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Mistake settles top-of-the-table clash

Bexhill United 0 Steyning Town 1, Southern County Football League Division One, Saturday 24th November 2018

Not for the first time this season, the destination for my latest fix of groundhopping action was determined by the outcome of a Twitter poll.

In fairness, my initial intention had always been to go to the game that would go onto win the vote anyway – Bexhill United vs Steyning Town.

My attention had first been alerted to the fact that there was a top-of-the-table clash going on in the second tier of the Southern Combination Football League this weekend by my Saturday morning coaching colleague (and Steyning player) Joe Fitzpatrick seven days ago.

However, by Wednesday evening I still hadn’t 100 per cent settled on making Bexhill’s Polegrove Ground the venue for my upcoming Saturday outing. The fact that I’d already seen both teams in action at various points this season, while there are still a number of number of teams with which I’m yet to have the pleasure of watching, left me slightly unwilling to commit.

There was only one thing for it. A Twitter poll featuring this game, and then a couple of other matches where I hadn’t yet seen either of the teams involved.

I was obviously destined to be at the Polegrove this weekend, though. My Twitter followers comprehensively voted for me to attend this match.

So on a wet, yet surprisingly mild, Saturday afternoon, I headed east to the seaside town of Bexhill.

Now, somewhat bizarrely, while this was my first ever trip to Bexhill’s ground, it’s actually the second time I’ve watched The Pirates at home this season. Back in late September, I travelled to Southwick FC’s OldBarn Way to watch a game that had been switched to that ground due to ongoing ground works at the Polegrove.

On that occasion, Bexhill had run out fairly comfortable 3-0 victors. However, having also seen Steyning in action this season, towards the start of their FA Vase run (a run which they are still on; best of luck next week, guys) I was well aware that the hosts were unlikely to have things so straightforward in this match.

The Polegrove must be one of the UK’s closest located ground to the sea. It’s literally right off the seafront! Parking was unproblematic – there was plenty of space on the outside road despite the fact I arrived there fairly close to kick off – and at just £4 the admission price was the cheapest I’ve encountered to date. There was also a fine program for £1, which was much improved on the thrown together issue that was on offer at their home game in Southwick (although this was reflected by the fact that there had been no charge for the program on that occasion).

The ground is dominated by a fine looking, brick and timber mock Tudor stand which, I have to say, is one of the finest-looking stands that I’ve seen on my travels thus far. There’s something about an old-fashioned non-league stand that certainly appears to the traditionalist inside me,

Given the persistent rain which had already drenched me once during my morning coaching commitments in Brighton, I immediately earmarked the stand as the perfect location under wich to take shelter for the afternoon. However, upon making my way into the stand I found that my view was slightly obscured and that there were parts of the pitch that I couldn’t see as well as I would have liked.

I instead decided to brave the rain. Well, kind of. I actually decided to seek refuge from the elements by pressing myself flat along the clubhouse wall, where a slight roof overhang provided enough cover to shield me from the worst of the rain.

With just two places and one point separating the two teams (Bexhill went into the match in top place, courtesy of a superior goal difference to AFC Varndeanians) there was a feeling around the ground that this would be a cagey affair.

And so it proved. The Pirates started the brighter of the two teams, creating a flurry of early half-chances but never really threatening JJ Baransco’s goal. Steyning also had their moments, but again couldn’t create anything which even closely resembled a clear-cut chance.

The game’s decisive moment occurred on the half-hour mark with the award of a soft-looking free-kick to Steyning around 25 yards out. When Mayckol Sabino steeped up to take the resulting set-piece it appeared that a cross into the area was the best option. He instead elected to shoot. His effort was tame, but Dan Rose in the Bexhill goal made a hash of the save and the ball squirmed through his grasp and into the net (see video). It’s likely that a combination of a wet slippery ball, and Sabino electing to shoot when everyone expected a cross, contributed to the mistake, but the keeper will know he should have done better

It was ultimately a costly error. While Bexhill pressed on in the second-half, a well-organised Steyning defence held firm. It was easy to see why they have only conceded 9 league goals from 14 league matches this season. United were clearly missing the physical presence of Drew Greenall who limped off in the first half. Not that the visitors ever really looked like enhancing their lead. Bexhill also looked solid at the back. These were two extremely evenly matched teams which for the most part succeded in cancelling each other out.

With time running out, Bexhill started to throw caution to the wind and began to get more and more men forward. They almost snatched a late equaliser when a long-range effort from top scorer Jack Shonk clipped the top of the cross-bar. Moments later Baransco had to be alert to keep out another chance. It was the first save I can remember the visiting goalkeeper having to make in the entire game. Not that Rose was much busier.

With AFC Varndeanians’ being held to a draw away at Littlehampton, the win was enough to take Steyning to the top of the Division One table for now. Having seen plenty of the SCFL’s Premier Division sides already this season, I can safely say that both Bexhill and Steyning could comfortably make the step-up next season. I’m yet to see the division’s other two main contenders – Varndeanians or Alfold – yet, but given the closeness of the table it’s safe to assume that there’s not much between any of the top four.

A very exciting promotion race looks to be in the offing.     


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