Wednesday, 2 November 2016

31/10/16 Review: Hednesford Town vs Sutton Coldfield Town

Hednesford Town 4-1 Sutton Coldfield Town (Evo-Stik Premier Division)
Keys Park

Halloween Night and day four of mine and Partizan Bristle's trip saw us take a stroll down to a very foggy Keys Park, and let me tell you it doesn't get much more spooky than a Monday night out in Hednesford!
So far, so good. No killer clowns lurking
For those of you who haven't tuned in to my last three posts, me and my Bristolian chum Tom were on the final part of a 4 day footballing bonanza which had so far seen us trek to Dundalk in seek of the creme de la creme in Irish football, before plodding on up to Belfast to see Ireland's oldest club, Cliftonville, and then on Sunday we were over in Shropshire (via Wales) to see the Welsh maestros TNS in action. So far, we had seen 3 home teams win, all by 3 goals, and all on 3G pitches, within the space of 3 days, in 3 different countries. 3!!!

And it's safe to say that we were backing another home win tonight
With all of the madness of travelling here, there and every-bloody-where, we were quite looking forward to the 50 minute drive from my Stoke-on-Trent abode and relished the thought of a night at Keys Park. For me, this would be my third Evo-Stik Prem match of the season, having already seen Rushall Olympic and Matlock Town back in August- and for Tom, this would be his first experience of this division, having only previously seen Stafford Rangers once before (back when they were in the First Division South). It's fair to say that I wanted to give him a good finale game to take in before he jumped on his bus back down to Bristol, where he would be heading straight for the Memorial Stadium as a Season Ticket holder for the high-flying Bristol Rovers. Myself, I'd be attending a Tuesday night Cheshire Cup match between my beloved Macclesfield Town and Winsford United. Some would say an all-glamour tie, which I'll be writing up shortly.

But first, time for a pint
Hednesford Town, nicknamed "The Pitmen", were the new boys of the division this year, having fallen out of the National League North last season following 3 seasons there. Undoubtedly a side that could do great things, and in 2014 they almost did when they came very close to back-to-back promotions which would have seen them reach the Conference Premier were it not for a Play-off defeat to Altrincham. That is now in the past though, and to put things in perspective they are now facing weekly trips to places like Whitby and Corby, which will hopefully just be a temporary arrangement for the Staffordshire-based side who are ambitious and will be seeking promotion at the first time of asking back to the National North. The season has been decent for them so far, before the match tonight they sat in 5th with 25 points from 16 matches- which is 11 points more than today's visitors from just down the road. Sutton Coldfield Town, aka The Royals, were a side happy to have joined the Evo-Stik Premier party last season and marked the occasion with a respectable 12th place finish. This season they were struggling to reach those heights so far and sat within the dreaded drop-zone. Because of this, SCTFC would be hoping to scare the hosts (sorry, Halloween pun, I won't do anymore!) into dropping a point or three and hopefully kick-start their season against Ashley Williams's former employers.

The fog was clearing, time to get kicked-off then
The game started well to be fair to both sides and having seen 11 goals in the space of the past 72 hours, we were hopeful of a few more. The first thing in terms of action on the pitch was when the Pitmen winger pulled off a splendid back-heel just next to where we stood, but unfortunately his clever assist could not be converted on this occasion. Shortly after, Hednesford attacked again and when Singh was given the chance to fire in a shot, he scuffed it wide of the mark. At the other end, Sutton Coldfield were trying to put some attacking moves in place too and although they did not look as solid as the hosts on the ball, they managed to forge the first real chance- well, kind of. On 16 minutes, a testing cross was pumped into the Hednesford box and as the Goalkeeper came to collect he ended up being beaten by a mixed-up Michael Williams who got his head down low and watched from the floor as his header drifted over the line for a poor own goal. Hednesford 0-1 Sutton C. The 360-odd fans in the ground were split between confused joy and utter disappointment. It would now be up to the home side to respond, which both Tom and I were confident that they would do. I had predicted a 3-1 win for the Keys before the game and Tom had gone with 2-1- both were still possible.

Plenty of time to dig themselves out of a hole yet
Whilst there was a break in play during the first-half, we began to discuss the ground a bit more. Keys Park is certainly a ground that has something about it. Nicely presented, modern, a smart clubhouse and enough character amongst the surrounds- and although I don't know every rule and regulation for the ground specifications, but we both said that this ground would not look out of place in the Football League. It certainly didn't have the historic charm of Solitude or the rustic quirks of some grounds we'd seen over the past year or so, but it was pretty top-notch in terms of being a functional stadium. The main stand had a feel about it similar to Nantwich Town's Weaver Stadium, who are also in the Evo-Stik top flight.

I think that Tom was actually disappointed by the lack of dilapidation 
So far the only crumbling we'd seen tonight was the Hednesford defence, but that was about to change. With some meaty tackles going on around the half-an-hour mark, the ref started to get the usual stick from fans of either side. One fan vented "that's a bloody booking all day, you pillock", which was instantly followed up with "you clown!" as the Royals looked to put their stamp, literally, on the game. With half-time now upon us, it looked unlikely that the Pitmen would grab an equaliser before the whistle. Despite being in the ascendance a lot of the time, they also looked suspect to being hit on the break and if there was to be another first-half goal it could equally be a second for Sutton Coldfield as it could be a leveller for the hosts. Alas, there was to be a goal and it would come to the favourites with 43 minutes on the clock. A corner was drifted in and well cleared to the edge of the box, which is where Joel Logan picked it up. He showed his skillful style off to the defender before passing him with ease, crossing in for the attackers and then joining in with the celebrations as Simeon Maye converted. Hednesford 1-1 Sutton C. That would be the last real action in this feisty first 45.

Don't mind if we do!
With a definite nip in the air, we headed straight up to the clubhouse to sink a pint and watch some Serie A on the big screen- we just can't get enough. Having watched Joe Hart concede a couple before the game, we enjoyed 15-minutes of slow-paced Italian football and then agreed that we would rather be in the freezing cold of English non-league than over in Europe watching the prime-time premadonnas. Luckily, we supped up quickly and headed out to the pitch just in time, as Hednesford had raced out of the blocks after the break. We walked out to see Jamie Matthews tearing down the pitch and firing home a goal in the second minute of the half to put the Pitmen ahead for the first time. Hednesford 2-1 Sutton C. Despite being down from the second goal, the fans of the Royals did not give up hope for their side and instead of complaining about the goals either side of half-time they decided to rely on their Ultras to lift the whole stadium. From within the silence of the away end, all of a sudden we heard a Mexican show-tune blasting out and from freezing in foggy Hednesford we transported to the mean streets of Toluca with a rendition of "Tequila" amongst the highlights. Needless to say that the home fans were loving it too, which is a great sight in football at a time where people think fans are there to vandalise and fight with each other- great stuff!
The whole ground was smiling by this point
On the pitch, it was nearing the hour-mark of the game and Hednesford were in full-control now. If Sutton Coldfield were to weather the storm, they would need a bit of luck to accompany their defensive formation. They didn't get it though and as a long-range strike was hit towards call, the keeper made a smart stop but just couldn't hold on to the ball, meaning that Matthews could double his tally and put the game out of touch for the visitors. Hednesford 3-1 Sutton C. The show tunes continued and so did the goals, with a fourth coming just a few minutes after the third. Having scored a couple already, this time Matthews continued to be involved and this time made it look easy as he squared the ball in to the club's top-scorer George Carline and he happily finished off the fixture. Hednesford 4-1 Sutton C. To be frank, it could and should have been 5-1 as an attack straight from the kick-off ended up with an unusually unlucky Gurjit Singh hitting the post from a couple of yards out. The last 20 minutes continued to be decent and we were treated to a few bits of skill, the odd chance and another round of "Tequila" as the home-side showed their class to see out the game. The ref blew the final whistle and with that our tour ended. The Keys Park fans left with smiles that had perhaps been partially-frozen into shape, meanwhile we left the ground knowing that alongside Dundalk vs Galway, this had been a cracking game of football. Although Sutton Coldfield conceded four, they certainly didn't look like the worst team in this division and I am backing them to pull themselves to safety, even if that is all that they do this season.
Cheers Keys, it's been a pleasure

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