Where's The Tea Hut reflects upon local football South West style with a few trips further afield. Keep the faith & stay safe.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

AFC Blackpool 1 Runcorn Town 1

Saturday 30th March 2013
North West Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 58
Admission: £6
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea 60p
Weather: Bright and sunny, chilly in the shade
Parking: Playing fields car park around the corner
I drove the Match Tank down from the Pennines, over the M62 and M61 westbound before skirting around the south of Preston to visit the vibrant town of Lytham on the A583 into Blackpool. I'd got a bit of business to do here before heading onto the big match later in the afternoon. I entered 'Seniors' Fish and Chip shop for my takeaway dinner, this place had won the 2012 award for best of class fish and chip shop in the UK, as I've already mentioned every other chippy on the Fylde coast seems to have won some kind of award or another? Seniors looked the part but I was a bit put off by 4 young kids running the place without a traditional looking fish fryer in sight. When I checked out the price board hung on the wall I realised I should have brought my cheque book as well! No way was I paying really silly prices for a piece of fish, I ordered chips and gravy instead, even this economy option cost me £2.45p. I sat on the sub zero promenade to scoff them, just across from the extra expensive rip off car park housing the Match Tank, they seem to be an affluent bunch in Lytham but there's no need to rob people blind for everything. I hit Blackpool around 1pm and had a stroll past the Pleasure Beach and the South Pier, the sun had come out and I felt the temperature rise to a comfortable level for the first time in weeks, should be perfect for the game ahead.
I'd been to AFC Blackpool earlier in the season against Padiham, its a nice ground with a really good playing surface, they charge a bit more than normal to get in but you do get the famous Effing & Blinding Show from the Blackpool Management Team thrown in. If you've not sampled these bigots in action you're missing out big time. The Manager and his big gobbed assistant see everybody and everything as fair game for their abusive foul mouthed tirade, the referee, opposition players (even their own players too) and a word of warning, they are also willing to take on visiting supporters as well. One Runcorn chap told the Blackpool Manager to quieten down to which he got confronted with "Whats YOUR F*cking Problem"!!! I really think it is about time the NWCL took these so called Management figures to task, it does nothing for the good standard of the league and the appalling behaviour needs to be stopped. The game itself was a must-win fixture for the Runcorn Town side, riding ever close to top of the league they are in close competition with four other sides for the title, namely Maine Road, Padiham, Bootle and Winsford. Any slip ups can result in lost ground that gets harder and harder to regain during the end of season run in. More than half the crowd had travelled over from Runcorn and after a 10-1 win last Monday night against Stone Dominoes expectations were high.
What I witnessed was a competitive action packed encounter with lots of chances at both ends of the pitch, the referee was getting lots of stick throughout the game, either for being too lenient or then too tough, some of the abuse he and the officials had to suffer was extreme to say the least. Having said that it was mind boggling how a large number of Runcorn Town attacks ended up with forwards being cut down in their tracks, many in clear goal scoring positions only for the referee to ridiculously wave play on? At least it kept the deranged Blackpool Management bench quiet for a short while. AFC Blackpool took a shock 14th minute lead through a harmless looking James Walker long range skidder, the ball seemed to bobble just before reaching keeper Karl Wills and the home side had something to hold onto. I must say the Blackpool keeper probably deserved man of the match status for his excellent saves keeping tidal waves of Runcorn Town pressure at bay, time and time again he came to his sides rescue as the Town forwards bore down on him.
Half time arrived and most of the Runcorn Town Army took time out for a bit of medication in the bar, rumour had it some of them had earlier been enjoying 2 meals for 9 quid deals alongside a few pints in the Shovels pub just across the main road from the ground. The second half started with a 47th minute Phil Howard equaliser and the game witnessed yet more Runcorn Town pressure as Stuart Wellstead mesmerised the opposition with his speed and dribbling, the only bloke on the ground not taken in by Stuarts skills was the Blackpool keeper!
Everything thrown at him this keeper stopped, even a James McShane penalty (after the Ref turned down 23 earlier appeals for a spot kick). Despite the pressure, Blackpool still threatened at the other end of the pitch and I honestly thought this game could have ended 4-12 rather than 1-1. Tension and desperation fuelled the final 15 minutes as the Town fans tried to will the ball into the net, it wasn't to be, AFC Blackpool held out for a gallant point (well, at least the players did, not sure about the bench), a good point for the home side, it edges them further away from the danger zone at the foot of the table.
As for Runcorn Town, everyone knows that 3 points was the primary target and a draw seems disappointing, however, the class is still there and I feel this Runcorn side have a battling spirit that will stand them in good stead for the dramatic title run in. That dramatic run in steps up a gear on Easter Monday with a derby clash against Runcorn Linnets.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Maine Road 2 Runcorn Town 0

Saturday 16th March
North West Counties League Premier Division
Admission: £5
Attendance: 108
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea 70p
Weather: Fair, bright start, clouded over a bit
Parking: Club car park
I'd been looking forward to this game all week. A real top of the table clash. Maine Road held second spot with Runcorn Town picking up speed in third. It was a nailed-on North West Counties League feast of football. The feast turned out to be nothing more than a dodgy takeaway, one that makes you sick in the morning, neither side played as well as they can do, Maine Road just about did enough on the day but Runcorn Town strangely failed to get going. With a good few games being postponed during the morning due to waterlogging, Maine Roads Brantingham Road pitch was a picture of perfection, flat as a pancake with a nice even covering of grass, it looked like they'd bought it from Carpet World, all the more puzzling why Runcorn Town in particular struggled to play their normal passing football. Maine Road are one of those charismatic little clubs who portray the special side of non league, they have a spick and span tidy little ground with a support of no nonsense regulars cheering on some very good young players, having been beaten 3-0 at Runcorn Towns ground recently, this game was going to be a stern test for the Road team but they certainly rose to the occasion with an obvious battling spirit.
They never let Town settle into the game, Road were hustling and bustling in defence and very quick going forward, the young lady referee had a tough task to control a tense and niggly first half but she coped well under the circumstances. Maine Road got the all important breakthrough with an 18th minute Tom Bailey penalty. Towns colossal defender Tom Spearitt made an excellent tackle as Road burst into the box, the ball bobbled free and fellow defender Danny Toone was deemed to have fouled in the resulting scramble, 1-0 to Maine Road.
The home side became even more resolute, they were first to the ball and Runcorns plan to play Phil Howard up front on his own was having little effect on the proceedings. Phil never got the quality supply of ball from midfield, it always seemed at least 3 big defenders were surrounding him which made it hard to understand why Town started lumping balls towards him down the middle. The lone forward got a terrible kicking throughout the afternoon via some clinical but well disguised defensive play which the referee failed to spot all afternoon. No wonder Phil was visibly annoyed at the lack of protection.
Half time mercifully gave everyone a welcome break from the very scrappy and fragmented proceedings, the subdued Runcorn supporters, who had travelled down the M56 in good numbers, ambled back to the clubhouse, I followed them down towards the tea hut and got a hot cup of tea, it had been a dogs ear of a first half, especially for Runcorn Town, I simply didn't have the enthusiasm for the offer of a steaming bowl of the well advertised chilli hot pot. Surely things could only get better in the second period? Unfortunately they didn't.
Apart from Scott Burton who played extremely well in an overrun midfield Runcorn Town just couldn't get out of the inside lane, there were gearbox problems all over the pitch, Maine Road kept it simple, hogged the pitch and got home first with plenty to spare. Tom Bailey got a well worked second goal in the 69th minute and from there on-in it was curtains. A tremendous result for Maine Road and their supporters, an extremely negative day at the office for Runcorn Town, the first defeat in 16 league games if I'm not mistaken? The day was made worse by Padiham strengthening top spot via a fine away win at Glossop. Town will bounce back from this, of that there is no doubt, that objective starts next Saturday when they are at home to bottom side Stone Dominoes. I can sense that a Perfect Storm may be heading for the Dominoes table next weekend? Bring it on!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Barnoldswick Town 3 Runcorn Town 5

Saturday 9th March 2013
North West Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 128
Admission: £5
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea 60p, Sausage Roll 40p
Weather: Continual icy rain, bleak and cold
Parking: Club car park access road
I'd been out the country for over a week so it was a bit of a shock taking the Match Tank over to Barnoldswick amidst wildly inflated BBC weather warnings for deep and heavy snow. The London loving BBC weather team got it wrong (yet again) as hardly a flake of snow fell all day in this part of the country. What we did get was continual icy drizzle, it was bloody freezing at the Silentnight Beds Stadium. Last time I came here this pretty gateway to the Dales was bathed in idyllic sunshine, the sight of wet-through Runcorn Town supporters wrapped up in heavy coats and dark blue woolly hats trudging towards the covered terrace blew away any hopes that this was going to be a springtime stroll in the park. Its a good job Barlick FC (as the locals call em) have a nicely kept playing surface, apparently the town had missed recent downpours but it was copping for an afternoon of non stop drizzle for the match. The pitch stood up remarkably well considering the circumstances. A woman was attempting to write out the teams on a board adjacent to the packed out clubhouse, the felt pen was fighting a losing battle with the soggy elements, the locals started to push-by to take up their favourite spots in the charasmatically titled Sewer End, doubtless most of them would be suitably tanked to the brim with a few pints of ale and a steaming bowl of the internal tea huts famous hot pot and peas. They seemed a boisterous but friendly bunch, at this stage of the proceedings they were immune to the louder cutting wit of the travelling Runcorn supporters, something the locals struggled to come to terms with as the game wore on (probably not helped by some very strange refereeing decisions which understandably inflamed the travelling contingent). I took up a position alongside the halfway line under the covered terrace as the teams shook hands.
I had chosen this fixture as the NWCL match of the day and I was not to be disappointed. Both sides played some fine passing football and set out to score goals (lots of them). Runcorn Town emphasized the point by taking a lead as early as the 3rd minute through a close range Mark Keddie strike. Mark went on to have a fine game in midfield against some quality opponents.
Danny Horton and Ashley Alderson were having great games as they fought to get Barlick back in the match. The game went from end to end as both sides tried to adapt to the tricky conditions of a very wet pitch with a slippy top surface, poor Danny Toone was sliding all over the place in the Runcorn defence, at one stage it looked like he had a pair of cut price Primark slippers on? Danny held on (just). Barlick got their equaliser just before the break only for Stuart Wellstead to snatch back a Runcorn 2-1 half time lead. It had been an absorbing 45 minutes of entertaining football. We'd had gung-ho open attacking, flying hard tackles in defence and some mesmerizingly daft refereeing decisions, how the referee failed to award a Runcorn Town penalty when Paul Shanley was blatantly hacked down baffled everyone on the ground (even some hard nosed Barlick die hards). This fuelled the wrath of the vocal Runcorn Town supporters as they wasted no time in politely informing the referee in a true gentlemanly style that his birth right may be slightly questionable. Some of the more socially sheltered home fans seemed more than a little shocked at the colourful language normally so rarely used by the courteous Runcorn Town aficionados. As the teams and coaching staff headed back into the dressing rooms at the aptly named Sewer End of the ground there seemed to be some sort of coming together between some Barlick supporters and members of the Runcorn side, some loud bloke in a big high visibility coat could be seen affronting what looked like the Runcorn coaching staff, he was joined by others before the referee stepped in and got both of the teams in the building?
Don't know what sparked it off but it all seemed a bit handbags and hot air from where I was stood. The one thing it did do was inject even more urgency in the determination of both sides to come out on top in the second half. Half time action continued as I coughed up 60p for a nice cup of tea in the snug warm clubhouse, I also pushed the boat out for a luke warm 40p sausage roll (the lady said it was the very last one).
I have often touted Runcorn Town as the Brazil of the North West Counties League. What they provided in the second half of this game emphasized how accurate that statement is. Good as Barnoldswick were and try as they might, they simply couldn't live with the total-football which flowed throughout the entire Runcorn Town side. Scott Burton was having a sublime game as he took the ball off Barlick and split them wide open time and time again with pin-point passing and vision.
Can there be a better defender in this league than Tom Spearitt? I very much doubt it, Barlick threw everything they had at the visitors but Spearitt simply stopped them in their tracks. Instead of fearing a sustained onslaught from a fired up home side, Runcorn Town wupped them at their own game and went 4-1 up via a couple of goals from the irrepressible James McShane! Despite an Alderson super strike to give Barlick a minimal sniff of a comeback at 4-2 the classy Phil Howard (ex Wigan Robin Park) underlined his value as a clinical striker by slotting home a superb Paul Shanley cross to put things out of Barlicks reach at 5-2.
Barlick got a very late third goal but I was already down at the corner flag for a 'Le Mans' style dash to the Match Tank, I was that fast I even overtook a limping pensioner as he slipped in a puddle... goodnight Barnoldswick Town and well done to the visitors. I then found out that Maine Road had won away at top of the league Padiham (yippee), this means there is still every chance that the best side in the league can still win the title, come on Runcorn Town!!!