Marlow 0 St Neots 0

Marlow 0 St Neots Town 0 (07/04/2012)

Having seen fourteen goals in the previous two St Neots Town games I’d been to, this wasn’t the most obvious candidate for a 0-0 draw. St Neots were still top, three points clear and pushing for promotion. Marlow were rock bottom, fourteen points adrift of safety and facing the impossible task of winning their last five games to have any chance of staying up.

With two coaches of fans and probably two-thirds of the crowd, everything looked to be in the away side’s favour. Truth be told, despite Marlow being quite local, I was sneakily hoping to see the league leaders add a few goals while putting their hosts out of their misery.

If Marlow were to go down today, at least their highest crowd of the season, 274, would be there to see the off. If they drop to the Hellenic League, they’ll certainly have one of the better grounds. The focus of the place is the very old-looking wooden main stand. Seating 250 atop the club bar, this offers a great view of the pitch, and the dog-toothed wooden fascia and white wooden walls offers a view of what all small stands were like 80 years ago. The small glass windows of the screen ends do mean the view isn’t perhaps so great from some of the seats – which look to be backless cast-offs from the old Wembley – but with current crowd levels, it’s not a problem.

Opposite is a terrace cover about 40 yards long. The terracing at Marlow, quite deep for this level, hints at the better times of the past, although rather over-zealous health & safety measure bar people from using the grass banking behind. Stern warnings about standing on the grass banking being against ground regulations abound on all sides. Maybe people live in mortal fear of the dangers of standing on gentle grass inclines in these parts, but it seemed a tad over the top.

To the right is another covered terrace, about the width of the penalty box, with a solid-looking roof covering the four steps of terrace behind this goal. On the fascia of this roof, an advert which once read “For the best report on this match read the Maidenhead Advertiser on Friday” had the “on Friday” part removed. Whether the paper is no longer produced on a Friday, or they wish to encourage people to purchase it on other days of the week, is unclear.

The other end is a narrow open terrace, with all-weather pitch-cum-car park behind. The changing rooms are in the corner between that end and the main stand, as is the turnstile. A few late-arriving St Neots fans ingratiated themselves with the home support by sneaking past this turnstile to get in without paying. They did bring a lot of fans, but that extra £50 or so counts at this level.

It has to be said that while the size of the St Neots turnout was impressive, the attitude of some of their fans – and it was only some – left something to be desired. One of the pleasures of non-league football is the relaxed atmosphere, well away from the antagonism of league football. It’s not hugely edifying at league grounds, but when you have fans at this level singing “Your support is fucking shit” and other such “banter”, it comes across as about as crass as belching along to abide with me at a funeral. Because of that I changed my stance. Rather than hoping for a goal glut, I wanted Marlow to win.

Despite the obvious gulf in finances, not ot mention abilities if the league table is to be believed, then Marlow should really have got that win. On a pitch that was more like solidified porridge than a bowling green, passing football was never going to be easy, but at no stage did St Neots look the better side. Perhaps early on they had a slight edge, but they had very few clear chances all game, and if one team was going to nick it, Marlow actually looked the more likely. They should definitely have scored in the first half, when a cut back from the byline found a target on the edge of the six yard box. A lack of composure, and balance for that matter, saw him slip like Bambi on ice while attempting an unnecessarily acrobatic looking tap-in.

Marlow should probably have had a penalty too, with a fouls that looked well inside the box being leniently awarded right on the edge. St Neots’ shots might have been more numerous, but all presented a danger only to cars parked behind the goal.

The second half was much the same. St Neots had plenty of wasted corners and shots that would have shown up on the Heathrow control Tower radar, while Marlow seemed to be getting nearer and nearer that breakthrough.

With St Neots pushing up for the winner they needed, Marlow exploited the big gaps at the back time and time again. Each time though, the finish wasn’t quite there. A header was easy for the keeper. Another shot was scuffed, allowing the keeper to get across to save. In the last-minute a shot on the turn was struck hard and low, but the St Neots keeper got down well to parry the goal-bound ball away, and the last chance had gone.

So no goals, and no win for Marlow. The result might have confirmed relegation for the club, but despite not getting the win they probably deserved, they can at least hold their heads up high. Keep up the same level of performance next season, and their stay at the lower level should be a short one.

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