With it being Halloween, I had told my daughter that I would be home for a while to help her welcome the trick or treaters. So, I was very happy to find that there was a game on that was a) was close enough for me to have a bit of daddy/daughter time before I needed to leave the house and b) a new ground for me to visit. So, Clanfield it was.
Clanfield's ground is situated on the Southern edge of the village. There is a fairly large car park right next to the stadium which is accessed from the car park through a single entrance gate. All of the facilities at Radcot Road or The UK Building Plastics Direct Arena, to give it it's full sponsored name, are situated on the village side of the ground, the side on which you enter. There is a single building which house the clubhouse and toilets as well as providing the the covered seating area.
This evening's game was a Floodlit Cup Second Round tie against Premier League side Tuffley Rovers. The teams last met in the league during Rovers Division One West promotion season of 2014-15. There was a 2-1 win for Rovers in Gloucestershire with the return game resulting in a 0-0 draw. Since then Tuffley have plied their trade in the top flight with Clanfield remaining in Division One West.
The cheers of a small band of Rovers supporters signified the teams entering the field of play, Clanfield in their red kit and Tuffley in a change kit of all white with a claret and blue diagonal sash.
The Premier league outfit were into their stride first and were to, pretty much, dominate the first 30 minutes of the half with home keeper Jamie Zoldan being called into action a numeber of times while his opposite number was left to keep himself warm on a chilly evening.
Despite their dominance though, Tuffley were finding it hard to get any clear cut opportunities against a stubborn home defence. They came close in the 16th minutes when a right-footed cross form the left, curling in towards the far post, evaded the home keeper but was hacked off the line by a Clanny defender.
To their credit, Clanfield were defending doggedly and, after being under the cosh for much of the half, did start to get into the game more as the half wore on. However, they still could not fashion any chances to trouble Eric Edge between the Rovers' sticks, a free-kick from the edge that flew over the bar being their best effort.
The stop /start nature of the match was not helping the game as a spectacle. The referee seemed to be applying the letter of the law to the nth degree which meant that play was punctuated by his whistle. As a neutral I could see exactly what the referee was doing and, to be fair to him, he got very few decisions wrong. The problem was that he was not allowing the game to flow and this was just serving to rile players on both sides more and more. The consequence of this was that they were more inclined to make bad tackles, argue with decisions and, in one case, kick the ball away, which just caused more stoppages. It's a difficult one to call really. We often hear requests for referees to be more consistent.
Well, this one was consistent but his insistence on adhering to the book did cause play to be broken way too much.
It looked like Clanfield were going to hang on to the 0-0 scoreline into the break but, with four minutes remaining in the half, they finally made the breakthrough. A left wing corner evaded everyone in the centre of the box before dropping to White at the back post. His effort was not cleared properly and the ball fell kindly for Brett James to fire home from inside the six yard box. 0-1.
There was still time for the referee to generate another talking point. After a tussle in the Clanfield box, Tuffley captain Warren Mann, whilst on the ground, appeared to kick out at a defender. The referee obviously saw the offence because he stopped the game, awarded a free-kick and showed a yellow card to Mann. The question was, and one that the Clanfield bench vociferously raised as the teams left the field for half-time, should it have been red? Not wanting to come across all Wenger-like, but there were players between me and the incident so I really couldn't see it clearly. I don't think Mann made contact with the player but the intent was there.
HT Clanfield 85 0 Tuffley Rovers 1. The away side deserve to be in front but Clanfield have fought hard and are still in it despite not really troubling the visiting keeper. Excellent cup of tea in the club in the interval. A shame that the Cuppa League has shuffled off to the great tea urn in the sky. This would have been a contender this season.
Twenty minutes into the second period Tuffley had an opportunity to put the game to bed. The officials ignored what looked like a very good penalty shout for the visitors but as the ball broke to another Tuffley player, he was also tripped and this time the referee pointed to the
Up stepped Warren Mann but Zoldan guessed the right way and made a very good stop to keep his team in it. However, as Bob Hale would say (only someone with a seven year old would reference Horrible Histories in a non-league footbal blog) 'but not for long'. Only 5 more minutes had passed before Tuffley did grab a second goal. Alder's cross-shot fell nicely into the path of James who diverted the ball past Zoldan and into the bottom corner of the net for his, and Tuffley's, second. 0-2.
FT Clanfield 85 0 Tuffley Rovers 2. As I tweeted at full-time, not a classic by any means. Tuffley did what they needed to do to win the game.
Clanny battled hard with a couple of first-teamers out but never really looked like scoring if I'm honest.
The game never really got going. there was no flow to play because of the constant stopping and starting. To be fair to the referee, I really didn't think he did a lot wrong. Yes, he played it very much to the book but I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. Neither team really helped him out with constant niggling at him throughout the match. Again, I understand that this is part and parcel of the modern game, it's accepted as 'the norm', but it's not something that I, personally, like to see. Refereeing games is a hard job and, I have said it before, a job that not many of would volunteer to take on. To balance these comments out though, both sets of players never let any 50/50 challenges boil over and escalate. There were one or two incidents that could have turned into flash points but didn't. The players should all be commended for their conduct in this respect.
Clanfield 85: Zoldan, Roberts, Moore, Miller, Pendell (c), Cooper, Oliver, Cormack, Hiscock, Tinsley, Cato. Subs: Fullerton, Cross, Heffernan, Evans, Butt
Tuffley Rovers: Edge, Hill, Wright, Pritchett, White, Hamilton, James, Alder, Bird, Ford, Mann (c). Subs: Herbert, O'Leary, Bradley
Ground Number: 141