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April 21 & 22

uhlsport football kitPremier Division 

Brimscombe & Thrupp 4 Abingdon United 0
The Lilywhites start Monday at the top of the Premier Division and depending on the Windsor v Wantage Town result later in the afternoon they could remain top and become Uhlsport Hellenic League Champions.

The Meadow was chosen as the final game on the penultimate day of the Groundhop UK Uhlsport Hellenic League weekend yesterday. The travelling party were certainly in for a spectacle as high-flying Brimscombe took on bottom of the table Abingdon United. A game that saw an attendance of 406. 

As the sun battered the Meadow, Sam Prior's men got off to the dream-start in their promotion push. Just 6 minutes in Ollie Pitt fired the ball in from the left hand side where he found Sam Blackie who in turn prodded it home, just 10 minutes later Blackie was forced to limp to the dugout where James Campbell was ready to replace him. Brimscombe weren't content with the one-goal lead and looked for another, Jack Horrell's effort cleared the goal but the Lilywhites still pushed undeterred by the missed chance. Already a goal down, things went from bad to worse for the visiting side when Tom Butler was given his marching orders with a second yellow after the referee had deemed Butler to have hauled down the troublesome Ollie Pitt. Horrell stood over the resulting free-kick and whipped it towards the back post where Kyle Pitts was in place to head it in from close distance.

Pitt was a thorn in the side of Abingdon all evening and nearly claimed himself a goal but he saw his effort strike the post. Campbell made things difficult for the defence since coming on and made no mistake in firing it in when his shot from the edge of the area deflected off of a defender and away from Henry Woodcock. As the clock edged closer and closer to full time, Sam Prior made the decision to bring off Club Legend and Club Captain Chris Greenhough who has decided to hang up his boots after a long distinguished career in non-league football, in a very fitting move the players formed a Guard of Honour as he left towards the dugout and the big crowd realised what a momentous occasion it was. Pitt had one final chance to put the ball away but he couldn't quite get his shot away. Jack Smith came on for Ed Major earlier in the game and had the final say when he hammered it home in injury time just before Thomas Kelly blew up for full time.

Brackley Town Saints 4 Lydney 0 
A victory to secure a fantastic 3rd place finish was the task facing Saints on a glorious sunny day with St James Park looking excellent. Saints did not hang about and took the lead on 4 minutes when a Lewis Baldwin free kick was headed down by Ollie Goddard to Ryan Knight who swivelled and struck his 25th goal of the season. Saints nearly repeated the trick on 14 minutes this time Goddard seized on a loose ball after a corner and struck his left foot shot just wide of the post. 

On 17 minutes Knight played in James Hammond whose cross shot was easily saved by the keeper. Lydney had been hanging on in there and it was not until 20 minutes that they had their first attempt on goal when Lewis Thompson headed just wide. However Saints were in the ascendancy and a 30 yard screamer from George Ball was well saved by the Lydney keeper. Lydney were conceding too many free kicks in and around their box and another Baldwin free kick found its way to Goddard who headed down for Knight yet again but this time a desperate last ditch tackle saw the ball hooked off of the strikers toes. On 30 minutes Lydney had their closest chance of the half when a well work free kick saw the ball flicked just wide of Ali Worby’s upright. 

On 35 minutes Saints doubled their lead. A good passing move ended with Baldwin splitting the defence with a pinpoint pass to George Ball whose excellent cross was tapped home by Knight for his second goal. Lydney immediately created 2 good scoring opportunities with headers that came very close and there were loud howls for a penalty kick when Goddard challenged Ross Gabriel in the box. The referee saw no issue with the tackle. 

The start to the second half was sluggish, but the final 30 minutes was packed with incident. Firstly Lydney had a great chance to peg a goal back when Goddard misjudged a long hopeful ball down the line. Ward and Middleton managed to block Lydney shots and Worby was really brave to get down and collect the loose ball at the feet of Gabriel. Lydney were soon to regret not taking advantage when on 68 minutes Knight completed his hat trick calmly slotting past the Lydney keeper when finding himself one on one. A minute later Charlie Kille had the opportunity to extend the Saints lead but his volley was straight at the keeper, but on 74 minutes Ball finished neatly as Saints took advantage of Lydney committing more and more players up field. 

As Saints took their foot off the gas a little Lydney created a couple of half chances and the unfortunate Gabriel kneed a good chance wide and then shot just wide from the edge of the box. James Watts was finding plenty of space as Lydney tired and one marauding run saw him fire just wide of the post. Back at the other end Worby saved well from a Gabriel header. 

So Saints did more than enough to secure an absolutely fantastic 3rd place finish. Clearly the league table does not lie but it does not tell the whole story. This has been a fantastic year to watch the Saints. Overall a young side, but with a handful of experienced players able to channel and encourage the youthful exuberance, and on many many occasions the football played has been a delight to watch. The season has also brought the Saints their first FA Cup victory and a closely contested County Cup Semi-Final against Brackley Town FC in front of a bumper crowd at St James Park. 

Well done to all of the players for a hugely entertaining season. You have ruffled a few feathers along the way but more importantly you have played in a manner that has produced much respect across the league. 

Flackwell Heath1 Ascot United 0 (away view)
Ascot United lost 1-0 at Flackwell Heath on Saturday to sign off in seventh place in the Uhlsport Hellenic League Premier Division.

Ascot’s final league match of the season came fully three weeks after their last competitive fixture, although manager Jamie Tompkins had given his troops a recent run out in Development Team fixture as he prepares for the league cup final in a further two weeks’ time. The Heathens had won the reverse fixture 3-1 and had also beaten on Ascot in their last match of last season, so there was added incentive for the visitors who would climb back into the top six with a favour from Windsor and a win of their own.

The first half was a tepid affair, and although Ascot were thankful to ‘keeper Sam Gray for his trio of good saves, they came closest to scoring themselves but for the width of the crossbar. Gray came to Ascot’s rescue after just five minutes when Adam Thomas almost capitalized on Louis Bouwers’ hesitancy; Gray would stand up well to make the save.

His second save was better – standing up as long as possible to thwart Thomas again – with Mo Thomas firing a difficult loose ball over the bar. In between those chances, Ascot were desperately unlucky not to take a sixteenth minute lead. Fabien Etienne’s crunching tackle saw him win the ball, and after continuing his run he delivered a teasing left wing cross from which Sheridan Campbell clattered the crossbar on the half-volley.

Flackwell’s Simeon Weekes might have done better with a far post header after 27 minutes and Gray beat another Thomas strike away in first half injury time, but it remained goalless at the break. Gray was at it again soon after the restart when he dived full stretch to keep out Thomas’s free kick as their private battle continued, although Ascot showed a little more promise and Harry Laflin would glance a header wide from Denton’s 49th minute corner.

Campbell was unable to convert George Lock’s teasing cross from a tight angle, Laflin saw a long-range effort easily saved and Walters’ audacious flick would hit the bar again from Haworth’s cross – but that was as good as it got for Ascot. Before the last of those chances, substitute Ashley Howell had shown persistence to undo Bouwers again, and he would plant the ball over Gray for what was ultimately a 72nd minute winner.

Bouwers might have nicked an equaliser only for Watkins to smother his effort late-on, but Gray would produce an even later save to deny Howell a second with a brilliant close-range block. Ascot will need to step up significantly for their cup final in two weeks, although if man-of-the-match Gray reproduces his form then Windsor will need to play well to beat him.
Ascot United: Gray, Lock (Kibaki), Haworth, Bouwers, F. Etienne, Laflin, Sankoh (Regragui), Denton, Price, Campbell (Kassim), Walters. Subs unused: Carlisle, Whiter

Tuffley Rovers 3 Fairford Town 0
It is now two years since Fairford Town returned to the Premier Division of the Hellenic League, as champions of Division One (West) eleven points clear of the club promoted with them, Abingdon United. The Oxfordshire side fared better at the higher level and finished in 13th position whereas Town were involved at the wrong end of the table and eventually finished only two points above the drop-zone.
Those fortunes were reversed in the clubs’ second season back in the Hellenic’s top tier because now Abingdon have finished in last place while Fairford, strangely, arrived in Gloucester in exactly the same position (13th) and with exactly the same number of points (43) on which Abingdon ended the 2017-18 season.
One sensed that a bit of revenge might be in the air at this end-of-season encounter, after Rovers put on one of their poorest performances and suffered one of their heaviest defeats of the season in losing 3-0 at Fairford in the second week of November. The Tuffley club went through a really tricky spell in the closing weeks of 2018 and that was their 3rd defeat by three goals from four away matches, but the club from the small Gloucestershire town are no mugs on the road, having already won on seven away trips this season and that includes a crazy 5-4 victory at Ardley and a 3-0 win at highly-placed Bishops Cleeve seven days after beating Rovers at Cinder Lane.
Rovers, playing with the freedom which safety brings, ended their season on a high note by defeating the team which had given them such a chastening experience on the other side of the county five months earlier.
Not only beat them, but beat them by the same margin of three goals; and all this on a day when a bumper Bank Holiday crowd of 221 turned up at Glevum Park on a beautiful afternoon, with many of that number being part of the Hellenic League’s Easter Groundhop weekend taking in their 12th match in only five days.
Tuffley started with their third different goalkeeper in three matches. This game’s debutant, Dan Brabham, had a relatively trouble-free afternoon protected by the experienced defenders in front of him, achieved enormous distance with his clearances and made a brave, second-half save diving at an opponent’s feet, a save which the man who has played in goal most for Rovers this season, Luke Merchant, would have approved of and applauded.
The first half was very stop-start with numerous free-kicks being award against both teams for petty fouls. One such foul, just outside the Fairford penalty-area, saw a yellow card given to Nathan Hawkins but Kieran Alder drove the free-kick high over the crossbar. The closest Fairford came to Tuffley’s goal in the opening minutes was when John Thomas chased a pass back to Brabham but challenged the home goalkeeper needlessly robustly and quite unnecessarily and he, too, deservedly went into the referee’s book.
Alder, unsurprisingly because he has been so influential this season, was involved in the move which led to the opening goal. He combined with Dominic Kent on the right then burst through a gap and got a shot in. Ben Mitchell couldn’t hold the ball and Adam Bloomfield pounced to drive the loose ball into the goal after 19 minutes.
Fairford ought to have equalised within a minute. Ben Snook’s clever flick took out two defenders and left Danny Gudger with a clear run on goal but he dragged his shot wide of Brabham’s right-hand post.
Gudger was then fouled near the half-way line and received treatment on the pitch while most of the players took a short drinks-break. Before play resumed, Gudger limped off to be replaced by Ben Lodge.
When play resumed, the visitors won a corner on the left and when the ball came into his territory Brabham made a firm punch to guide it away to safety. Then Jack Beardsell, who had taken that corner, had a shot from distance which went wide during the only period in which Fairford put on any sort of real pressure in the first half.
Having protected their own goal, Rovers then went on the attack and Town were soon two goals behind. Alder had the skill and ability to vary his corners, as much as his free-kicks, and when he drilled the ball, low and hard, into the front post, Will Dawes drove it across the face of the goal, where Bloomfield was waiting at the far post to grab his second of the game.
Other than Brabham’s brave save Fairford did not threaten much in the second half, either, although Dan Bailey might have done better than to steer a close-range shot against a post when it looked harder to miss than score. The visitors then made two further changes, with Callum Preece on for Hawkins and Charlie Bailey replacing Martin Hall.
The eleven men Rovers started with showed no signs of tiring and confirmed their superiority with a third goal on 72 minutes. Luke Troke and Brett James combined brilliantly down the left and when the cross came in Dominik Kent scuffed his shot, but the ball broke nicely for Alder, who ran onto the ball and drove it firmly into the net.
Rovers’ manager, Mark Pritchett, then took the opportunity to make changes, with Essa Sabally on for Troke and Ashley Bird replacing Kent, before young Jack Ellis made an appearance, replacing Alder.
There were to be no more scares at either end. When the match official, Tom Staten, brought the match to an end, Rovers climbed up to 15th place in the final table, a position they would have certainly settled for after the dreadful start they made to the season. A fairly young squad has had to learn a lot of difficult lessons in the last eight months. That it has done so, and done so as quickly as it has, reflects enormous credit not just on the players themselves but also on the management team, coaching staff and others who have guided those players through a really tough season which, if the bulk of the squad can stay together, will certainly be looking to finish several places higher in 2019/20 than it has done in 2018/19.


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