Sunday, 14 May 2017

British Airways 1 v 2 Letchworth Garden City Eagles

Saturday 13th May 2017
Capital Counties Feeder League Trophy Final
County Ground, Letchworth Garden City
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 150 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

After missing out on football for the past fortnight, mainly due to being on holiday in Majorca, games were very thin on the ground at this stage of May, with little more than a handful of non-league games at intermediate level to choose from today. Although a visit to Punjab United of the Kent County League (and soon to be of the Southern Counties League) was tempting, I instead decided to visit a ground which is no longer host to a football club, but boasts very decent facilities.

The County Ground is about a 20 minute walk south eastwards from Letchworth Garden City train station, and serves as the headquarters of the Hertfordshire County FA, whilst previously it was the home ground of Letchworth up to 2002, and more recently Baldock Town between 2008 and 2011. These days, it mainly hosts cup matches organised by the Hertfordshire FA, as well as the final ties in this competition for the last nine years, but it’s facilities would easily satisfy Isthmian League requirements, perhaps even higher. After passing through a small car park, spectators enter via a brick turnstile block along one length. To the right of the entrance, there is the all-seater main stand, providing good elevated and unobstructed views. Beyond the stand is the brick clubhouse, with a rather sterile bar area inside. To behind the corner closest to the entrance is a further brick building housing the County FA offices. The rest of the ground has a rather symmetrical look about it, with grass banking all around, and immediately behind both goals, set a little way up the bank, are virtually identical small stands covering standing area, although towards the corner closest to the clubhouse is an additional small metallic stand with a curved design covering more standing area. Along most of the remaining length there is another fairly low stand providing covered standing. Trees all around a pleasant backdrop to what is a very neat and tidy ground, one that feels as though it is wasted without hosting a club. A 24 page programme was produced and was informative about the history of the competition, as well as introducing both clubs.

This is quite an interesting cup competition, open to those clubs in the various mainly Step 7 leagues across the northern home counties who are not playing in the FA Vase, and 26 teams entered this season’s competition. British Airways finished as runners up in the Middlesex County League Premier Division, five points adrift of champions Deportivo Galacia. Letchworth Garden City Eagle, whose home ground is little more than a stone’s throw away from the County Ground, finished in third place in the Hertfordshire Senior League Premier Division, and have won this competition twice, most recently in 2015. British Airways had negotiated four rounds to reach this stage, Letchworth three.

On a sunny afternoon,, Letchworth got off to a great start, taking the lead with just four minutes on the clock with a super goal, their player taking a couple of touches outside the area before thumping a shot into the net with the rather portly keeper rooted to his spot. On 12 minutes, they had the ball in the net again when a free kick from deep was headed home, but the goal was disallowed for offside. Their other stand out chances came two minutes before the break when a defender missed an interception allowing the Letchworth player through on goal, but the keeper managed to get just enough of his fingertips on the ball to deflect it onto the far post and away. So Letchworth could probably feel aggrieved to only be a goal in front, and they were certainly the better side throughout the half, but British Airways did look quite dangerous when they did attack.

British Airways were a transformed side in the second half and it was their turn to create most of the chances. On 50 minutes, a free kick was just tipped over the bar, ten minutes later a low cross inside the six yard box was almost turned into his own net by a Letchworth defender, and a minute later, a far post header following a corner was blocked on the line. But on 64 minutes, Letchworth were awarded a penalty for a foul tackle close to the outer edge of the area. It was dispatched down the centre of the goal to give Letchworth some daylight. The atmosphere between the players started to get a little tetchy from this point onwards. But British Airways continued to create chances, on 69 minutes, a close range, first time clipped shot really should have found the back of the net, before they did pull a goal back on 75 minutes. A free kick was played beyond the back post, the ball was crossed low and was bundled in from close range. On 83 minutes, Letchworth almost sealed the win when a long range shot sailed over the backpedaling keeper and hit the crossbar, and then a minute later British Airways had a player sent off for dissent, not before time it must be said. But a minute later they had a glorious chance to equalise when the ball fell at one of their player’s feet at the back post with the goal at his mercy, but he miscued his shot high and backwards. They came so close one more time, a minute from the end, when a free kick hit the far post and bounced clear, and with that went British Airways hopes of at least forcing extra time.

And so it was Letchworth Garden City Eagles who lifted the trophy shortly after the final whistle, and they certainly deserved to, looking the better side throughout, although with a little more fortune, British Airways could and perhaps should have at least forced extra time with the chances they created during the second half.

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