Goal fest at The Lashmar

It certainly feels like at the moment that when it comes to games to attend you need a back up on artificial surfaces in case the grass efforts are washed out by the increasingly poor weather we’re suffering at the moment.

There were around six or so games I could have taken in on Tuesday evening, but in the end decided the ten minute journey there and back was the winner, East Preston and Littlehampton Town in a Southern Combination Premier Division local derby.

Both sides certainly have contrasting fortunes this season, EP struggling once again at the bottom end of the table but still just about in touch with the sides above them whilst Town are in the thick of a title race and the 4th round of the FA Vase.

With the previous scheduled encounter postponed just after New Year due to the weather there was a little doubt this one might go the same way but on a very sticky and wet pitch the game went ahead.

Town were on the attack right from the off, still attempting their slick passing game despite the conditions and they took the lead within a minute of the game starting, Lucas Pattenden who was a constant thorn in the side of EP tore down the right hand side and crossed for George Gaskin to slot home the opening goal.

Not quite the start the home side wanted and just ten minutes later Town added a second, Joe Benn having made a good run past the EP defence but forced a little wide and with no incoming support the Golds top scorer shot from an acute angle and made it 2-0 to the visitors.

At that point, the thought crossed the mind of how many Littlehampton were going to rattle in but fair play to EP who went straight up the other end and Charlie Robinson reduced the deficit with a firm header from a corner past James Binfield.

Despite leading the goal seemed to make Littlehampton a little more cautious but EP struggled to maintain possession and Shane Brazil cut a lonely furrow up front against the Town back three.

The visitors should have added to their scoreline two or three times, Dion Jarvis hitting the post and Kurt Jenna-Swain called into action to save from Gaskin and Benn, Town at times trying to too hard to break through the middle of the defence when their best efforts were coming from Pattenden and Jarvis down the flanks.

Town did score again just after the half hour mark; Tom Biggs’ lovely drop of the shoulder took him past three EP defenders and slotted past Jenna-Swain for the visitors third of the evening and with it a commanding half time lead.

What transpired in the second half wasn’t quite what I was expecting! Only six minutes into the half and any hope of an EP fightback was put to bed very quickly. Benn notched his second and Town’s fourth six minutes into the second half from a Jarvis run and cross, the goal giving the striker 50 for the season so far.

Just a minute later Benn completed yet another hat-trick having dug the ball out from under his feet and firing past Jenna-Swain for 5-1. You might think that with the game won Town would have taken their foot off the gas and just almost toyed with their opponents, but no none of that!

Less than ten minutes into the half and Benn scored again, this time an overhead kick from six yards out from a Pattenden cross gave Jenna-Swain no chance, a fourth goal for the striker and six for the visitors.

Gaskin made it seven as the hour mark ticked by from a Biggs pull back, three minutes following that goal the eighth arrived again from Benn, no let up from the constant peppering of the EP defence despite the points being very much in the bag.

Substitute Steve Herbert then got in on the act on 74 minutes, flicking home a Dave Herbert corner with his first touch six yards out. Once again the visitors had scored twice in two minutes, Benn completing a remarkable double hat-trick and double figures for Littlehampton with still 15 minutes left to play.

Unbelievably Benn scored again with seven minutes to play, this one a flicked header from a corner for his seventh of the game, which I believe is a record for him personally and Herbert wrapped it up just before the final whistle blew with his second of the game and a mad twelfth goal for the visitors.

I have to say I was expecting Littlehampton to score a few given the way they have blown sides away this season so far, but to get 12 and for Benn to notch seven of those is pretty remarkable.

Credit to EP who didn’t turn the game into one where they could have resorted to kicking their visitors up in the air given the frustrating scoreline, but that’s not in their nature at all.

The win takes Littlehampton back to the top of the table on goal difference and with three games in hand over their nearest rivals Saltdean Utd. Mitch Hand and Gaskin are using the squad rotation well and it doesn’t matter what eleven start the game you always feel there are goals in there from somewhere.

55 goals in total this season for Benn now and we’re still not quite in the middle of January the question now is what will be the final figure for the talented frontman?

Attention for Town now turns to the FA Vase 4th round and a trip to Athletic Newham on Saturday whilst EP must pick themselves up as they head to Broadbridge Heath in the league.

Referee’s need help or do they?

Referee’s, their assistants and the whole man or woman in black or whatever colour they like to wear these days has always been a contentious issue. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t but why does it appear that while the game has moved on tremendously those in control of the game on the pitch appear to be lagging behind?

My late dad was a referee at County League kind of level in the 60’s and when I played youth football in the late 80’s he took it up again then for a few years before hanging up his whistle. Whilst playing I also served on a junior league committee and of course there were reports of abandoned games and incidents where referee’s had suffered not just verbal abuse, thankfully though not too often.

Granted the latter were few and far between and we haven’t seen that happen in regular occurrences in the non-league game. But it never made me want to pick up a whistle and join that side of the game and it still doesn’t now.

As I stated above the game has moved on with its millions but those needing control on the pitch seem to have been left behind to find their own way to be better. It’s hard to watch when you see other sports finding ways to eradicate mistakes.

After all we’re all human and there is a margin for error that simulation can take away. Cricket and tennis both used video to get decisions right that the naked eye wasn’t able to decipher, rugby miked up their referee’s to explain decisions and also used video evidence to back themselves up and the NFL have forever used the same rugby method.

All sport is worth money and it’s too much to get these decisions wrong in today’s technological age. You can argue though that these sports aren’t as fast paced as our beautiful game and that’s where VAR became a chore within the game. This season it has been more refined but still throws up the odd borderline decision which means the system still needs a revision.

But what of the men and women still in the thick of the action? There appears to be quite a difference in quality as you move up to the National League itself. Now these officials have all progressed through the leagues below and only yesterday I was re-tweeting from a couple of people how good their referee was on Saturday afternoon, refreshing to see.

On the flip side of that coin was in the National League itself where once again decisions didn’t go the way they maybe should have done. This season I’ve seen games from the National League down to Step 7 and the better ones are definitely underneath the top division, but is it because they’re stifled in the way they referee and also run the line?

How much feedback do they get on their performance, good or bad? The fact they know the days they’re being assessed is wrong, I know back in the day you didn’t know until they popped their head round the door of the changing room after the game, that’s how it should be.

One gripe of mine is the way they are treated by players in the top flight, mike them up and no game would be shown before the 9pm watershed! That filters down all the way to the bottom with these players being role models, you don’t see a single rugby nor NFL player going to berate a match official so why should it be happening in our game?

Maybe if that respect was there, if referee’s were allowed to control the game with a degree of common sense then we wouldn’t see so many social media posts saying another one has had a shocker. One referee I know well at County League level was pushed around a couple of weeks back, thankfully there was no bad damage inflicted on him but at a time when there is a shortage of the men and women in black the game should be doing more for them, not burying their heads in the sand and bumbling along.

I know some people reading will say respect works both ways and I agree it does, the game at all levels is worth money to all and these decisions need to be right and they should be provided with all the tools to get a decent performance out, not too much to ask is it?

Food and football the combination at Hungerford Town

The last day of the festive period saw another Bank Holiday and finally gave me the chance to get to Hungerford Town in the National League South. A while back last year someone posted a picture of the burger served up at Bulpit Lane, courtesy of @FootyScran on Twitter. It looked the business and something I thought I needed to get there and try.

Not long after that I became aware of their fantastic offering ‘4 for a score’ which comprised of match entry, matchday programme, either burger, pie or sausage with chips and a pint or soft drink from the bar. Now if that wasn’t excellent value I’m not sure what is!

I had a brief Twitter chat with the Crusaders chairman Patrick Chambers to see if the offer had seen a rise in their attendances and sure enough they had seen an increase in numbers from pre-covid times which is encouraging, I promised him I would get to a game and this was finally the one.

Patrick actually looks after the scheme mentioned above on the gate, could I imagine Barnet Chairman Tony Kleanthous personally welcoming supporters into the Legends Bar at The Hive, certainly not! It’s a nice touch at this level too, not often will you see that happening. A token for your food and drink and a matchday programme in my back pocket and off I went in search for the burger.

Patrick’s wife Nicky serves the food whilst doubling up as the Commercial Manager, it’s that kind of club. As soon as I said who I was to both of them instant recognition, some nice words and a warm welcome what we like perfectly about non-league.

The burger lived up to its reputation, so much I had a second one at half time! I make no apologies for adding the picture below, certainly a big winner for me and it made my Twitter page ping for a good while after.

But it’s not just the food that’s getting rave reviews. On the pitch Danny Robinson’s team are competing very well with sides around them who have much bigger budgets. I was also looking to see Ryan Seager in action, scorer of a good amount of goals so far this season.

The ground itself, the classic non-league looking one which was just what I wanted to be seeing, but with plenty of seats and covered standing for all. The game itself began at a very frantic pace and to be honest it didn’t let up for the majority of the 90 minutes.

The home side drew first blood inside ten minutes, Sol Wanjau-Smith was upended in the box, Ryan Seager’s penalty flew past Alan Julian for the opening goal.

Both sides then traded possession but still at a good pace to the game before Town upped the ante again. Just before the half hour mark Wanjau-Smith broke clear of the visitors defence and looked set to double the lead but shot over as the defenders did just enough to put the striker off his stride.

The other side of the half hour mark brought the best out in Julian, a curling shot from Seager looked to have found its way over the head of the stopper into the top corner but at the last minute a fingertip save kept the scoreline down to one goal.

There was one more chance before the interval for Seager to add his and Hungerford’s second, but he shot straight at Julian, a single goal lead for the hosts going into half time.

There wasn’t long to wait for the second goal, just six minutes into the half Wanjau-Smith danced his way into the box and crashed a shot against the bar, the ball fell kindly to Seager right in front of goal and he nodded home for his and the home side’s lead to double.

The points were secured on 64 minutes, Rhys Tyler letting fly from 20 yards giving Julian not a sniff of the shot and a comfortable 3-0 lead for Hungerford. Seager did have the ball in the net ten minutes later but was denied his hat-trick by the offside flag.

There was one final chance for the home side to put the icing on the cake four minutes from time but neither Seager nor substitute Nana Kyei could get on the end of Matt Jones’ cross, but three points and three goals for Hungerford to end the festive period of games.

The win puts Town back into the play-off places and in amongst illustrious company too, given the budgets generated by the support levels of some. Hampton never really got going in the game and the early goal against I think knocked their game plan from the off.

Seager certainly looked hungry for goals after a little lean spell while Wanjau-Smith was a willing runner alongside him until his substitution. Keith Emmerson marshalled the back four well that Luke Cairney only had a single save to make all game.

Certainly not an easy game for Tonbridge this coming weekend as the Crusaders make the trip to Kent, they hustle and get very tight waiting to pounce on the mistake.

The Chambers have a lovely club here and hopefully the support continues to grow throughout the season, 496 were here to watch this one, it’s well worth a visit for the food, but just as much for the football.

One final word on referee Jason Richardson, brilliant performance in the middle explaining his decisions if questioned and generally talking to the players on the same level, some of his contemporaries higher up could do with taking notice of this.

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Uninspiring draw opens the new year

Extra Bank Holidays also means extra games of football or just the same amount spread over more days! 2022 was to kick off with a derby as Boreham Wood took on Barnet for the third time this season.

With Wood winning both the FA Cup and Trophy ties already this season, the Bees would have looked at this one as surely the one to turn the tide and finally get one over their local rivals.

It was the first game for both since that Trophy game at The Hive on 18th December, a covid ravaged Christmas for a majority of the National League and both these sides had their fair share as well.

On a damp Sunday afternoon in Hertfordshire but on a decent playing surface, Bees boss Dean Brennan went with both strikers in Adam Marriott and Mason Bloomfield, something that hasn’t been seen too often this season and in trying to match up against Wood’s formation, Harry Taylor was employed as a centre half in a back three with Reis Greenidge out for the game.

From the beginning, it looked like it wasn’t going to be one for the purists, Wood well known for their tough, hard tackling game and turning the ball from back to front as quick as possible, the Bees trying to match their high flying opponents.

With both sides ring-rusty from a lack of match action of around two weeks there is pretty much next to nothing to write about the first half, Aston Oxborough forced into a save from Scott Boden down to his left tipping the ball away from goal and Sam Beard completing the clearance.

That was the only clear chance either side had in the first forty-five minutes as the two teams cancelled each other out from back to front.

The second half had more of the same unfortunately, Barnet’s first real chance came just after the hour mark, the excellent Jordan Thomas sent a lovely little cross in the six yard box but Bloomfield fluffed his kick and the scores stayed level.

Jacob Mendy had a great chance to win it for the hosts in the final ten minutes but Oxborough was equal to his shot and without much further drama a 0-0 draw was about as much as we could have expected.

I think it depends how you look at it as to whether it’s a good point against a top three side or just a poor game of football. From the outside it’s the good point, as mentioned above you could see neither side were in sync having had two weeks without playing, that’s bound to affect any team to get momentum going again.

I can’t say I was too keen that we went for a match up against them instead of playing our game, granted we did stand up to them and blocked and sweated everything they did, but at the expense of players like Rob Hall who had no influence at all on the game, a mere passenger.

I know playing Wood it’s not pretty, I have to say I wouldn’t enjoy watching the ball constantly find the air, that’s for the NFL!

Excellent game for Thomas on the right side today, certainly helps I think having Jamie Turley alongside him and by far the man of the match in black and amber.

A final word on the officials, the referee was pretty decent, just missed all the subtle things Wood like to get into the game, slowing down the throw in’s, the pushes and man handling. But the assistant in front of us was as poor as they come, countless offsides missed from not being in line with play, one or two too many mince pies this festive period, he was a shocker!

Well, onto Hungerford on Monday, can’t wait for that burger…………

Leave our festive football alone

Thursday evening was planned for a trip to Chichester vs Burgess Hill but having spent since the night before in bed with a stomach upset coupled with the wet weather forcing a postponement I haven’t missed anything.

But something has caught my eye over the past few weeks and it’s something that get’s trotted out every single year but not in non-league, ‘there’s too many games to play over Christmas and New Year.’

It’s at the point where it’s boring certain foreign coaches trot out the same rubbish every year that they don’t have enough players and they should be protected more at this time of year.

It’s just enough to make me laugh it really is, whilst I appreciate on the continent countries have a winter break its something that’s never been the same in England.

It’s fair to say we love our festive football. I was brought up with Boxing Day football and of course we were depraved of it last year which probably makes people want it more this year, nothing worse than having something you usually do taken away from you through no fault of your own.

So it’s not as if these coaches are dealing with something new, it’s been here before they arrived and it will be here well after they leave, my opinion is if you don’t like it bugger off elsewhere and get paid much less, quite simple really.

These guys have access to 25 man squads plus an Under 23 set up and also a youth team, but apparently that’s not enough players. Do we have that luxury in non-league? Not in most cases, and hardly ever a 25 man squad, the sheer luxury eh!

I think most of them conveniently forget that without SKY paying the big bucks they wouldn’t be as rich as they are, you ask any manager or player down at our level and I’m sure they’d bite your hand off to be in their shoes, playing and moneywise, I mean who wouldn’t?

I don’t think any of them realise how lucky they are not having to get up at 5am, go and do a full day’s work and then meet up at 3.30pm to head off to a midweek game to get back and 1am the following morning and up again in a few hours for work, that is hard graft!

And these guys are playing no less the amount of games during this same period, in some cases more and of course this is no different to them throughout the course of the season.

Clubs also benefit massively with local derbies around this time of the season too, and with so many off work for a few days attendances can increase massively. We’ve already seen so far this year that there are more and more people attending games at all levels, very few are not seeing any increase at all and I don’t see that stopping this season, people are genuinely so pleased to be able to get out and watch their favourite team.

To be honest what these guys trot out year after year bores me silly, put up with it or bog off, it’s not gonna change on your say so and we like our football at this time of year so deal with it!

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Honours even at The Shooting Field

Tuesday night was festive football at last! After a couple of days of family commitments and passing up on Worthing’s delicious win at Bognor during the afternoon Steyning Town was the destination in the evening as they hosted East Preston.

I had my eye on this one just before the home side announced entry would be free, a very generous gesture which I hope added a few more onto the usual crowd figure. It had gained the attention of a few mates, Gareth Spinks and Pete Clarke on their second game of the day after the Rebels win, AFC Uckfield coach Craig Scott and the groundhopping chap that is Justin Holmes.

Having previously watched Steyning earlier in the season against the outstanding Littlehampton who were ruthless in a 6-0 win, they were up against an EP side who are struggling once again this season to get some momentum in results.

With it being the holiday period and expected player availability issues neither side were able to field a full complement of substitutes, but the starting eleven’s began at a frantic pace.

The opening goal arrived on 15 minutes and one worth waiting for, the home side won a free kick around two or three yards outside the penalty area which Scott Murphy curled superbly around the wall and past Dan Stevens to give Steyning the lead.

EP were relying on the pace of Shane Brazil to harass and hurry the Steyning backline, but the front man and his striking partner Harry Russell were marshalled pretty well throughout the first half.

The visitors levelled up the game just before the half hour mark when Brazil netted from the penalty spot, a clear foul on an East Preston man and no complaints from the home side.

Steyning looked the more likely to take the lead once again but a combination of not quite creating clear cut chances nor able to fully test Stevens saw the sides level at the half time interval.

The second half for the home side was a case of almost but not quite, with EP playing a high defensive line for most of the time Steyning were probing for balls just over the top while the visitors were aiming to get the ball out wide for the pushed on full backs and while there was a great battle throughout the half between Mayckol Sabino and Joel Parsons the latter couldn’t get any real quality into the Steyning box to trouble JJ Banasco-Zaragoza.

Both sides struggled to keep possession and use it to fashion some chances, the game turning a little scrappy on two or three occasions in the second half, with attacks breaking down on a constant basis.

No doubt the home side created the better opportunities as the half wore on and should indeed have won it in the final ten minutes but with shots blazing over the bar Stevens wasn’t tested enough in the EP goal for either side to deserve any less than a point.

The result moves the visitors off the bottom of the table having played a game more than AFC Varndeanians who replace them whilst Steyning are now three games unbeaten but remain in 15th spot having played more games than most around them.

Both sides are next in action on Bank Holiday Monday as Steyning travel to Pagham for an 11am kick off whilst East Preston host title chasing local rivals Littlehampton Town at 3pm.


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Water and covid hamper festive fixtures

The festive period is a time when there’s so much football going on it can be hard to catch your breath at times. Two extra Bank Holidays after Christmas and one after New Year means games are being spread out nicely across the non-league pyramid, well covid seems to have other ideas.

I guess with the loss of games this time last year everyone was chomping at the bit to watch some festive footie, but it’s not just positive tests getting in the way the weather has decided to throw its opinion into the mix.

For me I wasn’t scheduled to watch any games on Boxing Day, nor Bank Holiday Monday due to family commitments so I haven’t missed a lot. Being back in full time work means Tuesday daytime is also out for me and from a selfish point of view, Barnet’s trip to Southend being called off which will now be a midweek Tuesday night in the future means I can go.

The weather however is a different story, we’ve been very lucky I think so far this season with very few huge downpours, no frozen pitches nor snow in the southern half of the country.

There has been a few words of disagreement across social media for some today with late postponements etc and I thought I’d just add a little bit from my point of view. Having been a club secretary at Step 6 I’ve had to deal with a few weather issues, but certainly dealt with slightly different to those higher up the food chain.

Generally our match referee was very local, occasionally he or she had a bit of a journey and if the weather looked a bit iffy most are happy for a local official to come and have a look and make the decision on their behalf.

If you go up say to Steps 3 and 4 the match referee can also ask someone more local to take a look, but the final decision is down to the man whose actually going to be running the game and that could mean two different opinions.

Some pitches are always going to be borderline decisions one way or the other and while the home side might be in the ear of the official to err on the side of ‘caution’ and postpone the game it’s never going to be the right decision when the entire pitch isn’t covered with water.

It can also mean the early inspection being passed, but the later one calling the game off leading to frustration and disappointment all round, one man’s light surface water is another man’s puddle.

Covid is of course a completely different issue but causing more games to be off than the weather. Hopefully as we come out of the festive period we hear less and less about it and games return to normal and we complete a season. I think we will get there as a majority of the divisions have or nearly completed half of their league games and there is 75% completion rate minimum that would see a third null and void unable to happen.

I have games planned in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings of this week and at least two more over the New Year weekend, I wouldn’t like to bet all four make it past the finishing post but we can only hope………….

Festive time but not for all

As the nation prepares to indulge in its annual festival of excess-booze, food and presents those masters of the new religion of football practice self-discipline. Whilst the rest of the country sit down to a festive feast on December 25th, the players’ minds will be totally focused on avoiding a stuffing, rather than eating it, in their quest for another three points in the bag.

Christmas for most of us is our busiest time of the year, bumper crowds at matches and the games come thick and fast. That doesn’t stop your family asking where you are when they’re getting tiddly and watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses!

I always find that when the fixtures come out, there are three key ones to look for: the first, the last and Boxing Day games. Depending when Christmas falls you may get lucky and have a Gaffer who gives an extra day off it has been known for teams to train on both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For the majority of pro clubs, it will be turkey sandwiches and an overnight stay – usually in a near deserted hotel. The coach trip to a hotel is often ‘fragrant’ with sprouts. So, when it feels like they are the only team in the country staying away overnight- remember it can have its advantages you can at least get the hold of the TV remote control for the evening so you can watch Del Boy in peace!

Football clubs used to be very anti-social places to spend your time over Christmas. It does affect player’s attitudes; some get depressed about spending Christmas night in a hotel

What is life like for the physio at Christmas? The festive fixture programme is busy period for all concerned this season is slightly different with just two games compared to four in seven days in the past, a winning team doesn’t care how many games it plays. 

You tend to get more injuries with losing teams but football is an emotive business. The role of the physio is as much a psychological prop as anything else. The present fixture list is congested enough but had today’s professionals played 40 years ago then the 25th December would have been match day. Most games would take place in the morning ready for players to be home in time for the groaning table. Long term injuries are not affected by the concentration of games over this period. It is the running repairs, the knocks and strains which are not helped over the holiday period. Those are the sort of injuries which become problems with a fixture congestion. It is the trivial injuries which get all our attention. If a player has a broken leg, he has his surgery and it’s a case of go to the gym and ‘I’ll see you later.”

The problems for a physio are heightened at intense periods like Christmas. Easter is almost worse because by then the minor injuries have accumulated and worsened. A keenness to continue with slight injuries can often backfire. If the physio does not put his foot down players will carry on with a slight strain, feel sore after the game then reappear three days later. Several weeks of that and then… snap.

The desire especially for smaller clubs to make sure players are fit for crucial games can cause friction between a manager and his physio. It’s a real problem trying to squeeze more games out of smaller and smaller squads. We have to stay neutral. Our work helps the manager but we do not work for them instead you collaborate with him. We must do what is best for the club and if that means not allowing a player to play because it is too risky, then so be it but at the same time doing everything we can so he has as many fit players as possible for each game.

Gary Lewin, the Arsenal physio for 22 years who eventually became the England physio once said: “I didn’t have a Christmas Day off for 25 years.

“My first one off, was when I went to the FA. We opened the presents with the kids, in the morning, and I turned to the missus and said: “What do we do now? I had no idea.

Before I would get in the car and go work and my kids would not see me until the following night.”

Whilst essential services keep watch, nurses and doctors are on duty and the world ticks over like an idle car engine. Sport, however, asks for maximum commitment and full throttle effort. The fans love Boxing Day it is the traditional time for matches now, with another set of fixtures on New Year’s Day games and sometimes games in-between so there’s nothing we can do about it. The is a much more pleasant atmosphere at Christmas games too. However, this year is slightly different Christmas Day falls on a Saturday I’ll be able to enjoy Christmas Day a little bit more with no game until 27 December and New Year’s Eve with no game until the 2 of January.

The idea of a Christmas break is a hot topic of discussion, as the belief that we play too much football in this country. The job of a physio would probably be made easier by a winter break but the practicalities of it are difficult.

It is a lucrative period for clubs’ attendances often increase at a time when many are in a mood for leisure and recreation and the powers that would be unwilling to lose that revenue.

Yet while the crowd become mellow on the festive atmosphere, to the players the prospect of Christmas is as enthralling as it was to Scrooge. A chorus of “Bar, humbug!” replaces the favoured rap on the team bus stereo and it is business as usual. 

As a colleague of mine once said… Christmas comes at the end of May! 

Gavin Blackwell

Xmas cheer for Ebbsfleet

Twas the Saturday before Xmas and my first Saturday game in five weeks. This weekend was a trip home to Kent to visit Ebbsfleet Utd as they hosted Bath City in the National League South.

I worked out it’s been about 16 years since my last visit to Stonebridge Road or the Kuflink Stadium as it is now known that last visit was three more points for Barnet on their way to the title under Paul Fairclough with goals from I believe without checking Liam Hatch, Dean Sinclair and Nicky Bailey.

Whilst the place hasn’t lost much of it’s character it’s clear that if the rest of the stadium follows the front end development it will look one hell of a ground once finished.

I last watched Ebbsfleet under Kevin Watson at Maidenhead before we entered the first lockdown and at the time they were flying and odds on to avoid relegation. As the season finished and was decided by points per game, the Fleet went down by the merest and slightest calculation to the South Division and were in good shape last season when once again it was cut short.

This time around Ebbsfleet are right in the thick of it again and after a few wobbles over the past few weeks appear to be finding their form once again. The top end of the division is very tight with a lot desperate to get out of this division and into the National League top flight.

With both sides missing a host of players and only able to name three substitutes each there was a lot of onus on the starting elevens. The game began at a good pace with Fleet trying a little too hard to force the issue at times while Bath were able to contain the home side with a press high up the pitch on the home side’s defence when playing the ball out from the back.

It was City who had the first real chance to take the lead on 17minutes, Chris Haigh saving well from Cody Cooke and then should have taken the lead less than ten minutes later, after indecision between the Fleet defenders David Sims-Burgess found himself with a free shot at goal but dragged it wide of Haigh’s right hand post.

Just after the half hour mark Sims-Burgess headed straight at Haigh after lacking power to test the keeper, another good chance going begging for the visitors who could have been two goals in front.

The City defence were busy blocking everything Ebbsfleet tried to throw at the them and it looked as if they would be frustrated by the resolute rear guard but a little game of pinball in the Bath penalty area saw the ball eventually land at the feet of Elliott Romain and the striker arrowed the ball past Ryan Clarke for the opening goal a minute before half time.

The second half had only just begun when Romain slipped a lovely little ball into the path of fellow striker Dom Poleon who rounded Clarke and slipped the ball into the net to double the lead.

Whilst Bath were coming to terms with a two goal deficit it got worse just three minutes later, Romain bursting clear of the City defence and while Clarke saved his first shot the striker was on the rebound in a flash and slotted home his second and the third for Ebbsfleet, effectively killing the game off.

Romain had a chance for his hat-trick just before the hour mark but Clarke saved well from the impressive front man whilst the other side of the hour saw Poleon latch onto Ben Chapman’s through ball but Clarke was equal to the shot.

Bath rallied in the final ten minutes but couldn’t create any clear cut chances whilst the hosts were content to soak up any pressure and play on the counter with pace from Poleon and Rakish Bingham who was moved up front after Romain’s substitution.

A comfortable win for the depleted hosts who moved to the top of the table on goal difference ahead of the Xmas and New Year fixtures but with a lot of big games to come and with so few points separating the top seven there are plenty more twists and turns to come.

Romain certainly looked hungry from the start ably assisted by Poleon and with a lack of personnel available Bingham filled in nicely down both flanks in either half.

Had either or both City chances gone in during the first half the crowd of 795 might well have seen a different outcome to the game, fine margins I’m finding in a lot of games I am watching at the moment.

Nice to catch up with Natalie Edwards, who appears to do rather a lot on a matchday, friends we’ve been for a few years and both her and her dad wrote guest pieces for me during that first lockdown, wherever I go there’s always someone to see at a game!