Wednesday, 19 November 2014


It's an early start on my travels this Saturday, as I am on my way for a 10:30am kick-off for the Under-21 clash at Sutton Coldfield who are taking on Bromsgrove Sporting in the Midland Football League's, Under-21 Challenge Bowl competition.

As I am not able to go to a match this afternoon, I have decided to go for an early kick-off and check out the form of Sutton Coldfield, who are doing very well at Under 21 level this season.

The weather forecast is for cloud for most of the day with the chance of a spot of rain. I catch the 7:35 am train from Worcester Shrub Hill station and I am surprised at the the number of passengers, possibly Christmas shoppers?

After changing trains at Birmingham New Street, I get the connecting train to Sutton Coldfield and get there quite early. I have time to get some breakfast and have a good look around the shops before walking to Coles Lane to the Central Ground, home of Sutton Coldfield Town, who also share with Romulus FC.

I had thought of going to see Paget Rangers Under 21's who play in Erdington but was worried their game might be called off due to the large amount of rain we had had yesterday, so I have gone for the safer option of Sutton's all weather pitch.

The ground has the main stand and changing rooms on the right as you enter the ground, where there is seating for 200 spectators. The club house (including tea bar) is situated in the far left hand corner and also on the far side is cover for standing spectators.

After buying a cup of tea just before kick-off I stand by the goal at the club house end. This match is in the Challenge Bowl competition. 

The teams have come out on the pitch with Sutton in their all blue strip and Bromsgrove in their all green away colours. I saw Bromsgrove play at Sporting Khalsa a few weeks ago and were a bit unlucky not to get a draw while eventually losing 1-3. Sutton Coldfield are going to be a different proposition though as they have been winning all their games so far.

Right from the kick-off, Bromsgrove are pinned back in their own half for long periods due to Sutton's pressing game, not giving their opponents not much time to settle on the ball.

After 16 minutes, Sutton Coldfield have the ball in the Bromsgrove net but is ruled out for offside.

The Bromsgrove goal is leading a charmed life, with a combination of good goal keeping and desperate last ditch defending. This is personified in the 26th minute when 3 shots by the hosts are either charged down or saved by the keeper in quick succession. In the very next minute a Sutton forward races through, taking the ball round the keeper, shooting at goal and the ball being cleared off the line by a covering Bromsgrove defender and then from the rebound another shot is saved by the keeper who has rushed back to his goal, (as shown below).

     Phew! I am wondering if Bromsgrove might survive with a clean sheet until half-time. This scenario does not come to pass as after 33 minutes, when the Sutton No.9, Ryan Boothe, takes the ball round the valiant Bromsgrove keeper and scores the first goal. The same player goes close again at the end of the half by hitting a post with another shot.

So it's 1-0 to the home side and they know that it should have been more. Bromsgrove Sporting have put up some very spirited resistance though and look determined not to have a repeat performance of their earlier 1-7 home defeat against the same opponents at their own Victoria Ground.

One of the Sutton Coldfield officials told me earlier on that their synthetic pitch had cost £300,000 and was funded by their wealthy Chairman. It's been money well spent as over the last few years it must have saved them and their tenants, Romulus, from many postponed games. Also the pitch does not suffer much from continued use, as the Sutton first team are playing here this afternoon.

When play resumes for the second period, it's Sutton who are still calling the shots. Indeed they should have scored after just 3 minutes when a cross from the right is headed just wide of the far post when it looks to have been easier to score.

The Sutton substitute, No.14 is the next to go close when he sees his shot saved after just coming on to the pitch. 

It's 2-0 soon after though when it's Ryan Boothe again shooting from the right in to the opposite top corner of the goal.

Bromsgrove Sporting though now have their best spell of the match.

First the Bromsgrove captain,Dennis Pickett, who looks like the smallest player on the pitch, flicks a header over the Sutton bar from a free kick. Then they pull a goal back after 79 minutes, when from another free kick, the ball bounces over a Sutton defender and a Bromsgrove forward runs round to hit the ball in to the top right hand corner.

Then Bromsgrove score again when a shot rockets straight over the top of the Sutton keeper in to the top of the net. A most unexpected turn of events and I'm wondering if we are going to see an upset?

Sutton Coldfield score in the very next minute though with their No.12 (another substitute) cleverly lobbing the keeper.

Just a few minutes later and Sutton Coldfield's No.7 scores from the penalty spot after their No.10, Troy Herbert, is brought down.

They have enough time to score a fifth through Troy Herbert who slides the ball in with the Bromsgrove keeper helpless to prevent it (shown below).

    The final whistle sounds soon after and Sutton Coldfield have a well earned win for their attacking efforts despite stubborn resistance from their opponents.

I will be very surprised if there are any better teams in the Under-21 divisions this season than Sutton and it will be interesting to see if they win both the Challenge Bowl and their division in the Midland Football League. 

They top their group in the Challenge Bowl competition and are guaranteed a quarter-final place after 5 wins out of 5, while Bromsgrove Sporting are rooted to bottom place with just one point from 5 games.

Entertainment value: 7/10
Match attendance: 25?
Entrance fee: none
Match programme: none available 

Sunday, 2 November 2014


Today it's FA Vase time again and also FA Trophy time too! I have decided though to see the Walsall Wood - AFC Bridgnorth tie in the Vase. The last time I went to Oak Park was the FA Vase, Quarter-Final tie when Walsall Wood played Guernsey, 2 years ago. It was a great occasion with a 650+ crowd, with the game going to extra-time but with no goals, although Walsall had the better chances. Guernsey won the replay, so now Walsall Wood will be thinking that maybe they can have another good Vase run.

I saw the Wood win at Malvern Town in a previous round and that result seems to have galvanised them after a fairly poor start to this season.  

When I leave Worcester, it's starting to cloud over after a bright start to the day but with no forecast of rain. I get to Walsall by 12:50pm and after having a quick look around for a place to eat, decide on using the Gardenia Cafe near the bus station, a place I have been on two previous visits, as it's a friendly place and good value. 

After a good filling breckie sandwich, I take the No.10 bus and 25 minutes later I am making the short walk on the path from Lichfield Road to Oak Park, which sits alongside the Oak Park Sports Centre. When I enter the ground, I can see the main stand on the left side of the pitch and the club house and changing rooms are on the right. 

AFC Bridgnorth are occupying top spot in the Premier Division of the West Midlands League before today's game, so should provide stiff opposition. Many of the same players who were with the club, in their previous incarnation as Bridgnorth Town, when that club were dissolved (due to financial difficulties) are still in the squad and have shown great loyalty to the club and their Manager, Mark Clyde.

So the teams come on to the pitch in their usual colours, Wood in all red and Bridgnorth in all blue. I also notice that there are 2 other photographers in attendance today and look like press photographers with their professional looking equipment.

The first half proves to be an even affair with neither side on top for long. It's all a bit scrappy and sometimes a bit ill tempered, with the referee having words with both teams to watch their step.

The best chance of this half falls to Wood's No.10, Leon Taylor, who blasts the ball high over the bar after having been played in to a good position from a pass that comes in from the right.

The main threat from Bridgnorth comes from the surging runs on the right flank by Anwar Olugbon (who is shown below).

For the last few minutes of the first period, Walsall Wood are on top. Leon Taylor sees his effort saved well by the Bridgnorth keeper and then with their last attack, one of their players makes a run in to the box and is brought down and everyone is expecting a penalty to be given. Instead the ref blows his whistle for half time. Of course the home side are incensed and swarm round the ref, dismayed that no penalty has been awarded. It's to no avail though, both teams troop off the field and so the first half ends on a more dramatic note than expected.

When I walk to the club house, I can look over the wall and see the commemorative sculpture of the Walsall Wood colliery that closed in 1964. I'm later told by a spectator after the game that for years, they had a big slag heap on that spot.

So the second half starts and I have decided to go to the other end of the ground which Walsall Wood will be attacking.

After 48 minutes, The Wood are awarded a free kick just outside the area. Their No.9 takes it and sends a shot crashing off the intersection of post and cross bar and the rebound is bundled in by the No.11 Corey Currithers. At last a goal and this galvanises the visitors.

                  (The reactions of the players say it all after the first Walsall Wood goal)

On 63 minutes Bridgnorth equalise after the rebound from Olugbon's saved shot is pushed in.

Walsall Wood respond immediately as a minute later, Walsall's Leon Taylor heads in from a corner (as shown below).

Then the same player 4 minutes later just misses a ball played in across the Bridgnorth goal when he slides in at the far post.

It's a very open game now and with just 5 minutes to go Bridgnorth equalise again to the dismay of the home crowd. The goal comes courtesy of a lob over the advancing Walsall keeper Kiesel.

By now I have given up on my photography as the light levels are proving to be unworkable but just as I am about to go on my way, Walsall Wood snatch a dramatic late win when their substitute, Drew Aiton, shoots in the ball from close range. So just like their first Vase tie this season, The Wood have triumphed right at the death of an absorbing contest.

So it's hard luck on a stubborn AFC Bridgnorth team who will be strong contenders in the chase for the West Midlands Premier crown this season and Walsall Wood will now face an away tie to league rivals Causeway United, who play at Halesowen's ground in the next round.

The size of the crowd was disappointing today but that may be due to the fact that nearby Rushall Olympic were also playing at home.  

                      (The backdrop of the match provided by the Colliery sculpture)

Match attendance: 89
Entertainment value: 7.5/10
Entrance fee: £5
Match programme: £1