I have visited New Bradwell Recreation Ground before, but it has been a while. A quick look back through the archives revealed that it was in fact over seven years ago. On that occasion I saw New Bradwell's men's team beat Edgware 2-1 on a chilly February evening (Saints, Sinner And A Late Winner).
The ground hasn't changed a huge amount in the intervening years. However, this was the first time I had been there in daylight, so much more of the location was revealed. The recreation ground, home of New Bradwell Sports Association, is home to both the local cricket and football clubs. There's a good sized car park adjacent to the clubhouse, which houses both a bar and snack bar. The cricket square is directly in front of the clubhouse. To the left of the car park, separating the football pitch from the rest of the complex, is the football changing room block. Opposite there is a covered spectator stand with a corrugated iron roof. The dugouts are situated either side of the main stand. The pitch slopes slightly from left to right as you look from the clubhouse side.
Milton pushed Woodley all the way in Division One North last season and despite losing both Charlotte Comley and Georgia Winger (20 goals between them last term), started the new season in glorious form by thrashing Caversham United 7-3 at Mapeldurham.
Bradwell gained promotion from the Thames Valley League last season, finishing third in a tightly congested Division 1 table. This earned them a place in Division 1 South of the East Midlands Regional League where they lost their opening league game 4-0 at Kettering Town.
Milton played in last season's A Cup, beating Slough Town 8-0 in the 1st Qualifying Round before going out 3-1 at home to Ascot United in the following round. As far as I am aware this is Bradwell's first venture into the FA Cup (happy to correct this if I am wrong).
Just before kick-off I also spotted a couple of familiar faces in the crowd. Dale James, photographer with Sports Shots, made a last minute dash from the cover of his car. We had a little catch-up midway through the first half. Always good to chew the football cud with Dale. Look out for a link to his photos in the weekly round-up blog. I also noticed Jason Thorne, an adversary from my coaching days, who's daughter plays in midfield for Milton. Jason also coaches the Oxford City girl's who play in my daughter's age group.
Although the rain was still coming down in buckets, the lightning seemed to have moved further afield and the gusts of wind had dropped by the time the two teams emerged from the cover of the changing rooms, New Bradwell in their all maroon kit and Milton in their change kit of all pale grey.
It was the home side who settled first, almost immediately looking sharper, quicker to the ball and a yard faster than their opponents. Their ability to get in behind the Milton defence was demonstrated with their first attempt on target when a nicely improvised backheel from Cara Brooker was comfortably stopped by Milton goalkeeper Grace Beardsley. Just past the quarter hour mark Lillia Stokes shot well over Beardsley's bar but, lack of shots on target aside, the home side were by this time well on top.
It was close to 20 minutes before Milton finally showed some intent at the opposite end of the pitch. They broke quickly but were thwarted when Shayla Burgess was swift off her line to bravely smother the through ball at a striker's feet. Straight back down the other end, Beardsley demonstrated her agility and bravery as she went full length to palm a Courtney Crawley strike around the post. A good save made better by the fact that she could easily have collided with the post in the process.
Just over halfway through the first half, the tide of Bradwell pressure finally broke the Milton defensive barrier. Once again Cara Brooker was found inside the Milton penalty area. Her quick feet created space for a shot which Beardsley did well to block but could not hold. Brooker was quickest to react, lashing the ball back into the net from close range. 1-0
The remainder of the first half continued pretty much in the same vain. Saints still commanded the vast percentage of possession whilst Milton struggled to find any kind of rhythm. Credit for this has to go to the home midfield who took control early on and succeeded in completely preventing Milton from playing. Shayla Burgess was, for much of the half, a remote viewer of the action. Grace Beardsley, meanwhile, had a much busier afternoon and was called upon again just before the half-time whistle, keeping her side in contention with another good save.
HT New Bradwell St Peter 1 Milton United 0. Impressive half from Saints especially as, I was reliably informed, they had a couple, of first team players missing. Even so, they managed to negate the attacking power of Milton, whilst posing plenty of threats themselves.
Courtney Crawley them struck a 25 yard fee-kick over Beardsley's bar before, just past the hour mark, Milton manufactured their best chance of the game so far. It was a route one attempt, a straight ball through the middle for Faith Kingdon to run onto. Under pressure, she got a shot off but it was straight into the body of Burgess. Much better from Milton though who, at this point, looked to be steadily playing their way into the game.
Maybe aware of this, Bradwell turned up the heat a little more as we approached the last 20 minutes. Then, with 19 minutes remaining, they conjured up a lovely second goal. It was finished by Emily Hale, sliding the ball under Beardsley. However, the credit has to go to the vision and perfect weight of the through ball from Leanne Burns. Excellent vision and technique made it relatively easy for the striker. 2-0.
Milton weren't giving up the game but, in all honesty, I couldn't see a way back for them at this point and they were almost dead and buried on 79 minutes when Brooker slotted past Beardsley only to see the assistant's flag raised. Milton tried to respond and, as we entered the final 10 minutes, Mollie Dyer smashed a free-kick goalward which Burgess reacted to brilliantly, pushing the goal bound effort away to safety.
In added time Saints applied the icing to their FA Cup cake when the excellent Courtney Crawley cut in from the right before flicking a left-foot effort inside Beardsley's near post much to the annoyance of the keeper. 3-0
FT New Bradwell St Peter 3 Milton United 0. Credit to Bradwell who bossed this game for the vast majority of the 90 minutes. Well organised at the back, dominant in midfield and threatening up front. They never gave Milton the opportunity to get going. The only downside was the injury to Courtney Crawley towards the end of added time. The winger had, in my opinion, looked the most dangerous player on the pitch for Bradwell. I hope the injury is not too bad after she was helped off the pitch a few minutes from the end.
Both teams are back in league action next weekend. New Bradwell make the trip North to face Nuneaton Borough, who also lost their opening game, 2-0 at home to Newport Pagnell Town. Meanwhile, Milton are on the road as well, travelling down to Fox Lane to face Eversley & California who are yet to take a point after two league games. Last season's encounter was decided by a single April England strike as United returned home with the points.
New Bradwell St Peter: 1. Burgess, 7. Hale, 2. Downhill, 3.Evans, 5.S.Jones, 15.Townsend, 4.Miller, 19.Burns, 12.Crawley, 8.Stokes, 6.Brooker. Subs: 10.C.Jones, 16.R.Alderson, 19.L.Alderson, 14.Nevill, 11.Smart, 17.Young, 9.Miller
Milton United: 1.Beardsley, 15.Taylor, 18.Hughes, 9.Miller(c), 7.Barnes, 6.Loveridge, 20.Slann, 2.Thorne, 17.Dyer, 8.England, 10. Kingdon. Subs: 14.Welch, 12.Ranxha, 11.Morton, 16.Simons
Ground Number: Re-visit