Buckingham United play their home games at Lace Hill Sports and Community Centre just to the South of Buckingham town centre. This is a new facility that was built to serve the new Lace Hill housing community, alongside the local school. There is plenty of parking available at the centre and at the academy next door. The playing surface looked to be in pretty good condition and is surrounded by a low one bar fence and some advertising hoarding. There's no covered spectator areas but there are dugouts (removeable) set up on one side of the pitch. There are pretty good views over the surrounding Buckinghamshire countryside but that has the downside of making the ground a little exposed to the elements. Even on a lovely warm day like Thursday was, it got very chilly during the second half as the sun went down and with the wind blowing across the pitch. Overall though, it's a decent enough place to watch a game.
This was a big game at both ends of the table. Aston Clinton came into the game three points behind leaders Old Bradwell United but with a game in hand, this one, albeit with an inferior goal difference. A win would put them level on points at the top. United's needs were just as acute but for an entirely different reason. They approached the game fourth from bottom only six points off the bottom and just two ahead of second-bottom The 61 FC. The sides met just a couple of weeks back at Aston Clinton Park. Two goals from Cian Banert and one each from Ashley Clarke, Akintomide Jaiyeola, Ryan McDonald and Teddie Paul gave the hosts a resounding 6-0 victory.
Current form was also very much in favour of the visitors. United had slumped to an 8-0 defeat at Bovingdon on Easter Monday and despite beating Eynesbury United 4-3 in their last home game, had lost 9 of their last 10 in the league. Aston Clinton, in direct contrast, came into Thursday evening on the back of 14 consecutive wins. An outstanding run of form.
Aston Clinton, playing with a strong wind in their favour, started the livelier of the teams but, after 17 minutes, neither keeper had been forced into anything resembling a save. Aston were dominating possession but seemed a little hesitant. United were trying to combat their visitors with quick breaks but their front two, Numbers 9 & 10 (sorry, I don't have the United team sheet), seemed to find it very difficult to stay on side. Within the opening 10 minutes were were already approaching double figures and the assistant on that side was beginning to get arm ache.
After all of that early sparring and with the visitors holding sway, it was actually United who manged to get the first shot on target when their Number 8 was sent clean through by Number 2s through ball. He got a decent shot away on the run but the visitor's keeper Liam Smith was down well to make a comfortable save. A minute later, as the game sprang into life, Aston skipper Williams forced the home keeper into his first real action with a crisp shot that the keeper did well to turn away.
Just before the half hour mark the home side had the ball in the net. A break down the right from Number 9, this time managing to stay onside, saw him square across the six yard box to strike partner Number 10 who tapped in, but guess what? He was flagged offside.
The goal sparked some life into the visitors and they began to look more like a team challenging at the top of the table. On 35 minutes they forced the home defence into a hurried clearance, the ball being sliced high into the air and being blown back towards the penalty area by the gusty wind. The home keeper came and tried to punch clear but only succeeded in giving the ball to Aston captain Elias Williams on the edge of the area. he calmly stroked the ball back into an unguarded net. 0-2.
The visitors looked well in control at this point. However, United did show that they could do two things just before the break. Firstly their front two managed to stay onside, and secondly they showed they could pose a threat in front of goal. This time when the ball found their Number 9, all alone inside the box, he displayed both of these talents, staying onside and showing some composure to steady himself and slot the ball past Smith. 1-2.
HT Buckingham United 1 Aston Clinton 2. After playing the first half into the wind and conceding a lot of possession, only being one goal behind at the break is not a bad position for Buckingham. Could they make the conditions act in their favour in the second 45 minutes?
When it did restart the home side managed to undo the good from the late goal back within three minutes of the second half restarting. They completely switched off as Aston took a throw-in quickly. The ball was played into the home penalty area where Williams was lurking to stroke home his second of the game. 1-3
For a neutral that goal was probably the worst case scenario. Aston were now feeling comfortable and United had the look of a beaten team. The game fell into a period of inaction for the next 15 minutes or so. Just before the hour mark United did, however, manage to engineer a massive opportunity to breathe life into the game. This time it was Number 10 who got free on the right. His squared pass was just a little behind Number 9 who could only manage to put his effort high over the bar. That could have been the defining point of the half.
On 76 minutes Buckingham were made to pay further for their missed chance when Aston Clinton added a fourth goal. Williams this time turned provider, squaring for an unmarked Ryan McDonald to slot home amidst loud claims of offside from the home players and bench. The assistant kept his flag down this time though and the goal stood. 1-4.
That wasn't then end of the action however. Another contentious refereeing decision on 83 minutes was met by a remark from the United Number 4 who was sent to the sin bin for his comments. I couldn't hear them from where I was standing, but I know that the player and bench were less than happy. Frustration was high after they had been caught offside so many times in the game and just had not been able to get a foothold on the game.
Then on 87 minutes came another decision that would have angered the home team. Number 10 was put clean through and, somewhat unexpectedly, was onside. The keeper came off his line but as 10 pushed the ball past him, wiped out the striker. The referee immediately pointed to the spot as expected but, with the home side wanting a card, failed to even book the keeper. To be honest, it seemed to me that there was very little effort to play the ball and it was also a clear goal scoring opportunity. It had to be a red card. Of course, at that stage it wouldn't have made any difference to the result, but that shouldn't make any difference. To make matters even worse the reprieved keeper then saved the spot kick.
FT Buckingham United 1 Aston Clinton 4. In the end, not an unexpected result. However, it could easily have been very different. Aston Clinton started sluggishly and if the home forwards had been able to sty onside, especially in the first half, who knows what would have happened. I don't think I have seen quite so many offside calls against one team in a match before. Almost every ball forward was greeted with the assistant's flag being raised.
The remainder of the season looks as if it will continue to be very interesting at both ends of the Division Two table. This result leaves Aston Clinton level on points with Old Bradwell United and the two sides face each other next weekend (30th) at Aston's ground. The reverse fixture ended with Aston taking the points with a 1-0 win. Before that game both sides are in action this Saturday, Aston at fourth-placed MK College whilst OBU have a derby against New Bradwell St Peter. At the other end both Buckingham and second-bottom The 61FC have one game left. Guess what? They sides meet in Luton on the 30th with the hosts requiring a win to jump above United.
Buckingham United: Not available at time of publishing (will edit if I get the names)
Aston Clinton: 1.Smith, 3.Kiff, 6.T.Collins, 4.Harrison, 5.Simmonds, 14.Paul, 8.Wiliams(c), 16.M.Lavelle, 7.Banert, 20.McDonald, 11.Jaiyeola. Subs: 15.M.Collins, 17.Mitchell, 18.J.Lavelle, 19.Marshall
Ground Number: 316