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………..

When is a shock not a shock

I did open up the floor to my Twitter followers earlier on Sunday for ideas to write the next blog but it seems most were asleep on the sofa after a roast dinner but one idea did come out so here it is.

What do we class as an FA Cup shock these days? Of course a club from the predominantly part time section of the footballing pyramid has to be classed as upsetting the odds defeating those above them.

But when it comes to the National League and their clubs knock out a League One or Two club is it really as unexpected as it happens on the day? I sat through Chesterfield’s magnificent win over Salford City, themselves once a National League club but always with aspirations higher up the food chain, no doubt no different to a lot in the current top flight of non-league football.

Despite Salford’s ability to control possession they rarely threatened Scott Loach in the Spireites goal and we all know, no ball in the back of the net doesn’t win you games. Sometimes games rest on fine margins, a fingertip save from Loach preceded a second goal for the visitors, the difference there between a replay and an automatic place in the next round.

It’s not just Chesterfield at it, Yeovil also claimed a 3rd round place after a 1-0 win over Stevenage. The Glovers have that fantastic record of scalps over league clubs, 21 now in total, but I didn’t see this one as anything of a shock. Yeovil aren’t among the National League front runners granted, but considering Stevenage only survived being a non-league club last season by virtue of the Football League working out nicely how to move the Macclesfield problem away did they stay up.

This season they’re not exactly in much better shape and in that respect they’re not on a different level to Yeovil. We saw Stockport really take the game to Bolton in the last round and narrowly lose 1-0 at Rotherham on Friday night, there is certainly much less of a gap between League Two and the National League for sure and even going a little higher some sides might well hold their own.

Those of us that follow National League sides know how strong the division looks and actually is, it takes some to get out of it at the right end especially with only two places up for grabs. I think I’ve said it quite a few times I believed back in August 14 of the 23 sides would have said they’re in the hunt for the title or at least aiming for the play-offs.

That’s some number and a lot of disappointed teams come next May! So far though we’re not yet half way through the season and there is time for some of the clubs that are somewhat adrift of even a play-off spot to come good.

So, we come back to the original question that was asked and in my opinion when a full time National League club knocks out a League One or Two club in the FA Cup then I don’t consider it a shock, I’m not even convinced a part-time club knocking out a league club is as huge as it used to be, these clubs are just as organised as their full time counterparts and there is often the argument non-league’s top division should become League Three given it’s professionalism.

‘Shocks’ should be reserved for those teams in the lower levels of the pyramid who knock out someone higher up, feel free to say what you think, is a shock the same if you’re not Buxton, Bromley, Beaconsfield or Bexhill Utd? Let me know………….

Five on the spin for impressive Horsham

Heading towards the winter and colder months means less midweek football to choose from and pretty much only cup competitions being the way forward. Of course those who’ve enjoyed good cup runs so far are the one’s still able to hand out a Tuesday or Wednesday night fix for those of us who need it!

Horsham are one such team who’ve enjoyed a decent FA Cup run this season, all the way to the First Round Proper where a long trip north sent them to League Two strugglers Carlisle Utd but the dream ended there at Brunton Park with a 2-0 defeat.

At the same time that Saturday afternoon results in the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division dropped the Hornets to the bottom of the table with only one win to their name. Since that defeat, Horsham have won four on the bounce to move away from the lower reaches and now looking upwards.

Entertaining a Wingate & Finchley side who were only a couple of places difference in the table at the start of play gave the Hornets a good chance to add to their unbeaten run while the visitors arrived at the Camping World Stadium without a win in their last six games.

On a mild night compared with the cold, wind and rain over previous days and given the contrasting form of the two sides it was no surprise to see the home side take the early initiative.

The Hornets had the best of the early chances, Lucas Rodrigues had the best of them in the opening 15 minutes. Firstly, a long kick from keeper Sam Howes put the striker in on goal but saw his effort saved by Ben Goode. Moments later the same player was clean through again but dragged his effort wide of the far post.

Chances continued to come the home side’s way throughout the half but the deadlock was still to be broken and you wondered if it was going to be one of those nights where all the play goes one way and the other side nick a goal or two against the run of play.

But those fears were allayed eight minutes before half time, Rob O’Toole played in Rodrigues whose shot was saved, O’Toole making no mistake when the ball landed at his feet and the home side were finally in front.

Two minutes later, the Hornets had the chance to extend the lead when they were awarded a penalty, but Tom Kavanagh’s spot kick was easily saved by Goode. Rodrigues then hit the post soon after as the Hornets pressed again but had to settle for a single goal lead when on chances created they could have been four or five in front by the interval.

The half time team talk for Horsham must have been something along the lines of ‘keep creating chances and goals will come,’ but despite most of the attacking play coming from the home side, there was a lack of end product and as we all know too well, a one goal lead isn’t always enough.

The second goal did eventually come with twenty minutes to play, Lee Harding deftly lifting the ball over Goode when it looked as if the ball had run away from him and put the home side in sight of another three points.

It could and should have been more as substitute Charlie Hester-Cook smashed an effort against the bar and the post was also hit once again but the home side were unable to add to the two goals they had already scored.

The visitors finished the game with ten men after Dexter Peter picked up a second yellow card three minutes from time to cap a miserable night for Wingate and a long journey back to North London without anything to show for the night’s work.

Horsham march on with a fifth consecutive win on the bounce and are now nine points off the play-offs which is a far cry from a few week’s previous, credit to both the management team and the players for turning the season around after a wretched start.

Goals galore as Worthing progress

As the season edges towards the winter months, the midweek game offerings become a bit thinner. Without cup progress for most, it’s pretty much down to playing Saturday’s only.

With a few other things going on at weekends currently my watching is restricted to Tuesday nights for a few weeks and with it this week Worthing vs Seaford Town in the Sussex Senior Cup.

It was a few weeks earlier this time last year that the Rebels played Three Bridges in the same competition and turned out that 2-1 defeat was the final competitive game they played last season.

For Seaford it was the chance to look for another scalp having knocked out Southern Combination Premier Division side Loxwood in the first round a few weeks ago.

Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood went for a youthful look to his side and bench, surrounded by one or two older heads who needed minutes and with Saturday’s FA Trophy tie against National League South Dorking Wanderers in mind.

Seaford were happy to let Worthing push the ball around the pitch but pressed hard not to make it easy for them in the opening quarter and looked very pacey when breaking on the counter attack.

Indeed it was from the visitors pressing that Will Seager scored an own goal to give Seaford the lead on 26 minutes. The lead however was very short-lived as the Mackerel Men were level just two minutes later, a corner from the right landed nicely at the feet of Tom Chalaye and he slammed it past Seaford keeper Mike Platt for the equaliser.

There were a couple of half chances for the home side but Seaford kept them at bay and the sides went into the interval level as possession wasn’t converted into goals for the Mackerel Men.

The second half was an expectation of more of the same, but it was Seaford who had the best chance after the re-start but sent the ball wide of Harrison Male’s far post.

With that scare of almost going behind Worthing stepped it up a notch and ten minutes into the half were awarded a penalty after Platt upended Dean Cox, Chalaye making no mistake from the spot with a thumping drive past the keeper to put the Mackerel Men in front.

Two minutes later and the net was bulging again, good work from Kyle O’Brien down the left found Marvin Armstrong in the box who finished for the home side’s third goal and second in three minutes.

Mo Diallo then got in on the act on the hour mark sliding the ball under Platt from Darren Budd’s pass to seemingly put the game out of reach with half an hour still to play.

Seaford though had other ideas and reduced the deficit three minutes later through Piper to bring it back to 4-2 and cast just a little shadow of doubt in the Worthing minds despite the flurry of goals just before.

Diallo removed any doubt four minutes later with his second and the home side’s fifth, slotting home calmly and adding to the second half goal fest. As the visitors understandably tired, Worthing won another penalty two minutes from time as Luca Cocoraccio was brought down in the box.

Cox looked set to take the spot kick originally despite both strikers being on a hat-trick but handed the ball to Diallo who promptly smashed it against the bar and seemingly missing out on the match ball.

But the striker did bag his third a minute later, clean through once again to add a sixth goal for the home side and in the end a comprehensive victory and a place in the next round for the Mackerel Men.

Some competitive minutes for the likes of Budd, Cox, Armstrong and Pat Webber and a chance for the younger members of the squad to catch the eye and make a claim for the first team spot.

Well taken goals for all six of the home side’s efforts, Seaford played their part too only tiring towards the end and then the three division gap started to show a little, it’s certainly not easy to get the ball off this Worthing team once they get into full flow.

Another cup game awaits this weekend and a different test coming up, as previously mentioned above Dorking Wanderers visit Woodside Road with the home side this time looking to cause a cup upset and a place in the next round of the FA Trophy.

The National League isn’t disappointing many

The National League is showing no signs of stopping throwing up the odd result or scoreline that makes you raise your eyebrows.

At the beginning of the season I reckoned there were 14 of the 23 sides harbouring hopes of either challenging for the title or getting into the play-offs. There are probably two or three of that 14 who will feel they’re a little bit further away than they wanted to be, but for most putting two or three results together would propel themselves into the thick of the race.

There is of course plenty of time left to make a move with over half the season to go and constant unpredictability from week to week does make it hard to pick winners in an accumulator!

Having watched Grimsby host Southend on Friday night the Mariners looked nervous despite the perfect start of an early goal and their current league position and had the visitors been able to show some potency in front of goal they certainly would have deserved to come away from the game with something.

The only two sides above Grimsby are two very good sides. Just three defeats between Boreham Wood and Chesterfield so far this season but neither side have pulled away from the rest. Kabongo Tshimanga who moved from Wood to the Spireites in the summer will be the difference when it comes to the final shake up, 16 goals already so far coupled with a strong defence that has registered nine clean sheets, they are the team to beat in my opinion.

Luke Garrard though knows Wood can compete with these big budget boys despite not getting the support through the turnstiles their position dictates they should. Despite the loss of Tshimanga’s goals they’ve shared them around a bit more and still plundered 25 in their 16 games.

Underneath them Bromley and Halifax continue to impress, the former unbeaten in nine now and seemingly having kept hold of manager Andy Woodman. Neither side can claim to do battle on budgets, but like Bromley Pete Whild does a fantastic job with team spirit at The Shay they constantly defy the odds and compete at the top end of the table.

Once you get beyond the top five comes the inconsistency, Notts County the prime example of pulling off the expected result and then fail to click away to Eastleigh. Taking nothing away from Ben Strevens’ team, they are strong at the Silverlake Stadium with only a single defeat so far this season.

You can also add Dagenham, Stockport and Wrexham to the inconsistent pile, the Red Dragons quite an enigma. Unbeaten at home but only five goals scored, yet on the road 24 goals in the net. County of course will be looking to stabilise and become more resilient under Dave Challinor.

Solihull under Neal Ardley are right on the cusp and after a good run to put them in the play-off zone they haven’t won in three, the win at the weekend for Chesterfield at the Moors putting them back on the top of the table.

Altrincham have lost their way a little over the last few weeks and dropped to mid table but a fine win at Weymouth might kick start their season once again, as stated above two good results this week puts them back in the mix as we enter December.

The same goes for Woking, Yeovil and the already mentioned Eastleigh, two wins by next weekend they’re knocking on the play-off door. If the Spitfires can improve their away form which is their achilles heel it will put them in great shape, consistency or the lack of is what’s holding all three back so far this season.

Barnet under Dean Brennan are in play-off form, averaging two points per game in his eight game spell. Clean sheets however are few and far between and without an abundance of goals raining in, the Bees do need to tighten up and start to put games to bed when on top.

Just underneath them the common theme is a lack of away wins holding back about four teams. With a round of midweek games though to come there is opportunity along with the games next weekend to make some movement but they are the sides currently at the wrong end of the form table.

As we’ve seen though on enough occasions there’s likely to be one or two results you don’t expect in each round of games.

The bottom four are a little adrift of the rest and although Southend should have added a point to their tally they know more bodies are needed in the building. Their ask to make the play-offs is too great and the aim surely must be to avoid yet another relegation to the National League South.

Dover have a heck of a lot to do with no wins after 15 games and with minus nine points to make up, it’s a totally wasted season for them and their supporters and no wonder they’re not attracting much more then 500 fans per game.

Kings Lynn will be wondering how they didn’t pick up a third away win at Bromley, leading twice but coming out with a 3-2 defeat. Unable to win at home so far the Linnets are certainly struggling this season and haven’t won in their last six games. Just above them Aldershot aren’t fairing much better, only a little improvement if any since the sacking of Danny Searle and it’s looking like a long season for the Shots. Once again the budgets are doing some of the talking in certain parts of this table, but as shown by some it’s not impossible to compete, you just need that rub of the green.

What will make Macclesfield

The other week just watching something on the TV, an advert for a programme caught my eye. Of course it was football and titled ‘Making Macclesfield’ I thought that might be worth a look at. One of my podcasting mates mentioned before we recorded earlier this week that he’d watched it.

Now I know to a lot Robbie Savage would put them off viewing and possibly also the fact the Silkmen might have been starting down at Step 5 instead of maybe one or two steps lower but with a stadium that has graced the Football League and had some major investment too.

Savage’s involvement will be the reason they got the show no doubt, similar to the involvement of the Class of ’92 when they bought Salford City, but to watch these you have to look beyond that famous footballer outlook and into the club itself.

I’ve been in the same place as a Macclesfield fan having been a Maidstone Utd supporter a very long time ago, when they failed to last past three seasons in the Football League and consequently went bust. That day in the early 1990’s saw them placed right at the very bottom of the ladder playing park football teams, no disrespect to the very heart of grassroots football but clubs since then have been able to reform and begin at a much higher level.

The supposed still involvement of Jim Thompson as chairman or owner of the new club was the believed reason for the lowly beginnings, an example being made of Thompson’s running of the defunct club by the FA in my opinion. That lost me as a fan, especially as they resigned from the league after the season began which meant a whole year wasted.

I was interested to watch it from the point of view of having had involvement at Step 6 in a club in various roles and from the view of how an ex league club with a considerable stadium do things at that level.

I was surprised at the sum of money needed to be spent on the stadium including a new 3G pitch, I had heard it wasn’t anywhere near a good place and with new people new ideas of how to make it a money making venture it needed considerable money to be thrown at it and I don’t think Rob Smethurst is getting that back!

It’s very easy to under-estimate these levels of football on and off the pitch as a smaller club, when your in the position of Macc and even Bury people expect more and quicker too.

One thing that struck me during the programme was the game against Congleton Town and the crowd trouble between two sets of local rival supporters, Savage remarked afterwards to the match officials that despite a much bigger stewarding presence they weren’t asked to segregate.

As we know and we love, non-league below the National League is the joy of changing ends at half time and no segregation but having read through the excellent AFC Wimbledon book by Erik Samuelson, they encountered problems when they were in the Combined Counties League, also at Step 5, due to their high supporter levels and even used to take stewards to away games to help the host club.

I don’t believe leagues themselves are set up to deal with these scenario’s, I appreciate they don’t happen often but when the FA place clubs down at Steps 5 and below to re-start, why on earth aren’t they providing more guidance to help things go more smoothly?

We’ve seen this season as well since it began attendance levels across the board are in most cases trending upwards in a good fashion and don’t show signs of stopping so maybe the governing body could pull their finger out and suggest a few options for unique situations, I mean the same thing is going to follow them to Step 4 and they won’t be the last club to re-start at Step 5 or 6 that will have a large support base.

Back to Macc, their budget will always dwarf anyone else in that division and a good chance for the next two years if they gain successive promotions, but when you can attract 2000 plus for every home game then you can spend it. Just like Salford they will get the publicity with Savage’s involvement and for clubs going there or playing them at home it’s going to be called their cup final, pressure is all on the Silkmen to deliver and to do it quickly.

Stones draw first blood

Saturday featured my third Barnet awayday of the season compared to one visit to The Hive this season. Wealdstone away was one on the calendar for a few Bees fans, for the home side they had been waiting for this one for a long time.

As stated in my preview on Friday evening there is a lot of bad blood between the clubs and managers, but it was three points on offer during the afternoon, no more or no less and of course early season bragging rights.

Both sides went into the game at opposite ends of the form table, Barnet under Dean Brennan one defeat in seven whilst Stuart Maynard had presided over one win in seven.

A record attendance for the Stones on the afternoon of 2662 including what must have been close to the 800 allocated for Barnet fans in the away end, saw more than a few comments about the state and size of the ground.

Barnet comfortably settled the quicker on the decent playing surface and with Aston Oxborough in command of his box early on the Bees fans expected much but as with most local derbies plenty of passion and commitment but very little showing in the end product.

Adam Marriott had a good chance to open the scoring on 16 minutes, forcing Stones keeper George Wickens into a fine save. The dual wing combo of Rob Hall and Ephron Mason-Clark was looking to be the route into the game for the Bees, but resolute Stones defending sent away any dangerous ball into the box.

Mason-Clark thought he had given the Bees the lead just before the half hour mark after rounding Wickens but the ball skewed off the outside of the post to keep the scores level.

Despite the Bees again enjoying more of the possession and getting balls into the box, neither side did enough in the first half and the scores were level at half time.

Both sides traded chances early in the second half but neither managing to cause either keeper too much trouble and despite both managers making substitutions to try and get something going in the game it still looked to have 0-0 written all over it.

Wes Fonguck looked bright when he came on for Hall and did look as if he might spark something in the final third for the Bees, certainly more urgency was injected.

Sam Beard’s fierce effort on 74 minutes was deflected away when looking likely to give the visitors the lead and as the game looked like it was drifting away towards the 0-0 draw, the inevitable happened.

As Oxborough came racing out from his goal and clashed with Beard, Rhys Browne nipped in on the loose ball and gave the home side a priceless lead with 12 minutes to play.

The visitors did start to play with a bit more intensity needing to find an equaliser and thought they had it with a minute to play. A goalmouth scramble saw the ball end up in the back of the net but the referee with a view from a few yards away sought the advice of his assistant some 15 yards the other way and promptly ruled the goal out.

Jamie Turley and Mason-Clark had chances in stoppage time to rescue a point but the Stones held out and picked up a valuable three points to lord it over their visitors until the return at The Hive.

I wouldn’t say either side deserved to win, moments of quality were few and far between and with the winner coming from a defensive mix up it wasn’t a surprise.

The Bees should have really taken the game by the scruff of the neck in that first half but failure to be more clinical once again in the final third is becoming an achilles heel. For all the good work Mason-Clark does down the flank, the end product is lacking severely and work needs to be done to just get the ball in the box.

Good to see Turley finally on the pitch and no surprise he was blowing after about an hour, Sam Woods had his best game yet which is no surprise as his fitness levels are picking up.

Great to see a lot of new friends there and lots of others I’ve known for a long, long time as well, too many mention or I’ll be here all night!

Whilst criticising the officials might sound like sour grapes and up to you if you read it like that, the amount of blatant shirt pulling was beyond belief. It’s not the first time, seeing both Beard and Mason-Clark with ripped shirts after the Aldershot game suggests the National League should be picking up on this, but then we’re not likely to see the chairman at a game on a Saturday to point some fingers at what’s going on, too busy elsewhere for that……….

Wealdstone vs Barnet preview

When I opened up the floor on Twitter for blog pieces, this was another one I added to the list but one that needed to be written closer to the time rather than ‘lost in the post’ a week or so ago.

Wealdstone vs Barnet this weekend has a lot riding on it, three points essentially but of course it goes much deeper than that. I think it’s fair to note there is a fair few grudges held, namely over what is now The Hive and home to Barnet FC.

There is the bad blood between the current two bosses of both clubs to give it that extra edge and then the recent thumping the Stones dished out to the Bees last season which finally caused Tony Kleanthous to sort out his managerial problem, well at least for a few months.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the nitty gritty bits mentioned above, after all we’re there to watch a National League game on Saturday afternoon where the three points on offer are crucial for both sides.

For those reading this who don’t know and if any part is incorrect then please advise me otherwise. My understanding is the land where The Hive now sits was part completed by Wealdstone and their financial partners but was unable to be finished off. Kleanthous then identified it as a training complex for the Bees, swooped in and made it what it is today.

Reading back through historic articles online the Stones were told by Harrow council that as part of the planning agreement with Barnet they were to be allowed a groundshare on reasonable terms, that as we know has never materialised.

Now I’m not going to get into the rights or wrongs over it, you can all discuss that to death on social media, but please be pleasant. I’m sure there is added stuff to this, there might also not be but that is my basic understanding of it all.

Then we come to the managers, Dean Brennan and Stuart Maynard. The former of course an ex-Stones boss who spoke to Barnet last season with permission, declined the move, stayed where he was and then found his P45 arriving. Maynard stepped into the breach, with it believed he was working behind Brennan’s back, a friendship ruined and more to separate the two sides.

Onto the football as that’s what we’re here for! It’s a strange rivalry for me as I’ve only really been used to Stevenage as local rivals over the 20 odd years I’ve been a Bees fan, now credit to both the Stones and Boreham Wood for reaching this level as we’re a million miles away from a return to the Football League.

Last season saw the balance shift towards Wealdstone in their first season back at this level, dishing out a 5-1 thumping at home to the Bees, one of many lowlights last season, in fact far too many to want to remember!

Barnet are currently enjoying their highest position in the table going back twelve months, but only since sacking Harry Kewell who registered no wins in the first seven games of the season. Since Brennan has taken interim control of the side, he has registered just one defeat to big spending Wrexham in the same amount of time as Kewell had with the team.

Contrast that to the Stones and they’re in a bit of freefall currently, just one win in their last seven games but a very big win over high flying Grimsby Town at home which would have relieved a bit of pressure on Maynard and the team. Neither side has played a National League game since the end of October so we’re either going to see a little rustiness or refreshed players ready to go.

Being a part time outfit does make it hard to compete in this division and given some of the sums of money clubs parted with over the summer staying in this division and upsetting some of the bigger clubs is an achievement in itself.

I can see this being quite a feisty affair both on and off the pitch given the history and the current as well, I can’t say I’d like to be the man in the middle for this one! Of course though I’m hoping it’s me and the Bees fans celebrating come the final whistle and then possibly the talk of how much longer we continue under an interim manager……..