“It’s the last one, go and enjoy it” were the words of the Clanfield manager to his team, before mentioning that a win would see the side, currently placed 7th, move up two places to 5th. The manager also counselled his side to be smart in their play as they had arrived with a bare 11 which did not include any strikers – “it’s a bank holiday it can’t be helped” was his rather easy-going assessment.
Against the side currently occupying 2nd position, behind already crowned champions Bush Hill, it meant however, that Clanfield would have an uphill struggle – something they quite literally faced in the first-half as Fleetlands pitch sloped downwards toward the bottom left corner.
Fleetlands has to be one of the most interesting grounds I’ve visited so far, particularly at this level. As well as the standard changing rooms, clubhouse and perimeter rail there are two small stands. It is also on Ministry of Defence land – a helicopter base, so has a windsock near the corner of the pitch as well as several helicopter pads. The pitch side view is also pleasant, looking out over the water, moored yachts and ending with Portsdown Hill in the distance. It can’t be that far off Wessex League standard, though apparently no Hampshire league clubs have applied for promotion this season.
Despite their disadvantage Clanfield acquitted themselves well in the first half. There was a scare when Fleetlands hit the post and the follow-up fell to one of their strikers for the follow-up, but the shot was blocked well and cannoned off a Clanfield players rear-end. At the other end they managed some reasonable chances, the best coming when the Clanfield number 4, through on goal, put his shot just high and wide.
In the absence of any substitutes the Clanfield manager was left to run the line. From this position he did his best to encourage his players “well done, that’s quality” he said to one after a particularly good tackle in which the Clanfield player wrapped his leg around an opponent to take the ball and curtail a marauding run down the line.
In terms of management style the Clanfield manager couldn’t have any more different to his opposite number the Fleetlands boss who surveyed the game with arms either folded, or in pockets and a look of perpetual disgust on his face as he offered various points of criticism to his players.
Coming off the field at half-time one of the Fleetlands players called out to the manager. Getting his attention he launched a long cross-field pass in the managers direction. This had presumably been intended to show-off, but the player had over hit it and sailed high and wide of the intended target. The manager’s eyes narrowed. “Why did you call me then, so I can go and get it?” he snarled (though with a few more swear words). Someone would be doing extra push-ups and laps of the pitch at the next training session.
On a personal note the end of the first half marked 135 minutes of football I had seen that day without a single goal. I suspected though that this would change in the second half as Clanfield’s bare 11 would surely struggle as the game wore on.
As it was I didn’t have much longer to wait for my first goal of the day. A few minutes into the second half Fleetlands got on the score sheet when one of their players headed in a cross to make it 1-0. This was followed soon after by another great chance when a Fleetlands player danced through the Clanfield defence only to be denied by a magnificent full-stretch save by the Clanfield ‘keeper who pushed it onto the post.
The ‘keeper was in particular having a particularly impressive afternoon, being near unbeatable in the air, and this intervention allowed Clanfield to have at least a stake in the game for a little while longer. Their moment came when well-beaten by an opponent the Fleetlands right-back produced a late slide tackle to concede a free-kick on the edge of the box. The kick itself did not trouble the goal-keeper, but the ball came loose in the area and a Clanfield player was perfectly positioned to tuck it away. Unfortunately for Clanfield however, they poked it over.
This was effectively Clanfields last chance to get something from the game. Tired legs began to severely blunt their attacking edge and their forwards were unable even to hold the ball up, placing the Clanfield defence under sustained pressure as every single ball forward was mopped up by the Fleetlands defence and returned with ease. In the end the killer low was applied by one of Fleetlands’s substitutes, their number 12 Connor Johnson, who was a short tricky player of the type given to gleefully dribbling in and out a number of opponents as if he were a gust of wind slipping through the yacht masts out on the water. Several members of the Clanfield defence were almost helpless as producing such a dribble he tucked Fleetlands second goal away safely beyond the ‘keeper. From this point there really was no coming back for Clanfield. 2-0 to Fleetlands.