It was my first visit to Uxbridge's ground and I was very pleased to find that Honeycroft is a fine example of a non-league ground, complete with some cover on all four sides, Christmas songs over the Tannoy, a bit of a slope, wooden picket fencing around the playing surface and, probably best of all at this time of year, palm trees (you don't see many of those at non-league grounds. Sadly, I forgot to take a photo of them).
Honeycroft is situated just a short way North of Heathrow Airport and is accessed via a service road that leads into a reasonably large car park. Entrance is through a single turnstile that brings you into the ground near one of the corner flags looking down the slight slope. Uxbridge post their programmes online and make them available for download rather than producing a hard copy. It's an interesting concept and one that may well catch on. They do, however, have a plentiful supply of team sheets at the turnstile, which is a great idea.
The ground, as I said, is a great example of a non-league stadium. There are covered seating areas on both sides of the pitch and covered standing behind both goals. To your left, as you enter, and set back a little from the ground is a building that houses the players and officials, toilets, boardroom and tea bar. This is separated from the playing area by an area of grass and the aforementioned palm trees. It's these little unique quirks that make following non-league football so interesting.
The pitch looked to be in pretty good nick, especially considering the recent weather, and we were all ready for what I hoped was going to be a good game of football.
It seemed only a matter of time before we got a goal and, sure enough, with seven minutes on the clock, we got one. Some nice football released Peden down the Uxbridge right-flank. He managed to beat his man and send over an enticing cross which Prince M'Bengui met with his head, planting the ball back past Harris in to the net. 1-0.
Until this point it could be argued that Hartley had been slightly brighter than their hosts. However, the goal not only boosted Uxbridge but seemed to deflate The Row a little. For the next few minutes The Reds were quicker to every ball and looked as if they might get on top of the game. Credit to Hartley though, they dug in and less than 10 minutes after going behind, they pulled it back.
Tricky right-sided midfielder Paul Hodges, who's pace and skill were to cause Uxbridge problems all night, drew a foul just inside the Uxbridge half. He dusted himself down just in time to receive the free-kick to his feet, some 30 yards out and with his back to goal. A sharp turn beat one man and, after driving towards the Uxbridge goal, he unleashed a low drive past McCarthy into the bottom corner. A very well worked and well taken goal. 1-1.
As you would expect, the equaliser boosted Hartley for a while and on twenty minutes they came very close to taking the lead when a Jack French effort from outside the box came back off McCarthy's bar with the keeper beaten.Both sides continued to play some good football and make chances at both ends.
HT Uxbridge 1 Hartley Wintney 1. A really entertaining first-half. Both sides going for the win and making plenty of chances. If anything, The Row slightly edged the half but, in truth, a 1-1 scoreline is probably fair.
On the pitch there was no let up in the action. Just a few minutes into the half an Uxbridge corner, swung in from the left, almost deceived Harris. The keeper just about got a hand to the ball and prevented it from going straight in. However, the ball looped up in the air and was then hacked clear by a defender on the line. Uxbridge appealed for a goal but the assistant, who was well placed, kept his flag down and Hartley survived.
As in the first half though, the action continued to come thick and fast and on 53 minutes we had a controversial incident when
Hartley defender Liam Eagle used his hands to stop Dylan Kearney breaking through for a clear run on goal. The home crowd and bench immediately called for a red card but, after a short delay, the referee produced a yellow for Eagle. A tricky one in my opinion. The offence happened well outside the box, so Kearney would have still had a lot of work to do in order to score. Yes, Eagle may have been the last man but, was it a clear goal-scoring opportunity? As a neutral, I think the referee got the decision spot on. If I was a home supporter I too would have been calling for a red. If I was an away supporter, a red would have seemed to be a very harsh decision. As a neutral, I always like to see both sides keep eleven players on the park.
Top-scorer Kearney didn't have to wait too long to get another opportunity though. Cole Brown, who had been a constant threat all evening, burst past his marker again and made his way to the byline before drilling a low ball across the six-yard area. Kearney was on hand to clinically steer the ball past Harris and give his side the lead again. 2-1 with just less than an hour on the clock.
Back came Hartley, calling McCarthy into action twice in quick succession. However, the stopper's efforts were all in vain in the 66th minute. A flowing Hartley move, possibly the best move of the game, culminated in a tempting cross from the right which substitute James Tennant got his head onto, to make it all square again. 2-2.
There was still no let-up in the action though. Almost straight from kick-off Uxbridge had another chance, Kearney heading wide. Then the striker turned potential provider, flashing a ball across the box but just beyond the reach of any red shirt. Shortly after that Kearney could, and probably should, have made it 3-2 when a ball found him unmarked some twelve yards out. However, he placed his looping header over the keeper and over the bar, not knowing just how much time he had.
It was breathless end to end stuff with both sides pushing for a winner until the very last kick. A wonderful advert for the Southern League and for Step 4 football.
FT Uxbridge 2 Hartley Wintney 2. From a neutral point of view a draw was a fair result. Both sides played some great football, were fully committed and, without doubt, both wanted to win this game. Both sides possess some very good and exciting footballers and have been set up to utilise these players to the max. I think the best compliment that I can pay the teams is that I really didn't want this game to end.
Honeycroft is certainly up there as one of the grounds that I would highly recommend for any ground-hopper to visit and, if the home side continue to play this style of football, you will be in for a treat.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all concerned at Uxbridge FC and Hartley Wintney FC.
Uxbridge: McCarthy (c), Peden, Humphries, Watson, Thomas, M'Bengui, Rabess, Burgess, Maguire, Kearney, Brown. Subs: Artik, Mohammed, Thomas, Warner, Bramwell
Hartley Wintney: Harris, Callum Eagle, Duff, Paris, Stow (c), Liam Eagle, Hodges, Webb, Baxter, Vine, French. Subs: Paget,
Tennant, Ball, Millerick
Ground Number: 145
Programme: Free Online - Team sheets provided