|PREVIEW: Lewes v CITY (29/11/07)
As City were somehow managing to avoid defeat despite a below-par performance against Hayes & Yeading United on Tuesday their next opponents, Lewes, were hammering Bishop’s Stortford by five goals to one. Whilst this result meant the undeserved point lifted City above Stortford in the table to fourth place, it also showed the size of the task facing them when they travel to the Dripping Pan. The five-goal win lifted the Rooks back to the summit of the Blue Square South, climbing above Eastbourne Borough.
If Lewes retain this top spot until May 2008 to earn a place in the Blue Square Premier it will mark an incredible period in the club’s history that has been characterised by on-field success but off-the pitch frustrations. As recently as 2000 the club were languishing in the 3rd Division of the Ryman League but under the guidance of Jimmy Quinn and Billy Rix they celebrated two successive promotions. Having narrowly missed out on a third promotion during the 2002-03 season the next year they celebrated the rare feat of leaping two leagues. Having won the Ryman League Division 1 South title they entered the play-offs for a place in the newly formed Conference South and wins over Yeading, Basingstoke Town and Kingstonian secured them the two league jump. Having secured this place by the side – if not back – door they were widely expected to struggle but the opposite was true and they were never out of the top half of the table, and a final placing of fourth should have earned them another play-off adventure. However, clearly all financial efforts had been directed to the playing side of the club and their Dripping Pan ground was deemed of insufficient standard for promotion and they were prevented from taking place in the play-offs – Cambridge City benefitting with a bye to the final. Amazingly exactly the same thing happened again the next season. A fourth place finish was followed by a play-off place denial and they were condemned to another season in the Conference South. The 2006 season finally saw the improvements made to the ground – principally a new 500 seat stand was built into the bank on the south side of the ground – which gave them the necessary ground grading to progress to the next level. Typically, though the 2006-07 season saw them finish in just 9th place, eleven points off a play-off spot.
This season though it looks as if the Rooks have finally got the combination of team and ground right. They got off to a flying start this season with six wins from their opening seven games and have so far only suffered one league defeat – a 3-0 reversal against Eastleigh. They also made it through to the 1st Round of the FA Cup – beating Blue Square Premier side Grays Athletic along the way – before losing 3-0 to League 2 side Mansfield Town. Pre-season they were not amongst the favourites but a number of quality, experienced signings showed their intent and they will present formidable opposition for City. Hopefully, City will have keeper Paul Evans in their line-up – traffic in Cardiff permitting – and Scott Rogers may return having overcome his hamstring injury picked up in the Setanta Shield defeat at Newport County. On the negative side Lewis Hogg and Sekani Simpson may be missing due to knocks they suffered in the draw with Hayes & Yeading United.
Two Lewis Hogg penalties in the space of just three minutes gave City a point against Hayes & Yeading United this evening that they can consider themselves very fortunate to have gained. For 75 minutes they had been second best in almost every department and trailed to a 36th minute close-range finish from Marwa and Little’s strike on 66 minutes. Keeper Steve Perrin – an emergency call-up after Paul Evans was delayed in heavy traffic in Cardiff – produced several excellent saves to prevent United increasing their lead and with twelve minutes left Dave Gilroy was brought down by keeper Preddie to hand City a lifeline, that Hogg confidently took. And two minutes later in almost exactly the same place Saroya clumsily felled Phil Walsh and Hogg repeated his success from the spot.
City will face Newport County for the fifth time this season after the two clubs were paired together in the 1st Round of the FA Trophy. Having already met twice in the Blue Square South, once in the FA Cup and once in the Setanta Shield they will lock horns again at Spytty Park on Saturday 15 December (ko 3pm). City currently hold an advantage in results, having won the league and FA Cup games in Wales and drawn the one meeting that has taken place at Twerton Park. Their only reversal was last week’s 3-2 Setanta Shield defeat.
With City and Hayes & Yeading United comfortably progressing into the 1st Round of the FA Trophy on Saturday they are now free to play the Blue Square South league match that was postponed from earlier this season when both clubs were still in FA Cup action. In common with an increasing number of sides at this level – and not entirely unexpectedly given their name – Hayes & Yeading United are a amalgamation of two sides – Hayes FC and Yeading FC. The merger between the clubs occurred as recently as May 2007. As the two poorest supported Conference South sides during the last two seasons it was no surprise they decided to pool their resources, although their crowds have only increased by a small amount and even as one club they are still averaging less than the other 21 Blue Square South sides. The merger seemed to take everyone outside of the two clubs by surprise and for a while it left the Southern League and Blue Square South in limbo as to their line-up’s for the 2007-08 season. Eventually the FA ratified the move and Hayes & Yeading came into existence – the ‘United’ was added a little later to try to show the unity of the two clubs which hadn’t been immediately apparent between the two rival sets of fans – saving Weston Super Mare from relegation (no comment). Ironically Hayes themselves had only initially avoided the drop due to Farnborough resigning from the league.
In common with attendances there has been little or no improvement on the pitch. Last season Hayes finished in 20th place and Yeading 16th and so far this year their results see them sitting in 16th spot, with four wins and six defeats from their opening 16 games. It was only at their eighth attempt they recorded a maiden victory for the club – Welling United the opposition in the 2-1 success. And it wasn’t until seventh home game that they opened their victory account and this still remains their only home league victory as a merged club. Their home is the former ground of Hayes – Church Lane – although Yeading’s The Warren is still used by the club’s reserve and youth teams, and it is likely that the first team will move to that ground in the near future and sell off the more valuable Church Lane site. While the Hayes half of the club provided the ground it was Yeading who supplied the manager in Garry Haylock, although somewhat surprisingly the majority of his squad formally played for Hayes.
Complete record against Hayes/Yeading
Obviously this will be City’s first meeting with United but they have faced both of the component club in the past with three clashes versus Hayes and a single match against Yeading. The most recent of these encounters occurred just two years ago (almost to the day) in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round when Yeading travelled to Twerton Park. Jim Rollo put City ahead with a stunning strike but the Ding equalised moments later and struck the winner fifteen minutes from time to avoid a giant-killing shock. In contrast City have a 100% record against Hayes from their three meetings. The first was also in the FA Trophy when a Graham Withey brace put City through to the next round. It was the following season though that City’s most memorable encounter took place during the only time (before this season) the clubs had played in the same league. For the majority of 1996-97 season City had looked nailed on certainties to be relegated, even after beating Hayes 3-1 at Twerton Park in February they were mired in 21st position. However, this win began a run of six wins in ten games (they’d only won four games in total up to that point) and by the time they travelled up to Middlesex for their final away game of the season there was real hope they could avoid the drop. An early Graham Colbourne goal gave them the perfect start and then it was one of the club’s greatest recent rearguard actions as they repelled everything Hayes could throw at them, with keeper Mark Hervin in particularly superb form. Even the sending off of Staurt James did not affect City and they held on to record a vital 1-0 win. Unfortunately, of course, a week later, despite a even more amazing 3-2 win over Northwich Victoria, they were relegated condemning them to 10 seasons of Southern League football.
A goal in each half from in-form striker Phil Walsh gave City a hard-fought 2-0 FA Trophy win over Thurrock at Twerton Park this afternoon. A long afternoon had looked on the cards as the Essex side came to frustrate City and for all their opening 30 minutes possession they rarely tested the massed ranks of Thurrock’s defence. However, on 32 minutes Walsh rose to meet Mark McKeever’s cross and he headed City in front. Chris Holland was denied by keeper Blackmore shortly afterwards and Sekani Simpson wasted a good opening moments before the interval. City did suffer a scare right on half-time, Hughes heading narrowly wide, and the second half finally saw the visitors exert some attacking pressure. City had several close escapes, the nearest being a shot that Paul Evans pushed onto the crossbar. Having weathered this storm City struck the decisive second goal with 16 minutes left when a poor clearance by Blackmore was capitalised on by Walsh, holding a defender off before confidently stroking the ball into the corner of the net. City comfortably defended this advantge to earn their place in Monday’s 1st Round draw.
City have recieved an four-figure offer for midfielder Lewis Hogg from a rival Blue Square South club, rumoured to be Newport County. The 25-year old joined City in June 2006 from Weston Super Mare for a transfer-tribunal set fee of £4000 and his 14 goals last season played a major part in the club’s title success. Although City have indicated the offer is well below their valuation of Hogg, with him out of contract in the summer they be open to an increased offer to avoid the danger of losing him for nothing.
The draw for the 3rd Round of the FA Trophy brought forward City’s first ever meeting with Thurrock forward by two and a half months with the sides not due to engage in Blue Square South rivalry until February. It is not a surprise that the clubs paths have not crossed before given that the Essex club only formed in April 1985, playing until the 2003-04 season under the name Purfleet. After just a single season as a junior club they were granted senior status by the Essex FA and began the 1986-87 season in the Essex Senior League. They finished third that season – also winning the League Cup – then followed this up by winning the title the next season (and defending their League Cup success) to earn promotion to the Isthmian League. To keep up with the on the field progress the club was improving their Ship Lane ground. Initially it was part of Thurrock Hotel, with the dressing rooms housed in the hotel’s main building, but midway through their maiden campaign the playing area was turned round to give one pitch (previously there had been two alongside each other) and the building of separate dressing rooms in order for the club to become a self-contained unit. In 1987 planning permission was obtained from the local council for the erection of floodlights and the building of a grandstand.
The club’s upward momentum continued in their first season as an Isthmian League club with a second place finish earning them promotion from the Division 2N but for the one and only (so far) time in the club’s short history they were relegated the next year. This was a mere blip as within four seasons they were in the Premier Division. Further improvements were made to the ground – full terracing was installed at the Ship Lane end of the ground, which gave covered accommodation for 800 spectators, and enabled the Club to obtain an “A” Grade Ground Grading. During their nine seasons at this level under the name of Purfleet their best finish was a pair of 4th places during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons.
In an attempt to attract a wider audience and extra sponsorship they changed their name to Thurrock at the start of the 2003-04 season and this turned out to be their most successful ever campaign. A third place finish earned them a place in the newly former Conference South and they also reached the 1st Round proper of the FA Cup for the first ever time when in front of live Sky Television cameras they held Second Division Luton Town to a 1-1 draw at Ship Lane. In the replay they gave a good account of themselves before going down 3-1. The next season they repeated both these feats – the third place Conference South finish earning them a play-off place in which they lost 4-2 to Eastbourne Borough – with again live TV cameras – this time the BBC – covering their FA Cup match. This time it was against Oldham Athletic but in an undistinguished game the League side won by a single goal.
The last two seasons have seen Thurrock slip back somewhat, finishing 10th in 2005-06 and then 18th last season, only avoiding relegation with a final day 3-0 win over Sutton United. This season looked like being a similar struggle as they took just four points from their opening eight games but they then went on a seven match unbeaten run before suffering a 1-0 defeat against league leaders Eastbourne Borough last Saturday. Thurrock’s record in the FA Trophy has been mixed, their best run reaching the 4th Round in 2004-05, and last season they crashed out as the same stage they are facing City after a 2-1 reversal against Ashford Town (Middx), then a Southern League Western Division side.
Midfielder Mike Green is set to join Clevedon Town on non-contract terms for the rest of the season after turning down the option of returning to Twerton Park at the end of his three month loan spell with the Seasiders. City have agreed to cancel his contract then re-sign him on non-contract Conference forms, allowing him to sign a similar deal with Clevedon. The 22-year old was a regular during the first half of last season, having joined from Cinderford Town in the summer of 2006, but lost his place during the latter stages of the campaign. He signed a new contract in July but when he again found his first team chances limited choose to join Clevedon on loan. It is also understood that City will have the first option on re-signing him at the end of this season.
At the fourth time of asking, and in the least important meeting, Newport County recorded a victory over City in the Setanta Shield last night. Whilst the 3-2 defeat sees them lose out on £2000 prize money they will not miss further matches as injuries begin to stretch their small squad almost to breaking point. Any hope the game would not compound these problems lasted just 14 minutes when Scott Rogers pulled a hamstring. Then at half-time keeper Paul Evans had to be replaced by 18-year old Owen Dunn, having injured his groin in the pre-match warm-up. The game itself saw a Newport side desperate to claw back a small degree of respectability having already lost twice at home to City this season, in the league and FA Cup, although despite this they still fell behind on 24 minutes when Phil Walsh took advantage of a weak backpass to slide the ball past veteran keeper Pennock. Martin Paul wasted a great chance shortly afterwards to make it 2-0 but these two attacks were against the run of play as Newport dominated the game. Luckily for City with Alsop wasting several good chances for the home side they failed to turn this superiority into goals. Unfortunately he made way at the interval and within seven minutes of the restart Evans fired Newport level. Nine minutes later Hillier’s spectacular overhead kick put them 2-1 up and with City apprearing more concerned with avoiding further injuries it looked as if Newport would run out easy winners. However, twelve minutes from time substitute Jason Wood struck his first City goal to tie the scores again and it looked like City’s worst nightmare, an extra 30 minutes, was on the cards but six minutes later Prosser headed past Dunn to give Newport the dubious honour of a trip to Hampton & Richmond in the next round.
Bishop’s Stortford left Twerton Park this afternoon on the wrong end of a four goal reveral but must still be wondering how they even lost the game, let alone by such an emphatic scoreline. For a 30 minute spell inbetween City’s first and second goals they played the best football City have faced so far this season but, unlike the Romans, they lacked the killer touch in front of goal. It took just four minutes for City to break the deadlock, Mark McKeever firing home from close range after keeper Jones could only parry Phil Walsh’s shot. From then on it was all the visitors, however a combination of wasteful finishing, one incredible point-blank save by Paul Evans and a even better goalline clearance from Chris Holland ensured the lead remained intact and on 35 minutes a trademark McKeever-Holland free-kick combination stunned the Bishops by making it 2-0. The second half saw Stortford continue to see the greater possession but a deeper lying City defence restricted them to a less effective longer ball game, stopping them getting behind the backline as they had almost at will in the first 45 minutes. City had looked dangerous on the break but it appeared they would be in for a tense final ten minutes when substitue Essandoh headed past Evans only for a linesman flag to halt the celebrations. And City took full advantage of this escape with Dave Gilroy striking in the 83rd, flicking home a great Scott Rogers pass, and 89th, calmy burying the ball following a goalmouth scramble, minutes to put a ‘slightly’ flattering edge to the final score.
Martin Paul moved to within a single goal of becoming City’s 2nd all-time top goalscorer with a hat-trick in last night’s 7-0 Somerset Premier Cup thumping of Clevedon United. The treble took him level with Paul Randall on 112 goals, although he still has a way to go to catch no.1 Charlie Fleming on 222 goals! The game saw City easily progress to the last eight of the competition as Western League Division 1 side put up little resistance. It took City just ten minutes to open the scoring when Chris Holland headed home a Lewis Hogg corner. Two minutes later Scott Partridge marked his first start since February with the goal of the evening, a 20-yard dipping volley into the corner of the net. Just before the half-hour keeper Selway could only half stop a Partridge shot allowing Paul to bundle the ball home from close range and on 40 minutes Justyn McKay rifled in a shot to make it 4-0 at the break. Partridge was forced to go off at half-time having received a kick to his calf. Nothing changed into the second half, with 18-year goalkeeper Owen Dunn little more than a spectator, and in the 50th minute Paul converted Dave Gilroy’s flick for the 5th goal. Gilroy then got on the scoresheet himself with a neat finish on 59 minutes before Paul completed his hat-trick – and City’s biggest victory since the 7-0 win over Crawley Town in January 2000, in which Birdy slso scored three – ten minutes from time, running clear before slotting past Selway. The only set-back in the evening was the sight of Hogg being stretchered off between the sixth and seventh goal with an ankle injury.
City have re-arranged their Blue Square South trip to Hampton & Richmond for Tuesday 15 January (ko 7.45pm).
After a two-week break from Blue Square South action City return to face in-form Bishop’s Stortford at Twerton Park. The Bishops sit top of the current form table, with five wins and two draws from their last seven league outings, and also boost the division’s top scorer in Greg Pearson. The former West Ham United trainee has scored 11 league goals, although he has drawn blanks in his last three league games. Overall, they sit in third place, four points ahead of sixth placed City and just three behind leaders Eastbourne Borough. This good start to the 2007-08 season is a continuation of last year’s excellent campaign. A final placing of 5th, which they secured with a 3-0 win over Lewes on the last day of the season, earned them a play-off semi-final against Salisbury City. However, they were no match for the big-spending Wiltshire side, going down 4-2 on aggregate, having earned a creditable 1-1 at home in the first leg.
This marked their best season as a Conference South side, coming after previous 10th and 15th place finishes. Throughout their 133 year history league success has been rare, winning a few local leagues in their early years plus the Delphian League title in 1954-55 and the Athenian League Premier Division in 1969-70. Both these leagues were amateur competitions for clubs in and around the London area. It was only in the late 1970’s that Stortford joined the ranks of semi-professional football as part of the Isthmian League. They ‘enjoyed’ something of a yo-yo existence in this league six times moving between the Premier and Division 1 levels, twice winning the Division 1 title in 1980-81 and 1993-94, before becoming founder members of the Conference South in 2004.
However, it is in cup competitions where the Hertfordshire side have experienced their greatest successes. The FA Cup has seen several memorable runs, most noticeably in 1982-83 when they reached the 3rd Round proper and held then 2nd Division (the Championship in new money) Middlesborough (managed at the time by former City legend Malcolm Allison) to a 2-2 draw on Teeside despite being two goals down at half-time, before bowing out 2-1 in the replay in front of 6000 fans packed into their old ground at Rhodes Avenue. Even this achievement is eclipsed by their FA Amateur Cup and FA Trophy victories in 1973-74 and 1980-81 respectively. They became the final ever winners of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974 with a 4-1 win over Ilford at Wembley. And seven years they were back playing beneath the Twin Towers against Sutton United in the FA Trophy final. At the time they were a Isthmian League Division 1 side and began the competition in the preliminary round, playing 13 games in the competition. The last of these was 1-0 win over Sutton, making Stortford the first ever Club to capture both the FA Amateur Cup and the FA Trophy. As recently as 2004-05 they came with one game of repeating this run, losing over two legs to Hucknall Town in the FA Trophy semi-final.
Complete record against Bishop’s Stortford
It is only in the FA Trophy where City have previously faced the Bishops, in an epic three match 1st Round meeting during the 1984-85 season. After the sides fought out a goalless draw at Twerton Park, several postponements meant it wasn’t until 12 days later City travelled up to Hertfordshire. Strikes from Garry Smith and Dave Payne looked to have earned City a 2nd Round meeting with Cheltenham Town but two goals in the final minutes levelled the game. As this was in the days before penalty shoot-outs this meant a 2nd replay and, with Stortford winning the coin toss for choice of venues, four days later City were heading back up the M4. This time they made no mistake with Dave Palmer and Keith Brown securing a 2-1 victory.
Craig Davidge looks set for another spell away from Twerton Park, joining up with Southern League side Yate Town on loan. The 23-year old returned from a similar spell with Clevedon Town two weeks ago but has failed to gain a place even on the bench in City’s three matches since. He has expressed his frustration at this situation and will now head to Lodge Road to regain his match fitness starting with the Bluebells clash against Bedford Town on Saturday.
City will be involved in one of four all Blue Square South ties in the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Trophy after they were paired with Thurrock in today’s draw. The meeting, which will be the first ever between the clubs, will take place on Saturday 24 November (ko 3pm) at Twerton Park. The Essex side currently lie 15th in the table but have seen an upturn in form in recent weeks, having lost six of their first eight games they are now on a six match unbeaten run.
City battled out a largely uneventful 0-0 draw with league leaders Eastbourne Borough at Twerton Park this afternoon. The visitors, who seemed more concerned with retaining their unbeaten record than actually winning the game, rarely troubled City’s injured hit defence with their long ball tatics, which were in direct contrast to passing game employed by the majority of Blue Square South sides City have so far faced this season. Neither keeper was seriously tested in the first half – with stand-in keeper Steve Perrin in the City goal only needing to watch as Atkin fired the best chance of the half well over the bar after racing clear. The second half was heading in the same direction until City introduced Scott Partridge just after the hour. He soon unleashed a dipping 20-yard volley that Hook superbly pushed over the bar then drove in a low shot that, again, the Borough keeper saved well just inside his left-hand post. By now Eastbourne were time-wasting at every opportunity, having appeared to decide beating a title rival was less important than an unbeaten record, and the game drifted to its inevitable conclusion.
City have arranged their 2nd round Setanta Shield meeting at Newport County for Monday 19 November (ko 7.45pm).
City have four of their league best defence struggling with injuries ahead of tomorrow’s Twerton Park visit of league leaders Eastbourne Borough. Chris Holland, Jim Rollo and Sekani Simpson all sat out training earlier this week with groin problems, and Matt Coupe was also missing after suffering a broken nose during the first half of last week’s FA Cup defeat against Torquay United. Holland and Simpson are rated the most doubtful to face Eastbourne.
For the second successive week City come face to face with a side leading their division at Twerton Park on Saturday. After last week’s brave, but ultimately fruitless, effort against Blue Square Premier leaders Torquay United in the FA Cup, City will hope for greater success against Eastbourne Borough, who currently sit three points clear at the top of the Blue Square South. They are also the last unbeaten side in the division having won nine and drawn four of their opening 13 games. Add to this an unbeaten pre-season campaign, FA Cup victories over Edgware Town, Welling United and Bromley and a Sussex Senior Cup win over Ringmer, and their last defeat took place in the final game of last season.
This 2-1 reversal against Braintree Town condemned them to a final placing of 7th, having looked a strong play-off candidate for a lot of the 2006-07 season. In the end their hopes were undone by a hectic schedule of 11 games in 36 days culminating in a final 8 days with 4 fixtures. They did not feature amongst the pre-season Blue Square South favourites but under the leadership of established management duo Garry Wilson and Nick Greenwood, having been with the club since 1999 and 1997 respectively, have continued the progress made in recent years. As recently as the 1999-2000 season they were playing in the Sussex County League – then under the name Langney Sports. Lifting the Division 1 title that season lead to promotion to the Southern League and after their first season at this level they changed their name to Eastbourne Borough – mainly because very few people knew where Langney Sports as, often spelling the name incorrectly. Promotion to the Premier Division in 2002-03 saw them play at the same level as City for the first time in their history but within a season they had moved above them, earning a place in the newly formed Conference South with an 11th place finish. A further promotion was almost earned immediately as the club finished fifth, and won the Conference South play-offs, beating Cambridge City 3-0. However, they were beaten 2-1 by Altrincham (who had won the Conference North play-offs) in the play-off final at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium, and remained in the Conference South.
Complete record against Eastbourne Borough
The two meetings between the sides when their paths crossed for the 2003-04 season saw City take four points off the Sussex side. The first clash took place in September at their impressive Prior Lane ground, City falling behind to a 71st minute penalty before two names that only briefly appeared on the City radar, Dwayne Plummer and Mark Salter, combined to level the game, the latter heading home a 77th minute equaliser. These two were long gone by the time the sides met again in March where goals from Frankie Bennett and Steve Tweddle gave City a comfortable 2-0 win – moving them to the fringe of the play-off positions. Of course, these play-offs would prove to be bitterly disappointing at the end of the season for City while the Sports continued their upward progress.
City go into the game sweating on the fitness of five players following two tough games in four days against Newport County and Torquay last week – Chris Holland, Sekani Simpson, Jim Rollo (all groin), Matt Coupe (broken nose) and Darren Edwards (ankle) with the first two rated most doubtful.