Steyning Town 1 Punjab United 1 AET (Steyning win 9-8 on penalties), FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round, 15th September 2018
One of the main reasons that I decided to embark on my groundhopping adventure this season was to sizably increase the number of non-league grounds that I’ve visited.
So here’s a confession. For the second time already this season, I have chosen to visit a ground that I’ve previously been to (last month’s visit to Saltdean United’s Hill Park being the other).
Yet while Saturday’s visit to Steyning Town’s Shooting Field Stadium was my second visit to the ground, it was my first time as a spectator. My previous visit occurred around a year ago when I played in a Vets game for Withdean against the Steyning over 35s. That match finished in a 1-1 draw and I happened to score our goal (this last fact has no relevance whatsoever to the rest of this post, but was a fact still worth mentioning, in my opinion).
Having missed out on attending an FA Vase match a couple of weeks ago, I was determined not to do so this time around. When it came to choosing which match to attend, my choices were as ever limited by grounds that I’d be able to get to in time for kick off (I don’t finish coaching in Brighton until 1pm) and ideally one that I’ve not been to previously. As an extra caveat, as this was an FA Vase match, I decided to try and get to watch a team that I wouldn’t usually be able to (in other words, one based outside of Sussex).
Steyning vs Punjab United (who are based in Gravesend) was the fixture that leapt out at me. Okay, so I had technically been to the Shooting Field before, but as it was not in the capacity as a spectator I decided to let this rule slide. After all, rules are there to be broken. I’m such a rebel!
Match chosen there was only one other potential banana skin. The threat of extra-time and penalties. While the FA Vase does allow for replays, this is only after the first game has gone to extra-time. What’s more, if both teams agree, matches can be settled by way of penalty shoot-out after the first game, thus avoiding pesky future fixture backlogs.
Usually, staying for extra-time wouldn’t be a problem. However, this weekend my schedule is jam-packed. My eldest son needs to be picked up from a day out with the Cubs at 6pm, from where I’m supposed to be taking him and his younger brother straight to a double header of Speedway at Arlington.
“Don’t worry,” I assured my wife on Wednesday evening (the day I decided I’d be heading to the Steyning match). “I’m sure it won’t go to extra-time. I’ve only seen one draw so far this season. It’ll be fine.”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what happened next. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Steyning’s Shooting Field Stadium is a lovely little ground which boasts a fine 3G (possibly 4G – never quite sure on the difference) playing surface. Although the two covered seated areas are quite small (there’s nothing that really constitutes a main stand), the club house is a decent size and there is a real community/family friendly atmosphere around the whole place.
Upon paying my £5 entry fee (the cheapest admission price so far this season along with Bootle in Merseyside) and £1 for a program, I’m surprised to encounter a familiar face on my customary walk around the ground. It transpires that one of my now 5Ways Coaching Colleagues (and former student – I’ve been there a long time), Joe Fitzpatrick is playing for Steyning. Unfortunately, he injured himself in midweek and so is out of this day’s game. Hopefully he’ll be back in the team should I attend another Steyning game later in the season. It’s always good to see people I know play.
The match itself is fairly even throughout. Despite Steyning being the lower ranked side – they are in the First Division of the Southern Combination Football League, while Punjab United are in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division – there is no obvious difference in quality.
Punjab cause problems throughout the game courtesy of their two pacey wingers – Anthony Adesite and William Johnson-Cole, who is particularly rapid – but for the most part their defence handle them well. Arun Suman also impressed me for the visitors, although was a little too lightweight at times.
It was the hosts who struck first, left-back Josh Maher rifling home from close range after a bit of pin-ball in the area. Indeed, the Barrowmen ended the first half well on top, and had a number of decent opportunities to extend their lead and maybe even put the game to bed, only to be denied on more than one occasion by Joe Hagan in the Punjab goal.
During half-time, the visitors were kept out on the pitch for their team-talk, while the hosts retreated to their dressing room, no doubt more than satisfied with how the first half had gone. Even from across the pitch it was clear to see that the Punjab United management team were not overly happy with what they had just witnessed.
Whatever was said during the interval clearly had the desired effect. The visitors came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half, launching wave after wave of attack in a sustained spell of pressure. It was during this spell that they nabbed their equaliser through an Adam Cuthbert set-piece (see video), although the home-side were clearly more than a little miffed by the soft award of the free kick in the first place.
At this point I was convinced Punjab would go on to run out easy winners. Yet their goal seemed to spur on Steyning once again, and it was the hosts who once again began to regain control. Chris Neatherway missing probably their best chance to snatch a winner.
As the clock crept ever closer to the 90-minute mark the reality that we might be heading to extra-time drew ever closer. In fairness, both teams were obviously doing all they could to avoid extra time. Punjab in particular had good late chances to snatch the win late on, but the otherwise impressive Johnson-Cole twice fluffed his lines.
After a couple of quick phone-calls to the wife, we (she) managed to organise someone else to collect the eldest from his Cubs trip so I got the green light to stay until the end of the game. Thanks wifey.
Extra-time followed a similar pattern to normal time, with both teams having periods on top but unable to make the most of them.
And so to penalties (just to make sure I got home even later). I know it’s a cliché, but this really was a game that neither team really deserved to lose, yet the excitement of penalties really caught the attention of the crowd and the atmosphere around the Shooting Field really picked up at this point.
An epic penalty shoot-out – which unfortunately was contested using the pointless ABBA system (if anyone can explain the point of this system to me then please do) – it was Steyning who came out on top 9-8 to the delight of the majority of the crowd.
The hosts’ goalkeeper, JJ Banasco-Zaragoza (who took and scored his side’s first penalty) was particularly entertaining during the shoot-out, channelling his inner Bruce Grobbelaar and Jerzy Dudek in doing everything he could to put off the takers. How much the win meant to him was particularly evident when Mayckol Sabino coolly slammed home the winning penalty. A full length run of the pitch, towards absolutely nobody, arms wind-milling, was particularly amusing to watch; although the Punjab players didn’t see the funny side of it with a few angrily confronting him about his behaviour.
As I made me way to the exit, the crowd had really found their voice and were roaring their approval at the efforts of the home players. For me, though, a quick dash home and a trip to Arlington beckoned… albeit some 45 minutes later than expected.