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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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!

Double hat-trick delight for Town

We might be in the middle of December but there are still some midweek offerings out there to take your fancy as we head towards the festive fixtures in a couple of weeks’ time.

After last week’s trip to Kent to watch Cray Wanderers it was back local to high flying Littlehampton Town and a catch up with one of my mates, Steve Watson at the same time.

Town were fresh from the weekend’s FA Vase win against Sheppey Utd, a side that are unbeaten in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division, Liam Humphreys scoring the only goal of the game to put the West Sussex outfit into the last 32 and an away draw in January at Athletic Newham.

Their opponents in yet another cup competition, the Sussex FA RUR Cup, were AFC Uckfield who sit far enough away from the relegation places and looking more towards mid-table, but up against a free scoring side who have notched 76 goals in 21 league game alone.

On what was a mild night for football, the visitors had a few delays in arriving at the ground all in one go, the joys of the A26 and 27 and not just during rush hour. Sometimes something like this has no effect on a team and other times it can mean everything goes to pot before the game has kicked off.

But against a side like Littlehampton you can’t give them an inch of space at all and with less than ten minutes on the clock the home side were in front through joint-boss George Gaskin after some smart play.

With the first goal on the board so early on thoughts tend to drift to ‘how many’ as it’s pretty rare for a low scoreline when it involves the Golds. The home side were zipping the ball around well on a sticky surface, that super looking playing surface showing the wear and tear of so many teams playing on it, but Town made it look like there wasn’t an issue with it.

Lucas Pattendon, who was giving the left back a torrid time with his direct running, rattled the post on 20 minutes and almost unbelievably Joe Benn struck the opposite post just a minute later, the onslaught appeared to be coming.

There was a short wait for the game’s second goal and it fell to Gaskin again on the half hour mark, a deft touch from Benn into the path of his fellow front man and he made no mistake.

Just as we seemed set for a 2-0 half-time lead, Gaskin wrapped up his hat-trick with a curled shot beyond the reach of visiting keeper Jason Tibble. The half still wasn’t done as Benn added a fourth in stoppage time, slamming the ball home after it fell kindly to him in the box and to leave the visitors shell shocked and effectively out of the game.

Golds started the second half as they finished the first, on the front foot and five minutes into the half Benn had an easy tap in from a left wing Steve Herbert cross for the game’s fifth goal and all for the home side.

With the game completely in their control, Town sprayed the ball around trying for more openings, but Uckfield keeping them at bay despite finding it hard to get out of their own half.

Tom Biggs after one of the most mazy runs I’ve ever seen dinked the ball onto the post with 18 minutes to play, the third striking of the woodwork during the evening, the same player soon after tried to chip a shot beyond Tibble into the top right hand corner but the ball narrowly went over the bar.

It was down to Benn to match Gaskin and notch a treble of his own with five minutes left to complete a comprehensive win for the Golds and yet more cup progress in a season which is unfolding quite nicely at the moment.

An estimate from me of around 150 watching this one as Town were quite honestly ruthless in front of goal. The visitors did fashion a couple of half chances in the second half and had a penalty appeal waved away as well, James Binfield I don’t think had a save to make.

Benn now sits on 48 goals for the season, a phenomenal effort so far and of course has been attracting attention at higher levels. Nothing should be taken away from the efforts of Gaskin too, he has chipped in with a very decent amount this season but overshadowed by Benn’s exploits at times.

What was also noticeable last night was how comfortable each player was on the ball and all of them always wanting it despite the threadbare playing surface, but also the fact Humphreys and Dave Herbert dropped to the bench, Dion Jarvis was missing completely but it made no difference and that’s the sign of a good squad at the disposal of Gaskin and Mitch Hand.

Credit must go to Uckfield who didn’t shy away, the two goals right at the end of the first half was easily a body blow and the ones that changed the complexion of the second half, but when you come up against a side that can just score and create chances for fun, sometimes you just have to tip your hat.

An old haunt proves a happy return

For those of you who read the Cray Wanderers vs Horsham blog posted a day or so ago you’ll know I spent the evening with the former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

Smudger as he’s most commonly known, was someone I interviewed not long before we went into that first lockdown two years ago on the back of watching him in the BT Sport production on five clubs it followed, Ben Strevens I had made contact with after watching it and he provided a few numbers for me.

Apart from a couple of Zoom chats since with Strevs and Darren Currie, this was the first opportunity for us to meet up after 2 and a half years and take in a game together. Smith lives a short walk from Hayes Lane but this game was going to be his first return to the club, where he spent ten years and some very memorable times, since his sacking last March, probably best it was a Cray game rather than the landlords.

Many of you will know he’s great company, loves to chat and knows so many people, so of course he sorted out the tickets for us but also introduced me to the leading lights of Cray Wanderers FC, Gary Hillman and Sam Wright.

For me as someone who would love to get on the football writing ladder and although this blog does wonders I want to take it further so any contacts I get inside the non-league game I cling onto and over the past couple of years my contact book has grown immensely and is still building.

We could quite easily have gotten into the stadium and sat down to watch but instead Neil made sure I met everyone around, a nice touch. Steve King the manager of National League South side Dartford was there to check on his opponents in the FA Trophy in a week’s time, so there was a conversation to be had and you pick up bits and pieces.

Being the tenants to Bromley meant Smudger knew plenty of people in and around the stadium and it was nice to see him catching up, sharing a laugh with people all the way through the evening.

When we got to half time he came across Jerry Dolke, a former owner of the Ravens, another handshake and conversation being had, all the time plenty to listen to and take on board.

Of course we chatted during the game, two years and more is a long time and a lot to happen. Neil’s had offers, not a handful but a couple, not yet the right one has landed in his lap. He told me he’s never spoken to so many owners in his life but before last March he’d not been looking to go anywhere and I think having the time out of a club has opened his eyes a little to what else is out there and how differently other clubs do things, you never stop learning.

After the game I made sure we stopped off for a beer in the bar and to see the reaction he got from the bar staff and two of the elder stewards was fantastic, a man very much revered around Hayes Lane and definitely not forgotten.

That wasn’t the end of the conversations once Cray boss Danny Kedwell arrived in the bar, another handshake and conversation and maybe someone I’ll tap into for a blog piece, interesting angle for him for his 1st managerial job whilst working for Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy.

When you’re in the company of guys like these and others with so many stories and things to tell you it’s a shame when the evening has to end but I think getting Smudge out the house and back down to the ground for the first time in over 18 months cleared out a few cobwebs and there is a possibility he was going back for more at the weekend as Cray faced Bishops Stortford!

Great guy to know, fantastic company and I hope we get to repeat it later on this season, who knows maybe I’ll get him up to The Hive for more than one or two beers……

Hornets lack sting as Wanderers claim the points

Wednesday night football this week gave me a couple of opportunities for something a bit different and the chance to meet up with former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

With living down the road from the Hayes Lane ground Cray Wanderers share with Bromley it was an ideal time to catch up with Neil having worked out it’s been 18 months since we last got together so it was well overdue.

It was also going to be his first visit back to the ground and club where he spent 10 years before being sacked in March last year, probably better it was Cray to watch and not the Ravens.

Horsham were the visitors in town on the back of six straight wins and now looking up at the play-off’s instead of those below them. Having watched them eight days earlier at home dispatching Wingate & Finchley 2-0 it’s not often I watch the same side two games in a row but the chance to grab a game with Neil was an easy choice to make.

Cray are certainly in a transitional period under new boss Danny Kedwell, a man with a great reputation through the non-league game and whilst he runs Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy this is his time to cut his managerial teeth.

Results and performances have been hit and miss but looking at his squad there is a wealth of experience that should see them find their way to a decent run of form.

Both sides traded early half chances without threatening either goalkeeper, but with Cray starting to win the midfield battle with on loan former Bee Sam Skeffington pulling the strings alongside Cameron Brodie, another loanee from Dartford.

And it was Cray who opened the scoring on 16 minutes, a ball across the box wasn’t quite collected by Jamie Yila but fell kindly for debutant Kyel Reid whose left foot shot found its way past Sam Howes in the Hornets goal.

Yila thought he had doubled the lead just after the half hour mark but his free kick found the wrong side of the net. Horsham looked to work their best chances through Lucas Rodrigues but the winger was unable to provide the needed spark and with Rob O’Toole and Charlie Hester-Cook well marshalled by the Cray backline the home side went into the break with the lead.

As expected at the beginning of the second half the Hornets cranked up the pressure and for a good 10 minutes or so Cray struggled to both retain possession and get out of their own half.

Cray were close to a second on the hour, Reid’s left wing cross headed straight at Howes by Chris Dickson as the home side began to get a footing back in the game.

With Reid not pushing his full back towards his own goal Kedwell brought on Anthony Cook, just as the Hornets own substitute Lee Harding danced his way through the home backline and his rasping effort wasn’t far past Jack Turner’s post.

Just as it could have been 1-1, moments later the scoreline did change. Skeffington broke forward and fed Yila whose shot was saved by Howes; Dickson however was on hand to double the home side’s lead.

 With Cook providing pressure on the Hornets midfield, the loose ball was picked up by Brodie who slid an inch perfect ball into the path of Yila who made no mistake to put the game beyond the visitors with eight minutes to play.

Just as Cray seemed set to claim a clean sheet to go with the three points Eddie D’Sane was fouled in the box and Charlie Harris claimed a consolation goal with a thumping penalty past Turner, but that couldn’t take the shine off a decent home performance.

A few around me were surprised at how there wasn’t more from Horsham given their current form, but with so much Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday over the last few weeks quite conceivable that the legs finally caught up with them, that’s also to take nothing away from Kedwell’s team who put together an impressive performance and one that hopefully starts off a good run for the side.

Great performance from young Brodie in the Cray midfield, reminded me very much of a younger Harry Taylor whilst Skeffers energy I know all about from his time at Barnet last season, as Neil pointed out too Kedwell made his substitutions at the right time, Freddie Barton also stood out well at right back.

Neil picked out Harding who tried hard to get things going for the Hornets when he came on, but the game was getting away from them as he entered the fray.

Great to catch up briefly after the game with Dicko, someone we’ve featured on our PNLP podcast a couple of times, and with Neil knowing everyone there were conversations with Dartford boss Steve King, Keds after the game and some great people at Cray, Gary Hillman the chairman and Sam Wright the CEO.

Got to also mention Charlie Bradford who puts together some fantastic reports from all the games he attends and nice to meet a couple of fellow Twitterati, Colin Head and Victor Klarfeld, an evening well worth the late night drive home………..