The West Midlands League beckons me today and I am off to a new ground, that of Dudley Sports who play in the Brierley Hill area of Dudley. When I set off from Worcester, it's still a bit misty but by the time I get off the train at Stourbridge it's a nice and sunny day!
After having some stir fry beef and noodles at a local eaterie called 'Taste' I head for the bus station and catch the Number 246 bus bound for Dudley. I get off at Brierley Hill High Street and after thinking about visiting the nearby Merry Hill shopping centre, I see a sign post that says 'Waterfront'. Intrigued I go down the hill and soon see that the sign was indicating the location of the Dudley Canal, which I had noticed earlier on my street map. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that there is a neat footpath along side the canal and walking along, soon I can see some moored boats and down below to my left is Merry Hill. As the walk along this canal is headed in the general direction of the football ground, I decide it's worth an explore. A bit later I come across an area called 'Delph Locks', where there are no less than 9 canal locks in total, taking boats up the hill to Dudley from Stourbridge. It's a great example of old British engineering and it's all in good working order. It's certainly making for an interesting stroll in nice weather.
At the bottom of the hill I arrive just in time to see a canal barge coming through the first lock.
Now I am heading for the ground and after some quick consultation with my map book, see that I need to finish my canal walk and soon I am heading up to and across the next bridge. The Dudley Sports FC ground is in Hillcrest Avenue and soon I see the entrance at the end of this road.
After walking through the club car park, I go through the gate and pay my entrance fee and obtain the match programme at the hut on my left. In front is a football pitch with the main pitch beyond this, which is at a 90 degree angle to me.
When I walk across the first pitch I can see that there are 2 buildings on the right hand side of the ground. The first is the one housing the changing rooms and toilets while the smaller one houses the snack bar, from which I purchase my usual pre-match cup of tea (£1). Also on this side of the main pitch are the team dug-outs and 2 small stands with a single row of seats in each.
The main stand (the Joe Forrest Stand) is on the opposite side and has seating and shelter for about 25 spectators. All in all the ground has a basic feel to it and after a quick look at my programme I see the teams coming out. Dudley Sports are in an all green strip while Shawbury United are in dark blue and white striped shirts with blue shorts and socks. I think this must be the visitors away kit as they usually play in black and white striped shirts.
Shawbury, basically a village team who hail from Shropshire (and play at the town of Wem) have played 6 league games,won 5 and drawn one with a very healthy 20 goal difference lie in 5th place, while the hosts have played 9 games so far, have won 4 and lie 2 places below them.
For the first 20 minutes it's Shawbury who look the more dangerous side and Dudley are having difficulty in launching attacks of their own. It's a surprise when the home team in one of their rare sorties in their opponents half are awarded a free kick and it's taken by their No.10 and top goal scorer, Stuart Hillman. He hammers in a low shot which comes off the near post and rebounds in to the net off the Shawbury keeper.
The visitors come roaring back and after 23 minutes their No.9, Rob Millington delivers a great cross from the right for their No.8, Dan Beddows, to head in at the far post. Game on!
Just 6 minutes later, Dudley's Aaron Gordon has his ankles clipped while trying to turn his marker in the penalty area. Hillman takes the spot kick but shoots too close to the keeper,Ashley Spittlehouse, who correctly guesses and dives to his right to save it (shown below).
While Shawbury still have the greater share of possession, Dudley are able break away at pace which causes the visitors defence some problems.
So it's 1-1 at the break and I must admit that Dudley Sports look a better team than I thought they probably were. They have a combative midfield,whose spirit is embodied by their No.8 Curtis Cocking who battles for everything, the goal threat of Hillman and the pace of their No.9, the exotically named Shepherd Machingauta. Their goal keeper, Sam Pearson, looks pretty useful too and is not afraid to take a few knocks for the team while diving at opponents feet.
So the 2nd half starts and it's the home team who are posing the greater threat to start with and it's probably their best spell of the match. After 12 minutes they take the lead when from a free kick on the right, the ball is flicked on for Aaron Gordon racing in down the left to fire in to the net off the far post (as shown below).
It's a great goal and Shawbury have got a fight on their hands to preserve their unbeaten league record. They immediately try to hit back and Pearson makes 2 saves in quick succession.
A few minutes later and Machingauta slides the ball across from the right for the dangerous Hillman to smack a first time shot on the volley which hits the bar and out.
Just a minute later and Shawbury's No.9 is put through by a great flick on and his volley is brilliantly tipped over the bar by the inspired Pearson. Shawbury's best opportunity for an equaliser is presented to them with a penalty award. Their No.3 steps up to take it but like the home side's 1st half effort, it's hit too close to the keeper and is easily saved.
On 39 minutes, a Shawbury substitute, their No.12 sees his shot tipped over the bar and a few minutes later their No.6 shoots in to the net off the post but it's disallowed.
Dudley Sports are still dangerous on the break and when Hillman pushes the ball to Machingauta, his shot is well saved by the onrushing keeper.
With the match moving in to injury time and the outcome still in the balance I decide to head off to catch my bus hoping I don't miss any goals. I'm lucky, when I find out later that there aren't but it's been a good match to watch today, especially the 2nd half and Shawbury may feel that they were a bit unlucky to lose. I think they should be one of the front runners for the Premier League title, as they have done over the last few seasons and Dudley Sports can certainly give most teams a run for their money on today's evidence.
Match entrance fee: £5
Match programme: £1
Match attendance: 25-30 (estimate)
Match entertainment: 8/10