Ground Hop Day
Updated: Mar 31, 2019
Never mind British Summer Time or Mother's Day, for a dedicated band of non-league football enthusiasts, this weekend was all about ticking a few more venues off their bucket lists. Ground Hoppers from south of the border make the annual trip to god's country to take in a range of Junior, East of Scotland and Lowland League games. In honour of event, I decided to do a mini-ground hop of my own, visiting two grounds for the first time - Barnett's Park, St Andrews and Prestonfield, Linlithgow - in an EOSFL Conference C double header.
St Andrews Utd 1 - 1 Ormiston
Barnetts Park, St Andrews
Barnetts Park was bathed in sunshine for the 2:30 kick-off - the first jacketless game of 2019. It's a very tidy little ground with the changing rooms behind one goal and a pavilion with café & lounge behind the other. The pitch was in great condition, but had a noticeable slope from left to right. The home side were playing up the slope in the first half in their black & grey kit - not ideal for such a bright sunny day, while Ormiston wore yellow shirts & black shorts.
St Andrews started the day in sixth spot in Conference C, four point behind Preston Athletic with a game in hand and still in with a shout of nabbing fifth, which would guarantee automatic promotion to next season's EOSFL Premier League.
Ormiston are rooted to the foot of the table, with just three wins and two draws all season long, but eyeing a win that could take them level with 12th place Edinburgh Utd.
The first 45 was a pretty forgettable half of football to be honest, with neither side able to get up a head of steam and very few chances created. St Andrews did manage a decent spell of pressure mid-way through the half, with 3 corners in quick succession to test the visitors, Daryl Falconer with the best chance that forced a good save from Reece Smail who had looked far from convincing up to that point.
At the other end, Ormiston had created a couple of chances too, Kyle Moran having a few nervous moments of his own trying to deal with crosses to the back post. But with the game bogged down in midfield and both sides relying on quick balls forward, the final pass always seemed to be missing and the game was crying out for a little bit of quality.
The second half was a good deal better, as United enjoyed a decent spell of possession immediately after the re-start. The midfield were finally getting forward in support of the front two and the chances were starting to come.
As luck would have it though, it was the visitors who opened the scoring mid-way through the second half after a good old fashioned stramash in the penalty area. The ball was bouncing around like a pinball, with limbs flying everywhere and somewhere in the middle of it all, referee Stephen Gill spotted something and pointed to the spot. From the far end of the park it was difficult to see exactly what the infringement was, but Chris Hogg didn't need to be asked twice and stroked his spot kick away to give the visitors the lead.
The United bench reacted instantly with a double substitution - Stark and Fleming replacing Wilson and Cunningham as their hopes of Premier League football started to evaporate. The last 20 minutes were a bit of a procession towards the Ormiston goal but with no real sign of a break through, the frustration at not being able to breakdown the side with the worst defensive record in the conference were beginning to show. In the end, the equaliser came from a set-piece after Ormiston conceded a free-kick 2 yards in from the corner flag. Janson Penman's delivery was met by Stewart McDonald's head and the hosts were level.
Dylan Honeyman had a chance to pinch all three points right at the death with a neat piece of control and effort from the edge of the box, but the keeper got just enough on the shot and everyone held their breath as the ball looped up and bounced just the wrong side of the post.
Although the result keeps them stuck at the bottom of the table, Ormiston will certainly be happier with the point. St Andrews will see it as two points dropped, and with just one league game left - at home to Linlithgow in a fortnight's time, their hopes of automatic promotion now look all but dead.
See the full match gallery HERE
Linlithgow Rose 3-2 Jeanfield Swifts
After quick meal break, I was off over the Bridge en-route to Prestonfield for the 8pm kick-off between the sides that started the day second and third in the conference. Linlithgow are one of the most decorated sides in Junior football, and despite the move to the EOSFL this season, they are definitely still considered as one of the heavy-weights of the non-league game in Scotland.
As befits a club of their stature, Prestonfield is an impressive venue with a large covered enclosure running the length of one touch line and a more modern 2-tiered seated stand on the other. The social club buildings behind one goal and a steep spectator banking at the other help give the ground a nice enclosed vibe, and with the perimeter wall so close to the park, there's a definite feeling of being right on top of the action.
I hope it's not too unkind to say that Jeanfield have been a bit of a surprise package in the EOSFL this season, keeping an unbeaten league run going well into the new year before finally suffering their first loss of the season to leaders Broxburn back in February. Another defeat quickly followed at home to St Andrews, but despite this the Perth men still sit third in Conference C and are already certain of a Premier League spot for next season.
The ground hopping party help swell the crowd to a whopping 618 and they were treated to a cracking game under the lights. Swifts were quickest of their mark on the night, Connor McLaren setting up Rhys Davies to put the visitors in front with just seven minutes on the clock.
Rose looked sluggish by comparison, but the shock of going behind sparked them to life and they were soon level, Swifts captain Aaron Whitehead failing to deal with a long ball and Roddy MacLennan taking advantage to score the equaliser in the 15th minute.
It was an entertaining first half, both sides creating chances and plenty of decent football on display. The home side grabbed the lead in the run-up to half-time, Whitehead again having trouble with a long, straight ball forward and MacLennan again punishing the error.
Just as they had in the first half, Swifts got off to a flier in the second, Connor McLaren finding himself one-on-one with the McKinven and keeping his cool to fire the equaliser past the keeper within a minute of the re-start.
The second half was just as good as the first had been, two evenly matched sides having a real go at each other, although it has to be said, Rose probably created the better chances in the second period.
The hosts got the winner in the 65th minute from the penalty spot after what looked like a bit of a soft decision from referee Colin Drummond. Rose top scorer Tommy Coyne doesn't usually miss from 12 yards and stuck his spot kick low into the corner beyond Mark Mitchell. It was probably a bit harsh on Swifts, who had been easily as good as their hosts up to that point.
This was top of the table clash and as you might expect, it did get a bit tasty at times. The ref was made to earn his fee keeping on top of things and flashed a few yellow cards as the half wore on. MacLennan & Simpson got into a bit of a shoving match after the Lithgae midfielder appeared to swing an arm which brought a retaliation from the Swifts man and both were slightly fortunate to stay on the park.
Swifts gaffer Ross Gunnion acted quickly, subbing Simpson before he could get into any more bother, introducing Regan McLaren up top alongside his brother. The sub gave the home defence something else to think about and had a couple of opportunity to rescue a point for the visitors, but Rose held on for a valuable 3 points that keeps them breathing down Broxburn's neck in a title race that looks like going all the way.
Swifts could count themselves a bit unlucky, and few of the neutrals in the groundhopping crew would have grudged them a point to take back over the Forth with them. These two will have the chance to do it all over again on the final day of the season at the Riverside. If this one's anything to go by, there's a good chance that a few of the visitors from down south might be tempted to hop back up to Perth for the day.
See the full match gallery HERE.