Saturday, 5 April 2014

Ampthill Town 1 v Harefield United 1 - Spartan (South mids) Prem

Saturday 5th April 2014
(Molten) Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division
at Ampthill Park
Ampthill Town (1) 1
Danny Watson 39
Harefield United (0) 1
Ryan Ashe 85
Admission £6. inc. programme.
Attendance 63
Ampthill Town:
Martin Conway, Josh Kisby, Alvin Rajaram, Robbie Goodman (C), Dave Murphy, Tyrone Taylor, Warren Garcia, MIchael Lyon, Lea Coulter, Danny Watson, Sam Holmes
Subs - Steve Flux, Dan Green, Kyle Duncan
Harefield United:
Michael Pearce, Connor Butler, Jordan Keeley, Gunew Ferguson, Austin Schofield, Ryan Egan, Paolo Cicero, Ryan Ashe, Ryan Kinnane, Mark Sergeant, Jack Reader, Jack Grit, Andrew Hiblen, Seldyn Grant.
(Harefield squad list, inc. subs, not in number order)
Ampthill, is a very well kempt, small rural town (population 6000), situated in a charming and picturesque area of Bedfordshire, in between Bedford and Luton.
The name 'Ampthill' is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The first settlement was called 'Aemethyll', which literally means either 'ant heap' or 'ant infested hill'.
But you can find out all of that kind of stuff on Wikipedia, so I'll stop pretending to know all sorts of things about local history and stick to proving that I know bugger all about football instead..
This was the first time I've ever been to Ampthill, but having now made it's acquaintance, it probably won't be the last.
If I'd concentrated a bit harder at school and ended up with a much better paid job than the one I've got, Ampthill is definitely the sort of place I'd like to retire to one day.
But hey! The estate I live on, in a north Nottinghamshire 'historic market town' isn't without it's own charm.
The football ground is neatly tucked away inside a country park, just off Woburn Road, as you head due west out of town, the rugby ground is just across the road and the cricket club play next door.
The 'Ampthill Hub' a cafe and meeting place that is central to all of the park's amenities, is situated just outside the main entrance of the ground and their is a welcoming clubhouse once you get inside too.
Though it's an enclosure that would benefit from a bit of TLC, personally I liked it, a lot, it's definitely got a lot of charm and character.
I particularly enjoyed being able to view the game from the raised standing area and seating. You don't miss much from up there ... so maybe the match referee Mr R Trinder should make good use of these facilities the next time he officiates here.
The local crowd are a friendly and knowledgeable bunch, to which end I must thank Ampthill's club secretary Eric Turner and their goalkeeper Martin Conway's mother, for filling me in with a few details ... I'm quite sure the gumshield advice will prove to be invaluable.
Background info:
It's a two horse race for the title in the Spartan League Premier Division, between Ampthill United and Hanwell Town.
Though after this afternoon's results, Ampthill's chances of claiming the top spot were somewhat diminished because they are now relying on results elsewhere going their way, even more than they originally were when today's game kicked off.
Ampthill started the day one point in front of Hanwell in the table, but the Middlesex side have a better goal difference and four games in hand on their Bedfordshire title rivals.
"And I must stipulate that I do not award stoppage time penalty kicks"
With Hanwell being expected to win this afternoon, in their away game against lowly Leverstock Green (who have conceded more goals than any other team in the league this season ... exactly 100 before today), it was vitally important for Ampthill, that they not only beat tenth placed Harefield Town, but that they beat them well.
Though the home side couldn't afford to count their chickens and be complacent, because only last month, Harefield had held Hanwell to a 1-1 draw ... and when these two sides last met, back in September, in the reverse fixture, Ampthill only narrowly won that game, 3-2.
As things turned out, Hanwell only narrowly won at Leverstock after coming back from being a goal behind to grab a vital 2-1 win.
But unfortunately for Ampthill, this game never went to plan and though they could point to three big contributing factors, namely: 1) they started today with a makeshift side owing to seven first picks being unavailable, 2) that they ought to have been home and dry by half time, and 3) two stonewall penalty decisions went against them in stoppage time, maybe it could also be said, that the enormity of what three points would mean from this game, had got to the home side a bit and their nerves were getting better of them at times, when they rushed things in front of goal, instead of adopting a more measured and patient approach.
Now that is what I call a photo prop.
On Tuesday night, Hanwell are at home against seventeenth placed Hadley, while Ampthill travel to Oxhey Jets, where they play a brand of Association Football that doesn't require goalkeepers, if their 9-5 victory over Hertford Town today is anything to go by.
Next weekend's big match in the Spartans League Premier Division, will be, Hanwell Town v Ampthill Town.
Take notes y'all, there will be a quiz at the end.
Ampthill will have been kicking themselves for not having already finished this game off by half time.
Profligate finishing is the polite way of describing the string of wasted chances that went begging, as time after time, a lack of sharpness in front of  the Harefield keeper, Michael Pearce, saw the home side doing themselves no favours whatsoever.
After just six minutes Ampthill should've been in front, but when Sam Holmes ran onto a pass, over the top of Harefield's defence, he didn't get enough power behind his shot and Pearce saved easily.
Danny Watson played the ball across the face of the Hares goal from out on the right flank and though Lea Coulter came agonisingly close to connecting with the ball and breaking the deadlock, the visitors stood firm.
Warren Garcia latched onto a clearance by the Ampthill defence and knocked a slide rule pass into the path of Watson through the left channel into the visitors area, but the home sides number 10 over ran the ball, gave himself far too tight an angle to shoot from and hit the ball straight at Pearce.
Ampthill's captain Robbie Goodman, spotted Coulter making a run into the right hand side of Harefield's area and picked him out with a great pass, but Coulter's effort, across the face of goal, went narrowly wide of the left hand upright.
Harefield then enjoyed a spell of possession around Martin Conway's goal, but lacked the final touch to turn their possession into goals, then in the 39th minute, having absorbed a spell of pressure, Ampthill attacked down the left flank, Holmes swung a cross in from out on the left and Watson headed powerfully home to break the deadlock ... finally.
Ampthill survived a scare, right on the stroke of half time, when Cicero's free kick from out on the right, was met by a cluster of bodies from both teams, but Conway gathered the ball and the moment had gone.
HT - Ampthill Town 1 v Harefield United 0 ... it could and probably should have been 4-0 by now.
Most of Harefield's best moments, were orchestrated by Paolo Cicero, who put in a real captain's performance in the middle of the park. 
His distribution and strength in the tackle were very impressive all afternoon. And when Harefield started to get on top in the battle for midfield after the break, which in essence dictated how the game finally ended up finishing one apiece, it was Cicero's telling contribution that made all the difference in my humble opinion, though it took a really quality finish from Ryan Ashe to beat Martin Conway late in the game.
The second half wasn't as jammed packed with thrills, spills and near misses as the first had been, as the two sides stood toe to toe and cancelled each other out across the middle third of the pitch.
Ampthill's left back, Alvin Rajaram, who had been busy up and down the left flank, linking up with the attack before the break, showed that he was just as adept at tackling back and covering a lot of ground in defence after the restart too, he made a couple of timely interventions that thwarted Harefield's build up play and must have been a serious contender for man of the match, alongside Paul Cicero.
The makeshift Ampthill had lost a bit of their fizz as the game entered the final quarter of an hour and they combated Harefield's second half tactics, by flooding the midfield with players, preserving their slender lead and pushing Tyrone Taylor up front.
It nearly worked!
With time running out and Ampthill playing ever more deeply, it looked as though they had succeeded in suffocating the visitors attacking intentions out and to all intents and purposes they had adopted a horses for courses policy and hung on for three vital points.
But Ryan Ashe hadn't read the script and in the 8th minute, when he received the ball thirty yards out, with a crowd of players before him and no other options on, he smashed an unstoppable thunderbolt of a shot into the top right hand corner of Ampthill's net.
"You don't stop them!"
Conway must've seen it late, through the mass of yellow shirts in front of him, but there wasn't much that the Ampthill keeper could've done about it anyway.
The home side's afternoon went from bad to worse in stoppage time, when Watson's shot was denied by a great save from Connor Butler, it was almost on a par with the one that Gordon Banks made to deny Pele in the 1970 World Cup tournament, such was Butler's technique, agility and handling ... but unlike Banks, or indeed Michael Pearce ... Butler isn't a goalkeeper, he is a defender for Harefield United.
Quite what the referee saw is anyone's guess, but there was no penalty or red card awarded and he waved play on. Wow!
Moments later, Ampthill hit another cross deep into the Harefield area but a defender wrapped his arm around it's intended recipients neck and stopped him jumping to get his header in.
Once again, the ref saw nothing wrong.
Hmm ... he really should've watched the game from up on the banking, shouldn't he!?
FT - Ampthill Town 1 v Harefield United 1
Ampthill will doubtless still be cursing today's referee for a very long time and won't want to see him again for a very long time ... and even from my position of complete neutrality, I can't blame them.
But they really ought to have put away a couple more of their gilt edged chances in the first half, when they were on top in this vital game, meaning there would've been no need for stoppage time penalties to give them the win they so desperately needed.
Football's got a habit of biting you on the arse when you least expect it ... and fate well and truly sank it's teeth into Ampthill's  fleshy parts this afternoon.
It's difficult not to feel a certain amount of sympathy for them, even though they did contribute to their own downfall by missing a sack full of chances.