Saturday gave me a chance to drop in at a ground that has been on my list for a couple of years now. I saw Highgate United lift the Midland League Division One title at Coverntry Copsewood two seasons ago and, since then, I have been looking for an opportunity to visit The Coppice. So, after a morning visiting my parents, B90 was a perfecting stopping off point on my way back to Oxfordshire.
The ground is quite interesting in that the club house and all facilities are separate from the actual stadium. From the ample parking you can see the clubhouse to your right. Right in front of the facilities is a junior pitch which is directly behind the main stand at The Coppice, The Tony Allden Stand, a covered area that runs the full length of the pitch. Entry is through a single gate which brings you into the stadium alongside the aforementioned main stand. Directly opposite is the only other structure, an interesting combination of dugouts and what I presume is a press/announcer box.
Behind this structure is an open area which may well also be used as a junior pitch at times. This was in the process of being mowed, very thoroughly, by the Highgate groundsman on his quite large sit-on mower. The reason I mention this is that Patrick (just the name I gave Mr Mower in my head) became a prominent feature of the afternoon.
Just on the quarter hour mark came the first incident that had a bearing on the game. Lye midfielder Simon Williams lunged into a challenge on Highgate captain Aaron Brown, going straight through the back of the Gate player, a clear foul. The referee blew for the free-kick but, whilst the players were down in a tangle, Brown kicked out at Williams. Fortunately for the home side, neither the referee or the assistant was well placed to see the kick and only two yellows were handed out. Saying that, if they saw nothing, I wonder why Brown received a yellow at all. Highgate, in my eyes, were quite lucky to still have eleven on the pitch.
Of course, by the rules of football, after getting lucky one minute, Brown then popped up to open the scoring for Highgate. A long throw-in from the right-hand side of the box found Brown rising, unmarked, in the Lye box to power a header past Charlie Price. 18 minutes on the clock. 1-0 to Highgate.
Lye tried to hit back immediately and only a brilliant reaction save from Behan prevented Pearlman from heading them level.
The game had opened up more now and Lye wree beginning to look more dangerous, with former Glassboy Ben Billingham pulling the strings for them in an advanced midfield role.
Meanwhile behind the dugouts, Patrick was mowing away merrily, getting closer and closer to the row of spectators watching the game. Thankfully the referee blew for half-time just in time to save all of our ankles a severe trimming.
HT Highgate United 1 Lye Town 0. The home side just about deserved to be in front at the break but Lye were far from out of the game.
After a cup of tea and a visit from the local ice-cream van (I resisted) we all headed back into the ground for the second-half. Patrick was still hard at it. Never has a patch of grass been so well mowed. Actually, in his defence, I have to say that the Coppice pitch looked to be in very good condition, so hat's off to Patrick (I really should find out this guy's name), he's clearly a dedicated groundsman.
Seven minutes into the second half came the second game-changing event. With Highgate looking to make a quick break, Simon Williams was forced into a rash challenge which earned him second yellow card.
With the away side down to 10 men everyone expected Gate to kick on and sew the game up. However, after a scrappy 10 minutes after the red card, it was actually Lye who started to play the better football and look the more dangerous.
By this time, Patrick had finally won his battle with the grass on the far side and had turned his attention to a patch behind the Lye Town goal. I swear that, at one point, he was trying to do donuts with a lawnmower.
Gate were struggling to take any kind of advantage from the extra man and, more and more, Lye were looking dangerous at the other end.
With 11 minutes left to go, Ben Billingham picked up the ball 25 yards out, steadied himself and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the top left-hand corner of Behan's net to make it 1-1. At the time I was chatting to a Birmingham City supporter behind the opposite goal and we both had a great view of the shot. It was in the second it left Billingham's boot.
There was still time for the referee to even up the numbers when he produced a second-yellow for Brown in the 88th minute.
FT Highgate United 1 Lye Town 1. Probably a fair reflection over the 90 minutes. All in all a highly competitive game between two evenly matched sides and an entertaining first visit to The Coppice.
Highgate United: Behan, English, Pulisciano, Bryan, Turner, Brown(c), Mooney, Edwards, Adaggio, Richards, Wilcock Subs: King, Wright, Cosgrave, Akembe, Sharp
Lye Town: Price, Tye, Mills, Meacham, Flowers, Pearlman, Till, Shilvock, Collins, Billingham(c), Williams. Subs: Paskin, Gennard, Love, Evitts, Downes
Ground No. 130