Bitton's Bath Road Recreation Ground, or the WDS Associates Legal Services Stadium to give it its full name, is situated to the South West of Bristol, between the city and Bath (the clue is in the ground name). This is an area of the West Country that is a bit of a mecca for followers of non-league football especially if. like me, you gravitate towards Steps 5 & 6. Aside from Bitton, there is Oldland Abbotonians, Keynsham Town, Longwell Green Sports, Hengrove Athletic and Brislington all within a few minutes drive. I was at Oldland earlier in the season but have plans to visit all of these grounds at some point in the near future.
The ground is tucked up against the A431 Bath Road about half a mile outside the village of Bitton. There is parking available at the ground but it's not extensive. However, there is plenty of space to park on Bath Road itself (it's a real shame that the garden centre opposite doesn't leave their gates open in the evening. Access to the ground is through a single turnstile between the changing rooms and a small covered standing area. The main stand is opposite this and has seating for around 50 spectators and is backed by a row of trees. There are also trees behind the goal at the far end of the ground. The pitch does have something of a slope from the Bath Road end.
The clubhouse and snack bar are situated outside the ground, between the turnstile and the car park. However, it's no problem to get back out of the ground at any time.
Bitton were back in action for the first time since their amazing FA Vase exploits over in East Anglia in which recent signing Liam Bishop grabbed all four goals in their 4-0 win, although six changes had been made to Saturday's team. In league terms the club sat in 8th spot before kick-off with 44 points from their 23 games. Visitors Hallen were in third place, 56 points from their 27 games, and in with a shout of going top of the table with a victory. The sides met on the opening day of the season at the Hallen Centre with Bitton racking up an emphatic 5-1 victory, carrying on from last season where Ton had done the double winning 1-0 at Hallen and 3-2 at home. However, the previous season saw a Aaron Anglin hat-trick secure a 3-0 win for Hallen in this fixture.
I'd never seen either of these sides play before but Hallen did feature in a recent Programme Notes article about nicknames, What Did You Call Me - Part 3.
Hallen, kicking up the slope in the first half, started the game well taking advantage of a lack of fluency in the Bitton side, possibly caused by the six changes from Saturday. Hat-trick hero from two seasons's ago, Aaron Anglin, came close to opening the scoring in this game when he glanced a header just wide in the 9th minute. Ten minutes later the away side came even closer when Jordan Ricketts managed to slip the ball past Burgess in the home goal only to see his effort come back off the post.
Following the unsteady first 10 minutes, Bitton gradually started to get themselves back into the game but for close to 20 minutes neither side managed to really trouble the goalkeepers too much. Not that it wasn't an entertaining game. In fact, I was quite surprised at how quickly the first half seemed to be disappearing.
Then on 38 minutes came a real flash point and possibly turning point in the game. Hallen left-back Tom Bradley scythed down home number 7 Harrison Kyte right in front of the main stand. It was a bad tackle, no doubt. However, I am not sure that it warranted what happened next (maybe some existing dad blood?). Whilst Kyte lay stricken pretty much every player from both sides, both benches and a few locals got involved in what could only be described as posturing and handbags. To be honest, it was little more than that. There were a lot of people involved but it never really 'kicked off' so to speak. What did happen though was that Bitton's Alex Grimshaw and Hallen's Scott Thomas both took the skirmish one step further with some pushing and shoving. Both raised their hands but Thomas probably pushed a little harder than the Bitton man. Neither threw a punch that I could see. Once it had all calmed down the referee, in consultation with his assistants, produced a red card for Thomas but nothing for Grimshaw. This all happened right in front of me and I have to say that I didn't see any real difference in the actions of the players. If it was a red it should have been a red for both.
Hallen certainly felt aggrieved at the decision and to make matters worse they then went behind just five minutes later. The ball found its way to left-back Matt Tanner on the apex of the 18 yard box. He weaved his way past his marker and absolutely hammered a cross-shot past MacFarlane into the Hallen net. 1-0 and a really great finish.
HT Bitton 1 Hallen 0. Hallen had looked the better team for the first part of the half as the much-changed Bitton side struggled to gel.The red card and late goal may well have swung things in favour of the home side.
Down to 10 and now 2-0 down Hallen were never really going to get back into the game. However, they certainly did not give up the ghost and kept digging in trying to find a way back into the game. To be fair, Bitton may well have taken their foot off a little and were inviting Hallen on to them. but the away side again looked to be the better side for a while in the second half.
Their fate, if not already decided, was sealed in the 80th minute when after already making all of their substitutes, Matt Davis was helped off the field with an injury. Down to 9 for the last 10 minutes, this was now a case of limiting the damage which Hallen manged to do until the very last minute when Harrison Kyte sealed the victory with a nice finish to make it 3-0.
FT Bitton 3 Hallen 0. In the end a fairly comfortable victory for Bitton, especially after the red card in the first half. Hallen miss the chance to go top but you have to admire the way they continued to battle right to the end, even when down to 9 players for the last few minutes. Bitton have left it too late to influence the top two but their league form, 16 points from the last 18 available, could well see them challenge Hallen for a top three spot. Of course, their main aim now will be to get through the FA Vase semi-final stage against either Atherstone Town or Consett and book their place under the arch in May.
Bitton: Burgess, Grimshaw, Tanner, Brice(c), Fletcher, Tippins, Kyte, Whittaker, Rendall, Bishop, Groves. Subs: Bath, Gissing, Robinson, Brown, Williams
Hallen: MacFarlane, Davis, Bradley, Stowell, Thomas, Hill, Hall-Cousins(c), Gibbons, Simpson, Ricketts, Anglin. Subs: Latham, Mills, Reid, Bamfo, Johnston
Ground Number: 231