Great Horwood's ground is easy to find once you realise that Nash Road could run both sides of the A421 (it actually doesn't, becoming Winslow Road), the main road between Buckingham and Milton Keynes. If you follow the signs to great Horwood off the roundabout, you are going the wrong way. Instead, turn toward Nash and you will immediately see the ground on your right, it's very well signed and advertised. It's also marked on Google maps, if only I had had noticed this beforehand. Still, Great Horwood is a very pleasant place to drive through twice.
The ground has a good sized car park to the rear of which are the player's and official's changing facilities together with the toilets. There are several pitches at the complex, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9. The main pitch is closest to the car park and changing facilities and runs lengthways adjacent to Winslow Road. It's step 8 of the pyramid, so there's not too much in the way of features to describe. However, there are two wooden dugouts on the Winslow Road side, now repaired after storm damage earlier in the year. The pitch has a few undulations but was pretty flat and in good shape overall.
One of the reasons I chose this match, apart from the proximity, was the fact that it matched up the third and second placed clubs respectively. Two pints separated them as they both strove to keep pace with unbeaten league leaders Stony Stratford Town. That being said, both of these teams were also defending unbeaten records and were only being kept off top spot because they had played fewer games. Great Horwood had won every league game since the opening day 3-3 draw at home to Bletchley Scot. They had, however, exited the Challenge Cup at the first stage, going down 4-3 at Willen. Great Linford were coming into the game boasting a 100% record across all competitions having won all four league games and progressed in the Challenge Cup with a 3-2 defeat of Stewkley. Five of the current top ten goal scorers in the league play for one of the two teams, so I was expecting to see a few goals.
Great Horwood are, of course, defending the title they won last season when they finished eight points clear of AFC Towcester in a season that saw them go unbeaten at home and only concede 23 goals in 20 games. I'll confess to not having known anything about Great Linford, so after a little research I saw that they were promoted from the Intermediate Division last season after a third place finish. The last time they were in the Premier Division was in the 2018-19 season when they finished in eighth spot. Both games against Great Horwood ended in defeat with Linford losing 6-1 at home and 3-0 in the return fixture. There was also a 3-1 win for Horwood in the Cup, a game that saw this afternoon's Horwood keeper, Ryan Lightfoot, on the score sheet. For some reason I can't see any evidence of Great Linford in the North Bucks league the following season but they reappeared in the truncated 2019-20 season, playing in the Intermediate Division.
An end to end first few minutes saw the visitors mount the first attack but then when Great Horwood responded with a cross that only narrowly evaded strikers, they kept their foot on the gas, penning Great Linford back for a while. With 5 minutes on the clock, big striker Glenn Hawkins forced Ralph Foreman into a good save, the Linford stopper getting down sharply to block a snapshot.
Linford soaked up the early onslaught and then, on 13 minutes, showed what they could do on the break. Four slick passes moved them from defence to attack before the final shot went just wide of the post. It was a warning to Great Horwood and one that they did not heed thoroughly. Just two minutes later they were caught in possession in midfield. Toby Herdman-Smith did well to win the ball back before driving at the Horwood back-line. He produced a delightful threaded ball which completely split the central defenders allowing Mason Luya to run on and slide the ball past Lightfoot. 0-1
Just after the 20 minute mark it was almost two. A long throw from the right reached the Horwood six yard box. A number of players challenged for the ball which, after a slight deflection, beat Lightfoot but came back off the near post. Despite the goal and the near miss, it was Great Horwood who were playing the better football at this point. They were stroking the ball around well in midfield but could not find the same fluency inside the final third. They were also well aware of the threat that Linford posed on the break. One such ball forced Lightfoot into quick action, diving on the ball under a challenge and seemingly falling awkwardly. The keeper looked to be struggling with his movement from that point onwards and also had to call a defender back to take goal kicks.
As the half drew towards a close, Great Horwood pushed for an equaliser. A ball into the box that should have been easily collected by Foreman was spilled into the path of Horwood captain Sam Archer. However, the Linford keeper made amends by throwing himself in front of Archer's shot, blocking it at point blank range. Great save.
HT Great Horwood 0 Great Linford 1. A strange half of football in some ways. The home side had far more possession, played some nice football, but were let down in the final third, although some of this was down to a well organised Linford defence. Great Linford had far less of the ball but, when they had got it, looked dangerous and took their chance well when it came. They could easily have been two up when they struck the post midway through the half.
The game wasn't all one way traffic though. Linford were still a threat and two minutes after the hour they had a big shout for a penalty when not one, but two tackles flew in during a bit of a scramble in the box. I have to say, I was a good 60 yards away but had a decent view of the the first incident and, as they say, I've seen them given. Horwood might count themselves a little lucky to get away with it.
As if to rub salt in that wound, two minutes later the home side took the lead. It came from a mini siege of the Linford goal. three consecutive corners, right, left and right again. On the third attempt Glen Hawkins managed to find some room in a crowded penalty area to lunge at the ball and stab it over the line. 2-1.
Great Linford tried to rally, urged on by their coaching staff. However, before they could build up a head of steam they found themselves two goals down as Brandon Bowes cut in from the right before unleashing a stunning left foot strike past Foreman. 3-1.
With a little under 20 minutes remaining, there was still time to get back in the game but, try as they might, Great Linford could not break down the Horwood defence. The roles somewhat reversed for the final few minutes. Linford poured forward in search of a goal and Horwood sat back a little. Their midfield, which had been very much an attacking line-up, played a little deeper, holding on to what they had, although as with Linford in the first half, they still posed a threat on the break.
FT Great Horwood 3 Great Linford 1. With Stony Stratford suffering their first defeat of the season at Hale Leys, Great Horwood are now the only unbeaten team in the division. They climb up to second place, level on points with the leaders and with a game in hand. Great Linford drop a place to fourth on goal difference after Willen hammered Mursley United 11-0. The table is extremely tight at the top with just one point separating the top five.
Next weekend it's second against third again at Castle Fields as Great Horwood take on Willen in what could be an absolute stonker of a game. Great Linford make the short journey North to take on 9th placed Hanslope at the Recreation Ground. Both games could be well worth a visit.
Great Horwood: Lightfoot, Thickbroom, Ridgway, Armitage, Riddell, Tarrant, Moyles, Archer(c), Bowes, Hawkins, Armitage. Subs:
Great Linford: Foreman, Mackerill, Eva, Smith, Field, Brewer, Bradnam, Combes, Luya, Cunningham, Herdman-Smith. Subs: Siegieda, Currie, Latarche, Craig
Ground Number: 332