I must admit, the milestone had completely slipped my mind when I set out for deepest, darkest Leicestershire. My chosen venue was St John's Park, home of Heather St John's of the TotalMotion Midland League Division One. I must admit that it was a toss-up between this game and the, slightly closer, game between Cadbury Athletic and Leicester Road. However, the lure of the league leaders, Walsall Wood, combined with the fact that I was ready to leave the house well in advance of my cut-off time for getting to Heather, swayed my decision.
Upon arriving at the ground, I was not disappointed with my choice. St John's Park is situated on the Northern perimeter of the village of Heather, in Leicestershire. Entrance to the ground, from the ample car park, is through a fairly modern dual-door turnstile block. This brings you into the ground adjacent to the clubhouse block, which also houses the players & officials facilities. The main stand, emblazoned with Heather St John's FC, is directly opposite, straddling the halfway line. On the near side, the Ravenstone Road side, there is low, covered seating stand at the top end of the ground. There is also a very interesting structure which runs about a third of the length of the playing area, with the halfway line as it's centre point. this consists of two small seating areas and the dugouts, which are situated either side of an archway leading onto the pitch. On top of this, right on halfway, there is what I assume was the media centre, where the pitch-side announcements were made from. It's one of those structures that makes some non-league stadiums unique.
As I said before, this evening's game featured the visit of league leaders Walsall Wood and, with Heather St John's sitting in sixth spot themselves, it promised to be a good contest. When the sides met in WS9 last August, Wood had run out winners by 4-1 so Saints were also looking to avenge this result.
They started very positively, in fact before the first minute was over Saints had taken the lead, Michael Bloore applying the finishing touch. 1-0.
The response from the league leaders was rapid though. Going a goal down so early on had woken them up and, on 6 minutes, they got back on level terms. A superb long ball from right-back Lewis Hayden found Paul Sullivan breaking through the middle. The defenders got back enough to prevent him getting a shot away but, when he laid the ball off to Tony Clarke, he made no mistake from inside the box. 1-1
This was shaping up to be an intriguing contest. Wood had shown their title aspirations by responding so quickly. However, Saints were looking very dangerous when they went forward. The pace of the league's leading scorer, Simeon Cobourne, was finding a few gaps in the Wood defence at times.
Just after the quarter-hour had passed, Wood managed to get their noses in front. West's audacious back-heeled flick split the home defence wide open allowing Clarke to pounce and he drilled an unstoppable finish past Allsop's left-hand from the edge of the box. 1-2
Heather, to be fair, were not downhearted after going behind and, although they were on the back foot for quite a while, still looked dangerous when they did break. Wood were now playing some good football and looking a little tighter at the back, marshalled by captain Mitch Tolley, and it was Tolley who provided one of the moments of the first-half, for me anyway. Cutting out a Heather attack deep in his own half, the centre-half set off on a run more akin to a flying winger than a big defender. After weaving his way towards the edge of the Saints box he finally laid the ball off to an attacker. The move came to nothing in the end but what a run from the big man. You don't often see a centre-half do that. Worth the entrance fee alone in my book.
HT Heather St Johns 1 Walsall Wood 2. Great response from Wood after the early shock of going a goal down. An entertaining game of football with some quality play from both sides.
On 64 minutes we had the incident that, pretty much, ended the game as a contest. A quick Wood break saw the ball played into the channel for Sullivan to latch onto. His pace was about to get him beyond the Saints defence when his progress was stopped, illegally, in the box. Penalty to Wood. Sullivan stepped up and took the kick himself to make it 1-3.
Heather certainly did not give up at thsi point but, a two goal deficit against a side as good as Wood, was always going to be an extremely difficult mountain to climb. They had a go though and, on a couple of occasions came very close to getting a goal back. If they had done, with ten minutes or so to go, it would have made for an interesting finale. As it was, Wood saw out the remaining time fairly comfortably to take the points.
Leicester Road and Cadbury Athletic finished 2-2, so Wood increase their lead at the top to four points from new second placed side Ilkeston Town, who won 3-1 at Brocton.
FT Heather St Johns 1 Walsall Wood 3. Two good sides who would not look out of place in a higher league. Wood showed their class after going a goal down but Saints continued to fight until the final whistle.
Heather St John's: Allsop, Maphosa, Bache, Weale (c), Wakeman, Misambo, Wright, Doyle, Cobourne, Minshull, Bloore. Subs: Yonwin, Walton, Hill, Mpofu, Watts
Walsall Wood: Ransome, Hayden, Deakin, Meakin-Richards, Slater, Tolley (c), Till, Westwood, Sullivam, Clarke, Fitzpatrick. Subs: McFarlane, Okojie, Lund, Butler, Hurren
Ground Number: 152