The Skrill South (aka Conference South)
Boreham Wood 0-1 Bath City
Meadow ParkSEVEN minutes - that was the official time of the only goal on this cold and grey afternoon at Meadow Park. Whilst this author would have been happier if a Boreham Wood player had been the scorer, the timing of Andy Watkins' strike for the visitors Bath City still made me the lucky winner of the £25 golden goal prize.
That was a welcome stroke of good fortune, and I will of course look to be back at Meadow Park soon to re-invest my winnings.
Last February I had been to this fixture which had ended 0-0 on the same day that Mansfield Town had trounced Barrow 8-1. With the Stags desperately needing to end their five-match losing run, I was hoping that there might be an omen in there somewhere.
Despite two heroic performances against League One Carlisle United in the FA Cup this month, Wood have been having a difficult time in the league so far this season, and started today's game in 19th place, just three places and three points ahead of bottom club Dorchester Town. Bath City, the Romans, arrived in Hertfordshire sitting a healthier-looking 10th in the table, three points behind the play-off places.
The visitors were soon in front. Andy Watkins latched onto a slide-rule pass as Wood appealed in vain for offside; Bath's number 10 then cut swiftly inside a defender and fired high past James Russell, to the delight of the 30 or so City fans who had gathered behind the goal at the Broughinge Road end. It wasn't the start I had been hoping to see, but when the man on the Meadow Park mic confirmed the time of the first goal as seven minutes, I knew I had a consolation prize.
By half time the faint sunlight had disappeared behind the under-construction West Stand, and a wintry chill had descended. I went to collect my winnings at this point, delivered in a sealed envelope from the boardroom, and immediately headed off to begin spending them on a warming cup of tea.
For the second half I sat down strategically adjacent to the press seats, frequently eavesdropping on the live match commentary being delivered by two gentlemen, not for BBC Radio Somerset as I initially suspected, but for Bath City FC's own internet radio service. It's impressive that Romans fans can still enjoy a full 90-minute commentary of all their team's games, broadcast free-to-air, despite Bath's relegation from the Conference Premier in 2012.
The closest Wood came to an equaliser was just past the hour mark. David Moli, on as a half-time substitute, forced a fine save from Bath 'keeper Jason Mellor, who dived smartly to his left to parry a fierce volley from just inside the penalty area.
The visitors always looked dangerous on the break as the game progressed, with the front pairing of Watkins and David Pratt a constant threat. Meanwhile the Romans' defence, including Mark Preece, on Mansfield Town's books in the 2010/11 season, was able to deal with Wood's best efforts to find a way back into the game.
The loyal travelling fans from Somerset gave their team a deserved warm ovation at the final whistle. With only three fixtures taking place in this division today due to this being an FA Trophy weekend, the Romans have climbed up to fifth place in the table thanks to the three points gained here.
Today had been my (overdue) first experience of Conference football in the 2013/14 season. The top two tiers of English football's non-league structure are now sponsored by online payments company Skrill (goodbye and thank you, Blue Square), with 44 clubs split regionally into The Skrill North and South, and the top 24 forming the The Skrill Premier.
|Under construction - Meadow Park's new West Stand|
The day ended in disappointment for Boreham Wood, who have now dropped into The Skrill South's bottom three. Next Saturday these same two teams will meet again for the return fixture at Bath, today's game having been rescheduled for what would otherwise have been a blank weekend, after both sides exited the FA Trophy two weeks ago.
In his programme notes, Wood chairman Danny Hunter rightly pointed out that it was no good his having a new stand built and continuing to upgrade the facilities at Meadow Park if the team were to fall back into the Ryman League. The seven league games which Wood will cram into December should give more of an indication of whether consolidation is to be the target for Ian Allinson's team this season, or if another crack at the play-off places is still achievable.
As I left the now bittingly cold Meadow Park, the news that Mansfield had slumped to a sixth consecutive defeat in League Two came as another disappointment (note to self: stay away from the Stags' messageboard for a few days - that's if it hasn't already been closed down due to a deluge of abusive comments). But on the plus side, after my recent ventures to a Champions League tie at the Emirates Stadium and an England international at Wembley, I had felt somewhat more at home when watching non-league action in a typically sparse Meadow Park crowd.
Now, when my teams start winning more games, I can really begin to enjoy football again.
|The winning ticket|