It's been five years since I last visited Alfredian Park to watch a game, a Southern League South & West clash with AFC Totton. However, I was actually back at the ground earlier this season coaching one of our U8 squads in a football festival. Not too much seems to have changed since my last watching visit. To be fair, not much needs to change. Alfredian Park is a really nicely laid out stadium. Plenty of covered seating and standing along one side of the pitch, a large and well appointed clubhouse and sufficient parking around the perimeter of the ground to accommodate most crowds at this level. Thanks to their stadium announcer who was more than happy to let me take a quick photo of the team sheets before he read them out.
This game pitched leaders Wantage Town against third-placed Brackley Town Saints.
Before kick-off, four teams could still mathematically take the Hellenic League title and these two sides had the clearest view of what was required. Wantage knew that a win in this game would give them the championship. Saints knew that anything other than a win for them would rule them out. Meanwhile, both Brimscombe & Thrupp and Bishop's Cleeve were waiting in the wings should Wantage slip up.
Recent games involving the top four had provided some very interesting results that had had a dramatic effect on the run in. In their last league outing Brackley Town Saints had defeated Brimscombe & Thrupp 2-1, greatly increasing their own and Wantage's chances of taking the title. Windsor, who could yet have a big say in the final outcome (see below) also disposed of Bishop's Cleeve by the same score. This dented The Mitres chances, but still left them with a little hope, depending upon the result of this game.
In the reverse fixture to this game, played in March, Wantage scored an added-time winner, despite having Ryan Markham sent-off, to win 3-2. However, in a Floodlit Cup tie a few weeks ago, Saints came back from a goal down at Alfredian Park, to win 2-1.
Saints absolutely flew out of the traps in this game, catching Wantage cold with a flurry of early attacks. In the very first minute James Hammond got in behind the Fred's defence, beat Meare with his shot but saw the ball strike the post and rebound away to safety.
It took Wantage a few minutes, but they showed their class by responding well to the onslaught, steady themselves and play their way into the game. So much so, in fact, that they almost grabbed the lead themselves after 20 minutes. A rushed clearance by Saints keeper Alastair Worby, was collected in midfield and fires straight back over the stoppers head. Luckily for Brackley Joe Ward had spotted the danger and was on hand to head the ball clear of the unguarded net.
Then, just after the half-hour mark came a controversial moment. Another Wantage attack led to striker Steve Robertson being played in behind the last Saints defender. As he went to shoot he appeared to be clipped by Ward as he strove to get a block in. The Wantage players appealed for the penalty. The locals in the crowd appealed for the penalty. The referee waved play on. I have to say that from my position it did look like there was contact. In my eyes Saints were lucky not to concede the spot-kick and possibly go down to 10-men.
Both sides worked hard for the remainder of the half but chances were certainly at a premium, although Brackley probably edged the final 10 minutes of the forty-five. The only thing that really increased was the frequency with which the referee blew for offences which led to the game being somewhat disjointed, frustrating players on both sides (but not as much as the locals in the main stand).
HT Wantage Town 0 Brackley Town Saints 0. Not too many clear cut chances in this game. Saints very unlucky in the opening minutes, Wantage should have had a penalty. The referee seems to want to clamp down heavily on dissent, a fact that the home players seem to have completely missed with Cox, Davoile and Robertson all going in the book.
With just over 20 minutes remaining the home side seemed to turn it up a notch or two, noticeably pushing Saints back into their own half. Twice they launched raids that had Worby worried with one drive, from Robertson, flashing across his goal and just wide of the far post. However, it was Brackley who needed to get a goal the most and, on 77 minutes, they came as close as they had since the first minute when Knight turned sharply in the box and fired a shot narrowly wide of Meare's left-hand post. Eight minutes later the same player, raiding down the left, put in a cross which took a slight deflection and glanced off the top of Meare's bar before going to safety.
Back up the other end, Wantage forced a corner on the right which was played into a very dangerous area only for Worby to make a good reflex stop.
Finally, the referee blew again and it was all over. Saints' title challenge was effectively over for another season but Wantage live to fight another day.
FT Wantage Town 0 Brackley Town Saints 0. A hard fought battle between two very good sides. In the end a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game. The result leaves the table looking like this
Ardley United v Bishop's Cleeve
Brimscombe & Thrupp v Abingdon United
Bishop's Cleeve v Shrivenham
Windsor v Wantage Town
So, the permutations are as follows:
A Wantage win in their final game will give them the title regardless of other results. Although, with both Bishop's Cleeve and Brimscombe & Thrupp playing before them over the weekend, if both drop points, Wantage would be champions before they kick off on Monday.
Should Wantage only manage a draw then the door is ajar to both Brimscombe & Thrupp and Bishop's Cleeve (assuming that Cleeve win their game in hand at Ardley). However, even if both were to win their remaining games, they woudl only be level on points. Brimscombe woudl need to turn around a 15 goal difference whilst Cleeve would need to overturn 9 goal deficit.
If Wantage were to lose their final game then a Brimscombe & Thrupp victory would be enough to take the title unless Bishop's Cleeve were to win both of their games too. In that case it would again come down to goal difference, in which Cleeve currently have a 6 goal advantage.
Wantage Town: Meare, Comer, Flanagan, Markham, Jackson (c), Cox, Cook, Davoile, Robertson, Dunmall, Thorne. Subs: Wright, Mattimore, Patterson, Sadler, Cheetham
Brackley Town Saints: Worby, Middleton (c), Brock, Baldwin, Goddard, Ward, G. Ball, Watts, Knight, Hammond, Killie. Subs: Gidfey, S.Ball, Whitmore, Haley, Shaw
Ground Number: Re-Visit