So, after the strangest Spring/Summer interlude in living memory, ‘Football with spectators’ finally returned to our region yesterday. Local rivals Hallen from the Western League and Bristol Manor Farm representing the Southern League met in typical ‘pre-season’ sunshine albeit under Covid-19 restrictions at Hallen’s Moorhouse Lane ground. Except the match didn’t take place within the stadium itself but on a practice pitch adjacent to it with a specially-demarcated area from which the spectators could watch from behind one goal only. The big expanse of grass behind that goal allowed for the required social-distancing with tables and bucket chairs and a crowd of approximately 100 scattered upon it to feast on live football once again for the first time since mid-March. The setting was certainly surreal, resembling, at times, a laid back concert at a village summer fayre or, with the mono-directional viewing, a throwback to a century before, when crowds would gather on the pass at the railway station at Kleine Scheidegg in the Swiss Alps to watch mountaineers attempt to climb the north face of the Eiger. If football still has a mountain to climb before things return to some kind of ‘normalcy’ then yesterday’s first tentative steps in the North-West of Bristol can reasonably be considered a successful attempt.
Thankfully there were no restrictions on entertainment-value and both sides deserve praise for their efforts. Overall, the higher class of Bristol Manor Farm proved too much for Ray Johnston’s Hallen but an open game still hung in the balance until midway through the second half.
The visitors started brightly with Aron Robbins (back in a Manor Farm shirt after a loan spell at Hallen towards the end of last season) forcing a fine diving save from Josh Dempsey, palming a fierce left foot shot behind for a corner after just five minutes played.
Led from midfield by Farm skipper Jay Adams the visitors kept coming and only a great defensive header away by Hallen’s Matt Davis in the 26th minute prevented the Portwaymen from taking the lead.
Then, generally against the run of play, Hallen opened the scoring in the 29th minute when the ever-dangerous Sacha Tong picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Farm penalty area and drove a low shot through a crowd of players into the bottom left hand corner of Ben John’s net. Hallen’s joy was short-lived however as two minutes later Manor Farm equalised through the influential Adams, who produced a sweet curling strike from 20 yards to beat Dempsey’s despairing dive. 1-1…
The Hallen keeper then prevented further additions to the first half scoreline with two splendid saves – firstly punching a well-crafted shot by Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist up over the bar and minutes later producing a top-drawer number low-down to his right to deny a crisp turn and shot from Lucas Vowles.
With the scores level the second half became even more competitive with Farm sub Dan Spencer shooting just high and wide in the 58th minute and Tong for the home side forcing a good save low down by John just past the hour mark.
Manor Farm pushed hard for ascendency – substitute Mike Bryant going close with an effort off the outside of his right foot and shortly afterwards full-back Tyler Ashmead played a clever ball down the line to Jamie Bird, the Welsh wizard cutting inside to get his shot away only for Dempsey to save well once more.
The game turned in the visitors favour when Farm manager Lee Lashenko introduced Kitan Jaiyeboa from the bench in the 70th minute. Jaiyeboa’s physical strength and speed reaped instant reward – making a good run into the box with his first touch of the ball and moments later scoring with a thumping half-volley into the top corner from a punched Dempsey clearance.
The game was put to bed four minutes from time when Jaiyeboa made another strong surge down the left before a foul in the area (by whom, on whom this reporter was unfortunately too far away to see) was penalised by the ref and Bird stepped up to slam the spot-kick home for a final score of 3-1 to Manor Farm.
Both clubs and their respective organisations and sets of supporters are to be commended for ensuring a safe environment for football’s return and also the players too for an entertaining reminder of what we’ve all missed so much.
STAR MAN ( Kitan Jaiyeboa, Bristol Manor Farm)