Having spent the day in London, an environment that I am very much not at home in, I was really looking forward to getting out to a game on Wednesday evening. Out into the fresh air, watching football, a setting in which I feel much, much happier.
It was an opportunity to finally visit Littleton FC. Twice before I had made plans for a trip to deepest Worcestershire but on both occasions the weather had got the better of me. No chance of that this evening. Clear skies and, albeit slightly chilly, a lovely spring evening.
This game was a re-arranged fixture against Nuneaton Griff and, although there was nothing but league placings to play for, I was anticipating a competitive game between two good sides. At the start of play, Littleton were in eighth place, three places and four points above Griff with
both teams having played 33 games. The reverse fixture at The Pingles Stadium just a couple of weeks back, ended in a 0-0 draw.
Five Acres, Littleton's home ground, is situated just outside the village of North Littleton about a third of the distance between Evesham and Stratford-upon-Avon. From the ample parking space you access the ground through a single turnstile alongside the the main facilities building.
This block and the clubhouse is set back a little from the actual playing surface. The main covered area, The Jim Cox Stand, is directly in front of you as you enter, with dugouts either side of it. There are two other covered sections around the ground, a small seated stand just to the side of the goal at the poultry farm and another small stand, that resembles two bus shelters bolted together, on the far side. First impressions count for a lot and the first impression of Five Acres is that it is a pleasant location for a football match. Staff and supporters in the clubhouse were very friendly, and happy to have a chat. Spotting an official carrying what looked like team sheets, I asked if I can take a quick photo of them and he was more than happy to oblige. I say this quite a lot in my match blogs but I am always taken aback by the friendly atmosphere of non-league clubs. The majority are very happy to welcome newcomers, opposing supporters and neutrals.
Although the previous meeting between the sides had finished 0-0 this fixture had produced 24 goals in four matches. Griff held sway as far as points tally, winning three of the four games, 4-1, 4-3 and 2-1. However, two season ago it was Littleton who had racked up the biggest margin with an 8-1 home victory.
When the game kicked off it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a fairly tight encounter. There was not a lot between the sides
for the first 15 minutes or so and neither team manged to get a shot on target in this period, although not for the lack of effort. It might have been a late season game with not much riding on it but it was obvious that neither side wanted to give any quarter.
If anything it was Griff who looked the more threatening of the sides with the pace of Danny Taylor looking to be a threat. The breakthrough came in the 22nd minute and it was Taylor who did the damage, though not with his pace. Griff forced a corner on their left which was floated to the far post. Taylor got his head to it and the ball looped over everyone, in the direction from which it came, dropping under the bar and into the net. 0-1.
cross from their right found The Pieman, John Russell, at the near post. He was allowed to turned and fire a shot across McCarthy into the far corner. 0-2.
Littleton were rocked by this quick-fire double but they re-grouped and managed to stem the flow, whilst starting to look a little more dangerous
On the 40 minute mark we had the first of three controversial incidents that went against the home side. A through ball cut open the Griff defence and sent Sean Brain clear, one on one with the Griff keeper. However, before the striker had a chance to pull a goal back the assistant's flag went up for offside. Whilst I have a lot of sympathy for officials, who have a very difficult job, Brain clearly ran past the last defender to get to the ball. There is no way that he was offside. Of course, we will never know if he would have scored or not, but he should have had the opportunity.
So, as it was the away side went in two goals to the better at the break.
HT Littleton 0 Nuneaton Griff 2.
The Ton Boys came out for the second half with renewed vigour. Kicking down the slight slope and with the wind behind them, they immediately set about getting themselves back into the game. Their reward wasn't long in coming. Great work in the middle by Mat Fusco, wriggling clear of a number of challenges before sending an inch-perfect ball through the middle for Dan Stokes to run onto. Stokes produced a delightful chip over the on-rushing keeper to make it 1-2.
The goal sparked a flurry of what can only be described as 'handbags'. A Littleton player tried to retrieve the ball from the net, a Griff player tried to stop him and more players joined in with general pushing and shoving. The upshot, after some consultation between the officials, was a few yellow cards for players on both sides.
From the restart Littleton were hunting the ball down in packs. Driven on by getting a goal back, it looked like just a matter of time before they go the equaliser. On two or three occasions balls flew across the Griff penalty area but always just out of reach of a Littleton striker.
This set the pattern for the next 30 minutes. Littleton pressing forward at every opportunity but either being denied by some resolute defending or not being able to quite find the killer pass in the last third.
Then, with three minutes left on the clock, came the second big decision that went against the home side. A long ball down the middle was contested in the air by a Littleton striker and a Griff defender. The ball found it's way into the path of Stokes who was clean through but in an offside position. He finished well but the assistant's flag was up. Whilst the player was definitely in an offside position, the ball looked like it came off the Griff player last which would have meant he was onside. Once again, a difficult decision for the assistant to make but Littleton will feel quite hard done by in my opinion.
To make matters worse, Griff went straight up the other end of the pitch and scored their third goal. Lewis Collins clipping one over the keeper from outside the box. A very well struck effort from some way out. 1-3.
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, the game was over as a contest. However, the controversy wasn't. Into stoppage time and Griff tried to break through the Littleton back-line again. The attack was stopped illegally by a home defender but there was plenty of cover and it could, in no way, have been described as a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The referee, however, disagreed and pulled out a red card. That just about summed up the evening for Littleton.
FT Littleton 1 Nuneaton Griff 3. Harsh on the home side in some ways especially after they laid siege in the second-half but Griff took their chances and defended very well. You could say that they produced a Professional performance, soaking up the second-half pressure and then hitting their opponents on the break. So, it was very apt that Lewis Collins scored their third goal. Quite possibly no-one under forty will get that reference.
Best of luck to both sides in their final few games. I've seen them both play a couple of times this season and have thoroughly enjoyed all of the matches. Two entertaining teams that both try to play good football. Here are links to the previous games this season:
Nuneaton Griff v Dudley Sports - FA Cup, August 2016
Southam United v Littleton - Midland Div 1, January 2017
Littleton - @thetonboys
Nuneaton Griff - @nuneatongriff