Monday, 24 July 2017

22/07/17 Review: Stockport County vs Macclesfield Town

Stockport County 5-2 Macclesfield Town (Pre-season Friendly)
Edgeley Park

Now that pre-season is up and running, it was that time again when I'd meet up with my Silkmen bro Will to head out to a Macclesfield Town away day. In 2016/17 we had gone through to Leek and Nantwich to see Friendly victories and we were hopeful of seeing a good outing against local rivals Stockport County- I'd predicted a 2-1 victory for the away side today. We got the day up and running when Will arrived at 12ish by heading off to the train station and after the 30 minute journey packed with Stag and Hen parties going off to Manchester, we jumped off and hunted down the first of many pre-match pubs.

Another town, another ground
We went to a few very interesting pubs on our walk to Edgeley Park, to say the least. The Armoury was our first stop and we enjoyed the company of fellow Macc fans as well as a few County folk too- which I always love to see. Things took a turn for the worse in The Jolly Crofter, as we entered to some funny looks from locals who seemed somewhat offended by the red Macc top I was sporting. One man in a County top even took the effort to down his pint before grunting as he made a swift exit. We quickly supped up and left for our final pub before the match, this time at The Pineapple. To call this bar a rough-and-ready kind of place is an understatement and we soon realised that we were in a memorable part of the world. One local, who'd smashed two pints of John Smith's whilst we'd been there, kept telling us that the great thing about The Pineapple is that "you get what you get" and we weren't arguing. With a round costing me £2.60, yup, we really couldn't give a hoot about the crumbling walls, rusty freezer in the hallway or bucket under the sink in the toilets- we were there to drink.

Unlike the chap from The Jolly Crofter who couldn't bare our presence
With the clock now reading 2:45pm we thought it would be best to wander over to Edgeley Park in time for the big kick-off. I was feeling optimistic for the afternoon ahead after seeing the new look Macc side defeat a strong Bury outfit on Tuesday, but Stockport would provide a whole new type of challenge in what would prove to be a game of two halves. Edgeley Park is a massive 11,000 all-seater stadium that in my opinion is too good to be sitting in the realms of the sixth tier of English football. Having been County's home for over 100 years, Edgeley Park has been a significant point on the sporting map after hosting the once Division One side as well as being a temporary home for Sale Sharks Rugby Union Club and even the host ground for a Lacrosse World Cup in the 70's. Nowadays it is listed as a Stockport Council asset and gathers rather less in the way of attendance, but nevertheless it is still an amazing ground for this level and I was glad to be finally making the visit. The game itself got off to a good start for Macc as they looked to build early momentum in front of goal. Just 4 minutes into the match and we were cheering as former Dover Athletic forward Tyrone Marsh headed home past Ben Hinchliffe, a nice goal all-round after a great cross from Jared Hodgkiss who had been impressive in Tuesday's win. Stockport 0-1 Macc. This set the tone for a goal-filled afternoon and for the next few minutes the fans were treated to some end-to-end action that almost saw both sides score. Durrell, Marsh and Wilson were all looking threatening for the Silkmen and at the other end Stockport's two forwards, Oswell and Warburton, were looking likely to get amongst the goals- and it was the latter who would equalise on 12 minutes. Macc had gone close themselves as winger Elliott Durrell had a shot on target, but from a quickfire break County soon got the ball into the feet of Matt Warburton and he darted into the box before wrong-footing Shwan Jalal to hit home the equaliser. Stockport 1-1 Macc.

All action so far at Edgeley
With not even 20 minutes on the clock we had already witnessed a couple of decent goals, but the best was yet to come and the third goal was a particularly nice finish. On Tuesday night I had the privileged of seeing Scott Wilson hammer home a beautiful winning goal against League One Bury and when he picked up the ball from Courtney Richards he had just one thought. The midfield maestro took a touch to set himself up before curling a perfectly-placed hit into the corner of the goal. Stockport 1-2 Macc. The rest of the first-half continued to entertain us, with Macc going close through Wilson, Baba and Marsh again, whilst at the other end Oswell was looking dangerous. He was denied by a great Jalal save after thumping a close-range header towards the Iraq international keeper. At half-time it remained 2-1 to the visitors and we had been left happy with some of the attacking displays of the new lads.

Time for a celebratory Hot Dog
With no chance of a half-time beer in the ground, we settled with a hot dog and a brew before heading back in to have a natter with a couple of fans. As with us, the general consensus was that the new-look Silkmen squad looked fresh and full of attacking ideas- this would not last into the second 45!
Let the second-half commence
Five Subs came on for Macc and the much changed line-up would prove to be lacking in terms of belief and sharpness as Stockport turned on the style for a goal-glut of a second-half. Just 4 minutes in and County were cheering an equaliser as Jason Oswell got the touch from a well-worked corner. Stockport 2-2 Macc. As with the opening to the last half, this one was goal-filled too and as Ryan Lloyd almost restored Macc's lead at one end it was Warburton who added to his tally for the day at the other end with another nice finish- the number 10 was in fine-form and this would not be his last effort on target against a now lacklustre defence. Stockport 3-2 Macc. Now coming up to the hour-mark and Stockport were at it again. A corner was this time finished off again by Oswell as he joined Warburton on two goals for the day- more poor defending was not helped by the second-half goalkeeper Alex Gogic on this occasion. Stockport 4-2 Macc. And when the going is tough, quite often the morale goes completely down the pan and in this instance County were gifted the chance to extend their lead further as former Manchester City and Motherwell centre-back new boy Kieran Kennedy got himself in an unfortunate muddle that resulted in him bundling a man in blue to the ground and offering them a spot kick. The lethal Warburton dispatched for his hat-trick and that would be the end of the goals on this on this sunny afternoon. Stockport 5-2 Macc.

Macc's only hope was for a storm to call it off
I know that this particular entry has read as a fairly condemning second-half from a Macc Town point of view, but when all is said and done I actually look back at this outing as a positive one for the Silkmen. We started the game with a strong XI that lead at the break and with only four players remaining in the squad from last season, it was all-in-all a very useful match for John Askey to learn a bit more about our strengths and weaknesses. For County though, who finished just a point outside of the Playoffs last season, this one will have proved to be a confidence boost ahead of their season in the National League North. With over 1,100 here this afternoon, the people of Stockport will have left with a big grin on their faces and we were more than happy to join them out in the town afterwards- I mean, it was just a friendly after all?

Game over, back to the pubs
We ended up back in The Armoury with some die-hard Stockport fans and having exchanged some great stories Will even swapped phone numbers with one lad and I'm more than sure that our paths will cross again. Here's to the next one!

Monday, 17 July 2017

17/07/17 Review: South Normanton Athletic vs Matlock Town

South Normanton Athletic 1-3 Matlock Town (Pre-season Friendly)
MJ Robinson Structures Arena

Day one of my Annual Leave from work got off to the perfect start this evening as I managed to hunt down some Monday night pre-season action over in Derbyshire. With a choice of three fairly obscure and somewhat distant grounds in my hand, I decided that the two hour trek to Maes Tegid to see Bala Town take on Chester was a step too far and I really didn't fancy tackling the M6 during rush hour to see Atherton Laburnum Rovers versus West Didsbury & Chorlton, so that left me with the mere 96 mile round-trip to Alfreton.

But on a luscious Monday night, what are miles really? 
In a similar fashion to my first outing of 2017/18 last week, I was yet again looking forward to seeing a decent Evo-Stik Premier side and the visiting Gladiators would expect to gain a solid victory on this gorgeous Summer's eve against Midlands Premier League new boys South Normanton Athletic. Having made the 11 mile hop across the county, a strong squad including ex-Burton Albion hitman Shaun Harrad turned up at the MJ Robinson Structures Arena meaning business and from the offset it was clear to see that a fair sprinkling of fans had travelled too- which is always nice to see during pre-season. I may have arrived with a good 20 minutes to spare before kick-off, but I still wasn't early enough to grab hold of one of those rare luxury non-league ground parking spaces and so I made do with parking up on the road before heading inside. Upon entry, I was pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable £2 entry fee for tonight, especially having paid a fiver for the pleasure of seeing the Nantwich win at Eccleshall's Pershall Park the other day.

They must've got the memo about World Emoji Day
When I made my way through the turnstile and into the surrounding village of blue metal cabins, I looked around and sought out the Shiners Bar, tucked in between the Club Shop and the cleverly named Shiners Diner. After being fooled by the purely "for show" draught pumps in the bar, I ended up purchasing a can of Fosters from the nicely presented Clubhouse. With it being so hot still outside I found myself being one of just a couple of indoorsy types and so I decided to join the many and bask in the final rays of the day. I sat grasping my cold beer with my feet aloft, listening to the funky dance beats being thrown out by the speaker system and before I knew it, boom- game time!
The many Matlock shirted supporters soon scarpered away from the porch area and over to populate pitchside, whilst other folk stuck around near the bar and watched from the still decent view behind the goal. I decided to go for a mooch about as the match began, walking past The Shiners Stand and past a Family Stand adjacent to the corner flag- if you hadn't guessed by this point, the hosts like to call themselves the Shiners! The game had started fairly evenly, despite Matlock turfing out eight first team players, and the hosts seemed fairly comfortable in the opening ten minutes. Having won promotion from the East Midlands County League last season, albeit by default, South Normanton Athletic will this season be playing in the fifth-tier of the non-league pyramid and would be in the mood to gain early momentum following their 5-0 weekend win at Swanwick, but tonight's side from two divisions above would provide a whole new test. I had predicted a 4-1 victory for the visitors but based on my only other outing to see Matlock, a 0-0 draw at home to Ilkeston last season, I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd stole a 1-0. This was ruled out 24 minutes into the game though, as the hosts were awarded a penalty. Shane Newton stepped up and coolly put home the opening goal to give South Normanton the lead. Sth Normanton 1-0 Matlock.

So far, so good for the Shiners
The match had so far been lacking in chances, but it was by no means a bore. There was a very physical edge to the match tonight and apart from speedy winger Abou Sylla trying to mix it up with some great runs from the left, it was a pretty feisty affair. Ex-Scunthorpe United man Cleveland Taylor was doing his best to boss the midfield as Matlock got their way back into it, but it would be their big Summer signing Shaun Harrad, who still currently holds the record for most goals scored for Burton Albion in a Football League season, that looked likely to score. With 30 minutes on the clock, Harrad got a snapshot away and was only just denied by the post- but he was not finished yet. The Gladiators continued to press and was it not for the impressive defensive displays of Dom Allen and Mark Strzyzweski they would have been back in it much earlier. However, it was not until the 40th minute when Rose levelled up the game- as he latched on to a right-wing cross and hit a shot towards goal, which Strzyzweski almost kept out with a last-ditched effort to slide the ball away. Alas, this was to no avail. Sth Normanton 1-1 Matlock. This was not the last goal of the half though, as Matlock headed towards the Shiners goal again. Amongst a few more vicious tackles, of which one gained a yellow card which was openly questioned by one fan who asked "how can you book someone in a Friendly?", there was another ball poked into the box and this time Harrad pounced to give his side the half-time advantage. Sth Normanton 1-2 Matlock.
Time for me to take in a bit more of the ground
A few of the Matlock lads spent the break discussing happy away days and I overheard one lad laughing with his mates about the time they apparently drank Colwyn Bay dry. I had been speaking to my friend Will earlier today about our footballing ventures together and it got me thinking about what weird and wonderful places you get out and about to for the good of your team. Since I've started Groundhopping, Will and I have managed to check out some great pubs in places as far and wide as Watford, Nantwich, Stone and Leek all in the name of football. That list is set to be added to on Saturday as we go to watch our beloved Macc Town face Stockport County at Edgeley Park. In the meantime though, I supped a beer on my own and headed back out for the second-half.
8:35pm, still mighty fine in South Normanton
There was to be just one more goal in the final half an hour of the match and it would come from Matlock's Trialist, Luke Thorogood, as he slid home a tidy finish that certainly won't harm his chances in the pursuit for a deal with the club. Sth Normanton 1-3 Matlock. Since arriving on to the field for the second-half, Kevin Hemagou had looked pretty good for the Shiners and the former Mansfield and Belper forward had a couple of half-chances to bring the home team back into it. With five minutes to go, another goal looked to have been scored after a goal-mouth scramble saw a Matlock defender head past his own keeper, only to be denied by a man on the line who seemed to boot the ball off the line and on to the crossbar. It seemed impossible for the ball to stay out, yet Scott Spering ordered play to continue and with that there would be no more goals. The full-time whistle sounded the end of this decent Friendly encounter and I headed back to Stoke with the sunset disappearing as I drove down the A38. As always, I'd like to wish both sides good luck for the upcoming season and I will no doubt see both of these sides again as I continue to travel around a lot of the grounds in the Evo-Stik and Midlands League divisions.

Goodbye for now

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

11/07/17 Review: Eccleshall vs Nantwich Town

Eccleshall 1-5 Nantwich Town (Pre-season Friendly)
Pershall Park

Hello folks and welcome to the magical world of the 2017/18 Season. I am delighted to be able to say that it is finally time for 'Pint of Football' to come out of hibernation and get back amongst the beautiful game. To start off my campaign, I decided to try once again to make it out to Pershall Park after having three efforts scuppered in the past couple of seasons. Back in March I'd had to reroute my Sat Nav whilst on my way down to Eccleshall following a flash flood, and my other two proposed trips were also called-off due to the weather- so surely my best bet would be to plan a visit in mid-July where the weather would be excellent? Wrong!

Still, at least it wasn't postponed this time
With strong sessions of rain baring down on Staffordshire all day long, I finished work by 6:30pm and sat pondering whether I would have to resort to full-length trousers for the 8-mile drive over to the home of the North West Counties League side as they welcomed a side who will be competing in a league three steps higher this season. The Evo-Stik Premier League Playoff Semi-Finalists from last season would surely start the evening as favourites and in what turned out to be one of the rare moments where I guessed a scoreline before the game, I went for a 1-5 win for the Dabbers. My trip started off in a fairly usual way, with me rushing down country roads towards a postcode that I'd plucked off the Google in a rushed walk to my car. Needless to say that when I "reached my destination" with just 10 minutes until kick-off, I could not believe that the view facing me was Pershall Park.

Maybe this is their Training Ground?
Several wrong turns later I passed by a dog walker on the side of the roadway and asked him for directions. He answered my request with an opening statement of "oh, crumbs- well this isn't it" before very graciously taking a moment to turn me towards my destination. I was directed into a football field with now only 5 minutes until kick-off and told to park up on what was the actual pitch of a junior football side's match. I kid you not, I was literally parked not 6 inches away from the corner flag! Alas, I had no time to worry about ruining these kids' fun and I dashed through the pitch towards the ground- and more importantly, the bar!

Here we go then
I endured the tedious queue at the Clubhouse bar for my can of Carling, in which every fan who ordered a pie had to wait whilst the solo server made the 10-mile trek over to the microwave to heat it up, before jogging out to the halfway line ready to see the lads get going- ahh, it's great to be back. With roughly 100 in attendance, I made it out just in time and saw the home side emerge in their blue strip ready to do battle with their opponents in green. Nantwich appeared to be readily anticipating this one and had been out on the field for a good length of time, meanwhile the Eagles soared out casually at 7:47pm for this 7:45pm match. Even the Ref seemed in a relaxed mood and had to rally the troops by saying, "guys, do you wanna come and do the handshake?" to which the players obliged. The first 10 minutes of the game were pretty much in favour of the hosts and already I had picked out numbers 10 and 8 as the string-pullers for Eccy. As a Groundhopper I always think that the best way to get off to a strong start in Pre-Season is by getting an early kick to allow you to blow off the cobwebs- so that's exactly what I did. As the ball bundled towards me I overheard one fan say to another "ooh, how's your touch?" and thankfully I was able to avoid potential disaster as I touch a firm touch before passing the ball back to the throw-in taker.
The displays of the 22 players on the pitch was decent, but not amazing, as you'd expect for an early Friendly match and the only difference for me in terms of the two sides was that Nantwich looked to be one pace quicker when reacting to the second ball situations. I did wonder whether the Dabbers were starting a strong line-up and as I heard murmurs around the ground, it seemed that they were giving a few youngsters and trialists a chance. Despite this though it wasn't a bore- and with 25 minutes gone we were treated to a zigzag of action starting off with a Nantwich corner. The Eagles keeper soared above the packed box and snatched the ball into his arms, before releasing the ball straight out to allow for an Eccy counter. This attack was decent and it saw the ball end up in the net courtesy of the number 9 poacher, however the lino put a halt to the celebrations by waving his spoil-sport flag. The following move from the Dabbers was good enough and after some great play by the Nantwich forward the ball was eventually hit out-wide to the left winger who punted the ball out of the keeper's reach and into the goal for the first time in the match. Eccleshall 0-1 Nantwich. The next 10 minutes passed by with a decent strike a piece on goal, both from free-kicks, before we would eventually see another first-half goal. The Eccleshall strikers linked-up well on the offence and when the number 9 struck the woodwork, his mate was there to follow-up and tap home a deserved equaliser. Eccleshall 1-1 Nantwich. There was to be no more goals in the first-half, apart from an offside Dabbers strike, and so before I knew it we were already on to half-time. I popped back into the Clubhouse, grabbed another beer and a pie just in time to sit down for 15 minutes and watch Holby City.

Sod that, I'm here for the good stuff
After the excitement of watching many a surgery I headed back out to the rainy pitch to find a Nantwich Town transplant of their starting eleven. I'm not sure if the whole team had been replaced, but weirdly enough the kits had! The Dabbers stepped out this time in yellow and they looked a completely different side in the second 45. Eccy had also rang a few changes and even decided to play two centre-backs wearing the number 4! This magic trick wasn't enough though, and before the hour mark the first of four second-half goals came. The new powerhouse up-top for the Dabbers soon found himself outdoing the young Eagles right-back and he set himself up for an easy finish. Eccleshall 1-2 Nantwich. Two minutes later and it was this time the left-back of Nantwich making the forward move and he looked keen to exploit a shaky second-half Eccleshall defence. As the blues failed to clear their lines, the ball was eventually lofted over to the number 3 who duly added goal number 3 by poking home another goal for the visitors. Eccleshall 1-3 Nantwich. The vastly superior away side had to wait a further 8 minutes before adding their next goal, even though they almost got it from other means. A 70th minute corner was well won amongst a plethora of Eccleshall defenders and Theo Stair's header went into the empty net ahead of the frantic home keeper. Eccleshall 1-4 Nantwich. The Eagles changed their keeper for the final 15 and despite making a couple of decent saves he was powerless to resist conceding one final goal. A good run from a Dabbers sub led to a bullet-strike from range which pinged into the net and sealed a second-half rout for the Cheshire side. Eccleshall 1-5 Nantwich. Without checking it out I can't be certain, but the side that played the Second-Half for the Dabbers were much better than that of the first and I would therefore state that the four-goal team would probably be there or thereabouts the first XI for the Evo-Stik Premier side. For Eccleshall, it'll now be an away trip to Uttoxeter at the weekend and Nantwich will continue to build on their preparations by facing Market Drayton Town. My next outing won't be until next week unfortunately and it'll probably end up being another Moss Rose visit- but be on the lookout and I'll be posting soon enough from another trip to one of the great teams nearby. Cheers to Eccleshall for providing me with my first ground of 2017/18 and good luck to both sides for the upcoming season!
I told you I wasn't joking!