Oak Park or The Titan Recruitment Stadium as it is now known is situated in the heart of Walsall Wood a North-Eastern suburb of Walsall. The area was traditionally a mining community a fact borne out by the memorial pithead which can be seen on the horizon behind the Shaw End goal. There is ample parking available just a short walk from the entrance turnstile, behind the local KFC branch. The turnstile entrance brings you into the corner of the ground on the Oak Park side. The majority of facilities are along this side of the ground. Immediately in front of the entrance is the main clubhouse. A walkway between this building and the pitch takes you past a further lounge area, possibly reserved for visiting officials, and the snack bar which is just before the players entrance to the pitch. Behind the Osborne End goal there is covered standing stretching the full width of the pitch. Opposite the clubhouse is the main stand, The Geoff Woodward Stand, which provides seating on deep wooden steps. The dugouts are situated either side of the main stand with the home dugout bearing the slogan "For the Good of The Wood" #FTGOTW, used by the club on their social media.
The club produces are very professional and informative full-colour programme, The Wood. Priced at £2, it's at the high-end for this level of football, but well worth it.
At the start of play Walsall Wood held a commanding seven point lead at the top of the Premier League table, they also had two games in hand over nearest rivals Racing Club Warwick. Stone sat in 13th spot, well clear of the drop zone but too far adrift to have any hopes of promotion. The sides met at Kings park back in September, sharing the spoils in a 2-2 draw. The game was 0-0 at the break before Sam Wilson gave Stone the lead. Jay Lionga equalised for Wood before Sam Wilson seemed to have won it for Stone in the 91st minute. Wood, however, managed to salvage a point when Matt Hughes scored in the 4th minute of added time. The previous season the sides also shared the points at Stone in a 3-3 draw that was also goalless at the break. Once again there was a flurry of late scoring with Stone grabbing all three of their goals in the final 10 minutes after Wood had led 3-0. The match at Oak Park last season ended with a 2-1 away victory for Alleynians. Stone led through an own goal in the first minute then doubled their lead before half-time. Jai Verma pulled a late one back but were reduced to 10 before the end when Tyreace Brown saw red in the 89th minute.
A big thank you to Wood's media man Olly Foster for sending me the visitor's line-up. Much appreciated.
I decided to head over to the main stand in readiness for kick-off, although I soon decided to head down to pitch level when it became clear that the icy weather was much more noticeable when perched up higher.
The home side started with some verve but it was Stone who arguably had the most clear cut of the early chances when Callum Smith was called upon to save an eighth minute drive. That being said, that turned out to be Stone's only real attempt for over half an hour as Wood pretty much dominated play.
Just past the quarter-hour mark the home wide were awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out and slightly to the left. Ryan Nesbitt lined it up but his powerful effort was just wide of Raj Gill's right-hand post. Seven minutes later a poor clearance from Gill landed at the feet of Nesbitt around 30 yards from goal. The Wood player tried to return it past the stranded keeper but a defender managed to get a slight deflection on the ball to send it out for a corner. Wood were certainly turning up the heat a little now which was just as well, because it was icy cold on the side-lines with a nasty bit of drizzle starting to fall. With 27 minutes on the clock the hosts forced a right-wing corner which Ryan Nesbitt whipped in left-footed, curling in towards the goal. The ball evaded everyone, including the efforts of a defender on the line, to put Wood a goal up. 1-0 and debut goal for the new signing.
Jai Verma was next to come close. Chasing down a long punt, the speedy winger won a 50-50 with the advancing keeper but then could only put his shot just wide of the post.
Stone did manage one more shot on target before the half was over. That came after 36 minutes when Jack Bowater's goal-bound effort was headed away for a corner which came to nothing.
HT Walsall Wood 1 Stone Old Alleynians 0. The home side were well in charge of the game but only led by the single goal. In a fixture that has a history of late drama, will a one goal lead be enough?
After that point Stone managed to step up their game a little. For ten minutes they not only stemmed the flow from Wood, but also were able to push the home side back a little. All of this without causing any great problems for Callum Smith between the Wood sticks.
With fifteen left Jai Verma chased down another long ball, not a dissimilar situation to the one in the first half. However, this time, a last ditch defensive tackle was enough to prevent a goal. Verma was at the centre of attention again in the 88th minute when he was taken out twice in a mater of seconds. First a lunge almost took him down but after riding that one, he was then blocked off by another defender, leaving him in a heap. For a second it looked as if things may get out of hand, but it all soon calmed down and we were able to see out the final few minutes.
FT Walsall Wood 1 Stone Old Alleynians 0. In truth, not the best game but Wood won't mind one bit. Another three points in the bag and a ten point lead at the top of the table. Stone offered very little throughout the game. They just never seemed to get going. Meanwhile, I have now seen Wood three times and they have won every time. I am available for key games for the right price :-)
Wood play the first of their remaining ten games on Saturday as they welcome sixth placed Highgate United to Oak Park. The teams have already met twice this season, both games at Tythe Barn Lane. In the league Wood ran out 2-0 winners through Mitchell Tolley and Jai Verma. A few weeks later they met in the FA Vase where Kaden May(2), Joey Butlin, Daniel Gyasi, Jai Verma, Hayden Purves and an OG gave the visitors a resounding 7-0 victory. Stone have no game on Saturday but are back in league action on Tuesday night when they entertain fifth placed Shifnal Town. The reverse fixture a few weeks ago ended with Stone returning home with the points and a 2-0 victory thanks to two Sam Wilson goals.
Walsall Wood: Smith, Lycett, Lewis Riley-Stewart, Currithers, McKerdy, Verma, Monteiro(c), Butlin, Purves, Hughes, Nesbitt. Subs: Liam Riley-Stewart, Unitt, May, Brown, Gyasi
Stone Old Aleynians: Gill, Goodwin, Sedgeley, Bradbury, Askey, Bailey, Baxter, Wilson(c), J.Bowater, Tomlinson, Davies. Subs: S.Bowater, Boote, Pritchard, Thomas
Ground Number: 351