Competition: Bostik North Division playoff semi-final
Ground: Coles Park
This blog was originally posted on the Bostik League website.
‘Playoff week’ is now well and truly underway. The next stop on my knockout football adventure was Coles Park, the home of Haringey Borough. Haringey are my local Bostik League club which meant no Blackwall Tunnel, no M25, and no North Circular. Well, there was a little bit of the North Circular, but it was just the small section before the dreaded Fore Street tunnel. This was a game not to miss as Haringey were taking on Heybridge Swifts, who had to endure a horrific fixture backlog after impressive runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy.
On paper, this Bostik North semi-final, between the fourth and fifth sides in the table, was similar to the South Division semi-final I’d visited the previous night. The reality, however, was somewhat different. The tension that surrounded the repeat semi at Greenwich was replaced by a strong sense of confidence in both camps. These sides were two of the most in-form clubs in the whole Bostik League. Haringey had won their last eight games and not lost since February. Likewise, Heybridge, who had to play 10 times in April, won eight games in the month, only lost once, to table toppers Hornchurch, and drew once with second place Potters Bar.
Swifts just about had the edge over the course of the season. Haringey were yet to defeat their promotion rivals, who finished two points behind them. They’d been stunned 4-2 at home in the FA Cup in October and threw away a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3, again at home, in March. Their trip to Heybridge ended in a 0-0 draw. Haringey’s end of season form had seen them nearly sneak into the second automatic promotion spot. They finished fourth and infiltrated an Essex monopoly of the playoff positions. Bowers & Pitsea finished ahead of them on goal difference and Heybridge and Canvey Island completed the playoff lineup. Canvey’s 11 point advantage over seventh place Maldon & Tiptree underlined how strong the top six clubs in the division were this season.
I’d already seen Haringey play three times in this campaign. Boro’s strengths have been in their organisation and quality all around the pitch. They’d won each time, but only in the 3-0 home win over Whyteleafe in the FA Trophy had I seen them really finish their opposition off. The other two games were narrow away wins, 2-1 at Barking and 1-0 at Tilbury. It could be an unhappy end to the season if they failed to kill off a strong Heybridge side featuring the league’s top scorer Matthew Price.
The quick trip over to Coles Park meant I arrived early and secured the all-important parking space. The club’s small food hatch and main bar was being overrun by eager fans. Fortunately, the pitch side Enfield Kitchen and a pop-up beer tent were helping to take some of the strain. I was soon joined at the game by my dad and my father-in-law, both of whom are also local. In trying to build up sufficient levels of hype for ‘the dads’ I summarised Heybridge as ‘likely to have challenged for automatic promotion were it not for cup runs and a horrific fixture backlog’. The description elicited nods of agreement from several passing Swifts, Swifters, Swifties?
Tucked away in North London, and known proudly as the only Football club to actually play on White Hart Lane, Haringey Borough was a fitting venue for this important game. As kick-off time got closer a young crew of visiting fans made their way to the far end of the ground. They started the singing as the players made their way out and the atmosphere around the ground was electric from that point on. They Swifts’ fans were quick to point out their Haringey rivals were largely situated in the comfort of the main stand.
As the game began the atmosphere kicked into another gear as the young Heybridge fans produced a drum, and the slightly older Boro fans retorted with some percussion of their own. There were unconfirmed reports of a cowbell. Heybridge nearly gave their travelling support something to cheer in the opening exchanges as Joe Gardener broke through. His shot, however, skimmed the outside of the post. Haringey’s keeper Pajetet, rumoured to be carrying an injury, was clearly struggling to kick the ball, despite an impressive display. Heybridge looked to exploit this, but Haringey, as they have all season, adapted well.
The home side soon settled and went close themselves when McDonald’s header hit the bar. Gabriel also went close shortly after, again from a header, but Abdulla cleared off the line. The striker then went down in the box under a challenge from a Heybridge defender. The ref saw it as a dive and booked Gabriel. There were few complaints in the crowd, but the replay I saw the following day showed he was unlucky not to get a penalty. Haringey, however, soon had the lead. A deep cross found Djassi-Sambu who controlled the ball well, steadied himself and applied the finish.
Boro had the lead at the break but a competitive game was still in the balance. Heybridge began to threaten more in the second half as Krasniqi, much to the annoyance of some home fans, drove his side forward from midfield. He had the best chance as he weaved his way into the box only to be denied by Pajetet. Just as it seemed Heybridge would get back into the game Haringey scored the decisive goal. A corner, won on the break, was powerfully headed home by Djassi-Sambu for his second of the game. Haringey had a couple more chances, as they looked to take advantage of the Swifts pouring forward, but the game finished 2-0.
Haringey progress to the final, which will be another home game for them after Canvey’s victory at Bowers & Pitsea. It was an excellent game between two strong and equally matched, sides. The competitiveness on display on the pitch was matched in the stands by two groups of vocal and respectful fans, and their percussion. The only sour taste left in the mouth after the game was that I’d not be available on Sunday to see the final.