Fort Road, Newhaven
Southern Combination League Premier Division
Match Rating: 4
A combination of heavy recent rain continuing into this morning causing the first serious lottery of postponements of this season, and my need to stay local to watch bonfire night celebrations in the evening, caused me to revisit a ground that I have visited three times previously, although not since 2006, when I watched just the floodlit second half, and my last full game there was way back in 1993.
Fort Road is about a 15 minute walk from Newhaven Town station and is an interesting ground, which could be summed up with big ideas having seemingly been thwarted by cash drying up. One enters the ground in one corner, behind an uncovered stand of seating inherited from when Brighton and Hove Albion played at the Withdean Stadium, and an almost identical structure behind the other goal, although that one was out of bounds today. Adjacent to the entrance, a portakabin offers a rather rudimentary clubhouse and refreshment outlet, and beyond there are a few terrace steps with a wooden stand covering the central area, all of which is now pretty much redundant now that the seating has been installed to block one’s view of the action. Straddling the half way line on one side is the stand out feature of the ground, a large stand which offers excellent elevated and unobstructed views of the game. More seating has been installed n the ground floor. The stand is otherwise unused, as it has been since it was constructed in the early 90’s – and in fact, the seating has only been installed recently, before that, the structure was deemed completely unusable. Along the remaining length is just hard standing. The background to the stadium is quite pleasing on the eye, with a tree covered hill close behind one goal – which would indeed offer good views of the action – whilst behind the length opposite the main stand, a cricket pitch and the town’s harbour is in view. The 24 page programme was excellent, attractively designed, in colour and with plenty of interesting articles to read as well as all of the essential stats and facts. It’s probably as good a programme as I can remember at this level.
There was no doubt that Newhaven were strong favourites going into this game. They topped the table on goal difference with 11 wins and a draw from their 13 league games. East Preston were second bottom, winless and with just two points from their opening 13 league games, and one of those points came in their last game.
On a gloomy afternoon with steady drizzle in a stiff breeze giving way to drier conditions in the second half, Newhaven were denied a clear penalty in the fifth minute, when a East Preston defender karate kicked the Newhaven striker. They did take the lead on 13 minutes when a excellent ball control during a goalward dribble forward by Lee Robinson ended with the ball being poked just inside the post. The visitors then had a great chance to get back on level terms on 16 minutes when their striker ran through on goal, but a fabulous last ditch sliding challenge by a defender poked the ball behind for a corner juat as the striker was about to get hit shot away. That was as good as it ever got for East Preston, as Newhaven doubled their lead on 17 minutes. The ball was passed low from the right wing to Robinson, he cut inside and curled a powerful shot into the far top corner despite a firm hand by the keeper. Four minutes later and Newhaven had a header cleared off the line, and on 25 minutes, they were awarded a penalty. A striker ran through on goal, but was pulled back once he was inside the area, earning the defender, Richard John, a straight red card. Ebou Jallow sent the keeper the wrong way and struck the ball low to the bottom right of the goal. Newhaven really slowed the game down now with possession football, before a sudden forward burst resulted in their fourth goal. Joe Dryer sprinted with the ball from deep to the edge of the area before driving the ball low into the far right corner.
So at half time the result was in no doubt whatsoever, and the onky question was how hungry would Newhaven be to score goals. Within a minute of the restart they added their fifth, when the keeper could only get a faint hand to a ball crossed above him, falling at the feet of a Newhaven player who passed across goal for Robinson to fire the ball home for his hat trick. On 48 minutes, Newhaven scored their sixth, when again the keeper could only get fingertips to a cross and Craig Bunch nodded home from close range. On 55 minutes, some fortunate bounces of the ball inside the area resulted in Dryer poking the ball home for Newhaven's seventh, and Dryer completed his hat trick on 64 minutes with a lovely jinking run from the deep left wing ended with the ball being fired home. On 73 minutes, Newhaven scored their ninth when Dryer scored his fourth when he placed a free kick into the top right corner from a central position. It seemed certain that Newhaven would go well beyond ten at this stage, but in the end they only just made it, scoring their tenth on 86 minutes when the ball was played back from the byline and Callum Connor stroked the ball home from six yards.
So a thoroughly decisive victory for the home side, the first time I have watched a team rack up double figures, although it could have been several more had Newhaven kept up their intensity throughout the match. Credit to East Preston for the way they kept going and never showed any frustration or cynicism in their play, but were completely outclassed. All quite a remarkable change of fortunes for a club that won this league just two seasons ago.