Defeat overshadowed by off pitch events

Tuesday night and the fourth game in seven days for me, it started at the Dripping Pan and took in Lewes, Wroxham, Barnet and finally Barnet again but an away day at Southend Utd.

The original fixture planned for Tuesday following Xmas wouldn’t have seen me attending due to work so it would have been rude not to make a first trip to Roots Hall when able to.

Both sides came into the game at opposite ends of the form table, the Shrimpers beginning to find form under Kevin Maher and the Bees finding struggles of late under Dean Brennan.

Barnet were missing three key players, skipper Jamie Turley who was internally suspended as I was to find out just before kick off from revelations of the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat to Stockport, Harry Taylor was suspended and Sam Beard suffering from a bout of tonsilitis.

With the focus of the Bees players possibly elsewhere at kick off, Southend went for the kill from the off and were in front inside five minutes, Aston Oxborough pushing a shot out straight to the feet of Matthew Dennis and he made no mistake to give the home side the lead.

Barnet struggled to get to grips with the lively front man and he was only denied by a superb Jordan Thomas tackle from getting himself with a free run at Oxborough nine minutes later. The Bees did then settle down looking to get Rob Hall and Ephron Mason-Clark on the ball as much as possible to unsettle the Southend defence with their pace and direct running.

Just before the half hour mark Dennis had his and the Shrimpers second, Oxborough failing to hold onto the ball and the frontman took full advantage to extend the lead for the home side.

The two goal cushion only lasted five minutes, Mason-Clark played in Adam Marriott who fired hard into the bottom corner to reduce the deficit. The Bees could have been level two minutes later but Mason-Clark headed wide of Steve Arnold’s goal.

Five minutes before the break Barnet allowed Tom Clifford a free run up the pitch and his shot came back off Oxborough’s left hand post and away to safety, but the home side in front at the interval.

Barnet were certainly the brighter side for the first fifteen second half minutes applying a good amount of pressure but lacked the penetration to level the scores. From that point on Southend dictated the play without too much threat to Oxborough’s goal and while Barnet stayed within touching distance of the game Arnold had a relatively comfortable second half, the Shrimpers taking the points to move to seven games unbeaten leaving Brennan proud of his side’s efforts but with nothing to show for them.

The game was certainly overshadowed by events off the pitch with much talk in the away end over what had happened since the Stockport match at the weekend, a few at the end chose to vent their frustrations and a lot of anger aimed at various individuals throughout.

Hopefully by the time the Bees take to the field at Aldershot this coming weekend some things will have been resolved and we get back to concentrating on football, the form needs to improve as it’s really tailed off with no win in six league games.

Better performance from Teddy Howe standing in at left back and Jordan Thomas made a difference recalled to the right back berth, stand out player for me was Sam Woods, winning headers and tackles where he’s supposed to and Wes Fonguck had his best game for a while before running out of steam.

Seven points were really needed out of the next four games including this one, a tall order maybe but we don’t need another relegation fight.

Headline news but for all the wrong reasons

Well, where do you start with this one! It’s a sensitive topic that plagues society as well as football and something we can’t seem to deal with effectively. I am of course talking about racism which is prevalent in our game and across the footballing world, but this one strikes a lot closer to home.

A big majority of you will have read by now of an alleged incident during the Barnet vs Stockport County match on Saturday at The Hive, a game I attended with a good mate of mine Nick Patel.

The game was halted around 15 minutes in but there was uncertainty as to why. The referee held conversations with his assistant on that side of the field nearest the tunnel, both captains, a steward, the managers and also the 4th official. Play took about 5-10 minutes to re-start and I thought whatever it was had been dealt with.

Then around 10-15 minutes after the stoppage an anti-racism message was broadcasted over the tannoy and again I assumed it had been dealt with at the time and to be honest didn’t think too much of it.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and a trip to Southend. I arrived and sat down after eating to check out the team news, no Jamie Turley who I assumed picked up a knock at the weekend, no Beard or Taylor, the latter two I found out after were ill and suspended. From here is where it unravels!

I messaged Nick to say no Turley and forwarded on came a link to a Daily Mirror article about Barnet embroiled in a racism row and that if I read it I would know why Turley was not there.

Turley had indeed been suspended from the club on full pay following an incident at The Hive on Monday morning which came about from the allegations on Saturday.

Ricky Bartlett, the clubs apparent logistics manager (more on that later) and NOT a member of the coaching staff, is alleged to have made a racist comment to Stockport County defender Ryan Johnson that caused the stoppage in play.

Bartlett wasn’t suspended by the club initially despite the chairman being made aware on the Sunday of an issue whereby the players weren’t comfortable with him being around the complex at training time.

As per the statements released so far Turley clashed with Bartlett leading to the latter making his feelings known to the chairman and Turley receiving his suspension. Bartlett was eventually also suspended but it appears after the Bees captain.

Now all of this appeared on various newspaper links an hour before the game was due to kick off at Roots Hall, leaked out I assume from the club but by who that remains a mystery. That led to the club releasing a statement once they knew it was out in the open, once again poor communication that we have seen on so many occasions and the timing itself was also very poor.

Word then began to filter around the stand before, during and after the game with much speculation abound, the game itself merely a by-product almost in front of us for its duration.

The atmosphere itself wasn’t pleasant at all in the away end, disbelief, angry, confused, the best way to describe the emotions but getting behind the players on the pitch at the same time.

Once the game had finished a few took to venting their frustrations as the staff and players were leaving the pitch, two of the staff members did walk across and talk to them, I didn’t hear what was said as I was out of earshot.

Going back to the article the playing squad had backed Turley and refused to turn out on Tuesday night and didn’t train on Monday nor anything light on Tuesday morning. The reason the players did play was down to Dean Brennan solely to convince them to play for him, for Dave Anderson and for us as supporters.

There seems some uncertainty that they were told going on strike would see some contracts terminated or players fined, we do know however if they had failed to fulfil the fixture then the club would have been on the receiving end of a fine themselves.

If you’re still reading and not in a confused state of mind, then well done! I’m not convinced I’ve got things in order and this is after a re-read twice over.

Since I began to write this earlier on Wednesday the club have since issued another statement with more bullet points and information than before but it still begs a few questions need to be answered.

Reading the statement sent out on Wednesday afternoon those closest to the incident confirm nothing untoward was said out of context or that what was said wasn’t deemed to be racist in its wording.

If however nothing out of the ordinary was said then why has the County player in question reported it to the Kick It Out campaign? Because if the said wording is not racist then it’s another can of worms opening up surely?

What don’t I understand is why the club didn’t undertake a thorough investigation a day later and suspend Bartlett while they completed it? The FA would be involved in any case which they are now and potentially this could have been concluded by now.

If you or I had done this same thing in a normal workplace we’d be on suspension pending investigation and released back to work if the allegations were unfounded, why does it appear to be done differently? It’s their place of work, the same rules don’t apply?

If they had followed those parts above then Turley wouldn’t have been in the situation he’s ended up in now, there would a more calmer approach to it instead of het-up angry comments flying around everywhere.

I can understand people saying the players were wrong to strike, but like in a disagreement you back your mate, they feel their skipper was hard done by because the club hasn’t followed what you would expect when serious allegations are made and at this stage until every last morsal has been investigated that’s what they are.

I don’t understand why reference had to be made to Bartlett no longer holding the position of Logistics Manager due to a severe heart condition, surely that has no bearing on anything discussed above? And if he’s only a member of the site team should he be anywhere close to the training sessions as he now has no impact on any football related matters that he was once responsible for?

My hashtag on Twitter of #WeStandByTurley isn’t an admission of guilt on the part of Bartlett as one or two have suggested, I stand by the fact that whatever happened on Monday morning was avoidable and he’s paying the price for it as are the team without his presence on the pitch.

The whole thing has left a sour taste in the mouths of many for a situation that could have been handled far differently and we’re not here talking about football, but you have to take the rough with the smooth, that’s Barnet FC…………………

County storm to victory against struggling Barnet

I think I can probably count on two hands the amount of times I’ve watched two live games in two days. Life generally dictates otherwise which is fair enough, that can’t be helped.

Having taken in Wroxham vs Norwich Utd in El Broadico on Friday evening I was hoping for Kings Lynn to be at home on the Saturday and a catch up with Hugo Langton who is assisting Tommy Widdrington at The Walks.

But an away day for them at Boreham Wood meant I decided on a trip to The Hive for Barnet and Stockport County instead on the way back home, a nice cross country route to get there instead of endless motorways.

Having watched County cruise past Dagenham last weekend on BT Sport, there wasn’t anything to suggest Barnet would fair any better so keeping the score down and respectable was the most Bees fans were expecting.

With Dean Brennan fielding arguably his strongest side with Jordan Thomas and Kian Flanagan on the bench the only two likely to be included, there was a debut for new right back Teddy Howe.

The intention from Stockport was there right from the kick off, press high and constantly and not give the home side any time to settle, the pace of Paddy Madden and harassing of Scott Quigley forced Reiss Greenidge to concede an early free kick and picked up a booking in the process after only five minutes.

With Barnet struggling to get any momentum going forward it was looking to be a matter of time that County would take the lead, targeting the new full back Howe with balls around and over the top of him.

Both Liam Hogan and Madden put shots just wide of the post before a free kick clipped the top of the crossbar on it’s way over just past the half hour mark. The Bees were still struggling to get anything going and Aston Oxborough was called into action seven minutes before the break tipping Ryan Croasdale’s effort onto the bar, not the first time the County midfield and front line had broken through the Bees back line, this coming from a sliced Oxborough clearance which saw the young stopper redeem himself.

Just as it appeared Barnet would head into the interval on level terms, a silly freekick was given away outside the box and was headed back across goal for Will Collar to nod home unmarked from two yards out in first half stoppage time, in all honesty that should have been the second or third goal for the visitors.

A second goal did come for County nine minutes into the second half, Ryan Johnson outmuscling the Barnet defence to head home from a Ryan Rydel corner much to the delight of the travelling fans behind Oxborough’s goal.

Twelve minutes later Hogan headed home unmarked from another corner to seal the points leaving Bees fans frustrated having conceded all three goals from set plays.

Barnet’s inability to test the County backline meant they waited until the 88th minute for a shot on target, Ephron Mason-Clark’s stinging drive tipped round the post by Ben Hinchliffe.

With the Bees seemingly in the dressing room at the announcement of four added minutes, Stockport showed their ruthless side and score twice more through Connor Jennings and Johnson again to really rub salt into the wounds and cap a five star display from start to finish.

The gulf between the two sides was clearly evident before and during the match and as mentioned the intensity that County played with was far removed from anything Barnet tried.

I think we all expected an away win but not the capitulation at the end and the manner of the first three goals, re-starts, something the Bees had a massive problem with last year and it seems even with new personnel this year it’s no better.

As per almost every game we’ve played this year the lack of midfield legs is showing far too often, we don’t get close enough to the opposition to make them work harder. There is a huge lack of goalscoring threat as well, and it’s not just down to this particular game either, it’s becoming a bit baffling as to why neither Adam Marriott nor Mason Bloomfield are selected to start games when that’s their bread and butter.

The post-match interview from Brennan certainly attracted a few comments, not quite the solid debut from Howe that he alluded to, let’s hope that one was put down to nerves and there is a player in there.

Three huge games coming up in Southend and Aldershot away plus Wealdstone at home by mid-Feb and Notts County somewhere in the middle, seven points must be the minimum from these four games, that relegation zone is becoming closer than mid-table safety……..

Late drama hands Yachtsmen the points

It’s not often I get to sample Friday night football, probably once a season if I’m lucky. A lot may wonder why I headed so far from Littlehampton to Norfolk to watch a game so here it is.

As a kid all of my holidays until I was a teenager were spent in East Anglia and mostly around Wroxham. Sometimes it was a boat, sometimes on land and I got taken to watch the Yachtsmen and Great Yarmouth as well. Over the years as I do with ex Barnet players I take notice and watch what goes on.

The Yachtsmen have always been one of the better sides at Step 5 in the area and have won the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League eight times, twice winning it three years in a row in the 1990’s.

In 2011 they finally took the plunge and accepted promotion to the Isthmian League North Division and I think it’s fair to say the club didn’t have the best of times and were eventually relegated back to the Eastern Counties in 2017. My late father always wanted to see them in action in a higher league, unfortunately he didn’t get that chance, I luckily did twice before this evening.

Being located just down the road from Norwich City it’s probably no surprise there is a yellow and green connection in the Wroxham ranks and not just one for two.

The ex-Premier League striker in Grant Holt has turned out for the past two years adding vast and valuable experience to the side, Chris Sutton’s son Ollie is the Yachtsmen’s keeper and also captain whilst son of Darren Huckerby Tom is currently out injured, if memory serves me correctly Chris had a short spell at Trafford Park after his professional career ended mainly turning out for the reserve side.

 Holt started ‘El Broadico’ at centre half, replacing the injured Huckerby junior and in front of a sizeable crowd of 392 on a cold, crispy Norfolk evening the hosts saw the majority of the early ball, the visitors working hard to press as high up the pitch as they can.

The home side prior to last weekend had gone five weeks without kicking a ball due to the league calling off all games over Xmas and New Year followed by waterlogged pitches putting paid to action.

This game saw them complete their third game in seven days and understandably passes were a bit wayward and judging by the locals beside me the energy wasn’t quite there as it usually was.

Ryan Miles and Brad Spooner down both flanks looked to make things happen early on but balls into the box evaded the Wroxham forwards and nothing much of note to trouble Ryan Dickerson.

It was the visitors who were close to taking the lead on 21 minutes Alby Matthews fierce shot only just clearing Sutton’s crossbar, the striker a willing runner all evening and working hard to press Holt and Chris Skipper.

With the home side making all the running to create a goal it was a surprise that the visitors opened the scoring. Kyle Richardson put the ball in the net just after the half hour mark from a well worked move involving two or three interplays of passing.

The home side were certainly a little taken aback and a heated altercation between the home dugout and the referee resulted in a yellow card for the one of the Yachtsmen coaching staff, the man in the middle at times seemingly a little lost throughout the game with some strange decisions being made.

The home side however couldn’t find a breakthrough and Norwich Utd held the lead going into the half time interval and the Yachtsmen needing something different in the second half.

They did come out with some more intensity and certainly pushed the game forward but at the same time allowed the visitors chances to put the game out of reach, Matthews blazing wildly over and Skipper denying the same player with a superb sliding tackle, substitute Liam Jackson also should have had a second for the visitors.

Holt blazed over early on from a flicked free kick whilst Dickerson saved well from a Harley Black free kick as the home side went in search of an equaliser. The game changed on the back of two substitutions from Wroxham’s Jordan Southgate. With around seven minutes to play a corner from Black was flicked on and Callum Olpin who hadn’t been on the field long was in the right place to net the equaliser.

The Yachtsmen then found some legs to push for a winner, and it duly came in the 90th minute, a contentious penalty awarded after the assistant flagged for a foul inside the area on Ryan Curtis.

Mac Gee was sent off the visitors presumably for something he said to the referee over the award of the spot kick and after much waiting fellow substitute Matty Hayden slammed the ball past Dickerson to put the home side in the lead.

There was just enough time for the game to re-start as the Yachtsmen took the three points at the end of a gruelling week after so much time without any action. With rivals for the title Gorleston losing it capped a great night for the home side who are now just two points of the top of the table with two games in hand on those mentioned above and four games in hand on Mildenhall.

Great to meet Lee Robson the Wroxham chairman, we spoke during the first lockdown for this blog and his hospitality all evening was top drawer, nothing was too much trouble.

Good to also meet Adrian Gowling who looks after the media stuff at Trafford Park and also to get introduced to Adam Drury, another with Norwich connections and assistant manager at the club.

I also met some Kings Lynn fans in the second half ahead of their Saturday trip to Boreham Wood, shared a few National League stories and predictions between us.

So, two out of four games in seven days completed, onto Barnet vs Stockport County, from one end of the pyramid to the other.

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Rooks take points against battling Cray

Picture courtesy of Gareth Spinks

January has been great for Tuesday night football, very good when I haven’t been able to get to many Saturday games, I can’t remember the last season there were so many games to choose from early in the year, maybe it’s because I’m looking further afield and not just close to home.

Despite both Worthing and Littlehampton having top of the table clashes, the fact I’ve seen both sides a far bit this season kinda took them out of the equation, tempted also as well by the fantastic looking burger at Hampton & Richmond which I’m sure I’ll get to before the end of the season.

In the end Gaz and I settled on Lewes vs Cray Wanderers, his first visit to the Dripping Pan and my first look at the home side this season, the visitors I saw record a fine win over Horsham only a month or two back.

The ground is quite unique in the sense of beach huts for hire to watch the game from and whilst being able to watch the game from high level on one side you can’t watch at pitch level, but this kind of thing is what brings the romance if you will to grounds and to non-league.

With Lewes now managed by ex-Cray pair Tony Russell and Joe Vines I was keen to see as well if they could replicate the success and improvement they made at Wanderers and also see in action the highly rated and coveted Ollie Tanner.

On a pretty cold night in East Sussex both sides were quite tentative in their starts, the home side wary after allowing a two goal lead to slip at the weekend while the visitors conceded four but ran out 5-4 winners against Carshalton, maybe mindful they needed to be a bit more resolute in defence.

Whilst Wanderers looked the more composed going forward during the first half, it was actually the home side who looked the more likely to find the net with more efforts heading towards Bayley Vose’s net than Lewis Carey.

We thought Chris Dickson was going to open the scoring on the half hour mark but shot just over having escaped his marker for the first time, well marshalled by the Rooks defence until then. It was then chances for the hosts to take the lead, Will Salmon heading against the post and Tanner’s shot being kept out by a fine save from Vose.

Just as we thought we were heading for a 0-0 scoreline at half time the game changed a minute before the half time whistle. A corner swung in from the Lewes right hand side caused some confusion in the six yard box and Joe Taylor’s flick was pushed into the net by Vose for the opening goal with the whistle being blown straight after Wanderers kicked off.

With the wind in their sails the home side came out stronger in the second half as Cray struggled to keep possession and Lewes extended their lead nine minutes into the half, Razz Coleman De-Graft was given too much space and curled a lovely shot past Vose.

The home side then could have had another goal or two with better pass selection, but Cray held out and tried to influence the game with a couple of substitutions and while Lewes were more content to sit back on the lead Cray couldn’t break them down and were restricted to half chances from distance leaving the majority of the 517 crowd happy with a home win.

Those three points keep the pressure on at the top of the Isthmian League Premier Division although the general consensus is it’s Worthing’s title to lose, the rest can only win their games.

Russell and Vines certainly do look as if they are building something good on the South Coast and should well feature in the end of season play-off’s, this is a club who once were a National League club or Conference as it was known then.

Cray are in a transition period again after parting ways a few weeks ago with Danny Kedwell and under Grant Basey and Gary Alexander they’ve shown signs they will pull away from relegation danger over the coming weeks.

Great to catch up with Wanderers Chairman Gary Hillman during the game and find out the latest with their new stadium plans and also to see Sam Wright plus a favourite of our Premier Non-League podcast Chris Dickson, that was the first of four games in seven days for me so plenty more blogs to come!

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It certainly isn’t over yet

As it comes towards the end of January the National League title race is turning into a mad sprint to the finish. With so many games postponed in the last six weeks there is such an imbalance in games played that the lead and positions underneath top spot are changing on such a regular basis.

I’ve long tipped Chesterfield to win it, the goals of Kabongo Tshimanga vital to the charge and with the addition this week of Joe Quigley from Yeovil alongside the return from injury of Akwasi Asante there is enough firepower there. Having dealt with an injury crisis that at one stage numbered 12 first team players, the only concern is turning draws into wins, indeed they are the draw specialists in the division so far this year but are on top of the tree on goal difference.

That tip is under big threat from no less than six teams, that’s how tight the league is this year as clubs clamour to get out of non-league and into the Football League before the salary cap hits next season.

Question is who do you fancy? Halifax Town are really putting the cat amongst the pigeons. No disrespect to the Yorkshire outfit but they weren’t at all mentioned in the pre-season predictions and I remember Pete Wild the Town boss bemoaning the amount of money in some clubs that his couldn’t compete with, but he’s almost swallowed his own words and shown they can mix it.

Maidenhead managed to account for losses for the top two sides inside the last seven days showing this league isn’t as easy as sometimes thought to escape from.

Having watched Stockport not really get out of second gear to get past Dagenham in the evening kick off on Saturday, they are serious contenders. Seven wins in a row and Dave Challinor has County purring, they are really putting the heat on others now and clearly shows they were right to dispense with the services of Simon Rusk and lure last season’s play-off winning manager back into non-league.

Bromley like Halifax have gone a little under the radar but are still in the thick of things despite an unsettling week with interest from Gillingham in boss Andy Woodman. It’s no secret he expects to be managing in the Football League sooner rather than later but can he do it with the Ravens instead of the Gills? There is a possibility they could face each other in League Two next season, lots would need to come together for that to happen.

Boreham Wood are nine games unbeaten and haven’t lost a league game since mid-October, they have most to gain with games in hand in the top seven. Like Chesterfield, Wood need to convert more draws into wins and if those two games in hand are won Wood will sit top of the table.

Wrexham have hauled themselves back into contention and it’s maybe a surprise they haven’t made good use of the transfer window although eight or nine days left to still strengthen. Their home form has to be stronger in order to keep up their challenge, winning on the road seems to come easy.

Notts County occupy the final play-off spot at present and with games in hand as well. A five match unbeaten run has kept them in touch with the play-off pack and like the others winning those games can put them at the summit it really is that tight at the moment.

There are two or three clubs just outside at the moment that will still feel they have a chance of getting in there but the remainder beyond that will need a Stockport type of run and in effect longer than seven games won or a massive drop in form for about four or five clubs.

Whilst the Daggers looked out of sorts against Stockport they’re not out of the picture by any means the only thing going against them at the moment is having played more games than the top seven bar Halifax. If Solihull Moors can find some consistency again then they can challenge for a spot while Grimsby somehow need to turn their form back to the early months of the season or they will be looking at a mid-table finish at best.

There are a few tasty games coming up over the next three weeks alone, Halifax vs Boreham Wood, Bromley vs Notts County, Halifax vs Bromley and Stockport vs Chesterfield stick out, it’s certainly something you can’t take your eyes off for a minute.

Rebels too strong for Rocks once again

Tuesday night and another midweek game despite it being the middle of January and pretty freezing cold down on the South Coast. Part 3 of ‘El Classicoast’, Bognor vs Worthing this time in the Sussex Senior Cup Quarter Final with both sides having won in each other backyard’s during the two league fixtures.

With the hosts marooned almost in mid-table a win for them against their table topping neighbours would keep their season alive whilst a win for Worthing would keep their hunt for silverware intact.

Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood chose to give a few first team starters a breather whilst Rocks Robbie Blake fielded a decent strength side on what was crisp, cold night at Nyewood Lane.

An impeccable minute’s silence was observed by both sets of fans after the passing a few days ago of Hinshelwood’s father Paul before both sides settled down to another 90 minutes of derby football.

Reece Meekums should have given the Rebels an early lead after cutting inside the defender but blazing high and wide when well placed. Dajon Golding who was a constant thorn in the Bognor defence down the left hand side clipped the bar just after a quarter of and hour and the same player also could have given Worthing the lead but like Meekums blazed well over.

With Bognor struggling to maintain possession for long enough Worthing were trying both wings to create chances but they took the lead five minutes before half time through a midfield burst from Marvin Armstrong whose shot was followed up by Will Seager for the game’s opening goal.

Five minutes the other side of half time the hosts should have been level but Nathan Odokonyero fired wide of Harrison Male’s goal. A triple change after the hour mark from Hinshelwood saw Danny Barker, Ollie Pearce and Jessie Starkey replace Seager, Darren Budd and Dean Cox to try and force a second goal to seal the tie.

Male was called into action with 15 minutes to go, Jordy Mongoy’s effort well saved by the Rebels shot stopper and the closest the hosts came to forcing an equaliser.

Golding thought he had given Worthing a two goal cushion six minutes from time having broken beyond the Bognor back line but his effort struck the far post and away from a Rebels foot to turn the ball in.

With more attacking threat on the pitch Worthing attacked at will, breaking fast with incisive passing and got their final reward in stoppage time when Jasper Pattenden strode forward, won a challenge and motored into the penalty area and unbelievably arrowed the ball over the head of six foot plus keeper Amadou Tangara into his top right hand corner to seal the win and a place in the semi-finals for Worthing.

A crowd of 842 was on hand to witness a win that almost puts the end to Bognor’s season, currently 13 points behind 4th placed Kingstonian with a game in hand but too many draws over the course of the campaign so far leaves them needing a run of wins that look highly unlikely speaking to one or two Bognor fans on Wednesday morning.

Whilst there appears no danger of being sucked into the relegation fight, a change of personnel needs to happen if the Rocks are to challenge at the top end of the table consistently.

Attention for Worthing now turns to the title challenge they hope to sew up as soon as possible, a six point lead over nearest rivals Enfield Town with a game in hand although Folkestone Invicta with a couple of games further back than everything else can be a big threat.

Final word on the Pattenden goal, was it a shot or was it a cross? I was almost in line with it and that looked like a cross, other footage I’ve seen makes it look more like a shot, make your own mind up if you see it!

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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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