Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Boston United 4 Eastwood Town 2

Those in charge of the diary at the Yorkshire Post had entered fully into the Christmas spirit and handed me a few days off, allowing a first visit to York Street - or Mecca as it is sometimes known - since the goalless draw with FC Halifax on August Bank Holiday. 
Desperate to get out of the house and avoid the ominous Tupperware containers of leftover turkey and ham, not to mention the disgustingly repetitive television, Andy, Greg and I toddled off to the Astroturf for a kick-around beforehand. Just for old times’ sake. It’s a shame EA Sports weren’t present with their cameras, because some of the moves and trickery we were producing was worthy of the new FIFA Street game and I’m sure we could have negotiated a fee for the adverts a little under that charged by Rooney and Wilshere.
The Pilgrim Lounge was reassuringly packed and I was optimistic of that famous Boxing Day bumper crowd and atmosphere, despite Eastwood’s lowly league position. The crowd was 1,247 which was, I’m told, about 500 more than the last home game - where everything murmured and muttered by the hardy souls present genuinely echoed around the empty stands.
This match with Eastwood - why it was Eastwood on Boxing Day and not Gainsborough, I really don’t know - represented the start of a four-game run for United from which anything less than 12 points would be a disappointment. We have another date with Eastwood on New Year’s Day, then back-to-back home matches with Blyth Spartans and Bishop’s Stortford that really should be bankers. 12 points would put us firmly back in play-off contention and hopefully a few of the doubting fans will return. 
As though in sudden horrific realisation that ex-Pilgrim Francis Green had been left off the Christmas card list, United’s defence decided to let him score twice for Eastwood in the opening 12 minutes. Green joined the long list of former Boston players who, despite being sub-standard for the majority of their time with us, suddenly becomes world-class when playing against us. He muscled Lee Canoville off the ball and beat Paul Bastock with a low angled drive on two minutes and then flashed in a superb volley for the second ten minutes later. 
This was ridiculous against the bottom-placed team and the Town End was mutinous, which is never pretty. From this point for the rest of the game, United laid siege to the visitors’ goal. Several chances went begging as United strolled through a very porous defence, before Danny Sleath pulled one back on 19 minutes with a well-placed low shot. You really couldn’t fault the entertainment. 
Tom Ward equalised with a header from a Ben Milnes cross shortly before half-time and, locked at 2-2, the game sort of re-set itself. The second half was one-way traffic and two further strikes in two minutes sealed the points. Marc Newsham raced on to Jason Lee’s flick and drilled the ball under goalkeeper James Severn, and then the Gaffer, who mysteriously decided to play himself instead of new signing Leon Constantine, justified his start by scoring the fourth. 
Constantine, who has literally had more clubs than I’ve had Christmas dinners, came on for the last few minutes but didn’t really do much and the spectacle sort of fizzled out, leaving us chatting away and catching up on each other’s news without paying much attention to the action. 
It was alright on the night, as they say. 
Next Match: The New Year period should allow at least two matches, starting with Huddersfield Town against Carlisle United on Friday night. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Guiseley AFC 2 Boston United 1

This has to be the most straightforward away fixture I’ve ever been to, or am ever likely to go to. In a productive morning, I was able to get a haircut, complete all my Christmas shopping, cook some lunch, clean my flat, watch the entirety of Football Focus and only then think about going to the football. 
I stepped on to a train in Leeds at 2.02pm, stepped off the train in Guiseley at 2.14pm and arrived at the ground at 2.19pm. You simply don’t get easier than that. On the return journey, I was back in time for 606. Not that I can stand the morons who call in but the point is that I could have listened to it if I’d wanted. 
Unfortunately, this didn’t detract from the fact that the destination was, once again, Guiseley. Saturday was my fifth visit to Nethermoor in four years - the fortunes of our two clubs seem to have been inextricably linked in the recent past and I’ve now seen Boston play them on more occasions home and away than any other team. 
The match, my last away trip of 2011, was destined to be better than our visit in the regular season just over a year ago - when I stood in biblical rain watching an abysmal 0-0 draw - but nowhere near as fun as our visit in the play-off semi-final when, despite ultimately losing 1-0, 500 travelling Boston fans created a din audible over the Pennines in Burnley. 
The first point to make is that it was cheek-numbingly cold - layers are fine as protection from the scything Yorkshire wind, but useless if you’re going to lose heat through your head by not wearing a hat and feet by wearing smart, but inappropriate footwear. I didn’t have a hat and was wearing smart, inappropriate footwear - I’ve never learnt this in all my years of watching football and resorted to hopping about from one foot to the other in the second half so my brain could maintain communication with the lower half of my body. 
Our support was perhaps a tenth of that memorable night here in May and we couldn’t really be bothered to make any noise. At one point, Lawson Jr put his drum on the floor, that’s how under-used it was. He did though give it a few hefty thwacks during half-time to disrupt an on-pitch medley of Christmas songs by the local brass band, drawing dirty looks from the natives. But then he does have quite a record of pissing off the people of Guiseley. 
The 508 gathered - including three dogs of classic non-league cliche: a lively Border Collie who chased the ball through the game, a brown labrador and Digby, the biggest dog in Yorkshire, who ended up in the middle of the fighting after the game in April - saw Boston take an early lead. 
Right in from of our position, a shoddy backpass was seized upon by the alert Marc Newsham and he slotted the ball in from a tight angle to give us an unexpected lead against the high-flying Yorkshiremen. The players celebrated in the corner and having run down from the terrace to warm my already freezing feet, I thrust my hand out to try and get a high-five. Danny Sleath obliged, but we both mistimed the slap and swiped at thin air. We both looked away, embarrassed.
Conforming to local stereotype, the home fans ended every shout with the word LAD. So it was “Go wan, Danny LAD”, “Knock it through Simon LAD”, “Gerra foot in Kev LAD.” This caused us great amusement and for the rest of the afternoon, everything said ended with LAD. I think you had to be there really. 
Our mischievous joy was short-lived. Guiseley won a free-kick on the edge of the box and as Andy Holdsworth lined it up, I got that instinctive sinking feeling. Of course, it deflected through the wall and flashed past Paul Bastock. The home fans celebrated, well, like there was no one there. 
The hosts dominated the rest of the half but Boston restricted them to long-range efforts, which soared reliably towards the Leeds-Ilkley railway line. United were improved in the second-half and, to their credit, persisted with their neat passing approach in the absence of target man Jason Lee. Ian Ross tried an audacious shot from the half-way line which had the home keeper scrambling as it dipped inches over the bar. 
But Guiseley are notoriously hard to beat and, in keeping with their third position in the table, kept plugging away. Their reward came on 77 minutes, as Holdsworth’s well-taken strike claimed the points, and you couldn’t really argue. In that spirit, I punched the back of the stand, which obviously smarted a great deal in this lovely cold weather. At least it didn’t take long to get home and thaw out. 

Next Match: A few days at home over Christmas will allow me to take in Boston United v Eastwood Town on Boxing Day.       

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Stalybridge Celtic 3 Boston United 0

Sometimes form and history are so stacked against you on an away trip, it’s wise to find alternative entertainment. In the club’s entire history, we have never got the better of Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold - four matches, four defeats - and with the Cheshire club riding high in the Conference North, the odds were mounting. 
Thankfully, the town has an irresistible attraction in the station Buffet Bar, a proper old-fashioned pub in which every inch of wall space is covered with railway ephemera and usually has at least eight or nine good ales on tap. It’s been a popular pitstop for Pilgrims fans on previous visits to Stalybridge, or nearby Ashton United and Curzon Ashton during the Unibond days. 
So this away tale is told by the beers enjoyed by myself and messrs Young and Pickwell both in the Buffet Bar and various other watering holes visited during the day (including two rammed with scary Leeds United fans psyched for their match with Millwall...)     
- Thwaites Smooth - Amber in colour, served slightly chilled and with its distinctive smooth, refreshing taste, Thwaites Smooth is the ideal session beer and an iconic brand on bars throughout the North with its strap-line - The Northern Smoothie. 3.4%
Obviously we were Amber in colour and we were ever-so-slightly chilled by the bitter northerly winds sweeping off the hilltops. This was the first match of winter and the rain drove down for long parts of the game, making any kind of decent football incredibly difficult. But despite this impediment, United were refreshingly smooth in their passing in the opening part of the game. Home stopper Jan Budtz was called into early action when clawing away a Marc Newsham curler and Ryan Semple was tearing down the right flank on a regular basis, causing difficulties for the full-time opponents.
- Abbot Ale - This irresistible ale has masses of fruit characters, a malty richness and superb hop balance. It is brewed longer to a unique recipe. 5% ABV 
Bolstered by the recent 3-1 win at Gainsborough Trinity and progress in the FA Trophy last weekend against Workington, United had a good balance about them, with steel in central midfield and invention down both wings. There’s plenty of characters who could score, but their irresistible forward play continued to go unrewarded. Gaffer Lee was winning all his aerial challenges as usual but barely troubled Budtz with a nod downwards from Semple’s cross.

Lemon Blossom - A delicious light ale with an aroma of crisp citrus lemon. Perfectly balanced sweetness with delicate bitterness to finish. An exceptional pale ale that leaves you wanting another. 3.7% ABV
But for all this encouragement, there was a bitterness to end the half. Phil Marsh advanced down the left for Stalybridge and picked out young prospect Arthur Gnahoua to find the bottom corner. The goal came 11 minutes before half-time and very much against the grain of the game.  
- Millstone True Grit - A very pale and hoppy strong ale. Well hopped using only Chinnook hop; the mellow bitters make way for a distinctive citrus/grapefruit aroma. 5% ABV
United battled strongly after the break but looked paler in the attacking third. Far too often, a ball over the top would just be a little overhit and skid away into touch. Huddled behind the goal the few of us who had made the trip tried - and failed - to get any kind of noise or encouragement going. There was an injection of citrus when Tony Edwards, promoted from the reserves after a blistering start to the season in the Lincolnshire League, came on and flashed a low cross across the goalmouth, with Hall just inches away from scoring.

Rossendale Brewery Pennine Halo Pale - A citrusy, pale ale brewed with Cascade aroma hops, finishing with a slightly bitter aftertaste. 4.5%

But there was a sightly bitter aftertaste - Stalybridge added two late goals, as United’s defence conked out and left massive gaps, to give the scoreline a very flattering look. Craig Hobson deflected the ball in for 2-0 after a goalmouth scramble and then added a third following a five-against-one break. Game set and match. The only thing for it, after a sodden traipse back to the station, was another couple of beers...
Next Match: United are at home to Hyde in the Trophy next Saturday, so a match in Yorkshire I would imagine