2012/13: (Carlsberg) FA Vase – Second Qualifying Round: Pontefract Collieries v Cheadle Town
September seems to be saving its most sunny days for FA Vase weekends, as the third Saturday of the month is bright and warm for the Second Qualifying Round games. I’m spoilt for choice today and amongst the ties I consider attending include Silsden AFC v Northallerton Town, Nostell MW v AFC Blackpool, Pontefract Collieries v Cheadle Town, Selby Town v Formby and Yorkshire Amateurs v South Shields. I decide to make my game choice once I get into Leeds City Railway station.
Down the years travelling to a game has been as much part of the day as the actual ninety minutes itself. Travelling by car up and down the motorways was always an interesting event as you looked out for other fans heading off to watch their respective teams. These days my journeys are confined to trains, but is no less of an opportunity for fan “spotting”. As I wait for the train into Leeds from Cross Gates, on the opposite platform a Hull City fan, resplendent in amber and black stripped shirt, is about to board the Selby service and his journey on to see The Tigers take on The Lions of Millwall. As my train pulls in, I spot a Barnsley fan studying the sports pages of a tabloid, his red hat struggling to contain his mass of black curly hair. Once on board I check my iphone and receive a message on Facebook from an old school friend and fellow Fulham fan. He asks how I think the game will go today as he will watching it live on television in Canada later. I pessimistically predict a 2-0 win for WBA.
The train now draws into Leeds and it is decision time. Without any apparent reason, I opt for a trip to Pontefract and so head for the Nottingham train as I need to get to Wakefield Kirkgate to make the connecting train to Pontefract Tanshelf station. Having bought a ticket, I make my way to the platform where a dozen or so Blackpool fans are gathered as the Nottingham service stops at Barnsley, where The Tangerines take on The Reds. It’s a fifteen minute journey to Wakefield, so time for some music and 80’s nostalgia from one of my favourite albums, The Icicle Works. I’m still listening as I change trains to Pontefract and the final leg of the journey.
Once off the train it is a very short walk to the ground of about a quarter of a mile, with the ground at the end of Beechnut Lane. Pontefract Collieries are a relatively young club having been founded in 1958 (as their club badge proudly states), although football has been played in the town as far back at the 1890’s. The Colls were one of the founder member clubs of the Northern Counties East League (NCEL) which was founded in 1982/83 and currently play in Division One. Their opponents today, Cheadle Town are also a young club having been founded in 1961. Town play in the North West Counties League (NWCL) in Division One, having joined in 1983/84. These two teams are at a comparable level in the Football Pyramid structure, so on paper at least there is no gulf in levels.
September started brightly for Pontefract as after successive home wins against Clipstone Welfare and Worsborough Bridge Athletic, they moved into second place in the table. However, their next two fixtures (both at home) were lost 2-1 to Hallam FC and Bottesford United and meant The Colls were coming into this game having had their confidence severely knocked. Cheadle Town have no such worries and come into this game on the back of a three game winning streak in September. Town began the month by beating West Didsbury & Chorlton 3-1 in the FA Vase First Qualifying Round and followed this up with League victories over Northwich Villa (2-1) and Leek CSOB (5-3). Would Pontefract return to winning ways or would Cheadle continue their unbeaten run?
In the early stages of the game, The Colls looked low on confidence as Cheadle made the brighter start of the teams. The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as Pontefract stood off Town number seven Arron Carroll to allow a strike on goal that went wide. Cheadle were dominating the space in midfield with Josh Taylor looking to get the ball to the dangerous Alex Monde-Leke. Pontefract did create an early chance of their own, when James Hicks headed over. However, it was the visitors who were more threatening and on twenty minutes from a free-kick, an unmarked Monde-Leke headed wastefully over. Therefore it was no surprise that Cheadle took the lead on the half-hour mark. Josh Taylor had time and space on the ball on the edge of the Pontefract box and was able to slot in with Simon Kemp in goal rooted to the spot. Worse was to follow on forty one minutes when in an almost similar situation to the opening goal, Monde-Leke was the player this time unchallenged as he shot past the static Kemp into the corner of the net to double the Cheadle lead. There was much frustration in the playing ranks of the home team as the second goal brought a very heated and public exchange between Craig Robinson and Rob Oldham. The home support too were demonstrating their frustration with the match officials who they believed were favouring the visitors with any 50/50 decisions.
At the half-time break the players left the pitch to almost silence from the home support. It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall in the Pontefract dressing room during the team talk given by Colls manager Brendan Ormsby. He acted by substituting Robinson and Oldham who had clashed late on in the first-half, with Liam Ormsby and Will Ramsay. However, these changes did little to spark a revival from Pontefract as the visitors held on comfortably to their lead in the opening fifteen minutes of the second-half. Indeed Cheadle were still creating chances and although Alex Monde-Leke was not as threatening as he had been in the opening half, on sixty seven minutes, he was allowed to drift across the home defence and slipped in a shot to put the visitors 3-0 ahead. To their credit Pontefract didn’t give in and did create chances as the game drifted into the last quarter. They seemed mightily unlucky to have a header from Will Ramsay ruled out for offside, and skipper Dean Twibey had an excellent chance but fired wide with a volley. On another day, when things are going your way, these opportunities go for you. However, Pontefract did grab a consolation goal in time added-on, when the tireless James Hicks finished well past the advancing Cheadle keeper to make the score 3-1. Even the most die-hard Pontefract fan would have admitted that the better team had won, but it will be a worry that they have lost three home games on the bounce. Brendan Ormsby has to galvanise his squad now for three consecutive away trips (Louth Town, Appleby Frodingham and Albion Sports) and get The Colls back on track. For Cheadle their unbeaten run continues and advance to the FA Vase First Round Proper with a home tie against Wigan Robin Park.
On the return journey it dawned on me that the first two games I had seen in this FA Vase this season had followed an identical pattern. In both games the visitors had established a 2-0 half-time lead, gone on to lead 3-0 in the second-half before the home team got a late consolation goal to leave the final result 3-1. Incredibly the second and third goals in both games were also scored in identical minutes (41 and 67). I could be an unwelcome visitor to a ground in the First Round. You have been warned…!