I have to say that the stadium ticks all of the boxes as far as I am concerned. It has clearly grown organically and, therefore, none of the stands are the same. It's not just a sterile box, it has character and a good feel to it. Yes, it probably needs a bit of TLC in places and the facilities are not up to the comfort levels of say The Etihad, but it's a proper football stadium in all it's glory. The stand that was open for the evening had a mixture of seats and standing areas, another thing that endears the ground to me. I much prefer to stand to watch football, especially as I have usually been sitting behind the wheel of my car for hours to get to the ground in the first place. I appreciate that many do want t sit down, and I have no problem with that at all but, for me, standing is better.
What I already did know was that Eversley & California, Hartley's opponents in the final, had got there in a strange manner, losing the semi-final 5-0 to the Army, who had to pull out due to other commitments. Presumably, something they need to get used to when you have Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary? As Ben Elton would say. "Ooh! A little bit of politics there".
This also appears to be The Boars first appearance in the Final of this competition.
The Row started the game very brightly and within 2 minutes captain Dean Stow had curled a free-kick over the Eversley wall and narrowly over the bar. A warning shot for The Boars. Hartley continued to lok thrteatening, calling the Eversely keeper into action on a number of occasions in the open 10 minutes.
There was, however, a sting in the tail of this opening period. After 13 minutes, Eversley broke forward and a lovely pass split the Hartley back-line allowing the Boars number 9 (apologies, I have no team sheets) to run onto the ball. It looked as if he had missed his opportunity to score but when the ball broke off the keeper and a covering defender, he was on hand to stroke it home for a goal totally against the run of play. 0-1
The goal seemed to rattle Hartley for a few minutes, temporarily putting a halt to the constant raids on the Eversley penalty area. However, less than 10 minutes after going behind, they did manage to pull themselves level when Paul Hodges latched onto a ball in the penalty area and beat the keeper with the aid of, what looked from my angle, a deflection. 1-1.
Hartley were now back in control of the game and it was just a matter of time before they got their noses in front. However, it took a set-piece for them to break down the Boars stoic defending. Stow, after his earlier range-finder, stroked home a free-kick from a seemingly impossible position some 25 yards out and well wide of the penalty area. His effort over the wall and into the near post seemed to catch out the Eversley keeper. 2-1
HT Hartley Wintney 2 Eversley & California 1. The Row have been on top for most of the half but are being made to work for it by a battling Boars side.
The Row continued to have the lion's share of possession after the break but could not quite find the finish that would put the game to bed. In fact, it took until the 76th minute for them to finally get the third goal when a right-wing corner was met in the box. The first effort was cleared off the line by an Eversely defender but substitute Nic Ciardini was on hand to head home the rebound. 3-1
The game, as a contest was over at this point. Eversley had fought a hard battle but there was no way they were going to come back from 3-1 down. They continued to give everything they had though and must take credit for not surrendering at this point.
two minutes into added time, Hartley put the icing on the cake with their fourth goal. The goal was very harsh on their keeper who, after performing very well throughout, spilled a ball in from the right allowing Hodges to stab home for his second of the night. 4-1
FT Hartley Wintney 4 Eversley & California 1. All over at the EBB. The Row deservedly win the Aldershot Senior Cup.
Best of luck to both sides next season. It will certainly be interesting to see how The Row fair in Step 3 and I'm sure I will get the chance to see them in action at some point. No doubt that I will also be paying a visit to Eversley at some point next season. Their ground has been on my list for a while and I didn't get chance to visit this year.
Hartley Wintney: Harris, Stow (c), Hutchings, Webb, French, Ball, Noakes, Everiss, Baxter, Tennant, Hodges
Goals: Paul Hodges, Dean Stow, Nic Ciardini, Paul Hodges
Ground Number: 158