It was third time lucky for me on Tuesday night. My two previous attempts to visit East Street had been postponed due to frozen and waterlogged pitches. However, the game with ON Chenecks was never in doubt, so I set off on the hour long journey to Olney.
East Street is an interesting ground in as much as it is unenclosed and, as such, the club cannot charge for entry. They do, however, have a man with a collection box who passes around the ground during the game. There is plenty of parking available alongside the ground in a car park that is shared with the rugby club. For busier games there is also plenty of parking in the town itself, which is just a few minutes walk away. There is a single, small, covered stand on the car park side of the pitch. Opposite the stand are the dugout areas and to the left of the stand, at the far end of the ground, there is a clubhouse. The remainder of the playing surface is surrounded by fencing and hard-standing.
The first people that I bumped into were a group of ground-hoppers from Nottinghamshire who had travelled for over two hours for the game. They informed me that, although there was no official programme, a team sheet was available from the clubhouse (although only a few were left). I managed to get one and made my way to the far side of the ground ready for the first half.
Coming into the game Chenecks were on a run of six without defeat, having last lost 2-1 to Whitworths in mid-January. Olney, meanwhile, continue to have an up and down season. Their 4-2 win at Woodford followed up with a 5-2 home defeat to Thrapston, typifying the season so far. Saying that, they are firmly placed in mid-table on 46 points, well safe of any relegation worries. Chenecks on 61 points before the game are well within striking distance of the leaders even though they have played more games than anyone else. I was expecting a reasonably tight game with maybe the away side snatching it by the odd goal.
The first half was a scrappy affair from the first whistle and, although it was not completely one-sided, I think it was fair to say that the away side were on top. They finally broke the deadlock after 26 minutes when slack marking allowed a relatively free near-post header to beat the home keeper. There was not a great deal more to report for the rest of the half with the away side going in 1-0 up and looking comfortable. In fact, although the Chenecks keeper was clad in an all green outfit, similar to the Olney team, the home side had rarely got close enough to him for it to be a problem. I was surprised, however, when he appeared for the second half still wearing all green. Maybe the referee deemed the shades of green to be different enough not to cause confusion? The one ray of sunshine in the home team, in my opinion, was the lad playing wide right for them (Daniel Webb I was told during the break). When he got the ball he was very direct, very quick and was more than capable of beating his man.
During the interval I managed to get a cup of tea, knock over the full cup and get another one gratis (thanks to the tea bar staff for this). I also got to find out just how dedicated the aforementioned ground-hoppers are. All three of them had over 500 grounds to their names spread across the whole of the country and into Scotland and Wales. Like me they were all former followers of the pro game who had become disillusioned with it all and had discovered much better value and entertainment in the amateur game.
It was clear from the first minute of the second half that the home side had been given something of a pep talk during the interval. Right from kick-off they set about attacking Chenecks, creating more chances in the opening two minutes than they did in the entire first 45. The contrast in the balance of play from first half to second was enormous. Thirteen minutes into the second period Olney got their reward for their endeavour when a misguided cross from the right drifted over the keeper an into the far corner. It was definitely not meant but, as I tweeted at the time, they all count.The game continued in the same vein. It was all Olney and looked like only a matter of time before they went in front. The nippy number 7 that I commented on in the first half was continuing to cause massive problems with his pace and direct running. However, as so often happens in football, totally against the run of play a quick Chenecks counter-attack was finished with a beautiful right-wing cross to an onrushing striker at the far post to head home. So, with only about 10 minutes left on the clock the away side had gone back in front.
To their credit Olney, who could have easily let their heads drop, went straight back on the attack and, from a deep left-wing cross, the number 9 rose to head home the equaliser less than two minutes after going behind. No more than they deserved on the second-half performance.
There was still enough time for some 'handbags' and a chance to win it at either end but neither came to anything and the game finished 2-2. The first half definitely belonged to Chenecks but the second half was all Olney. On the balance of play a draw was probably a fair result although, if pushed, I would say that it was Olney that shaded it over the 90 minutes.
Once again, some good entertainment and decent honest football on show. East Street did not disappoint.
Olney Town - @olneytownfc
ON Chenecks - @onchenecksfc1