Shefford play their home games at Shefford Sports Club on the South East extremities of the town. The ground, just off Hitchin Road, is accessed via a yet unnamed road, that also leads to what looks it will be quite a large housing development. There is a fairly large car park which on this night, maybe because of the expected larger crowd, was being attended by stewards, pointing cars in the right direction. Even with over 30 minutes to go before kick-off, it was almost full when I arrived. The ground is relatively new and looks like it is very well maintained. There is a large clubhouse block which incorporates the players and officials areas. This is situated behind the town end goal and has a marquee and patio area looking out over the pitch. There was also an external burger grill at the side of the clubhouse which I would have made use of if I had not already eaten. The playing surface at Shefford is completely flat and looked to be very well cared for even after the recent bad weather. There are two covered spectator areas, either side of the halfway line, on the car park side, one seating and one standing. Opposite are the dugouts and that side of the ground is backed by a grass bank which allows a good view of the game. The entire playing area is bordered by white tubular fencing. All in all, a very neat and tidy ground clearly geared up in preparation for taking the club further up the pyramid.
With only just over 4 miles between the grounds, it's not that surprising that these sides have met each other many, many times over the years, although the majority of the meetings took place when Shefford were still just Shefford Town. The first time they met in the league seems to be in the 1954-55 South Midland Premier season after Stotfold had come up from Division 1 at the end of the previous year. Shefford then had a brief spell in the Parthenon League and the United Counties League, before returning to the South Midlands and sharing a division with Stotfold for some 14 seasons between 1962 and 1976, when Shefford were relegated to Division 1. Hostilities briefly resumed in the mid 80s when Shefford regained their Premier League status but Stotfold then decided to try their luck in the united Counties League, where they stayed until 2010. Meanwhile Shefford Town was wound up in 1994 and the town remained club-less until a new Shefford Town was formed in 2009, merging with Campton the following year to create Shefford Town & Campton. The new club worked its way up the Bedfordshire pyramid before gaining entry back to the Spartan South Midlands league in 2019 and, with it, renewing their rivalry with Stotfold who had returned to the SSML in 2010. Unfortunately, due to Covid, they have yet to complete a full season in Step 6. That first season back the clubs met once, at Stotfold, with the Eagles coming back from a 2-3 half-time deficit to win 5-3/ The following season, which was abandoned early on with Shefford top of the league, the sides did not meet at all. This season, they had not met in the league before Tuesday evening. However, there was a Gladwish Challenge Trophy meeting in early December. Stotfold led by a goal at half-time but, after losing Ryan Lewis to a red card, Shefford collapsed to a 6-1 defeat.
At the start of play Stotfold were sitting top of the pile with 56 points from their 23 games, 7 points clear of Winslow United but having played four more games than them. Shefford were in 13th spot, with 29 points from only 17 games. With so many game sin hand, they could feasibly make top three if they were to win them all.
Stotfold, with confidence clearly high from their league position and recent cup win, were immediately on the front foot. In the first couple of minutes the ball seemed to be constantly inside Shefford's final third. However, it was actually the home side, on a breakaway, who came close when a Scott Metcalfe cross from the right clipped a defender and crashed against the near post. Granted, Liam Gooch had it covered, but a small warning to the visitors nonetheless. In a breathless start to the game, Stotfold went immediately down the other end and were a little unlucky when Luke Smith's cross shot went narrowly wide of Lewis's right-hand post.
Stotfold continued to dominate possession and came close again after 15 minutes when, after some pinball in the area, Smith tried a cheeky backheel which was cleared off the line. The Eagles' pace and trickery, especially down the right with Jake Davis, caused all sorts of problems for the home defence but they were still hanging in there and tried to get the ball forward when they could, although the gap between their forwards and their midfield, who had been pushed back to defend, meant that most forays were snuffed out quickly.
On 22 minutes Stotfold manufactured a very good opportunity when a diagonal ball put Spavins in the clear. Lewis made himself big and managed to parry the attempt but the ball fell to Smith on the edge of the box. He then saw his goal-bound effort cleared off the line again. A minute later, from a right-wing corner, Stotfold captain Conor Clarke rose highest but saw his header clip the bar and go over. Shefford's goal was leading a charmed life at this point and it seemed like only a matter of time before Stotfold scored. having said that, they still needed to be aware of the Shefford threat on the break. It was close to the half-hour mark when the home side notched their first shot on target, although it was straight into the arms of Gooch.
As we approached the half time whistle it seemed as if Shefford had somehow ridden out the Stotfold storm. Whilst the visitors were still the more potent threat, the level of intensity had, unsurprisingly, dropped a little. It was still somewhat surprising that we went into the break goal-less.
HT Shefford Town & Campton 0 Stotfold 0. Blistering start from Stotfold but credit to Shefford for hanging in there. They rode their luck at times but dug in admirably.
It has to be said that after the equaliser and after Stotfold replaced Jake Davis, (who looked to be their biggest threat) the game became much more even. It swung from end to end with both sides making chances. If anything, as it wore on, it was Shefford who started to look the stronger of the two sides. However, no more goals were forthcoming despite the best efforts of both teams to find a winner.
Shefford Town & Campton: Lewis, O'Neil, Robinson, Hammer, Metcalfe, Renney, Sheridan, Bateman-Foley, Snee, Day, McNamara. subs: Cooksley, Ingham, Lewis
Stotfold: Gooch, Nicholls, Stewart, Ryan, Sears, Clarke(c), Davis, Simms, Smith, Bagge, Spavins. Subs: Godfrey, Woodley, Holmes, Amaning, Alleyne
Ground Number: 302