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.

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