopes for Blyth Spartans to host the Evo-Stik Northern Playoff Final against Salford/Ashton so that they could go up there for the weekend (which didn't happen, unfortunately for them).

The calm before the (snow) storm
I didn't hang around for too long, as I wanted to head out to get a good seat by the half-way line. I supped up my beer and headed out, passing the changing rooms on the way and a sudden late rush of fans entering the ground. I found a top notch seat and sat in anticipation of the game. It is worth noting a point of praise to Coalville, who played "You'll Never Walk Alone" before the game as a mark of respect to the Hillsborough Disaster. With the hail subsiding, the ref came out with the players and got the game rolling. Both sides looked to take control early on, with United's Kyle Nixon striking an ambitious 25-yard volley within the first few minutes of the game. At the other end a save from the keeper was called on, which wasn't enough as Alex Troke hit home an early opening goal- the perfect start for the home team. Coalville 1-0 Basford. The fans seemed fairly quiet to start with, and the only chants appeared to come from a few lads who stood behind Basford's goal. I, however, found myself planted in amongst the local Coalvillian youths and was subject to hearing the following exchange of conversation. One lad read aloud from his phone "Ali is out for the rest of the season", to which his mate questioned back to him, "Who for Coalville?"

A classic example of confused Midlands lingo, in banner-form
On Saturday, Rangers fans flooded to Owen Street to see the title-decider and the attendance was totalled at over 800. Today's modest 300+ was still a decent turnout and so far it was all action on the pitch, with the Ravens looking good on the ball and controlling the tempo well. Lee Torr at left-back had stood out for me so far- the number 3 had a great mixture of attacking and defensive work-rate, with the ability to pick out a pass and dribble past opposition players. And it was he who provided the play to grab the second goal, as he rifled a shot towards goal on the counter-attack to win a corner. The result was a free header from Woodward and the lead was doubled for the Ravens. Coalville 2-0 Basford. And within a minute of the second, Torr was at it again. A mazy run led to some good play down the left channel, and a half-hearted clearance from the Basford defence only fell to Danny Jeno who crisply fired in from 25-yards to put clear daylight between the sides with only 25 minutes gone. Coalville 3-0 Basford. I could only assume at this point that the fans were stunned to silence, as the whole ground seemed gob-smacked by the excellent start to the match from Coalville. The proverbial pin dropped when one guy balled out "Goooo onnnnnnn Coalville!", which raised a few chuckles. Basford kicked off again and again almost conceded instantly. A good save this time denied the destructive force of Town's attack. No more goals followed before the half-time whistle despite efforts from Torr, who continued to pull the strings. One chance almost fell to the away side on the stroke of half-time, but then the home side countered and became unlucky not to kill the game. The ref blew the whistle and brought a chance for the away side to regroup. I quickly headed up to the sole bar at the ground and joined the queue for a beer.

I never said it was an organised queue
Despite the stunning display here at the ground today, a lot of fans were still hung up on the events of Saturday. In one corner I heard somebody telling her friends about the Tweets that Stafford fans had been sending to wish them luck for the game tonight- and directly in front of me, a thirsty old chap was telling his pal that there were many more bar options at the weekend to accommodate the vast away support. Needless to say that when I got my pint, I took it back to the icy outdoors. I couldn't help but think back to the wise words of the man who greeted me when I arrived, and wished that I could see him again to ask to lend his gloves just whilst I drank my pint.

What a time to be alive
Alas, the second-half began and the floodlights came into play. The first ten minutes were subdued to say the least, as it seemed clear that Coalville were happy to play on the counter now and were ushering Basford to push forward. This plan worked well for them, as they broke quickly on a counter attack and won a penalty from an unusually competent referee. Troke stepped up to hit home his 2nd goal and Coalville's 4th- surely the clincher? Coalville 4-0 Basford.

Job done- time to grab a pie!
With the deal sealed, Basford had to try something new. The tactic they changed to seemed to work in some respects- as they picked up several yellow cards and managed to go 15 minutes without conceding many chances. This unsustainable method didn't last though, as the subs began to come on to the field and prevent any red cards appearing. The first of the substitutions seemed to take an age to be acknowledged, as one fan told everyone "He's been stood with board for 10 bloody minutes!", before adding "I bet battery is flat by now". The game continued to become bogged down in bad tackles and fatigue on both parts, but following a perking up from the fans we seemed to have a pick up in the pace for the last 20 minutes. The home fans shouted "we want five", which was met with one fan shouting back "we want one". Eventually, the fifth did come and it was yet again for the home side. Watson, a striker who looked lazy off the ball and immensely talented on it, rounded the keeper and had enough time to think before adding the final goal of the night. Coalville 5-0 Basford.

Whoever meets this hot Coalville side on Saturday should fear the burn 
As some fans started to leave, the away side did put in an effort to give the away fans at least one goal. Rueben Wiggins Thomas shot from 6 yards for Basford and was somehow denied a consolation by club captain Sean Bowles to preserve the clean sheet. I quickly checked Twitter to see that Salford had gone to extra time and Blyth had lost to Workington, meaning that my Saturday afternoon location was still to be confirmed (It has now been confirmed as Salford, after they won 3-1 AET). And with that, the final whistle blew and a large roar surrounded the ground. Coalville had done it, they'd made it to the final and were only one game away from the Evo-Stik Premier. I decided not to head back up to the cramped bar and instead rushed off to my car to begin the 45 mile trip back to Staffordshire, via Derbyshire.

Why does there always have to be some guy with a drum?
In fairness, I think that on a better day Basford would have given Coalville a run for their money. However, a long season of fighting hard to make the Playoffs had obviously taken its toll on one side more than the other and as I walked away from a ground that I'm pretty certain I'll visit again, all I can say to conclude is good luck to the Ravens for the final on Saturday.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

02/04/16 Review: Macclesfield Town vs Braintree Town

Macclesfield Town 3-1 Braintree Town (National League)
Moss Rose

Another day, another game at Moss Rose and thanks to my friend Will, we were high-rolling at the game today as Match Day diners for my Birthday. Very fancy! Waking up to the sound of rain, our first fear was that the game would be called off and our VIP experience would be drowned out. As well as it being my Birthday, it was also Macclesfield Town's official "Ladies Day" which meant the added excitement of free Prosecco and even the opportunity to have our nails done!

Putting the "Lad" in Ladies Day
We arrived at the ground at half 12 and took our seat with the other Match Day diners. After the delights of tomato soup and a beef dinner, I took a look through the programme as I waited for the majority to arrive for today's game. Facing up to Essex's finest in Braintree Town, sitting 6th in the League before the game, it was likely to be a tough game for the Silkmen who were themselves 10th. Nicknamed the Iron, the club have been in the top-flight of non-league football since winning the Conference South in the 2010-11 season and have spent one year longer than Macc at this level. Not for the lack of trying though, having finished mid-table season after season and just missing out on a play-off push two seasons ago after reaching a record high finish of 6th. Macclesfield Town of course suffered the same fate last season of the dreaded 6th place finish, just one spot outside the play-offs. Despite two great victories over Easter for the Silkmen, it seemed too little too late after a disappointing January and February had seen Macc fall into mid-table oblivion.

Roary is still working off his pre-match carvery
As kick-off drew closer we took our seats, the best in the house, and prepared to hopefully see the Silkmen grab another three points and look to derail Braintree's promotion bid. I had spoken to a couple of away fans at the bar, who had set off at 8:30am to be here today, and they were telling me that they would be going even further north on Tuesday as they head back up for an away game at Barrow. Fair play to them, two trips to the North-West in 4 days certainly wouldn't be top of the list for travelling fans. My pre-match prediction was for Macc to continue their form and secure a 2-1 victory for me on my Birthday. With Gibraltar international striker Reece Styche having banged in a hat-trick at Gateshead on Good Friday and a further winning goal on Easter Monday against Grimsby, I was confident that we could get one over another top National League side.

The best seats in the house
The first few minutes were tense for the home side, as they came under almost instant pressure from the attacking Iron side. Thankfully, Pilkington and McCombe were able to ride out the early threats and within ten minutes the tide started to turn. Macc started to build up a bit of pressure themselves and with big Jack Sampson proving to be a good target man there was always an emphasis on keeping the ball within the Braintree half and pressing high with Styche, Rowe and Whitehead all chasing down the opposition well. Danny Rowe looked particularly menacing on the left wing and harassed the Braintree defence all day, and just after 20 minutes the first big moment of the game arose. Within a crowded box a Silkmen player was brought down (Styche, I think!) and the ref instantly pointed towards the spot. Macc had been awarded a penalty and it was down to today's captain, Danny Whittaker, to slot home the opening goal. Macc 1-0 Braintree. From then on Macc began to play with the confidence and style which had been evident within the last couple of games. Going forward, the whole team were playing slick football which was greeted with applause from the crowd and at the other end Shwan Jalal made a full-stretch fine save to deny the travelling fans a chance to cheer before half-time. Macc were unlucky not to add a second before the whistle, as Andy Halls swung in a cross which was almost met by a solid finish. Pilkington also had a diving header which was unfortunate not to go in, meaning that when the whistle came we were just hoping the lads could keep it up.

So far so good for the Silkmen, bring on the second half
At half-time we went back to our reserved table to enjoy the half-time refreshments. I also used this time to look at my favourite feature in the Macc Town programme. Entitled "10 things you didn't know about..." and today's section on Braintree wasn't one of the finer readings. In an attempt to find the most interesting thing that I didn't know about Braintree, I ended up being mildly interested by point number 8. "The town of Braintree was recorded in the Domesday Book, it was then known as Branchetreu." Who knew?

Back on the pitch, the second half kicked off
The second-half started in the same way that the first finished, with Macc on top. Danny Rowe ran on to a through ball and broke away down the right-hand side. He lured the defender in before cutting inside him and curling home a smashing second goal for the Silkmen. From within the clubhouse, I was lucky enough to see the goal as most of the others inside missed it! Macc 2-0 Braintree. Following this, we quickly supped up and headed back out to see the remains of the game. Macc continued to dominate and looked likely to add to their lead. When Braintree attacked, they often failed to supply top-scorer Michael Cheek with the quality and often they were hit hard on the counter by the skillful Chris Holroyd, who was having a great game. As we came into the final half an hour of the match, the killer third goal was added by the solid centre-back John McCombe. A header into the top corner of the net was his first for the Silkmen and it sent the home fans into jubilant cheer. Macc 3-0 Braintree. 

3-0 up and loving Ladies Day
At this point things started to get more desperate for the Braintree fans. Having already had Akinola booked for diving, the 40 or so travelling fans could only resort to chants against Macc. "You're not famous any more!" was chorused repeatedly by the away few and if anything it just left everybody looking confused. One fan shouted back "we were never famous!" and in reaction to this chant another fan kept shouting "Ey up, diver!" every time Akinola got the ball. In the end though, he had the last laugh as he powered through the Macc back four to hit home a consolation goal. A rare moment of happiness for the away fans and a goal to remember at least for the long journey home. Macc 3-1 Braintree. The final 10 minutes offered little more- another fine save from Jalal, a debut run out for Macc's new loanee Matty Templeton and a few minutes off the bench for Kristian Dennis, currently having to make do with being in the shadow of Styche and Sampson, were the only other things to note. But as it came to the end the match sponsors for today's game, who were sat behind us and actually came out with the statement of "Aston Villa, doesn't that sound like a place in Spain?" , picked out Danny Rowe as their player of the match. Amazing.

3 points for the Silkmen, happy days
Having looked forward to the VIP weekend at Moss Rose it still has to be said that the highlight was the great performance and result from the boys today. No matter how good the meal, or how nice of a job they did on my nails, it was all about the football today and a 3-1 win over a team doing well was a perfect Birthday present. Cheers again to Will for treating us to the Matchday experience, roll on the next one!