It had been almost nine years since I last visited Billing Road. On that occasion it had been totally unplanned. I had intended to go to Rothwell Corinthians but the weather put paid to that, so a last minute dash down the road at least gave me the opportunity of some football. This time things were different. I had decided well in advance that I was going to check out the unbeaten Spartan South Midlands pace-setters. I also saw that Northamptonshire Football Podcast (@NPTNFootball) was also going to be at the game. It was great to meet the NPTN guys before the match too. If you haven't checked out their Podcast, I suggest you do so. Especially the next edition which, I understand, will feature a discussion with a member of the ON Chenecks coaching staff. In light of what happened in this evening's game (you'll have to read the blog to find out), it will be well worth a listen.
Chenecks have played at the Old Northamptonians Sports Ground on Billing Road since 1960 when the Chenecks FC became ON Chenecks, becoming the football arm of the sports association. The football ground is part of a large sports complex that hosts rugby, cricket and football. There's a good-sized car park just off Billing Road in front of the two-storey main clubhouse building. The ground floor of this building houses the changing facilities whilst the top floor is the club bar which has a balcony from which there is a good view of the football pitch, which sits at the front of the sports ground, adjacent to Billing Road.
The programme, priced at one pound, has a glossy cover and is mainly black & white inside, although there are splashes of colour on the advert pages. The club has come up with a great idea to enable them to keep producing a programme whilst reducing their costs. They print a programme for each month, containing the information related to all home games for that month. For instance this edition, for October, covers home games with Rushden & Higham United, tonight's opponents Long Buckby, and next week's visitors Rothwell Corinthians. There's a brief history of the month's opponents as well as all of the usual tables and statistics you would expect. I've seen clubs issue programmes to cover a midweek and Saturday game before but never this idea of one programme per month. It seems like a very good compromise, and this one is certainly good value for money.
Chens came into the game in second place and one of only two unbeaten teams in the division, the other being table-toppers Wellingborough Whitworth. Chens sat three points behind The Flourmen with a game in hand and a better goal difference. Therefore, they knew that a win this evening would see them take over at the top.
Long Bucky sat in mid-table, 10th place. At the start of play they were nine pint adrift of their hosts and had played three more games. The sides had already met at Station Road back in August. Chens won that encounter 5-1 with goals from Lewis Irwin (2), Tom Caton, Tyrun Primus and Paul Johnston. Ethan Richardson replied for The Bucks.
With Long Buckby kicking towards the car park end in the first half, into the face of a gusty wind, the game got off to a sluggish start. It wasn't until the 12th minute that a genuine sniff at goal appeared for either side. When it did, it was a half-chance and fell to the hosts. A right-wing corner dropped invitingly to Ryan Coxhill but his shot, and the subsequent follow-up, were well blocked by the Bucks defence. However, three minutes later the home side did take the lead. Goalkeeper Bradley Lashley launched a huge, wind-assisted, kick which flew almost to the edge of the Buckby penalty area. Lewis Irwin was onto it in a flash, controlling the dropping ball perfectly before executing a precision lob on the run over the advancing John Meadows. A superb piece of skill and finish from the Chens striker. 1-0
That moment of equisite skill form Irwin was vry much the highlight of a very scrappy opening. Neither side seemed to be able to keep hold of the ball. Chens were happy to try to replicate their goal by puming the ball long. Long Buckby were also looking to play a more direct style. Both sides frequently turned over possession and neither were helped by a gusty wind.
Just past the half-hour mark Chens engineered another half-chance from a right-wing corner. Once again Coxhill got a trike away but, again, it was blocked well. A few minutes after that, Irwin latched onto a ball through the heart of the visitor's defence but was thwarted by a good block from Meadows, who was quick to react. Buckby would have been very aggrieved if it had gone in because the striker looked a good yard or so offside when the original through-ball was played. Almost immediately afterwards, Buckby put together their best move of the match so far, a sweeping raid up the left. Two perfect passes including a delightful through ball that split the home defence, so Jai Newell in on goal. His shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Lashley, low to his right.
As the half drew to a close, chances at both ends were becoming a little more frequent. Jamie Mitchell, lurking on the edge of the box, volleyed wide from a half-cleared corner and then, on the stroke of half-time, Buckby launched a raid up their right. A low cross found Jack Hilton but his first time effort was once again turned away by Lashley.
HT ON Chenecks 1 Long Buckby 0. Not the best half of football. There was more goalmouth action in the final 10 minutes than in the previous 35. A disjointed game with neither side able to find any real rhythm.
With the wind now in their favour, The Bucks were being tempted into letting fly from distance but consistently failing to worry Lashley. The second period was as scrappy as the first and once again became a case of long balls being mopped up and sent back the other way.
There were 71 minutes on the clock before the next decent opportunity transpired. It was once again Irwin who provided it, cutting in from the left and letting fly only for Meadows to equal his effort, getting himself right behind the shot and stopping it with some comfort.
There were 11 minutes left of normal time when, with most of the 68 in the crowd expecting the game to fizzle out at 1-0, it instead sprang into like. It began with a 50-50 challenge in midfield, a seemingly innocuous coming together which left the Buckby player on the floor and sparked complaints from a few team-mates. The referee stopped the game and, after a brief consultation with his assistant, issued a red card to Chens substitute Ashley Ogden. Unless I completely missed something, it was a harsh decision. Ogden clearly got the ball. Yes, it was strong challenge, but both players flew into it. Maybe he caught the Bucks player after the ball, but it was certainly ball first.
Despite being a player light it was Chens who almost put the game to bed two minutes after the sending-off. Irwin bundled his way through the Bucks defence only to find Meadows once again equal to his shot.
With five minutes of normal time remaining and the visitors pushing for the equaliser it was another substitute, Kielan Thackeray, who almost levelled it up when his thumping shot crashed back off Lashley's right-hand post.
Apparently the referee had indicated there would to be 9 minutes of added time. Six minutes into this the score was still 1-0, but then that all changed. A left-wing Buckby corner was headed across the goalmouth and, in the melee that followed, was smashed home by Simon Barby. 1-1, and cue celebrations from the Buckby players and bench.
However, their joy was very short-lived. Almost from kick-off the ball was launched into the Buckby penalty area by Ijah Augustine, where Irwin, a defender and keeper Meadows all jumped for the ball. Irwin got the telling touch and the ball dropped perfectly for substitute Tyrun Primus to roll the ball into an empty net. 2-1 and even bigger celebrations from the home side. Somewhere along the way Chens manager Dave White clearly did something the referee didn't like too much and was also given his marching orders. The referee waited for him to walk all the way around the perimter of the pitch and out through the turnstile before restarting the game, only to blow the final whistle shortly afterwards. Then bad feeling between both benches and players spilled over a little after the final whistle, although as I had already headed off the car park, I only caught a glimpse as I passed the pitch on the way out.
FT ON Chenecks 2 Long Buckby 1. Five league wins on the bounce for ON Chenecks now. This was no classic by any means, but that won't bother them at all. The result sees Chenecks hit top spot ahead on Whitworth on goal difference. On Saturday Chens visit eigthth placed Cranfield United. Long Buckby do not play again until a week on Saturday, when by a s trange coincidence they also play Cranfield.
ON Chenecks: Lashley, Augustine, Moyo, Davis(c), Caton, Andrews, Coxhill, Motchell, Irwin, Kelly, Rinaldi. Subs: Uka, Johnston, Primus, Hines, Ogden
Long Buckby: Meadows, Mitchell, King, Stone, Thompson, Corbett, Newell, Barby, Hilton, James, Whiteside(c). Subs: Fagbemi, Thackeray, Howe, Calver, Emery
Ground Number: Re-visit