Boston United 1-0 Alfreton Town (National League North)
I was at the NFL on Sunday. Watching the UK’s ‘recommended’ franchise at Wembley Stadium in Jacksonville Jaguars, they lost a low scoring and largely dull match with Denver Broncos in front of what was a record European crowd for American Football, neither side I care for much, but it was the only tickets I could get this year, with my preferred option of Green Bay Packers and New York Giants selling out in minutes upon launch before the black market started offering seats at £££’s per billet.
The following night I was dog sitting, at least Monday night football was an entertaining Devon derby between Plymouth and Exeter, the Pilgrims winning 4-2 in the rain, which tediously links me towards my next destination.
Tuesday night football in Boston, nope, not for more NFL action, this of course is not New England, but old Lincolnshire, the Jakemans Stadium and my own Pilgrimage to a team that share their nickname with the greens of Argyle.
Boston United of course were a football league club in the early noughties, financial troubles followed and for the last thirteen seasons they’ve been in the sixth tier National League North.
Their opponents today are Alfreton Town, who have been at this level for eight seasons, two staple diets in the division, the Reds are going well, in the playoff places under Billy Heath, whilst Boston have largely been disappointing under Ian Culverhouse, they sit worryingly near the bottom of the table.
It should be straightforward, I can annoyingly hear the traffic of the nearby A52 when my bedroom window is open, the town of Boston is little more than an hour along the A52, what can go wrong? I set off at 5pm in the dark and rain, programme the sat nav for safe measure and head East, towards the North Sea, knowing if I reach that, I’ve gone too far.
As I get to the outskirts of Grantham, Sat nav’s directing me to join the A1, it’s found a quicker route, so I oblige and follow. Problem is, it’s now telling me to come off at an exit which is closed for roadworks, I’m now following the worst route guidance in German technology I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, it’s taking me towards a village which also has signs for ‘no through access’, I spin it and do what I should have done from the start, plug in google maps.
I’m back on track, bouncing up and down country roads in pitch black, before finally re-joining the winding single carriageway A52, it’s flat is Lincolnshire, every time I drive in this part of the world I feel as if I’m in the American Midwest, nothing for miles bar fields and the odd strangler standing drunk on the hard shoulder.
I finally get to the pancaked suburb of Wyberton where there’s a little life to settle my nerves, the club’s ‘new’ stadium is on the A16 which I spot thanks to its rather quirky shaped floodlights already fully powered.
Outside is a Burger King, Starbucks, Costa and a modern looking 3g training facility, I drive up to the club’s main entrance where I ask where to park, the steward in yellow tells me ‘pretty much anywhere but here’.
I circle back and park up over the road near a housing estate, a good five minutes’ walk, crossing over the A16 up Pilgrims Way, the stadium getting closer is modern, bowl like, glass backed, bright, I’m looking for an entrance for ‘press’ but am tempted by the rather plush looking sports bar underneath the main stand.
Everything is new, nice, a scaled down version of my visit to York last week, I’m told to head to the ticket office where I sign in, grab my ticket, and walk through the turnstile where I’m impressed with what’s inside.
I’m starving, so I grab a steak pie, chips and gravy for £2.50, it comes on two separate trays, both get demolished whilst watching Porto v Atletico Madrid on a large mounted TV. Under the stand is brightly coloured in orange and black, historical moments etched into the walls, players CGIs on every pillar, a large kiosk for food opposite nothing more than a partition for both male and female toilets.
Walking out to feel the fresh and nippy sea air you see the venue fully lit, perfect green grass pitch the lads out warming up, the far side and left behind the goal has low roofed standing area even the corners are filled in, to the right, not yet completed, you can see the training facility beyond the car park, the stand I’m in, the piece de resistance, also the second French phrase I’ve already used in this blog!
I walk up to my seat eleven rows up, Radio Lincs sat behind me, I’m shortly joined by the Alfreton chief tweeter, in front of me the fans are parking up too, I ask ‘what’s going wrong this season’ as one replies “We can’t defend”.
I’m expecting the away side to be tough, awkward, nasty, chucking balls into the box at every given opportunity and taking the game to Boston who failed to win a league match in October, Fraser Preston was a player I was impressed with during my last outing at North Street, I ask chief tweeter why he’s only on the bench, he replies “Dayle Southwell’s been playing better than him”.
Another player on the bench is their long throw specialist Adam Lund, that doesn’t stop George Cantrill throwing one in from the halfway line in the third minute though, it seems the tactic is still towards getting it up to big striker Matt Rhead as quickly and as directly as possible.
Boston Centre half Lebrun Mbeka is marking number nine Rhead, he’s doing a bloody good job against an awkward thick set opponent too, we get to half time with nothing doing in a pretty drab first half with defences on top, I turn around to the Radio Lincs commentator who’s on his break and I ask him ‘where did they sign Mbeka from?’ His reply “they sent him out on loan to Guiseley and recalled him two days ago, he’s quality.” I question why they would send their best player out on loan? later reading that Guiseley were unbeaten for the seven matches he played there.
The best chance of the first half fell to Boston’s Scott Pollock after good work down the right wing by Keenan Ferguson, his low cross found the inform striker who’s shot bounced off the goalkeeper and out for a corner. In fairness the home side look up for it, each player is doing everything which is asked of them, and in the second half, they continue to work hard, graft, dig in, they’ve been expecting a tough physical battle and are up for the challenge, and so far it’s the home side who’ve been the enforcers of the night.
Johnson Gyamfi is on loan from Peterborough United, the 20-year-old carries the ball well with giant strides, he’s away from his marker on the half-way line who tries to bring him down, balancing himself back on track he’s racing down the right before squaring to Scott Pollock who buries home past the goalkeeper, George Willis a former Pilgrim player of the year can do nothing about that one.
It’s what Boston have deserved, a real team effort, they have really impressed me the way they have gone about their business tonight, 49 minutes gone, there’s still plenty of work to do.
But do it they do, I have the pleasure of listening to the Radio guys behind me, injured Boston striker Jordan Burrow is on co-comms and he’s echoing every thoughts I have, the work rate and effort is magnificent, they nullify the away sides main threat, although it’s nervy moments late on as Adam Lund, he with the huge throw, and Tom Denton, he, who is simply huge, at 6ft8in, enter the field of play.
Denton’s first touch is to head Lund’s throw into the box straight, to the relief of the home fans, at Sam Long in the Boston goal.
The away side launch missiles, but Mbeka is magnificent, he’s helped by Ben Pollock who grows in authority and confidence throughout the game, like a fine wine improving with age as every second of the match counts more, he’s putting big tackles in, clearing his lines, rallying his troops. He'll probably go home and punch his sofa tonight.
Gyamfi at the other end is proving a real menace to the Alfreton back line who I detect, struggle with pace, the Alfreton tweeter agreeing “It’s one thing we don’t have” as the winger slaloms through some tackles to cross low, suddenly Jordon Crawford has the chance to wrap things up, but his shot straight down the middle of the goal is saved, thankfully for him, it mattered not.
Whilst Alfreton have really disappointed me, I expected a much more physical, direct and ugly encounter than what we got, I can’t help feeling that was down to the way that Boston’s players were tuned in for the challenge ahead, credit to the Coaching staff, the most prepared team on the night, were deserving winners, and with that comes credit to a number of their players too.
Centre backs Lebrun Mbeka and Ben Pollock were brilliant, a chalk and cheese duo, Mbeka with pace, physicality, good in the air, but calm in what he does, Pollock who’ll come crashing through forwards, to tackle and smash, less gifted in possession. Belehouan in the heart of the mix, also solid. Man of the match awarded by the sponsors went to Tom Platt in midfield, although I’m also impressed with Sam McLintock who puts in the tackle of the match, a meaty full stretch challenge on halfway which gets the nod from his team mate on radio duty behind me.
Scott Pollock does what he does best with the goal, he has around 80% of the Pilgrims notches this season, and how can I fail to note that United’s line-up has a pair of Pollocks in it, a joke that went down badly pre-game.
Johnson Gyamfi looked like he had lots of potential and was always positive in what he was trying to do, at one stage trying to dribble out from his own corner flag, he scored on his debut on Saturday and continued that fine form through this cold Tuesday night with a warming performance for those that watched.
For Alfreton not much to take away from the game other than a couple of decent moments from Bailey Hobson, George Willis perhaps their best player with two big saves towards the end of each half.
Like the NFL on Sunday, for the neutral, it was a pretty-drab uneventful game, but unlike the NFL where I don’t totally understand the rules or enjoy the art of defence, in football, the round ball game at least, what I really appreciated was the work ethic and organisation from Boston United, who at times kept the ball impressively and worked their wings well, to supply the busy hard working forwards they have in attack.
The home side did a job on their opponent, and that I respect. Now twentieth in the league they’ll be hoping to use that as a springboard towards safety, they’re certainly good enough to be much higher than they are.
As for Alfreton, well I get the feeling it was just one of those nights, a nice wide pitch in good nick, at a nice ground with facilities including working showers in good nick, is probably something that doesn’t suit their style? They need something to annoy them to get the best out of their ethos. Get them back at the tight old North Street playing on the slope, throwing balls in to two six foot plus centre forwards, and they’ll be nicking points off others in and around them, I’ll tip them for playoffs at best, but on their day, a mid-table team who nobody in the division likes playing against, luckily for Boston, today, wasn’t Alfreton’s day, which was largely down to how the home side, impressively performed.
Boston United: Sam Long, Keenan Ferguson, Alex Brown, Tom Platt, Lebrun Mbeka, Ben Pollock, Jean Leroy Belehouan, Sam McLintock, Johnson Gyamfi (Tom Solanke 90), Scott Pollock, Jake Wright (Jordon Crawford 55).
Alfreton Town: George Willis, Josh Clackstone, Dominic Smith (Adam Lund 67), Dwayne Wiley, George Cantrill, Danny Preston, Ahmed Salam (Tom Denton 82), Conor Branson, Dayle Southwell (Fraser Preston 70), Bailey Hobson, Matt Rhead.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 1st November 2022, Jakemans Stadium, Boston (att 1,108)