I don't do that many Saturday games but, as today was Non-League Day, arrangements had been made for me to attend a game. A happy coincidence was that my daughter was due to go to a friends birthday party in the afternoon, so I had a few hours free anyway. Happy Birthday Matilda!!!
In the lead up to Non-League Day I had tweeted which game I was going to attend, my chosen venue being Hithercroft, home of Hellenic Division One East side Wallingford Town, who were scheduled to take on Premier League Ascot United in the Challenge Cup. My tweet was met with a response from the Wallingford Town Twitter account inviting me to pop into the Boardroom to say hello before the game. Knowing that Phil Annets, or @FACupFactFile as he is otherwise known, was associated with Wallingford, I guessed that this invite may have had something to do with him.
Having never been to Hithercroft before and having accepted the offer to drop in to the boardroom, I set off quite early and, after getting stuck behind a slow moving lorry on the A4074, I was glad I had.
Wallingford's ground is part of a multi-sport complex on the outskirts of the ground. A complex that, I am pleased to say, appears to be well used by the local community because, despite getting there at least half an hour before kick-off, the parking was completely full due to the rugby and hockey matches also taking place. It's quite easy to find a spot outside the complex, so it's no real hardship to walk a few extra yards to the ground and it's heartening to see so many people taking part in organised sports events. I wish I had had my camera ready when I approached the entrance to the ground and was faced with a wonderful scene that typified non-league football. No turnstile, just a someone sitting next to a small table, wearing a Wallingford Town scarf, collecting the entrance fee and handing out the complimentary programme. I was already won over by this ground and I hadn't even got in yet. We exchanged pleasantries as I handed over my cash and took the proferred programme because that's what happens in non-league football. It didn't matter if I was supporting Wallingford, Ascot or just there to watch a game of football. I was there and my attendance was appreciated.
Preaching over and, slipping the soapbox back into the cupboard, time to get back to today's game. New ground and proximity to home apart, I had chosen this game because I thought it had the look of an interesting contect. Wallingford, newly promoted into Step 6 and more than holding their own so far, against Ascot United, currently struggling near the foot of the Hellenic Premier but showing signs of picking up in recent games. I could see it being a tight and competitive contest.
For the first ten minutes of the game the one step difference between the sides was completely invisible. In fact, if anything, it was Wallingford who were started the better. Maybe Ascot needed a little time to find their feet because they suddenly began to step their game up and, after 11 minutes came very close to opening the scoring. Mo Davies actually got the ball in the home net but was pulled back by the assistant's flag. Two minutes later the same player broke into the Wallingford box again. this time his angled drive clipped the outside of the post before going out for a goal kick.
The home side responded with some neat passing movements of their own and were always keen to move the ball around on the ground but couldn't find that final ball to set their forwards free.
Ascot once again came close to taking the lead on the half hour mark when Regragui picked the ball up 25 yards out, took aim, and unleashed a drive which beat Simon Matthews in the Wally goal before clipping the bar on it's way out for a goal kick.
HT Wallingford Town 0 Ascot United 0. Wally knocking it about nicely at times but have ridden their luck against an all-round sharper looking Yellamen side.
As we approached full-time it was becoming apparent that it would take something quite special to decide this game. Enter, stage right, James Goodey. The Ascot right-winger picked up the ball out wide, cut inside and unleashed a drive, from outside the box, that flew past Matthews and nestled in the far corner of his net. 0-1 on 87 minutes.
There was little time for Wallngford to respond and, when they tried, they were hit by the classic counter-punch deep into injury time. A defence splitting pass set Mo Davies clear and he finished clinically to make it 0-2.
FT Wallingford Town 0 Ascot United 2.
In the end, for me, 0-2 was quite a harsh result on Wallingford. Ascot deserved their win on the number of chances created alone. However, Wally battled hard and, throughout the game, continued to play their football. On this showing they will have no problem maintaining their Division One status and, on the other hand, Ascot should rise away from the foot of the Premier League. They are too good a side to be in a relegation battle.
Ground No. 139
Programme: Included in price