This weekend I had the chance to see another Dudley side, Dudley Town, but this time back in my old stomping ground and acompanied by my Dad. With Stourbridge up at Ilkeston and me having to get back to Oxfordshire at a reasonable hour, we didn't have time to drive up to Derbyshire, so leaving my daughter to 'help' her Nana, we set off for The Dell Stadium in Brierley Hill. I find it quite sad that a town the size of Dudley can't find a decent home for either of it's two highest ranked teams (both play in Brierley Hill). Yes, I know Team Dudley still play in the town, but where are the facilities that would enable one of the sides to progress up the pyramid?
It's also a little sad that Step 6 is the highest that any of the Dudley teams can muster at the moment. Of course, Town have made it as high as the Southern League but, since the loss of their ground in the mid-eighties, they have never been able to recreate those halcyon days. I'm not going to go into the story behind the decline of Dudley Town but I did find a really good piece about it on the twohundredpercent blog. Well worth a read (http://twohundredpercent.net/the-rise-decline-fall-of-dudley-town/).
Onto the modern day incarnation of the club. Dudley Town now play their home games at The Dell Stadium, Bryce Road, Brierley Hill, a multi-sports centre that has an athletics track around the pitch, much like The Pingle Stadium where I saw Sports play Griff. There is a fairly large covered seating area along one side of the ground and a very strange looking, small, uncovered seating area on the same side. This stand looks very much like the sort of temporary, scaffold-based, stands that you see at many stadiums. What makes it odd is that it is just three seats wide and sites on it's own. Just behind the mystery stand is the clubhouse, snack bar, and changing facility block. The dugouts are on the far side of the ground.
Oddly, although The Dell is just a long goal-kick from where my Dad grew up and less than 2 miles from where I grew up, neither of us had been to the ground before, well not since it became a stadium.
The match this Saturday was against Wolverhampton Casuals and, with games running out, it was quite an important afternoon for both sides. Although the league title was decided last week, with Haughmond taking the honour, Cassies still had the opportunity to turn their current fourth spot into third or even second.
Town, seventeenth on 30 points, were just two places above the drop zone but had played two extra games to Wellington Amateurs who currently sat second from bottom. Just to spice things up a little, the other side in the relegation battle is Dudley Sports, one place and one point below Town. A one further twist, next week sees the Dudley derby, Town at home to Sports. It's all kicking off in Brierley Bonk!
The sides made their way onto the pitch on the hottest day of the year so far. Bright blue skies and blazing sun. More akin to cricket weather than football.
It was Cassies who started the brighter, as you would expect for a team near the top. The Robins had clearly been told to keep it tight to start with, especially as they had lost the reverse fixture 7-0 earlier in the season. Playing one up front and having top scorer Shaun Devonport sitting quite deep, the plan looked to be to frustrate Casuals. It appeared to be working quite well too. Dudley were certainly no threat themselves, but they kept Cassies at bay with very few scares. However, they were broken down just before the twenty minute mark when a Casuals move down their right ended with a low cross giving Liam Hughes a simple tap-in to put the away aide in front. 0-1.
Dudley now had to open up a little and, in doing so, suddenly looked to be a better side. Two minutes after going behind they mounted their first major offence on the Cassies goal with the final shot clipping the side netting. It was now Dudley who were on the front foot most of the time. On 32 minutes they got their rewards for their adventurous play. Cameron broke loose on the right and drilled a low cross along the six yard line which was met my Connor Rich. 1-1.
Six minutes later the turn around was complete. Devonport ran onto a through ball amidst vociferous offside calls from Cassies. The top scorer tried to round the keeper but was foiled at the first attempt. However, he made no mistake with his second effort, drilling the ball home to make it 2-1.
HT Dudley Town 2 Wolverhampton Casuals 1. Town were under the cosh for the first half of the game but then looked like a team transformed for the remainder and just about deserved their lead.
Similar to the first twenty minutes of the game, it was all Cassies now. Dudley, with Devenport pushed further up the field, were struggling to get the ball to their front men and finding their back-line under increasing pressure.
Sure enough, with 63 minutes gone, former Wolves youngster Kevin Nickle, broke the home offside trap and finished very neatly off the far post to put his side back in front. 2-3.
Two minutes later Cassies should have made it four but, with two players almost getting in each others way, captain Ian Boswell somehow managed to hit the post from eight yards with an open goal glaring.
On 73 minutes Boswell was almost made to pay for his profligacy. Only a fine save from Vitor Pinheiro, tipping a powerful header onto the bar and out for a corner, kept Cassies in front. This was to be Dudley's last chance to get back into the game though.
Three minutes later Boswell made up for his miss by smashing an unstoppable drive from 25 yards, which left Horton stranded as it flew into the net. 2-4.
Then, to round things off in the 90th minutes, Hughes was given, and took, the opportunity to get his hat-trick. 2-5.
FT Dudley Town 2 Wolverhampton Casuals 5. Town looked good for 20 minutes in the first half but Cassies showed their superiority in the second half and Dudley were never really in the game after half-time.
Cassies remain fourth after Malvern also won, but they do have a game in hand. Dudley Sports drew 2-2 with Shifnal and leapfrog Town on goal difference ahead of the derby game. However, with Wellington Amateurs losing 4-0 at home to Bewdley, the Dudley sides have a reasonably comfortable seven point gap between themselves and the drop zone.
Dudley Town - @dudleytownfc
Wolverhampton Casuals - @cassiesbanter