Saturday 27th April 2013
North West Counties League Premier Division
STOCKPORT SPORTS 1 RUNCORN TOWN 1
Admission: £7 (ouch)
Tea Hut Stuff: Tea £1.20
Weather: Bright and sunny, slight chill in the breeze
Parking: In the excellent car park facilities at the ground
This is Stockport Sports first season in football, never mind first season in the North West Counties League. They play at the rather nice Stockport Sports Village which has all manner of sporting facilities both inside and outdoors and is a very impressive set up. Many footy fans will remember the Woodley Sports side who once played at the same postcode in the Evo Stick Northern Premier League, that club is no more and the place has been significantly refurbished. What does remain is the tidy little Main Stand and the plastic pitch, or should I say 4G ground breaking playing surface? Some folk love em some despise em but this type of pitch is here to stay, they've even got them in Rugby League these days (Widnes Vikings) and there are a growing number of Scottish League sides employing them. I will always prefer grass but the 4G is miles better than the initial plastic pitches which were originally trialed through clubs like QPR and Preston North End, I remember the ball bouncing 20 yards high all the time. This new surface provides a much more natural experience and certainly provides a platform for decent standards of football. Compared to some of the uneven badly rutted surfaces in certain quarters of the NWCL its even a bit of a luxury.
I suppose the flash surroundings and the fancy pitch have to come at a price, in this case its a wopping 7 quid to get in (when the NWCL standard is normally £5) and you do witness an inevitable lack of character in the stadium which always seems to transpire when a corporate image is employed. Even a cup of tea is a tad more expensive than expected at this level. Perhaps these factors may be a reason why there are so few home supporters attending, I think its fair to say the vast majority of the 60 odd people in the stadium were following Runcorn Town.
Its a shame there are not more locals giving Stockport Sports a try as they do go out and play some good open football. The side they put out against Town had a bit of a continental feel to it with a sprinkling of French and East European players (which is a bit of a novelty for the NWCL). Despite the positive profile their current lower mid table league position has surprised a few pundits in the game, many people had expected them to be pushing for the title, they just haven't achieved the necessary consistency that is required in what is a very tough and competitive Premier Division.
Moving onto the visitors Runcorn Town, its fair to say the dream of winning the title has been destroyed by a Cheshire FA & NWCL directive to deduct 3 points from them during the crucial final furlong of the season long title race. I've already said my piece on the unfairness of this decision so I'm not dwelling on it here. Faced with making up the lost points 'immediately' Town found the pressure too great and failed to apply their usual quality football when it was needed the most, instead the Town side became victims of trying too hard and forcing crucial passages of play only to be exploited by the opposition which in turn was harshly complimented by some hard to believe refereeing decisions, when it rains it pours they say and Town certainly got a soaking when they lost 2 vital games in 3 days last week, both to title rivals at their home fortress 'The Pavillions', first it was Bootle on the Saturday followed up by another defeat at the hands of Winsford United on the Monday. This left them having to win their last 2 games (starting with Stockport) but more critically their respective title rivals, primarily Bootle & Padiham, had to lose all their remaining league games, a bridge too far I believe. With this in mind it was a more relaxed event for the good many Runcorn Town supporters who enjoyed some rare sunshine at the Sports Village, most acknowledged that the title had slipped from grasp with the consensus of opinion dictating that this would make the club double-determined to win the league next season (and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that, in fact they will probably start favourites). There are some fine sides in this NWCL Premier Division this season, classy Maine Road, the ruthless Bootle outfit, the steely grinders of Padiham, even Winsford have made a late run but the best side I've seen all season is by far and away Runcorn Town, the nearest thing to total-football this side of Non League. Who knows what may have happened if that bloody points deduction hadn't materialised? Lets get onto the action on the pitch.... Jakob Warchyka got free of the Runcorn defence on the half hour to put the home side 1-0 up, some full on challenges were being made in midfield with Burton & Keddie providing their usual 100% quality effort for Runcorn.
Unfortunately one of the Stockport overseas debutants Abdoulay Coulibaly just couldn't keep up with the speed and guile of the Town deadly duo and was sent off for persistent late challenges, I dont think Abdoulay was being malicious, it was more a fact that Scotty Burton & Mark Keddie were too quick for him. Both sides created good chances and a plentiful supply of decent football was provided.
With Town 1-0 down at the break Simon Burton took Chris Lawton off and put Will Dolan into midfield, Will took his opportunity well and put Town level in the 53rd minute. As the game moved into the final quarter Town started to dominate the proceedings and created chance after chance in the Stockport 18 yard area, how they didn't find the net is beyond belief, they just couldn't get the ball over the line, no wonder Simon Burton and Danny Salt were going beserk in the away team dug out.
This really should have been a clear away win but credit to Stockport for providing stern opposition even with 10 men, they never stopped trying to play their football. Sadly this was the last Runcorn Town away match of the season, I've seen them play some great stuff on the road when I've been lucky enough to be there, their supporters must be the friendliest bunch of fans on the circuit, if you're ever stuck for a game of football to watch and you find that Runcorn Town are playing nearby go along and give them a try, you wont be disappointed!
As the days other results came in it was a shock to learn Bootle had let 6 goals in at home to Barnoldswick, the defeat had opened the door fully wide for Padiham who won away at Ashton Athletic. Padiham now look odds on for the title, Bootle have to win their final two games and turn around a 14 goal differential with Padihams goal difference, looks done and dusted... unless there is a final twist in the last chapter of the book? Guess who Padiham have to play in their final game of the season next Saturday?...... Runcorn Town... away!