Suffice to say, if you haven't been there, you should go and, if you go to a night game take a torch to get to and from your car.
I'll be honest, one of the reasons that I returned to Eynsham Park (apart from it being one of my favourite grounds) was actually to take a first hand look at Winchester City striker Warren Bentley. Signed from Wessex League side Alresford Town where he scored 58 goals in his final season, Bentley has set the Southern League alight this season, scoring 14 goals already (before this evening) including 5 in the first half of the opening game.
North Leigh, with a win of more than 2 goals, had the opportunity to go top of the league this evening. Winchester were looking for three points to close the gap between themselves and the play-off spots and, with two games in hand over a lot of their closest rivals, this would put them in a strong position.
It was, however, the home side who started the strongest. Looking like a team who knew they could go top of the league and kicking down the slope, they set about Winchester with some vigour. Snappier in the tackle, first to every ball and looking very lively, it was no surprise when they took the lead after just 12 minutes. A deep cross was met by Zak Westlake at the far post with a powerful header. A Winchester defender made a desperate lunge to stop the ball crossing the line but the referee's assistant was perfectly placed to flag for a goal. This was probably a relief to the City defender who, it seemed to me, had used his hands to attempt the block.
The goal did not temper North Leigh's approach to the game and they continued to pressure the Winchester defence for the first 35 minutes of the game. In this time City rarely ventured too close to the home goal although the aforementioned Bentley looked lively up front and the team, as a whole, was undoubtedly working very hard to contain their hosts.
With two minutes remaining in the half and totally against the run of play, Winchester grabbed an equaliser. In one of their infrequent attacks a good ball was played down the left flank for Bentley to run onto. He beat his man and dragged the ball back for the onrushing Zach Glasspool to finish with some style.
Somehow, and you have to admire their resilience, Winchester had managed to go in all square at half-time despite being on the back foot for the majority of the half.
The second half was a totally different animal to the first. Maybe it was Winchester having the slope in their favour, maybe it was the late equaliser giving them a boost and knocking some of the stuffing out of North Leigh. Whatever the reason, it was Winchester who looked to have the ascendance. Whereas in the first half North Leigh were winning pretty much every 50-50 challenge, now it was the City player coming away with the ball. In the first half there were some angry exchanges between Winchester players, desperate to get their team going. Now, in the second half, it was noticeable that it was the home players getting on each others backs. Having said that, the game still looked to be heading for a draw until, with less than five minutes to go, that man Bentley popped up with his customary goal.
A ball was threaded through the left hand side of the home defence allowing Bentley to break clear, run on and fire a low drive into the keepers near post. It was the finish of a striker brimming with confidence.
The result was probably a little harsh on the hosts. Their performance in the first 35 minutes alone was worthy of at least a point and they will be disappointed to have lost their first home game of the season. However, City showed that they have a tenacity about them and are definitely going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. They certainly sent their travelling support, of who there were quite a number, home with a smile on their faces this evening.
North Leigh - @northleigh_fc
Winchester City - @wincityfc
Previous North Leigh games:
http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/windy-millers (April 2013)
http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/april-09th-2014 (April 2014)