Wednesday, 4 May 2016

04/05/2016 Review: Hengrove Athletic vs Chard Town

Hengrove Athletic 2-1 Chard Town (Toolstation Western League First Division)
Norton Lane

Day Three and therefore the eventual end to mine and Partizan Bristle's exciting adventures around about the Western League. This time we had delved deeper into the non-league pyramid and dropped down a league from last night's venture to Welton Rovers, meaning that we found ourselves at First Division side Hengrove Athletic for a Wednesday night delight as Chard Town were in town.
3 games in 3 days were taking it's toll on Tom... and I don't think he'd showered in that time either!
After rushing home from work, Tom arrived at Norton Lane having forgot his glasses and camera's SD Card, and also left his phone at home. D'oh! But, we were here and ready to see if table-topping managerless Chard Town could keep up the momentum going as they push for the haven of Western League Premier football. Having watched already relegated Welton last night, it would be interesting to see how the higher-end of the division below would fare in comparison.

Chard had to win, or hope that Wells City lost their last two games
The Robins may have been sitting at the top of the League, but this was the last game of the season for them and their close rivals Wells City had a game in hand and were also in action tonight. For The Hens, tonight was just a chance to consolidate a top 6 place and hope to build on a decent season next time around. I made my usual pre-match prediction as 2-2, based on the fact that my previous two games had ended in 1-1 draws after 90 mins. We arrived and risked missing the first couple of minutes to grab a quick pint and see what the club had to offer. As with our previous two grounds visited this week, the pitch was decent and there was adequate seating and a fairly nice clubhouse- it appears that the Western League is thriving in terms of decent, but not excelling, clubs.
And welcomed we were
The game itself started as expected, with Chard pushing to gain the early initiative to keep up the hopes of winning the league. Within 10 minutes the Robins came close as a sliced miss-hit from a Hengrove defender came close to landing in his own net, but a leapfrog header from the tracking back attacker prevented it. Chard were clearly looking to press on from this and a few minutes later a fan thought he'd seen a goal as he repeatedly shouted out "Yes, yes, YESSS!!!" as a shot just scooped wide of the top right corner. His misguided chants weren't left in regret for too long though, as a stunning strike was followed one minute later. The Chard Town goal was an absolute screamer from 25-yards and I would arguably state that it was a contender for the best goal I'd seen this season. If Chard were to go on and win the league because of this, it would be a great moment to have witnessed. Hengrove 0-1 Chard.

1-0 to the League leaders, well played!
The start from Hengrove hadn't been ideal and the current display had been overstated by a Hens defender as a "fucking nightmare!!!" Whilst the game continued to flow, Chard always looked like doubling the lead they held and a decent strike from the away side looked to some to have gone in, when in actual fact it had bounced off the post and somehow landed in the thankful keeper's hands.

So far the Hens weren't clucking
As the half-hour mark passed us by, the home side started to look a bit more lively, and almost curled in an equaliser courtesy of a good strike from the central midfielder. Despite some additional pressure from the home side though, they didn't seem too likely to grab the equaliser and throughout the rest of the half the main consistency was the amount of shouts for handball that arose from fans and players alike. One thing I would say form my time in the Western League is that everybody always feels the need to appeal for anything and everything, and tonight it seemed that handball was on the agenda. Even when Chard's left-winger took a ball full-on in the face, some fans took it upon themselves to claim they should've earned a free-kick. A few minutes later, the aforementioned winger was down on the floor and it seems like the pounding he'd suffered had given more pain than he'd originally shown.

A quick visit from the physio soon sorted the kid out
As half-time approached, I listened in to an old chap wearing some funky trainers telling people about the struggles the club has with losing footballs. He went on to tell a group of lads that the club had lost 8 balls over one wall alone this year, which really wasn't of interest to anyone. My guess is that he was either a local loony, an ex-ball boy, or the club's lifetime super-fan.

The legend himself
During the break we popped in to top up our beers and Tom listened in to see if he'd won the bottle of Thatcher's Cider available in the raffle- he didn't. At this point I learnt from Tom that in the West there is a large passion for Skittles and I actually scouted out the alley at Norton Lane. With all the excitement, I don't know how people find the time for Skittles!

Tradition, you just cannot beat it
We promptly headed back out to the field as the players appeared, swapping our pint glasses for plastics and upon our re-entry to pitch-side we were approached by an odd chap who said to us, "That's what I like to see lads. Yeah, yeah, have a beer!", before heading into the clubhouse- presumably for an inspired beer? On the pitch, the game looked pretty 50-50, but in fairness Hengrove looked a lot more settled. On the hour-mark they came close and with the title chances of Chard at stake, it seemed unlikely that on this display we were watching the future champions of the Western League Division One. We had no idea how Wells City were doing at this point, but it seemed to matter all that bit more on the 66th minute as a second goal was scored. A towering header from a Hengrove player went into the goal and thus began the comeback for the Hens. Hengrove 1-1 Chard. 

This fan could only smile through the disappointment
Throughout the second-half the game, the madness of the handball chants became a true highlight of the game. Each time a ball hit a player, a shout from somewhere would be blurted out like some odd form of turrets. Me and Tom could only assume that the shouts were some sort of joke to try and deceive the ref into calling one of them. With the game coming to an end and only 5 minutes left, it was in fact the Hens who dug deep and managed to all but kill off the chances of the Robins. On the 85th minute a second header was nodded in, this time from a striker, and the final blow to the Chard title-charge was dealt. Hengrove 2-1 Chard. No more goals came and upon arrival back in Shirehampton we discovered that Wells City had won 5-1 at Calne Town, meaning that the top spot was no longer a possibility for Chard. A lacklustre effort from the away side and this now meant that if Chipping Sodbury Town won on Saturday then they would also surpass Chard and drop down into 3rd place. Hengrove, however, had temporarily leaped up to an impressive 5th place, although wins for Oldland Abbotonians and Portishead Town could leave them in 7th.

Either way this was an encouraging result for Athletic
The game had now ended and I knew that after three decent outings in the Western League I would now head home to Stoke to get back to reality. I would like to thank Tom and his wife, Becky, for letting me stay at their Shirehampton home and also for allowing me to manage to tick off three grounds in three days in three counties within the Bristol area (Also, check out his Blog entry from the ground!). I'll certainly be back next season and would love to check out Bristol Manor Farm, Salisbury City and any other club who'll have me! Until FA Finals Day at Wembley in a few weeks, that's me over and out!

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