Hanslope have been around for well over one hundred years, having been founded in 1911. Stewkley can't quite match that longevity but are still a well established team having been formed immediately after WWII, in 1946. The sides are very familiar foes in the league. Hanslope can claim to have the upper hand, certainly in recent times. In the last eight league meetings before this season, they have won six with Stewkley winning the other two. Interestingly, there have been no league draws between the clubs in the last five seasons.
They have also already met twice this season, once in the league and once in the Premier Division Trophy. Both games were played at Stewkley and both have been won by Hanslope. The early league meeting ended 2-1 to Hanslope with goals from Alfie Rogers and Jason Wilson. Rogers was also on the mark last week as Hanslope won 4-1 in the cup at Stewkley.
At the start of play Stewkley sat in 7th spot, five points behind Hanslope in fourth but with two games in hand. A win could put the visitors well within striking distance of the top two. Hanslope, however, could break into the promotion spots with a win.
Hanslope is a village just to the North of Milton Keynes. Hanslope FC play at the Recreation Ground on Castlethorpe Road just to the South-East of the village centre. The good sized car park sits on either side of the cluster of buildings that incorprates both the changing areas and the local community hall. The recreation ground has a kids play area and a multi-sport astrosurf pitch. Theer are small-sided pitches directly outside the community hall as well as a cricket sqaure and the main football pitch, which is towards the far end of the ground, in the shadow of the rather impressive 15th century church, which is visible from a few miles away on the approach to the village.
The pitch was unsurprisingly quite heavy and not easy for the players with some very unpredicatable bobbles. Conversely, for a team nicknames The Slope, the pitch does not have a discernible slope. It is, however, very open to the elemnts and, on a day like Saturday with a very chilly wind blowing, you really need to wrap up.
Perhaps still stinging from the cup reversal, Stewkley came out of the blocks fast and in the opening salvoes, were the only side in the game. Their first half-chance came in the fifth minute when Ryan Lafferty got a glimpse of goal but put his shot well over Reece McGlynn's bar. Undeterred, Stewkley kept pushing and, two minutes later, were rewarded for their quick start with a delightfully simple but effective goal. The ball was played up their right flank where Keiran Roadnight got in behind the defence to deliver a perfect cross for an unmarked Ewan Reeves to head home from close range. 0-1
Stewkley had their tails up now. A minute after going ahead they fired another warning shot at the home goal when Rory Scrivener's shot only just cleared the bar.
Hanslope were struggling to get to grips with the game at this point. In fact, it took until the 19th minute before they managed their first effort on target. It came from a free-kick on the edge of the box which Josh Bird drove low but straight at Will Essex. The next opportunity for the home side came just before the half-hour mark and it proved to be decisive. Paul Hollingsworth wriggled into the Stewkley box and was clipped. A clear penalty. Jason Wilson made no mistake from the spot with only Hanslope's second strike on target. 1-1.
The goal changed the pattern of the game. Hanslope suddenly seemed to believe in themselves and Stewkley's fast start had lost some of its steam. Having said that and, despite seeing much more of the ball, the home side were still unable to give Essex any more troubles. That's not saying that the game didn't provide entertainment though. In fact, I can honestly say that I haven't smiled and laughed so much at a game for a long time. That was largely down to some of the comments coming from both benches. For instance, one of the Hanslope defenders had been continually advising the Stewkley coaches to 'let the referee referee the game'. That was until a decision went against the same player who immediately questioned the referee to a chorus of 'let the referee referee the game' from the Stewkley bench. There was also an incident where a Hanslope player was clearly fouled but the contact came off the pitch. The home bench was incensed but the referee's comment was that he thought the foul came off the pitch. Of course, he meant that the ball was already out of play and had been given in favour of Hanslope. However, the comment did cause some mirth on both benches with comments of 'Oh well, that's alright then'.
However, the most bizarre moment of the first half came with just a minute left. Hanslope captain Matt Chilton took a throw-in over o n the far side. It was probably the most clear foul throw I've ever seen, a view backed up by the home bench. the referee pulled him up on it and was immediately challenged by Chilton. I don't know what he said but whatever it was, the referee deemed it worthy of a sin-bin. Chilton was convinced that he had been harshly treated even though his own team-mates were telling him otherwise.
HT Hanslope 1 Stewkley 1. An interesting first half. Stewkley started the half on fire and deservedly took the lead. Hanslope were handed a way back into the game with the penalty and, after that, began to look liek a team pushing for the promotion spots. The sin-bin towards the end of the half was one of the most bizarre incidents I've seen at a game.
Four minutes after the restart the home side went in front when an excellent cross from the left was headed home by Patrick Kerin. 2-1. It was now the home side who were on the front foot, even a player light. On 53 minutes they came very close to increasing their lead when an in swinging corner from the right was pushed against his own bar by Will Essex. Then, just prior to the hour, Slope hit the woodwork again when Alex Rowe saw his header smash off the bar. It was all Hanslope in the opening fifteen minutes of the second period. Stewkley were struggling to defend against balls swung into their penalty area. Maybe that was the half-time team talk because, every time Hanslope played a ball into their opponents penalty areas, they looked dangerous.
The ball was certainly spending more time in the Stewkley half of the pitch now. Possibly also a symptom of the conditions as well as Hanslope's new-found vigour. The wind was still gusting across the pitch in their favour this half.
With 17 minutes remaining Jason Wilson had an opportunity to seal if for the hosts when he was played through on the right. However, admittedly from a tight angle, his shot hit the side-netting.
Stewkley began to push forward more with time running out. Ryan Lafferty headed just over from a right-wing corner in the 84th minute but that was as close as they got. In fact, they could have conceded a third in the dying moments when another Hanslope effort came back off the woodwork.
In the end the two goals proved to be enough for Hanslope to make it a trio of victories over Stewkley this season.
FT Hanslope 2 Stewkley 1. Once again, conditions for both teams were difficult but they managed to produce some entertaining football for a small and very chilly bunch of spectators. Despite Hanslope winning all three encounters this season, in my opinion there really wasn't too much between the teams, except that Hanslope were more ruthless when they were on top.
The teams are now getting a well-earned rest until the New Year. If you want to catch either team in action, you'll need to wait until January 6th. Hanslope make the short journey to second from both MK Wanderers, looking to avenge an early season 2-1 home defeat. Stewkley await the visit of Newport Pagnell Athletic who they play for the first time this season.
Big thanks to referee Stuart Hilton and the Stewkley X admin for sharing the team sheets with me. It makes life so much easier when trying to right these match blogs.
Hanslope: McGlynn, Kerin, Rowe, Brown, J.Chilton, M.Chilton(c), Kelly, Hollingsworth, Bird, Read, Wilson. Subs: Gregory, Kennard
Stewkley: Essex, Roadnight, Proctor, Vernon, Wagner, Budgen, E.Reeves, Hardings, Lafferty, McKenna, Scrivener. Subs: Collins, H.Reeves
Ground Number: 391