Saturday 22nd September 2012
FA Cup Second Round Qualifying
TADCASTER ALBION 4 SKELMERSDALE UNITED 1
Tea Hut Stuff: Cheeseburger £2.50, Tea £1
Weather: Sunshine throughout, pleasantly mild
Parking: On the brewery road about 30 yards from the ground
The NCEL (Northern Counties East League) always provides a good standard of football and has some wonderful little grounds to visit. Todays trip to Tadcaster Albion ticked the box on both counts. Nicknamed 'The Brewers' in respect of the fact that Tadcaster has some very large breweries operating in the town, Tadcaster are the last remaining NCEL side in this seasons FA Cup competition and currently reside in the top half of their domestic Premier Division. Their classy visitors were from West Lancashire, Skelmersdale United, a side much respected for fast flowing open football, a reputation that had already seen them win 4 out of 4 league games to date. Skem currently play in a higher level league than Tadcaster, the Evo Stik Northern Premier League Division 1 North. According to Radio Lancashire's patronising Non League Show, Skelmersdale only had to turn up to cast aside such an inferior side as Tadcaster, the game was a pure formality, the arrogant radio show predicted at least a 4 goal thrashing. How ironic they got the last bit about the scoreline correct (they just got the teams mixed up). All the hype building up to the cup tie was focusing on the Skelmersdale Manager Tommy Lawson worrying that his sides undoubted progress in the cup competition could affect the clubs league fixture programme, "the price of our cup run could see a fixture backlog" mused Tommy. How reassuring for Tommy that he won't have to bother about the FA Cup after today... they can concentrate on the league! I had a sneaky feeling that this cup tie could provide an upset, something which tempted me to slog the Match Shed well over a 100 miles in the process. As I crawled through the endless 50mph roadworks that seem to have plagued a massive stretch of the M62 for years now, I just hoped it would be worth it? I need not have worried! Despite reports that the ground can be a sod to locate, I found it really easily, I simply followed the directions posted on the excellent NCEL website, coming in from the west on the A659 you turn right at the big John Smiths brewery which dominates the backdrop to the stadium, the small road is called Centre Lane, just follow it to the end and the scenic little ground opens up before you. I was hit with the heady malty aroma of what I presumed to be hops as I got out the Match Shed, a fine smell indeed, no wonder there are absolutely loads of pubs in such a small town, this place is a beer boozers wonderland. Nearly everybody I came across going into the ground seemed to have just arrived from Skelmersdale, all wearing their blue and white scarves. This was a theme that continued inside the characterful little clubhouse overlooking the halfway line. I'd had some sausage and bacon sandwiches before setting off and was eager to find something a little more healthy from the kitchen hatch adjacent to the bar, "have you got any pies"? I politely enquired. "Only burgers, chips and hot dogs today" came the response. Needs-must I suppose so I opted for a cheeseburger and a cup of tea.
The burger was ok and had a decent thickness, the problem is they contract so much, I like those American style burgers that you see on that Food Channel TV show 'Drive Ins, Diners & Dives', don't think theres much chance of finding one of those big whoppers in a football tea hut though. I took my humble burger and sat scoffing it on the pitch-roller behind the nets. I was amused to find a groundhopper running around behind the goals (rucksack and all) fagging stray practice balls which the Tadcaster team were firing anywhere but inside the goalposts. I'm sure they started miss hitting their shots on purpose just to see how long the hopper would trot off and throw the balls back on the pitch, he was still at it when I finished my burger, with his anorak zipped up in the warm sunshine he appeared to be getting quite a sweat on.
The ground looked a picture in the lovely bright conditions, there is a clubhouse and terrace down the halfway line which follows on to the brewery end which has a flat pack seated stand which is overlooked by a larger 'mobile' temporary style stand alongside it, this stand has some nice padded bench seats in it and offers a tremendous view of the action.
The rest of the ground is open hard standing with tidy grass backdrops complimented by a tree lined perimeter. The pitch looks first class. Nice place. We were soon into the match and Skelmersdale started to set their stall out. Fast paced passing and positional interaction put Tadcaster under pressure from the start, sadly the final pass seemed to be lacking, surely something Skem would iron out as the game progressed (or would they)? The home side held firm and managed an odd foray of their own. It seemed nothing more than an isolated blip when Tadcaster got an 11th minute penalty which Steven Jeff thundered home, it just seemed to make Skelmersdale more eager. When Callum Ward got Tadcaster's second in the 20th minute the first signs of concern were being discreetly mumbled amongst the large contingent of Skem supporters. The visitors got a goal back from Josh Hine to make it 2-1 at the break. It was true to say that Skelmersdale had kept the bulk of possession in the first half but Tadcaster had applied a well managed game plan which restricted the attacking options for clear cut Skelmersdale opportunities.
The visitors looked loose and lacked consistency when they had the ball, Tadcaster seemed to be breaking them down far too easily. We all knew a comeback assault would be thrust upon the Tadcaster defence early in the second half. Walking behind the Skem supporters as they moved to the other end of the ground they had little doubt that a half time b*llocking would do the trick, bring on the goal-fest they cheered! Oh dear....... despite all the huffing and puffing from the energetic Skem forward line things went distinctly pear shaped for the favourites as early as just 4 minutes into the second half, a goalkeeping misjudgement gave Callum Ward his second goal, it was now 3-1 to Tadcaster. Anger erupted from some blokes in shirts and ties and fancy Skelmersdale blazers "I dont bloody believe it" they moaned. What at first appeared to be a well mannered amiable bunch of visiting supporters was somewhat let down by a couple of foul mouthed hot heads who began effing and blinding very loudly at the referee and Tadcaster players, I'm sorry but yelling out that the referee is "a c*nt" at the top of your voice just yards away from women and children is completely out of order and shames what appeared to be the vast percentage of decent friendly Skelmersdale supporters. Tommy Lawson had to make some changes fast and he quickly brought new players off the bench in an attempt to get back into a game which they were now seriously in danger of losing. It didn't make much difference. Skem looked disjointed and lacked quality on the ball, Tadcaster let them have possession where it didn't matter and quickly robbed them of the ball where it did matter.
They out-footballed Skelmersdale. When the Skem keeper failed to hold onto a 63rd minute free kick, Callum Ward popped up to get his hat trick and strike a knife into the visitors hearts, 4-1. Skem kept trying but Tadcaster had their measure, there was no magic comeback, the home side had secured a marvellous well deserved victory, they are in the hat for the next round whilst Skelmersdale wonder.. what might have been? I just hope the extended Tadcaster cup run doesn't play havoc with their league fixtures (tee-hee).