Stamford 4-0 Mickleover (Southern League Central Division)
Steve Cooper has been sacked by Nottingham Forest. It’s hard to put into words what the Welshman has done for the people of my beloved home city, a man who ‘connected’ in a way that no human has done since the late great magician that was Brian Clough. He personally gave me one of my greatest days as a Forest fan when the Reds beat Huddersfield to lift the Championship playoff trophy at Wembley. Beating Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and drawing with the wonderful treble winning Manchester City since, all great feats along the memorable journey, the greatest of all however is how he reconnected the passion that the Forest fans have with their club. Sometimes football is more about moments than results, and Steve Cooper certainly gave Forest fans some of their best moments in many long years.
Speaking of years, It was ten years ago I last visited Stamford for a football game. Back then at the Vic Couzens Stadium we drew 0-0 in the FA Cup whilst at Grantham Town, should have won the replay at the Meres, but let a late two goal lead slip to go out, it still hurts today, my memories of the place though, an idyllic football venue, enclosed pitch sloped down that backed on to gardens with an old metal roofed stand propped up by posts, church in background on an Autumnal clear day it was one those that every groundhopper would enjoy attending, but the club since moved on to pastures new, a sport complex on the outskirts of town, and tonight it’s my first visit, although I’ve been to the beautiful looking market town on many occasions to frequent the bars, restaurants and shops with the wife.
Stamford AFC, nicknamed the Daniels, were formed in 1896. They’ve been flipping between North, South and Midland leagues since the turn of the century due to their geographical location, the town in Lincolnshire is closer to Peterborough than anywhere else, it’s their first season in the Southern League after sixteen years in the NPL. Mickleover likewise are recent Northern Premier League stalwarts, they are now in their second season and challenging for the title as one of two teams to beat.
The Derby based outfit formed in 1948 were playing in the Central Midlands League as recently as 1999 but have since stabilised at step three of the non-league pyramid over the last nine years. It seems they aim to go one further but have lost some ground of late as Needham Market have leap frogged them at the top.
I’m off in the dark down the A52 and A1 down country roads and through the village of Ryhall before reaching the lit up arena on the right hand side, parking in a large car park of this modern purpose built facility.
Borderville Sports Centre, surrounded by fields on the edge of town, has a huge brick building with fitness centre and five-a-side pitches behind whilst a modern new football ground on the left has a couple of turnstiles to enter of choice.
I choose the bottom corner rather than the centre and walk in to scan my MasterCard. A quick wee in a wooden shack used for toilets before walking around this spacious place, a terraced stand behind one goal with a roof, a seated stand on one side with a roof, other than that, nothing but concrete floors and open air, lined by dim lit floodlights the corner between two sides has the fitness centre building which is also used for Stamford’s clubhouse and players changing rooms. It's very modern and opened less than ten years ago, in 2014.
I’ve taken my seat at the top row of the stand on half way as a gush of wind is providing my face with a cold chill, the players come out as I’m greeted by a few Stamford staff with smiles, the home side in all red whilst Mickleover in sky blue.
It’s not one for the feint hearted tonight, the breeze pushing across the pitch with some drizzle in the air, it can’t be more than 4 or 5 degrees and the away side are struggling against a team that seem to look more ‘up for it’.
It takes only 18 minutes for a free kick by left back Bartle who’s shuffled over the right side to whip in at pace where Chitzia heads home at the back post. Duffy is next as he heads in a long throw in by Bartle and the full back completes a hat-trick of assists as his corner leads to Ashton smashing home from close range.
It’s been a dominant half hour from the home side who have grown in confidence, it seems every time they stick the ball in the box, Mickleover are in trouble.
At half time I’m expecting a very different Mickleover in the second half and although they bring on Andy Dales and Marcus Barnes they have a little bit more purpose but still no end panache, everything is direct and route one as the rain now fizzles in, they play long balls which are caught by the wind and end up rolling out for a goal kick where Michael Duggan is in no rush.
By now, Stamford are starting to manage the game, a few subs and physio appearances has it a little bit stop start to their liking and favour, Mickleover have huffed, not entirely puffed, a bull is played into the box and Stamford midfielder Morgan stabs home, he’s been sniffing all night, he finally gets his goal to cap things off.
“Can we play you every week” and “We want five” are sung by the noisy Stamford faithful behind the goal. They’ve enjoyed themselves tonight and get louder throughout the game, their team continues to push for more whilst at the other end Mickleover look too little, too late, for a consolation that never comes.
It’s certainly Stamford’s night and the team who wanted it more, who were prepared to fight, were the ones who had the fire in their belly from the start and it shown as they got better with every goal, Tendai Chitzia was a driving force in midfield, Jack Duffy a potent poacher and constant nuisance up top, Morgan and Shaw busy in their play from midfield, whilst defensively they stood firm, Ashton Offler impressed, whilst the balls of Connor Bartle were the difference in getting those early all-important goals.
For Mickleover, whilst I felt they weren’t at the races, I expected more from them, but could see signs why they are so high in the table. Jake Bennett at right back, one player who I thought on the night was very good. In Finn Delap and Ethan Mann they have a good and gutsy all be it relatively inexperienced centre half pairing that is perhaps prone to nights like these. They'll do more good than bad and have long careers in the game.
Andy Dales was used off the bench but immediately improved the side whilst Oliver Greaves may not have had his best night, he’s a player who I do like the look of.
A winters blip? Mickleover are now without a win in three and are second, a point behind Needham Market who have played a game less, in the table. I suspect them to pick things up but games are thick and fast, they’ll need to do so quickly or could lose some ground over the winters period.
Stamford aren’t in a bad position themselves at all. Now fourth in the table just four points below Mickleover, they also have ambition of step six football next season and I would certainly give them a chance.
Stamford: Michael Duggan, Joe Burgess (Michael Armstrong 76), Connor Bartle, Will Glennon, Ashton Offler, James Blunden, Tendai Chitiza (Ollie Brown-Hill 50), Rob Morgan, Jack Duffy (Tom Siddons 78), Lee Shaw, Harry Vince.
Mickleover: Oliver Bosworth, Jake Bennett, Rhys Dolan (Matty Bowman 82), Dan Bradley, Finn Delap, Ethan Mann, Will Trueman, Ben Sault, Leon Clarke (Marcus Barnes 46), Stuart Beavon (Andy Dales 46), Oliver Greaves.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 19th December 2023, Borderville, Stamford (att 327).