significant implications on the Calor Premier promotion and playoff places.
My first outing was a return to Bulpit Lane Hungerford for the rearranged match against local (ish) rivals Chippenham Town. I was at the original game, a few weeks back, which had to be abandoned after the terrible injury to Chippenham's Rob Dean. I know that Rob has had a couple of operations and one can only wish him a speedy and full recovery.
After the way that the original game was abandoned, with an ambulance on the pitch, a fracas amongst the players and a red card shown, I wondered what sort of atmosphere this match would be played in. As I said in my original blog, I didn't think the injury was caused by a malicious tackle but several of the players were very upset with the incident at the time.
Once the match had kicked off it was quite obvious that there was no lingering ill feeling from either side. The game was full on, as you would expect from a derby, but there didn't appear to be any hint of scores to be settled.
Chippenham, for a team with nothing left to play for, certainly started the brighter and we're pushing Hungerford back despite playing up the slope. Maybe Hungerford were starting to feel the effects of their punishing schedule and we're looking a yard slower in midfield. The Chippenham forward line of Alan Griffin and former Torquay striker, Lee Phillips, we're giving the home defence plenty to think about with their bustling style. However, a point for the Crusaders would be enough to leapfrog
Stourbridge into the remaining layoff spot. Hungerford's chances were being limited to fairly long
range efforts which the away keeper was dealing with reasonably comfortably.
Then, on 40 minutes, Chippenham got their reward when Griffin received the ball with his back to goal, turned sharply, and fired past the home keeper. It was nothing less than Chippenham deserved and as the teams went off for half time, it was the home management team who had the most work to do.
Sure enough, Hungerford came out in the second half looking sharper and that extra yard quicker to the ball. Just as I was tweeting that Hungerford were starting to get on top, a defensive slip allowed a cross to be met by top scorer Mark Draycott and the sides were level. I was fully expecting Hungerford to go on to win at this point. However, Chippenham had other ideas and would not just roll over. The remainder of the game was an even affair with both sides looking to win it. A great advert for the league.
With a few minutes left the away side were reduced to 10 after Guthrie received a second yellow. In injury time the numbers were evened up when the home keeper handled outside the area, earning a red card for himself but saving his team from defeat. The resulting free kick was easily stopped by the stand-in keeper and that was it, the referee blew to end a thoroughly entertaining game. Local pride was retained by both sides and Hungerford had their point to go into the playoff spots. News came through that Poole had beaten Chesham to keep themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot too. So, going into Super Saturday (as I am sure Sky would call it if they ever bothered to look this far down the
pyramid), Hemel still lead the way and would be up if they bettered Chesham's result. Just a couple of
points separated St Albans, Cambridge City, Hungerford and Stourbridge, with Poole a couple more back, with three playoff spots to contest. Stourbridge travelled to Chesham, Hemel went or Hungerford and Poole were at home to Cambridge. St Albans had an easier game at struggling Banbury. By the
end of the day, the title had been settled, Poole were out of contention but nothing else had been resolved. Stourbridge surprised Chesham with a battling 1-0 away win, Hemel confirmed the title by beating Hungerford 4-0 and Cambridge ended Poole's resistance with another one goal away win, whilst St Albans smashed 5 past Banbury.
On to my next match of the bank holiday, Stourbridge at home to safe but struggling Banbury United. The Glassboys had comfortably seen off the Puritans 4-0 at the Spencer Stadium earlier in the year and were expected to gain a fairly easy victory. Meanwhile, two points behind, Hungerford were away at local rivals Chippenham, their third meeting in just over a month. Just to add to the occasion, champions Hemel, were hosting a local derby with second placed Chesham.
A bumper crowd of 670 turned out at the War Memorial Ground on a bright, sunny Black Country Bank Holiday Monday. I say bumper crown but this was dwarfed by the 1943 crammed into Vauxhall Road, Hemel.
Stourbridge did not start the game like a team that needed all three points. By their standards they
were sluggish and wasteful with their passes. Banbury, it has to be said, did not offer a lot in return and home nerves were eased somewhat when Leon Broadhurst glanced home a Geddes corner on 10 minutes.
However, the proverbial floodgates remained only slightly ajar and the home side continued to struggle to find any fluency. Finally, on 39 minutes Kayleden Brown fired home a second to effectively end the game as a contest. At half time, Stourbridge lead 2-0 and news came through that two late
first half goals saw Chippenham lead Hungerford by the same score at Hardenhuish. If it stayed the same the Glassboys were in the playoffs.
In the second half Stourbridge found more of their normal passing style and started to really take complete control of the game. Another Brown goal, one from Smikle and another from Ben Billingham made for a very comfortable 5-0 score line. This victory proved to be even more important when Hungerford staged a stunning comeback, scoring twice in the final 13 minutes to win 3-2.
So, it is all down to the final weekend. Cambridge City are already guaranteed a playoff spot along with Chesham. Then come St Albans on 84, Stourbridge on 83 and Hungerford on 81. Stourbridge travel to mid table Hitchin Town requiring a point to make the playoffs due to their vastly superior goal difference. Hungerford take on Bideford at home while St Albans travel to Frome Town. A Hungerford victory, a St Albans defeat and a three goal swing will see the Crusaders pip the Saints. Points for both St Albans and Stourbridge will end Hungerford's hopes regardless of their result.
BotP will be at Top Field, Hitchin on Saturday along with at least two coach loads of Glassboys. It promises to be a tense finale to a fantastic season in the Calor Premier.
I'm sticking with my prediction that Chesham, Cambridge, St Albans and Stourbridge will make up the playoff positions. However, I didn't see the amazing effort that Hungerford have put in coming. Regardless of what happens on Saturday they deserve enormous credit for the late run they have made, playing three games a week for the last month of the season.
Finally, congratulations to Hemel Hempstead Town. A thoroughly deserved league title with a +93 goal difference. They have been the best team in the league this season by far. Good luck to them in the Skrill South next season.
Final day twitter feeds:
Stourbridge - @sfcofficial
Hungerford - @hungerfordtown
St Albans - @stalbanscityfc
Frome Town -@frometownfc
All the action - @basepyramid