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.

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