Braving the M1 on a Tuesday night isn't one of my favourite pastimes but that was the requirement to get to Leicestershire for my midweek fix of United Counties League action. A first ever visit to Lutterworth Athletic to see them take on Woodford United in a Division One clash. Athletic are a relatively new team. Only formed in 1993
they have risen slowly and steadily up the pyramid in that time, moving from the Leicester & District League in Step 9 through to their current Step 6 level transferring into the UCL for the 2013-14 season. Woodford, a team I first saw in 2013, during their own annus horribilis where they lost 65 consecutive matches, have stabilised after dropping from Step 4 back into Step 6.
Hall Park is also a new looking arena which is part of the Lutterworth Soccer Centre. Located outside the town, in Bitteswell, it features 5-a-side pitches, a fairly large clubhouse and the Weston Arena (home of Lutterworth Athletic FC).
The stadium is separate from the clubhouse (which houses all of the facilities) and has a single covered seating area running along about two-thirds of the far side.
This structure also incorporates the team dugouts (see photo). The rest of the pitch is surrounded by white plastic fencing and hard-standing.
Woodford started much the brighter and forced a good double save from debutant Lutterworth keeper within the first 30 seconds of the game. The away side were knocking the ball about with a confidence that didn't reflect their league position and, for the first 10 minutes or so, were by far the better side. Lutterworth did start to get a small toe-hold on the game and even made a couple of half chances themselves but it was Woodford who continued to look the more likely to open the scoring.
With 20 minutes gone the game had become a very entertaining affair. No goals scored but a number of chances made and plenty of good football to admire especially the wing play of Woodford number 7 Greg Anayiotis who was combining speed with some impressive ball control.
Sure enough, on 32 minutes, it was a right-wing run and cross which lead to Joe Henderson opening the scoring with a deft finish. The same player had come close a few minutes earlier with a fierce drive that hit the side netting but made no mistake this time.
I am guessing from the reaction of the Woodford bench that they have a tendency to sit back if they take the lead. There was plenty of gesticulating and shouting to encourage the Reds not to drop too deep.
Lutterworth, to their credit, did visibly step the pace up for a few minutes after the goal and actually looked a much better side now that they were a goal down.
With two minutes to go until the break they finally made an attempt count or, to be more accurate, they forced a mistake from the Woodford defence. A right-wing cross was headed up in the air rather than out of the box. In the resultant scramble it was a Woodford head that diverted the ball past the keeper and into the net for the equaliser.
Athletic would have been quite pleased to have gone in level at half-time especially as they had been second best for much of the half. However, this was not to be the case. Within a minute of being pegged back Woodford got their noses in front again, this time with a superb 25 yard drive, low to the keepers right, from Tom Fountain.
So, 1-2 at half-time, a score-line that accurately reflected the balance of play in the first half.
Lutterowrth started the second half with far more purpose than the first forcing the Woodford keeper into action quite early on. However, despite having less of the ball than in the first period, Woodford still looked dangerous when they did get possession.
They then extended their lead 10 minutes into the second half when Aaron King hit a splendid dipping 30 yard volley over the surprised Atho keeper and into the far corner.
This, as it turned out, was pretty much United's last serious attempt on goal. As the half progressed they gradually began to drop deeper and deeper, especially as legs began to tire. With, I believe, only one outfield player on the bench, the players that had got them into this winning position were also going to be the ones that had to try to hang on.
Lutterworth never gave up trying, pushing Woodford back and resorting to three up front in an attempt to get something from the game. With just over 8 minutes of normal time remaining they did get one back when Sam Burton slotted home from the edge of the box.
At this point a comeback looked highly likely. Woodford looked a bit like a heavyweight in round 10, pinned on the ropes and relying on pure adrenaline to stay upright.
The last 10 minutes was an almighty, backs to the wall effort from the away side but they survived and claimed their first away win of the season.
All in all an entertaining evening of football and great value for money yet again.
Lutterworth Athletic - @official_atho
Woodford United - @official_wufc