Quite a lot has changed since the last time we looked at the top of the Blue Square South on here. Two months ago, it looked as if Chelmsford City were going to walk away with the championship, but their form has collapsed while AFC Wimbledon went on a run of thirteen wins from fourteen matches which left them clear of the chasing pack at the top of the table. Chelmsford have been replaced as Wimbledon’s nearest challengers by Hampton & Richmond Borough, who themselves had won seven matches in a row prior to yesterday afternoon. Going into yesterday’s round of matches Wimbledon were nine points clear at the top of the table but with Chelmsford having already blown a similar lead at the top of the table, no-one is taking anything for granted at Kingsmeadow yet.
It is just over a year since Havant & Waterlooville took the lead twice at Anfield before losing 5-2 against Liverpool in the FA Cup. Just two of the players that started in that match are in the starting eleven for this match. This season has been a disastrous one for the Hawks. They had a reasonable run in the FA Trophy (finally going out in the Fourth Round at the hands of York City) and had another televised payday in the FA Cup First Round, but they started amongst the pre-season favourites to win the Blue Square South and have flattered to deceive, winning just two home matches all season. They sit just one place above the relegation places – whilst the drop remains unlikely (two of the three relegation places in the Blue Square South are almost certainly decided already, with Bognor Regis Town and Fisher Athletic cast well adrift at the foot of the table and they have a game in hand on third from bottom Thurrock), they continue to look nervily at a possible drop into the Southern League for next season.
What is it about people and ticket machines at railway stations? We arrive at Brighton station in plenty of time to get our train, but end up having to run for the train after the guy in front of me in the queue for the ticket machine takes ten minutes to decide that he needs a single ticket to Clapham Junction, which leaves us having to run in a very undignified manner in order to catch our train. We arrive at Havant just over an hour later. The best that one can say about the area immediately surrounding Havant railway station is that, well, if you can’t think of anything nice to say about something, you shouldn’t say anything at all. It’s quite a long walk to Westleigh Park, but we have plenty of time – enough, even, to fit in a drink in the bar before the match starts. Westleigh Park is a tidy little ground, which has benefited significantly from the money generated by Havant’s FA Cup run last season.
The crowd is a good one, over 1,700, and there is tension in the air. The large travelling support is regarding this match as an accident waiting to happen. The first half is largely taken up with a desperate quest for a cheeseburger. Today’s match is segregated, but it doesn’t look as if a great deal of thought has been put into catering for the away supporters, with just two portaloos and a burger van, the queue for which lasts for an excruciatingly long time. Fortunately, we’re not missing much on the pitch. Both teams expend a considerable amount of effort – Havant’s centre-back Gary Elphick is particularly outstanding – but for very little end product. Wimbledon’s Jon Main has already scored thirty goals this season, but he is having a bad day at the office and Havant’s defence seems to be able to snuff any hint of a goalscoring opportunity without breaking into too much of a sweat.
The second half brings more of the same. Wimbledon press forward without seriously troubling the Havant goalkeeper Scriven, and when Main is withdrawn with thirteen minutes to play, one starts to suspect that the Wimbledon manager Terry Brown has settled for a point. In the dying stages of the game, both sides have a chance to win the tie. Watkins breaks down the right hand side for Havant before shooting wide whilest, at the other end, a low cross from the right finally breaches the home defence, only for substitute Tom Davis to shoot well over when he should have scored. The full time whistle comes with a point just about deserved for both sides – if only for Havant on account of a strong and committed defensive display. A job well done, however, takes a darker turn as the bar starts to fill. Hampton have scored a last minute winner in their match at Worcester City and trimmed Wimbledon’s lead at the top of the table to seven points. Hampton have a game in hand, as well. With the two sides to play each other on the penultimate weekend of the season at Hampton’s Beveree stadium and Wimbledon also still due to travel to third placed Eastleigh, this league season seems likely to go to the wire.
Our afternoon takes a turn for the strange back in the desolately derelict environment of the area adjacent to Havant railway station. We are wandering around trying to find a cashpoint when a small group of Wimbledon supporters – one of whom I think I vaguely recognise – walk past us. As they do so, one of them leans over to us and snarls, “INBRED HAMPSHIRE C*NTS” in our faces. Not being aggressively minded, we dissolve into fits of laughter. The stress of the afternoon has clearly got to somebody. However, such behaviour hardly brings much credit to their club. The chances are that they are going to have a few more nervy afternoons like this before the end of the season.