This would be my first visit to Selhurst Street and, indeed, the first time I had seen Radford play. I've seen Birstall play three times in total, a fantastic FA Vase replay at Malvern Town in 2016 (The Antidote), another FA Vase away game, at Pinxton in 2019 (Pinxton Blue) and a 2021 league encounter at home to Bourne Town (Battling Birstall Burn Bourne)
Radford, The Pheasants, have played at Selhurst Street since the start of the 1985-86 season. The ground, currently branded the Oakfield Arena, is situated in the club's ancestral home of Hyson Green, just a stone's throw North of Nottingham city centre. Tucked away behind a row of shops, it is very easy to miss the turning off Radford Road for Selhurst Street (I did). If you are heading towards the city centre, along the tram lines, when you see the Asda petrol sign ahead, turn right (opposite Glenstone Court). There is very limited parking within the ground but there is a small free car park behind the shops (not sure if there's a time limit at Asda). Access into the ground is through a single turnstile which brings you in behind the Radford Road (or Bell End) goal. There is a clubhouse at this end of the ground too, topped by a Welcome to Radford FC sign. Just past the clubhouse, which has some covered standing directly behind the goal, there is a covered seating stand. There are also three other covered stands around the ground, two on the school side, either side of the dugouts, and one on the Birkin Avenue side. The tea bar is also situated on the school side of the ground. Tightly penned in on three sides by housing and shops with a school on the fourth side, the ground has a real inner-city feel to it. Definitely a 'proper', old-style non-league ground with a really good feel to it. Helped during the game by quite a vociferous home crowd, backed by some occasional drumming behind the Bell End goal (thankfully not constant). Certainly a ground worth visiting if you haven't been before, or again if you have.
As stated this was a big game at the top end of the United Counties Division One table. The sides only met in the reverse fixture on March 21st. Birstall led 2-0 at half-time through Jack Astill and an own goal. However, Radford came back in the second half, getting a goal back also through an own goal, and then equalising through Jordan Alls in the 82nd minute.
The teams had come through different routes of the pyramid until the 2016-17 season when they were both in the East Midlands Counties League for two seasons until Birstall moved into the United Counties League in 2018. Radford followed suit last season. In the six meetings prior to this season, Radford hold the edge with three wins to Birstall's two and one drawn match. The games have been relatively high scoring as well. Again Radford hold the edge, outscoring United 16 to 9. Previous games at Selhurst Street have finished 3-0 to Radford, 4-3 to Birstall and 5-0 to Radford.
Current form for both teams has been pretty good, although both teams have dropped a few points here and there. Birstall had won four of their last six, drawing one and suffering a single defeat, 2-1 at Clipstone. Radford hadn't lost in the last six but had drawn three of them, including a 1-1 draw with bottom side Grantham.
With neither side wanting to make the first mistake, it was a scrappy start to the game. Radford eventually started to settle first and were the first to trouble the opposition defence when, on 5 minutes, Jevon Seaton stretched to get on the end of a ball but couldn't quite get his effort on target. Two minutes later visitor's keeper, Charlie Doherty, had to be very brave, throwing himself at the feet of the onrushing Joe Meakin to make a good block. Then, on the quarter hour, Doherty was again called into action when Sasha Markelic met a low cross from the left. The United stopper doing well to block the effort from very close range. Doherty was beaten three minutes after that as Seaton burst through onto a long ball. His lob was too good for Doherty but also just cleared the bar. As it happened the assistant's flag was already up for offside anyway.
That effort signalled the end to Radford's first-half dominance of possession as Birstall began to play themselves back into the game. Halfway through the half they mustered their first effort on target when Yinka Adebowale was called upon to keep out a Josh Crossley effort. The home side were then really let off the hook when the same Birstall player was left unmarked in the penalty area and found by a Jake McLeary cross, but could only divert his header over the top of the bar, with Adebowale beaten. The momentum had swung in favour of Birstall now and just past the half hour mark only a superb and brave block from David Boafa kept out a powerful close-range strike from Sam Moore. Real body on the line defending.
HT Radford 0 Birstall United 0. Very scrappy at times. Neither side managed to gain any real fluency. Radford started the stronger but the longer the game went on, the more Birstall began to look dangerous. Two evenly matched sides so far. Clear to see why there is not too much between them in the league.
Radford were well on the front foot now. Two minutes after going ahead Michael Fitzhugh tried his luck but this time Doherty was down well to save. A minute later, however, Doherty was left powerless as Adegbola's deep cross from the right was headed back over him by Jevin Seaton. A lovely goal and a superbly placed header. 2-0
Birstall tried to hit back. First of all a Sam Moore free kick was expertly saved by Adebolawe and then, just before the hour mark they won a corner. Their captain Paul Pallett, who had been off in the sin bin following the first Radford goal, was called back on just in time to get into the area and power in a header which Adebowale did very well to tip away. Five minutes later Sam Moore tried a long range effort but, again, Adebowale was able to deal with it quite comfortably.
Try as they might, Birstall could still not muster a head of steam and they were still reliant upon their goalkeeper a the other end. On 78 minutes Doherty was again on his toes, going full length to keep out a Jordan Alls drive. The straight up the other end Birstall had a shout for a penalty when Moore appeared to be clipped in the box. Nothing given.
With seven minutes to go it was game over. Fitzhugh's low cross from the right was met by Sasha Markelic running into the six yard box to smash the ball past Doherty. 3-0. Then, smack bang on the 90 minute mark, centre forward Jordan Alls cut in from the left and shaped a delightful shot around Doherty and into the far corner for 4-0.
FT Radford 4 Birstall United 0. An excellent second half performance from Radford. Whereas in the first half the game was very much 50-50, in the second period Radford dominated for large parts, scoring some superb team goals. The result should have put Radford within three points of Hucknall Town but the three point deduction for an ineligible player against Harrowby in February, means they remain in sixth, a point behind Newark Town who also won, 4-1 at Saffron Dynamo. Birstall drop to third following their defeat and Bourne Town's 3-1 win at Clifton All Whites.
Aylestone Park are still odds-on to win the league, seven points clear with three to play. However, the play-off spots are still to be decided. Bourne and Birstall look to be safe in there, as too Hucknall Town, although they have played a game more than everyone else. It does look to be a straight shoot-out between Radford and Newark Town for the final place. Newark have a one point lead with both sides having three to play.
Newark are at home to Aylestone Park at the weekend with park needing 3 points to win the league. They then have a home derby with 15th placed Southwell City and, finally, travel to 8th placed Blackstones.
Radford have three away games remaining. They go to relegation threatened Saffron Dynamo at the weekend, then a Nottingham derby against Dunkirk, who beat Radford 2-1 earlier in the season. Their final game is at another relegation threatened team, St Andrews, who the Pheasants thrashed 11-0 in the reverse fixture.
It's going to be a thrilling end to the season.
Radford: Adebowale, Adegbola, Tait, Tobin(c), Boafo, Ofushine, Fitzhugh, C.Meakin, Alls, Seaton, Markelic. Subs: Thurman, Fletcher, J.Meakin, Campbell, Daniels
Birstall United: Doherty, Kee, Tuck, Watts, Pallett(c), McLeary, Burton, Bucalossi, Moore, Astill, Crossley. Subs: Phillips, Jordan, Sutton, Richards
Ground Number: 358