Rowley Park, St Neots
Match Rating: 2
And here another season of groundhopping commenced, after more than a month without football, and 8 weeks since my last men’s game. Pre-season games, particularly this early on, are not appealing in themselves, tending to be as dull as dishwater, all the more so when one has no interest in the teams taking part. However they do present opportunities to visit grounds at a reduced admission fee, and most likely in pleasantly warm conditions. To kick off my pre-season, I chose to visit the home of Southern League Premier Division outfit St Neots Town, with admission half price today compared with league matches. The visitors would be quite attractive too, near neighbours from Football League Two, and so a large crowd was expected.
Rowley Park is a very easy five minute walk from St Neots train station, passing through a recently constructed housing estate before reaching the football complex, which contains a well appointed 3G pitch outside of the main stadium. Opened in 2008, it is a very impressive stadium considering the level of the club, sensibly sized, neat and tidy, and a very good example of where modern facilities can be attractive when designed well. Spectators enter in one corner of the ground, and usually it appears that they must purchase a ticket from an adjacent ticket office window, but it was cash on turnstiles in operation today. In this corner there is a small metal shelter for standing whilst moving along the length, there is a brick building housing the changing rooms, an all-seater stand straddling the half way line offering slightly elevated and unobstructed views, and beyond the stand is the clubhouse, also housed in a brick building. Tight behind both goals are virtually identical stands, stretching between corner flags and covering three terrace steps, whilst along the remaining length there is just hard standing. Some trees around the perimeter provide a pleasant background, and there is a basic electronic scoreboard in one corner. No programmes were produced for this fixture.
This was the second consecutive season that Cambridge United opened their pre-season with a trip to St Neots Town, winning 1-2 on the equivalent year ago to the day. Cambridge United went on to finish in 11th place in Football League Two, four points adrift of the play-offs, whilst St Neots Town finished in 19th place in the Southern League Premier Division, just two places and one point clear of the relegation zone, and with an inferior goal difference to that of relegated Cambridge City.
On a very warm afternoon, this was a competitive game of football, although predictably lacking a cutting edge for the most part, without any real incentive to score or win the match. The first half was very even as the home team acquitted themselves very well, and there was very little indication of the three step difference between the sides. They could easily have led at half time, but a goalless scoreline was probably a fair reflection on proceedings.
With a new XI introduced after the break, Cambridge were much improved as they applied increasing pressure on the St Neots goal, although without much urgency, or indeed quality. While St Neots defended in numbers , they still looked quite dangerous on the counter attack, and on 71 minutes saw a well struck curling shot from outside of the area by Jevani Brown came back off the crossbar. It was Cambridge's turn to hit the woodwork on 83 minutes when the ball was crossed into the box and headed against the far post by new signing Jabo Ibehre. Just as it looked certain that I would open my hopping season with the dreaded goalless draw, Cambridge scored the winner on 90 minutes. The St Neots keeper couldn’t hold on to a powerful low shot by Brad Halliday from outside the outer corner of the penalty area, and Ibehre tucked home the rebound.
Cambridge deserved the win, although this really was a game to ease back into game play, with gaining fitness far more important than the quality of play, and certainly more than the scoreline. St Neots put on a good show, matching their professional opponents for long periods despite several of their players being very recent arrivals.
Video highlights of this match can be viewed by clicking here.