This weekend saw the first ever Essex Senior League groundhop where fans could visit four games over a two day period. the hop began on the Friday night and saw Barkingside host Clapton in front of a bumper crowd of 273 at the Cricklefield Stadium in Seven Kings.
Clapton won that game 3-2 after Ryan Reed curled home a late winner as the hop got underway in style.
The next day saw me attend all three Saturday games and the journey began at Oakside, home of Redbridge, as they hosted Burnham Ramblers.
Saturday Game One (12pm)
Redbridge 3 Burnham Ramblers 1 (Premier Division)
A Brian Moses inspired Redbridge eventually saw off a spirited and committed Burnham Ramblers side to take the points at Oakside.
It didn’t take to long for the Motormen to hit their stride and in the eight minute they went in front as a great ball in by Courtney Homans found Moses in the area and the big man duly nodded a perfect header past Joshua Stizovic in the Ramblers goal.
The hosts carved out more opening although both found either Strizovic in the way or wasteful finishing preventing them from netting further goals. However the visitors were not being outplayed and did create three decent openings to warn the hosts that they were not out of the contest by any means.
And a minute before the break the visitors stunned their opponents by levelling things up as Bradley Morgan sent in a pinpoint cross right onto debutant Fraser Inns’s head and the striker sent the ball beyond Lewis Greene and into the bottom corner.
It meant that the teams went into the break all square and that set up the second period perfectly. The early exchanges of the second half saw the hosts attempting to grab the lead once again but found Strizovic and poor finishing again preventing them from doing so. Moses, obviously frustrated with this said one too many things to the linesman and was booked.
However in the 63rd minute he was too turn that negativity into positive vibes when he got above everyone else to nod home a close range header and restore the home side’s advantage.
Burnham to their credit dug in and made it difficult for the hosts but were relying on Strizovic to keep them in it as the visiting keeper made several saves to keep Redbridge at bay.
But with five minutes remaining the hosts sealed the points when a superb through ball from Moses released substitute Jacob Dingli whose effort was snuffed out by Strizovic but the ball squirmed free and saw Tommie Turner, another substitute, slide home the loose ball.
Redbridge almost added more in the closing minutes but found Strizovic again in the way but the job was already done for the hosts, picking up the win that moves them up to third spot, just a single point behind the leaders.
Right onto Game Two and a mad dash to the Matchday Centre in Walthamstow for a clash between stugglers Waltham Forest and mid table Woodford Town (2017).
Saturday Game Two (2.30pm)
Waltham Forest 1 Woodford Town (2017) 3 (Premier Division)
An Ethan Kessel brace helped see Woodford Town to victory over Forest at the Matchday Centre in the afternoon game.
The hosts, who came into this one off the back of seven straight league defeats, took the game to their opponents early on and had some good chances to get an early advantage but they failed to capitalise on this pressure.
Woodford themselves did have a couple of decent openings including one straight from kick off, but in the opening half hour they had more defending to do to keep the hosts out.
But ten minutes from the break the visitors broke the deadlock as Forest failed to clear after some commotion inside their penalty box and Asher Modeste swung a boot at the loose ball and saw it find the corner of the net.
It meant the hosts went into the break behind in a half where they had started so well but gradually saw their performance tail off as the half went on and saw Woodford take advantage of this later on in the period.
Forest knew they needed a fast start to the second period, however it started poorly as Woodford were the ones who made the quick start by doubling their advantage four minutes after the break; a total miskick from Modeste turned out to be a perfect pass to Kessel who fired a first time shot into the bottom corner and leaving Forest with a mountain to climb.
The hosts made changes and brought on Medina and Creasey in an attempy to get back into the contest and midway through the half the two substitutes combined to do just that. Medina got to the byline and crossed for Creasey to rifly into the roof of the net from close range which gave Forest a lifeline.
That lifeline vanished just two minutes later when Woodford restored that two goal cushion when a loose ball in the Forest box fell to Kessel and the forward sent an effort goal wards which squeezed through the keeper’s grasp and into the corner of the net.
The hosts had a curling effort strike the post and also a late header go well off target, but the visitors looked fairly comfortable for the remainder of the game, and by the end of it had secured a victory that sees them now occupying tenth spot.
For the hosts it was an eight straight defeat and with other results going against them means that the Walthamstow club now sit bottom of the table.
So two down and one to go and after another trip thorugh the East End’s busy streets I arrived at Forest Gate and the historic Old Spotted Dog for the evening showdown between Hackney Wick and Wadham Lodge. These two teams were in the bottom four, Wick fourth from bottom and Lodge bottom and with only two points between them meant it was an important game.
Saturday Game Three (5.30pm)
Hackney Wick 1 Wadham Lodge 3 (Premier Division)
Dwayde James netted twice as Lodge made it three wins in five after victory over Hackney Wick in the evening kick off at the Old Spotted Dog.
The hosts began the contest well and looked to gain an advantage against the league’s bottom team but were unable to find a way through.
However Lodge are much improved now under the stewardship of Marc Farrell and soon grew into the contest and midway through the half grabbed the lead when a deep cross to the back post found Mario Gnijaj who converted to give the visitors the advantage.
Wadham Lodge then doubled that advantage eight minutes later when the referee adjudged that a foul had been committed just inside the box although it did look a bit harsh to me. James stepped up and converted the spot kick and Wick now had a mountain to climb.
Wick ended the half with a decent spell but they went into the break two goals behind and as things stood Wadham Lodge would be leapfrogging them out of the bottom four.
Wick knew they needed the next goal to have any chance of getting something from the game but it was Wadham Lodge who had two brilliant chances to extend their lead but failed to do so.
The second period thereafter was fairly quiet as both teams battled in midfield and it remained that way until twelve minutes from time when from nowhere Wick pulled a goal back when sloppy play allowed Ibrahim Camara to poke home into the far corner to give Wickers a chance of making a comeback.
The hosts never really threatened an equaliser though and in fact it was Lodge who went on to seal victory in the 89th minute when a cross into the six yard box saw the keeper spill the ball which allowed James to thump home from a yard out.
It meant that Wadham Lodge jumped up four places into fifth bottom and leapfrog Hackney Wick who now find themselves third bottom.
So there ended the Essex Senior League’s first ever groundhop and with the four games yielding seventeen goals means it was certainly value for money. Hopefully there will be plenty of feedback from people who attended these games.
I most certainly had a good day and although it left me exhausted I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to many more ESL hops in the future! Many thanks to Michelle Dorling for organising it all along with the League Committee. I must also thank League Chairman Robert Errington for driving me around all day.
Report by Peter Dudley