Stratford Fields has not changed much since my last visit, a very wet evening in November 2017 (180 - Athletic v Baldock Town). That evening we had no goals but there was a ten minute power failure. The biggest difference at the ground now is, of course, the Covid-19 rules. There were two ways to sign in, manually or via the NHS app as well as hand gel at the entrance to the ground. The perimeter of the ground was labelled all the way around in 2 metre intervals. Spectators were asked to select a block and ensure that there were no more than 6 in each area. This seemed to work very well, with more than enough space for everyone to get a good view of the game, even with a larger than average attendance. The clubhouse was also running a one-way system, masks mandatory, and arrows on the floor within the building. All in all, again, all possible precautions had been taken by the club. I have to say that, across the board, so far in my experience all clubs are handling the regulations and restrictions very well indeed.
This game is still a local derby but, 10 years ago, it was even more local than it is today. In those days Milton Keynes Irish were still known as Buckingham Town and still played in the town at Ford Meadow. Nowadays, after three name changes and a period playing in Winslow, they have settled at Manor Fields in Bletchley, some 14 miles from Buckingham. The league positions of the two clubs was going to add to the occasion too. Irish started the evening in second spot, 3 points shy of leaders Shefford Town & Campion, level on points with third-placed Athletic who had played a game more than Irish.
Last season saw both games finish in 3-2 away wins. The game at Bletchley saw MK Robins, as they then were known, reduced to 9 players. The reverse fixture saw Athletic reduced to 10. In the previous season, the first after MK returned to Division One, there was again a 3-2 win for Athletic away from home with MK once again having a player sent off. The fixture at Stratford Fields finished 2-2 with yet another red for a Milton Keynes player. So, 19 goals and 5 red cards in the previous four games. With all that in mind, this one had 0-0 bore draw written all over it.
The best thing to be said about the first half of this game is that there was no shortage of effort from either side. The game was punctuated by stoppages and fouls with neither side managing to get any real coherence into their play. Both sets of defences looked solid and well marshalled, with the result that we had to wait until the 41st minute until either goalkeeper was called into meaningful action, Buckingham's Nick Bennion saving well with his feet to stave off a low, hard drive from Keelan Shand.
HT Buckingham Athletic 0 Milton Keynes Irish 0. Not a lot to choose between the teams and very little goalmouth action at either end. Some invention and creativity from midfield could be the key and one goal looks like it may well win the game.
From the minute that they took the lead Irish also took control of the game. Athletic tried to get themselves back into it, but continually found themselves penned into their own half. Whilst Irish didn't pose any serious threats of extending their lead, they also never looked as if they would concede a goal. However, as the half wore on Athletic did start to progress up field a little more. In the 74th minute they came mightily close to an equaliser when a free-kick out on the right was met by the head of Jeremiah Adams. His effort struck the inside of the far post and ran across the goal-line before being hacked clear by Jack Clarkson. Claims of the ball crossing the line from the home side were soon waved away by the assistant.
Into the last 5 minutes, Irish had started to drop deeper in an effort to defend their lead. Buckingham tried to mount one last charge and, in fairness, came close again in the very last seconds of added time when Owen James fired wide.
FT Buckingham Athletic 0 Milton Keynes Irish 1. Not the most entertaining local derby I've ever seen. Great credit to MK Irish for the way in which they managed the game after going a goal ahead. Any potential backlash from the home side was very quickly extinguished as Irish controlled the play for the majority of the second period. The biggest surprise, given the game's history, is that we ended with all 22 players still on the pitch.
Buckingham Athletic: Bennion, Spencer, Ironmonger, Sare, Marsden, Tappin(c), Brazier, Menday, James, Adams, Faulkner. Subs: Mombele, Kalugin, Franklin, Mupfururirwa, Roggero
Milton Keyn Milton Keynes Irish es Irish: Kyeremeateng, Coyle, Shand, Smyth, Dumnett, Beaupierre, McDonald(c), Gardner, Clarkson, Uings, Spence. Subs: Shrieves, Coleman, Beecher, Scholte
Ground Number: Re-Visit