30 November 2014

Outscored

Saturday 29th November 2014
Sky Bet League 2 
Luton Town 3-0 Mansfield Town
Kenilworth Road
Attendance: 8418 (away support 294)


WHERE does today rank in the list of memorable football away days?
 
This short trip to Luton brought queueing traffic all the way from the M1 into town; the primitive facilities of the Kenilworth Road ground's away stand, and a heavy defeat for Mansfield Town in a game where the Stags, despite some encouraging approach play, struggled to create meaningful goalscoring chances.

But there were positives too. 

The past week had seen Adam Murray start with two 1-0 wins in his role as caretaker manager, following the departure of Paul Cox.  Murray has immediately added more width to the team, adopting a 4-1-2-3 formation with Reggie Lambe getting a chance to shine on the right wing and Rob Taylor on the left.  Those two players have, according to Murray, “grasped the style of play that we’re looking to go with, and how important they are to it”.

But Murray also felt that another option was needed, and so on Thursday Junior Brown, who can operate on either flank, arrived on a loan deal from Oxford United until January.

On a bright and unseasonably mild afternoon in Bedfordshire, Mansfield fans were subjected to 1980s-style body searches as they entered the ground through the turnstiles, embedded in the terraced houses on the cordoned-off Oak Road.

Backed by a boisterous following of 294 under the roof of the stand, Stags started the game brightly, with Kieron Freeman's early cross from the right just too high for the head of Vadaine Oliver.

At the other end, and in front of the Stags fans, Luton's Shaun Whalley went down in the box after 17 minutes, claiming he had been tripped by Lee Beevers.  Referee Gavin Ward rightly responded by showing the Hatters' number 20 a yellow card for a diving - a rare event in League Two.

But Luton were ahead in the 20th minute.  Stags' keeper Sascha Studer blocked Paul Benson's close-range flick, but as Benson scrambled to recover the loose ball, he was somehow able to turn 180 degrees with two defenders just behind him and send a soft shot rolling past Studer from 12 yards out.

Sadly Benson would be stretchered off seven minutes later, after what seemed like a completely innocuous collision left him with what turned out to be a broken leg.

With Junior Brown on as a half-time substitute in place of Rob Taylor on the left, Mansfield made another bright start to the second 45 minutes.

Two minutes after the restart, Reggie Lambe sent a spectacular overhead kick just over the crossbar after Ryan Tafazolli headed Chris Clements' free-kick across the penalty area.  Debutant Brown also sent a stinging shot straight at Luton 'keeper Mark Tyler eight minutes later.

Luton had already hit the woodwork at the other end though when two quick goals for the Hatters ended the game as a contest.

With 59 minutes player Studer's poor clearance was collected by Whalley 35 yards from goal.  Whalley skated past Beevers on the Stags' left before sending what looked like an attempted cross straight into the top corner over the head of Studer.

Four minutes later it was 3-0, as Whalley cut inside from the right and beat the diving Studer with a low, left-footed shot from just outside the box. 

Luton forced four successive corners in the closing stages, and also saw a deflected shot hit the post, but more goals would have been harsh on the Stags, given the promising spells of play they had enjoyed.

Matt Rhead replaced the the tiring Lambe with 15 minutes to go, and it was Rhead's flick-on which set up Vadaine Oliver for a disallowed 'goal' in the 87th minute, Oliver having strayed marginally offside.

For Rhead, it was a chance to return to his former role as a late substitute and an impact player, a role in which he served Mansfield well in the Conference and in the early part of last season following the Stags' promotion.  The big number 9 had become a key target man in Paul Cox's starting XI over the past 12 months, and collected four Player of the Season awards at the end of 2013/14.  But he may struggle to get anything like the same game time under the new regime.

Notably, those 294 Stags fans, many of whom had remained standing throughout the 90 minutes, given the minimal leg room available, stayed to applaud the players after the final whistle.  It was a reaction which suggested that they appreciated the players' efforts and the style of football offered.  On the day, Mansfield had certainly been outscored, but not entirely outplayed.

As for the managerial situation, Chairman John Radford has confirmed that six candidates are lined up for interview this week.  Adam Murray, encouraged by the way the players have embraced his football philosophy, may also step forward, but has effectively ruled himself out of a player-manager role, and will be reluctant to call time on his playing career at the age of 33.

For whoever is in charge by next Saturday, another away day beckons, as Mansfield prepare for their FA Cup 2nd Round tie at Cambridge United.





23 November 2014

Solid Wood

Saturday 22nd November 2014
Vanarama Conference South
Boreham Wood 1-1 Gosport Borough
Meadow Park 
Attendance: 222
BOREHAM WOOD came from behind for the third consecutive home game, this time to draw 1-1 with Gosport Borough on a grey and drizzly afternoon at Meadow Park.

This had the makings of a fascinating contest, and, on an otherwise gloomy day where the floodlights were on well before kick-off, it didn't disappoint.

Wood proudly sat four points clear at the top of Conference South, following last Saturday's draw at Concord Rangers, the club which will host Mansfield Town in an FA Cup 1st Round replay on Tuesday night.

Visitors Gosport Borough arrived in Hertfordshire in fine form themselves - seventh in the table, seven points behind Wood but with three games in hand.  Last season's FA Trophy runners-up were on a run of one defeat in 14 games in all competitions, their only reversal in over two months being the 3-6 loss against League One Colchester United in the FA Cup.

Borough are also unbeaten away from home this season, and although Boreham Wood had won 1-0 down at Privett Park when these two teams met in September, Wood chairman Danny Hunter rates the Hampshire team as the best his side have faced so far this season.

Despite a bright start from the home side, it was Gosport Borough who took the lead on 18 minutes.   After home 'keeper James Russell had parried Dan Smith's shot, Tom Dunford reacted quickest to slot home.  The goal prompted an unusual bell-ringing celebration from one visiting fan sitting adjacent to the press box.

In a now familiar situation of being a goal down at home, Wood went in search of an equaliser.  Centre-back Josh Hill side-footed the lively Matty Wichelow's cross just wide, and only a remarkable double save from Gosport 'keeper Nathan Ashmore denied the league leaders in the 37th minute.  First, he parried Ricky Shakes' shot, before recovering to block Lee Angol's re-bound effort at point blank range.

Late goals in Wood's last two homes fixtures, against Wealdstone and Maidenhead United, had turned a 0-1 half-time deficit into a 2-1 win.  Today, the home fans had to wait only until the 62nd minute for the equaliser, when Whichelow's low cross from the left was eventually stabbed home by Shakes after several ricochets in the penalty area.

The game continued with Wood enjoying the majority of possession, but with Gosport still dangerous on the break.  Ashmore again came to the visitors' rescue, parrying Junior Morias' swerving shot two-handed, and there was a late shout for a penalty when Sam Cox appeared to get a push in the back as he tried to meet Luke Garrard's lofted cross at the far post.

There was to be no late winner this time though, and Boreham Wood had to settle for a draw.

It had been an entertaining contest between two in-form teams at Meadow Park, and a good advertisement for Conference South football.  The one point gained for Wood today is also enough to keep Ian Allinson's team three points clear at the top of the table, as they now prepare for the visit of struggling Weston-super-Mare on Monday evening.

This was the second home game where Boreham Wood FC ran their new initiative to boost home support.  Representatives of a wide range of local clubs, be it Cubs, Scouts, athletics, football or indeed any local youth club, can now purchase an adult matchday ticket for £10 (normal price £13) which also includes admission for two children.  In addition to the discounted admission, for each ticket purchased, Boreham Wood will donate £4 to the relevant club or society.

According to Wood's Community Manager Charlie Hunter, 53 tickets were sold through this scheme when it was first run for the home game versus Wealdstone two weeks ago, resulting in £212 being donated to local clubs, and over 80 children coming to see their local team go top of the league.

W
ithout a substantial away following, Meadow Park was much more sparsely populated today than it had been two weeks ago, and lacked the sort of buzz which would have been fitting of a top-of-the-table clash like this.

But it's worth remembering that, one year ago, Boreham Wood were languishing in the bottom three of this league, while Meadow Park's West Stand was still under construction.  Twelve months on, with a slightly increased home support and a four-sided ground, they are top of the table, and refusing to be beaten.



16 November 2014

Relocation, Relocation

Saturday 15th November 2014
Essex Senior League
Enfield 1893 3-0 Sporting Bengal United
The Harlow Arena, Barrows Farm
Attendance: TBC
HOW times change.

In the 1980s the original Enfield FC was top dog in English football's non-league structure.  Two Alliance Premier League (now Vanarama Conference) titles and two FA Trophy wins between 1982 and 1988 came during a golden era where the Es also recorded several wins against Football League opposition in the FA Cup.

The second of those league titles was won in 1985/86, the season before automatic promotion to the Football League was introduced. This was the end of the era where the Football League chairmen would gather at the AGM to vote on whether or not to sacrifice an existing member of the ‘elite 92' and allow the champions of the non-league world to make the step up.  More often than not, the status quo would be retained, and, predictably, Enfield’s hopes were dashed in 1986.

Despite suffering relegation in 1990, Enfield were Isthmian League champions once and runners-up five times in the next seven seasons.  Unfortunately the club was denied a return to Conference football on winning the league title in 1995, as the Southbury Road ground no longer met the enhanced grading requirements for hosting football in non-league’s top tier.

Tough times followed.  By the late 1990s the club’s chairman Tony Lazarou had sold the ground for housing development, and Southbury Road hosted football for the last time in September 1999.

By spring 2000 Enfield were ground-sharing at Boreham Wood, where attendances plummeted, as did the team’s fortunes on the pitch.

It was in summer 2001 that the Supporters’ Trust, no longer believing that Lazarou was interested in returning the club to the London Borough of Enfield, voted to break away and form England’s first fan-owned club.  And so Enfield Town Football Club was born - a club which has featured several times on this site over the past three seasons.

What remained of the original club battled on, but successive relegations meant that by 2004 the E's were down in Step 4 of the non-league pyramid.  After another ground move to Ware, just a short drive up the A10 from Enfield, the team stabilised on the pitch and returned to Step 3 in 2005.

Sadly, Enfield FC was forced into liquidation two years later when the club was unable to remove itself from the former chairman’s debts.  The board of Enfield Town FC offered a merger in summer 2007, but the E's opted to go it alone.

Reforming as Enfield 1893, the club began its new incarnation in the Essex Senior League (Step 5), and, after a three-year spell at Broxbourne, finally returned to the London Borough of Enfield in 2010.  In a strange twist, the E's moved into the Goldsdown Road ground in Brimsdown, where they spent one season sharing a home with Enfield Town.

Enfield 1893 were crowned league champions at the end of the 2010/11 season, but in another twist, were denied promotion to the Isthmian League.  Enfield Town, in preparation for a move to their new home at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, were dismantling the spectator facilities which they had installed at Goldsdown Road, meaning that the ground no longer met Isthmian League standards.

Since then, last season's three-horse race for the title with Great Wakering Rovers and Haringey Borough is the closest the E's have come to repeating that success.  They started today's game languishing in 17th place in the table, on a run of five consecutive defeats in all competitions, in a season which has included a 10-1 home thrashing by leaders Haringey Borough.
Further ground-grading problems last summer also led to Enfield leaving their home borough again, and 'home' for this season is The Harlow Arena with its all-weather 3G playing surface.  Opened in 2006, the stadium is located on the western outskirts of the Essex town - "the birthplace of fibre optic communication", according to the sign which greets you as you arrive via the A414.  The local landscape around here is dominated by the huge Poundland warehouse situated just across the road from the ground. 

The move to Harlow, the seventh ground at which Enfield have played home games since leaving Southbury Road 15 years ago, seemed to have gone unnoticed by one of the away team's players.  Sporting Bengal United, lying two places below the E's in the league table, kicked-off with just 10 men, before their number 8 joined the action after three minutes.  The word is that he had gone to Brimsdown, Enfield's former home.

Sporting Bengal was formed in 1996 to promote Asian football in the London area.  The club is run by the Bangladesh Football Association (UK) and selects its players from the Sunday League clubs under that FA's umbrella.  The club competed in the London Intermediate League and the Kent League, before being admitted to the Essex Senior League in 2011.
 
As for the action on the pitch this afternoon, when Stephen Hutchinson hooked an effort just wide in the opening minute, it set the tone for a game which Enfield would dominate.  Yet somehow a series of last-ditch blocks, good goalkeeping and offsides kept the score at 0-0 until the hour mark, when the deadlock was finally broken.  A trip on Hutchinson inside the box saw the referee point immediately to the penalty spot, from where centre-back Stevenson converted comfortably.

It was 2-0 in the 72nd minute when left-back Tom Phillips finished coolly after a neat one-two with Alan Browne.

Danny Norton's rising shot from just inside the box after he was teed up by Hutchinson rounded off the scoring seven minutes later and gave the final scoreline a realistic look, given how Enfield had generally been on top throughout.

For the E's, who host Ilford in another home game this Tuesday night, this should be a confidence-boosting win after a poor run of results.

But with the team still sitting 17th in the 20-team Essex Senior League, and typically attracting crowds of around 50 to its shared home, it feels like a long road back up to the Isthmian League and the club's former glories.