This was not my first taste of this league (I saw Borrowash Victoria take on Wollaton back in September - Vics Brace Leaves Wollaton Flagging) but it was going to be the first time I had seen either of these teams in action and a first time visit to Cotgrave.
Cotgrave play their home games at The Cotgrave Welfare Club a multi-sport and community hub in the centre of the town, some 8 miles to the South-East of the City of Nottingham. The club, situated opposite the leisure centre, was built in the 1960s a the Miners' Welfare Club. Aside from the sports facilities, the club also has several bars, snooker rooms and entertainment suites. There is ample parking to the side of the club and a gate leading from the car park to the football pitches, of which there are two. The pitch nearest to the clubhouse is the one used by Cotgrave FC ad is surrounded by a low metal bar fence. There are dugouts on the clubhouse side of the pitch but no spectator cover is available around the playing area. However, just set back from the playing surface and slightly raised above pitch level, is the snack bar which does have a small veranda that would provide shelter in inclement weather whilst still providing a good view of the game. The pitch looked to be in pretty good condition especially given recent wet weather and it being so late in the season.
The Nottinghamshire Senior League has been around since 2004-05 season, in which Cotgrave Colliery Welfare United were founder members. In the league's third season, after initially being dominated by Wollaton FC, Cotgrave Welfare took the title, their only one to date. This evening's opponents, Stapleford Town, were not founded until 2013 and appear to have entered the Senior League in the 2017-18 season, the year in which they won Division One. Stapleford then went on to take the Premier League title the following season, but not promoted, and were runners-up in the last campaign, finishing 4 points adrift of Southwell City. As an aside, the league has also been won by two teams with wonderfully exotic names, Caribbean Cavaliers (2008) and Bilborough Pelicans (2009). Sadly neither name appears in any of the divisions anymore. However, there is an FC Pelican in Division 2.
The situation going into this game, and one of the reasons I chose it, was that Stapleford sat in 2nd place, six points adrift of Keyworth United. However, United had already completed their season whereas Stapleford still had four games remaining. Consequently, Town required seven points (goal difference sat 6 in favour of Keyworth), to clinch the league title. Cotgrave sat in 13th spot after a topsy-turvy season. However, they were already well clear of the relegation places, safe in mid-table and fresh off the back of a good 2-0 win at Clifton.
In front of what looked to be a decent sized crowd it was Stapleford, in the change kit of pale blue and white stripes, who looked to settle the quicker. However, the first close call went the way of the home side. Stapleford, trying to play out form the back, were put under pressure by a high Cotgrave press. When the ball was fed back towards goalkeeper Danny Brown, Shaun Jackson was just a whisker away from getting to the ball ahead of the stopper.
With just under 15 minutes gone, Town midfielder Oskar Kruk demonstrated a nice piece of skill, pulling down a high ball before juggling it to create a space and fire wide. Stapleford were beginning to wind up the pressure on the home defence but, as yet, neither keeper had been forced to get their knees dirty.
The visitors were showing some nice interplay in midfield but were not quite firing in the final third, partially down to a well organised and solid looking Cotgrave defence. The some side, however, were not offering to much in way of forward play. Jackson was pretty much ploughing a lone farrow up front and, despite the striker offering a good deal of movement, the Stapleford defence were under very little pressure. This, in turn, was allowing them to play their wing-backs very high up the field, keeping the pressure on the home side.
All that said, Stapleford had not managed to stretch Matt Benton in the Cotgrave goal until the final few minutes of the half. With four minutes to go until the break, Joe Airey did brilliantly to collect the ball and break down the right flank, outstripping his marker to get in a dangerous cross that was met on the volley by Surafel Tefera, only for his shot to flash wide of Benton's left-hand post. Then, just on 45 minutes, Benton finally got called into serious action, producing a good stop to prevent Aaron Large from giving the visitors a half-time lead.
HT Cotgrave 0 Stapleford Town 0. Stapleford well on top in terms of possession but struggling to break down the Cotgrave defence.
With only 10 minutes gone in the second half the Stapleford bench had seen enough. They needed the points and a draw, although not the end of the world, was not what they had come here looking for. They made a couple of early changes, including substituting captain Michael Robb, who walked straight off, past the bench into the changing rooms, obviously not happy to have to go off.
The changes for Stapleford started to swing the game back in their favour. Just past the hour mark, Benton was a gain at his best, making a great stop to keep out one of the substitutes, Riley Phillips. The home keeper was having a good game, having already made two or three good stops to keep Stapleford out. However, three minutes later, Benton could not hang onto a powerful strike and when the ball ran loose, Dan Sterling was quickest to react, driving the ball back past Benton to make it 0-1.
Less than 2 minutes later the visitors effectively sewed it up. Lvarn Brandy, who had looked very lively since coming on, went on a run across the face of the penalty area. The ball eventually went loose and there was Dan Sterling again, driving a curling effort around Benton from the edge of the penalty area. Great strike. 0-2.
It's fair to say that Lvarn Brandy and Riley Phillips had made a large impact since coming off the bench. Their direct running and extra pace in the attack had unsettled the home defence and allowed Sterling to benefit with two goals inside 90 seconds.
FT Cotgrave 0 Stapleford Town 2. A good effort from Cotgrave who frustrated Stapleford for large parts of the game. However, the visitors showed their title potential and found a way to win the game. The result leaves Cotgrave in 13th spot. On Saturday they travel to third-placed Sandiacre Town in the final game for both teams. Neither team can move up or down, whatever the result. Meanwhile, Stapleford now sit just three points below Keyworth United with three games remaining. Tomorrow (Thursday) they travel to Ravenshead. Then, on Saturday the same opponents are the visitors to Hickings Lane where the title could possibly be confirmed. They finish their league campaign away to Aslockton & Orston on Saturday May 13th. In between these last two league games there's also the small matter of Notts FA Senior Trophy Final against Keyworth United, who may have just had the league title taken away from them by Stapleford. That could be an interesting game.
Finally, did anyone actually read this far and, if they did, did anyone get the reference to a 1960s TV show in the blog title, or am I just amusing myself?
Cotgrave: Benton, Burdett, Harry Adlam-Wood, Bacon(c), Hopkinson, Robertson, Larcombe, Henry Adlam-Wood, Elliott, Jackson, Burrows. Subs: Kerslake, Jenkinson, Yorke, Flint
Stapleford Town: Brown, Bird, Cassidy, Ball, Sterling, Howes, Kruk, Tefera, Large, Robb(c), Airey. Subs: Brandy, Hudson, Phillips, Elson
Ground Number: 364