Coton Green have played at New Mill Lane since 1993. The ground, not more than half a mile away from Drayton Manor Park, features two full size pitches and a small sided pitch and the club provides football for kids from U7 upwards through to the senior team.
Access to the stadium is via New Mill Lane which turns into a single track road. It opens up into a large car park situated behind one of the goals. Entrance to the ground is directly off the car park where two cheerful attendants take your entrance money and, on this occasion, sell the printed programme. it was only afterwards that I discovered this was the first time they had provided a printed version, having been digital only beforehand. This was in response to requests, largely from groundhoppers. Hats off to the club for making that effort. It's also a pretty good programme, well presented with a couple of articles as well as stats.
There are two covered spectator areas, a standing area on the entrance side of the ground, The Eddie Eccles Stand, and on the opposite side, towards the car park end The Neil Cartwright Stand which provides seating. The clubhouse building, the Scott and Henderson Suite, also houses the players and officials area behind the bar area. The bar area is very comfortable and has a large screen TV at one end. The club also posts the team line-ups on a noticeboard just outside the club entrance, something I am always grateful for because it saves me trying to hunt down an official with the team sheets.
The sides came into the game at opposite ends of the league table but also having had contrasting fortunes at the weekend. Whilst Heath Hayes were picking up their first win of the season with a 2-0 success at Wednesfield, Coton Green went down 1-0 at home to Ashby Ivanhoe. All of that meant that Heath Hayes had lifted themselves off the foot of table, a point above Cradley Town. Coton Green sat in sixth spot outside the play-off places on goal difference.
This is the first season that the teams have been in the same division. Coton Green have worked their way up through the Midland Combination before it merged with the Alliance to form the Midland League in 2014, at which pointed they were founder members of Division 2. Last season's second place finish was enough to earn them a shot at Step 6 for the first time. Heath Hayes, meanwhile, came through the Staffordshire Senior League and the various Midland Leagues before being placed in the Premier League when the new league was formed in 2014. They immediately got relegated and have stayed in Division One ever since. So, although this is the first league meeting between the teams, they have met in the FA Vase back in the 2017-18 competition. Heath Hayes won the day that afternoon, returning home with a 5-2 win courtesy of goals from Jake Humphries(2), Regan Smith(2) and James McGrady. Josh Sherrington scored both for Coton Green.
Coton Green, in all red, were kicking up the slight slope towards the car park end in the first half. They started well, passing the ball around nicely and quickly getting into their stride. After only 7 minutes they took the lead. A good move involving a number of passes eventually led to Danico Johnson getting free on the left. His deep cross was met on the volley by Kyle Hayden who directed his effort back the way it had come and into the corner of the net. A lovely move to make it 1-0 and the winger's first goal for the club.
At this stage in the game the home side looked well on top and more goals were expected. Heath Hayes were struggling to make inroads against the home defence and, when they did manage to get into the last third, were not troubling Conal Dowling in the home goal. The biggest surprise was that the opening goal did not lead to more. in fact there was not another major threat to the visitor's goal until just past the half hour mark. Goal-scorer Hayden turned potential provider, whipping in a a lovely cross that evaded a few people before the stooping Lewis Hayden got his head to it, sending the ball flashing just wide of the post.
Coton continued to have the lion's share of possession but could not find a way to add to their early goal.
HT Coton Green 1 Heath Hayes 0. Not quite one-way traffic but the home side were well on top. They started really well and were knocking the ball around with a lot of confidence, playing some really attractive football. The early goal looked like it may open the floodgates but a combination of stubbornness from the visitor's defence and an the inability of the home side to find that killer final pass meant that there was only one goal in it at the break. Heath Hayes would be relatively happy with that and no doubt feel they are still in the game. A second Coton Green goal could have killed the game off.
Six minutes into the second half Hayes created their best opportunity so far from a left-wing corner. A scramble ensued in the home penalty area with two or three Hayes players attempting strikes at goal, all of which were blocked before the home side managed to hack the ball clear of danger. Heath Hayes were stepping their efforts up and, just before the hour mark, newly introduced James May forced Dowling into a full-length save to push his drive away for a corner.
This was a very different game now. The visitor's were the ones playing good attacking football and Coton were being forced to defend and rely on the longer ball to try to get out of their own half. On 64 minutes Matthew Hardiman came even closer for the visitors when his slightly deflected effort beat Dowling but struck the bar before going to safety.
With just under twenty minutes to go Coton finally gave Heath Hayes a warning that they too could make chances in this half when, from a right-wing corner, captain Joe Smith saw his header blocked on the line. Five minutes later the ball was up the other end and the visitors were vociferously claiming a penalty after one of their players appeared to be clattered by the home keeper. The referee immediately waved play on but then whistled for an offside flag which, I think, went up after the play resumed from the potential penalty. From my vantage point, which I admit was further away than that of the official, it did look as if the Heath Hayes player had been caught but what do I know?
The visitors kept pushing and probing though and on 83 minutes were unlucky to hit the woodwork again, this time a Hugh Burrows effort coming back off the bar. However, Burrows' disappointment didn't last too long because two minutes later Nick Wellecomme persevered to win an aerial battle and his header dropped to Burrows who stabbed it past Dowling for a deserved equaliser. 1-1
You could see in the urgency in the Heath Hayes players at this point. Yes, they celebrated the goal but they were quickly back in their own half ready for the restart. The pendulum had completely swung and you could feel the late winner coming.
Sure enough, two minutes into added time Wellecomme latched onto a through ball and slid the ball past Dowling. 1-2
What a turnaround from the visitors and there was no way back for Coton at this point. Heath Hayes manged to win the ball back and play it into the corner to run the clock down.
FT Coton Green 1 Heath Hayes 2. Fully deserved from the visitors for their second half performance. Credit to the Coton Green Twitter feed for their tweet "The visitors good for their win after an impressive second half performance". It's good to see a team accept defeat in such a manner, especially given they were still 1-0 up after 85 minutes. Two wins on the bounce for Heath Hayes which doesn't lift them out of the drop zone but has put them within two points of 18th placed Haughmond. Coton Green drop to seventh after Paget Rangers 3-1 defeat of Chelmsley Town leapfrogged them into the play-off zone. At the weekend Heath Hayes travel to Ingles who are only now three points above them. Next up for Coton Green is a home Floodlit Cup tie against Rugby Borough next Tuesday.
Coton Green: Dowling, Ballantine, Smith(c), Noakes, Fox, Higginson, K.Hayden, Prince, Gardener, L.Hayden, Johnson. Subs: Payne, Henry, Wright, Shiels, Lloyd
Heath Hayes: Bills, Marshall, Hallam, Phillips(c), Brown, O'Docherty, Ryan, Burrows, Wellecomme, Williams, Hardiman. Subs: Burns, Pryor, Sheppard, May, Robinson
Ground Number: 330