Hampshire is starting to feel like a second home this season. Having already visited Whitchurch United and Andover New Street, I spent last weekend camping in the New Forest and now, here I was, back in the county for the FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay between Alresford Town and Wimborne Town.
The two sides had fought out a 1-1 draw in Dorset on Saturday. Wimborne took an early lead but Alresford pegged them back with five minutes to go and, deservedly I'm told, got their chance back in Hampshire. so, despite the fact that it is a long midweek journey, the lure of the FA Cup, under lights, and the possibility of a giant-killing drew me back South again.
First thing to say is that Alresford is a very pleasant place to visit on a sultry summer's evening. The main drag through the town is brightly coloured, full of individual (not chain) shops and with a sprinkling of very tempting looking pubs. The overwhelming feeling about the town is that it is clean. Not just tidy, but really sparkling clean. I would also recommend the fish finger (actually fish goujon) sandwich in the Swan Hotel. A very nice pre-match meal. Alresford Town play their games at Arlebury Park, just a short walk from the town centre. As well as the football pitch(es) there are also tennis courts and a recreation centre on the site. There is parking at the stadium but, if it fills up as it did this evening, it is possible to park in town and walk with ease. There is also an overflow car park but, be warned, this is locked after a certain time. More of this to follow later.
All of the facilities at Arlebury Park are on the car park side of the ground, including the dugouts which are between the covered seating area and the clubhouse which is a two storey affair including a balcony which looks out over the stadium. The opposite side of the ground is open (there is another football pitch beyond the main playing area) and, as such, spectators can only access three sides of the ground. Trees behind both goals give the setting a rural feel.
Dapper Dan then took his place with the rest of the Wimborne Massive, and their drum, behind the Alresford goal.
The first 10 minutes of the game saw the teams feeling their way into the match and testing each other out. Neither keeper was forced to make a save in this period but the tone for the first half was set. Wimborne trying to play their way up the field, Alresford keeping it tight and looking to break when they could. There was very little evidence of the gap in pyramid levels between the sides except for a slightly crisper passing style from the Dorset Magpies.
It was Wimborne who fashioned the first real chances. First of all a deflected effort from inside the box was tipped around the post by Kempson in the home goal. Then, in the 12th minute, a speculative long-range effort from Wimborne was again turned away by the keeper.
The first half continued to follow the same pattern. Wimborne having the majority of possession and looking quite assured on the ball but Alresford, working hard as a unit, closing them down well and not being threatened too much. Toby Holmes, up front for Wimborne, was working the line well but his runs, in general, were being tracked well by the Alresford back-line.
Late in the half Alresford's tactics almost paid dividends. Inviting Wimborne on to them they then hit on the break, freeing Ball for a run on goal only for Wimborne captain Steve Arnold to make a fine challenge to block the shot. A second Alresford chance, on the stroke of half-time, was deflected wide for a corner and that was it.
The sides went in level at 0-0. Wimborne had, without doubt, controlled the first half but it was still anyone's game.
Another town crier announcement preceded the second half as did a small sprinkling of rain on what was still a very warm evening.
The home side were out very early and were clearly 'up for it'. There was a noticeable change in their tempo at the start of the second half. They had clearly been to told to try to get onto the front foot and have a go at Wimborne. The Massive, who had changed ends at half-time, were still regaling us with their 'tunes' as the teams set about each other. One chant in particular made me smile. A classic reference to the rural nature of Dorset, 'We've got no motorways' rang out across Arlebury Park.
Once more, neither keeper was stretched but, unlike the first half, possession was now very much 50-50, if not slightly in favour of the home side. It was turning into a very intriguing cup tie but did have extra-time written all over it. With a 75 mile trip in front of me, I even sent a text home before the half-way mark of the second half telling my wife I was going to be late.
There was some very late drama two minutes into injury time. A looped cross into the Alresford area was contested by the home keeper and a Wimborne striker. The ball ended in the back of the net but the referee had already flagged for a foul on the keeper. To be fair, there was very little protest from the Wimborne players and it is fairly standard for officials to give the benefit to the goalie in these situations.
So, after 90 minutes the teams were still tied at 0-0.
Maybe they channelled their illustrious former resident because, with less than three minutes on the extra-time clock, Alresford made the breakthrough. A long ball forward looked to have no real threat but, when the attempted header back to the keeper fell a little
short, nippy substitute Mo Nyang was on it like a shot. O'Flaherty in the Wimborne goal managed to block the Alresford forward but, when the ball fell loose, Geoff Dunn was on hand to roll the ball into the empty net.
Cue bedlam on the home bench with Richard Luffman sprinting down the pitch to join in the goal celebrations.
Wimborne tried to up their game in response to going a goal down but the home team were now buoyed by their lead and were working as hard as ever to close the game down. Before we go to half-time in extra-time there was still time for a heated dugout discussion following a challenge that left a home player down. Needless to say the home bench were not too happy and the away bench were quite keen to respond. The assistant soon calmed the situation though and it ended in smiles from both sides as far as I could see.
In the second period of extra-time, Wimborne certainly tried their hardest to get back on level terms but, once again, they were matched by a very hard-working home side. Sam Burt, in the centre of the Alresford defence, was especially outstanding in my opinion, marshalling the back-line and reading the game very well.
Unsurprisingly, as the match drew on, the home side began to drop a little deeper and Wimborne began to push more people up. With five minutes left, following a Wimborne corner and a bit of pinball the ball fell to Kellaway who smashed a drive against the bar and out for a goal kick.
Time was against the away side and, to much cheering from the home support, the referee drew the game to a close.
For the second season running Wimborne had gone out to Wessex League opposition, after losing to Blackfield & Langley last year.Maybe it was the influence of the Old Etonian although it has to be said that Wimborne can match Alresford in the former resident Top Trumps stakes. They can boast non-other than Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web without which I would not be writing this blog.
For some the drama did not end at the final whistle. It appears that the overflow car park at the local school, to which some people were directed by stewards, had been locked at some point (presumably by the local council, not the club). Calls to the emergency number did not help and a local hotel had to be booked. Around half a dozen cars were left stranded overnight. It must be stressed that this was not the fault of Alresford Town but something to be aware of for any visiting fans in the future.
Best of luck to both teams for the rest of the season. Wimborne are riding high in the Southern League South & West whilst Alresford have an FA Cup tie with Fareham to look forward to.
Alresford Town - @alresfordtown
Wimborne Town @wimbornetownfc