If ever you decide to visit newly renamed Trafalgar Ground, dockside home of Newhaven FC, then please take note of the excellent directions given on the club website. The town of Newhaven doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the club exists. There are no signs pointing your way from the station, nor from the town centre; indeed even when you’re almost on top of the ground you’d have to see it to know that it was there. You will see it; the grandstand looms up from behind the cricket field, and at first glance you’ll be surprised that a football club at this level has such a facility. Sadly you won’t be quite so impressed once you’re ensconced in its tired embrace.
Newhaven should indeed be proud of its football club; certainly at the very least advertising its presence. Before kick off on Saturday the senior team sat proudly atop the Southern Combination Football League with a one hundred percent record. The club also runs an under 21’s side, and under 18’s side, two under 15’s teams and a collection of girls teams. For a club that is hardly rolling in money in a town that is far from wealthy the work they do on a shoestring, relying entirely on volunteers, is greatly worthy of applause. That the senior team won the Peter Bentley Cup last season, whilst the Under 18’s became League Champions, should make the applause even louder.
This was a top of the table clash. Visitors Horsham YMCA were in second place, also with a one hundred percent record having played a game less. The weather was glorious, the pitch seemed in very good condition, the beer served in the clubhouse behind the uncovered stand at one end of the ground was both well priced and cold, and the natives were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly. It promised to be an exciting match.
Sadly, promises aren’t always kept.
Prior to this match the two teams had scored a combined twenty two goals. Newhaven had walloped Worthing United 6-1, hammered St Francis Rangers 4-0, and squeezed a 2-1 victory over AFC Uckfield Town. YMCA had also beaten Rangers, as well as recording a creditable away victory over Loxwood. The 62 spectators must have expected that between the teams they’d manage at least one goal this afternoon. What they were to be served was an attritional midfield battle, with chances at a premium.
Newhaven started brightly; as early as the second minute Callum Connor played a beautiful flicked pass to Lee Robinson, who twisted and turned before being fouled on the edge of the box. Ryan Walton, scorer of four of the Dockers twelve goals this season, hit the free kick directly into the wall, and this set the pattern for the afternoon. We were to see lots of very good approach play, and quite a number of shots, but very few really troubling either keeper.
On past experience, when Robinson plays well, the Dockers tend to dominate. When he doesn’t take the game by the scruff of the neck, they defend well but lack creativity. This match fell into the latter pattern. He worked very hard, but apart from managing to fire wide of the post twice during the opening thirteen minutes he was well marshaled by the YM defence, in which captain Ash Dugdale was particularly impressive.
It might be argued that the YMCA defence dominated the entire afternoon. That shouldn’t suggest that it was a particularly defensive game, but when the home side did get the ball forward they tended to be halted before they reached the edge of the box. Horsham tended not to waste the ball when they managed to win it, either. Newhaven undoubtedly had most of the possession. It was YMCA, however, who were the most threatening.
Dean Wright for the away side had two good chances during the first fifteen minutes. On the first occasion he shot straight at the keeper from ten yards, and on the second headed over when unmarked at the far post. Later he was also to fire over the bar after a scramble on the edge of the box. A number of YM corners forced Newhaven keeper Jake Buss to punch clear, and winger Dave Brown should have done better after bamboozling the home defence only to completely fluff his cross, kicking out at the seating behind the goal in disgust.
The second half followed a similar pattern. In the forty ninth minute Callum Connor broke away from the YM defence and fired a shot across goal which Simon Lockwood did well to push around the post for a corner. That was probably the Dockers best chance, although a Robinson shot which Lockwood had to save with his feet in the 61st minute was also worthy of note.
Rather surprisingly YM’s greatest attacking threat tended to come from defender Dean Carden. In the seventy second minute he collected the ball deep in his own half before embarking on a surging run that saw it laid off to Brown, whose shot was saved by Buss before being scrambled to safety. Two minutes later Carden was at it again, firing a shot from just inside the box that Buss was only able to palm out for a corner. From that corner a shot from Antony Hibbert was cleared off the line before being scrambled away. The game then petered out, with the away team having most of the possession without being able to capitalize on it; the pace slowed considerably, understandably as the sun beat down.
At full time both teams looked exhausted. Before the season both were highly fancied to challenge for the title, and indeed there was enough quality on display for that not to be too unrealistic. How close they will get to favourites- and YMCA’s reluctant tenants- Horsham FC remains to be seen, but a top five finish should be on the cards for both. St Francis Rangers visit the Trafalgar Ground on Saturday as the Dockers begin their defence of the Peter Bentley Cup, whilst YM are away at Erith Town in the FA Cup Preliminary Round.
Many more photographs here: Townsendaround Facebook Page
Published on in Steps 3-6.