Not to worry though. Second on my list of possible games (and only second because it was slightly further to travel and I wasn't sure what time I would be free from work commitments) was Stonehouse Town v Hereford Pegasus. This was something of an occasion for the home side as it would be their first ever home game under their new floodlights.
Stonehouse play at Oldends Lane, to the North of the town, and have done since 1949 when the ground was opened by then England captain Billy Wright. There is an ample car park adjacent to the ground with a short cut through to the single turnstile that takes you into the corner of the stadium. Note that the clubhouse and toilets are outside the main stadium. A wristband system was in place to monitor who had already paid. Track and trace via the NHS app or manual collection was in place, as was a temperature check via a gun. Oldends Lane has two stands, a covered terrace behind the goal at The Lane End and the Mike 'Spike' Smith Stand which provides covered seating. Along side the Mike Smith stand at the Lane End there is also a raised walkway which gives a good view of the pitch. On the opposite side of the stand there is a snack bar. The dugouts are on the opposite side of the pitch. At the moment only two sides, the Lane End and the Mike Smith Stand side, are open to spectators. However, I believe that plans are in place to add hard-standing around the entire perimeter.
Last season was Stonehouse's first at this level, having risen up through the ranks of the Gloucestershire County League. In the 2018-19 season they finished in third place behind Lebeq United (now of the Western League) and Frampton United (who remain in the County League), despite losing their last three league games. This was enough for them to gain promotion into the Hellenic League. Before the early end of last season they had made a decent start to life at Step 6 and were more than holding their own after a fairly shaky start where they lost three of their opening four games. Interestingly, their one early win came in this corresponding fixture when they thumped 10-man Pegasus 5-0.
Hereford Pegasus, known as Pegasus Juniors until 2019, returned to the Hellenic League last season after eight years playing in the West Midlands (Regional) Premier League. They are no strangers to this league though, having spent almost 30 years plying their trade in the Hellenic structure, mostly in the Premier League. They were sitting in second spot when the season abruptly stopped last year, having only suffered three more defeats after their drubbing at Stonehouse.
It became clear well before kick-off that the opening of the new floodlights had created quite a bit of local interest. Add to that what seemed to be a fair contingent from Hereford and a bumper crowd was definitely on the cards. This was clearly something that the club had anticipated, planned for and in a very good position to deal. There were three club officials on the gate at all times, plus one more actually manning the turnstile, dealing with track & trace, temperature checking and re-admissions through the main gate for the clubhouse and toilets. All, without exception, were welcoming, chatty and efficient. A very impressive setup of which the club should be extremely proud.
We were less than three minutes into the game when we had the first major incident. A strong 50-50 challenge in the centre of the pitch left Stonehouse's number 10 (sorry no name, didn't have a team sheet) down and in some obvious distress. It's important to say that there didn't seem to be any malice in the tackle. It was just two very committed players going for the ball. The game was stopped for a few minutes before the player was helped off the pitch by two teammates (thankfully not on a stretcher). I believe that he was taken straight off to hospital and would like to wish him a swift recovery.
Just past the half-hour mark though their persistence finally paid off, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances. The home team and much of the crowd were up in arms as the assistant seemed to miss a foul on one of their players in the build up to the Pegasus equaliser. Play was allowed to continue with the ball eventually being played through for Kieran Slatter to apply a tremendous finish into the top corner of Pedrick's net. 1-1. To make matters worse for the home side, there also appeared to be a suspicion of offside when the ball was slipped through to Slatter. Having said that, on the balance of play it was no more than The Redmen deserved.
With the away side back on level terms it looked as if it would just be a matter of time before they went in front, especially as the pattern of the game showed no sign of changing. However, just on the stroke of half-time Stonehouse launched a rare attack down their left side. Dan Gittings picked the ball up, drifted inside his man and let rip from outside the box to put his team back in front again. 2-1. A quality strike from the Town midfielder.
HT Stonehouse Town 2 Hereford Pegasus 1. On the balance of play I doubt either manager could believe the half-time score. However, goals are what count and the home side had converted their limited possession into two of them whereas Pegasus had kept the ball for long period without finding that killer final pass.
As with the first half, it didn't take long for the second half to give us an incident. This time, however, it was a goal. An equaliser for Pegasus with absolutely no hint of controversy surrounding it. Once again it was left-back Slatter on the scoresheet with a superb strike from well outside the box which gave the keeper no chance at all. 2-2.
Although Pegasus were still seeing more of the ball than their hosts, the second-half was noticeably more balanced than the first, especially with the pace of Chris Earle finally giving Town an out ball. Two or three times the winger threatened down the left, with one effort in particular only just clearing Davies's bar, with the keeper beaten.
I have to say, as a neutral, it was an enjoyable game. Pegasus were still playing the ball around very nicely and neatly, looking quite dangerous but still lacking that cutting edge. Stonehouse continued to dig in but definitely looked to pose a little more threat in the final third than they did in the first 45 minutes.
FT Stonehouse Town 2 Hereford Pegasus 3. Two of the Pegasus goals had more than a little hint of controversy around them but overall even the most die-hard Stonehouse fan couldn't really argue with the result. Pegasus were the better team for the majority of the game. Stonehouse did improve in the latter stages of the second-half, but spent a fair bit of the game defending in their own half. On the plus side, the floodlights looked splendid.
On Saturday Pegasus are back in league action with a local derby at home to Wellington. Stonehouse need to pick themselves up in readiness to welcome Premier League outfit Royal Wootton Bassett Town to Oldends Lane.
Stonehouse Town: Pedrick, Basana, Thwaite, King, Bird, J. Williams, Kibble(c), Gittings, Buckland, T. Williams, Earle. Subs: Moyo, Ratcliffe, Love, Lowe
Hereford Pegasus: Davies, Summers, Slatter, Panniers, Burgess, Worthing(c), Langford, Peters, Taylor, Clarke, Moreira. Subs: Cox, Lear, Payne
Ground Number: 246
Programme: Free to first 150