Knowle play at what is now known as The Draintech Community Stadium, known to the locals as The Nest because of the club nickname, The Robins. The ground is situated just to the North-East of the village. First impressions count for a lot and I have to say, my first impression of the Nest was very good. There is ample parking onsite, alongside the pitch on the Hampton Road side of the ground. You can pay and get your included matchday programme from your car. The gentlemen on the gate asked if I had visited before and when I replied that I hadn't he took the time to point out where the clubhouse and toilet block were before I went to park. It's little touches like that which make for the good impression of a club. Great work from the steward.
This was a showdown between the two teams with the best chance of chasing down leaders Cadbury Athletic. At the start of play Coton Green sat in second spot a point behind the leaders but having played two more games. Knowle were one place below Green four points adrift of their visitors but with a game in hand. The sides met back in November at New Mill Lane. A first minute Brandon Hague goal put Knowle ahead. They doubled their lead before half-time through Tom Cullen, a lead that they held onto throughout the second half. Coton Green also had Corey Powell sent off in this game. When it came to recent form, however, Coton Green definitely had the edge having mustered 13 points from their last possible 18. This included winning their last four on the bounce. Knowle had been wobbling a little recently, winning three and losing three of their last six games. The defeat to Hampton that BotP was present at in January (Hampton Not Caught), was the middle game of three defeats for The Robins. However, after going down 4-3 at Alcester three weeks ago, they have started to hit form again with two away victories, 3-2 at Inkberrow and 5-0 at Lane Head. A quick look back at the last few season's shows that the sides have not been too far apart in the league and results have also been quite close. Not including the game earlier this season, the last nine meetings have produced 4 draws, Knowle have won three and Coton Green two. There are also a number of players who have played for both teams. All of these factors, combined with what seems to be a little underlying niggle from the game earlier in the season, promises to make this a spicy encounter.
Just as they did in the reverse fixture, Knowle flew out of the blocks. Within the first minute Charlie Morris crashed a shot against Johnson's bar from a tight angle as the home side showed their intent from the off. They kept up the early pressure and got their reward in the seventh minute. Nathan Corry latched onto a long ball, beat his marker for pace and slid the ball under the advancing Craig Johnson for 1-0. The visitors were rocked by the early setback. Knowle smelled blood and were immediately back on the offensive looking for a second goal. This duly came in the 20th minute. Charlie Morris, who had been so unlucky in the opening minute, showed that he was more than capable of striking a ball with either foot. This time, from the right-hand corner of the penalty area, he curled a superb left-footed effort over Johnson and into the far corner. 2-0 and the hosts absolutely cruising along.
Credit to Coton Green at this point though. They had hardly had a sniff for 20 minutes but they did manage to steady the ship and stem the flow of the home team. It was no longer a case of one-way traffic but there was no doubt that Knowle were still controlling the game.
Maybe this is why things boiled over towards the end of the half. It started when Jack Henry felled Morris with a crunching tackle. This all hap opened on the far side of the pitch from where I was standing. The tackle looked to come in from the side, slightly behind the Knowle player. From where I was it was impossible to see if the ball was played or not. Morris clearly felt the brunt of the challenge and the home players were incensed. The referee had little hesitation in pulling out a red card much to the ire of the visitors. As the incident had happened near the dugouts, the sending off clearly sparked a lot of words between players and the benches. At one point a water bottle was launched form the Coton Green bench area onto the pitch. The referee and his assistant on that side had their work cut out to calm things down, but they eventually did without any further dismissals. It was clear, however, that there was no love lost between the teams at this point. When play finally resumed the red mist had clearly not completely cleared and deep into stoppage time, after an attack broke down, Coton Green captain Ryan Conlon, who had been dispossessed, hacked at the ankles of the player running away from him. It was a petulant kick, no attempt at all to play the ball which was a good 5 yards away. If the incident on the far side was a debatable red, this most certainly wasn't in my opinion or those of many standing around me (including some that were not Knowle supporters as far as I could make out). However, incredibly the referee only produced a yellow card. A very strange decision. Maybe he thought his first red was a harsh one after all? Whatever the reason, both managers were going to have to calm their players down during the break or we were definitely going to see more cards.
HT Knowle 2 Coton Green 0. The home side controlled the game for the majority of the half. Green were very lucky not to be down to nine but will have the advantage of a strong wind behind them in the second half. The first few minutes of the second period could be crucial. Any mis-timed tackles or over-zealous 50-50s could easily set off some scenes.
It was testament to the spirit of the visitors that they did not collapse at this point. Many teams may well have done. Instead, six minutes past the hour mark, they got a toehold. A free-kick from the left-hand side about 30 yards out, was driven in towards the far post. With players running in the home keeper, Jack Tregartha, had to react late to the ball, scooping it up in the air and out past the far post. A Coton Green player was first to react, heading the ball back into the mix where it was smuggled over the line by Oliver Hough. 3-1.
If Green thought they were back in it their hopes were dealt another blow just two minutes later. Knowle won a corner on the right. It was swung towards the far post and headed back where substitute and new signing, Charlie Faulkner was on hand to nod it over the line. 4-1.
That looked to be the clincher. Game over, or so we thought. Coton Green clearly had not read the memo though. With just under 10 minutes left they managed to notch a second goal. Tregartha initially made a good save, pushing the ball wide of the goal. However, once again, a Green player was quickest to react, recycling the ball into the 6 yard box where captain Ryan Conlon stabbed it over the line. 4-2.
Two minutes later and it looked as if we were in for a grandstand finish. Coton Green launched a long throw, wind assisted, towards the the home goal. A group of players went up to challenge for the ball which, somehow, ended up in the back of the home net amidst vociferous Knowle claims of hand ball. To be fair, it did appear that more than one hand went up when the players jumped for the ball. I have no idea who got a touch, the Knowle keeper or a Coton green player. Social media seems to point to either an OG or Ryan Conlon getting the last touch. Who knows? Whatever the case, the referee awarded the goal after a brief chat to his assistant. 4-3
Knowle seemed to be wobbling at this point but, with time running out and the visitors pressing, The Robins sprung a quick break. Faulkner was released on the right, looking suspiciously offside by quite a distance. No flag from the assistant and as the Knowle substitute drove into the box Johnson, diving at his feet, sent him sprawling. Penalty given much to the displeasure of the Coton Green players.
Dylon Bennett calmly sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot. 5-3 and definitely game over this time.
FT Knowle 5 Coton Green 3. From a neutral's perspective, this game had pretty much everything. Two quite evenly match sides. Players who had played for both teams. A few scores that needed settling. A red card and a number of contentious decisions, not least the other 'red card' offence that never was, and the last two goals, both of which you could argue, should not have stood. I thought I had my £3's worth just in parking and the programme but that match was worth £3 of anyone's money. Yet another example of the entertainment to be had in the Midland League structure this season. Next up, Knowle travel to Boldmere whilst Coton Green are also on the road, at Coventry Alvis. With the leaders not in action next Saturday both will be looking to cut the lead at the top. It promises to be a thrilling end to the season in Division Two especially as both of these sides have yet to visit Cadbury Athletic.
Knowle: Tregartha, Fox, Hennessey, Bennett, Cosgrove(c), Cullen, Morris, Seeley, Corry, Hague, Harbon. Subs: Regan, Delaney, Parsons, Faulkner, O'Keefe
Coton Green: Johnson, Powell, Noakes, Nash, O'Beirne, Hough, Doyle, Shiels, Conlon(c), Henry, Baker. Subs: Beale, Howard, Doak, Payne, Smikle
Ground Number: 308
Programme: Included in entrance fee