Bracknell town centre seemed remarkably quiet at one o’clock this afternoon. Normally bustling, you’d perhaps expect that on a Bank Holiday weekend the roads would be even busier than usual, and yet there seemed to be hardly a soul around. The car parks were all advertising very low levels of occupancy. Where was everybody?
Perhaps they were all at home, preparing to take a walk to Larges Lane? Bracknell Town were about to contest the Bostik South Central Playoff Final, so surely there could be no other destination for the fine citizens of this new town- particularly given the way that their team has performed this season.
And, of course, they were surely desperate for a Willy Dog. Who wouldn’t be?
Willy Dog, anyone?
By twenty past two it did indeed seem that many of them had arrived for today’s match. The bar was packed with folk who seemed rather enthralled by the Spurs match on the TV, the stand was already almost full, and a gaggle of Cheshunt supporters were advising the assembled throng- in song- that Ambers forward Brian Moses was taller than them, and had a great view. He was, and perhaps he did, but he was too busy warming up to admire it.
The Robins had scored one hundred and two goals during the normal season- and two more in victory over Westfield in the Semi-Final on Tuesday night. Only five clubs in the top eight levels of English football have found the back of the net more often than that this season. That’s five clubs out of three hundred and sixty-six. For a team newly promoted from Step Five, that’s rather unprecedented, and yet it has been little remarked on. Undoubtedly the reason that it has slipped below the radar somewhat is that one of the five teams to do better were Bracknell’s rivals Hayes & Yeading United, who had- by any standards- an exceptional season- but it’s a statistic that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. Bracknell Town’s first season back in the Bostik League has been an enormous success.
The opposition had been no slouches, either. Under the stewardship of Craig Edwards- surely the man with the best facial hair in football- the Ambers had risen from last season’s nineteenth to third in this campaign. They’d scored fewer goals than Bracknell, but they’d conceded fewer, too- and in the matches between the two sides they’d taken four points; a one-one draw here in January, a two-nil victory on their own patch. Perhaps that would give them some kind of psychological advantage. “Look at the size of those players,” exclaimed a home fan in the back row of the stand, looking at the away side warming up. Perhaps they had a physical advantage, too.
The Ambers got us underway, in their change strip of sky blue, which made them resemble a 1990’s Coventry City. Within a minute they had their first chance, Moses almost getting to a cross but being flagged offside. Cheshunt remained on top, and their supporters, standing behind Mark Scott in the Robins goal, began to jump up and down and bang a drum. The home fans at the other end joined in too, and we were in danger of having a repetition of the earthquake felt in nearby Surrey this morning.
Welcome to Bracknell
In the fifth minute Cheshunt came close. Mark Hughes received the ball at the edge of the Bracknell box and forced Scott into a diving save, and the Ambers who weren’t amber continued to push forward. Bracknell’s looked to reply, and their first real chance came in the eleventh minute, good work between Liam Ferdinand and Adam Cornell forcing Harry Girling, who was announced as the winner of our Safe Hands awards for April just this morning, to charge out to make a save. The sun went in, the rain came down, and around the ground the umbrellas went up, but of the football there was little worth commenting on, the match rather cagey with neither side able to get a grip or entirely settle their nerves.
Bracknell then began to have more possession, and pass the ball around with assurance. A cross from Joel Jacobs down the left was just unable to find the head of Adam Cornell, but the striker did reach the next cross, and put a header over the bar. Cheshunt went straight up the other end and earned a corner, and Mark Hughes rose above the defence to get his head to the ball. His header looped towards the far post, hit the base of it, rebounded along the line and was hooked clear. Bracknell fans took a sharp intake of breath, but the action switched to the other end, and Cornell saw a near post shot deflected for a corner. Nothing came of the set piece and the match entered the doldrums once more as we reached the half hour.
The home side then looked to take control, with Grant and Sebastian Bowerman, particularly, making inroads. Girling had to charge out and head clear with Liam Ferdinand charging towards him, and as the sun came out the Robins began to shine- which, of course, meant that Cheshunt almost immediately took the lead. A defensive error left the Ambers charging forward, three attackers against only two defenders, and the pass through to Shane Cojocarel was perfect. The finish was just as good, and the celebration- a set of cartwheels taken from the Olympic gymnasts’ handbook- rather remarkable too. The goal came one minute before the break, and most of the crowd were stunned into silence- before remembering that if they didn’t move quickly they’d still be in the queue for the bar when the second half kicked off. On the touchline, both sets of supporters had to also queue to change ends, and the man on the tannoy used his microphone to place his tea order.
The second half kicked off with the sky suddenly the same colour as Cheshunt’s shirts. The away side quickly got the ball, and Joe Re had fired a shot just wide of the keeper’s left-hand post within twenty seconds of the restart. Bracknell were living dangerously.
Just how dangerously was demonstrated just three minutes later. Cheshunt got away down the left and the strikers were queueing up at the far post. Moses looked to be first to the ball, but when it was turned in it seemed that it was the smallest man on the field who got the final touch, not the largest. Cojocarel was at the centre of the celebrations, and whilst it didn’t have the artistry of his first, it counted just the same. Bracknell had a mountain to climb, and the away fans began to have a party, whilst the rest of the ground was cloaked in a stunned silence.
In the fifty third minute it was three, and surely game over. A cross from Jason Hallett, and Moses saw the Bracknell defence part like the bulrushes, leaving him with the ball at his feet six yards out and all the time in the world to pick his spot. He did so with the minimum of fuss, before running to the corner to celebrate as if the corner flag was a long-lost friend.
The Robins would need to do something remarkable to get back into this game. They probed, but every move seemed to break down on the edge of the Cheshunt box, whilst the visitors continued to look dangerous when they went forward. It wasn’t Bracknell’s day; every pass seemed just slightly misplaced or overhit, every run- particularly from Grant- found at least two defenders at the end of it, waiting to block the danger. In the 67th minute Grant did manage to get free, and fired in a curling shot which Girling had to dive to his right to save- but even then the Robins had no luck, the move eventually ending in an Ambers throw in.
We moved into the last fifteen minutes. Bracknell made a change, Seb Bowerman going off for Jordan Brown, and shortly afterwards they created a chance, Cornell heading over. But the game was entirely flat. Cheshunt had stopped looking threatening, but neither were they looking threatened, and there was little to suggest that this pattern wouldn’t continue. A cold breeze got up, the temperature fell perceptively, and the sun had set on Bracknell’s hopes for the season. Some of the home fans had seen enough, and began to drift towards the exit.
Ninety minutes up, and the referee added five more. Sadly for the home side, the game had been over for almost forty minutes by this point. With the five minutes almost up, a cross to the back post found Joe Gater entirely unmarked. He swung his leg, missed the ball completely, and ended up on his backside. Perhaps that was the moment which summed up the entire match for Bracknell.
As the Cheshunt players celebrated with their supporters, the home side sank to the turf in despair. A season when both had been magnificent had come to an end, and Cheshunt had the glory. On today’s performance, they deserved it- and they’ll undoubtedly be an asset to the Bostik Premier Division next season.