United Counties League Premier Division
Alfred Hall Memorial Ground, St Neots
Match Rating: 4
Today, with a lack of attractive games more locally on offer, I decided to head north into Cambridgeshire, for my first ever taste of football in the United Counties Football League, and a welcome return to non-league football after two weeks of Football League action.
The Alfred Hall Memorial Ground is about a half hour walk southwards from St Neots train station, and spectators enter the ground behind one of the goals after paying admission at a wooden hut. Most of the spectator facilities are situated along one length, with a small covered standing area alongside quite a long, old-fashioned covered seating area that straddles the half way line and which is located immediately in front of the clubhouse which is spacious but not particularly homely, having more the feel of a village hall inside. Straddling the half way line on the opposite side there is a corrugated iron structure providing a small over of standing, whilst around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, apart from one end where there is just grass to stand on, although it appears that hard standing is in the process of being replaced. Indeed, the ground does have the look of one that is a work in progress, with some neat touches such as signage and smart wooden fencing alongside a somewhat scruffy appearance in other places. Tall trees and some blocks of flats provide the background scenery. The 36 page programme was smartly presented with an attractive cover, printed on good quality glossy paper and was informative with the relevant stats and some interesting sections to read. It was also a nice surprise to see admission charged at only £5.00, which compares very favourably with what I am used to in the south-east corner of England at Step 5.
Eynesbury Rovers are having a very good season so far, in second place with 17 wins and a draw from their 23 league games, although they trail leaders Peterborough Sports by eight points and have played a game more. They have won three of their last four games and have applied for promotion to Step 4. Oadby Town were in 17th position in the 22 team division, with five wins and four draws from their 23 league games. Today’s teams met less than a month ago in the reverse league fixture, with Oadby winning 2-1 thanks to a winning goal in added on time at the end of the match.
On a dull but mild afternoon, with just five minutes on the clock it was clear that this was not going to be Oadby's day, as the home side took the lead in fortunate circumstances. Craig Smith swung in a cross from close to the right corner flag and the keeper desperately tried but failed to grasp the ball as it sailed over him and into the far side of the net. From that point on, Eynesbury really blew their openers away with some wonderful football, showing some great touches and passing moves, although they were certainly aided by some static defending by the visitors. Smith made it two on nine minutes when he ran onto a low ball forward and he just managed to beat the keeper to tap the ball into the net. On 15 minutes, it was virtually game over when Smith completed his hat-trick, running onto another low ball through the defence in a central position and poked the ball low past the keeper. Oadby did have a great chance to pull a goal back on 35 minutes when a header from a corner was blocked and a follow-up shot was deflected high of the goal. But two minutes later, Eynesbury scored their fourth. The ball was lumped forward leaving a one on one as the keeper rushed out but as he took a swipe at the ball, he could only make a faint touch, allowing Allan Owen keeper to calmly stroke the ball into the unguarded net from the edge of the area. Shortly afterwards Oadby saw a fierce shot crash back off the crossbar, but as the scoreline remained at 4-0 at the break, they would only have pride to lay for after the break.
Within a minute, things got worse for the visitors when the keeper came towards the edge of his area to deal with a high ball forward but only succeeded in punching the forward's head rather than the ball to concede a penalty. Very surprisingly, only a yellow card was shown, but Smith struck the ball home from the penalty spot into the bottom right hand corner for his fourth goal of the game. The home side made it six on 54 minutes when the ball was flicked past a defender to set Owen clear at a slight angle, and he passed the ball into the net. Oadby's task became even more difficult on 62 minutes when they were reduced to ten men when Lewis McLean hobbled off after they had made all of their available subsitutions. Six minutes later, after coming close on a couple more occasions, Eynesbury scored their seventh when one of their players danced through the defence and the initial shot was parried, before Tom Coles struck the ball into the net. It became 8-0 on 72 minutes when Coles headed the ball home following a corner, and it looked a certainty that Eynesbury would reach double figures. But in the end they stuck at eight - they continued creating chances and missing them, indeed, they really should have scored at least 12, had they not missed some gilt edged chances. Credit to Oadby though as they continued plugging away, and had a great chance a minute after Eynesbury's eighth after one of their players dispossessed a defender, strode forward and forced a good save low to the keeper's left.