Sunday, 26 October 2014

Canterbury City 2 v 1 Croydon

Saturday 25th October 2014
Southern Counties East League
The Homelands, Kingsnorth
Admission: £7.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 86
Match Rating: 4

Only after midday did I decide to take in this game, having not been on my radar at all, and having eventually decided, when push came to shove, that neither a long trip to Hampshire for a Wessex League game, or my third consecutive Saturday of watching junior football in the East Sussex League, was sufficiently appealing. And so I ventured instead to Homelands, the home of Ashford United, almost twenty years since my one previous visit.

It has to be said there is not much to like about the Homelands. It's located just under four miles south of Ashford in the open countryside, with public transport limited to a bus that runs during the day only. By car, its an easily accessible venue with plenty of off-street parking available outside the ground. After entering through the turnstiles, there are a number of facilities that were not in use today - a wooden hut that would presumably sell programmes, a retail outlet window, and a blackboard for team line-ups. To the right of the turnstile area is the imposing all-seater stand, which is far grander than one usually encounters at this level - a reminder of the higher level that Ashford Town (Ashford United's predecessing club) used to play at in the Southern/Isthmian League. It houses a tea bar on the ground floor, with executive boxes above the seating area consisting of about half a dozen rows. There is cover immediately behind both goals - although with no sides in places, protection from the elements in wet and windy conditions would presumably be limited. Along the remaining length is just hard standing. The ground has concrete panel fencing all around, which certainly adds to the drab appearance of the ground, although with a little TLC and a few finishing touches, the Homelands could be more appealing on the eye as well as being a spacious environment. The programme was extremely disappointing, 16 pages in colour, five of which are advertising, and the remainder containing very little information or comment about the league season.

Canterbury City went into this game in seventh place, having won six and drawn two of their twelve games so far. Croydon, who were transferred back into this league from the Combined Counties League after five seasons away, have had a more difficult start to their season, and were in 16th place in the 20 team division, having won three and drawn two of their eleven games.

On a mainly overcast but mild afternoon, this turned out to be a very enjoyable spectacle, and one that had a surprising result given how the first 75 minutes had panned out. It was indeed Croydon who took the lead with eight minutes on the clock, when a corner was headed firmly into the net by Ben Mankelow. Canterbury almost got back on level terms within a couple of minutes when a shot from 20 yards skimmed the top of the bar. That was a rare sight of goal for the "home" side though, as Croydon always looked livelier going forward and Canterbury were sloppy in their play. Indeed, on 11 minutes, a Croydon striker intercepted a suicidal low crossfield pass but his eventual shot just went wide of the post. On 17 minutes, a lovely floated shot went over the keeper in no-mans land but hit the top of the crossbar, whilst on 39 minutes, Canterbury were somewhat lucky to retain their full compliment of players when the referee, who had been rather lenient all game, only showed a yellow card for a late, high tackle.

There was no doubt Canterbury were fortunate to only be one goal in arrears at half-time, but Croydon picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, creating several glorious chances with good passing and footwork inside the box, but with the eventual shots or headers being blocked or dropping just wide. Out of nothing, Canterbury got back on level terms on 75 minutes. A free kick from the left touchline was swung into the box, and Danny Lawrence planted his header into the net. Four minutes later and the visitors almost went back in front, but saw a shot come back off the underside of the bar. They were to rue that all the more when, on 78 minutes, Canterbury took the lead with a very similar goal to their first. This time from close to the right touchline, the ball was swung in and the ball was glanced into the back of the net by Kane Hemming. A fairly extraordinary turnaround by the home side, but the two goals completely changed the game, as Croydon's players' heads seemed to drop and Canterbury saw the game out fairly comfortably. Croydon will surely wonder how on earth they got nothing from this game, but clearly showed the need to put games to bed when a team is on top.

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