11 May 2015

National Acclaim

Saturday 9th May 2015
Vanarama Conference South, Play-off final
Boreham Wood 2-1 Whitehawk (after extra time; score at 90 mins 1-1)
Meadow Park 
Attendance: 2201
BOREHAM WOOD are going up.

Ian Allinson's team will take its place in next season's re-branded National League after winning this Conference South Promotion Final in extra time.

It was a special occasion at Meadow Park.  Two thousand two hundred came through the turnstiles, having been frisked on their way in.  There was hardly an empty seat in the main stand.  The Broughinge Road terrace  - the home end for the segregated fans - was packed too.

The two rows of seats reserved for the media were full, with no room left even for Boreham Wood FC's own press officer.  For once, the local newspaper had a reporter on duty to deliver live updates via Twitter and an on-the-whistle match report.  BBC Radio Sussex were here too, broadcasting full match commentary from a Whitehawk perspective.

Today's match programme was not the usual Boreham Wood publication, but a neutral 36-page cup final-style edition, devoting equal coverage to both teams.

Boreham Wood and Whitehawk came into this 'winner takes all' contest as the Conference South’s two form teams.  Wood had lost just one of their last 10 games, while Whitehawk had been defeated only twice in their last 15.

By kick-off time, the sun was just managing to break through the cloud cover.  Both teams started nervously, with Wood adopting a more direct approach than during much of the season. 

The highlight of a mostly unmemorable first half was Lee Angol's 25-yard free kick four minutes before the break.  Wood's top scorer whipped the ball around the Hawks' defensive wall, but just past the left upright, with keeper Craig Ross beaten.

Angol would have his moment midway through the second half as the contest livened up.  It was Wood's leading scorer who won a free-kick right on the edge of the Whitehawk 18-yard box in a central position.  This time, the Luton Town loanee picked his spot perfectly, finding a gap and driving the ball low into the bottom corner.

Wood were nine minutes away from promotion and looking comfortable when a penalty for Whitehawk changed the balance of the tie, as Sam Cox was penalised for a push on John-Paul Kissock.  Sam Deering kept his cool, beating Wood number 1 James Russell to the keeper's left.

The visitors might have snatched victory in the first of five minutes stoppage time.  After a well-worked free-kick from the Hawks, Osei Sankofa found the ball at his feet five yards from goal, but blasted over.

Russell was furious with his defence.  A whole season's work can hinge on moments like that.

As the final went into extra-time, Whitehawk appeared to have the momentum.  But within a minute of the restart, Wood were back in front.  Junior Morias, with his back to goal after collecting Angol's knock-down on the edge of the penalty area, swivelled and fired into the bottom corner to Ross' left.

Wood would not be thwarted again.  In the closing moments, Ross twice raced forward for set-pieces, and had to sprint back towards his goal after the second one as Wood launched the ball forward.

The final whistle brought the inevitable pitch invasion, although fans dispersed soon enough to allow the trophy and medal presentation to take place in the centre circle.

Sportingly, Whitehawk's suited and booted manager Steve King and his players stood on the touchline to applaud as the Boreham Wood squad members stepped forward one-by-one to receive their medals.  Today's runners-up only turned and headed down the tunnel when the winning captain Callum Reynolds lifted the trophy and the champagne corks popped.

Perhaps this was also King's way of motivating his players to go one better next season, making them witness what they had just fallen short of this time.  Narrowly missing out on promotion was no disgrace for Whitehawk, a club which left the Sussex County League just five years ago, and which has achieved three promotions plus two play-off appearances in six seasons.

For Boreham Wood, victory is reward for a season in which they led the Conference South for a long period and then went into the play-offs as the highest ranked team, after Bromley had eventually taken the title with a two-point cushion.

Crowds have risen at Meadow Park this season, but 'bread and butter' home games often attract a crowd of only around 250, in a town where many football fans are more inclined to follow Arsenal or Tottenham.

Still, around 2000 were here to back Wood for this promotion-decider.  And next season, Ian Allinson's team will compete in national, rather than regional, football for the first time in the club's 67-year history.

With Wood having been at or near the top of the Conference South since August, some local Premier League fans have noticed that they have a team in their town doing good things too.

The likes of Wrexham, Tranmere Rovers, Torquay United and either Bristol Rovers or Grimsby Town will be next season's rivals - the sort of opponents Wood have occasionally met in FA Cup ties in the past 20 years.  Now they will meet with league points at stake.

Boreham Wood will be stepping up to a new level.

Saturday's match report is here.

7 May 2015

Match preview: Boreham Wood v Whitehawk

AFTER 9 months and 42 matches, Boreham Wood and Whitehawk go head-to-head this Saturday at Meadow Park.

At the end of the contest, one of these two clubs will be celebrating its first ever promotion to the top tier of non-league football - the newly branded Vanarama National League.

Wood ended the regular Conference South season as runners-up to Bromley, before defeating Havant & Waterlooville 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off semi-final.

Whitehawk finished 4th in the table, setting up a play-off clash with Basingstoke Town.  After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, the Hawks then booked their place in the final with a 1-0 win in the return.

It's Whitehawk who have had the better of the two meetings between the finalists this season.

At the beginning of February, the Hawks were comfortable 3-0 winners at their Enclosed Ground.  A month later the return fixture at Meadow Park ended in a 2-2 draw.  Junior Morias and Ricky Shakes were the Wood scorers in that game, their goals coming either side of strikes from Whitehawk's Jake Robinson and Danny Mills.

Robinson and Mills are the Hawks' two leading goalscorers in the league this season, with 18 and 15 respectively.

Top of Wood's scoring chart is Lee Angol with 25 goals.  The Luton town loanee effectively sealed his team's place in the play-off final with his 67th-minute strike in the semi-final 2nd leg.

Boreham Wood are in their fifth season at this level, having been promoted from the Ryman Premier league - also via the play-offs - at the end of the 2009/10 season.  That promotion lifted Wood into Conference football for the first time in the club's history, and came after two consecutive seasons of struggling against relegation.

It's only five years ago that Whitehawk left the Sussex County League, going up as champions to Ryman Division One South.  That was the first of three league titles in four seasons for the Hawks, who went up to the Ryman Premier as champions in 2011/12, before winning another league title and achieving back-to-back promotions 12 months later.

After struggling in their first season of Conference South football, finishing 19th, Whitehawk have vastly improved in the current campaign, and a run of five wins in six games at the end of the regular season sealed fourth place in the table and a play-off spot.

For both teams, this game represents a chance to climb to a level never achieved by either club before.  The top tier of non-league football now consists of mostly full-time professional clubs, several of which spent decades in the Football League before suffering relegation - including Wrexham, Lincoln City, Torquay United and Tranmere Rovers.

The message on Boreham Wood's club website is: "Ensure as a BWFC supporter you can say in twenty years’ time that you were there, when we talk about the day that little Boreham Wood Football Club got promoted to The Conference National."

Meadow Park can expect to host easily its biggest crowd of the season for this historic occasion.

Boreham Wood v Whitehawk 

Vanarama Conference South, play-off final 
Meadow Park, Borehamwood, Herts WD6 5AL
Saturday 9th May 2015
Kick-off: 15:00 BST

4 May 2015


Saturday 2nd May 2015
Vanarama Conference South, Play-off semi-final 2nd leg
Boreham Wood 2-2 Havant & Waterlooville (aggregate 4-2)
Meadow Park 
Attendance: 906
MEADOW PARK welcomed its biggest crowd of the season for this play-off semi-final.  The town of Borehamwood will surely turn out in even greater numbers for next Saturday's final.

Going into the second leg with a 2-0 lead, Wood were favourites to progress.  Ian Allinson's team had gone to Havant & Waterlooville's Westleigh Park home last Wednesday evening and seized the initiative with two first-half goals.

But, as any pundit will remind you, it was only half-time as the teams warmed up for this return match in sunny conditions at Meadow Park.

Some fans had come through the turnstiles especially early to claim their preferred seat in the main stand.  An hour before kick-off, one chap in the back row was sitting engrossed in his paperback novel, looking as though he had been there a while.

Segregation was in force - a rare thing at this ground - although little more than 100 fans had made the journey up from Hampshire.  A temporary burger stall stood on the Broughinge Road terrace adjacent to the club shop.  The more permanent catering outlet provided by The Lunch Box at the opposite end was serving visiting supporters only today.

It felt as though the first goal would be critical - if not for deciding the tie, at least for setting the mood.  Despite a bright start from Wood, it was the Hawks who opened the scoring in the 16th minute.  Brian Stock received the ball via a short corner on the right,  then chipped towards the far post where centre-back Brian Dutton rose to head beyond keeper James Russell.

With Wood's aggregate lead cut to 2-1, nerves set in amongst the crowd.  This seemed to be reflected on the pitch too, with Ian Allinson's team unable to find any fluency for the remainder of the first half.

Half-time brought a welcome chance for Wood to regroup  The Havant & Waterlooville players re-appeared on the pitch several minutes ahead of their opponents for the second half, knowing that they were still very much in the tie.

It wasn't until the hour-mark that Wood began to look more of a threat.  But still fans could scarcely have anticipated the turnaround which they would soon witness.

First, Ricky Shakes took advantage of hesitancy in the Hawks' defence to get between defender and goalkeeper and roll the ball into an empty net, before being mobbed by exuberant fans at the front of the terrace.  Shakes received a yellow card for his goal celebration.

At this stage there was a mixture of joy and relief in the ground that Wood had restored a two-goal aggregate cushion.

For the first time this afternoon, the visitors looked shaken.  Moments after the equaliser, Junior Morias fired just past keeper Ryan Young's right-hand post.

Two minutes later, Wood were ahead.  After Havant had lost possession midway inside their own half, Morias fed his strike partner Lee Angol.  Racing through one-on-one with Young, Wood's top scorer calmly slid the ball between keeper and post to give Wood a 4-1 aggregate lead.

Angol's celebration was less calm - removing his shirt as he ran across the penalty area earned him a yellow card too.

Hawks manager Lee Bradbury immediately made the double substitution he had been planning since Shakes' equaliser.  It felt as though the horse had already bolted.

But the scoring was not over.  One of those three substitutes JJ Hooper capitalised on Wood's hesitancy from a throw-in to fire past Russell from a tight angle with seven minutes remaining.

Some home fans barely noticed the fourth goal of the day, convinced that Wood were already home and dry.

Five minutes of stoppage time saw Wood come closest to scoring, taking advantage of gaps which the Hawks were forced to leave at the back.

There were emotional scenes at the end, as players and fans celebrated Wood's passage to the final - one game away from a first-ever promotion to national football.

A medal presentation felt somewhat out of place at the end of a semi-final.  But minutes after the final whistle, Wood's players and management were presented with their Conference South runners-up medals in front of the main stand, having finished the 40-game season two points behind champions Bromley.

The play-offs are no place for runners-up though.  In the end, there is only one winner who will celebrate promotion, with the others left to lick their wounds and regroup for next season.

In today's other semi-final, a 1-0 win for Whitehawk at Basingstoke Town took the east Brighton side, also nicknamed The Hawks, through to next Saturday's final.

Wood will enjoy home advantage for that showdown too, thanks to being the highest-placed team in this play-off contest.

Five years after promotion from the Ryman Premier League, achieved against the odds, Boreham Wood are now one game away from stepping up to what will be the re-branded Vanarama National League - the top tier of non-league football.

It's a league which contains several clubs more often associated with the Football League - the likes of Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham, Lincoln City, Torquay United, and either Bristol Rovers or Grimsby Town.

Advertising tickets for the play-off final, Boreham Wood's website states that "you can say in twenty years’ time that you were there, when we talk about the day that little Boreham Wood Football Club got promoted to The Conference National."

This Boreham Wood team is on the brink of creating club history.  Perhaps more people in the town are even beginning to take notice.

My match report from Meadow Park is here.

30 April 2015

Match preview: Boreham Wood v Havant & Waterlooville

BOREHAM WOOD have put themselves in a strong position in this play-off semi-final after winning the first leg 2-0 at Havant & Waterlooville's Westleigh Park ground on Wednesday night.

First-half goals from Junior Morias and Graeme Montgomery, the opener coming after just three minutes, put Ian Allinson's team in command.  Wood were then able to hold on to their two-goal lead with relative comfort during the second half.

The win is a boost for a Boreham Wood side which lost both Conference South games against Havant during the regular season, and which also failed to beat any of the league's top five.

Attention now shifts to the second leg of this semi-final, taking place at Meadow Park on Saturday.

Ian Allinson and the players will know that the job is only half done, against a Havant team which won 2-1 at Wood just nine weeks ago.

Wood's home form was a cause for concern after New Year, a run of five games without a win at Meadow Park helping Bromley to take the initiative in the title race and ultimately clinch automatic promotion as champions.

By contrast, six away wins during the same period kept Ian Allinson's team at or near the top of the table until the last week of the season.

Havant & Waterlooville just missed out on finishing fourth in this season's Conference South, losing 2-1 at home to Whitehawk last Saturday.  It was a result which enabled the visitors to leapfrog their hosts and which set up this semi-final clash between second-placed Wood and the fifth-placed Hawks.

Joint-top scorers for the Hampshire side this season are Scott Donnelly and JJ Hooper, both with 16.  It was they who found the net when the Hawks claimed all three points at Meadow Park at the end of February.

With the tie only at the halfway stage, Boreham Wood FC are looking for the town's support on Saturday.  The unfashionable club is looking forward to welcoming its biggest crowd of the season and aiming to move one step closer to promotion to national football. 

Boreham Wood v Havant & Waterlooville
Vanarama Conference South, play-off semi-final second leg
Meadow Park, Borehamwood, Herts WD6 5AL
Saturday 2nd May 2015
Kick-off: 15:00 BST

26 April 2015

Awaiting The Verdict

Saturday 25th April 2015
Ryman League Premier Division
Enfield Town 2-0 Witham Town
Queen Elizabeth II Stadium
Attendance: 763

So Enfield Town did all they could.

Bradley Quinton's team cruised to a 2-0 win against already-relegated Witham Town in front of Donkey Lane's biggest crowd of the season.  That result sees the Towners finish in 5th place - the final play-off place.

But Enfield Town still faces the threat of a three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player back in January.  The issue only resurfaced last week after the club had been informed on 17th February that no further action would be taken.

At time of writing, the Football Association's final decision, and therefore the status of the Ryman Premier play-offs, is still unknown.

Many fans were in defiant mood as they arrived at the ground on this warm and sunny afternoon.  From the balcony of the listed building which houses the club bar came chants telling the FA where to stick its ruling.

A red card protest also took place just before kick-off, immediately after the crowd had impeccably observed a minute's silence to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bradford fire disaster.

To lighten the mood, North London Brass provided musical entertainment pre-match and at half time.

On the pitch, a goal in each half from Tyler Campbell, the first a memorable 20-yard volley, saw the Towners end the regular season with a win, their eighth in the last 11 league games.

According to the final league table, Enfield Town should have an away fixture against second-placed Hendon in the play-off semi-final next Thursday evening.

But the Towners' fate is now in the hands of the FA.

My match report from the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium is here...