Isthmian League Division One North
Barrows Farm, Harlow
Admission including Programme: £10.00
Match Rating: 3
With heavy rain having fallen intermittently on sodden pitches since Boxing Day putting today's fixtures at several risk of postponement despite dry and sunny conditions today, I decided early on a stress-free, safe option by heading for a plastic pitch in northern Essex.
The Harlow Arena - formerly known as Barrows Farm - is about a twenty minute walk south west from Harlow Town train station and considering that it is a modern, relatively recently built out of town stadium, it has a surprising charm and pleasant feel about the place, with modern designs and facilities that are easy on the eye and very well maintained. One enters in one corner, and along the length is the main all seater stand. A fair incline between rows offers good unobstructed views, and the tea bar and clubhouse are located on the ground floor to one side of the seating. Straddling the half way line on the opposite side is a covered terrace, whilst around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing. A programme was included with admission, not that this is at all advertised or offered on entering the ground, a return visit to the turnstile operator resulting in one being discreetly taken from a cardboard box hidden away. Consisting of 44 pages printed in black and white inside a colourful cover, it is a reasonable effort with plenty of information about both clubs, good stats and some history.
Today's clash would certainly be a clash between two teams bang in form. Harlow Town were unbeaten in their previous thirteen games in all competitions before losing at home to Soham Town Rangers last time out in difficult, squally conditions. They went into this game in seventh place with 40 points from 21 games and just a couple of points from the play-off places. Thurrock had picked up 13 points from their last five games and were unbeaten in their last ten games, winning seven. They were in second place, six points above Harlow but having played two games more. When the two teams met in August, Thurrock won 5-1.
On a bright, sunny but chilly afternoon - almost identical conditions to those I encountered for my Boxing Day action - this was a game generally of high quality between two teams looking to play expansive football at a high tempo, although several players misjudged the flight or bounce of the ball, curiously more so by Harlow players who one would expect to be more used to the 3G surface. Whilst Harlow had slightly more of the possession, it was Thurrock who looked to have the guile and pace to create clear chances. Indeed, on 32 minutes the visitors took the lead with a goal of real quality, Robert Clark hitting a tremendous shot from well outside the area which sailed past the keeper and into the top left hand corner of the net. There was no further scoring until half time as Thurrock held a deserved narrow lead.
After the home team's play had been a little pedestrian in the first half, they exploded into life at the restart, winning a penalty within a minute when a penetrating run ended with a player being pulled back in the area to earn a penalty. It was struck emphatically down the middle by Danny Brown to level the scores. The home side were very much in the ascendancy throughout the second half, encouraged by plenty of vocal support from some Harlow fans on the covered terrace as their team did plenty of attacking without creating gilt edged chances, and Thurrock still looked capable of nicking a goal. As the game approached its conclusion, there was a mass brawl following an ugly tackle by Brown, and the referee's handling of the situation was bizarre - keeping his distance from the flare up, not stamping any authority, before seeing fit to show two yellow cards. That was the last significant action of the match, and a point apiece was a fair result from an encounter between two quality teams who will surely be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.