A last minute goal by Chris Holland gave City a dramatic 2-1 win over Newport County at Twerton Park this afternoon. Holland was one of a number of City players going into the game carrying an injury but his low shot as the clock reached 90 minutes sparked great celebrations between players and fans. City took just six minutes to go ahead, Darren Edwards racing clear from Lewis Hogg’s header and slotting the ball past Thompson. Dave Gilroy wasted a smiliar chance eleven minutes later as City dominated the opening stages of the game. The visitors only threat came from Leek’s long throws, although they did have a strong shout for a penalty when Holland appear to climb all over former City defender Cochlin on 20 minutes. City finished the half on top but couldn’t add to their lead and two minutes after the interval were made to pay for this. Hogg was unfortunate to see his tackle on Leek deflect into the path of Reid but he took full advantage, firing past Steve Perrin into the roof of the net. Newport were now on top, however with Holland and Matt Coupe more than equal to their threat, Perrin was rarely called into action. Gilroy tested Thompson with a low shot and when Stuart Douglas brought a goalline clearance from Rose eight minutes from time it looked as if the match would finish all-square. However, when the visitors failed to clear a Steve Jones free-kick, Holland showed his finishing ability is not confined to his head to grab all three points and move City to within two points of the play-off places.
City are reported to have put in a seven day approach for Taunton Town youngster Luke Cole. The 19-year old former Exeter City youth team player – who has been playing for the Southern League side since being released by Stevenage Borough toward the end of 2008 – can play either right-back or right midfield. He joined the Blue Square Premier club in July 2008 after impressing in pre-season but failed to secure a first-team place at Broadhall Way. He has also been training with another Southern League South & West Division side Truro City.
City are facing a potential defensive crisis ahead of Saturday’s Blue Square South meeting with in-form Newport County. Defenders Matt Coupe, Chris Holland and Gethin Jones are all battling to be fit for the game leaving City desperately short of defensive cover. In addition to that trio midfielder Adam Connolly is also struggling with a knock picked up in the midweek defeat against Eastleigh.
With a sense of timing that would shame John Sargent, City face their first Blue Square South meeting with local(ish) rivals Newport County of the season just as the Welsh side come into form. After spending the first half of the 2008-09 campaign facing a relegation battle rather than the expected play-off hunt, a run of five wins in their last six matches has seen thoughts turn to the top half of the table rather than the bottom. Although three of the five victories have come against struggling Fisher Athletic, Basingstoke Town and Weston Super Mare, they also produced one of the results of the season in beating then league leaders Chelmsford City 3-1 at their Spytty Park home.
This run has finally taken the pressure off manager Dean Holdsworth, and there have even been signs of the notoriously critical Newport fans finally taking to the London born striker. He took over the reigns at Newport following the sacking of Peter Beadle at the end of last season and optimism was high that he could lead the side to a successful season. Despite being largely inexperienced as a manager – he had spent one season in charge of Ryman League Division 1 North side Redbridge, leading them to a penalty shoot-out play-off final defeat against Canvey Island – the Welsh club’s board clearly thought a high-profile appointment was the way to take the club forward. The 40-year had a long career in league football, mainly being remembered as part of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang alongside Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and Dennis Wise during the 1990’s. He also had a successful spell with Bolton Wanderers before beginning to drop down the leagues, and he became as likely to feature on the front pages of tabloid newspapers rather than the back for a while. An extra-marital affair with 17-year old topless model Lindsey Dawn MacKenzie was followed by being sentenced to 18-month probation for punching his wife Samantha in December 1999. More recently he has featured in a couple low profile TV reality shows, Deadline with Janet Street-Porter and Cirque De Celebrité.
Back in the world of football, Holdsworth – whose twin brother David recently became manager of Blue Square Premier side Mansfield Town – had a short spell with Newport as a player toward the end of the 2006-07 season, which no doubt played a part in him getting the managers job. He immediately began dismantling the squad that had narrowly missed out on the play-offs the previous season, bringing in a steady stream of new players including a couple from City, Phil Walsh and Adie Harris. Even once the season was underway the changes came thick and fast as he struggled to find a winning formula. In amongst this player turnover there were one or two notable successes, not least former Manchester United trainee Danny Rose. Both Walsh and Harris both failed to last the distance, joining Tiverton Town and Weston Super Mare respectively, and the Exiles have used 34 different players in the league this season so far (compared to City’s 22). However, a couple of recent arrivals seem to have steadied the ship. Wayne Turk and Aaron Cook were both signed on loan from Salisbury City when the Wiltshire side were having to prune their squad of all high-earning players and they have since signed deals to the end of the season. Two further recent arrivals on loan are Kaid Mohamed from Forest Green Rovers and City’s Scott Rogers, although he will not be permitted to play in Saturday’s match.
Complete record against Newport County/Newport AFC
These developments mean it is unlikely to be a similar side that face City – in personnel as well as confidence – as the one that was swept away in a Setanta Shield 2nd Round match back in October at Twerton Park. Although the Welsh side took the lead through Reid, City were ahead 2-1 by the interval and then added another two strikes in the second half, with Dave Gilroy grabbing all four goals. This game was City’s first home win over Newport since late in the 2003-04 season when the sides were both chasing a place in the newly formed Conference South for the following year. Whilst Newport were on the edge of a top 13 place that would see them qualifying automatically, City were looking to grab a play-off spot. On loan striker Jamie Cook – now a regular scorer at Crawley Town – fired City in front with a 25 yard shot after just 8 minutes and this turned out to the only goal of the game as goalkeeper Justin Shuttlewood produced one of his best performances in a City shirt. A few weeks later Newport would secure a place in the Conference South, which eluded City for a couple more seasons. Last season the sides meet on five occasions but only one took place at Twerton Park, when on a Friday night in front of 1600 fans Dave Gilroy struck his first goal of the season to cancel out Hillier’s first half header.
City suffered this first defeat of 2009 last night with a disappointing 2-0 loss at Eastleigh. As early as the 2nd minute Richard Evans cleared a header off the line and City struggled against set-pieces all evening. Matt Coupe produced a great last ditch block on 23 minutes to deny Riviere and twice long range efforts flew inches over. Having weathered this storm City had their best spell of the game with Chris Holland and Darren Edwards heading over, and inbetween Dave Gilroy getting the ball in the net only for an offside flag to rule out the ‘goal’. The half finished with Steve Perrin at full stretch to prevent a header by Lewis Hogg finishing in his own net. The second half saw the Spitfires continue to press City back and on 63 minutes they broke through when Jordan nodded home a corner. Six minutes later another corner fell to Martin at the back post and he stabbed it home, although Perrin had appeared to be fouled as the ball came across. City never looked like getting back in the game after this and only another excellent save from Perrin prevented a heavier defeat.
City travel to Hampshire tomorrow evening to face fellow play-off chasers Eastleigh knowing a win could lift them into a coveted top 5 place – which even with the season just past it’s halfway stage would be a big boost. The Spitfires currently sit in the fourth of those five spots, four points ahead of seventh placed City, although having played two games more. Their play-off ambitions have largely been based on an excellent home record. They reeled of five successive victories at the Silverlake Stadium to start the season before Hayes & Yeading United became the first side to avoid defeat there with a 3-3 draw in October. They followed this up with a first home defeat – 1-0 against Dorchester Town – before going unbeaten for five games, including a first ever win over bitter local rivals Havant & Waterlooville. However, in their last home game they suffered a surprise 3-1 reversal against City’s tenants Team Bath. Away from Hampshire their record has been slightly patchier, although they have won five times on their travels, amongst them inflicting AFC Wimbledon’s only home defeat of the season thus far. They have endured two five-goal hammerings at Bromley and St Albans City early in the season, plus more recently a single goal defeat against struggling Basingstoke Town on Boxing Day.
Last year Eastleigh were also right at the heart of the play-off picture for the whole the season. Going into the closing weeks of the campaign they looked certain to secure an end of season place but failure to win any of their final six games, culminating in a 4-1 defeat at mid-table Thurrock in their final match, saw them finish in 6th place. Manager Ian Baird, who joined the club early in the 2007-8 from Havant, was honest enough to admit that his side didn’t deserve a play-off place, so will hope they can make the necessary improvement this campaign. It was a summer of upheaval at the Silverlake Stadium with assistant boss Paul Doswell and chairman Paul Murray quitting the club plus a number of comings and goings in the playing staff. They put this behind them though, with Baird winning the November Manager of the Month award, but then suffered a serious setback in the last few weeks, when star striker Andy Forbes – who had missed the opening six weeks of the season after a hernia and stomach operation – suffering a potentially season ending Achilles injury whilst exercising. Having just seen loan forward Lee Roach return to Cambridge City, Baird moved quickly to strengthen his attack with the capture of Spanish born Lee Dixon on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion. The 25-year old made an almost immediate impact, netting the Spitfires consolation goal against Team Bath on Saturday.
Complete record against Swaythling/Eastleigh
Last season’s meeting at the Silverlake Stadium ended in a remarkable 4-4 draw, with 10-man City twice coming back from two goals down at 3-1 and 4-2, hat-trick hero Dave Gilroy completing the comeback with a last minute penalty. The game at Twerton Park earlier this season also ended all-square, with City again grabbed a late equaliser. There was little of the excitement that the previous clash between the clubs generated, with Brown’s 22nd minute header looking to have separated the sides. A late triple substitution for City, with Danny Carey-Bertram, Jamie Gosling and Stuart Douglas – against one of his former clubs – entering the fray turned the game and it was the former who netted his first goal for the club, firing in a Gilroy cross from close range as the clock reached 90 minutes. Although neither side came close to scoring again in the six minutes of stoppage time, Eastleigh boss Baird was sent to the stand for comments directed at the match officials.
City should go into the match with nearly a full squad to choose from, just keeper Paul Evans missing as he recovers from his knee operation. The South African is back in training and should be just two to three weeks away from a return to action. Midfielder Mark Badman returns to the squad after missing the last two matches due to suspension.
An own goal after just 23 seconds was enough to give City a 1-0 win over St Albans City at Twerton Park this afternoon. Everitt was the unfortunate visiting player when he turned Sekani Simpson’s low cross past ex-City keeper Bastock. The veteran glovesman kept his side in the game after this with a series of excellent stops, the best a stunning double save just before the interval and this meant a nervous last 15 minutes for City as they were left hanging on to a slender lead. A close range stoppage time header that Steve Perrin saved and a free-kick that failed to test City’s keeper saw the Saints twice almost grab an equaliser and the final whistle was greeted with relief from the majority of the 676 crowd. The win lifts City up a couple of places to 7th and just one point off the play-off positions.
Saturday sees City return to Twerton Park for their first home game since Boxing Day with the visit of St Albans City. The Saints sit just a couple of places, and four points, below City in the Blue Square South table in 11th place but come into the game in their poorest run of form of the season. Having failed to register a win in their opening five matches they finally got off the mark with 5-0 victory over Eastleigh at the end of August. It wasn’t until a single goal win over Newport County three weeks later though that they really got their league campaign kick started, going on a seven match winning run. This streak ended with a 1-1 draw against City’s last opponents, Hayes & Yeading United, but the point was enough to lift them into the play-positions. However, this is as good as it got for the Saints so far as they failed to score in their next three matches and are now in a seven match winless run. Their last league outing was a incredible 5-4 reversal at home to mid-table Bromley. The visitors raced into a three-goal lead in the opening half hour but the Saints pulled a goal back through skipper Ben Martin before the interval. On 53 minutes Martin struck his and St Albans’ second goal and with 18 minutes remaining the centre-back completed the club’s first league hat-trick for three years. Two minutes later Bromley regained the lead and with just five minutes later it was 5-3. There was still time for the Saints to grab another goal, Charge heading home in stoppage time, but they could not find another goal to grab a remarkable draw.
Their 2008-09 season had also seen a number of amazing cup games. Early on in the campaign they crashed out of the FA Cup to Ryman League Premier side Harlow Town in a 2nd Qualifying Round replay. Their next cup outing took place in the less illustrious Herts Charity Cup with Southern League Hemel Hempstead Town the opposition. In common with most sides in local cup competitions St Albans fielded a weakened side but even they wouldn’t have expected to be on the wrong end of a 10-0 hammering. The FA Trophy proved to be a slight improvement as they scraped past another Ryman League side Dartford in a penalty shoot-out before going out 4-1 to Blue Square Premier opposition, Stevenage Borough. Their final hope of cup success this season came to an end a couple of days ago when South Midlands League side Oxhey Jets dumped them out of the Herts Senior Cup by three goals to nil at Clarence Park. And this time there was no excuse of fielding a very weak side, with nearly half the starting line-up featuring in the 5-4 Bromley defeat.
Despite these cup exits and the recent poor league form, the season so far represents an improvement on the last campaign, which saw the Saints struggle near the foot of the table for its majority, only a run on one defeat in their final 12 games lifting them out of the relegation places. Leading them to safety was caretaker manager Steve Castle who took over from Dave Anderson in January 2008. This is his second spell in charge at Clarence Park having led the club into the Conference South via the play-offs in 2004, before being sacked following the club’s poor start to the next season. As a player he made 60 appearances for the club following a lengthy professional career taking in spells with Leyton Orient, Plymouth Argyle, Birmingham City, Gillingham and Peterborough United.
Complete record against St Albans City
Last season saw City meet the Saints for the first ever time, with City completing the double thanks to a 3-0 win at Twerton Park, Dave Gilroy (pen), Darren Edwards and Adie Harris on the scoresheet, then a narrower win at Clarence Park, coming from a goal down at half-time to win 2-1, Edwards grabbing a scrappy winner three minutes from time after Gilroy had struck an equaliser 48 seconds after the restart. This season’s clash in Hertfordshire took place back in October with St Albans three games into their seven match winning run. It was City who took the lead thanks to a Sekani Simpson cross that deceived home keeper (and one match ex-Roman) Paul Bastock but second half goals from Martin and Hakim were enough to give the home side their first win over City.
On an afternoon to forget for both keepers City and Hayes & Yeading United produced an entertaining 2-2 draw at Church Lane. Showing no rustiness from their 16 day hiatus City opened the scoring after just five minutes when Darren Edwards reached a ball over the top ahead of home keeper Howe to fire into the unguarded net. However, eight minutes later Gregory’s cross eluded Steve Perrin giving Scott a simple header to level the scoreline. The home side were well on top now and went ahead on 31 minutes. Perrin failed to deal with another cross from the right and Steve Jones could only slice the ball into the roof of the net as he attempted to clear. The interval was timely for City and they came back out with renewed purpose, almost equalising within seven minutes when a dreadful punch by Howe nearly rebounded into his own net off teammate Cadmore. City were seeing the majority of the possession now but chances would not come, in fact United looked the more likely to score with an occasional breakaway. With five minutes left one such break saw Chris Holland clear off the line and two minutes later City equalised. United failed to deal with substitute Ali Gibb’s – finally making his City debut after breaking his ankle in pre-season – cross allowing Edwards to head back across goal for Stuart Douglas to flick on and Dave Gilroy touch it past a flapping Howe. The Middlesex side came close to grabbing a winner after this – Sekani Simpson racing back to deny Knight a clear run on goal, then Perrin redemning himself for his first half performance with a wonderful finger-tip save when the shot finally came in – but in the end a draw was just about the right result.
As expected City have trimmed their squad by allowing Scott Rogers to join Blue Square South strugglers Newport County. The 29-year old midfielder has made 109 appearances for the club since joining from Forest Green Rovers in March 2006, however injury has restricted him to just 12 starts this season. He turned down a move to the Exiles in the summer, but will now spend at least a month helping them in their relegation battle, although he unlikely to play against City when the clubs meet later this month. The move will help bring City’s playing budget back into line and leave them with a squad of 17 players.
City have rearranged their recently postponed home matches to Thurrock for Tuesday 3 February, Bishop’s Stortford for Tuesday 3 March and Basingstoke Town for Tuesday 24 March (all ko 7.45pm).
City will hope Saturday’s trip to Hayes & Yeading United can bring an end to their two-week weather enforced winter break. Two successive postponements due to a frozen Twerton Park pitch has left them kicking their heels since the New Years Day win at Dorchester Town, which is all the more frustrating as it has come at a time when they are in their best form of the season. The 2-0 victory at the Avenue Stadium was City’s fifth in their last six league games, which has moved them to within just four points of the Blue Square South play-off positions. Hayes & Yeading also saw both their previous two Saturday’s matches fall foul of the cold weather, but they returned to action last night in a rearranged FA Trophy tie against AFC Telford. However, it was not a happy return for United as they crashed by four goals to nil to the Blue Square North side, with the fourth Bucks goals being scored by ex-City striker Danny Carey-Bertram, which was his tenth strike in 14 games since leaving Twerton Park in October.
The Middlesex club have had a mixed season so far, currently sitting one place above City in 8th spot. It began with two defeats against Chelmsford City and Team Bath, before they went on an eight league match winning run, which was a record for the recently formed club. The final win in this run was a 2-1 success over AFC Wimbledon that took them to the top of the Blue Square South. However, they suffered a surprise home defeat against Braintree Town in their next outing and, despite a couple of wins over Havant & Waterlooville and Newport County at the start of November, they have begun to slip down the table. A five-match winless streak was brought to an end on Boxing Day thanks to a 2-0 home win over Maidenhead United, only to then lose by the same scoreline in the return match six days later.
United manager Garry Haylock had moved to halt their slide was a number of recent new arrivals to Church Road. At the end of October he signed experienced full-back Ronnie Bull from Blue Sqaure South crisis club Fisher Athletic. The 27-year old had played for a number of league clubs including Millwall and Grimsby Town, before dropping into non-league, and was one of a number of player to jump ship from the Fish due to their financial problems. One more new defender joining the club was Gary MacDonald from another struggling BSS side in Bognor Regis Town and the forward line was also strengthened by loan signing Calum Botham from Wycombe Wanderers and a second ex-Fisher player Omari Coleman. The latter two were particularly needed with forwards Scott Fitzgerald and Kieran Knight sidelined with injury.
Complete record against Hayes & Yeading United/Hayes/Yeading
This will be City’s third trip to Church Road, with one win and one defeat in their previous two visits. Last season saw an illness hit City side slump to their heaviest defeat of the campaign. Goals from Scott (2) and Palmer seeing United home 3-0 and they could have easily inflicted a much heavier defeat on City. The previous meeting – against Hayes FC – took place during the 1996-97 season in the Vauxhall Conference when a single goal helped City to a vital 1-0 win in their (ultimately unsuccessful) battle against relegation. It could be City’s penultimate visit to the ground as United look set to play just one more season there before moving to a redeveloped The Warren, former home of Yeading FC. The club have just obtaining planning permission for the work which they hope to have completed in time for the 2010-11 season. The meeting between the sides earlier this season at Twerton Park finished 1-0 to United thanks to Fitzgerald’s controversial 65th minute goal.
Tomorrow’s Blue Square South meeting with Thurrock has been postponed due to a frozen Twerton Park pitch. Despite a slight thaw earlier in the week, last night’s heavy frost and a foggy day today, with temperatures struggling to rise above zero, have once again left the surface unplayable. And with tonight’s temperatures due to drop well below freezing again, and with the long trip faced by opponents Thurrock, City have moved early to cancel the game. They had hoped to rearrange it for next Tuesday but the Fleet would not agree so a new date will be announced in due course.
With the ongoing cold spell leaving Saturday’s clash with Thurrock 50/50 at best, City could once again be denied the opportunity to close in on the play-off positions. The Twerton Park pitch has remained frozen since last weekend and with forecasts not predicting an end to the sub-zero temperatures until Sunday it looks like City could endure another frustratingly blank weekend. However, should the elements relent they could still get the chance to continue the run that has seen them climb to joint first place in the Blue Square South current form table level with title rivals AFC Wimbledon and Chelmsford City.
Looking to deny City’s a ninth win in their 12 league matches is a Thurrock side who currently lie in 16th place without a win in their last six games. Despite this in their last outing they pushed Chelmsford City all the way in a five-goal thriller at the league leaders Athletic Stadium home. Thurrock took a first half lead through a Stadhart header only for the Clarets to level before the interval. With two minutes left Hallet netted for Chelmsford but a minute later Thurrock made it 2-2 thanks to Beaney. There was one final twist to the game when Duncan headed home in stoppage time to give the home side a remarkable win. This would have been all the more disappointing for Thurrock having lost to the same opponents five days earlier to an injury-time strike as well, although this was the only goal of that game.
The Fleet (a nickname based on their previous existence as Purfleet from their formation in 1985 until 2003) began the 2008-09 slowly, taking just one point from their opening eight games. They finally registered their first win of the campaign in mid-September against St Albans City and quickly followed that up with a victory over Dorchester Town a week later. However, their season hit a real low when they crashed out of the FA Cup to Ryman League Boreham Wood by five goals to nil at home the following Saturday. Two league defeats followed this embarrassment before they finally began to find some form with four wins and a draw in their next five league games, including a 6-0 hammering of Basingstoke Town.
This improvement was due in a large part to the goals of Leon McKenzie, who netted eight times in as many league games – winning the Blue Square South player of the month award for November in the process. However, it all turned sour for the former Waltham Forest forward when he was kicked out of the club for missing training to play in a trial match for Luton Town, despite claiming he was injured. He has since signed for Blue Square Premier side Grays Athletic. He is not the only departure from Ship Lane in recent weeks with Danny Hart returning to Barnet at the end of a loan spell, Michael Spencer joining Fisher Athletic and Bai Mas Lettejallow heading to Bishop’s Stortford. One new arrival is ex-Fisher player Kenny Beeney, who had been with Grays Athletic.
Complete record against Thurrock
Last season City faced Thurrock on three occasions – their first ever clashes with the Essex side – twice in the Blue Square South and once in an FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round tie. The honours in the league matches were shared with the Fleet winning a very forgettable game at Ship Lane by a single goal before City gained revenge with a 3-1 victory in their penultimate home game of the season, thanks to a Dave Gilroy brace and a trademark Chris Holland header. The FA Trophy tie had taken place before these two encounters which City won by two goals to nil thanks to probably Phil Walsh’s best performance in a City shirt (at least, his best not against Newport County). The blond striker – now with Southern League Tiverton Town – headed City in front on 23 minutes before putting the results beyond doubt fifteen minutes from time, latching onto a poor clearance by keeper Blackmore to hold off two defenders and calmly slot the ball into the net.
City have released striker Martin Paul and the squad has agreed to forego all performance bonuses, unless they finish the season in the top 5 to make the play-offs, as the financial problems affecting so many football clubs is felt at Twerton Park. Birdy – City’s all-time second highest goalscorer – has been operating in an unpaid player/coach role with the aim of securing a contract but with the current position of the club he had been allowed to leave. Despite that, and the suspension of performance bonuses, there is likely to be one further departure in the next 7-10 days as City look to reduce their squad to 17 players.
As feared the current cold snap has forced the postponement of today’s Blue Square South clash with Bishop’s Stortford at Twerton Park. Due to the distance the Blues have to travel City called in a local referee at 9.00am and the heavy overnight frost has left the surface unplayable. The postponement means City will next be in action a week today when Thurrock make the long trip to Twerton Park (weather permitting).
Top scorer Dave Gilroy has been named the Blue Square South player of the month for December. The 26-year old becomes the first City player to receive the award after netting three times in three December games. He grabbed the consolation goal at Welling United – although only after video evidence showed he got the vital touch to Matt Coupe’s goalbound shot – and then netted twice in the 2-0 Boxing Day win over Dorchester Town at Twerton Park. He also played an important part in City’s other December league match at Braintree Town, setting up Darren Edwards for the 3rd goal in the 4-0 win. The former Bristol Rovers striker has now scored 42 goals in just 78 appearances, having joined the club from Chippenham Town in May 2007 for his second Twerton Park spell.
Manager Adie Britton has confirmed the club have turned down the £2000 offer for Lewis Hogg made by fellow Blue Square South side Weston Super Mare. The City chief explained: “This has stemmed from me speaking to a few managers about getting someone out on loan – I don’t want to let anyone go permanently as we might go down to the bare bones and I’ll need them back. Weston were one of the clubs I spoke to and they mentioned they were interested in a couple of our players, Lewis being one of them. Lewis wasn’t on my mind as he’s doing a job for us – he was fantastic at Dorchester yesterday – but then they later rang up the club with an offer for him. I’ve mentioned it to Lewis and he says he’s happy at the football club and would like to stay for the rest of this season and next. He’s excited by the prospect of challenging for promotion this season and the plans we have going forward.”
City will be praying that the current cold snap does not deny them the opportunity to continue their excellent form tomorrow at home against struggling Bishop’s Stortford. Whilst Chris Holland and Darren Edwards were firing City to a 2-0 win over Dorchester Town, Twerton Park was even more deserted than usual for a Team Bath match after their meeting with Weston Super Mare was postponed due to a frozen pitch. And with the temperatures set to dip below freezing again tonight the odds are not great on the game going ahead.
A postponement would be particularly frustrating for City as they have come into their best form of the season and begun to close in on the all-important top five play-off positions. The Christmas and New Year double over Dorchester meant City have won eight of their last eleven league outings which has left them four points off fifth place with a game in hand over most of the teams above them. By contrast Bishop’s Stortford have won just two of their last twelve games and slipped back to just one place and two points above the relegation zone. Since their opening day defeat at Weston Super Mare it has been a season of struggle for the Blues and they sacked long-serving manager Martin Hayes in November following their goalless draw against Southern League Tiverton Town in the FA Trophy. Former Arsenal and England U21 player Hayes had been in charge at Woodside Park for nearly ten years, leading the club from the Isthmian League First Division to just three games from the Blue Square Premier after a play-off semi-final defeat to Salisbury City in May 2007. He was replaced by reserve team manager Mark Simpson on a caretaker basis but with the club not actively searching for a new permanent boss he remains in charge for the foreseeable future.
Simpson’s first game in charge ended with defeat in the FA Trophy replay in Devon, but he did taste victory in his maiden Blue Square South outing with a single goal victory at fellow strugglers Newport County. He followed this up with a point at Basingstoke Town and a win over Weston Super Mare. However, this promising start came to an end with back to back defeats against Braintree Town in their last two outings. He has also been a busy man in strengthening his squad, immediately bringing in two loan players from Dagenham & Redbridge, midfielder Harley Dean and defender Marlon Patterson (although the latter made his final appearance for the club in the Boxing Day clash with Braintree), and young Fulham striker Lewis Smith. A couple of former Blues have also returned to the club in the shape of striker Sam Higgins from Blue Square South rivals Fisher Athletic and a name possibly familiar to City fans, Grant Cooper, the former King’s Lynn centre-back who had been playing for Maidenhead United this season. Two players heading out of the club were Precious Koko and Dee Okojie.
Complete record against Bishop’s Stortford
City go into the game defending an unbeaten record against the Hertfordshire side from their six previous encounters. The meeting at Woodside Park earlier in the season saw City register their first win and goals – having drawn a blank in their opening two matches – of the season, thanks to a Lewis Hogg free-kick in the first half and a close range finish from Darren Edwards after the interval. Last season City took four points off the Blues, with a 4-0 Twerton Park win and a 1-1 draw in the final match of the campaign. The other three games took place in one epic FA Trophy tie during the 1984-85 season, with City finally overcoming the then Isthmian Premier Division side in a 2nd replay.
City began 2009 by completing a double over Dorchester Town with a 2-0 win at a bitterly cold and overcast Avenue Stadium. The game was in doubt until less than an hour before kick-off and after a desperately poor first half the 759 brave souls who had left their warm homes may have wished it hadn’t been given the go-ahead. City probably shaded the half but with neither keeper being tested it was perfectly fitting that at the break the game was scoreless. The second half had shown a slight improvement and just before the hour mark City broke the deadlock. In-demand Lewis Hogg’s 20-yard dipping volley came back off the bar where Chris Holland stabbed home to register a rare non-headed goal. Two home players – Gleeson and Nicholson – were soon booked as their frustrations looked to be getting the better of them before a long ball forward gave the Magpies their one and only clear-cut chance of the game, which was blasted high over the bar. They were handed a small glimmer of hope with six minutes to go when Mark Badman was shown a straight red card, presumably for dissent after an innocuous-looking challenge with Hill. However, it was City who secured the victory two minutes from time in bizarre circumstances. Substitute Darren Edwards and home keeper Stewart had challenged for the ball on the edge of the Dorchester box – the latter claiming it – but as he carried the ball forward prior to launching it forward he inexplicably shoved Edwards to the ground giving the referee no option but to award City a penalty. Stewart was fortunate not to join Badman in an early bath but he was more suitably punished as Edwards sent him the wrong way from the spot. The win keeps City in 9th place but they are now just four points off a play-off place with a game in hand over most of the chasing pack.