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  • Writer's pictureHead Scout

MNF: Late Night Drama

St Ives Town 3-2 Royston Town (Southern League Central Division)

It’s the start of a mad week of live football for me. A game tonight, one in Boston tomorrow, two in Newcastle on Wednesday, a day off Thursday and a couple more matches streamed from home on Friday before a Saturday 3pm (when football should be played) back in Boston to round it all off.

Tonight’s untelevised Monday night football tie is St Ives v Royston in the Southern League Central and 21st v 9th at the Quattro Tech Stadium otherwise known as Westwood Road.

It’s my first visit to this town and my first viewing of St Ives since a New Years Day defeat at Rushden & Diamonds back in January, after a promising start last season they have since slipped in the last ten months and are second from bottom in the division with six points from twelve games played.

I have no idea what part of the country Royston is in but they’re doing ok in the league, above mid-table and a win below the playoff zone, they apparently date back to 1875 and are the third oldest club in Hertfordshire behind Hitchin Town and Bishop Stortford. The Crows as they are known are managed by Steve Castle who used to play for Leyton Orient, after ten long years of running things alone he’s now joint gaffer with Chris Watters who was promoted from Assistant in the summer.

St Ives Manager is Ricky Marheneike who himself has been at the helm a decade long. His side were beaten at Stratford at the weekend whilst Royston didn’t play. Their last outing at Mickleover a week gone Saturday, losing at the league leaders 2-0.

I’m in the car for 5pm and down the A1(M) as the sun sets to the west over RAF Wittering. Off at junction 14 for signposts of Huntington and St Ives I’m through a stunning village called Hemingford Grey with its quirky thatched cottages as a lone jogger runs by with a torch attached to his woolly hat.

The Venue

It’s darkening skies as I reach St Ives crossing over the Great River Ouse and the lagoons that did well to survive storm Babet, a quiet town on a Monday night is isolated as I navigate the one-way system, not much is going off at all with hardly a human in sight.

As I feel aimlessly driving down dark roads, sat nav says I’m close as some bright lights suddenly appear of a car park in front, there’s some players getting of cars and cutting through a hedge, I’ve no idea how to access the venue but soon follow to find a gravel track which leads you to the back of the football ground and a single turnstile where there’s a queue.

£11 contactless for adults I’m zapped through the white painted breeze block hut to the open internals of what is a quirky wide and spacious ground with a bit of village charm.

The pitch has recently been laid a couple of years ago and is one of the widest 3g surfaces I’ve seen. Dimly lit under low volt floodlighting the players are out warming up on it, to the left of me an unusual looking brick built stand in black and white which backdrops to the club house and changing rooms, it looks like the engine room of St Ives Town with a refreshments bar below a flickering light. The press and Directors seats set back from the concourse in front with slim posts in view, I decide after my touchline experience at Rushall on Saturday that I might do the same tonight, as I walk around the ground to find that perfect spot.

Behind each goal is open ended with netting to save the ball hitting the horizon trees but opposite the main stand and clubhouse is another quirky number that looks like it’s been here a while. Corrugated roof sat on halfway it has three rows of seats all different colours the back row of which are padded, as I sit on the corner of one I nearly fall off, not knowing it’s unattached to it’s position from the brick wall behind and not safe for service of supporters use.

I take the original option to stand by halfway next to a guy who’s filming every move of the match on his mobile phone. I’m concerned about the light as it’s dark and my eye sights not great, the pitch much wider than I’m used to and the stands are set back, thankfully as the players come out the head groundsman decides to switch the lights on full.. ‘That’s better’ I sigh.

The Game

It’s a good fast paced start as both teams look to go forward with not much time for two touches as each side is pressing hard. Royston I’m more impressed with but St Ives counter well, they have a pair of midfielders in Barton and Cowling who travel with the ball at their feet, running forward at pace, straight lined, before slide rule passing to Njoku off the shoulder, he’s rapid up top and has a lot of technique, the Royston defenders quaking everytime he touches the ball.

The away side have had the best of it, but Njoku is set free on the break, he’s felled in the area and Jonathan Edwards slots home from after a stuttering run up from the resulting penalty kick.

Other than a few kids hand gesturing behind the goal for the penalty the atmosphere is subdued. It’s cold and black skies with a chill in the air, plenty in attendance but the fans mostly pleasant and respectful hardly uttering a breath, they seem to all support Spurs around here and have more questions on the 'real Monday night football' game against Fulham than what’s happening here.

Royston have a corner which is crossed into the box, the towering Edwards heads home a bullet to level the score. He’s a big number nine and a player I really like, a true finisher at the level and a man who certainly knows where the net is. Problem is it’s in his own net, he’s back defending inside his own eighteen-yard box and I think he’s forgotten where he was?

The game is getting scrappy as it enters the latter stages of the first half, a couple of bookings for each side before a free kick is awarded half way, a ball pumped into the box by Royston has St Ives keeper Brearey catching flies, he’s fumbled one to feet of Boachie who buries into the empty net.

That goal gives Royston the lead but sparks off some ‘F-bombs’ from the St Ives dugout who see Manager and Assistant both booked. Six bookings and three goals it’s been a busy first forty five.

The Score

There’s a labradoodle on a lead behind me walking on the grass as I check my phone during the interval, the ground is such a spacious vast and calming venue, I notice a setback terraced stand to my right which no one is stood in, propped up by a big wooden post at a 45 degree angle it has a fence to its side saying 'no entry'.

I’m expecting Royston to stand firm in the second half, higher in the league they have more about them, but it seems everytime they go forward St Ives best chance of scoring is on the counterattack. A shot blocked at one end is latched onto for the break as Parker runs into space out right, he’s travelling at knots before squaring to Njoku unmarked at the back post, he can’t miss, and doesn’t.

That goal leads to more handbags this time in the opposition dugout, Royston joint-Manager Watters seeing red as Castle is also booked, the Referee having to deal with some silly petulance is most card happy but on the pitch there’s hardly been a nasty tackle made.

There’s even a clatter of the crossbar as a long range effort bounces back to safety, Royston going close but the Saints break again, it seems everytime the away side look like scoring the hosts go straight up the other end with a vengeance to do one better.

That vengeance still bubbling outside the 90, I’m still to see a board go up and ask the linesman who hasn't a clue, but we have a rough feeling they’ll be a good eight minutes due to the stop start nature of the second half and as it looks like heading for a draw the ball finds that man again. Njoku running at defenders as they stand off nervously not to commit, before you know it he’s in the area and smashing the ball home, a late winner from the star of the show.

The Stars

Brandon Njoku is just 18 and on loan from Cambridge United. The Nigerian born speedster has already had spells at St Neots, Braintree and Cheshunt and will find a level far above this one in the seventh tier of English football. Direct with super control of the ball he looks to have end product to match and is the sole reason that St Ives won this game.

The home team did have a couple of other players who I liked, largely in their playmaking midfield department, Daniel Barton and Myles Cowling who I’ve been impressed with on watching before. Both small in size, but big on the ball, they look to make things happen and played to the strengths of Njoku at every chance they had to send him on his way.

For Royston I really liked ponytailed forward Joseph Boachie on my first viewing of him. Thick set and powerful he’s a real menace in attack, often dropping deep to get on the ball and make things happen when others aren’t providing him service.

Substitute Benjamin De Lacy-Turner also took my eye with a touch of Phil Foden’s, a technical and diminutive footballer with a bit of grit whilst centre half and skipper Adam Murray is a real warrior, big, ugly and old fashioned, he’ll certainly be one glad to see the back of Njoku.

The Verdict

A lot will depend on whether a one month loan of a novice attacker can in anyway be extended? With Njoku there’s no doubt St Ives will be a different beast than without him, but if they can maximise his stay and get some points on the board it may be enough to keep them afloat, although there’s a lot of football still to be played and there’s certainly no panic stations just yet.

It wouldn’t surprise me if St Ives now nine points behind Roytson don’t eventually finish above them in the table? My Hertfordshire unknowns were certainly a decent enough outfit on first viewing, but they shouldn’t really have lost this game, they shouldn’t really have drawn it either, and not winning games they should, is certainly something of concern.

The Teams

St Ives Town: Edward Brearey, Peter Abimbola, Aaron Smith, Edmund Hotter (Michael Richens 52), Jordan Williams, Patrick Casey, Daniel Barton, Myles Cowling, Jonathan Edwards (Tiago Nassunculo 90), Brandon Njoku, Charlie Johnson.

Royston Town: Noah Phillips, Greg Sandiford (Tom Newman 70), MacKye Townsend-West, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, Adam Murray, Tsagium Guimdo Florian (Ben De Lacy-Turner 61), Alfie Williams, Matthew Bateman, Joseph Boachie, Cain Keller (Fabio Virciglio 82), Ange Djadja.

7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 23rd October 2023, Westwood Road, St Ives (att 275).

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