I had an opportunity to get to a game in the afternoon but, as I needed to get back at a reasonable hour, it was always going to have to be a nearby game. I had the chance to see Swindon's finest Sunday league outfit take on Saturday opposition, Priory Vale, in a friendly but getting to Wootton Bassett and back on my timescale was going to be difficult. However, lookout for the weekly Monk review later in the week. It will be worth a read, guaranteed.
I decided on a Northants Premier game. From recent experience I knew there was a good chance of an entertaining game close enough for me to be home at a reasonable hour. My original plan was Heyford Athletic v Moulton. mainly because it was the closest match to me. However, when that was called off, I opted for Earls Barton United v Blisworth. Slightly further but a more important game in terms of the title race.
Earls Barton play at The Grange, a multi-sport facility just to the North of Earls Barton village which, in turn, is just to the North of the A45. The Sports field comprises of a large cricket ground partially surrounded by a white picket fence in the most archetypal English village cricket green style, a 7-a-side pitch next to the cricket pitch and the first team pitch. There is also plenty of space in front of the pavilion which could easily accommodate more small sided pitches. The clubhouse incorporates the players and officials changing areas as well as a bar in the style of a public house, called The old Swan. The entrance to the bar also features quite an ornate clock on the gables of the building. The pitch itself looked to be reasonably flat. There is no spectator cover or dugouts, although technical areas are marked with white paint on the cricket pitch side of the ground. The ground is set looking out over countryside towards Wellingborough and is quite exposed to the elements as we all found out on Saturday, with a very chilly breeze blowing across the pitch and with no stands to shelter behind, it made for a quite a cold afternoon.
As detailed in a recent blog, The Right Combination, the title race in the Northants Combination Premier League has been a two horse race for the past month or so. Sitting on top of the pile are Roade, seven points clear before kick-off but having played two more games than second placed Bisworth. With Roade not playing this weekend and next seeing Blisworth entertain road, three points today were required to put pressure on the league leaders ahead of the game next Saturday.
In the reverse fixture at Blisworth in October the home side had run out comfortable 4-1 winners with goals from Kieran Westbury (2), Niall Duffy and Jamie Cully for Blis. Dan Webb scored the Earls Barton goal. In fact, since the clubs gained promotion to the Premier League, Blisworth by means of a second pace finish in 2011-12 and Earls Barton by means of winning Division One the following year, the sides have met 12 times, not including this season. In that time Earls Barton have only managed one win which came at Blisworth in the 2013-14 season. Of course, since that time, Blisworth have won 4 league titles and their record against Earls Barton mirrors this success with 8 wins and 3 draws.
Blisworth, in their change kit of gold and white, were playing towards the clubhouse end in the first half, with a gusty wind blowing in their favour. They started the game confidently, as you would expect of a team chasing the title. Less than 10 minutes in the visitors took the lead. A corner from the right was not dealt with properly, the ball fell to the feet of Stephen Grimley who stabbed the ball past the home keeper Ciaran Wells. 0-1
Three minutes later it looked as if Blisworth had made it two when Westbury fired through a crowd of players past the outstretched hand of the keeper. However, the ball had taken a nick off a player on the way into the net. The sound was audible even from the side line but it was unclear who had got the touch. The referee conferred with the assistant who confirmed their was a touch but didn't know if it was a home or away player that touched the ball. The referee decided it clipped a Blisworth player in an offside position and ruled the goal out. Undeterred Blisworth continued to hunt for a second goal. A minute after the disallowed goal they were almost in again when their centre-forward flicked on a through ball perfectly into the path of Number 10 who lobbed the keeper only to see his effort go narrowly over the bar. It really was looking like just a matter of time until Blisworth increased their lead.
However, chances came and went without the scoresheet being altered and the home side noticeably grew in confidence as the half drew on. They were lucky again just past the half hour mark though, when Blisworth's number 11 used his pace to latch onto a long ball before pulling his cross shot just wide of the far post. The home team responded with their best effort of the half so far, the lively Dylan Wilson shooting just wide after bursting past a couple of Blisworth defenders.
Earls Barton left back Eddie Mann was having a a solid game but was showing signs of his efforts. First of all, stooping to head clear, he had inadvertently taken a blow to the head which drew blood. Patched up with a bandage around his head, he soldiered on only to take another painful looking knock to the ankle in a 50-50 challenge. Again, nothing malevolent in the challenge just a case of a player coming off worse. Before the half was over Blisworth's number 11 once again used his pace to get onto a through ball but couldn't get his shot, from a narrow angle, on target.
HT Earls Barton United 0 Blisworth 1. Plenty of chances fell the way of the visitors but they could only make one of them count. fair to say that they could have been three or four goals to the good. Earls Barton looked happy to still be in the game at the break and would have the conditions in their favour for the second period.
It looked done and dusted at this stage but little did we know what was to come. Just past the hour mark Barton gave us a glimpse of what they could do when the overlapping left-back Eddie Mann, still complete with head bandage, put in a superb cross that was headed wide by Tom North. He probably should have done better, but it was a warning for Blisworth. Two minutes later Wilson, who had looked the most dangerous home player all game, went on a good run before feeding North again. He went past the keeper but was sent wide enough, and was off balance enough, to screw his shot just wide. Blisworth tried to hit back and, with 20 minutes to go, put together a lovely move culminating in the home keeper saving well with his feet.
With 18 minutes to go it was still 2-0 to the visitors, but then Earls Barton managed to hit back. A free-kick on the right was whipped in towards the near post. The keeper got down to it but couldn't hold on, allowing Glenn Cakebread to nip in and stab the ball over the line. 1-2. Could there be a comeback on the cards? Well, six minutes after conceding Blisworth had a massive chance to put the game to bed when they were awarded a penalty. Kieran Westbury stepped up but Wells guessed right, diving to his right to save.
With six minutes left and Blisworth seemingly hanging on for three much needed points, Earls Barton struck again. A great cross from the left by Cakebread was headed in at the far post by Ant Brown. 2-2
Blisworth were reeling and this was demonstrated when, just a minute after being pegged back, they went behind. A huge kick from the home keeper Wells caught the wind and fell into the visitors penalty area. The Blis keeper had already half come to collect but was in no man's land as Dylan Wilson got a flick on the dropping ball to divert it into the net. 3-2
The madness was not over either. Just as we approached the 90 minute mark things got even worse for the visitors and it was entirely of their on making. A long ball was being chased down by Cakebread but he was definitely second favourite to reach it before the goalkeeper and a covering defender. However, the Blisworth players managed to collide leaving Cakebread to roll the ball into an empty net. 4-2.
There was still time for Blisworth to get a goal back through Ross Watson's second of the afternoon, two minutes into added time to make it 4-3, but it was too little, too late as the referee blew the final whistle shortly afterwards.
FT Earls Barton United 4 Blisworth 3. Let's remember that this game was still 0-2 with 18 minutes remaining. What a finale to the game. Even the Earls Barton Twitter admin referred to it as smash and grab but, to be fair to them, they kept plugging away and, I was told afterwards, were short of seven first-teamers.
The result sees Blisworth stay seven points adrift of leaders Roade but now they only have one game in hand. This puts even more emphasis on next week's massive top of the table clash when Roade make the short journey to Blisworth in what is now very much a must win for the home team. What a game that promises to be. It looks very much like BotP will not be able to make the game so, once again, if anyone wants to put a guest blog together it would be greatly appreciated and happily published on the web site. Earls Barton, meanwhile, travel to Moulton in what looks like another tasty fixture. Moulton won 3-2 at Earls Barton earlier in the season.
Earls Barton United: Wells, Harris, Andrews, Randall, Brown, Cakebread, Martin, Talbot, Ware, Wilson, North. Subs: Mann, Clewer
Blisworth: Tayal, Gartland, Redding, Herbert, Dowling, Grimley, Lyons, Westbury, Bobowicz, Wilkes, Duffy. Subs: Watson, Belfon, Reina
Ground Number: 311