Heading out to a non-league game with my father on Boxing Day has become something of a tradition in recent years and, now that the Number 9 Derby has been moved away from December 26th, we have started to look at games closer to home. Last year we took in the Aylesbury Derby at The ASM Stadium and this year we decided to head over to North Leigh for their Southern League West game with Evesham United. There were a number of local games to choose between but, in the end, I swung towards Eynsham Park because I hadn't been for some time, never during daylight, and my dad had never visited at all.
My choice was swayed by the fact that I think Eynsham Park is one of the must see non-league grounds. The approach to the stadium, down a muddy track that appears to lead nowhere opens up to reveal a football stadium seemingly deposited in a woodland clearing with the unique sight of Eynsham Hall looming up btween the trees at the far end of the ground. The ground itself also offers plenty of character. At the car park end you have all of the facilities. A small clubhouse, a snack bar and a terrace, complete with protective netting and fencing, inches behind the goal. Looking down the, fairly considerable, slope towards Eynsham Hall, you have a covered seating area to the right and the dugouts to the left.
After picking up a couple of teas from the snack bar - staffed by a very jovial lady - we headed over to the covered seats for the first half. As the rain, which started as we entered the ground, had started to get heavier, cover was definitely required.
Coming into the game, Evesham were looking to regain their early season form which had seen them near the top of the table at one point. After a little slump, they had beaten Larkhall 2-0 at the weekend and were poised just four points out of the play-off spots. North Leigh, who had narrowly been beaten 1-0 at Bristol Manor Farm on Saturday, were a further eight points back, slightly closer to the bottom of the table than they probably would want to be. In August, at Jubilee Park, Evesham had recovered from an early setback to win the reverse fixture 3-2.
However, just before the half-hour mark Evesham managed to get their noses in front when a very inviting cross was swung over from their left-flank. On the end of it was Robins striker Lewis Powell who headed back across the keeper and into the net from six yards out. 0-1.
The remainder of the first-half followed the same pattern as the first 28 minutes. Both sides battled hard but didn't make too many clear cut chances.
HT North Leigh 0 Evesham United 1. Not that much between the teams in the first half. The main difference being the quality of the cross for the goal.
Evesham themselves were not just sitting back on their one goal lead and looked dangerous when the did break forward. They proved this point in the 67th minute when goalscorer Powell turned provider, swinging in another telling cross which was headed home by Matt Liddiard. 0-2.
North Leigh now had a mountain to climb which could have got a lot worse two minutes later when Archie Haskayne tried his luck from outside the box. Fortunately for the home side, Manny Agboola was equal to the effort, throwing himself to his right and turning the ball away.
Just after the hour North Leigh fashioned what looked, from the opposite end, like their best chance of the day. However, with the goal beckoning, George Seacole couldn't take the opportunity and with that miss, the game was just about sewn up for Evesham.
Great credit to Seacole though who, in response to a reply to my tweet about his miss responded that it couldn't have been him because he was tucked up in the centre-half's pocket at the time. Good to see that a sense of humour was retained even in defeat.
FT North Leigh 0 Evesham United 2. All in all there wan't too much to choose between the sides in the entire game. Evesham, in my opinion, managed the game slightly better. Maybe a little more experience showing? They also produced the two best crosses of the match, both finished with very good headers.
The result sees Evesham edge slightly closer to the play-off places whilst North Leigh stay in fourteenth spot, although I don't think they need worry too much about getting sucked into a relegation dogfight.
North Leigh: Agboola, Lymn, Keightley, Thomas, Wellon, Paddock (c), Mattock, Sheehan, Seacole, Lawrence, Hopkins. Subs: Marshall, Grabe, James, McGlynn, Carroll
Evesham United: Sawyer, Dovey (c), Bennett, Rhodes, Turley, Liddiard, Bryan, Haskayne, Powell, Mann, Binns. Subs: Corrick, Williams, Brown, Hancock
Ground Number: Not a new ground