Saturday, 22 October 2016



This weekend my attention switched to north of the border and my first Scottish trip of the season.

When the draw was made for the second round of the Scottish Cup there were two ties that stood out for me Linlithgow Rose v Stirling Albion and Preston Athletic v Montrose. After much deliberation, I opted for the latter and a trip to East Lothian.

Founded in 1945, Preston Athletic play in the Lowland League and are based at Pennypit Park in the town of Prestonpans. They became a senior club in 1994, when they joined the East of Scotland League, and were founder members of the Lowland League in 2013. The club is also a full member of the Scottish FA, meaning automatic qualification for the Scottish Cup.

Pennypit Park is in a fairly central location, just off the high street. There is a large stand but the rest of the ground is grass banking. It is next door to the rugby club, which is almost identical, but for a marginally bigger stand,  There is a clubhouse in the corner serving traditional fayre, so naturally a pie (or two) had to be scoffed! The Goth brewpub is a three minute walk from the ground, so pre-match was spent sampling the wares of the brewery.

The town of is famous as the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, which was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart, and was the first major battle in this Jacobite Rising, which took place on 21 September 1745.

Today the theatre of conflict was on the football field as the Panners looked to overcome league two strugglers Montrose. The Gable Endies have already lost to non-league opposition in a cup competition this season, having been dumped out of the Challenge Cup by Turiff United. However, it would be a task for the home side as they themselves are not exactly firing on all cylinders and currently prop up the Lowland League table.

It was obvious from the opening exchanges that there was going to be no upset here. Preston really should have been (at least) 3 down at HT but some of the Montrose finishing was woeful, also Craig Pennycuik in the Panners goal made some fine stops. It remained goalless at the break. 

Moments after restart though Preston were awarded a penalty for a push in the box but Ross Colquhoun's (48) effort was saved by Allan Fleming. Two minutes later Montrose finally made the breakthrough with a spot kick of their own, after a trip in the area, Gary Fraser stepping up to score.

A second goal was quickly added, when Chris Templeman (67) fired home from the edge of the box. Game over. A further goal followed, substitute Jonny Court (86) poking the ball home from a few yards out, there were also plenty more missed chances in between for the visitors.

Preston left the field with 8 men as, in the 3 minutes of stoppage time, the referee brandished red cards to Jack Jardine (dangerous play) Gavin Stevenson (second yellow) and then Danny O'Rourke saw red after the final whistle. That completed a miserable afternoon for the home side, who competed well but were comprehensively beaten.

The game turned on two penalties in the space of a few minutes.
Preston's Ross Colquhoun saw his effort saved by Allan Fleming (above)
then Montroses' Gary Fraser scored his to open the scoring (below). After that
the visitors never looked like losing the tie.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

STAMFORD AFC (The Zeeco Stadium)


Continuing the Welsh theme of the past few weeks, today I headed across to Lincolnshire where Northern Premier League Division One South side Stamford were hoping to cause an FA Cup shock by knocking out Conference giants Wrexham.

Stamford have never reached the first round proper in their history, whilst Wrexham have had their giantkilling moments in the distant past.

My visit came almost four years to the day since I last visited Stamford. The Daniels were then playing at Kettering Road which was their home from 1896 until December 2014, when they moved to a brand new purpose built ground, Borderville Sports Complex, known as the Zeeco Stadium in a sponsorship agreement.

The ground is everything you would expect of a smart new stadium, with a seated stand along one touchline and a terraced stand behind one of the goals. The ground is exposed down one side, with a grass bank offering perfect views of the pitch. Security patrolled said bank to ensure nobody was watching for free!

It had been a turbulent build up to the game for The Dragons as manger Gary Mills was sacked on Thursday after a poor run of results, losing four of their last six games. It all added to the potential banana skin that was facing Wrexham this afternoon.

The odds though were clearly against Stamford but their three wins at home have come in cup competitions, including two in the FA Cup. To reach this round the Daniels have beaten Sleaford Town, St Neots Town, Gresley and AFC Mansfield. They nearly pulled off the shock.

I travelled across with a Wrexham supporting mate of mine and he was telling me how bad Wrexham have been this season. At this moment in time he reckons staying up will be success. I was a little taken aback by that that comment but having seen them today I now understand where he is coming from.

A Zeeco Stadium record crowd of 1,264 watched The Dragons start brightly and take the lead after 5 minutes when Shaun Harrod fired home from six yards after Martin Riley had headed down a deep cross.

Wrexham tried to play football but there was no end product and they couldn't find the killer pass. Stamford in truth offered little in attack and the first half drifted to it's conclusion with only the one goal difference.

Stamford made a tactical substitution at the break and it turned the game on its head. Ryan Robbins came on to play alongside Jevani Brown and the pair caused the Wrexham backline all sorts of problems.

Robbins had a glorious chance to level the match when he went through one-on-one but he could not beat Shwan Jalal in the Wrexham goal. It wasn't long before The Daniels were level though when Brown was fouled in the area and Lee Beeson (58) fired home the resulting penalty.

After that Stamford created enough chances to have gone on and won the game, especially with another one-one-one chance which was squandered, this time, by Brown. 

Wrexham will be relived to have another chance at The Racecourse on Tuesday. Stamford may feel this was an opportunity missed.

Sunday, 9 October 2016



For the second weekend in succession I was in the capital as Wales hosted Georgia in a World Cup qualification game.

Wales won their first match at home, beating Moldova 4-0, but came into this game on the back of a decent draw away in Austria. Ok, the Austrians were no great shakes, yes Wales took the lead twice, but they are unbeaten at the Ernst Happel in four years.

Three points at home against Georgia and everything in the qualification garden will look rosy, won't it?

Wales started brightly and took the lead after 10 minutes through a superb Gareth Bale header. However the Georgians looked very dangerous on the counter.

Wales were very slow out of the blocks for the second half and the Georgia began to make inroads into the Welsh back line. It was no shock when Tornike Okriashvili headed the visitors level after 57 minutes. 

As the game became more stretched Wales looked dead on their feet and were very fortunate to come away with a draw, as Georgia missed a couple of great chances, including one effort which crashed off the crossbar, to grab the win.

The absence of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen from the midfield clearly showed as the second half progressed. There was no guile or inventiveness and you simply can't keep expecting Bale to dig the side out of a hole.

Apparently this was only the second time Georgia had avoided defeat in a competitive away match since 2012. A disappointing result but the booing at the end of the game from some Welsh fans was bang out of order.

Attention now turns to the home game with Serbia in November, which already looks like a must win game. Onwards....

Saturday, 1 October 2016


FAW WELSH CUP 1st ROUND, BRIDGEND STREET 2-2 GOYTRE (After Extra Time, 90 Mins 1-1, Goytre won 5-4 on penalties) ATTENDANCE: 85 (h/c)

This weekend my attention turned to the Welsh Cup and a journey to the south of the country. I had pre-booked a train journey to Cardiff in the hope that the draw would give me plenty of options, and also a chance to partake in a spot of ‘Good Beer Guide’ pub ticking!

The draw ultimately gave me a choice of three ties - Ton Pentre v Abergavenny Town, Aberbargoed Buds v Barry Town or my actual choice Bridgend Street v Goytre. Upon arrival in the capital it was throwing it down, so that immediately made me a little nervous.

The obvious thing to do would have been head into the valleys to Aberbargoed as they play on a 3G pitch, but a phone call to the secretary of Bridgend gave me a little confidence that things would be ok. It was just as well really as I was in the process of downing a couple a swift halves in Zerodegrees before catching the number 11 bus in the direction of Tremorfa.

Bridgend, just to avoid any confusion, are a Cardiff based team and play in the Tremorfa area of the city, on the Willows High School playing field, in the shadow of the Celsa Steel Works.  The club though were originally from the Splott area of Cardiff, with the actual Bridgend Street demolished in 1972.

After spending most of their existence in district leagues, The Street were promoted to the South Wales Senior League in 1994 and went on to become champions a record five times (five times) before moving up to the Welsh League in 2011. The club are currently playing in Division Three.

Today they were hosting Welsh League First Division leaders Goytre, where the phrase ‘potential banana skin’ could easily be applied.  The visitors from Gwent were certainly on a hiding to nothing.

The home side were certainly up for the game and never allowed Goytre to get into any kind of rhythm. It was difficult at times to work out who the higher ranked team were. The Street deservedly went in at half time 1-0 up thanks to a beauty of a free kick from their skipper Paul Fowler.

Such was the need for a lift in the performance that their manager made a triple substitution at the break to try and change things. Goytre pushed for an equaliser but it was Bridgend Street who came closest to a goal when Fowler had an effort crash off the crossbar.

It was looking like a big upset was on the cards but in the last minutes of the game Goytre levelled when striker Lewis Sommers was given the freedom of the box to control the ball and fire into the top corner. Heartbreaking for The Street.

The momentum had now swung and within minutes of the start of extra time Goytre were in front when Jack Aladice fired home. Rather than let their heads drop Bridgend rallied and found themselves level in the second half of extra time thanks to a fine effort from Nick Thomas.

In the remaining time neither side could find a winner which meant the dreaded lottery of spot kicks. Obviously there were tired legs out there so there were a fair few missed kicks. It came down to sudden death with Goytre prevailing 5-4.

A fine advert for Welsh football and credit to both teams. Goytre will now travel to Rhayader Town in round 2.

The extra time and penalties meant I was on the 1709 bus back into the city centre where I was able to pay a visit to the excellent Hopbunker and Urban tap House before catching my train home. A grand day out in the capital.

Saturday, 24 September 2016



Once the dust had settled on the draw for the 2nd Qualifying round of the FA Vase, I was looking for something within a couple of hours of home. I was immediately drawn to the tie between Birstall United and Malvern Town, because cards on the table, and I am ever so sorry, but I had never heard of Birstall United!

I sought out the most basic of facts that the club a based in Leicestershire, a few miles north of the city centre and play their home games at Meadow Lane (no, not that Meadow Lane). So I decided to point the car in the direction of Leicester for my latest instalment on the road to Wembley!

The club was founded in 1961 by a group of youngsters. They chose their name 'United' after picking the best players from the teams run by Birstall British Legion and Birstall Social Club.
The club initially played Sunday league football in the Leicester & District League but by the end of the decade they switched to Saturday football, eventually joining Division Two of the Leicestershire Senior League in 1976.

The club play at Meadow Lane, which is adjacent to Watermead Park, a series of old gravel pits that have been turned into lakes. Only two sides of the ground are open. There is a seated stand alongside the pitch and a covered terrace behind the goal. There are also signs of building work as the club continue to develop the ground. There is a clubhouse, which was doing a roaring trade today with Leicester City being the early Sky TV game.

After plenty of near misses, Birstall United were crowned Leicester Senior League champions in 2016 (I wonder if their odds were 5000/1 at the start of the season?) and therefore promoted to the East Midlands Counties League.

Attention today turned to the FA Vase where Birstall were facing another step 6 side, Malvern Town of the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division. Birstall were looking to reach the first round proper for the first time since 2007. Their best run in Vase came in 1997/98 when the club reached the 4th round before losing to Spalding United.

Birstall drew first blood in this tie when a defensive miscommunication between goalkeeper and defender resulted in Jamie Smith (4) heading the ball into his own net.

Malvern played the more controlled football in the opening half and it was no surprise when Nathan Hughes (18) brought them level with a bullet header.

The game was much even in the second half but it was Malvern who created the better opportunities. They hit the post and had a goal disallowed for a supposed foul on the goalkeeper. Malvern eventually nudged themselves in front in the 75th minutes when Dave Reynolds blasted home from just inside the box.

However the lead though only lasted a matter of seconds as straight from the kick off the ball went out wide and the resulting cross was headed home by Lewis Dodd to bring Birstall level.

With the tie level at 90 minutes, and with the agreement of both clubs, an extra 30 minutes was played but ,despite the game becoming more stretched as the players became weary, no winning goal could be found. The teams will replay at Malvern on Wednesday night.