The hosts had won all five games in the month of March whilst The Tons had won nine of their last ten away from The Old Spotted Dog so this certainly added up to be a close one too.
And with the added knowledge that Clapton needed to win to keep the title race alive for one more week was yet another ingredient to an already eagerly awaited contest. Oh one more to add, The Tons were the last side to beat Sawbo, 4-0 at the end of February, so was revenge on the agenda too?
Well as it turned out the opening half was rather poor if truth be told with barely any goalmouth action to speak off. The first real opening came in the 18th minute when Ryan Reed found himself in space inside the area but saw him snatch at the chance and drag wide from a really good position.
The only other real opening in the first period came for the hosts in the 32nd minute when Lewis Deamer headed the ball back into the visitors area to skipper Matt Frew, but the centre halfmiskicked meaning the ball was easily cleared. Apart from these moments there was not a lot else to write about in the opening forty five minutes which had been devoid of quality.
Half Time Sawbridgeworth Town 0 Clapton 0
So would the second half be any better, well it certainly didnt start that way and we had to wait till the hour mark before the next opening came and it fell to the hosts when Reece Cosson drilled an effort wide from just outside the box.
Shortly after this came a four minute spell which saw the Tons almost net on three occasions. In the 63rd min Raphael Duyile, on as a substitute, went clear down the right after keeper Matt Ponter had come out and got stranded, but nothing came of it after a ball to Reed saw him fail to get a shot away.
The two minutes later Reed got in for the Tons but a scuffed finish allowed Ponter and Frew to block the effort before two more minutes later Ponter had to make a great reaction save from his own defender at the near post to deny Clapton the lead.
However with fifteen minutes remaining the Tons were given the chance to go ahead when they were awarded a penalty after Avondary had been brought down and Jonny Ashman converted the spot kick to give the Tons a priceless lead.
It was a lead they almost relinquished in the 83rd minute in disastrous fashion as after a miskicked clearance had gone up into the air, the ball bounced up awkwardly and almost over keeper Emmanuel Olajide with Sawbo forward Aaron Thomas waiting to pounce, but the Tons stopper just managed to catch the ball and avoid an embarrassing moment.
Moments later a flashpoint saw both sets of players tough it out and it ended with Ratambwa and Deamer booked for the hosts. It had certainly been a frustrating afternoon for the Robins who had been far from their best on the day.
Two minutes into stoppage time saw the hosts swing a ball into the mixer but George Pullen could only head over the chance and it looked like Clapton would hold on for victory.
But then came a very unsavoury end to the contest when an altercation between a visiting supporter and a Sawbo player led to the match being abandoned deep into stoppage time. At this point I am not allowed to say what went on but it was a very shocking few minutes and it’s not something you should see in any walk of life, let alone football.
The player in question has since been released by Sawbo today but a County Disciplinary Hearing now awaits both sides to determine what happens to the club’s, the player in question and the outcome of the result of this contest.
So a sad and shocking end to the contest, no doubt more will be said in the coming weeks.
Sawbridgeworth Town 0 Clapton 1 (match abandoned after 95 minutes due to serious incident)
Buildbase FA Vase Semi Final 2nd Leg, Saturday 18th March 2017
So this was it, one of these teams were potentially ninety minutes away from Wembley as the FA Vase Semi Final 2nd Legs were upon us.
And I was at a packed Mariners Park as a record crowd of 3,464 were their to see who would prevail between South Shields and Coleshill Town.
Most of them were of course cheering on the local side who held a 2-1 lead from the first leg at Coleshills Pack Meadow the weekend before so the North East side were favourites to progress. However an early goal for the visitors could swing the tie still so it was all to play for.
The hosts though were keen to put any thoughts of a visitors comeback to bed early on and launched an early attack in the 2nd minute which saw a ball into the box just about dealt with by a stretched Coleshill backline.
And in the 10th minute the hosts came oh so close to getting that early goal when a deflected effort came back off the bar and then five minutes later an almighty scramble inside the visitors box saw an effort blocked before a relived visiting defence finally cleared their lines.
Coleshill managed to whether this early storm though and tried to mount an attack of their own in the 19th minute and a great ball forward almost had them in but hosts keeper Connell and a defender just did enough to thwart striker Jordan Nadat as he threatened to put the visitors ahead.
The game settled down somewhat after this and the next chance arrived just past the half hour mark when Shields got in down the right but the ball across saw a miskicked finish roll through to the keeper before the visitors went very close to taking the lead nine minutes before the break when a decent effort from inside the box was brilliantly tipped over by Connell.
So the tie was still very much in the balance as the game approached half time but then came a big moment as the hosts managed to find that all important goal as in the 45th minute a ball laid across to Julio Arca saw the ex Sunderland and Middlesbrough midfielder crack home a superb left footed effort from twenty yards and send the home fans and players wild with delight.
Shields suddenly had their tails up again and almost netted again moments later but saw David Foley hit an effort into the side netting. However it was a big blow to visitors Coleshill to concede so late on in the half and they now had a two goal deficit to overcome in the tie in one half of football.
Half Time South Shields 1 Coleshill Town 0 (aggregate 3-1)
The opening ten minutes or so of the second period yielded no real chances as Shields looked to keep the visitors quiet whilst the Coleshill boys desperately sought a route back into the tie. Just before the hour mark Shields saw a great run by Arca into the box eventually result in an effort being saved by keeper Hathaways before the loose ball was squeezed away as the hosts looked to finish the tie once and for all.
And sure enough in the 62nd minute they did just that as Gav Cogdon beat the offside trap and duly lofted a beautiful finish over keeper Hathaway and cue more celebrations as the knew they were pretty much on their way to Wembley now after opening up a three goal cushion on aggregate.
Coleshill to their credit kept fighting though as they knew a quick couple of goals back would possibly change the entire mood of the tie and with just over twenty minutes left a harmless ball towards the hosts back post almost crept inside the near post but keeper Connell managed to palm the ball wide and preserve the hosts clean sheet and three goal cushion.
With ten minutes left the hosts sent a free header from a corner go straight at keeper Hathaway and as time began to wind down Shields threatened more goals and with two minutes left a terrific ball into the visitors box saw a brilliant save from visiting keeper Hathaway which even the referee clapped!!
And just over a minute later Shields did find a third when substitute Finnigan added the finishing touches to another sweeping move from the hosts as the visitors looked tired after giving their all in this one.
And in stoppage time their waw enough time for Shields to put the gloss on the scoreline when Foley burst through to add a fourth and send the hosts through to the Wembley final in May in style.
It was harsh on the visitors who more than competed over the two legs and so the 6-1 aggregate score doesn’t really tell you how hard Shields had to work in these two games. But they took chances at crucial moments in the two games which is what champions do and they now have a Wembley date in May to look forward to.
Full Time South Shields 4 Coleshill Town 0 (aggregate 6-1)
Buildbase FA Vase Semi-Final First Leg, Saturday 11th March 2017
It was Semi Final 1st Leg day in the FA Vase and I was at Pack Meadow on the outskirts of Birmingham to see hosts Coleshill Town entertain competition favourites South Shields in front of a record 1,755 crowd at their tiny but neat home.
The hosts were having and good season, sitting second in the Midland Premier Division, and were on a thirteen game winning run until their defeat at Shawbury United last weekend, although compared to the season the visitors were having it didn’t seem as good.
Ever since the North East side from the outskirts of Newcastle lost to rivals North Shields on Guy Fawkes night they have won 22 games in a row as they chase the record of 27 consecutive victories set by Welsh Premier side The New Saints earlier this season, eclipsing the previous record set by the mighty Ajax in 1972 of 26 games.
However records would of been towards the back of everyone’s mind as they tried to gain an advantage in this tie and get ever closer to that Wembley finale. However it was the hosts who had the brighter start and on 8 minutes saw a Joshua Quaynor effort tipped over by Shields keeper Liam Connell.
Three minutes later a decent effort from Robert Evans tested Shields Connell again and then in the 19th minute a hosts free kick from the left was swung into the area and saw it glanced over the goal by Jordan Nadat. It had certainly shown anyone present that the hosts were intent on giving the visitors a proper test out there.
The visitors first real opening came midway through the half when a dangerous ball into the box was cleared over the bar by a defender however in the 27th minute the hosts were on the front foot again and after a decent ball forward tried to find forward Nadat, keeper Connell came out but could only blast a clearance at Nadat which hit the Coleshill forward but went well wide.
On 32 minutes a corner from the hosts saw Evans get in front of his marker but head well wide and then a minute later came a rare chance for Shields which saw David Foley find space inside the area but his effort was superbly blocked by a sprawling defender.
The game had taken on a end to end feel at this point and on 34 minutes Nadat thought he had given the hosts the lead however only a great save from Connell denied the forwards curling effort, this after the ball had been given away by the visitors, and a couple of minutes later up the other end the ball broke to Michael Richardson inside the hosts box, but he failed to hit the target, hitting wide of the near post.
Coleshill had created the better chances in the opening half though and just as you thought they would go in without anything to show for it they found a breakthough right on half time as a cross from the left saw a Nadat effort saved by Connell from point blank range, but the ball came back to Nadat who buried the rebound and celebrated with the fans behind that goal. It was a deserved lead for the hosts and Shields knew they were in a game for sure.
The visitors knew they had to come out and take the game to their opponents and two minutes into the half they found an equaliser as the dangerous Foley managed to get on the end of a cross and net a close range rebound after keeper Paul Hathaway had saved initially, and roared on by 500-600 Shields fans the visitors had their tails up and Richardson headed wide of the far post as they went for the lead.
The hosts managed to whether that storm though and started to threaten themselves again, and on the hour mark saw a cross catch keeper Connell out and the ball come off the woodwork and then four minutes later another good save at the near post from Shields Connell kept out a free kick from Thomas Weale.
With twenty minutes left a great ball found Shields sub Carl Finnigan whose effort was well saved by Paul Hathaway and then the hosts came so close to taking the lead once again a minute later when they thumped an effort against the inside of the post and then saw the ball fly across goal and headed off the line by a very fortunate Shields.
In the 77th minute the hosts got away with one when keeper Hathaway came out and miskicked a clearance straight to Richardson, and with the keeper in no man’s land Richardson returned an effort towards the empty net but it bounced inches wide of the post.
It had certainly been a battle and a half out there and you thought could their be a late twist in this one? Well just as the game ticked over the 90 minute mark Shields managed to find a huge goal in this tie as Foley drove into the area, crossed to Darren Lough, whose effort hit Andrew Stephenson from a yard out and went into the net to send the visitors fans crazy.
Coleshill tried to find a late late leveller but found the Shields defence solid and the referee finally ended the game after several minutes of injury time and the visitors continued that winning run although more importantly took a lead back to Mariners Park for the second leg in a weeks time.
Defeat was tough on the hosts however they showed more than enough in this one that they can cause many issues for the North East side and an early goal in the second leg from Coleshill could unsettle the favourites so this one is far from over!!!
It was especially poinent for me as this is the ground my late father Nigel took me to for my first ever footie game 27 years ago and he even had a spell as programme editor for six years in the 2000s until he had to give it up to ill heath and his eventual passing away to cancer in 2008.
I therefore went and stood over in the spot me and my dad used to occupy for many years as regulars at the ground and it certainly felt like he was there with me. It was certainly an emotional moment for me although I was also anticipating an exciting game between the two local rivals.
Witham were having an up and down season it’s fair to say, explaining their 14th place position in the league. At times they could be world beaters or at other times terrible so which one would show up against a Swifts side who needed the points as they look nervously over their shoulders at the teams in relegation.
The first ten minutes were average to say the least as both sides looked to feel each other out in a game neither side wanted to lose. In the 12th minute the first real moment of goalmouth action saw a dangerous ball across goal from the hosts which was tipped out by keeper Danny Sambridge but three minutes later the hosts went one better when Ryan Charles flicked home to put the hosts ahead.
However the visitors should of levelled the match up immediately but spurned a great opportunity, slicing wide with the just the keeper to beat, before the hosts then produced a great move but this ended with Tim Monsheji volleying just wide of the near post.
Midway through the half more great build up play from hosts saw an effort well saved by keeper Sambridge before the rebound was eventually mishit wide however in the 32nd minute the hosts made it two as Tim Monsheju pounced on a knock down from Damien Green to finish past Sambridge and saw the hosts well in control of this match.
And with seven minutes of the half remaining came a wonderful piece of individual brilliance from Town’s Nathan Koranteng who cut inside and unleashed a wonderful left footed effort from twenty five yards beyond Sambridge into the top corner of the net and give the hosts a three goal cushion.
The visitors were in danger of loosing this game before half time however two minutes after the hosts third goal came a way back into the contest when Reece Grant nipped in to put the lose ball away and showed the hosts were not out of this game just yet although the Town still held at two goal lead at the half.
Half Time Witham Town 3 Heybridge Swifts 1
Swifts knew they would need the next goal in this contest in order to really apply pressure to the hosts however with barely a minute of the half elapsed the hosts had a fourth whenDamien Green headed home via a deflection on the line and then six minutes later made it five with another cracking left footed strike, this time a curling free kick from Charles which went in off the post for his second of the game, as things were quickly getting messy for the visitors.
Swifts almost got a goal back just past the hour mark when a looping header came back off the bar before the follow up was somehow forced wide for a corner whilst up the other end three minutes later Koranteng saw a super effort at the visitors goal go straight at keeper Sambridge.
With twenty minutes of the contest remaining a visitors cross into the dangerzone was just cleared over his own goal by a defender and then saw the game enter a scrappy period, much like the first ten minutes in fact, as the sides started to pick up needless yellow cards with the visitors cutting a frustrated look, who also saw manager Jody Brown get a stern talking to by referee after he had a pop at the linesman.
The game looked to be drifting towards it’s conclusion but the visitors then got a second goal with three minutes left when George Cole volleyed home a loose ball, immediately almost conceded again when the hosts broke through Scott Kemp but his effort went way over, and then netted a third on 90 minutes when Adam Yusuff side footed home a cross and you thought they couldn’t could they?
After some nerve racking stoppage time minutes the hosts eventually got over the line and took the three points it what had turned out to be a rather entertaining eight goal thriller. It meant Witham Town nestled into mid table security whilst the visitors continue to look over their shoulders knowing they need to pick up points soon.
And lastly, this one was for you Dad, hope you enjoyed that one as much as I did…..RIP
Both sides didn’t have the best of weekends, the hosts were beaten 5-2 at Cricklefield against Barkingside whilst the visitors were losing at home to Eton Manor when the game was abandoned after winger Joe Wright suffered a nasty injury to his ankle/shin, so no doubt both sides were looking for improvements from the weekend.
And it was The Tons who struck first as in the 7th minute a cross from the right saw Jay Knight find some space to nod a downward header into the far corner of the net and give the home fans something to cheer early on.
The visitors instantly tried to respond to the early setback when moments after the goal Clapton keeper Emmanuel Olajide had to make a smart save down to his left to keep out a long range effort and then shortly after Reece Cosson poked an effort over for the visitors as they continued to threaten.
On the quarter hour mark The Tons almost netted again as they got in down the right hand side through Jonny Ashman, but the ball whistled across goal and found no one coming in on the cross. And then the visitors thought they had levelled midway through the half when George Pullen rammed home from close range, but the referee had spotted an infringement so the goal was ruled out.
And on the half hour mark Ollie Cleaver saw his volley deflect inches wide of the Clapton goal, prior to this Jonny Ashman had gone on a superb run at the Robins goal until he was fouled on the edge of the area, but the free kick was blocked by the wall, and then eight minutes before half time the visitors should of levelled when a Cosson free kick found Jacob Cleaver right in front of goal but he somehow hit his effort straight at the keeper.
And in the 41st minute they were made to pay for not taking their chances as a woeful clearance out of defence found Ashman about twenty five yards out and the Tons winger fired home into an empty net with the keeper stranded after the poor clearance and the hosts went into the half time break with a two goal cushion.
Half Time Clapton 2 Sawbridgeworth Town 0
Four minutes into the second half the visitors had another opening when Toby Cleaver got in for the visitors but his shot across goal was saved and then a minute later the Tons went down the other end and made it three, showing their opponents how to do it, when great play from the brilliant Ashman saw his cross headed home by Ryan Reed and gave the visitors a mountain to climb.
Thereafter the next period of play saw the game get rather fractious as Sawbo sub Chris Ratambwa seemed to get involved in all the niggly confrontations although they weren’t all entirely his fault, but at least he was getting stuck in.
With twenty minutes to go Ashman looked to be in for the hosts until Sawbo full back Aidy Chives got across to makes a superb tackle to deny the winger, however just two minutes later a ball across found Ashman free inside the area and he duly netted the Tons fourth and his second of the game.
With nine minutes left Sawbo saw another effort go array as Ratambwa saw his close range effort blocked and trickle inches wide then from the corner his close range header was saved and then with two minutes left Ratambwa headed over again and it just wasn’t the visitors day or evening and the Tons were clinical when it mattered and took the points in this one.