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VENUE: Westbury United Football Ground, Meadow Lane, Westbury BA13 3AF
THE STAGS ARE BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN this weekend, making the relatively short trip into Wiltshire to take on mid-table Westbury United at their Meadow Lane ground – weather permitting, of course, given the number of postponements enforced upon clubs throughout the Southern League over the last six-to-eight weeks due to frozen or waterlogged pitches.
Fingers crossed, Saturday’s game will go ahead and should it prove to be anywhere near as exciting as the Snows Stadium encounter between these two teams in mid-November, the fans could be in for a treat. Two goals from striker Scott Rendell, one from Freddie Read and debut goals from both Matty Burrows and Conor Whiteley handed The Stags a 5-3 victory over a stubborn Westbury team who were never beaten until Whiteley’s strike two minutes into stoppage time at the end of the game.
The White Horse Men suffered defeat again the following week at home to Bideford AFC. Goals from Matthew Morris and Samuel Jordan drew them level at 2-2 with six minutes to go but within just two minutes, Ryan Turner scored what proved to be the winner for The Robins.
Westbury responded positively, stringing together three consecutive wins without conceding a goal, rounding off November with a 2-0 away win at Evesham United and a 1-0 success at Slimbridge AFC, before kicking-off December by taking all three points from the visit of Willand Rovers, courtesy of Charlie Walton’s 28th-minute strike.
Larkhall Athletic threw a spanner in the works on Boxing Day, The Larks coming from behind to win 2-1 on their own Plain Ham pitch. Then, four goals in two games from Ryan Bole coming into the New Year secured a 1-1 draw at home to Melksham Town and a 3-3 draw at Wimborne Town.
Slimbridge were the scheduled visitors to Meadow Lane on Saturday 14 January for the only Southern League Div.1 South match that Westbury have had postponed during the recent cold and wet spells, although Tuesday night’s clash with Swindon Supermarine in the Wiltshire Premier Shield was called off. Last weekend, The White Horse Men rode into Tavistock and, despite going behind to Joshua Grant’s goal in the 8th minute, hit back through Matthew Morris and a late Stephen Hulbert goal to gallop away with all three points.
So, while consistency has been an issue for Manager Ricky Hulbert’s team, and they currently occupy a mid-table position, they are only one point adrift fifth-placed Evesham United in the last of the promotion play-off spots.
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING: Winger Matty Burrows (left) and forward Conor Whiteley (right) both got their names on the scoresheet on their AFC Totton debuts in the 5-3 win over Westbury United at the Snows Stadium in November.
Jimmy Ball’s title-chasing Stags looked a little ring-rusty during the early stages of their game at The Sports Ground in Bideford last Saturday. But they rallied well to dominate the second half and, but for an outstanding performance from The Robins’ goalkeeper Adam Seedhouse-Evans, could well have achieved a rare win in Devon.
Having completed a three-game suspension for his red card during the victory at Bishop’s Cleeve, forward Conor Whiteley was in line to make his return to The Stags line-up on Tuesday night for the visit of Frome Town, until the match referee declared the pitch unplayable just over an hour before kick-off. So, Whiteley has had to keep his powder dry and wait for the potential opportunity to partner on-loan Havant & Waterlooville forward Tommy Wright for the first time.
Meanwhile, former fellow Hawks Benny Read and Charlie Searle have committed their futures to AFC Totton by signing permanent deals with the club. Benny, the older brother of midfielder Freddie Read, has impressed during the six games of his loan spell from the Westleigh Park club and is yet to taste defeat in a blue shirt – or a fluo yellow one, come to that. Goalkeeper Charlie, who had a short loan spell at the Snows Stadium several years ago, made his second AFC Totton debut at Bideford on Saturday and brings plenty of experience and solidity to the defensive unit in the injury-enforced absence of regular No.1 Lewis Noice.
That ding-dong 5-3 affair from earlier in the season aside, there is no head-to-head record to speak of between AFC Totton and Westbury United, the teams having rarely (if ever) been in the same division at the same time before. Saturday will bring the opportunity for The Stags to make it two-out-of-two wins over the Green Army.
Book your place on the coach travelling to Meadow Lane on Saturday.
By Ben Rochey-Adams
Image courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography