Kidderminster Harriers 1-3 St Albans City
Well, what a weekend. A quick look at the weekend’s results to follow, but first… I’ve noticed an enormous increase in the amount of people stopping by here over the last 48 hours. Hello, all of you. Just out of interest, I’d be terribly grateful if you could let me know how you all ended up here. It’s all very confusing.
I was up at 5.45 yesterday morning to go to Kidderminster, and was it worth it? Well, what do you think? An hour on the train to London, then three hours on the coach to Birmingham, then another forty-five minutes in the train to Kidderminster, helped along with half a bottle of gin. That’s what it’s all about. It would be something of an understatement to say that I was less that confident about yesterday’s match. St Albans have been less than inspiring in pre-season, and Kidderminster are a strong team – they have former Wolves and Derby man Dean Sturridge leading their attack. This is the sort of match that the Saints seemed, to me, destined to lose. They’d only ever beaten two Conference teams before (Telford United in 1993 and Gravesend in 1981, both in the FA Cup, in case you were wondering), and with nineteen part-time players in a more-or-less professional league, they’re amongst the favourites to go down this season.
By half-time, the match was already over as a contest. The pre-match nerves (which had, to be fair, be dissipated by considerable amounts of booze) were gone when Paul Hakim stabbed in a low cross from Lee Clarke after nine minutes. Clarke was an astonishing find. Even before the start of this season, he’d made the Conference Select XI squad and has also played for Northern Ireland Under 21s. Although a part-time player, he’s employed by the club to run their academy (which hopes to find more players of his calibre). He’s been the captain for a couple of years, even though he’s only 23 years old. Twelve minutes later, the disbelief had turned to sheer bedlam, when Matt Hann’s deep corner was touched in at the far post by league debutant Dave Theobald. Hann makes up, with Clarke and veteran goalkeeper Paul Bastock, the Holy Trinity. Clever St Albans managers realise that the club, who have one of the widest pitches in English football, should play with orthodox wingers, and Hann is just such a player. He also takes a pretty mean free-kick and goes through phases of curling into the top corner every other match or so. Just before half-time, Hakim was tripped inside the penalty area (a clear penalty, that happened right in front of me), and Clarke stepped up to make it 3-0 at half-time.
The second half was an almost pedestrian affair. Mid-way through, Gary Elphick was harshly adjudged to have deliberately handled in the penalty area. Elphick seems to be cursed with this sort of thing. He was sent-off on his debut earlier this year after picking up a second yellow card for over-enthusiastically celebrating scoring a goal. Never mind, though, because the superbly demented Paul Bastock saved a poor penalty from Dean Sturridge, who must be wondering what he has let himself in for this season. Kidderminster did get one back in the dying seconds, but it was far too little, too late. The afternoon was made perfect a few seconds later, when it became apparent from the other results that had come in that we were top of the table, albeit on alphabetical order. I don’t expect things to get any better, of course. It’s still more important to get to the forty-five or so points to escape relegation, and they can’t get into the League with Clarence Park in the state it’s in, either. But, then again, this time of year is all about hope, isn’t it…? My other highlight of the day was seeing Mike Baldwin out of “Coronation Street” on the train from Birmingham to Kidderminster, and standing near him saying, “You know what they never should have done on Corrie? Getting rid of Mike Baldwin, that’s what. Best thing about it he was”. And yes, he is even shorter than you’d expect him to be. Tiny.
Elsewhere, the Football and Scottish Leagues rumbled on as per normal. The result of the day was probably Plymouth’s 3-2 win at Sunderland, who’ve now lost their three matches. Owner-manager. You saw the warning here first, a couple of weeks ago. They’re spared bottom place by the hapless trio of Colchester, Hull and Ipswich. Ipswich had a mediocre season last year, but I don’t really think anyone was expecting them to be so poor this season. At the other end, the early pace-setters are Crystal Palace, who are showing early signs of being the team to catch this season. In the Second Division, my pre-season picks Nottingham Forest made it three out of three, though they did require a hilarious own-goal at Northampton to help them on their way. One can’t help but think that the writing is already on the wall for Millwall. Two years ago they were in the Cup Final: yesterday they were beaten 5-1 at Chesterfield. Dear me. In Division Three, Walsall and Swindon are the only teams left with 100% records after three matches. My pre-season picks to go down, Bury and Stockport, have amassed a single point between them. Finally, Accrington Stanley picked up their up their first league win over 44 years yesterday, when they beat Barnet 2-1 at The Crown Ground. Worryingly, though, only 1,600 were there to see it. It is widely accepted that local apathy was a part of what did for Accy 44 years ago. One hopes that there will be no repeat this time around.
North of the border, in a sign of the times, Hearts were booed off the pitch after going top of the League with a 0-0 draw against second placed Falkirk. Celtic, who were in London on Wednesday night to play another friendly against Chelsea, are moving ominously into gear with a comfortable win against St Mirren. There was no match for Gretna yesterday because they were playing in the UEFA Cup on Thursday, and Livingston and Partick Thistle are the only teams left there with two straight wins. In the third, East Stirlingshire’s bubble may have burst. They’ve now lost two straight matches, and went down at Dumbarton yesterday. Plus ca change, as the French say. Well, some of them, anyway.