Havant 1 Staines 1

Havant & Waterlooville 1 Staines Town 1 (30/04/2011)

It’s amazing what a bit of cover can do to improve a ground’s appearance. In reality there isn’t a lot to Havant’s West Leigh Park, but it’s fully covered on all four sides, making it look a lot better than how it probably looked not so long ago.

It actually looks like a new stadium, curiously cut off from the main road, meaning to get in by car you have to do a full curcuit of a triangular park, before reaching the car park. Then again, parking right next door to the ground is one of the benefits of the non-league game, as is a bar next door that you can return to at half time. A player, presumably non playing, was playing pool inside while kitted out in his training gear. The pub was decent enough, other than one dim-witted individual who appeared agitated that I’d sat on his stool – thinking is was spare – while he was elsewhere. I found somewhere else to read the rather dull programme, purchased from a pretty stiletto booted young woman outside, while having a cooling pint.

I think all grounds look better in the sun, but I’d probably have appreciated the all-round cover in other weathers. Three and perhaps a third of the sides are covered in roofs of similar height and size. For both ends and the third of a side, these cover about 10 steps of terrace, with the crush barrier unusually being right at the front. Somehow the view from even the back of these steps didn’t seem all that much better than at pitch level, but the effort was welcome nonetheless. The other side’s terrace was just as deep, but the terracing here was very shallow, with just three deep steps up from pitchside.

From the edge of the penalty area to just beyond the halfway line sat the only seated accomodation. A small, tidy stand of around 500 seats offered a decent view, even if it isn’t likely to feature in a re-issue of Pevsner’s Buildings of England. From here, over the roof of the far side, teenage boys could be seen risking limb, if not quite life, doing stunts on a skateboarding half-pipe at the far angle of the park.

More in danger were the supporters behind the near goal during Havant’s warm-up, mainly kids who spent most of their time dodging misplaced shots that seemed to go anywhere but in the goal. At least I hope they were misplaced.

With a game like this, on the last day of the season, how the teams approached it would directly impact what sort of game it was. Both teams had nothing to play for, but both also had nothing to lose. Luckily both teams seemed to have turned up with the latter attitude.

Unluckily, Havant’s pitch is dreadful. It had enough sand on it to make nearby Hayling Island jealous, and was more threadbare than an ancient pub carpet. It had bumps that could have been used to test out car suspensions, and was bone hard to boot. It was due to be ripped up in two day’s time, and as references to “our magnificent pitch” over the tannoy rather hinted at, not before time too. Chuck in a mystery breeze which seemed to be gale force above 10 foot high, and it wasn’t going to be and easy game.

Even with the diminutive and heavily tattooed Sammy Igoe pulling the strings down the right, Havant found the going hard. Staines took a long time to get into first gear, let alone out of it, but just as they were just threatening to get their eye in – one volley going just past the angle of post and crossbar – Havant went in front. A shot wasn’t able to be held, and it fell towards Havant’s Manny Williams. The first touch wasn’t textbook, but he was still able to knock it past the stranded Staines keeper to give Havant the lead.

With clear chances at a premium, and both teams seeing to tire in the warmth, it was starting to look like that one solitary goal could be enough.

With 20 minutes left Staines brought on the wonderfully named Mario Quiassaca, with both teams taking this as a chance to have a quick drinks break too. Maybe it was the break in concentration, or maybe it was an inspired substitution, but whatever it was, young Mario’s first touch of the game was to rifle a free kick from 25 yards across the keeper into the net.

Neither team was settling for the draw though, but Staines looked more dangerous, with Quiassaca again being in the thick of things. One speculative effort hit the post before being just cleared off the line. In injury time he leaped high with the keeper and won a header he had no right to win, only to see it bounce back off the woodwork. The final whistle went just seconds later. 1-1 was probably a fair result overall. Just a shame about that pitch.

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