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  • Writer's pictureHead Scout

Wooden Spoon

Long Eaton United 2-1 Leiston (Southern League Central Division)

I’ve had to google where Leiston is. Apparently in East Suffolk, a town of just over 5,000 people, it has a team that has done well in the Southern League Premier Central Division this season, middle of the pack with nothing to play for as they close their campaign against bottom of the pile Long Eaton.

No trouble googling this Derbyshire town, I know it well and have visited Grange Park five or six times already this season, Long Eaton strictly, aren’t bottom, as Nuneaton Borough folded earlier in the campaign leaving ‘the Blues’ twenty-first in the former twenty two team table, but not including Nuneaton’s rescinded results, a last day win could perhaps see Long Eaton leapfrog Berkhamsted who’s two 1-0 losses to their relegation rivals could cost them their chance to avoid taking the wooden spoon.

I’ve never seen Leiston play. Formed in 1880 they are managed by former Norwich City forward Darren Eadie and have had a modest past that took lift off from the Norfolk & Suffolk and Ipswich & District Leagues from the early stages of this millennium, gaining promotion to the Eastern Counties League in 2001 before reaching first the Isthmian League in 2011 before transferring to the Southern League in 2019.

The clubs best season was to win the Isthmian North in 2012 a year after winning the Eastern Counties Premier Division and before that, in 2008/09 they had their best ever run in the FA Cup, reaching the first round proper before losing to Fleetwood 2-0 in a replay after a goalless draw in Suffolk.

Last season they finished third in the Southern League Central which is as highly ranked as they have been in the pyramid, Long Eaton, promoted last season from the Northern Premier League East Division have this year found it tough going, but are already preparing for life at step 4 again, next season.

The Venue

I’m in my car following a quick stop off at Lenton Lane Recycling Centre, driving through Beeston and Attenborough before pulling up on Station Road, a little walk to the ground up the side track past Erewash Bowls Club you can hear the music of the tannoy playing as I follow a lone groundhopper with a backpack on through the turnstile.

It’s 2pm, not many are in yet, I’m standing waiting at the kiosk desk for a brew but there’s nobody there, so I sit myself down in the stand, the Long Eaton media guys already seated, not talking to each other, it’s eerily quiet, it has the feel of a relegated team, little atmosphere, little buzz, let’s get this bloody season over with.

The ground is ok at Grange Park, the stand I’m in has a partial blindspot to the right corner flag,  but other than that the view from the top row is good, elevated, central, looking out to the covered standing area opposite and the two open ends either side, Nottingham Forest Women also play here on a Sunday, the pitch a little bobbly in places but I’ve seen far worse, flat and wide it at least allows for an expansive game of football.

The Game

Leiston are firm favourites with the bookies but anyone who knows anything about football will tell you that these last day games with little riding on them can end on a whimper, or with emphatic victory, or neither, it’s never easy to second guess the last match of the season, but the away team start ok, they knock it about well and look to get at their opponents who are dogged, unusually set up by Bradley Munn as centre half Reece Bertram is up front. He’s a unit and a bit of a handful but has no legs, he’s hardly going to get in behind and threat the visitors defence.

Ross Durrant in goal for Long Eaton has just been awarded the clubs fans player of the season, after a quick pitch side photo he passed his trophy to his dad sitting in front of me, and early on is called into action, little wonder why he won the award as he’s kept busy early doors with a  couple of good stops.

Long Eaton though have had their chances too. Nyawhema on the left wing is causing mayhem with his pace and Tom Hewlett pokes wide when it looks easier to hit the target.

The home side are gaining confidence and the effort is certainly coming from them, Leiston look laboured, half hearted, lacking intent, their goalkeeper Sam Donkin has had a couple of eery moments and it’s his mistake that leads to an opener, he’s robbed of the ball by Liam Loughlan who tees up Hewlett to place in the empty net.

The Score

At half time it’s certainly a deserved lead for Long Eaton who come out with more intent and more fire in their belly during the second half.

Leiston have switched things around with Ashley Boatswain and Jamar Loza switching wings, the latter is direct and fast and is a tough handle for Long Eaton right back Callum Cocks who looks a good solid player.

Loza and Leiston go close on a number of occasions but Long Eaton are plucky, they're having five themselves in attack and Ciaron Keane closes down an opponent on the edge of their box, the ball falls nicely for him, he’s through on goal, his first shot is blocked but is second is put home, Long Eaton two up and heading upwards off the bottom of the table.

The atmosphere changes, suddenly there’s optimism and chanting from the 143 fans inside Grange Park, a bit of a buzz that their side are starting to perform, Leiston look like they just want out of here, a 3 hour plus coach journey back to sleepy old Suffolk.

They’ve hit the post, they’ve had goalwards shots blocked by their own players, desperate goal-line clearances and great saves by Durrant, one of the Long Eaton media guys says “you know when it’s not your day” as time enters additional minutes for stoppages.. You fancy they’ll get one, when it’s all too late, and they do, in the third minute of the allotted four, Loza again doing the damage down the left, Albi Armin with the consolation, Long Eaton just need to pump their centre to the corner flag and it’s all over, three valuable points to lift them up and above Berkhamsted.

The Stars

Leiston didn’t play well but one player took my eye, left back Sebastian Dunbar, a former Ipswich Town youth player now in his thirties, who captained the side, who looked a class above, whilst Jamar Loza was always a threat, racing away in the first half down the right, and in the second, down the left.

For Long Eaton I was most impressed with Joe Nyawhema who had serious technique and a bit of pace down the left wing, he had an impressive first half and started the second 45 well but when Reece Bertram had a go at him for misplacing a pass, he went into his shell and was later subbed with his tail between his legs.

Bertram did ok up front, he was certainly no worse than Tom Hewlett, but I was surprised his manager never called upon him to defend, late on when up and against it, Bertram often stood half way whilst balls were being chucked into the box, you’ll think his aerial presence and defensive mind set would have him better poised in helping out his back four, but fortunately, Long Eaton didn’t really need him.

Callum Cocks at right back had a terrific match and looks a good player, whilst all the blues boys dug in and fought for three points, they were full of endeavour, if at times lacking a bit of ability, which in the end I suppose, is to their downfall of inevitable relegation.

The Verdict

I hope Brad Munn stays on at Long Eaton and I hope they can keep the basis of the team, Durrant, Bertram, Cocks, Nywahema, Jamie Howson to name a few, and if they do, they could be ok in the league below, whether it be North/South or Midlands, due to Long Eaton’s geographical location, they are still to find out.

Leiston will I’m sure be ok, an end of season whimper it maybe, but their status was long assured, they’ll probably be better than worse next season, should all their assets, and their manager, stays put.

The Teams

Long Eaton United: Ross Durrant, Callum Cocks, Ryan Cambell-Gordon, Ciaron Keane, Reece Bertram, Luke Martin, Liam Loughlan (Jack Rogers 90), Jamie Howson, Tom Hewlett (Nahan Tyson 75), Joe Nyahwema, George Atwal.

Leiston: Sam Donkin, Sebastian Dunbar, Adam Bailey-Dennis, Eddie Jackson (Ollie Sanders 58), Ross Crane, Albie Armin, Jack Manly (Zach Dronfield 68), Jamar Loza, George Quantrell, Chris Casement, Ashley Boatswain.

3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 27th April 2024, Grange Park, Long Eaton (att 143).

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