Don Amott Arena
With yet another birthday looming over me, it was time to get out to another ground at the end of my annual leave from work- which this time would come as a treat from my girlfriend. We'd originally made plans to double-up a trip to the northern seasides of Wales as a groundhop to Colwyn Bay, however the weather put us off that idea and we instead decided to go for a day out in Derby and of course a trip to see Sports take on Hednesford Town in the greatest League in the world!
|My 17th Evo-Stik ground across the three divisions|
In yet another instalment of 'Pint of Football does Evo-Stik', I was excited to be getting down to another ground within my comfort zone after visiting such obscure Southern grounds as the Wadham Lodge Stadium, Lower Road in Hullbridge and Thurrock's Ship Lane this week. It was nice to get some groundhopping in down in Essex this week, but for me there's nothing better than a Saturday afternoon Evo-Stik tie and to those footballing hipsters I say that you can keep your Jamie O'Hara's and Paul Konchesky's- I'd rather see a bit of Clinton Morrison!
|But first, a beer!|
Arriving at the Don Amott with time to burn, I "entertained" Sophie by reading through the Match Day Programme and telling her a bit about the teams and I even got a pre-match prediction to add to mine. With the home side starting the day in a less than spectacular 18th place and Hednesford looking steadily average in 13th I predicted a 1-1 draw and Sophie decided to take a punt on the hosts, guessing they'd take a famous 2-1 win over their Staffordshire opponents. As a resident of Staffs myself, I must admit that I'd walked into the ground as a Pitmen fan for the day but after reading about Mickleover's team and finding out that former Silkmen one-season wonder Pablo Mills was in the Starting XI, I changed my allegiance and thought I'd get behind the side in red and black for this bout. Taking advantage of having a driver for the day, I supped a couple of pints just in time for the sides to come out to the field and with the clouds descending we took shelter in the main stand ready for the action to begin. It is worth noting that before the start of today's match, my other-half had managed to watch two matches this season (both 0-0) and she also saw two goal-less draws in 2015/16- it's easy to see why her love for the game isn't as strong as mine! Despite this though, we enjoyed a good opening to the game in which both sides worked some good play in an end-to-end start. With former Republic of Ireland international striker Clinton Morrison, who has played 88 Premier League games with Crystal Palace and Birmingham City, starting up-top alongside 19-year old Mansfield Town loanee Tyler Blake, I fancied Sports to have a good crack at Hednesford Town. I had seen the Pitmen at Keys Park at the end of October and although they confidently dispatched Sutton Coldfield Town on that evening, an away day in Derbyshire would be no walkover and with mixed results plaguing their reach for the Playoffs, it was now seemingly a big ask for Town to return back to the National League North at the first time of asking. On the field, we had to wait for about 20 minutes to pass before the first real chance on goal. Jake Scott, a pacey left-winger, looked to be the brightest spark from the off and after a right-footed hit was well saved in the box, he then powered a long-range strike wide of Dan Crane's right-hand post just minutes later.
|Talk about man-marking|
Despite Hednesford looking decent on the counter, the ball was looking more likely of ending up in their net than the home side's as half-time drew ever closer. Andy Dales went close with a good effort from out-wide, meanwhile at the other end there was a bit of handbags between Tony Clarke and Kevin Grocott. With the game lacking in rhythm in some places thanks to Mr. Dadley's strict approach to proceedings, we saw a few moves stopped by the Ref who deemed many a heavy-tackle to be against his liking.
Half-time proved to be a happy sight for me because of one particular score I'd spotted on the big screen in the clubhouse. As a Macclesfield Town fan, needless to say I was thrilled to see that we were 4-1 up away at Boreham Wood.
|The question was, would we get any of those sweet, sweet goals?|
The second 45 got off to a decent start, especially for the travelling fans who managed to see their side notch the winner before the hour-mark. As the 54th minute approached, a melee in the box eventually led the ball into the path of Joe Ballinger who had the simple task of heading home. Mickleover 0-1 Hednesford. The remains of the game were very entertaining and I couldn't believe how the score ended 0-1. Ultimately, Mickleover were wasteful with their chances and they were punished by Ballinger's prompt finish. The number 10 for Sports, Lewis Belgrave, was the main culprit today and after his shot on the hour-mark was blocked on the line his luck didn't get much better in-front of goal. On another day, I'm sure the lad could have bagged a hat-trick, but when a chance was offered to him on 66 minutes from close-range, the youngster could only lift his strike high, wide and not very handsomely over the Hednesford goal. To add insult to injury, the Ref was at this point filling up his little book with what seemed to be half of the Sports' eleven. Player/Manager and former Villa player John McGrath joined Mills and Turner in the book as a very frustrating afternoon came towards its conclusion. On 85 minutes a free-kick hit the woodwork and even with Mills and substitute Aaron Cole joining the strike-force late-on, Hednesford would pick up three crucial points that lifts them up to 11th in the table.
|Credit to Hednesford, they took their chance. Sports did not|
Knowing that the delights of delicious food were to follow, we quickly headed to the car park and we were on our way to Stone for some restauranty goodness. I concluded my trip by having one last look at Don Amott's ground, knowing that I had ticked-off another impressive Evo-Stik ground. It may not have been as vastly seated as some in this division, but I would say that Mickleover's Arena is perfectly acceptable for their average of 235 fans per game. So often will you see pictures of my exploits in which I'm surrounded by rows and rows of empty seats, and unless Sports make a terrific push towards the next level, I'd say their venue is a great size and with decent facilities. I even purchased a scarf for my collection, which is a sign that I'd had a great time!
|Plus they had a healthy bar- always a winner in my book|
My next venture, ironically, was scheduled to be a trip to this ground in a week's time to see Derby Ladies take on Blackburn, but I'll probably give that one a miss now and wait for a couple of midweek games in mid-April. The end of the season is approaching, gotta cram those games in!