Saturday 12th March took a long time to come around. Taking you back around a month before Littlehampton Town had overcome Brockenhurst on penalties in the FA Vase 5th round, a competition they had been knocked out of but re-instated after Athletic Newham had fielded an ineligible player.
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Most midweek nights for me are a Tuesday when the majority tend to play but having scoured the Non-League Paper on Sunday for where to go it was either teams I’d already seen and in some cases the away side too and others I just didn’t fancy.
Holmesdale vs Tunbridge Wells allowed me a few things on Wednesday night, namely a different evening to take in a game, get to meet up with Eddie Mackintosh and Rob Shirley two Bromley fans I chat to quite often on Twitter and a chance to catch up with the Wells management team of Rich Styles and Dan Morrin after we were thwarted a couple of weeks ago.
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When you get to this time of year the result starts to become more important than the performance. The title races, play-off chases and relegation battles are heading into the final third of the season and there are some fantastic games still to come in all three National League divisions.
Stockport County are in the kind of form that almost brought Hartlepool the title last season under the same Dave Challinor. 11 wins from the last 12 games has been a phenomenal run of form and it’s beginning to look like the title is theirs to lose now. Boreham Wood fans would argue otherwise given their three games in hand and an unbeaten home record but you would say they have to put together this exact run of the form County are on and hope the Hatters lose a few, it’s a big ask for any club.
There are a clutch of chasing clubs in the play-off’s and I think again it would take a really excellent run from Dagenham downwards for any club to break into the top 7, Bromley and Grimsby just outside those places I feel the only ones who can do some damage to those currently occupying the promotion dream spots.
Dover we know are all but confirmed to go down, I think there is too much for Kings Lynn to do despite a couple of games in hand, those two wins would only draw them level with Weymouth directly above them, the South Coast club also need to string together a number of wins to give themselves a chance of survival meaning those just above shouldn’t need too many more wins to secure top division football next season.
The North has a three way race for the title although that does rely on games in hand being won as well. Gateshead hold the advantage with points in the bag but both Brackley and Kidderminster are still in with a good shout of automatic promotion, underneath those three the play-off race is certainly far from clear cut.
Whilst AFC Fylde, Southport and Chorley have a little bit of a gap to the others, you can say as far down as Spennymoor in 14th place will still be eyeing a spot. I’ve gone as low as that due to their games in hand and although there is an allowance needed for those in between them to have to lose a few games the impossible it isn’t at all.
At the bottom with very few clubs having more than a game in hand on others and goal difference being quite tight that battle is going to move up and down every week. Farsley Celtic who occupy the current bottom spot have a far inferior goal difference to the rest and will need to do more than most I feel to escape, but level on points and just above them AFC Telford are without an away win all season, it could come down to whoever can win the most home games between those two or alternatively someone can easily get dragged into the mess at the bottom.
Whilst Dorking Wanderers win over 2nd placed Maidstone Utd at the weekend strengthened their position in the South division, the Stones game in hand can still bring the Kent club to within three points of the leaders. Recent form for those underneath these two have seen them all fall away and at one stage you could have thrown a blanket over five or six clubs separated by a minimal amount of points.
The play-off race once again is as every bit exciting as the North division with Hemel Hempstead down in 11th place not thinking they’re out of the race, a lot of wins needed but it’s still a possibility. It only takes a couple of wins for those just outside to be inside and for others to get themselves closer but for some it will need a fantastic run of wins against others managing an awful run of defeats at the same time.
At the bottom Tonbridge’s win over Billericay on Saturday was huge in both cases, breathing space for the former, the latter knowing their game in hand has huge importance in closing the gap to a manageable three points to those above them. Whilst an 11 point gap from the bottom to those in 15th place might be enough to see the likes of Hampton & Richmond Borough and Concord Rangers from getting dragged into the dogfight we all know football has that unpredictability and somewhere from within these three divisions one or more will surprise us all and spring from the pack or drop more than we expected, it’s all a case of who can keep their nerve for the next two months and come up trumps.
After the past two years of growth on www.footballwriting.blog it’s now time to take it to the next level. The last 24 months have been tough for freelance writers like myself who have seen websites they wrote for disappearing during the pandemic.
I lost two such sites that were paying me for my words and when you look through a Google search many haven’t had any articles uploaded for months suggesting they too have bitten the bullet.
My aim when I started this blog around three years ago was to set up a website solely for Sussex non-league football and that hasn’t changed, I’m just a year behind where I want to be but in the meantime have built a respectable brand and a growing contact book from all levels of the game.
I also have viewings consistently from all over the world and at times it really does surprise me where these words are read and I hope they continue to be a source of information and debate for everyone in lots of different countries.
With that in mind I need to make it work moneywise and from 1st March there will be a charge to read each piece I write. Now I’m not looking to make a million from this, just enough to get away from full time work again and into making football work for me.
The cost is going to be a simple 50p for each piece, you can’t even get a cup of coffee for that these days! I appreciate people might pick and choose what they read, I can’t argue with that but then that’s my job to keep the articles entertaining and with debate.
It will ask you to subscribe to read a piece but it’s set for a one time only 50p price so you aren’t tied into monthly or yearly pricing, you read what you want when you want.
As mentioned I do have a growing contacts book which I will delve into as often as I can to get some interviews out there as well to keep it fresh and different just to keep you coming back for more and then I can hit that aim of providing what I wanted when I first set out to do so.
I’m always open to ideas of topics to write about, feel free to suggest something at any time that takes your fancy, any piece can be a winner and I hope to expand my blog network to further work which might mean I am able to run a fully free and a paid for blog side by side but that’s for the future depending upon how successful this will be.
Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to do so.
We’re still at the time of year when the weather likes to have a say if matches can be played or not, although we’ve been quite lucky since the latter part of last year not losing too many games to the wind and rain.
Tunbridge Wells was my original destination for the first time this season, a pitch though that doesn’t hold up to the weather very well and given the rain that came down across most of the South East during the day it was no surprises to see it called off by 4.30.
Luckily, there was a back up plan in the shape of Worthing vs Kingstonian which wasn’t a bad second choice to have, the artificial surface at the Crucial Environmental Stadium allowing play in all kinds of weather. It also meant a much quicker journey home from the game so that’s never a bad thing!
The Rebels are once again leading the way in the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division and despite there being more in the way of challengers this time around they are well placed to finally make it to the National League South.
Kingstonian were sure to provide a stern test on Tuesday evening with play-off aspirations themselves and on a cold, rainy night the scene was set for what was hopefully going to be a pulsating clash.
The visitors were quite content for Worthing to have possession in and around their own half whilst utilising the pace of Daniel Ajakaiye and Walter Figueira to mount any counter attacks, Worthing looking to play cross-field balls from right to left into the path of Davide Rodari and James Beresford.
At times in the first half the K’s struggled to get out of their own half as Worthing probed and pressed for a way through, and despite a flurry of attacking play they couldn’t find a breakthrough, Ollie Pearce coming the closest to finding the net but couldn’t divert his effort goal wards.
As can sometimes happen one side has all the attacking play and then all of a sudden find themselves a goal behind and chasing the game. That almost happened five minutes before half time as Kingstonian broke clear beyond the Worthing back line and were indebted to debut making keeper Tommy Reid who saved well with his legs to keep the scores level.
That scoreline stayed level for only a few seconds more as Jasper Pattenden drove into the heart of the K’s defence and while his shot was saved by Serine Sanneh, Callum Kealy was on hand to put away the rebound and give the Rebels the lead.
The marksman was at it again two minutes into stoppage time, rifling a fierce shot past Sanneh after the ball dropped to him in the box from a corner and the Rebels going from almost being 1-0 behind to 2-0 up.
It almost got worse for the visitors a minute later as a barnstorming run from Pattenden ended up with the ball slamming against the post much to the relief of the K’s players and supporters and a chance for everyone to catch their breath as the half time whistle sounded.
The pattern of the second half opening moments saw the home side seemingly sucked into the visitors play, a ten minute spell of pressure but a lack of efforts on Reid’s goal kept the scoreline at a blank for the K’s.
The game turned a little bit niggly for a short while, Kealy picking up a yellow card after tangling with former Rebel Alfie Young in which the latter appeared to kick out at the Worthing frontman but escaped further punishment after an earlier yellow card. Skirmishes broke out twice as the referee looked to lose a little control instead of dealing with the situation slightly better and issued a yellow card also to Pattenden.
The rush of yellow cards also claimed Aaron Racine and the visitors Jerry Puemo in quick succession before Pattenden settled the game on 68 minutes. A superb ball from Beresford set Kealy away down the left flank and he crossed for the winger to finish from inside the six yard box.
Puemo then gave the referee a decision to make with a foul 15 minutes from time and ended up back in the changing room giving Worthing some time to make a man advantage count.
And they almost did three minutes later but substitute Dajon Golding couldn’t latch onto a rebound and hit the target. However, fellow substitute Reece Meekums had no such trouble six minutes from time running at the K’s forlorn defence and arrowing the ball past Sanneh for the home side’s fourth of the night.
Two minutes from time Sanneh was equal to another Golding effort as the Rebels walked off with four goals and a six point lead at the top of the table with a game in hand ahead of a trip to second placed Bishops Stortford at the weekend.
A comfortable win in the end for the hosts but at times the K’s made them work for the points, the sheer power and changes from the bench the difference. And from that point when you look at the players who couldn’t make the sixteen, Pat Webber, Luke Robinson, Darren Budd and a couple more, add in Dean Cox not even coming off the bench as well, the strength in depth available to Adam Hinshelwood is exactly what will be needed over the next two and a half months and hopefully propels them finally into the National League South.
Saturday is surely a ‘not lose’ game and then carry on picking up the wins, if the game in hand yields three points the gap is nine, that’s a nice cushion but one I know Hinsh will insist they maintain.
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It’s not often I get to a Saturday afternoon game at the moment but I’m certainly making the most of every Tuesday night available. A change of plans however this weekend meant I had the rare opportunity to make a 3pm kick off and headed for The Sportsfield in Littlehampton to watch the home side take on Brockenhurst in the FA Vase 5th round.
Both sides are embroiled in title races in the Southern Combination Premier Division and the Wessex League so on paper it looked like a very good match up which is generally the case when you get to this stage and only three games from a Wembley final.
Town were missing two or three regulars but as I’ve seen throughout this season they can rotate as many as four within the squad and it doesn’t weaken things. There was also an added bonus for the home side with striker Joe Benn returning for his first game since the Vase exit last month and a dislocated shoulder for the 58 goal marksman.
I say Vase exit because there is a story behind that! Athletic Newham comfortably put five past the Golds and trotted into the next round to host Brockenhurst. It was subsequently discovered they had played a suspended player during the win and were subject to an FA investigation which they lost and Littlehampton were re-instated days before this game was played.
So, it was certainly a case of making second chances count on Saturday afternoon and in the bright but cold Sussex sunshine the opportunity was there to take the season onto the next stage.
There was very little between the sides in the opening moments, the biting wind behind the home side for the first forty-five and both sides testing each other out.
As both were struggling a bit to get to grips with the conditions a goal appeared out of nowhere. The ball came into Benn around five yards outside the penalty area and on the half volley sent the ball fizzing past the visiting keeper James Mayo to open the scoring.
Clear cut chances were at a premium, the visitors were controlling possession but lacked a cutting edge to trouble the Littlehampton back four whilst the home side were content to allow the ball to be played in front of them and to deal with any breaks down either flanks.
That seemed to work well until a minute before half time when Brockenhurst levelled the game, Silvano Obeng finishing well past James Binfield after some good wing play, the game by no means a classic to watch but still another half to come.
The second half really saw the game come to life as early as the opening ten minutes with both sides seemingly deciding attack was going to be the way to win the game and on the hour mark the home side were back in front.
A free kick from the Town left found its way to Zack Harris in the penalty box who drilled the ball across for new signing Aaron Capon to tap in from a few yards out. There was drama however as the assistant referee had flagged for offside only to be overruled by the referee and the goal stood.
Ten minutes later the tie looked to be won as another Town free kick wasn’t cleared and Lee Garnham on the half volley sent the Littlehampton fans into raptures with a third goal for the home side.
The visitors had other ideas that this tie was over though as Christie Ward scored with a little over 14 minutes to play and you could sense a few nerves returning to The Sportsfield crowd. Unsurprisingly the impetus was now with Brockenhurst and Town were defending a lot of needless free kicks being given away, one such foul ending with a second yellow card for midfielder Dave Herbert and an early bath one minute from time.
Just moments earlier Binfield pulled off a fantastic save to keep the home side in front, flying to his right to push the ball out for a corner from a shot destined for the top corner had he not made it.
With five added minutes the ten men Golds did their best to hold out but another needless free kick given away saw the ball bounce around in the Town box and was poked towards goal by Alex Haynes in the final minute of stoppage time with the last touch coming from Binfield to level the tie once again and with no extra time it was straight to penalties.
Just when you thought you’d seen enough drama inside 90 minutes, more was to come. Benn scored the first for the home side while Binfield then saved the first Brockenhurst penalty. Both sides converted their second penalties followed by Town scoring their third and the visitors putting their kick the wrong side of the post leaving Capon to score Gold’s fourth kick and a place in the quarter final draw as the Sportsfield erupted to a pitch invasion.
To see 1,276 supporters inside to witness all of the above was a figure I wasn’t expecting at all to see. Crowds for Littlehampton this season have been on the increase all year and are currently averaging 178 per league fixture at Step 5, cup games have been very well attended and it’s great to see the town getting involved and behind the side as they aim for promotion to the Isthmian League.
The visitors really played their part in an entertaining second half as well and the season isn’t over for them, a race for the Wessex League title awaits them for the remainder of the season. Great to see when sides play the ball on the floor and want to pass through teams rather than play over them, two players stuck out for me in Ronan Moore and Seung Woo-Yang who looked every inch calm and composed throughout.
Nice to catch up with some old friends as well, namely Terry Gaunt, Simon Ediker, Kevin Playle-Howard and Jack Croft, guys who get around to local football as well but just not as much as me! I purposely waited until the draw was made on Monday afternoon before posting this blog and what a mouth-watering tie for the Golds, favourites North Shields are the visitors to the Sportsfield on the weekend of 12th March and with only two rounds now till the Wembley date comes around you can almost taste the glory……….
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Tuesday night saw a trip to East Sussex and down to Priory Lane, home of Eastbourne Borough as guests of the Boro’ Chairman David Blackmore, another first for Gaz but a return trip for me.
Last season though my visit was to watch the now defunct Langney Wanderers whose matchday programme I was writing for but I also managed to speak to David that afternoon for the first time instead of via Twitter and text!
A couple of weeks ago the chairman appeared on our Premier Non-League Podcast to talk about the leadership issues the club was facing and thankfully resolved within a few days, but a great insight into the way their club is run.
The visitors were Tonbridge Angels, managed by a good friend of mine in Steve McKimm, and on the back of a fine away win at the weekend ending Dorking Wanderers 10 game winning run. Borough themselves are having another very good season and are firmly in the hunt for a play-off place.
It was the Angels who got off to a fast start and were in front inside five minutes, Ibrahim Olutade timed his run perfectly onto a ball over the top before setting up Adrian Coombes to curl the ball past Lee Worgan for the game’s opening goal.
There was a frantic pace about the game with both sides keen to break quickly when in possession and there wasn’t much surprise when the equalising goal arrived soon after.
Dom Hutchinson drifted in from the left hand side and after seeming to evade a couple of tackles he managed to find a way past Jonny Henly and the ball nestled in the far corner to give us two goals before ten minutes were on the clock.
The Angels were looking the more likely to score during the rest of the half, but you knew you couldn’t rule out Borough at any stage and whilst actual chances being created were at a premium there was plenty of attacking intent to keep the crowd occupied.
Just as it appeared the sides would go in level; the home side snatched the lead in first half stoppage time. Charley Kendall, who secured a move to Lincoln City this coming summer before the January transfer window ended, was fed a lovely ball by Charlie Walker and after beating Sonny Miles Kendall slipped the ball passed Henly for a Borough half time lead and Tonbridge possibly wondering how they weren’t level at a minimum.
The visitors were very much on the front foot at the start of the second half but it was the hosts who almost went further ahead four minutes in, Henly racing out from his goal to thwart Kendall outside of the penalty area only to see Hutchinson return the ball towards the net, Harry Hudson with a headed goal-line clearance to keep the deficit at one goal.
Tonbridge were still pressing hard for a way back into the game but found the Borough defence not very giving despite a lot of probing and were cautious at the same time of the hosts breaking fast and sealing the game.
As it was Eastbourne did finally put the game to bed in stoppage time as Joel Rollinson broke clear of the Angels backline to lift the ball over Henly cool as you like to ensure the points stayed in Sussex and Tonbridge went home empty handed.
The result meant Danny Bloor’s men moved back into the top seven and as David put it on Wednesday morning, one point from safety! Different targets for different clubs of course but Borough most definitely back in the thick of a promotion race.
Steve McKimm on the other hand bemoaned getting punished for their mistakes once again despite dominating the game. Whilst Borough were clinical with the few chances they did have, Tonbridge certainly looked the more threatening going forward, attention for them though turns to a Kent derby in the FA Trophy this coming Saturday as Bromley visit Longmead.
Impressive performance from Aaron Smith-Joseph down the Angels left hand side, a real handful and fantastic delivery into the box all evening meant the Borough defence couldn’t rest for a moment whilst for the home side the sharpness of Kendall made you see why he’s earned his move, good to see Chris Whelpdale get some more minutes under his belt, a key figure in last season’s halted campaign.
One final note, David was expecting a crowd of around 500 so to see the figure at 710 was pretty good given the cold night and of course football on the box as well.
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