I don't often get to go to games with my Dad these days. So, it was great this weekend to have an opportunity to get out and watch a game. With Stourbridge away at Guisleley, just that bit too far if I wanted to get home at a reasonable hour, we headed off to the closest game we could find, Dudley Sports v Shifnal Town in the West Midland (Regional) Premier League. Sports play at Hillcrest Avenue in Brierley Hill. Without going into the history of the club too much, this was originally the home of Marsh & Baxter's works team (mentioned in this blog from a couple of year's back). Both my Dad and myself had vague memories of playing at this ground in our younger years and, it's probably fair to say that the ground has not changed too much in the intervening time.
Once parked up, in the reasonably sized car park, access to the ground is through single turnstile. This actually takes you into the ground next to the smaller of two pitches. Sports' first team plays on the pitch to the left of the turnstile, which has covered areas on both sides. The Hillcrest Avenue side of the ground has a small covered seated area. Opposite this are the dugouts and another covered area, which has bench seats at the rear. Just behind this stand is the facilities block and the snack bar. The supporters toilets are in the same block as the changing rooms which, on Saturday at least, led to an unusual situation. I had nipped over to get a couple of teas and popped into the toilet while I was there. Whilst in the toilet the referee called for the teams to make their way to the pitch. So, for the first time since I started this blog, I walked out of the changing rooms with the teams. Although, as they headed off to the pitch, I took a sharp right for the tea bar. Yet another little thing that endears me more to non-league football.
Coming into the game the home side were, by far, the form team of the two. Unbeaten in their last five, Sports had seen off Cradley Town in their previous game and were looking at pushing closer to rivals Dudley Town. Shifnal, in great contrast, had lost their last five games, scoring four and conceding seventeen. Last season had seen away wins in both meetings between the sides. In October Shifnal had won 2-1 at Hillcrest Avenue whilst, late in the season Sports had won 6-1 in Shropshire.
Straight from the first whistle, and against current form, it was Shifnal who looked to take control of the game with Kyle Montague, playing wide right, causing all sorts of problems with his pace.
With just under a quarter of an hour on the clock Montague once again, got clear of his man on the right, latching onto a through ball. He did exceptionally well to dig out a deep cross which was headed in by Lewis Mackenzie. 0-1.
For a side who had not scored in their previous two matches, Shifnal were looking very dangerous when they attacked. On 22 minutes, they doubled their lead after Sports stopper, Liam O'Dowd, fumbled a cross allowing Sam Wilde to stab the ball home. 0-2. One minute later the Mantague showed his pace again, racing onto a through ball he beat the keeper to it only to see his effort come back off the post.
Suddenly on 26 minutes, completely out of the blue and against the run of play, Sports were back in it when Moraka beat two men before producing a calm finish past Whittaker. 1-2.
The comeback, however, did not transpire and within four minutes, Shifnal had regained their two goal advantage. Sports conceded a free-kick some 35 yards out on the left. The ball was lofted into the penalty area where an unmarked Wilde put his header past O'Dowd for his second and Town's third. 1-3.
Shifnal were not finished there. Six minutes later Jordan Bailey struck a drive, from the left-hand angle of the box, across O'Dowd and into the corner of the net despite the keeper getting a hand to it. 1-4.
HT Dudley Sports 1 Shifnal Town 4. Certainly no shortage of action in this one. Shifnal certainly well worthy of their lead.
The changes seemed to have the desired effect early in the second half. At least in as much as the tide was stemmed somewhat. Although, of course, at 4-1 up it could as easily have been a case of Shifnal taking their foot off the pedal a little too.
The game, however, was probably over as a contest unless Sports managed to get at least one back early in the second period. This did not happen and, on 64 minutes, it was the visitors who notched again. This time Ryan Bright curled in an absolute beauty from just outside the box. 1-5 and probably the goal of the game.
Sports, to their credit, kept trying to press forward and did start to get a little foothold on the game after going 5-1 down. Despite their increased possession they still could not find a way past Whittaker.
With the game winding down we were then treated to a manic last five minutes. First, on 85 minutes, McKenzie grabbed a second goal from a left-wing corner. 1-6. Three minutes later Wilde was on the spot to poke the ball over the line after a scramble in the area. 1-7 and a hat-trick for the Shifnal player.
Then, just before the full-time whistle, substitute Richard Hanson slotted home a late consolation for the home side. 2-7.
FT Dudley Sports 2 Shifnal Town 7. A crazy game end to a crazy game. Shifnal really won the game with a very good first-half display.
Dudley Sports: O'Dowd, Bradfield, M. Hanson, Parker (c), Chiwara, Price, Moraka, Ishola, Nicholson, Beyal, Becford. Subs: McGovern, R. Hanson, Woddall, Wooldridge, Pratt
Shifnal Town: Whittaker, Hadley, Tanomjit, Wilde, Vale, Jones, Bailey, Mackenzie, Montague, Bright, Novis. Subs: Gwynne, Udoh, Mountford, Aminu, Sharpe
Ground Number: 169