Time to get in some live football before Lockdown 2 takes effect. With that in mind, I headed South on the A34, destination Alton Hampshire, former home of Jane Austen and current home of Wessex Division One side, Alton FC who were scheduled to take on Ringwood Town in a league game.
This was my first visit to Anstey Park which has been the home of Alton, originally as Alton Town, since 2015. The ground was refurbished when they moved in, including the laying of an artificial surface, and then again in 2017 when a new stand was opened. It is situated on the North-Eastern edge of the town, adjacent to the rugby club. There is a large car park right outside the main entrance to the ground, so barring a very large attendance, here should not be any need for a long walk. Entrance is through a single turnstile which leads in between the clubhouse and the main stand. Directly opposite this is a covered and raised standing area which straddles the halfway line and covers approximately a third of the length of the pitch. There is also a piece of uncovered terracing on the far side of the ground which looks to be much older than the stands or the pitch, presumably a leftover piece of history? Generally, I tend to find new or refurbished stadiums a little sterile at times. However, the club has added club badges, flags and banners around the enclosure which add to the atmosphere of Anstey Park. A good touch which gives the place a little more character.
The sides came into the game on very differing runs of form. Alton, sitting in third spot, had won their lats three in the league and were unbeaten since a 5-1 defeat at Laverstock & Ford back in September. Ringwood were in 14th spot on the back of 4 consecutive league defeats in which they had conceded 18 goals. They had, however, managed a 5-1 win at Romsey in the FA Vase in the middle of this run. Last season they only met twice, a 3-0 away for Alton. In the last full season honours were shared with Ringwood winning 3-2 at home and Alton winning this corresponding fixture 2-0 with two goals inside the first 22 minutes.
As you would expect given the relative form and league positions, it was the home side who settled into their rhythm first and it didn't take them too long to convert that into a goal. On 8 minutes Liam Knight, who would be a constant threat all night, used his pace and skill to breeze past his marker on the left. His low, hard, driven cross was met by George Bowerman and it was 1-0 to Alton.
Alton continued to be the better side in terms of possession but despite the early goal the expected onslaught never materialised. Their build up play was neat, tidy and sharp but they didn't manage to seriously test Liam Harris in the Ringwood goal.
Then on 34 minutes, as often happens in games like this, completely out of the blue, Ringwood grabbed an equaliser. It was a bustling run from midfield that set the goal up. Greene did well to block the initial effort but Shaun Prentice was on hand to snap up the rebound. 1-1
HT Alton 1 Ringwood Town 1. Alton were well in control of the game without really threatening to run riot. Then, out of the blue, Ringwood levelled it up. After the equaliser the game was very open and end to end stuff.
The second half started in a very similar manner to the first. The only slight difference was that it took the home side a couple of extra minutes to score. This time it was a corner from the left but. once again, it was George Bowerman who applied the final touch, getting in front of his marker to nod the ball home. 2-1
The response from Ringwood was pretty good this time. They were certainly posing more of a threat than they did in the first half. Sam Brown went on a couple of jinking runs but could not find an end product. They were finally undone when, once again, Liam Knight went on a run down the left. His cross was met by Bowerman who need little persuasion to complete his hat-trick. 3-2
All three Alton goals came from their left-hand side where Knight had proved a real handful to Ringwood's right-back Luke Carter. To be fair to the defender, despite it being apparent early on that Alton were using their left side as their out ball, he never really got the cover he needed from his team-mates.
Ringwood continued to plug away and did manage to get a very late consolation goal in the 90th minute through Adam Riley to make it 3-2, but it was all too little, too late.
FT Alton 3 Ringwood Town 2. The win leaves Alton in third spot but they have two games in hand on leaders Laverstock & Ford who are seven points better off.
Alton: Greene, Phillips, M.Graham, Dryden, Moore, O.Graham, Fowler, Black, Sanderson, Bowerman, Knight. Subs: Hunter, Covey, Wright, Benham, Hardcastle
Ringwood Town: Harris, Carter, Evans, C.Harrison, Horton, Osman(c), Taylor, F.Harrison, Hamm, Prentice, Brown. Subs: Cole, Petty, Porterfield, Williams, Riley
Ground Number: 250