Ripon City v East End Park WMC

2.30pm  29 March 2014

West Yorkshire League, Premier Division
Ripon City 2 East End Park WMC 3 (att 54)

Ripon's Mallorie Park is a ground I've been keen to visit for some time, and for those that haven't been (and care about such things) the clock is ticking, as the club hope to sell the ground and move to a site better-suited to progressing up football's pyramid.

While more modern facilities would certainly benefit the club, grounds like this, with its large seated stand, are becoming a rarity, and it'll be a shame when it's no longer staging football.

Apart from the stand, the remainder of the pitch is surrounded by flat grass standing, with a car park and small clubhouse behind the goal at one end. Nearby houses mean the chances of getting floodlights, necessary for promotion, are probably slim.

One the evidence of my visit there's certainly interest in local sport among Ripon's residents. Crowds of 50 plus are unusual in the West Yorkshire League, and, immediately next door, even more were watching Otley Rugby Union Club's home fixture. A cricket pitch completes Mallorie Park's current status as the city's sporting hub.

A lovely old stand deserves a decent game to be played in front of it, and this match wasn't bad at all, with chances galore at both ends.

Ripon took the lead with a fine first half goal, slightly against the run of play, but Leeds-based East End Park were level before half time.

The second half was all about penalties, three of them, and all scored. First Ripon were awarded a sport kick, soon after the restart. They held their 2-1 lead until the final five minutes, after which two handball decisions, after 85 and 88 minutes, resulted in two converted penalties, and with it three league points, for East End Park.









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Spartans v Whitehill Welfare at Craigroyston FC

2.30pm  23 March 2014

East of Scotland FA, Qualifying Cup Final at Craigroyston FC
Spartans 2 Whitehill Welfare 2 aet, 4-5 on penalties (att 352)

The East of Scotland FA's policy of staging cup finals on Sundays, and of sharing them between various neutral venues, provides excellent opportunities to combine weekends away with extra games and new grounds.

Craigroyston's ground, St Mark's Park, isn't far from Edinburgh city centre, and while it's not the best in terms of facilities the clubs officials did a good job of staging this showpiece tie and coping with the larger than normal crowd.

The playing surface looked good, which suited two teams who play Lowland League football, but essentially it's just a railed off pitch. There's no cover for spectators, but there is plenty of grass banking, which helped allow supporters a decent view of the action.

There was plenty of action to see, although the game took a while to get going. Welfare went ahead after a fairly dull opening 20 minutes, but Spartans eventually got into the game more and were well on top when they equalised just before half time.

Ultimately the moment that probably cost them the cup was an off the ball incident early in the second half, which resulted in a Spartans red card.

What followed was a very lively and entertaining game, with plenty of bookings, mostly for Spartans. Despite their man advantage Whitehill rarely looked like scoring, an exception being a shot which came back off a post before being turned in by a player who was, correctly I thought, ruled offside.

It took until the second period of extra time before the game's third goal, and it was 10-man Spartans who converted a spell of pressure into a goal. But before the restart the 10 men were reduced to nine after another red card, and they failed to hold their lead as Whitehill levelled just before the end.

Both sides missed their opening efforts in the penalty shootout, before a series of expertly taken kicks took it to sudden death, until a Spartans player saw his effort saved.

Whitehill's "prize" for winning the Qualifying Cup is qualifying for the East of Scotland Cup Final, in which they'll play Berwick Rangers in a glorified friendly that will, in all likelihood, lack the excitement of this cup final.









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Duns v Burntisland Shipyard

2.30pm  22 March 2014

East of Scotland League, Division One
Duns 0 Burntisland Shipyard 2 (att 37)

Duns' penultimate home game of the season, and so also the penultimate match at their current home ground at Berwickshire High School, before they move across the road to a new site for 2014/15.

A pitch in an exposed playing field at the back of a school, on the western fringes of Duns, isn't one of Scottish football's more memorable venues, but I don't often visit the Borders and the scenic journey made up for the basic facilities.

The club's more traditional former home is in fact a couple of miles away in Gavinton, where their reserves play in the North Northumberland League. I can't think of another club that operates teams in both Scottish and English football.

Duns is just in Scotland though, and the club is a recent addition to the senior ranks in the East of Scotland League. Officials work hard to turn the venue into a football ground, with dugouts, a rope around the pitch, a decent programme (today's issue was from last month's postponed fixture) and a refreshments hut.

On the pitch it's been a bit of struggle this season, and this defeat allowed previously bottom Burntisland to climb above the hosts. The visitors scored a goal in each half, and deserved their win, although it wasn't the most exciting of encounters.









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Verwood Town v Newport (Isle of Wight)

3pm  15 March 2014

Wessex League, Premier Division
Verwood Town 1 Newport (Isle of Wight) 2 (att 40)

I don't often choose to visit floodlit grounds on Saturdays as they're better left for midweek matches, but I've never fancied the thought of a long late night drive home from Verwood, in Dorset, especially if I've got to be up early for work the following morning.

Visiting at night would also have denied me the chance to enjoy the New Forest, or at least that part of visible from the A31 heading west from Southampton. The views around Verwood Town's Potterne Park aren't bad either, at least on a sunny day, set as it is in a busy public park on the edge of the town.

Facilities inside the ground are rather less appealing, with a small seated stand and a separate section of cover, both kit-style constructions that make so many grounds looks the same at this level. If that's a criticism of the ground, it's not a criticism of the club, as everyone was very friendly, the snack bar was excellent and they produced a decent programme.

One the pitch it was Newport's day. They'd have expected to win this, and they did so more comfortably than a 2-1 score would suggest, even if they were hanging on a bit at the end after Verwood's late goal.

Before that Newport had a first half goal harshly ruled out for a foul, although they still took the lead before half time. Their second goal was early in the second half, and they should have scored more, which would have ensured an easier end to the game after Verwood's consolation.










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Portsmouth U18 v Colchester United U18

11.30am  15 March 2014

Football League Youth Alliance, South East Conference
Portsmouth U18 0 Colchester United U18 3 (att 50)

I saw Portsmouth's youth team play a home match back in August, but the ground they used that day, the St John's College Playing Fields in Farlington, proved to be just a temporary base as they've since moved again.

The University of Portsmouth sports ground, part of the Langstone Campus in Furze Lane, is the third ground I've been to to see Pompey's youngsters. All extra grounds I guess, but the south coast isn't the easiest place to get to from Manchester for a morning kick off.

At least this match was a top-of-the-table clash, although Youth Alliance South East Conference placings are now complicated by being decided on a "points per game" ratio rather than a traditional league format.

Portsmouth went into the match lying third, with 2.00 points per match, one place and 0.13 points behind Colchester, who trailed leaders Gillingham by just 0.01 points per game. On this showing the title will between the current top two, as Colchester were far superior to Portsmouth.

The first half was mostly even, although it was the visitors who looked more dangerous, and they went ahead just a couple of minutes before half time. The second half was one way traffic, and Colchester should added more than the two goals they scored.

The University's Furze Lane sports complex has plenty of pitches. This game was on pitch W4, while the clubs' under 16s sides met next door on W3. Until a few weeks ago Portsmouth University had their own team in the Hampshire Premier League, and their railed off pitch was some distance away from the Youth Alliance pitches.






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Heaton Stannington v Chester-le-Street Town

7.30pm  11 March 2014

Northern League, Division Two
Heaton Stannington 1 Chester-le-Street Town 3 (att 101)

Despite a rather tortuous journey to the north east, thanks to an accident causing the closure of the M62 in West Yorkshire, I made it to Heaton Stannington's Grounsell Park ground in time for kick off to recomplete the Northern League.

My efforts were rewarded with a decent game, the visitors ultimately convincing winners against a home side whose promotion hopes seem to be dimming.

Heaton Stannington have adapted to Northern League life well though, since their elevation fro the Northern Alliance during the summer.

There's a buzz around the club, with plenty of helpers and a tidy venue that has seen a small seated stand and floodlights the most recent additions. There's also a small covered area, in front of the clubhouse and hard standing around all four sides.

It was an even first half before a goalkeeping error presented Chester-le-Street with an open goal to take the lead. They held the lead into the break, but the home began the second period well and were soon level.

Chester-le-Street were not to be denied though, and a deflected shot followed by a long range free kick earned them a deserved win.









Bargod Rangers v Maesglas

10.15am  9 March 2014

Ceredigion League, Division One
Bargod Rangers 3 Maesglas 3 (att 238)

After a pleasant overnight stay in Newcastle Emlyn it was a short drive to reach Bargod's home ground in time for a 10.15 kick off (early enough to allow the hop's final match, at Ffostrasol, to be completed before the Six Nations rugby later in the afternoon).

Any fears that an early start, after a Saturday night, might mean some sluggish action on the pitch were quickly dispelled. Bargod went ahead after just a couple of minutes, and the sides then traded goals in a great first half which ended with the visitors 3-2 in front.

The second half was never likely to live up to the first in terms of goals, but the entertainment continued with Bargod netting a deserved equaliser and the teams finishing level.

Bargod isn't a place, at least as far as I can tell, but the club plays at Parc Puw in Drefach Felindre, just over the border from Ceredigion into Carmarthenshire. It has the feel of a proper football ground, with a pavilion in the far corner and advertising boards attached to a wooden fence along the far side.










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Cilgerran Rovers v Llanon

4pm  8 March 2014

Ceredigion League, Division Two
Cilgerran Rovers 1 Llanon 0 (att 226)

Final game of the day and after a pair of Division One matches this game was a dive into the Division Two of the Ceredigion League.

There was a noticeable drop in the quality of the football, but at these levels is more about effort and endeavour anyway, and while it wasn't the greatest 90 minutes of football I'll ever see it was still entertaining.

Having seen only my second goalless draw of the season last weekend I thought I was heading for another one here, until a second half penalty was expertly dispatched to earn the home side a narrow win against struggling Llanon.

Cilgerran only recently reformed, and their Parc-y-Dre ground is on the edge of the village with a very rural feel. Again the pitch was roped off, and again I suspect it wouldn't be if it wasn't a "hop" match with such a large crowd.







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