Saturday 5th December 2009

St Neots Town 2 Boston Town 2
Hereward Teamwear United Counties League Premier Division
At: Rowley Park
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (24 pages)
Attendance: 200 (headcount)
Weather: dull, rain throughout second half
Duration: first half: 47:34; second half: 48:40

Today had lots of similarities to last week’s trip to Godmanchester Rovers –same route as last week up to A14 junction 14, lunch at the same McDonalds near Rothwell, my first game in a particular league for many years, making a sort of footballing Groundhog Day!

On Thursday, after choosing St Neots v Boston as my preferred destination, I sort advice from a footballing friend with local knowledge, ‘Stevenage Brian’, who suggested this game at St Neots would be 95% certain to go ahead even with some adverse weather which had been forecast. He was at Tuesday’s home game with Raunds Town and reported that: “You should have no problem with St Neots at all. I was there Tuesday night. It was in very good condition, very grassy and they will make every effort to play.”

Everything went well on the way and knowing the closure for roadworks on the northbound A1 from the Black Cat Roundabout, I detoured off the A14 via Catworth, Kimbolton (a delightful village) and Great Staughton into St Neots. But there were long queues crossing the Great Ouse bridge into the town centre, so I aimed instead for the southern/eastern bypass, confirmed the game was on and arrived just before 2-30 pm.

The new Rowley Park, on the site of the former Loves Farm, was opened in April 2008 at a reported cost of £6.8million (Hunts Post link) and replaced the old Rowley Park located around 400 yards away to the south next to the main road.

Mrs ‘iwf’ (then Miss ‘iwf’) has interesting memories of our trip to the former ground back in April 1996. After being hit by the ball, she found it difficult to understand the urgency to leave the clubhouse for the start of the second half! St Neots won that game against Spalding United 2-0 in front of a crowd of about 50.

Back to the present and the new Rowley Park was certain an impressive football venue. The road up to the ground along Dramsell Rise from the roundabout on the B1428, east of the town centre and 200 yards east of the railway, meandered through cleared but so far undeveloped land.

With a small car park to the left, the turnstile was round to the left and, through it, the pitch (orientated north–south) ran widthways to the right. A hive of activity greeted me once inside. All the facilities were down the near touchline with a stand straddling halfway which contained around 200 individual navy blue tip-up seats in six rows. Flanking the near side of the stand was the club shop and on the far side the Burger Bar and also the entrance to the bar. To the left of the turnstile block near the corner was an area of covered standing with a clear roof. Covered terracing featured behind each goal and the dugouts were over on the far touchline either side of halfway. Behind the far goal were a series of tall trees and the main line into Kings Cross was beyond the far touchline. All in all Rowley Park was an impressive venue for step five and built with a higher level of football in mind.

A run of seven league games without defeat had propelled St Neots (52 points from 23 games) into second position, level on points with leaders Daventry Town A win or a draw today would take the Saints top though Daventry, on FA Vase duty, would have five games in hand. The Saints were nine points clear of third-placed St Ives Town but a closer look at the teams below showed nearly all had games in hand so second place wasn’t as secure as it first appeared.

Visitors Boston Town (fifth position on 39 points from 19 games) were also on a good run of five league games without defeat and also had games in hand to significantly close the gap on second-placed St Neots.

I borrowed a notebook from one of the men in the press box to copy down the lineups though these were announced over the tannoy as well. Teams came out to Thin Lizzy’s ‘Boys are Back in Town’, so far the most popular choice so far in a competition to decide the ‘coming out’ music.

After the fairplay formalities were completed, Boston Town (wearing yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks) got the game underway attacking the car park end. This was right to left in relation to my seat in the stand on the third row in the left-hand block.

It was home side St Neots (wearing sky blue shirts with a navy blue diagonal stripe, navy blue shorts and socks), however, who forced the early play and I don’t think the ball spent much time out of the Boston half during the opening 10 minutes.

Barely 30 seconds had elapsed when Paul Garrett, on the left, fired just wide of the near post. The same player took a 25 yard free-kick which hit the five-man defensive wall. Another shot went flashing past the visitors’ goal when Andy Lodge shot from 35 yards out.

However, things all changed in the 14th minute when Boston were awarded a penalty against the run of play. Gary Bull, once of Nottingham Forest and Barnet, was bundled over inside the area by Glenn Fuff and Mr Smith immediately pointed to the spot. Paul Goodhand stepped up only to slam the resulting penalty against the right-hand post. In the ensuing melee, Goodhand hooked the ball into the net but the goal was disallowed presumably for offside.

However, Goodhand’s disappointment soon turned to joy in the 17th minute when he did put Boston in front. He cut into the area from the right and fired an angled shot across the face of goal into the far left corner.

Close to me in the stand there was some chatter about yesterday’s World Cup draw and a Dad explained to his young son what a seeded team was.

In the 23rd minute, Matt Price fired straight at Luke McShane from 25 yards out and the St Neots keeper immediately launched an attack upfield and Josh Sozzo Sent a looping header over the helpless Nick Conroy to score the equaliser from 12 yards out.

The enthusiastic young fan was delighted and predicted more goals: “C’mon Saints, we can get a few more now”.

Boston won three corners in succession around the half-hour mark before the raffle ticket seller came round – would green 491–495 be lucky? No chance as the seller had plenty of customers but I didn’t know at the time that three prizes were up on offer.

A delightful passing move almost led to a goal for St Neots in the 40th minute. Several players were involved before Paul Garrett crossed from the left bye-line and Jon Mitchell headed over at the far post.

But the Saints took the lead a minute later with a goal that reminded me of one from my youth when Kevin Keegan scored against Scotland after exchanging passes with Trevor Brooking 30 years ago. Today, Sozzo exchanged a one-two with Mitchell which sliced open the Boston defence before firing low into the bottom right corner. Certainly a contender for my goal of the season.

Soon after play resumed, Mitchell’s afternoon came to a premature end. He was hurt going for a 50-50 ball with Boston keeper Conroy and was replaced in the 44th minute by Greg Usher.

At half-time I joined the queue for the Burger Bar and got myself another large tea, using just about the last drop of available milk.

The players returned to the field to the sound of ‘when the saints go marching in’ and a second St Neots change was revealed with Nicky Hurst replacing Lodge in straight swap at left back.

With rain now falling, the home side should have further increased their lead 10 minutes after the restart. Substitute Usher on the right saw an initial shot blocked by Matt Hocking and Robert Hughes following up couldn’t keep his effort down from 20 yards out.

Winning raffle tickets were announced on the hour – blue 940, green 454, pink 488 – before Liam Ogden got the better of Mickey Hyem on the edge of the Saints area before firing wide of the far right post.

Boston made a double change in the 65th minute with Nathan Iley and Lawrence Lambley replacing Ogden and Shaun Baker. Two minutes later there were groans from the home fans when Mickey Hyem was booked for a foul on Mark Foster.

The visitors launched a swift break after Garrett’s free-kick was cleared. Iley played the ball into the path of Goodhead who had the space and time to hammered the 74th minute equaliser past McShane at close range. The Boston fans and officials made their voices heard in celebration. Despite the goal, a point was still good enough to take St Neots back to the top of the table.

With Sozzo and Goodhead both netting twice, who would complete their hat-trick first wondered the enthusiastic youngster still sat with his Dad in the same block as me.

Boston made their final substitution in the 76th minute when Jon Rowen replaced Foster.

The Saints looked to respond and Ben Brown bravely blocked a well struck 25-yard shot from Hughes. They appealed for a penalty when Chris Hyem’s ball into the area struck Hocking though most of the shouts came from the crowd. A good effort from Tony Scully was held at the second attempt by Conroy.

In the 82nd minute, St Neots made a third change with Scully replaced by Daniel French.

With stoppage time approaching, a slip by Brown allowed St Neots to break and Garrett saw his shot deflected for a corner.

Usher asked the ref how long but I didn’t see or hear the reply. The home side had one last chance, a corner delivered by Garrett which was cleared for Hughes to fire well wide from outside the area.

In the end, a point was good enough to take St Neots back to the top of the table, one point clear of Daventry Town who now have five games in hand. Today Daventry were playing an FA Vase tie at Leiston which they won 4-3 after extra time.

St Neots Town (sky blue with navy blue diagonal stripe / navy blue / navy blue): 1. Luke McShane, 2. Mickey Hyem, 3. Andy Lodge, 4. Robert Hughes, 5. Glenn Fuff (capt), 6. Jodran Gent, 7. Tony Scully, 8. Chris Hyem, 9. Josh Sozzo, 10. Jon Mitchell, 11. Paul Garrett. Subs: 12. Liam Harrold (not used), 14. Daniel French (for Scully, 82), 15. Johnny Docker, 16. Nicky Hurst (not used), 17. Greg Usher (for Mitchell, 44).

Boston Town (yellow/black/yellow): 1. Nick Conroy, 2. Matt Hocking, 3. Matt Price, 4. Ben Brown, 5. Shaun Baker, 6. Mark Foster, 7. Lazlo Lovas, 8. Paul Goodhand, 9. Ollie Pinner, 10. Gary Bull (capt), 11. Liam Ogden. Subs: 12. Lawrence Lambley (for Baker, 65), 14. Jon Rowan (for Foster, 76), 15. Nathan Iley (for Ogden, 65), 16. Ben Denham (not used).

Referee: James Smith
Assistants: N Arthur and L D’erriante.

0-1 Paul Goodhand (17)
1-1 Josh Sozzo (23)
2-1 Josh Sozzo (41)
2-2 Paul Goodhand (74)