Tuesday 1st May 2018, 1945 Kick Off
Warrington Town FC vs Grantham Town FC
The Build Up
A week working in Cheshire isn’t the worst thing in the world when the South East has been beset by a regular winter’s worth of rain and wind when it should be peak Springtime. It is, however, frustrating when the nonleague Play Offs are getting into full swing, and you’re going to be missing them. Luckily, Warrington Town were hosting Grantham Town not too far from my (surprisingly swanky) hotel in the Evo Stik Premier Division Play Off Semi Final, so along I popped.
The Wire, so nicknamed because apparently Warrington was once the home of a prominent wiring factory, started life as Stockton Heath, and indeed still reside in the affluent satellite town today. After 12 years as Stockton Heath, the club changed name to Warrington Town. Graced by greats such as World Cup winner Roger Hunt over the years, The Wire are in their second year in the Premier Division since promotion from the NPL Division One North in 2016. A tenth placed finish last season (until this season a record high) has been bettered this time out, with Paul Carden leading his team to 3rd in the league.
A 1-1 draw against Halesowen confirmed the home Play Off tie, as the Yellows (Warrington have two nicknames, three if you include “Town”, which just feels greedy) finished one point above 4th placed Grantham Town. Who they faced on Tuesday. At one stage of the season, a run of one defeat in twelve saw Warrington ascend to second, only a point behind eventual winners (by a clear margin) Altrincham, however form has tailed off somewhat. The home side approached the post season with two wins and three draws in their last six. Their visitors, Grantham Town, had fared marginally better recently – winning three and drawing two.
One of those victories for the Gingerbreads (really?) was a 2-1 win against already relegated Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham(ish) on Saturday. A crucial result, anything less would have seen the Lincolnshire side finish outside the Play Offs with Shaw Lane also winning. Grantham are another side who have had a record breaking season – 4th place is their joint highest finish since leaving behind the Grantham FC name in 1986/7.
I walked to the ground through the thoroughly pleasant Stockton Heath, and crossed a wrought iron bridge, joining the Trans Pennine Trail through Black Bear Park. A final half mile along the Manchester Ship Canal was a pleasant enough way to get to football, certainly when compared to some of the treks I’ve been onthrough the bowels of South London, and as I arrived at Cantilever Park a light, but consistent drizzle had started up.
Cantilever Park is a 2,500 capacity ground, with small covered terraces on two sides, and a reasonably large covered seating area on a third. Wire tickets are £10 for an adult, and the programme a further £2. A trip into the snack bar saw me sorely tempted by a Cornish Pasty, but I just couldn’t justify it this far from God’s County. Instead, an appropriately northern meat and potato pie with mushy peas (and Diet Pepsi) set me back £3.50, and was absolutely delightful as the evening got colder. I felt so Northern I was concerned Sean Bean might recruit me for his personal army.
With the ground starting to fill up (I wouldn’t be surprised if Warrington beat their season high attendance of 952 tonight*, helped by easily a hundred Grantham fans who made the cross country trip) I made my way pitchside, and listened to the already vocal Yellows fans getting warmed up. A shout out to a new chant I hadn’t heard before – “Only one team in Cheshire, we used to be shite, but now we’re alright, walking in a Yellows wonderland”. Nice.
*edit: they didn’t, it was 737. Still decent, though.
It took only three minutes for the Grantham Town fans to be up in arms over a refereeing decision, when Mr Cox of Blackpool elected not to award them a penalty for a perceived handball in the Warrington area. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t see what was going on from my end, so much like Forrest Gump, have nothing more to say about that.
The first half didn’t contain much of anything in truth, other than repeated and continual aerial assaults. Both sides were guilty of resorting to the easy map predicted clearances, but Grantham perhaps the most. In fact, by the end of the first half I was convinced that the richest man in Grantham must be whoever sells aspirin, because those guys must get through a lot of Sunday morning headaches.
On 17 minutes, one of Grantham’s two gargantuan centre halves, Tom Batchelor, committed a hilariously blatant foul as Jamie McDonald looking like getting away from him. Batchelor, formerly of Boston United, clearly had a stack of incriminating photos of Mr Cox, because there can be no other explanation for how he got away with a string of blatant kicks, elbows and shoves in the backs of McDonald and Joseph Piggott. It was a Diego Costa-esque display of shithousery, and borderline impressive. (In the interests of full disclosure, Batchelor also had a very, very good game in the more legitimate defensive arts as well.)
By 25 minutes, there had been three shots, none of which were on target. If there had been, I must have dozed off and missed them, and in the circumstances, I don’t feel any blame could be apportioned for said nap. In fact, it wasn’t until 39 minutes had been played that either ‘keeper was “tested”, when Grantham’s striker with a surname like a hobbit, Jordan Hempenstall, drove a low shot from 30 yards. The ball skidded along the wet grass into Luke Pilling’s arms, who spilt it, but gathered at the second attempt.
On 45 minutes, after Batchelor and his teammates had committed roughly their 427th foul, the referee could ignore them no more, and finally gave a Warrington free kick. Sean Williams drove the ball in, but the following ricochets around the box came to nothing.
Nil nil at half time, and no apparent danger of that changing. Warrington had probably looked the more technically able side, and certainly appeared the more willing to at least try and play the ball below the third floor, but Grantham had (quite easily, really) kept them at arms length. Whilst the Wire players hadn’t seemed intimidated, the visitors were simply a lot bigger, and with the referee being very lenient with both teams, the added physicality this allowed played massively into the hands of Adam Stevens’ side.
The second half showed more promise almost immediately, and on 51 minutes, a good run and cross by the division’s second top scorer, Lee Shaw, kept Warrington’s Wales U21 ‘keeper Pilling honest at his near post. Five minutes later, William Hayhurst was digging out a cross of his own for Warrington, and when Piggott challenged well in the air, the ball dropped for a Warrington midfielder who’s shot was deflected behind for a corner.
On 57 minutes, a massive 50/50 challenge between Michael Hollingsworth and William Hayhurst saw both players in pieces on the floor, and both sets of fans baying for blood. Well, baying for red cards at least. However, the referee’s call of drop ball was absolutely spot on, as it was simply a fully committed challenge from both players, but at top speed. The collision was pretty intense though, and former Nottingham Forest youngster Hollingsworth ended up limping from the field.
Five minutes later, he was able to cheer his side’s opener (pint in hand I hope) as Warrington failed to fully clear a Grantham free kick. When Curtis Burrows drilled the ball back in, the Yellows managed to clear from just in front of the goalline. However, unfortunately/luckily depending on perspective, the ball bounced straight into the path of Grantham skipper Stefan Galinski, who headed into the net. Gleefully, he raced to the visiting fans behind the goal whereupon he was mobbed by a decidedly excited bunch of chaps from Lincolnshire.
Warrington went straight on the offensive to try and grab a leveller, and went close almost immediately. Some pinball in the area resulted in the ball falling invitingly for Sean Williams, but he lashed his shot wide. Three minutes later, substitute Stephen Milne laid on a good striking opportunity for Hayhurst, but the former Republic of Ireland U21 from the Ribble Valley shot high and wide. So high and wide, the ball now wishes to be referred to as a buoy, and lives in the canal.
A minute later, with Warrington trying to press, Grantham were presented a good chance on the break. A long ball over the top found Hempenstall in space, but he dragged his shot wide.
Not to worry though, because just two minutes later, with 71 played, Grantham had their second goal. Another long ball over the top isolated Warrington left back Matthew Makison, who found himself one on one with Danny Meadows. The 2014 arrival from Boston United was the best player on the ball for Grantham on the night, and showed good footwork and balance to shimmy past the defender. With a covering tackler lunging in, Meadows got his shot away, over Pilling and into the net. 2-0, and pretty much game over.
On 75 minutes, Kieran Preston – Scotland’s number one apparently, he didn’t sound Scottish though, so I assume it’s because he’s ginger – made his first “save” of the match, gathering easily from a header. This was the only save Preston made all match, which is indicative of how comfortably Grantham’s back line, expertly marshalled by Galinski, contained the Warrington attacking threat.
With 85 played, Grantham put the game beyond all reach, when Hempenstall scored a freak, but also exceptional, third. A(nother) long ball was pumped into the Wire box, and when it was headed clear, Hempenstall spotted Pilling about three-four metres off his line. His first time header, from all of thirty five yards, sailed over the stricken ‘keeper into the very top right of the net. It was an absurd goal, but was only possible because of Hempenstall’s vision and awareness, and was perfectly executed.
That was it for the match really, bar a final chance for Meadows to add to his tally on 95 minutes. A clear shove by Lee Shaw went unpunished, and he squared for Meadows. The number seven shot low to the ‘keeper’s right, but Luke Pilling did well to save with his feet.
The Wash Up
So Grantham Town advance to the Play Off Final, where they will face Ashton United, who dispatched Farsley Celtic in the other Semi. A 3-0 scoreline perhaps doesn’t do Warrington justice, as they enjoyed the bulk of possession, and played some neat football through midfield at times. That said, the home side didn’t create a single chance of note, whereas Grantham could feasibly have added to their tally.
Full credit for this has to go to Adam Stevens, who set his team up to nullify the twin threat of McDonald and Piggott up front. In the first ten minutes it seemed as though Warrington’s nippy forwards would have joy in behind Galinski and Batchelor, so Stevens simply dropped his defence back 10 yards, and hoovered things up for the rest of the match. This was bread and butter for the giant centre back partnership, and they were well protected by Hollingsworth in midfield before he went off.
I thought that Hayhurst and Piggott looked the most threatening for Warrington, whilst Steven Jennings had a decent game at the base of midfield, breaking up attacks and looking to keep play moving. Gerard Kinsella also showed a real desire to move forward, and loved a good stepover.
The game belonged to Grantham though, and their best outlet was Danny Meadows. Lee Shaw looked dangerous with the ball at his feet, but it was Meadows who had the ability to find space, dig out the pass, and fully deserved his goal.
Man of the match though has to go to one of the two centre backs, who’s dominant displays provided the bedrock for Grantham’s win. Both Galinski and Batchelor were solid throughout, and whilst Batchelor sailed close to the wind, he played the referee to perfection, and also showed a turn of pace and good positioning to recover when the Yellows did get in behind. I’m going with Galinski though, for two reasons. Firstly, Galinski was captain, and his voice was the most regularly heard on the pitch, giving instructions, motivations and praise to his teammates. Secondly, he did all of this whilst sporting a tiny pony tail, which I genuinely thought was against the law in the North.