The game: Boreham Wood v. Concord Rangers.
The ground: Meadow Park.
The conditions: grey, rainy and grim. Then sunny. Then rainy again. All the weathers.
It was Valentine’s Day, and love was in the air. I don’t know who for, however, because I was busy wandering the streets of southern Hertfordshire, bound for Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park and a heady dose of non-league football. The home side were top of the table going into Saturday’s match, while their opponents, Concord Rangers (or ‘the Beach Boys’), were a mere seven points off the play-off places – with two games in hand. Little wonder, then, that the majority of pre-match chat around the ground was focused on the romance of promotion; both sets of fans were clearly longing for a dreamy three points.
On the pitch, the focus seemed to be a little less romantic; from the first whistle, two well-drilled defences nullified their respective attacks almost in their entirety. Boreham Wood had a good early effort through striker Junior Morias – saved by Concord’s on-loan Arsenal keeper, Josh Vickers – and Beach Boy Gary Ogilvie went close from long range, but apart from that the opening twenty-five minutes were all about the collective hustle; energetic pressing led to persistent tackles, fouls and turnovers from both sides, while time on the ball was at an absolute premium.
In the twenty-seventh minute, Concord carved out a great opportunity. Having won a corner, the ball was played short to recent England C addition Alex Woodyard; his low cross found midfielder Taylor Miles in a perfect position on the edge of the Boreham Wood box, but he ballooned his first-time shot high and wide. This seemed to kick the home side into action; urged on from the touchline by forthright manager Ian Allinson, they started to dominate possession and step up in attack. Suddenly, the chances came flooding in.
First, Morias won a free kick in a dangerous position out on the left; taking this himself, his shot at goal took a deflection off the wall and spun inches wide of the post. From the resulting corner, Josh Vickers misjudged his punch; Wood’s Luke Garrard pounced at the near post, only to slice wide under pressure from the scrambling keeper. Then, in the thirty-fifth minute, high-scoring Wood forward Lee Angol broke away down the right wing before crossing for Morias to slot home; unfortunately for the latter, his shot was badly scuffed. Teammate Matthew Whichelow latched on to the loose ball, but his strike was saved superbly by the onrushing Vickers; had the Concord stopper not reacted quickly, this would surely have found the back of the net.
In the fortieth minute, home keeper James Russell was called upon to keep out a low Ogilvie free kick. Then, three minutes later, it was back to Vickers to show off his ability; this he did with by far the best save of the match. A perfect through ball from Morias put Angol through one on one – and in miles of space. Angol took a touch and readied himself for the finish; in the second it took him to do so, Vickers flung himself in front of the strike and bravely battered the ball away.
The half came to an end with a promising Wood free kick being fired straight into the Concord wall; this rather frustrated the home supporters near to me, one of whom punctured the quiet of the break with some language that will haunt my Valentine’s Days forevermore. Heart-shaped chocolates will turn to ash in my mouth, plush roses will wilt and die in my garden; thankfully my half-time pint was unaffected, so no real harm done.
The game resumed with the defences dominant once more; the first chance of the half was not until the fifty-fifth minute, when a home corner was blasted over Vickers’ crossbar by Wood defender Josh Hill. A couple of minutes later, a good passing move from the away side saw forward Sam Collins shoot wide from fifteen yards, before a Wood counterattack gave Whichelow a chance to fire at goal from similar distance; this was just blocked.
Wood tried to build on their possession, but Concord were obstinate. Morias had another chance in the sixty-seventh minute, but fired high; the dynamic Whichelow had another on-target shot blocked in the seventy-first. Lee Angol was Wood’s most threatening attacker, but even he couldn’t summon up a goal; with the clock ticking on the three points, the tension ramped up.
In the seventy-fourth, Angol set up Graeme Montgomery on the left of the Concord box; another chance went begging as he could only fluff his shot wide. Five minutes later, the Beach Boys could have won it; a poor pass out from the Wood defence gave substitute Harry Elmes an opportunity, but he curled a cultured effort past the upright.
The final chance of the match came in the eighty-third, and it was for Concord. Having won the ball with a toe-to-toe tackle twenty yards from the home net, Taylor Miles fired an explosive, swerving shot at goal; James Russell palmed this away to safety. After that, the pace inevitably slowed; tired legs told, and it finished goalless.
In the end, it was a game for the goalkeepers; both made crucial saves to secure the draw. It was not necessarily a dreamy result, but both sides could be relatively happy with a diligent point; for Wood and the Beach Boys alike, the romance of promotion lives on.
Result: Boreham Wood 0 Concord Rangers 0.
My MoM: Josh Vickers. Had the hardest saves to make; made them in style. Full of potential.
Best fans: Wood fans. This heart-shaped chocolate tastes awful.