Sunday, 27 January 2013

Larkhall Ascending

No, I didn't, since you ask.
Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 26 January at Plain Ham
Larkhall Athletic 2 Peacehaven & Telscombe 1
FA Vase Round 4
Ground 504 on the lifetime list, and I am here because of the club’s Twitter feed which, on Friday evening, was the first on my timeline to hold out the prospect of play, which they then confirmed in plenty of time to travel – see below for the full story of the day!
Pre-match preparation
Both clubs play at step 5.  Larkhall sit in 7th place in the Western League Premier Division but have some games in hand.  Peacehaven & Telscombe are leaders of the Sussex League First Division.  Larkhall are here after wins over Longwell Green (0-0 H, 2-1 A) and Kidlington (3-2 H).  Peacehaven have beaten Lancing (5-0 A), Oxford City Nomads (3-0 A) and Haverhill Sports (4-3 A).
This match in one sentence
P&T dominated the early stages but an equaliser seemed to infuse belief into Larkhall and they defended well and occasionally rode their luck after a penalty had given them the lead.
So what?
Larkhall plus Shildon, Bodmin Town, Brantham Athletic, Newport (IoW), Guernsey and Bemerton Heath Harlequins are definitely through to the last 16 but nine other ties were postponed.  Peacehaven can concentrate on the league – they are top and have step 4 ambitions so this could well be their last appearance in the FA Vase.
The drama unfolds
After my journey (see below) I might have been forgiven for wanting a bit less drama, but this was a big game for both clubs, whose players were, as they say, “up for it”.  This is an absolute gem of a ground and I decided to do a circuit during the first half.  Here is my scene-setter clip taken after 12 minutes – Larkhall are in blue.  The visitors have dominated the early exchanges and Larkhall just can’t get the ball.

Just after this, Peacehaven took the lead.  A missed interception gave the ball to Rob O’Toole with time and space.  His shot must have taken a deflection, I reckon – either that or it was the best mishit ever – and it looped gently over the keeper and in at the near post.  0-1 after 15 mins

The visitors continued to dominate and a second goal looked likely.  So it was rather out of the blue when Larkhall drew level.  It was an unstoppable direct freekick from Nat Auckland and unfortunately my attempt at a snapshot was a complete failure.  The goalkeeper would not have been blurred – I don’t think he moved.  1-1 after 31 mins

This seemed to give confidence to the hosts and knock the visitors back, and I took some more clips as I wandered around the end that Larkhall were attacking.  The view from that end of the ground is beautiful, and now the llamas in an adjacent field were paying erect-eared attention to the noise from below.  No, I was not hallucinating.  Llamas.  Distinguished from alpacas by the ears, I believe, and their general size.  Llamas are more suited to central defence whereas alpacas will be the cheeky trequartistas of the camelid world.  But I digress.  Here are those clips.  It was all getting a bit tense and the tackles were borderline at times – both teams (surprise, surprise) were unhappy with the referee.  1-1 at half-time

Still Life (Goalkeeper and Llamas) 2013
Cows in the distance, honest. Thanks to club tweeter Tracey for telling me that this is Solsbury Hill as in the Peter Gabriel song - my heart going boom boom boom!

The sun came out at half-time, as did some cows on the hill on the other side.  This may be important in negotations with Hopping for Moorfields sponsor @CyninHerts if she questions the veracity of my llama claims.

I wandered around in the other direction as the second half began, and was close to the action as Peacehaven got the ball into the net – but it was disallowed for offside.  I was therefore at the other end from the penalty that won the game.  Simon Gilbert was fouled and got up to score from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way.  2-1 after 54 mins

The remaining short clips (enhanced by the squelchy sounds of the lino running up and down) will show some splendid rearguard action as Larkhall defended their lead.  On balance, keeper Chris Snoddy will enjoy watching them.  By 70 minutes or so the visitors started arguing among themselves but they recovered their composure to launch a sustained assault on the home goal.  The clip from 83 minutes is the key – a quite magnificent defensive clearance from Mike Jones.  Larkhall had started to defend so deep that any further and they would have been down the hill, but they held on for a memorable win and a place in the last 16 for the second year in a row.  Honourable mention to Peacehaven's Wes Tate for his attacking threat but it was not his day.

We are now up to 83 minutes on the clock ...

In stoppage time, a header is tipped over and the final driven corner kick hits the side netting.  Great game for the passing neutral.  Final score 2-1

The programme

Something random
Many thanks to Berkshire’s emergency services for handling the road traffic accident at 11.20am on the M4 westbound.  The police and firefighters (two pumps from Maidenhead) were professional and efficient throughout.  The Yappmobile sustained a slight dent in a multi-vehicle incident that could have been a lot worse.  A car in the fast lane suffered a blowout, and, while attempting to get across to the hard shoulder, was trapped in the middle lane by drivers “undertaking” on the inside.  I was in the middle lane two cars back, and was forced to slow down to walking pace.  After a few seconds (I guess) there was a shunt and the car behind was pushed into me.  I managed to get across to the hard shoulder.  Fortunately, no-one badly hurt as far as I am aware, but several cars behind were severely bent – I was lucky, the only one able to drive on and continue the journey.  I was breathalysed, understandably and as a matter of routine – a lifetime first! (I passed.)

Then on the return journey, at about 10.30pm in a dark country lane called Watery Lane (hahaha street namers you think you are so funny) near J9 on the M1, I was unlucky to hit a sizeable stone that had just rolled down on to the road in front of me - it looked like a lump of snow.  I think the geographers call it freeze-thaw erosive action.  This ripped a hole in the front tyre, but I managed to get the car to the bridge over the motorway so there was enough light for other cars to see me.  Most slowed down and passed me carefully, except for two BMWs that screamed past and sounded their horns.  Well, that's Harpenden for you.  The AA arrived in due course and a remarkably cheerful patrolman got me back on the road.  The conditions were truly awful, as shown in my clip.  Thus ended one of the more varied and interesting days of my life – hopefully tomorrow will be tedious and undramatic.

Hopping for Moorfields Update
Three goals in a three-goal game, and two distinct groups of visible farm animals (llamas and cows) – an excellent return which keeps us all on track with previous predictions.
Mars Bar Watch 2013
59p for a standard 58p bar at Tesco Express, Harpenden.  Just over a penny a gram. Standard indeed.
What Next?
Running repairs on the Yappmobile, taking my documents to Hitchin Police Station as required and looking at weather forecasts, Toyota values and the price of petrol!

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