Nuneaton Griff are another matter entirely. I knew that I had visited their Pingles Stadium ground back in 2016 (A Bostin Cup Tie) but a quick look through my archives revealed another three games in which they had featured, a 2014 early season trip to Warwick (A Night at the Races (almost)), a 2017 visit to Littleton (The Professionals) and 2016 Midweek Floodlit Cup Final defeat to Copsewood (Copse Cup Coup).
Coming into the game the sides were separated by five places but only two points. Griff sat in sixth spot with 21 points from their 12 matches whilst Stapenhill, in eleventh spot, had 19 points from 13 games. Last season saw Stapenhill do the double over Griff as The Swans went on to finish in third spot, only missing out on the runners-up spot on goal difference. Stapenhill won 2-0 at The Pingle courtesy of strikes from two substitutes, Oliver Roome and Santigie Seasay. That score line was repeated at Maple Grove with Roome again hitting a goal, this time backed up by another from George Teeney.
Stapenhill were also defending an unbeaten home league record this season having won three and drawn three so far. Last weekend, however, the sides had contrasting results. Whilst Griff were winning 2-1 at Ingles
Stapenhill's Edge Hill stadium is situated on the Southern edge of the village of Stapenhill, just to the South-East of Burton-on-Trent. It's known locally as Maple Grove, the name of the access road that leads to the club's reasonably large car park. This is situated behind one of the goals and the covered standing area that runs from the corner flag towards the car park end goal. The entrance to the ground is a gate and hut sandwiched between this stand and the clubhouse. Just pas the clubhouse, on your left as you enter, there are two more buildings which house the players and officials changing areas. Further past those, straddling the halfway line, is the main seating area, the Freddie Sleigh Stand named after Stapenhill's founder who formed the club back in 1947. Opposite the main stand are the dugouts. That side of the ground has signs up saying that spectators are not allowed over there, although there did seem to be one or two who ventured across during the game. I was also told that the ground had a reputation for being one of the best playing surfaces around a few years back. To be fair, it still looked to be in pretty good condition. There are certainly many worse at this level and above.
Before kick-off I got talking to referee Joshua Sudbury as he and one of his assistants, Julia Kings, went through their warm-up routine. He joked that his name in the programme was only correct if he had a good game. If he didn't, could I refer to him by a different name. More to come of that later in the match report but the conversation did, at least, give me the blog title.
It was obvious from the very first minute that the wind was going to play a big part in the game. Stapenhill had it in their favour for the first half and you could see that Nuneaton were finding it quite difficult to play long balls out of defence as the ball held up in the wind. Having said that, the game was quite evenly balanced although, if anything, Stapenhill looked the more dangerous when they got the ball down and played. All in all it was both defences who were dominating the play. Of course, after saying that, it was a defensive mistake that led to the first goal. The home side swung a ball in towards the visitors penalty area where Ethan Looker seemed to have the situation under control. Unfortunately for the defender he mis-judged his header back towards Joe Salisbury, sending the ball past the keeper and towards the empty net. It looked as if it was going to be an own goal but Swans striker Jude Ayetine won the race to the ball and gave it a helping stab over the line. 1-0
The goal seemed to take the wind out of the visitor's sails as they struggled to try to get back into the game. Stapenhill looked the more likely to add to the scoring for most of the remainder of the first half although neither keeper was unduly worried. As we approached the break Nuneaton started to get the ball back on the floor again and managed a couple of decent looking move without creating too much of a threat to the home defence.
HT Stapenhill 1 Nuneaton Griff 0. The visitors probably just about edged the first 15-20 minutes but then, after conceding a sloppy goal, they seemed to lose their way.
The game was getting more and more scrappy as the second half drew on. The game was becoming very stop/start as the referee was forced to blow for a number of niggles happening across the pitch. The Griff bench, especially, was becoming more animated although from my viewpoint on the opposite side of the ground, I couldn't hear the comments.
After the hour mark the visitors really started stepping up their attempts to get back into the game. On 66 minutes Nick Clark and Luke Garner exchanged passes superbly to leave the latter through on goal. His shot beat Paul Hollis in the home goal but clipped the outside of the post before going for a goal kick. With fifteen minutes to go Ross Thacker was next to try his luck, hitting a drive from the edge of the box that narrowly cleared Hollis's bar. However, a minute after this close call the game swung further in favour of the home side. Griff captain Ryan Aston was shown a straight red for a challenge on Stapenhill substitute Alex Weir. I have to say that from where I was standing the red looked to be harsh and I know that the Griff supporters standing close by were of the same impression. However, Stapenhill players and bench clearly thought the challenge warranted the card and, you have to bear in mind that the referee saw the incident from a totally different angle to me and the Griff supporters. What did the challenge look like from the opposite side of the pitch? As the blog title says, referees are only humans. At this level they don't have the 'benefit' (and I use that term very lightly) of VAR. They have to make a decision based upon seeing an incident in real-time. In a case such as this, whatever decision had been made by the referee, one side would be incensed by the decision. One thing is for sure though, no referee, no game.
Despite being a player light, Griff continued to push for an equaliser. Nick Clark came very close in the 83rd minute, seeing his left-foot effort strike the Stapenhill bar and rebound to safety. try as they might, Griff could not find an equaliser and, as the game wore towards a close, they were increasingly at risk of being hit at the other end as they pushed forward. Stapenhill had a couple of chances to completely seal the game but they too could not find another goal.
FT Stapenhill 1 Nuneaton Griff 0. A scrappy affair punctuated by way too many stoppages, especially in the second half as the temperature rose between the teams. Overall, defences were in charge of this game. Both sides look strong at the back and neither seemed to have the tools to unlock the opposition's back-line. One mistake at the back was the decisive factor.
Griff have an opportunity to get back to winning ways as they welcome second from bottom side Cradley Town to The Pingles Stadium on Saturday. Stapenhill are also at home as they prepare for the visit of mid-table Hinckley.
Stapenhill: Hollis, Hudson, Dawkins, Landsdowne, Roome(c), Evans, Steele, Hill, Teeney, Ayetine, Hill. Subs: Palmer, Weir, Briscoe, Campbell
Nuneaton Griff: Salisbury, Aston(c), Looker, Loveitt, Alcock, Cross, Williams, Floyd, Garner, Thacker, Clark. Subs: Sherwood, Corbett, Bartram, Stokes, Belcher
Ground Number: 328