Chalford play at the Chalford Sports & Social Club just to the North East of Chalford, a village to the South East of Stroud. It was only after I checked back on the map that I realised just how close I was to The meadow, Brimscombe & Thrupp's picturesque home. The Sports Club is the home to not only the local football team but also the cricket club and tennis club. There is a reasonably large car park and parking available on Highfield Way, outside the ground. The club boasts quite a large function room as well as a café, that was open this evening. The football pitch is behind and to the right of the club as you approach from the car park. The nearest side of the pitch is open because that is also part of the cricket pitch, with the various tracks cordoned off in preparation for the forthcoming season. On the far side of the pitch there is a small covered spectator stand bordered on either side by brick dugouts. The pitch slopes down towards the clubhouse and tennis courts end. When I arrived I just about got a place in the car park but, when I left there were cars parked all down Highfield Way, testament to the number of spectators at the game which was extremely well supported for a game at this level of the pyramid. Plenty of locals had turned out and there seemed to be quite a following for the visitors too.
This game really was a title race shootout. A win for Cheltenham Civil Service would put them out of reach of Chalford. A win for Chalford would really set the cat amongst the pigeons with Chalford looking to pounce on a final game mistake from Cheltenham. In the build up to the game there was a quite a bit of talk amongst the locals that, if they won today and then beat Dursley Town in their next game, the pressure would really be on Cheltenham when they travelled to Woolaston on May 7th. Of course, that all depended, first of all, on getting a result this evening.
The Civil Service team has quite an interesting history, well worth checking out their website. They have played in the County league structure (Step 7), winning the league at the first attempt, but have more recently been in Division Two of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League (Step 9) and were promoted back into Division One at the end of the last full season, 2020. Chalford came up from Division Two as Champions in 2017 and were runners-up in Division One in the last full season before the pandemic. They have met twice this season already. In the league the sides drew 0-0 in Lydney back in September. Then, in the Cup at the same location, Chalford came out on top of a seven goal thriller.
As expected, with such a lot riding on the game, the opening gambits were a little like a game of chess. Neither team wanted to concede an early goal and that was apparent in the way that they were both extremely careful about committing too many players forward at any time. The end result of this was that neither goalkeeper was really tested at all in the first 15 minutes. The visitor's defence, in particular, looked well organised and solid. The central defensive pairing of Bermingham and Teejay Hosking were winning everything in the air whilst their two full-backs, Oliver and Hall, were ably stopping any raids down the flanks.
Cut to 17 minutes in, we finally had the first real strike on target and it came from the home side, playing up the slope in the first period. It was a relatively innocuous shot from outside the box but the ball took a nasty little hop as Tim Griffiths was about to field it, the ball bobbled out of his grasp but was cleared by a defender. A minute later, possibly buoyed by that first attempt, Chalford were pushing forward again. This time Jack Hughes received the ball on the left wing, cut inside and fired an effort straight into the hands of Griffiths. No real problem for the keeper but a promising "sighter" for Chalford.
Having survived these two attempts Civil Service promptly went down the other end, some four minutes later, and opened the scoring. A corner from the left was flighted towards the far post where it was headed back across goal. Climbing highest in the crowd was skipper Joe Bermingham who nodded the ball home. 0-1.
Chalford responded well to going behind but still could not find any chink in the visitor's defence. All of the forwards were working hard but constantly finding their space closed down quickly. It was a fascinating contest though. The sides were very evenly matched and the goal from Civil Service had meant that the game had to open up a little, Chalford needed to get a goal back. The work-rate from both sides was very high and this was demonstrated to great effect for Cheltenham in the 36th minute. An attacking move broke down but winger Stuart Midwinter was not one to saunter back. Instead he chased the lost ball back into the centre of the park, hunting down the Chalford player and winning the ball back. He then burst down the right ide before delivering an inch-perfect cross to the far post where Brett Blake was arriving to slot the ball home. 0-2. Chalford were a little rattled now and not long afterwards could easily have found themselves three down when their keeper spilled a cross. The ball fell to a Cheltenham player who tried to slot into the unguarded net but luckily for Chalford their Number 4 was alert enough to get back and clear off the line. Shortly after this Midwinter, who had really got the bit between his teeth at this point, delivered another superb cross which was met well by an attacker, forcing the home keeper into a very good one-handed save low to his right.
having said this, it wasn't all one-way traffic by any means. Chalford were playing their part and still probing the Cheltenham defence, but getting little change out of them.
HT Chalford 0 Cheltenham Civil Service 2. Things looked good for the visitors at the break. Despite their two goals, the performance of their back four grabbed the eye. The back four, protected well by Kerry Hale, had won pretty much every challenge and frustrated the home attack at every turn. A thoroughly entertaining game so far.
The second half was turning into a much different game of football than the first half. Cheltenham were seeing far less of the ball then they had in the first period and were not troubling the home keeper anywhere near as much as they did towards the back end of the first half. Having said that, the complete siege from the home team, that I had expected after they got a goal back, didn't really happen either. It was just past the hour before Chalford seemed to start ratcheting up the pressure. On 62 minutes their Number 11 latched onto a delightful through ball but, stretching slightly, he lifted his shot just over the bar. The hunt for an equaliser was on now though. With 16 minutes to play Chalford's 11 was once again put in on goal. This time he got his shot on target but Griffiths was equal to the effort, saving well. Three minutes later came a key incident in the game. Chalford were awarded a hotly disputed penalty. the incident was on the opposite side of the pitch to where I was standing, with a group of players between me and the ball, so I didn't have any view of what actually happened. The referee, however, seemed to take an age to make his decision (not a bad thing) before finally pointing to the spot. The visitors were not best impressed by the decision but they need not have worried. jack Hughes stepped up but Tim Griffiths went the right way, pushing the ball away to safety.
Undeterred, Chalford had just over 10 minutes to find two goals and were pushing the visitor's back all the time now. At one point they forced three corners in the space of a minute with the final header sailing just over. However, try as they might, they just could not muster a big finale.
FT Chalford 1 Cheltenham Civil Service 2. Chalford threw everything at their visitors in the second half but couldn't quite find the killer touch to claw the two goals back. Cheltenham's defence stood form throughout even though the Chalford forwards did mange to breach it a couple of times in the second period, they could only find a way past Cheltenham's keeper once. The result means that Cheltenham are champions and will be making a return to the Gloucestershire County League next season.
Cheltenham Civil Service: Griffiths, Hall, Oliver, Smith, Bermingham(c), Hosking, Midwinter, Hale, Holmes, G.Jones, Blake. Subs: Ellin, Gittings, Mahon, M.Jones, Driscoll
Ground Number: 318