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Late goal ensures share of the spoils

Little Common 2 Shoreham FC 2, Southern Combination Premier League, Saturday 10th November 2018

To go to a game or not to go to a game? That was the question that confronted me on Saturday morning, with my venue (and indeed my attendance at all) still very much up in the air.

From the moment my mind turned towards which game I should attend this weekend, I had been unable to make a firm decision regarding where to go. Initially, I had planned to attend either the Dorking or Lewes matches in the FA Trophy. Yet as the week dragged slowly towards the weekend, the appeal of the trophy failed to grab me (not sure why). Instead I decided that I would wait for league games to visit these grounds (or revisit in Lewes’s case).

I then resolved to continue my unofficial, and entirely self-imposed, mission to have visited all the grounds in the Southern Combination Premier League by the end of this season.

With my Saturday morning football coaching commitments once again restricting where I can get to (games at the further end of the county will have to wait until half-term weeks; I’m looking at you Pagham, Chichester and Loxwood) my choices were suitably narrowed down. Yet still I couldn’t make up my mind.

Then, waking up on Saturday morning with a slight sniffle and a weather forecast predicting wet and windy conditions throughout Sussex, and far from relishing the thought of a morning and afternoon spent getting completely soaked, I was seriously considering giving going to a game a miss this weekend. Yes, I’m fair-weather!

However, by 11 o’clock, and with no sign of rain – contrary to what my phone’s weather-app was still trying to tell me – I finally made up my mind. Yes, I would go to a game. And that game would be at The Oval, home of Eastbourne United AFC.

Not that I’d be watching Eastbourne United. AFC. In fact, Eastbourne United AFC didn’t even have a game this Saturday. Instead I’d be watching Little Common take on Shoreham.

The Common are ground-sharing with United for the duration of the season while work is done on their own ground. Therefore, this visit gives me a chance to tick off two teams at once (although, I will still endeavour to go and watch an Eastbourne United match at The Oval at some point, too. It somehow seems like cheating otherwise).

With my two boys having had a late night the night before, having attended the WWE wrestling in Brighton (cool Dad points for me there – from them anyway), and both having had training the following morning, it’s decided (largely by me it has to be said) to let them spend a relaxing afternoon at home.

Therefore, I’m on my own for the short journey to Eastbourne. Which means one thing is guaranteed. A peaceful afternoon!

After a hassle-free journey, I manage to park in the road right outside the ground. Admission costs £5 (the joint cheapest I’ve encountered this season for a league match) and there’s the bonus of a simple but perfectly adequate program being thrown in for free.

The Oval features one small-ish main seated covered area, and a similar-sized covered terraced area, along one side of the pitch. There’s also a small covered area behind one of the goals. I’m assuming this was either once a seated area, or is soon to become one, as the stand currently features what appears to be seats without the key component of an actual seat attached to the metalwork.

There’s also a well-stocked and decent sized bar/club house, and a separate room selling refreshments. Popping in to the latter room to grab a pre-game coffee, my senses are quickly assailed by the tantalising aromas of fried bacon and burgers. Had it not been for the fact that I knew I was due to be having a roast dinner upon my return from the match, I would almost certainly have succumbed to the temptation to scoff. That I didn’t displayed a force of will-power that even I didn’t know I possessed.     

Little Common made a fast start to the game and were rewarded in just the sixth minute, when a raking long-range pass sent Jamie Crone clear of the visiting defence, and he kept his cool to slot the ball past the advancing Shoreham goalkeeper.

While the Musselmen did grow into the game as the half wore on, they struggled to create any real clear-cut chances, although the same could be said of The Common, who were also being kept at arm’s length.

The equaliser, however, arrived on the half-hour mark. It came in slightly controversial circumstances. A Shoreham attacker burst into the box, but was sent sprawling by a chasing defender. Although the referee initially waved play on, his assistant immediately waved his flag to signal that there had been contact and a penalty was duly awarded.

Ryan McBride, the larger than life striker who would become the main target of the home supporter’s ‘banter’ in the second half, made no mistake from the spot, confidently sending Matt Cruttwell the wrong way.

If Common made a fast start to the opening 45 minutes, it was the Musselmen who came out all guns blazing in the second-half. Within a minute or so of the restart, McBride capitalised on a horrific lapse of concentration in the home defence, and while saying he ‘raced’ clear to double his own personal tally and give the visitors the lead may be overstating things slightly, he nevertheless did enough to hold off the covering challenges and notch his second of the game.

This goal really seemed to knock The Common’s confidence. For the next 20 minutes they struggled to get anything going. The home supporter’s anguish as yet another pass either sloppily went astray or went backwards was audible.

While it can hardly be said that Shoreham carved out chance after chance to put the game to bed during this period, they did look extremely comfortable. They also posed a sporadic threat on the counter, with Martin Mutungi looking their main dangerman.

However, Little Common aren’t on a five-match unbeaten run for no reason, and as the game entered its final 20 minutes they started to improve and began creating some decent chances. Much of this good work was coming from veteran Wes Tate, who was really starting to pull the strings in a more advanced midfield position. Yet with James Broadbent in the Shoreham goal reacting well to everything that The Common had to offer, it seemed that Shoreham would hold on for the three points.

Yet with the clock ticking towards the 90 minute-mark, Crone was once again given too much space in the area, and he was able to find a way past Broadbent to grab a late equaliser.

Buoyed by the goal, Common pressed for a winner in injury time, and while they managed to get themselves in some decent positions, they couldn’t carve out another clear chance. In fact, it was the visitors who came closest to snatching it, when McBride – who had been a nuisance to the home defence all afternoon – just failed to get a decent cross from the left under control at the far post. Much to the relief of the small section of home fans who had been barracking him mercilessly for most of the second half. I get the impression he isn’t the type to pay that sort of stuff much attention, though.           

So the match ended in a competitive draw which, while I couldn’t describe it as thrilling, was certainly entertaining enough.

As a footnote, the day’s forecast rain did eventually arrive. About 15 minutes after I got back from the football. In fact, it absolutely bucketed it down! Had it been like that in the morning then there’s simply no way I would have gone to a game.

Groundhopping and me. I guess some things are just meant to be!


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