Sunday, 2 April 2017

Alresford Town 3 v 2 Whitchurch United

Saturday 1st April 2017
Wessex League Premier Division
Arlebury Park, Alresford
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 43
Match Rating: 3

Having decided to drive today, I wanted to choose somewhere that would normally be difficult for me to reach by public transport. I chose a location that certainly fitted that bill, and one that I had wanted to visit for some time, to tick off another ground in the Wessex League, always a good source of enjoyable grounds to visit.

Arlebury Park is located about a 5 minute walk westwards from New Alresford town centre, and the complex is also home to the town's rugby cricket club, whose pitch is out of sight from the football ground, and a cricket outfield overlaps the football pitch). After passing through a car park and to the side of the large clubhouse (with council offices also contained within) spectators enter by the half way line after paying admission at a large wooden hut, which doubles as a tea bar for those inside the ground from another door. All of the spectator facilities are along this length, with the main feature immediately to the left of the entrance - the large clubhouse, which offers excellent elevated viewing from the first floor balcony, and covered standing and limited seating is also available at ground level. To the right of the entrance, beyond the dugouts, is a compact metallic all-seater stand, the most recent addition to the ground. Behind both goals there is just hard standing, whilst along the remaining length there is netting to provide a temporary boundary from the rest of the cricket field. The background behind this length is very pleasant, with rolling countryside hills in the background. Indeed, there is a nice, rural and relaxed feel to the ground, to go with perfectly adequate facilities, at least for the Wessex League. The programme was rather poor value, consisting of just 8 pages, covering the bare basics of a welcome message, introduction to the away team and league table, although in fairness I have often encountered less content in larger programmes filled with advertising.

Coming into this match, Alresford were looking on course to secure a top 5 finish, although realistically that would be as good as they could hope to achieve, as they were in fifth place, 13 points adrift of fourth placed Sholing, having won 20 and drawn four of their 36 league games. Whitchurch have a lot more to play for, as they are in a relegation battle, and were third bottom, having won eight and drawn four of their 38 league games, and were four points above the relegation zone. When the two teams met in August, Alresford won 0-1.

Heavy rain ahead of kick-off had taken its toll on the pitch, with standing water evident on the centre spot and in one goal mouth, and with plenty of squelching underfoot elsewhere, although happily dry conditions with occasional sunny spells prevailed throughout the game itself. Perhaps the tricky conditions contributed to a first half low on quality, and which Alresford looked the better side but with Whitchurch looking dangerous on the break, but the scoreline remained goalless at the break.

The second half was much more entertaining, and it was the visitors who drove into the ascendancy just before the hour mark, opening up a two goal lead. On 56 minutes, Luke Walker raced onto a through ball and after his shot was parried, the ball fell to Jason Silver who tucked the ball into an empty net for a goal on his debut for the club. Three minutes later and Danny Phillips got on the end of a long punt downfield by the keeper, and he showed good composure to slot the ball low past the keeper and into the net. They then looked quite comfortable with their lead, until the home side pulled a goal back on 73 minutes. Following a corner, the ball dropped to Tom Sands beyond the far post, and he drilled the ball through a crowd and into the net. Two minutes later and Whitchurch came agonisingly close to restoring their two goal lead, when a close range near post shot went just over the bar, and that was to prove costly as within a minute the scoreline was level, John Cole finding the back of the net with a strike which took a deflection on the way. On 82 minutes, the comeback was complete as the home side took the lead, as Craig Harding powerfully struck the ball, and the visiting keeper, who had done much to keep his side in the game with some very good saves, seemed to react late, and although he got a good palm to the ball, it went into the net. Whitchurch's players' heads really seemed to drop after that goal went in, and they never looked likely to salvage a point from the game, and so Alresford maintained their three point advantage in their quest for a top 5 finish, whilst Whitchurch remained four points above the relegation zone due to the team immediately below them, Fawley, also lost.

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