Pre-Season Friendly – 14th July 2015
The Airfield, Broughton, Flintshire
- Entrance: £5.00; Programme: £2.00
- Tray of Chips: £2.00; Cheeseburger: £3.00
As you might have noticed from either my Twitter or Facebook feeds, I have not attended any games so far during the July pre-season fixtures. This is due to a number of events popping up all at the same time period (such as birthdays, stag do holidays, house moves, etc.) resulting in having zero free time to attend any pre-season games (these events often appearing on occasions when I was planning on attending games such as the Champions League game at TNS and the Barnton versus Connah’s Quay fixture). Therefore it comes as a welcome relief to be finally writing a new groundhopping blog after a period of undesired “media silence”.
For this blog entry, I returned to a ground I have previously visited both last season and in my last groundhop blog. Another trip to The Airfield (or the Hollingsworth Group Stadium to give it its official sponsored title) was the order of the evening to see another Airbus UK Broughton pre-season game, this time against the might of Stockport County.
I was attending a training course in my work when I got a phone call from regular Groundhop accomplice Greg. He saw the flyers posted around the Airbus factory in Broughton for the upcoming game that evening between Airbus UK and Stockport County and asked if I fancied coming along to it. It must be worth noting that we were going to head to Edgeley Park last season to watch Stockport before Greg decided he wanted to watch Macclesfield against Wrexham instead, so I think desire to watch Stockport had not deserted him. Having seen the flyers myself around the factory and was interested by the game, plus the facts that I was absolutely desperate to watch a live football game and that Greg was driving meant it was a complete no-brainer for me! I would be returning back to Airbus that evening!
Airbus UK were coming into this pre-season friendly a few days after their European odyssey had ended against Croatian side Lokomotiva Zagreb. A disappointing 1-3 home defeat in the first leg (played at Bangor’s Nantporth Stadium due to The Airfield not being up to UEFA’s strict stadium standards) after being 1-0 ahead after the first half ensured they went into the second leg as massive underdogs to progress to the next round. Despite this, they produced a much improved performance on the Dalmatian coast to produce their best performance in European competition and earn themselves a highly creditable 2-2 draw against Croatia’s fourth placed team. Even though they still exited the Europa League 3-5 on aggregate, the performance against a team, who were expected by pundits to easily win the second leg, meant the Wingmakers could exit Europe with a massive amount of pride and confidence which they could naturally take into their league campaign. It could be a great benefit to them in their season quest to improve on last season’s league finish of 3rd place.
Tonight’s opponents were former Football League team and current National League North competitor Stockport County. “The Hatters” recent fortunes have been well documented within footballing circles with the team suffering financial problems that saw them slump down into the sixth tier of the English football pyramid, after enjoying success in the old Division 1 (now Championship) in the early 2000s. However the Hatters have stabilised their finances and have halted the slide down the leagues, and the team are now optimistic to advance in the future. Under the stewardship of former Colwyn Bay and Chester manager, Neil Young (who is a manager I rate highly), they are aiming to push for promotion to return back to the National League National, with the ultimate future goal of regaining their membership in the Football League.
[By the way, I did enjoy always the fact that Edgeley Park is the nearest football stadium to the River Mersey. Whether that’s still true or another non-league stadium is nearer again is something which you good readers can inform me over.]
Stockport and Airbus have enjoyed a friendly rivalry over the past couple of years, and this fixture would be the return match of a pre-season friendly that played just under 12 months ago. On that occasion in Edgeley Park, Airbus came out on top and achieved a 2-1 victory over their more illustrious rivals who were still suffering the effects of multiple relegations and financial struggles. However with the environment at Stockport improving, and optimism on the rise amongst the Hatters, they were eager to rectify last season’s friendly defeat.
Both teams been linked in recent times with Airbus UK’s Director of Football, Andy Preece, previously touted by the media with the vacant Stockport job, prior to Neil Young’s appointment, as a result of him being a former County player who is still considered fondly amongst the Country fans (he scored 42 goals in 97 appearances for the Hatters between 1991 and 1994). He wouldn’t be the only ex-Stockport player sitting on the Airbus bench as he is assisted by another former County player in Darren Ryan. There would also be links on the pitch as a former Airbus player would be appearing in the Stockport squad this evening, with midfielder Glenn Rule returning back to The Airfield after playing for the Wingmakers for a good number of seasons. Having moved to County in mid-June, he was still in the Airbus squad the last time I had seen them play back in early June.
Within County’s squad there would be a number of players with plenty of Football League experience. Forward Abdulai Bell-Baggie had league experience with Tranmere Rovers (and being a personal favourite of mine when I managed Tranmere on FIFA 13) as well as being a Sierra Leone international. They also had a former Welsh international in their ranks with captain for the night Gareth Roberts appearing at left back. The former Tranmere, Doncaster & Derby player has over 550 league games experience and won 9 caps for the Red Dragons over five years between 2000 and 2005. With County also giving a debut to Joe Garvin, their new signing from Colne, this Stockport team would give Airbus UK a good test.
Greg and I arrived at Airbus just after 7:00pm with Daft Punk’s hit “Get Lucky” playing in the car as we headed back into the factory main drive (well it was apt considering the game was being played on Bastille Day!!). Alas the usual car park which we normally park in for games had already filled up, so we had to use the larger main car park to the right of the main drive. Entry to this pre-season game was £5.00 for me, whilst the accompanying programme cost an additional £2. However the entrance to the game cost Greg considerably less because he was a paying member of the Broughton Wings social club, and as a result is entitled to a discount to Airbus UK Broughton entrance fees. Therefore his entrance fee was just a meagre £2! Bargain! The programme was good value as per usual with a vast amount of information on their opponents as well as a match report of their match in Croatia the previous Thursday. The Airbus UK programmes are always top notch and worth buying if you’re an avid programme collector!
Upon entering the stadium, I had noticed that County fans had arrived in force with the majority of the ground being occupied by travelling Hatters supporters who had made the trip across Cheshire to the border stadium. With a later confirmed attendance of 194, there was at least 100 Stockport fans in attendance – a good amount considering it was a midweek pre-season friendly, but just shows how strongly committed a following the team has. They had also brought cameras with them to film the game and produced a highlights video on the match, again showing the professionalism of the club and the demand for highlights videos from their large fan base. The highlights video can be seen at the bottom of this blog or here.
To watch the first half match, we decided to sit in the main stand and under cover. With gloomy skies overhead and strong breezes whipping up, I was half expecting a downpour in the middle of the match and because I had forgotten my waterproof jacket, I was eager to sit undercover in case the heavens decided to open up! Thankfully the majority of the crowd had decided to either stand around the pitch or sit in the end stand resulting in plenty of empty seats to get a good view of the pitch from our position. Not long after we sat down then we noticed someone from behind our position run down the stand and tried to jump the pitch barrier. Just after I thought “aye up this supporter is keen” did I notice it was Andy Preece and he had been talking to some people up in the main stand. He soon sprinted it across the 3G pitch and headed into the dressing rooms – he might be retired but he’s still got some pace on him ha!
Soon after that both teams came out of the dressing rooms to a loud welcome from both sets of supporters. Airbus were in last season’s home strip of blue shirts with white shoulders and trim, blue shorts and blue socks, whilst Stockport had arrived in their Brazil-inspired away strip of yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks. Whether the Hatters play like the Seleção is something the regular County fans can comment on… Because the home side were getting full usage out of last season’s home kit, one of their substitute players was playing in a shirt with “Rule 7” on the back. Rather confusing considering Glenn Rule was now in the samba styled shirt of Stockport!
There were early chances for both teams as the match got underway with County starting the brighter and having the first on-target opportunity. Kevin Holsgrove fired an early and low shot into the corner but Airbus’ ‘keeper James Coates was alert and equal to the early danger by diving the right way and diverting the shot out of play. Airbus then came into the game and had a couple of chances themselves which saw County’s keeper Danny Hurst be called into action. Firstly Hurst made a successful block in a one-on-on situation with Ryan Wade by eliminating the angles and diving at the attacker’s feet, and then followed up his decent save by impressively tipping over a venomous strike by Tony Gray.
Stockport enjoyed a period of successful possession which resulted in a couple of good chances, exploiting the spaces given to them down the flanks. Firstly new signing Joe Garvin fired his shot over the crossbar from his favoured left side, whilst the impressively skilled Abdulai Bell-Baggie replicated his FIFA 13 form in reality by exploiting the space down the right side and caused problems for the Airbus defence all afternoon. Enjoying the quicker zip of the ball the artificial surface provides, he managed to cut infield from the right hand side into space and managed a shot on goal. Fortunately for the home side, his effort only found the side-netting of the goal.
The half was exciting stuff for the neutral as it was becoming an open, end-to-end game with both teams having chances. After holding firm throughout Stockport’s period of chances, Airbus managed to pressurise their opponents and forced Hurst into action once more. The visiting goalkeeper managed to make a good save to deny Wayne Riley from opening the scoring, and then he managed to superbly tip over a 30-yard goal-bound strike from Jay Owen to keep the scores level.
On the 34th minute, the deadlock was broken and it would be the visiting supporters who would be the most vocal. After Gray had headed over from a Matty McGinn cross, County hit Airbus on the perfect counter-attack after a failed free-kick from the hosts. Danny Morton, who was playing in a central role, passed the ball upfield to Lamin Colley who then laid it off to Bell-Baggie. In a similar circumstance to his earlier chance, he skilfully jinked infield to create some space for himself and get a shot on target. This time he made no mistake and clinically fired his shot across the scrambling Coates and into the left corner of the net. A fantastically worked goal from a player who impressed me every time he had possession of the ball!
AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 0 – 1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
The Hatters would only enjoy their lead for a few minutes before the Wingmakers struck back with an impressive set-piece. Conceding a direct free kick thirty yards out from their goal, the dangerous Tom Field had his opportunity to equalise. He made no mistake with his chance as he curled his delivery over the County wall and beyond the diving Hurst to nestle the ball in the top right hand corner of the Stockport goal and bring the scores level. A superb free-kick which any player at any level of football would have been proud of, and displays how Field was Airbus UK’s leading goal scorer in last season’s campaign.
AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 1 – 1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
That would be the final major chance of the half as both sides went into the half time break with honours even. A fair scoreline after 45 minutes considering both teams had decent chances throughout the half.
HALF TIME: AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 1 – 1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
During the 15 minute break, with some motown classics being played over the sound system, we decided to take full advantage of snack bar which was present for this game, and something which I yearned for in the friendly back in June. Both of us bought a tray of chips for £2 each, which was really good value in my opinion considering there were a good portion of chips on the tray. Greg seemed to be disturbed by my choice of accompanying sauce as American style mustard was lavishly glazed over the chips. His repulsion was confirmed when he tried a mustard covered chip and uttered the words “you’re weird you are….” through a pained expression of disgust as the spices burned his mouth. Needless to say I found it really nice and not as hot as Greg was experiencing….is mustard on chips weird?? Let me know your preference of sauce on your chips ha! Anyway he went for the unoriginal yet classic choice of ketchup….yawn!
Probably still suffering from that individual mustard-dipped chip that haunted his taste buds, Greg went back to the snack van and bought himself an additional cheeseburger for £3.00. The price of the burger seemed a tad expensive in my eyes especially when compared to the prices I have experienced at other grounds and with it being a pre-season friendly. My suspicions were confirmed by Greg who was overall unimpressed with the burger, declaring it to be a bit expensive for the taste and ultimately size of it. A shame considering the trays of chips we bought were good value and taste. So the top tip, go for the tray of chips or even the chip bap/barm for £2.50!
With food consumed and hunger quelled for another few hours at least, we decided to watch the second half action on the opposite side of the main stand where we had sat for the first half. We stood right beside the Airbus dugout (and strangely near to the snack van) were we could interestingly hear every comment coming from the Airbus dugout throughout the second half. Needless to say there were many choice words shouted which can’t be repeated here haha. Also we noticed from our position that during the game, the Airbus Ladies team were training on the field behind the main stand. The lucky punters were seeing both Airbus teams in action tonight it would seem! [Good luck to Airbus Ladies this season by the way!]
The second half continued off from where the first half had ended, with both teams displaying some impressive attacking football and creating opportunities for themselves. Just as the first half, the National League North side were the more alert of the two sides and created the first chance of the second half. Karl Ledsham, who was looking to continue his goal scoring form in the pre-season matches, failed to add another goal to his tally as he manage to blast his chance over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
At the other end, Wade (who was the only player in the Airbus starting XI not to have started the game in Zagreb) threatened the County defence a couple of times by firstly finding space to launch a telling by-line cross which unfortunately failed to find a Wingmaker team mate in the penalty area. He then produced another opportunity to score as he burst through the back line to threaten the goal in a one-on-one scenario. Once again Hurst came to the rescue of his side and stopped Wade in his tracks courtesy of a well-timed block which eliminated the danger and kept the scores level. Hurst was winning the one-on-one battles this afternoon! Airbus would catch out the Hatters defence once again and unleashed Jay Owen to break clear and surge towards the box on a dangerous run. Morton, no doubt inspired by his goalie’s exploits in the one-on-one situations, dispossessed Owen with a strong well-timed tackle whilst the attacker was threating to pull the trigger.
The flow of the game started to be disrupted as both teams started making substitutions, with Airbus especially using their bench and giving their players a well-deserved rest due to the herculean effort they exuded the previous Thursday night. It was during this period of continuous personnel changes that the home side managed to take the lead for the first time in the match. On the 66th minute, Matty McGinn created some space on the right hand side of the pitch to produce a fabulous cross into the crowded penalty area which found Andy Jones. Under pressure from a challenge from Colley behind him, and pressurised by the onrushing Hurst, managed to win the physical battle with Colley to fend him off just enough to connect with McGinn’s cross and fire into the Stockport net.
AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 2 – 1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
Once Airbus took the lead, more substitutions were made by both sides and the flowing, attacking football the crowd were treated to inevitably trailed off with the momentum of the game slowing down considerably. Consequently chances in the final 25 minutes or so became few and far between. Despite this both sides still had good chances to score the evening’s fourth goal. Danny Glover (who I hope has the nickname “Lethal Weapon” ha) went close to scoring for County with a low drive aimed on target, but his effort was diverted away by the fingertips of Coates. At the other end, Hurst was displaying himself as superb last line of defence by successfully winning his third one-on-one duel with the Airbus attackers. This time the County keeper denied the young substitute, James Murphy, and proved he would not be defeated in these duels this evening!
With the minutes ticking away, and the sunset setting beautifully behind the Airbus goal, a final opportunity came the way of County, who had been pressing for an equaliser in the final ten minutes. With Preece and his management team fuming on the touchline and producing choice words which cannot be rewritten here (that’s the passion folks!!), they conceded a free kick in a similar position from which they had equalised from in the first half. Stepping up to take the set piece was former Wingmaker, Glenn Rule, who was hoping the old football cliché of players scoring past their old clubs on their first visit back as an opposition player would happen once more. Alas for Rule, there would be no fairy-tale ending for him (could you say the ‘rule was broken’ in terms of former players scoring past their previous team?) on his return back to East Flintshire as his floated delivery failed to find any of his teammates within the penalty area and drifted wide out of play.
That would be the final action of the game as the official brought the game to a conclusion not long after the Rule free-kick ensuring the home side produced another decent performance, coming back from a goal deficit to win the game 2 goals to 1.
FULL TIME: AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 2 – 1 STOCKPORT COUNTY
All in all, I really enjoyed the first 65-70 minutes of the match with both teams displaying some impressive attacking moves and having great chances. It was just a shame the game petered out when the substitutes started to be brought on in the final third of the game. I thought Bell-Baggie was exceptional first half causing problems for the Airbus defence whenever he had the ball, whilst Hurst was probably man of the match being a colossus between the sticks and eliminating any threat from the duels he experienced. Airbus produced another fine display with Field’s diamond free-kick the highlight of the match and McGinn producing another decent performance down the flanks (he has impressed me at every Airbus game I have seen), whilst Jones produced great strength to angle his winner into the net despite being hustled in the box.
I would probably say a draw might have been the fair result as both teams had great chances with County probably enjoying the slightly better possession percentage during the game. However it is clear Airbus are now on a positive crest of a wave, with their confidence boosted through their Zagreb performance, and they showed great fortitude to find an equaliser quickly and hold off the Stockport threat to find the winner. There may be still additional work to be done for both sides before their respective seasons start, but I think both Wingmakers’ and Hatters’ fans have good reasons to be optimistic on this season’s campaigns as there were a lot of positives to be taken from both teams’ performances! Plus I would like to give praise for the number of Stockport fans who made the trip to The Airfield despite it being a Tuesday evening pre-season friendly. They made for a great atmosphere and were really respectful to both teams = top support!
I would like wish both Airbus UK and Stockport County all the very best in their upcoming league campaigns, and I am looking forward to visiting Edgeley Park in the near future!
Here are the highlights of the game courtesy of Stockport County’s official YouTube channel: