Sunday, 26 August 2018

25/08/18 Review: Great Wakering Rovers vs Leyton Athletic

Great Wakering Rovers 4-1 Leyton Athletic (FA Cup Qualifying Preliminary Round)
Burroughs Park

With Bank Holiday weekend in full flow by now, Saturday afternoon saw me heading into the south-east wilderness of Great Wakering for a second dose of FA Cup Qualifying action and this time Burroughs Lane was the place to be for me. As I was visiting family, I tried to keep it as local as possible and despite the fact that I was itching to tick off the likes of Victory Road in Dagenham, East Thurrock United's Rookery Hill and a few others in East London, I contained my urge and decided to make the twenty minute ride from Leigh-on-Sea along to the little Essex village instead.
Ground number 127, Burroughs Park
I'm a man of simple pleasures and when it comes to groundhopping all that is you give me a good ground or an entertaining match. Last night I was at West Street in Coggeshall and although the facility was head and shoulders above today's, the 0-0 game between the Seed Growers and their neighbours Witham Town was far from a classic, so my main hope for the game here would be to see two sides trying to gain some early form with an end to end match here. I'd predicted 3-1 to the hosts on this occasion, which wasn't a bad old guess in hindsight. Leyton Athletic, a side I'd seen under their old name of Wadham Lodge at the back end of the 2016-17 season, were currently in their first season under the new handle and with no league wins yet in the Essex Senior League, the only taste of victory they'd had was in the FA Cup as they saw off Barkingside on a replay. Rovers had themselves won the Essex Senior League last season and despite beginning their new campaign in the Isthmian Northern division with a 0-3 pasting, they had recovered well last weekend with a 2-0 win at home to Felixstowe & Walton United which would make them firm favourites for this match- but, this is the FA Cup after all, so anything could happen.

The magic of the cup
I got myself into the ground with fifteen minutes to spare, meaning just enough time to search around the ground for a Saturday afternoon slurp at the bar- which was back outside the actual ground, in the main clubhouse. The spacious venue was in decent albeit unspectacular nick and had plenty of Wakering locals sat awaiting kick-off. As this was an FA Cup game, the Rovers officials had decided to be one of the few clubs that observe the "no alcohol at pitch-side" rule and as a result I had to neck a swift half before the game began. Well, you can't go in completely sober, can you?
It'd be classed as rude in some parts
Outside, the actual ground was fairly simple. Two stands, one at either side, with a few decent seating areas and a tea hatch near one corner flag, located in "Nobby's End" alongside the toilets, changing rooms and other facilities inside of Burroughs Park. It seemed that there were roughly 80 to 100 fans around the sides as the teams came out, with most housing themselves in either stand, whilst the remainder would lean on the outer white border fencing. Quite often when I visit a ground like this, so far out in the sticks and with the most basic of facilities, I do hope and wish that they can make it through the eight rounds that they need to win to make it to Round Three, where they could hopefully get a home tie with Klopp's Liverpool or one of the big London sides in what would not only be a glamour tie for the hosts, but also no doubt a massive culture shock for lads like Eden Hazard or Mo Salah. In the meantime, Rovers had to get past Leyton Athletic and with a strong start, the hosts looked eager to bag an early goal.

Those clouds!!!
The first chance of the match fell to Simon Thomas, with the number 9 heading just past the post, but it wouldn't be long before the opening goal and after Danny Hurford put Billy Harris on his way into the box, the Leyton defender felt the need to gamble and a rash tackle knocked his opponent to the ground for a penalty. Stephen Butterworth stepped up with infinite confidence and sent the keeper the wrong way with a perfect penalty. Rovers 1-0 Leyton Ath. An early goal was just what I'd hoped for and it helped to get a good flow going, with Wakering proceeding to dominate the play after the goal. It seemed likely that more goals were on their way sooner rather than later and although they had chances, Leyton rode the wave into the 20th minute before going on an attack of their own. In what was essentially a one man effort, Dwade James picked up the ball on the counter, had a bit of luck to beat the Wakering defence and then he applied a tidy finish to level things up. Rovers 1-1 Leyton Ath.

Is there a shock on the cards?
Although Leyton seemed much more settled after the equaliser, Rovers continued to look the more likely side. Butterworth forced a save from James Scammell with a curled free-kick, but the visiting keeper made his best save moments later as Thomas was denied from point blank range. James continued to keep the home defence on its toes but ultimately the game would be level at the break. I made my way back into the bar for a pint and awaited the restart. So far the game had been very end to end and even though the quality was sometimes lacking, the creativity certainly wasn't and I had been impressed so far. I still fancied the hosts to grab the win, but Athletic would have no doubt been happy with the display they'd given. Not that it would be of note to either side on the day, but I couldn't help but look back at last season's league table and see that the away side had finished a whole 54 points worse off than the rampant Rovers on the way to only just avoiding relegation. Back outside the sun somehow was still shining through the stormy clouds and although I heard a loud ripple of thunder at the top of the half, thankfully the rain held off.
The only electrifying performance would come from the hosts in the second half
In the first-half the hosts made a lot of headway down the left-wing as they looked to exploit the slightly rotund Nico James, and although the big number two nearly scored within a couple of minutes the restart, Rovers had clearly made a note of where the gaps would appear and as the remainder of the match unfolded we'd see umpteen chances created from here. Before that though, Leyton almost netted a second as Brian Simpson took a long-range snapshot that landed on the roof before the home side won another spot kick. Butterworth was the man to step up again and although he hit his shot the other way this time it was the same result. Goal for the green and white stripes! Rovers 2-1 Leyton Ath. Straight from the kick-off Leyton's lone forward rattled the home bar but ultimately that would be as good as it got for the visitors. Just after an hour of play, Rovers won a free-kick on the left-hand side and when Butterworth put in a delightfully teasing ball into the six-yard area, all that Thomas needed to do was let the ball ricochet off him and into the net once again. Rovers 3-1 Leyton Ath. The goldmine also known as the Wakering left-wing continued to see plenty of action and as Thomas went close on a couple more occasions there was almost enough space to set up a picnic as big Nico was clearly tiring at right-back. With five minutes to go, we witnessed goal of the day as a switched ball from the left fell to the on-rushing Jason Ring. The right-back controlled it well, turned his opposing defender and then unleashed a left-footed strike which rippled into the goal the final time on a day with plenty of goals. Rovers 4-1 Leyton Ath. There was to be one final chance for Leyton and in injury time they went into the box with three attackers, but unfortunately in an opportunity that looked impossible to miss, an Athletic striker walloped the bar underside of the bar and was then cleared by the backtracking Wakering defence. The Ref had seen enough and shortly afterwards he put the visitors out of their misery. Great Wakering Rovers were the deserved winners here and although Leyton Athletic gave it a go, the result was more than fair and I hope to see Rovers continue in the Cup into the latter stages of the Qualifiers... and hopefully beyond!

Rover would be dreaming of facing another Rovers side later in the competition, even Forest Green!

Saturday, 25 August 2018

24/08/18 Review: Coggeshall Town vs Witham Town

Coggeshall Town 0-0 Witham Town (FA Cup Qualifying Preliminary Round)
West Street

Following a near three month break from Blogging, I am delighted to be writing to say that PINT OF FOOTBALL IS BACK, LADS! Yes, the rumours of my demise have been spreading lately and with some believing that I had died from over-Blogging during the CONIFA World Cup in London back in June, others have been suggesting that since taking on a role as Club Secretary with North West Counties League side Stone Dominoes, I have forsaken the Blog in order to follow the Dominoes home and away in their debut season. In all honesty, neither are false!

I have still been visiting new grounds, I promise

However, I have taken the Bank Holiday weekend off to visit family in Essex and with a trip down to Southend on the opening weekend of FA Cup preliminary qualifiers, I'd be a fool not to get to a couple of games and with Coggeshall Town's first ever match looming in the World's oldest cup competition, my Sat Nav was set for the sleepy town in between Braintree and Colchester for this local derby as Witham Town would be the visitors to West Street. With everybody from Olly Murs to Peter Shilton apparently being a fan of the hosts, nicknamed the Seed Growers, I was very much looking forward to another trip to rural Essex which has seen me dig out some great grounds so far such as Lower Road, home of Hullbridge Sports, and more recently
Parkside in AveleyHow would this one compare, let's find out.

Plenty of early-birds here for the magic of the cup
The last time I was in the area, for the CONIFA World Cup Final in Enfield, I witnessed two matches back to back and both finished 0-0 after 90mins, so with this in the back of mind I thought I would stick to a low-scoring prediction for this match and went for a 1-1 draw. Coggeshall Town, who have been a club on the rise since 2013, were founded all the way back in 1878 and although this was to be their first ever FA Cup tie in their 140th year as a club, they have had a rather successful few years as they have been promoted from the depths of the Essex Olympian Division One league up to its Premier, winning that in 2016, before flying through the Eastern Counties League with promotion from the First Division in 2017 and then a Premier League trophy following last season, leaving them in the Isthmian League Northern Division- where they will now compete with the likes of former non-league front-runners Canvey Island and Grays Athletic, as well as today's opposition. Witham Town have been members of the Isthmian League since their relegation from the Premier Division in 2015 and have since lingered in mid-table after a shaky first season which saw them end the 2015-16 season just eight points off a double relegation. The season has started in a similar vein for Town this season too, with a 3-2 win last weekend being overshadowed by the opening day home 0-2 defeat to Grays. The hosts have picked up just one point so far from their first two games, with a good 0-0 draw against Bowers & Pitsea starting off their campaign and a 2-4 loss at Dereham Town.

Pristine bar
The facilities at West Street on first glance seemed decent, but it is not until you get to the back of the ground and enter the black shed above the stand behind the goal that you see the real quality. The clubhouse is immaculate and in a world where clubs are sticking their generic stands up left, right and centre and ploughing money it 3G pitches, it was nice to see a side giving their fans what they want- a proper bar! It had similar vibes to Coles Lane in that respect. Around the outside of the pitch was a packed out seating area in the main stand running along halfway, but ultimately most fans had housed themselves at the top of the mound or up on the balcony outside the bar, which also coincidentally was where the BBQ was. A storm was brewing in the distance and with well over 400 fans inside as kick-off loomed, I popped my hood up and prepared myself for anything from the storms above to a thunderous goal on the pitch. Spoiler alert, the latter never came.
The game kicked off and with the hosts looking to take an early goal, Coggeshall captain Luke Wilson popped up for a couple of set pieces and nodded just wide on a couple of occasions as the BT Sport cameras zoomed in looking to capture the first goal of the round. By this stage the aforementioned storm had began to grumble and the true softy southerners of the crowd crammed into the sheltered regions of the ground whilst the rest of us stuck it out as the lightening struck for the first time. I turned to a chap in a Seed Growers jacket and simply said, "it'll pass". I was tempted to make a joke about seeds needing rain to grow, but I wasn't sure if the humour would translate to a chap holding a soggy burger and a plastic covered camera.

Before the rain...
... and during
On the field it was a pretty tame match in the opening 30 minutes, with Witham seeming to look happy to absorb the early Coggeshall pressure in the hope of seeing them tire into the second-half. The humorously named Aaron Condon went close for the Seed Growers despite some Town pressure just before the half-hour mark, but ultimately the match would look destined to go into the break all-square. The stand out player for me so far had been Sam Ashford for Town, not for his left-wing play necessarily but for his aggression and hefty challenges out wide. The number 11 was well up for it and certainly adopted the philosophy of defending from the front as his side held off the home side's advances. During the break I found the one major flaw in West Street's design- the fact that there was only one set of Gents toilets in the whole ground! The queue was pretty monstrous each time I approached it and as a result I found myself sat down chatting to a couple of groundhoppers with my legs crossed, whilst looking over their shoulder to see an opportunity to try and pee!

Back out for the second-half, eventually
The second-half would have been a bit more pleasing for the home side's supporters, with them seeing their side hit the woodwork twice in the opening ten minute. After Luca Colins had tipped a shot on to the post with a magnificent early dive, Condon then went in on goal and struck the bar in what would be the start of a dominant half for the side in red and black. The away fans didn't have too much to shout about, but to their credit they did try and create a bit of atmosphere with some songs from behind the goal and we were even treated to some smoke seeping on to the pitch- although this was not from rebel smoke bombs, but from the deliciously scented BBQ. The only other thing to point out from this encounter was the frustration witnessed whilst watching the Witham number 9. L'Heureux Menga, great name by the way, was a mammoth of a striker up top for the visitors and I'd looked forward to seeing the Angolan striker terrorising the Seed Growers back four, but I instead had to make do with watching the big man fall to the ground like a sack of spuds on each occasion the ball came within his orbit- easily the weakest seventeen stone man I've ever seen.

This guy would've made a better target man
Witham made a last minute change, bringing Mo Salah lookalike Nathan Cook into the action, and it was the attacking midfielder who almost provided the winner as he volleyed a follow-up strike in the aftermath of a corner, but the Egyptian wannabee saw his 25-yard strike go just past the post. Menga ended his evening in the Ref's book for a late foul and surely enough the game ended, meaning a replay to be played at Witham some time in the next couple of weeks. Most fans left fairly promptly after the game and they'll go home at least satisfied that they are both in the hat for the next round, but also with the knowledge that they would have to do it all again on Monday as the Bank Holiday drama comes thick and fast as the two sides meet again here at West Street in just under three days time. I also left pretty much straight after the match, with a 40 minute drive back to Southend ahead of me and another outing to come on Saturday afternoon- this time at Great Wakering Rovers for another FA Cup battle. Ground number 127 ticked off and I must say it's good to be back! Cheers to the Seed Growers for providing me with another gem of the south-east, a very good ground worthy of a side constantly looking to thrive and grow.