Long Eaton United 1-0 Berkhamsted (Southern League Central Division)
Joey Barton's been causing a stir on X (Twitter) about women pundits in the men's game. I'm not getting involved as I sometimes question my own opinions on football (men & women's) but have the imaginary popcorn at the ready as I trawl through the socials on my Saturday morning dog walk.
It's pissing down and has been all week, but fortunately today's game at Long Eaton is on. I've googled where the town of Berkhamsted is and I'm surprised to find it's in Hertfordshire in between Aylesbury and Hemel Hempsted on the A41 (I wrongly accused it of being in Essex). It'll be my first viewing of 'the Comrades' today. They sit 21st and above bottom of the table Long Eaton by six points but United's only win of the season came at Broadwater back in September. A 1-0 win thanks to a goal by Micah Jebbison.
'Jebbo' has since moved on, he joined Ashton United but has just been announced as an Ilkeston Town player today. I'm intrigued to see how the 'latest' Long Eaton side line up as they aim to put an end to nine straight league losses.
My drive over the Derbyshire border is short and sweet, I need petrol after commuting to London midweek for a Thursday night Xmas party at Wembley Stadium. Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole were in attendance for a champagne swigging event. Coley telling me he's now loans manager at his former side West Ham United. If any clubs are looking for some young South Eastern talent in January you now know who to hit up.
I've got 50 miles in the tank but pass the petrol station in Attenborough as Im starving and need some grub at the game as I've been rushing around and not even had breakfast yet. Pulling up at 1:45pm it's eerily silent as I wonder if there's a Referee out on the pitch dropping a ball towards an instant splash?
As I walk to the turnstile I ask 'is it on' to be provided with some positive news by the young guys on the gate. I'm straight to the kiosk and order a meat and potato pie with gravy. The chefs boiled a kettle and is stirring in some bisto into a cup before pouring it over my pie. I've a cuppa and a twix and tell him "that's my dinner sorted for the day." £6.50 for the lot.
The sun is out but it's blowing a gale, the rain hasn't fallen since mid morning and as I walk up to my seat at the top of the big Jim Stand where I can chill and fuel my body ahead of the fun stuff, I'm joined by one or two of the home clubs hierarchy. "We've had new drainage installed in the summer" I'm told. "Well it's certainly paid off for today" I respond. I ask "as I'm back here tomorrow, will it be ok for Forest women's FA Cup game?" "Depends if it cuts up or not" I'm told.
I've not moved from my perch, sat on the top row on a blue plastic seat for over an hour I've written down the teams and have pulled my hood up and down on countless occasions between sips of colding tea. The crowd is sparse but it starts to pick up around me ahead of the match. Fans slowly packing into the small seated stand i'm in on half way. Opposite side the covered stand has no more than ten people in it. Both ends open behind the goal have nobody mad enough to stand out in the cold.
The teams are out as a fan shouts 'Cmon Long Eaton' punching his fist on the roof of the tunnel covers, the wind swirls around almost gale force it looks like it'll have a big impact on the match and as Berkhamsted in yellow kick off. They immediately play the ball back to their centre half who whacks it foward and out for a throw in.
It's tasty as both sides are smashing it as hard as they can early doors. Long Eaton right back Casey Johnson has cleared his lines on the half volley and the ball curls around the back four of the visitors. Suddenly James Spruce is through on goal as the Comrades keeper Jamie Head back tracks, Spruce running onto the ball and coolly slots home an opener low inside two minutes.
That gives an instant lift to Long Eaton's players, staff and fans but Berkhamsted slowly begin to get a foothold. They play the better stuff, 3-5-2 their wing backs looking most dangerous as a cross from the left is blazed over on the volley from close range by Bessadi. He should have hit the target and levelled up the scores, he's holding his head in his hands as he trudges back for the goal kick.
The away side go nearest when they hit the bar but for their endeavour, Berkhamsted don't seem to have that killer instinct which is noticeable in both teams attacking positions but Long Eaton have something at least to cling on to. Lead by stallwart centre back Riece Bertram they fight for everything and battle hard to keep their opponents at bay.
At half time it's a deserved lead but the away side have had some chances. My thoughts if they keep doing what they're doing they'll eventually get their goal, but the second half states otherwise as they do everything but score. The longer it goes it seems to be Long Eaton's day.
Durrant is busy in the hosts goal as the away side hit a post and have a goal chalked out for offside. You seem to think it's going the way of the home side as the banter in the crowd turns to chears at every tackle. The few fans in attendance anticipating their first home win of the season as on occasion they even dare to catch out the away side on the counter-attack, but with seconds remaining their joy of three points looks set to be a distant dream as the Referee awards a soft penalty for something which nobody seemed to see. Bateman stepping up for Berko, striking to his right but Durrant guessing correct. It's at that moment when it beomes apparent it's certainly the home sides day. They'll be here all night and this lot won't score.
It wasnt one for the purists but Long Eaton battled with credit in tough conditions and in Riece Bertram they have a proper leader at centre half who enjoys the battle of having to dig in.
His presence in front of Ross Durrant who handled everything exceptionally, a key reason to the club securing a much needed clean sheet, Luke Martin, Jamie Hanson and Callum Cocks also doing well, often putting their body on the line, head, foot, tackle, commitment at levels over 100%, it was all enjoyable to see and in the end you couldn't help but feel pleased that they managed to see it through. Long Eaton's speed on the break a useful tool too. Spruce and Hewlett a constant menace before Nathan Tyson came on and shown at the ripe old age of 41 he's still no slouch himself.
For Berkhamsted their best two players were their wing backs which says a lot for their own attacking prowess. In the first half I was hugely impressed with left sider Kyal Williams who shown pace, talent, a good sensible head on young shoulders and he looks to be a footballer natural in the position. Hard to believe he was a forward before recently. I really liked the look of him.
Also impressing was St Alban's loanee Olu Lawal. Technically very good he was always on the front foot, willing to take on his opponent and aiming to get his side back in the game. On another day he might have had a goal and a couple of assits himself?
It'll make no difference in the grand scheme as Long Eaton are resigned to destiny at dropping into step 4 next season where they'll be happier with a few more local games to look forward to. But a win was celebrated by their fans, staff and players as it should be with some real passionate scenes at full time. A long hard season and it's games like this, where they rode their luck, but got a deserved reward of three whole points for showing their good battling qualities and sticking in with the fight.
For Berkhamsted, losing twice to Long Eaton, it's definitely six points dropped this season which could be for them, their own difference in surviving? They actually played well and dominated the game, but the age old art of scoring goals aluded them. Something they will certainly need to address should they want to stay in the division.
Long Eaton United: Ross Durrant, Casey Johnson, Callum Cocks, Jamie Hanson, Riece Bertram, Luke Martin, George Atwal (Marley Fearon 46 (Joseph Nyawema 81), Lewis Bellane, Tom Hewitt, James Spruce (Nathan Tyson 58), Jack Rogers.
Berkhamsted: Jamie Head, Olu Lawal, Kyal Williams, Dan Newton, Sam McLelland, Luke Massingham (James Towell 46), Mark Riddick, Sami Bessadi, Connor Toomey (Adam Marton 67), Max Bustamante Malaire, Mark Bateman.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 9th December 2023, Grange Park, Long Eaton (att 141).