Southern League Division One Central
Hillgrounds Leisure, Kempston
Admission: £1.00 (usually £8.00)
Match Rating: 3
As the regular senior football season starts to wind down, I shortlisted two matches for today, both in the Southern League Division One Central, and both in close proximity to Bedford. Bedford Town were offering free entry for their game against Aylesbury United, but a three mile distance from the nearest train station, and with nothing riding on that game, meant I chose to head for Kempston Rovers instead.
Hillgrounds Leisure is about a half hour walk south west from Bedford train station, and after delighting in wonderfully ramshackle nature of Ipswich Wanderers' ground on Monday, there was little to get excited the ground I visited today, its modest, modern facilities reflecting a club in its first season in step 4 football. Spectators enter the ground through a turnstile block and enter the ground behind one length. To the right is a long brick building stretching along about two thirds of the pitch length, reaching the far corner, and containing all of the facilities of the ground. Inside are the changing rooms, various other rooms and a bar, which has a wooden decking area outside. To the front, there are a few rows of seating up to the half way line, with a few terrace steps the other side, and with a tea bar in the rear wall. Around the rest of the ground there is just hard standing, with wooden fencing acting as the perimeter behind both goals, and some 3G cages and a grass pitch behind the remaining length. It is a peaceful place, but has that community facility feeling about it which, whilst in itself is a positive thing, inevitably detracts from having “proper” football ground character, although mention should be made of a very friendly feel all around the place. The 20 page programme was fairly priced at £1, being rather basic and lacking interesting reading material but it contained what it needed to. Similar to the ground, the programme is Step 5 standard. Team sheets were available free of charge, which was a nice touch.
Going into the final day of the regular season in the Southern League, Kempston Rovers have had an excellent first season after winning the United Counties League last season. They were in pole position to claim a play-off berth before Easter Monday’s round of fixtures, when defeat to local rivals Barton Rovers and wins for two clubs below them saw them drop out of the play-off positions. Going into this game in seventh place following 20 wins and 10 draws from 41 league games, they needed to win this game and hope neither Egham Town nor AFC Dunstable, to claim an unlikely play-off spot. Today’s visitors Histon were a Conference National club as recently as 2011, but their relegation to Step 5 football was already confirmed on Monday, having won nine and drawn seven of their 41 games. When the two teams met in September, Kempston Rovers won 1-2.
On a generally warm and sunny afternoon, this match soon went to form and with 6 minutes on the clock, Kempston took the lead. Jake Newman ran onto a low ball forward which sprung the offside trap, Jake Newman running, before slotting low past the keeper. Histon were presented with a great chance to equalise on 8 minutes when a suicidal blind back pass was intercepted, but the striker couldn't get his shot away. But that was a rare ray of hope for the visitors as the home side dominated, see a header from a free kick hit the crossbar on 15 minutes, before they doubled their lead on 19 minutes, when Ben Shepherd struck the ball from just outside the penalty area and went in off the inside of the post. Kempton held their two goal lead to the break, and they at least were doing their side of the bargain in booking a play-off spot, and news came through that AFC Dunstable were losing at half time, although Egham were 1-0 up.
Within 9 minutes of the restart, Kempston all but sealed the three points with a third goal, Newman heading home from close range after the ball was whipped across goal. However, Histon did pull a goal back two minutes later, when a good cross was controlled by Tommy Wright, and he lobbed the keeper with the ball going in off the underside of the bar. That never looked likely to herald a comeback though, and the home side restored their three goal advantage on the 71st minutes as Newman just managed to cross the ball as it was about to cross the byline, and Ash Fuller headed home from very close range. The game rather petered out after that, and Kempston claimed a comfortable victory. Egham had doubled their lead to win though, which meant that Kempston were denied a play-off spot, finishing one point and one place adrift after Dunstable could only draw their game. But sixth place represents an excellent finish in their first season in Step 4 football. As for Histon, they will presumably head to the Eastern Counties League and look to regroup.