7 May 2016

County of Opportunity

Thursday 5th May 2016
Hertfordshire FA Senior Challenge Cup Final
Hitchin Town 2-1 Boreham Wood
The Stadium, Cheshunt
Attendance: 366

NINETEEN years ago Hitchin Town captain Mark Burke was among the scorers as the Canaries defeated Boreham Wood 4-1 in the Herts FA Senior Challenge Cup Final.

Fast forward to last Thursday night, and Burke - now Hitchin's manager - was able to celebrate another cup final win against Wood, who left Cheshunt as beaten finalists in this competition for the second year in a row.

For Hitchin, whose players, officials and fans celebrated raucously after the final whistle, this cup success brought some consolation after relinquishing a two-goal lead in the Southern Premier League play-off semi-final against Hungerford Town.

Wood, on the other hand, were brought down to earth after the euphoria of last Saturday's win at Welling United, a result which had earned the club a second year in the National League.

Despite their struggles this season, Wood arrived at Cheshunt as favourites to win against the Canaries, two levels lower down the pyramid.

Luke Garrard's team took the field wearing their familiar National League squad numbers; Hitchin wearing the traditional 1 to 11.

Last month Wood and Hitchin had agreed to postpone this cup final until after the end of the league season, allowing both teams to concentrate fully on their respective survival and promotion battles.

In the end, this was to leave Garrard with a selection headache.  Loan players Harry White, Clovis Kamdjo, Delano Sam-Yorke and Jamie Lucas had all returned to their parent clubs after the completion of the league programme.

On the flip side, Matty Whichelow and Josh Hill, who had spent most of the season out on loan, had now returned and rejoined the Wood squad this evening.

With Ben Nunn cup-tied and Joe Devera unavailable due to illness, Jack Connors was brought in at left-back, and Garrard nominated himself as one of the five substitutes.

Hitchin were faced with late selection problems of their own.  Two of their intended starting XI, Robbie Burns and Mason Spence, were stuck in traffic on the M25 pre-match and instead named among the substitutes.

For the first time in 13 seasons, this cup final did not take place at the Herts FA's headquarters at the County Ground in Letchworth, a "lack of sufficient infrastructure" the reason cited on Boreham Wood's club website.

Instead, we all made our way to Theobalds Lane, the home of Step 4 Cheshunt FC, located just north of the M25/A10 interchange, for the final of the county's premier cup competition.

My report for Real Footy Talk is here.

4 May 2016

No Eastern Promises

Saturday 30th April 2016
Sky Bet League 2
Leyton Orient 1-0 Mansfield Town
Matchroom Stadium, Brisbane Road
Attendance: 4257 (away support 358)

My summary of this decidedly end-of-season affair at the Matchroom Stadium, published by the Yellow Advertiser:

Mansfield Town fan Colin Perry gives an opposing view on his side’s 1-0 defeat at Leyton Orient
Both teams went into this end-of-season game level on 63 points, having come up just short in the chase for the play-offs.
But while Mansfield are reflecting positively on a much-improved season which has brought ten away wins, Orient skipper Mathieu Baudry used his programme notes to apologise to the fans for his team’s underachievement.
On the pitch, in a mostly quiet game the man in the limelight was O’s striker Ollie Palmer, booed from the start by the travelling Stags fans who remembered his recent uninspiring 18-month spell in Nottinghamshire and his comments on social media when he left the club.
Much to the away fans’ amusement, Palmer wasted a golden scoring chance after just ten minutes, rounding Stags keeper Scott Shearer, but inexplicably hesitating and allowing Shearer to recover and block the ball by his right-hand post.
Palmer was a handful for the Stags’ defence all afternoon though, and – almost inevitably – it was he who scored the only goal of the game just after half-time, rising highest to head home Lloyd James’ free-kick.
Despite running half the length of the pitch in the general direction of those fans who had been giving him stick, Palmer managed to resist the temptation to gesticulate and cause any further bad feeling.
For the underachieving O’s, eighth place is still up for grabs next week. Mansfield, meanwhile, could find themselves finishing anywhere between ninth and 14th, depending on results elsewhere.

24 April 2016

Closer to the Cherished Goal

Saturday 23rd April 2016
Vanarama National League
Boreham Wood 1-0 Guiseley
Meadow Park
Attendance: 601 (away support 113)
BOREHAM WOOD edged closer to safety with a single-goal win against fellow-strugglers Guiseley on an afternoon of high tension at Meadow Park.
Delano Sam-Yorke’s strike, midway through the first half, was enough to give Wood three critical points, lifting them above today’s opponents in the table, and keeping survival in their own hands going into next Saturday’s final round of games .
Wood started their final home game of their debut season at this level two points behind Guiseley and above FC Halifax Town on goal difference.  Luke Garrard’s team knew that a win today in front of a larger than usual Meadow Park crowd, coupled with defeat for Halifax at second-placed Forest Green Rovers, would effectively ensure safety from relegation with a game to spare, on account of a vastly superior goal difference.
With Danny Woodards missing through injury, Wood skipper Callum Reynolds moved across to the left-back position, with Joe Devera partnering Scott Doe in the centre of defence.  Harry White and Delano Sam-Yorke formed the strike partnership in a 4-4-2 formation.
Wood enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening stages, but faced a scare in the fourth minute as Oli Johnson weaved his way past Ben Nunn into the penalty area, before being unable to find a teammate with his pull-back into the centre.
Home fans’ hearts were in their mouths again when Scott Doe’s back-pass to James Russell looked dangerously short, as the Wood keeper raced out of his goal to clear any danger from the onrushing Guiseley striker.
At the other end, Sam-Yorke’s persistence eventually saw him get in a shot from just inside the penalty area, Lions’ keeper Steven Drench getting down smartly to save.
But Sam-Yorke would get his reward in the 23rd minute.  Bursting into the 18-yard box and powering his way past two defenders, the Wood striker found enough space to blast home from 10 yards, giving Wood a crucial lead and lifting some of the tension around the ground.
A better spell of possession for the visitors followed.  But Wood, with the experienced centre-back pairing of Doe and Devera holding firm, were not being seriously threatened at this stage.
A swift break out of defence from Wood in the 39th minute saw Sam-Yorke find space down the left, before laying the ball inside to Howell, who in turn found Conor Clifford racing forward from the inside right channel.  Clifford, the hero at Aldershot seven days ago with his late winner, this time failed to trouble the keeper, sending his shot comfortably wide.
In the final minute of a first half in which the visitors had created little, Hatfield was frustrated to see his cross from the right-hand edge of the penalty area deflected harmlessly in the hands of Russell.
But Guiseley, having appeared back on the pitch several minutes ahead of Wood before the start of the second half, immediately looked a more threatening outfit after the restart.
Within 90 seconds of play resuming, Doe had to be alert to snuff out a threat from Anthony Dudley in the penalty area, conceding a corner with a hooked clearance.
It was from that corner that the unlucky Rob Atkinson saw his header crash down off Russell’s crossbar, the loose ball then being blasted high over for a goal-kick.
Doe was in action again when his attempted clearance from midway inside his own half was charged down by Adam Boyes, leaving Guiseley’s number 9 briefly through on goal, until Wood’s centre-back quickly recovered to get in a crucial tackle.
Against the run of play, Wood came close to doubling their lead just before the hour-mark.  Latching on to Clifford’s through ball, Sam-Yorke raced forward into the penalty area, and was unlucky to see his rising shot clip Drench’s left-hand post, before rebounding to safety.
More drama at the other end just moments later, as the dangerous Johnson found space in the box for shot which Russell got down smartly to block.
With the game really opening up, Wood’s keeper came to the rescue again within three minutes, brilliantly tipping over Atkinson’s fierce rising shot after Boyes’ knock down on the edge of the penalty area.
Dudley then wasted a golden chance to bring the visitors level, blasting the ball well over after finding himself in plenty of space inside the Wood box, much to the agony of the Guiseley management on the touchline.
With Wood hanging on to their slender lead, Junior Morias, on as a 66th-minute substitute for Luke Howell, won the ball in a tussle 30 yards from goal and accelerated into the penalty area.  But, under pressure from a defender, the popular Wood striker could only send his attempted shot high and wide.
The tension around the ground rose further, as news filtered through that Halifax had taken the lead at Forest Green, something which was of no help to either side on the Meadow Park pitch.
With seven minutes of the 90 remaining, Russell again reacted smartly to parry Boyes’ 20-yard shot past his left-hand post, and was at his best once more to gather the inswinging corner under pressure.
Four minutes of stoppage time saw Wood hold firm as Guiseley, about to drop into the bottom four, looked in vain for a last-gasp breakthrough.  The final whistle brought tangible relief for the home fans.
Wood now go to bottom-of-the-table Welling United next Saturday knowing that, should Halifax and Guiseley both win at home, even a draw would not be enough to keep them in the National League’s top tier.
But, having just achieved back-to-back wins for the first time in this testing season, Luke Garrard’s team have their fate in their own hands, and the momentum they need.

BOREHAM WOOD: Russell, Nunn, Doe, Reynolds, Shakes, Howell (Morias 66), Sam-Yorke, C Clifford, H White, Kamdjo, Devera.  Subs not used: Cox, Lucas, B Clifford, Connors.
GUISELEY: Drench, Toulson (Norburn 74), Parker, Lowe, Lawlor, Boyes, Rothery, Hatfield, Johnson (Boshell 80), R Atkinson, Dudley (Craddock 78).  Subs not used: Lockwood, D Atkinson.
REFEREE: Mr D Treleaven
ATTENDANCE: 601 (away support 113)