With my wife and daughter heading to the pool and gym in the afternoon, I was presented with an unexpected opportunity to take in a Saturday game and, after a quick check of The Football Traveller, I settled on a Midland League Division Two game between Alcester Town and Hampton. I'd seen both sides play before. I was at The Boggery back in January to see Hampton win the local derby with Knowle (Hampton Not Caught) and last October I saw Alcester win at Kenilworth Sporting in an incredible Smedley Crooke Cup match (Romans March On). It was, however, my first trip to Alcester's home ground.
Alcester Town, The Romans, play at Stratford Road just to the East of Alcester town centre. The main pitch is part of a football complex that also boasts 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 pitches. Entry to the ground is through a double gated entrance into a large car park. Entrance fees are paid from your car as you drive in. Behind the car park end goal, at a slight angle to the pitch, is a block that houses changing facilities, toilets and the tea/snack bar. There is a also an outdoor bar and a patio area with a few tables. All of this is protected from stray shots by netting stretched out behind the goal. Dugouts are on the left hand side as you look form the car park. There are no covered spectator areas, so take an umbrella if the weather looks bad. No such problems today, with temperatures well into double figures despite the month.
Before the start of play Alcester sat in third spot, three points adrift of leaders Sutton United and just a point behind Cadbury Athletic in second. Hampton were placed ninth, seven points behind Alcester. The Romans had won the last five in all competitions (even if one was a walkover) and were unbeaten since a 2-0 reversal at Knowle in Mid-September. League-wide Hampton were also on a good run, having lost just once in the last eight, also a 2-0 defeat to Knowle. That run also included two 2-2 draws with second placed Cadbury. Last season saw Alcester do the double over Hampton. In October two from Reece Hewitt and one from Umit Eminoglu was enough to counter goals from Thomas Mitchell and Norris Tobias for a 3-2 win at Field Lane. Back at Startford Road in April Thomas Mitchell was again on the scoresheet for Hampton but two from Callum Burston-Keeley and a Collins Ajayi strike gave The Romans a 3-1 victory.
After a perfectly observed minute's silence, it was the visitors who got into their stride first, Alcester looked a little sluggish in the opening encounters. After 4 minutes the home side were made to pay the price for their slow start. A cross from the left was half-heartedly cleared to the edge of the box where Matt Garbett was on hand to fire low, in off the inside of the post, to put Hampton ahead. 0-1.
If anyone was expecting the early goal to spark an immediate response from the hosts, they would be sorely disappointed. I haven't seen Alcester this season so don't have any previous displays to compare this one to. However, I could tell from the shouts from the bench and the some of the players, that the performance in the first half was not what they expected. To be fair to Alcester though, they did manage to restrict Hampton's progress even if they didn't make too much themselves. In all honesty, the first half was a bit of a masterclass in the art of defending. Both sides looked well organised at the back, neither could work out how to break their opponents down. It was still a decent game to watch as a neutral, although the wind was causing some difficulty, but there was very little goalmouth incident to report.
HT Alcester Town 0 Hampton 1. With both defences well on top for the majority of the half and neither attacking force able to break down their opponents, it was little surprise that the only goal came from a defensive mistake. That looked the only likely way that another may come along too.
Even then Alcester had to wait until just after the hour mark before they got back on level terms. Half-time substitute Kieran Fitzgerald produced a superb diagonal ball which found James Ward just inside the Hampton box on the right-hand side. His first time finish was too good for Allely and the hosts were level. 1-1
A few minutes later an almost identical ball found the same player but this time he was driven slightly wider and couldn't get the shot off. However, Alcester appeared to have found a flaw in the Hampton defensive plan.
The Romans were pouring forward at this point and came very close to taking the lead on 74 minutes when Odane Barnes showed great control to pull down a ball on the edge of the box. He swivelled and his a shot back across Allely which beat the keeper but came back off the far post. Two minutes later Barnes was close again when he latched onto a long clearance before firing wide from the edge of the box when he probably had more time than he realised.
Just as it was looking as if the home side's relentless second half pressure would not pay off they grabbed what looked to be a winning goal with just a minute of normal time remaining. Just as with Hampton's early goal, this one came from a half clearance. The ball fell to Luke Dugmore and his effort from the edge, although not cleanly struck, bobbled through a crowd of players and nestled in the bottom corner. 2-1
Then, with practically the last kick in the 95th minute, Odane Barnes finally found his range. With Allely off his line the striker latched onto a loose ball close to the halfway line and hit an audacious lob. The keeper scrambled backwards furiously but could not prevent the ball from crossing the line. 3-1
FT Alcester Town 3 Hampton 1. In the end a deserved home win. The second half was like watching a different Alcester team to the first, when they had appeared lethargic. The result sees Alcester keep the pressure on at the top of the table, although both Sutton and Cadbury won to maintain their leads over the Romans. Hampton drop a place to tenth after Bolehall Swifts edged past bottom side Boldmere Falcons. Coming up, Hampton travel to Bustlehome in the County Cup on Saturday. Alcester face a short journey over to Central Ajax in the same competition.
Alcester Town: Walker, Williams, Wicketts, Wyatt, Bell, Hendry, Barnes, Dugmore, Fullerton, Richards(c), Ward. Subs: Tibbins, Round, Morton, Fitzgerald, Fisher
Hampton: Allely, Albini, Chapman, Slevin(c), Morris, Connaire, C.Seivwright, Fletcher, Bagshaw, Garbett, Lawless. Subs: Wyatt, Considine, Brooks, Mitchell, Froggatt
Ground Number: 336