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Pie and Peas

By: Chris Smith
Date: 01/04/2011

MONDAY night saw us sneak a preview of an opponent for next season - Alfreton Town. On this showing and Town’s on Tuesday, we can expect a tough game next season. Alfreton had played a good few less games than most of their division but found themselves only three points behind leaders AFC Telford with three games in hand and only four defeats all season (although two of them had been lost in the last four matches).

Struggling Hyde managed a goalless draw here on the Saturday. A few Grimsby connections here. Daryl Clare is on loan here from Cambridge, and this arrangement has recently been extended. He has weighed in with five goals coming in his first seven appearances. Nathan Jarman was signed from Corby Town and doesn’t appear to have made an impact. Nicky Law is the manager and obviously having a better time than he did with us. Jarman and Clare were unplayed subs on this occasion.

Alfreton was an easy hop from Thorne, taking about 50 minutes with Jere (on leave from Qatar) hiring a car and determined to get some games in whilst here. It was an easy task to park up in a side street and saunter up to the ground, the Impact Arena, and it took a modest £10 to get in with a further £2 for the programme which was informative, well laid out, and just the right size.

It would have been rude not to sample the pie and peas, very nice thanks, and we made regular trips to the tea bar which was open throughout the game, unlike the facilities at Blundell Park. I liked the toilets. I think I could have put that better...Oddly enough, at some non-league grounds, the new blocks, which are put in as the ground is upgraded, seem to really go for space. After watering the roses, I reflected that the cubicles were big enough to put an armchair in for a ten minute sit down to ease the piles if required. A TV on a wall bracket could add to the further post ballast shifting relaxation. Perhaps you wouldn’t even bother coming out. Well, not at BP anyway. Even the toilet paper didn’t quite look like the emery paper textured stuff whose usage always marks out the shuffling ex public sector worker many years later.

Again, I spotted a few groundhoppers from the Donny area who, like us, were having a quick wander around the ground. As we entered the ground from North Street, we had an open stand with seats to our left. If you walk in front of this, you come to an all seater side stand with hard standing separating it from the pitch. Bizarrely, as we walked out towards the end of the game, a Solihull player was taking a throw in from further from the pitch than we were.

Opposite this is a standing area of small paddocks, very narrow but able to generate a partisan atmosphere in a big game. The roofing seems to have been assembled in stages with slightly different heights, but looks tidy. As you get to the other goal end, there are areas for the visiting dignitaries, which’ll rule us out then, with a busy bar area. In an attempt at subliminal pacification, there was even a vase of flowers in one window. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before at a football ground.

The other goal end is largely open terrace with the back fenced off, presumably for safety reasons. This terrace has several fences on it, presumably for segregation, with the gates open on this occasion. I found it strangely pleasing in that it reminded me of the old style cages that you could rattle. Perhaps they were put in for Chesterfield fans to half-heartedly push as I saw they had played here in a pre-season friendly. No prizes for guessing where we’ll be housed next season!

The well appointed club shop is along the side housing the bar and covered standing. I can honestly say I’ve never seen such an array of club badges before, with even Newport Civil Service from the Welsh League represented. I settled for the Alfreton badge (in the politically correct red colours). Oh, and a scarf, I don’t know what came over me.

Tonight’s opponents were Solihull Moors, an amalgam of the old Solihull Borough and Moor Green teams. A good mate of mine, George, lives locally to them and watches their home games in preference to the trek to his home town of Preston and had given me the low down on their players. Solihull are having a good season having been involved in a few relegation battles recently. They had been unbeaten in eighteen games prior to tonight’s game and are dedicating their promotion push to their late manager Bob Faulkner. Bob sadly died a few weeks ago having additionally managed Moor Green for 22 years prior to the 2007 merger. How about that for continuity and you can only admire the away team’s spirit in hitting the form that they had. Solihull had beaten Boston (whose fans cheered our draw against Tamworth) on the previous Saturday in a vital game.

Moors had a few dozen fans with them and it was obvious that a good gate was to assemble-791 in fact.

We assembled in a paddock and Alfreton made their attacking attentions clear from the off. They don’t lack pace and always seemed to get to the second ball. It was also pleasant to see intelligent attacking football. Most of the promising moves came down the left flank, from where any number of quality crosses were put in, creating alarm in the Moors’ defence.

The opening goal came from a good move on the left with the ball kept in well along the by-line. Town did well to get a cross in which ran into the path of their number two, Josh Law, who resisted the temptation to blast it over the bar but instead intelligently headed the ball into the goal as the fans had implored him to. Town had a chance to make it two but their number eleven shot tamely wide when well placed and under no pressure. Around the half an hour mark, an uncleared corner led to a melee and three blocked shots before the Moors keeper did really well to put the ball out for a corner.

Alfreton could have doubled their lead five minutes before half time but the shot was well blocked. Moors had a chance just before half time but a header from a corner went well over the bar. This was the first real showing from Moors for most of the first half and they had no answer to Alfreton’s skilful, pacy and uncompromising style.

Half time Alfreton 1 Solihull Moors 0

The second half was only a minute old when the game was effectively put out of Solihull’s reach. As Alfreton pushed forward and a goal looked certain, the Moors keeper brought down Town’s number nine, Paul Clayton. There was no question about it being a penalty, even I saw it! Everyone was amazed when the referee produced only a yellow card and I can only think he adjudged the player to be going slightly wide but it was a clear cut chance and Solihull should have been down to ten men.

Josh Law easily took his tally to two for the night and the home side began to turn the screws. The partisan crowd broke into song, though nothing original unfortunately. Mind you, I didn’t have to listen to that "this is the worst trip" dirge that seems to be taken up by all and sundry just lately. Given the way they’d set about Solihull, it was inevitable that Alfreton’s pace would slacken and the away team were able to get into the game a bit and did manage an effort on target. Town did have a chance to make it three nil when one of their players incredibly missed when it would have been easier for me to change and go on the pitch and accept the opportunity such was the time he had. Jere kindly opined that he might have had a "Paolo Di Canio moment" and had deliberately put the ball out of play for an injury we hadn’t seen or another act of charity.

This miss wasn’t to cost Alfreton as it would Grimsby (with the away team scenting a change in fortunes and punishing the slightest lapse). In fact the nearest we came to another goal was an Alfreton chance cannoning off the crossbar before the referee put the away team out of their misery.

Full time Alfreton 2 Solihull 0

I’m glad Town weren’t playing here that night as we would have been beaten, no question about that. The thought of coming here and losing to a team managed by someone who took us down into Division Four really doesn’t appeal. What I saw here was a team that was committed and played intelligently. A well deserved win.

The three points took Alfreton top before AFC Telford edged a point ahead the following night with what would have been a disappointing goalless draw for them. Alfreton won one nil at Corby (conquerors of a pathetic Town in a pre-season friendly not so long ago) on Wednesday night to retake pole position and are now two points clear with two games in hand.

I remember writing last autumn in a GTST programme column that we are actually at a disadvantage when playing teams like this as they have a winning mentality compared to our timorous approach. Couple this with a bit of the grey matter (that GTFC players seem to lack) and they become formidable opponents. A friend of mine suggested that the Town players (after the consecutive two all capitulations) should all wear headbands for the Darlington game with "t***" emblazoned on them to remind them to keep playing when they are ahead. I wished they had in light of Tuesday night’s no-show.

As for Solihull, they are still well placed and get a chance for revenge on April 9th in the reverse fixture. They can go up as well as far as I’m concerned. My friends said that they’ll get the curries if I get myself down there and that sounds better than anything else on offer at the moment.

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