Rebels brush aside unfortunate K’s

We’re still at the time of year when the weather likes to have a say if matches can be played or not, although we’ve been quite lucky since the latter part of last year not losing too many games to the wind and rain.

Tunbridge Wells was my original destination for the first time this season, a pitch though that doesn’t hold up to the weather very well and given the rain that came down across most of the South East during the day it was no surprises to see it called off by 4.30.

Luckily, there was a back up plan in the shape of Worthing vs Kingstonian which wasn’t a bad second choice to have, the artificial surface at the Crucial Environmental Stadium allowing play in all kinds of weather. It also meant a much quicker journey home from the game so that’s never a bad thing!

The Rebels are once again leading the way in the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division and despite there being more in the way of challengers this time around they are well placed to finally make it to the National League South.

Kingstonian were sure to provide a stern test on Tuesday evening with play-off aspirations themselves and on a cold, rainy night the scene was set for what was hopefully going to be a pulsating clash.

The visitors were quite content for Worthing to have possession in and around their own half whilst utilising the pace of Daniel Ajakaiye and Walter Figueira to mount any counter attacks, Worthing looking to play cross-field balls from right to left into the path of Davide Rodari and James Beresford.

At times in the first half the K’s struggled to get out of their own half as Worthing probed and pressed for a way through, and despite a flurry of attacking play they couldn’t find a breakthrough, Ollie Pearce coming the closest to finding the net but couldn’t divert his effort goal wards.

As can sometimes happen one side has all the attacking play and then all of a sudden find themselves a goal behind and chasing the game. That almost happened five minutes before half time as Kingstonian broke clear beyond the Worthing back line and were indebted to debut making keeper Tommy Reid who saved well with his legs to keep the scores level.

That scoreline stayed level for only a few seconds more as Jasper Pattenden drove into the heart of the K’s defence and while his shot was saved by Serine Sanneh, Callum Kealy was on hand to put away the rebound and give the Rebels the lead.

The marksman was at it again two minutes into stoppage time, rifling a fierce shot past Sanneh after the ball dropped to him in the box from a corner and the Rebels going from almost being 1-0 behind to 2-0 up.

It almost got worse for the visitors a minute later as a barnstorming run from Pattenden ended up with the ball slamming against the post much to the relief of the K’s players and supporters and a chance for everyone to catch their breath as the half time whistle sounded.

The pattern of the second half opening moments saw the home side seemingly sucked into the visitors play, a ten minute spell of pressure but a lack of efforts on Reid’s goal kept the scoreline at a blank for the K’s.

The game turned a little bit niggly for a short while, Kealy picking up a yellow card after tangling with former Rebel Alfie Young in which the latter appeared to kick out at the Worthing frontman but escaped further punishment after an earlier yellow card. Skirmishes broke out twice as the referee looked to lose a little control instead of dealing with the situation slightly better and issued a yellow card also to Pattenden.

The rush of yellow cards also claimed Aaron Racine and the visitors Jerry Puemo in quick succession before Pattenden settled the game on 68 minutes. A superb ball from Beresford set Kealy away down the left flank and he crossed for the winger to finish from inside the six yard box.

Puemo then gave the referee a decision to make with a foul 15 minutes from time and ended up back in the changing room giving Worthing some time to make a man advantage count.

And they almost did three minutes later but substitute Dajon Golding couldn’t latch onto a rebound and hit the target. However, fellow substitute Reece Meekums had no such trouble six minutes from time running at the K’s forlorn defence and arrowing the ball past Sanneh for the home side’s fourth of the night.

Two minutes from time Sanneh was equal to another Golding effort as the Rebels walked off with four goals and a six point lead at the top of the table with a game in hand ahead of a trip to second placed Bishops Stortford at the weekend.

A comfortable win in the end for the hosts but at times the K’s made them work for the points, the sheer power and changes from the bench the difference. And from that point when you look at the players who couldn’t make the sixteen, Pat Webber, Luke Robinson, Darren Budd and a couple more, add in Dean Cox not even coming off the bench as well, the strength in depth available to Adam Hinshelwood is exactly what will be needed over the next two and a half months and hopefully propels them finally into the National League South.

Saturday is surely a ‘not lose’ game and then carry on picking up the wins, if the game in hand yields three points the gap is nine, that’s a nice cushion but one I know Hinsh will insist they maintain.

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Golds Wembley dream a step closer

It’s not often I get to a Saturday afternoon game at the moment but I’m certainly making the most of every Tuesday night available. A change of plans however this weekend meant I had the rare opportunity to make a 3pm kick off and headed for The Sportsfield in Littlehampton to watch the home side take on Brockenhurst in the FA Vase 5th round.

Both sides are embroiled in title races in the Southern Combination Premier Division and the Wessex League so on paper it looked like a very good match up which is generally the case when you get to this stage and only three games from a Wembley final.

Town were missing two or three regulars but as I’ve seen throughout this season they can rotate as many as four within the squad and it doesn’t weaken things. There was also an added bonus for the home side with striker Joe Benn returning for his first game since the Vase exit last month and a dislocated shoulder for the 58 goal marksman.

I say Vase exit because there is a story behind that! Athletic Newham comfortably put five past the Golds and trotted into the next round to host Brockenhurst. It was subsequently discovered they had played a suspended player during the win and were subject to an FA investigation which they lost and Littlehampton were re-instated days before this game was played.

So, it was certainly a case of making second chances count on Saturday afternoon and in the bright but cold Sussex sunshine the opportunity was there to take the season onto the next stage.

There was very little between the sides in the opening moments, the biting wind behind the home side for the first forty-five and both sides testing each other out.

As both were struggling a bit to get to grips with the conditions a goal appeared out of nowhere. The ball came into Benn around five yards outside the penalty area and on the half volley sent the ball fizzing past the visiting keeper James Mayo to open the scoring.

Clear cut chances were at a premium, the visitors were controlling possession but lacked a cutting edge to trouble the Littlehampton back four whilst the home side were content to allow the ball to be played in front of them and to deal with any breaks down either flanks.

That seemed to work well until a minute before half time when Brockenhurst levelled the game, Silvano Obeng finishing well past James Binfield after some good wing play, the game by no means a classic to watch but still another half to come.

The second half really saw the game come to life as early as the opening ten minutes with both sides seemingly deciding attack was going to be the way to win the game and on the hour mark the home side were back in front.

A free kick from the Town left found its way to Zack Harris in the penalty box who drilled the ball across for new signing Aaron Capon to tap in from a few yards out. There was drama however as the assistant referee had flagged for offside only to be overruled by the referee and the goal stood.

Ten minutes later the tie looked to be won as another Town free kick wasn’t cleared and Lee Garnham on the half volley sent the Littlehampton fans into raptures with a third goal for the home side.

The visitors had other ideas that this tie was over though as Christie Ward scored with a little over 14 minutes to play and you could sense a few nerves returning to The Sportsfield crowd. Unsurprisingly the impetus was now with Brockenhurst and Town were defending a lot of needless free kicks being given away, one such foul ending with a second yellow card for midfielder Dave Herbert and an early bath one minute from time.

Just moments earlier Binfield pulled off a fantastic save to keep the home side in front, flying to his right to push the ball out for a corner from a shot destined for the top corner had he not made it.

With five added minutes the ten men Golds did their best to hold out but another needless free kick given away saw the ball bounce around in the Town box and was poked towards goal by Alex Haynes in the final minute of stoppage time with the last touch coming from Binfield to level the tie once again and with no extra time it was straight to penalties.

Just when you thought you’d seen enough drama inside 90 minutes, more was to come. Benn scored the first for the home side while Binfield then saved the first Brockenhurst penalty. Both sides converted their second penalties followed by Town scoring their third and the visitors putting their kick the wrong side of the post leaving Capon to score Gold’s fourth kick and a place in the quarter final draw as the Sportsfield erupted to a pitch invasion.

To see 1,276 supporters inside to witness all of the above was a figure I wasn’t expecting at all to see. Crowds for Littlehampton this season have been on the increase all year and are currently averaging 178 per league fixture at Step 5, cup games have been very well attended and it’s great to see the town getting involved and behind the side as they aim for promotion to the Isthmian League.

The visitors really played their part in an entertaining second half as well and the season isn’t over for them, a race for the Wessex League title awaits them for the remainder of the season. Great to see when sides play the ball on the floor and want to pass through teams rather than play over them, two players stuck out for me in Ronan Moore and Seung Woo-Yang who looked every inch calm and composed throughout.

Nice to catch up with some old friends as well, namely Terry Gaunt, Simon Ediker, Kevin Playle-Howard and Jack Croft, guys who get around to local football as well but just not as much as me! I purposely waited until the draw was made on Monday afternoon before posting this blog and what a mouth-watering tie for the Golds, favourites North Shields are the visitors to the Sportsfield on the weekend of 12th March and with only two rounds now till the Wembley date comes around you can almost taste the glory……….

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Stoppage time goals the undoing of Angels

Tuesday night saw a trip to East Sussex and down to Priory Lane, home of Eastbourne Borough as guests of the Boro’ Chairman David Blackmore, another first for Gaz but a return trip for me.

Last season though my visit was to watch the now defunct Langney Wanderers whose matchday programme I was writing for but I also managed to speak to David that afternoon for the first time instead of via Twitter and text!

A couple of weeks ago the chairman appeared on our Premier Non-League Podcast to talk about the leadership issues the club was facing and thankfully resolved within a few days, but a great insight into the way their club is run.

The visitors were Tonbridge Angels, managed by a good friend of mine in Steve McKimm, and on the back of a fine away win at the weekend ending Dorking Wanderers 10 game winning run. Borough themselves are having another very good season and are firmly in the hunt for a play-off place.

It was the Angels who got off to a fast start and were in front inside five minutes, Ibrahim Olutade timed his run perfectly onto a ball over the top before setting up Adrian Coombes to curl the ball past Lee Worgan for the game’s opening goal.

There was a frantic pace about the game with both sides keen to break quickly when in possession and there wasn’t much surprise when the equalising goal arrived soon after.

Dom Hutchinson drifted in from the left hand side and after seeming to evade a couple of tackles he managed to find a way past Jonny Henly and the ball nestled in the far corner to give us two goals before ten minutes were on the clock.

The Angels were looking the more likely to score during the rest of the half, but you knew you couldn’t rule out Borough at any stage and whilst actual chances being created were at a premium there was plenty of attacking intent to keep the crowd occupied.

Just as it appeared the sides would go in level; the home side snatched the lead in first half stoppage time. Charley Kendall, who secured a move to Lincoln City this coming summer before the January transfer window ended, was fed a lovely ball by Charlie Walker and after beating Sonny Miles Kendall slipped the ball passed Henly for a Borough half time lead and Tonbridge possibly wondering how they weren’t level at a minimum.

The visitors were very much on the front foot at the start of the second half but it was the hosts who almost went further ahead four minutes in, Henly racing out from his goal to thwart Kendall outside of the penalty area only to see Hutchinson return the ball towards the net, Harry Hudson with a headed goal-line clearance to keep the deficit at one goal.

Tonbridge were still pressing hard for a way back into the game but found the Borough defence not very giving despite a lot of probing and were cautious at the same time of the hosts breaking fast and sealing the game.

As it was Eastbourne did finally put the game to bed in stoppage time as Joel Rollinson broke clear of the Angels backline to lift the ball over Henly cool as you like to ensure the points stayed in Sussex and Tonbridge went home empty handed.

The result meant Danny Bloor’s men moved back into the top seven and as David put it on Wednesday morning, one point from safety! Different targets for different clubs of course but Borough most definitely back in the thick of a promotion race.

Steve McKimm on the other hand bemoaned getting punished for their mistakes once again despite dominating the game. Whilst Borough were clinical with the few chances they did have, Tonbridge certainly looked the more threatening going forward, attention for them though turns to a Kent derby in the FA Trophy this coming Saturday as Bromley visit Longmead.

Impressive performance from Aaron Smith-Joseph down the Angels left hand side, a real handful and fantastic delivery into the box all evening meant the Borough defence couldn’t rest for a moment whilst for the home side the sharpness of Kendall made you see why he’s earned his move, good to see Chris Whelpdale get some more minutes under his belt, a key figure in last season’s halted campaign.

One final note, David was expecting a crowd of around 500 so to see the figure at 710 was pretty good given the cold night and of course football on the box as well.

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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.

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……..

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.

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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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!