St Margaretsbury v Hoddesdon Town

St Margaretsbury v Hoddesdon Town – 23 March 2019

Last summer’s non-league restructure didn’t have too much of an effect on the step 5 Essex Senior League. A couple of extra teams were promoted or relegated and less than a handful of sides made sideways moves from other local leagues. Two of those sides were St Margaretsbury and Hoddesdon Town who left the Spartan South Midlands league for their first ever season’s in the Essex Senior.

St Margaretsbury had been in a variation of the SSML since 1992, Hoddesdon even longer having been there since 1984 with only a spell in the Athenian League breaking up a run that would have gone as far back as 1963. I hadn’t yet seen either side, so a meeting between the two clubs at St Margaretsbury’s ground seemed like the ideal opportunity to get to know them.

Score: 0-1
Competition: Essex Senior League
Ground: St Margaretsbury Recreation Ground
Attendance: 79
Ticket: £7
Programme: Free
Refreshments: £2 (two teas)
Dogs spotted: 3

Who are ya, St Margaretsbury?

The Bury, as they are known, were established in 1894 as Stanstead Abbots. Abbots can apparently be spelt with one or two ‘t’s but it’s definitely Stanstead and not Stansted. They pottered about in the local leagues for much of their early existence. In 1962 when they moved just across the River Lea to Stanstead St Margarets. They took up residence at the St Margaretsbury playing fields and changed their name accordingly.

The Bury remained in the Herts league until the early 1990s when they moved up into the Premier Division of the Spartan League . They performed pretty impressively finishing sixth, third and second before winning the Spartan League title in 1996. Two years later the Spartan League merged with the South Midlands League to form the SSML. The Bury spent one season in a transitional Premier South Division before being moved into the Premier Division.

St Margaretsbury played in the SSML for 20 consecutive seasons before last summer’s sideways move into the Essex Senior League. A third-place finish in 2004 was their highest finish in the league during that time. In 2013 they finished in fourth place scoring an impressive 102 goals in 42 games.

St Margaretsbury v Hoddesdon Town
The pitch at St Margaretsbury

Old friends reunited

For 12 of the 20 seasons that St Margaretsbury played in the SSML they were joined by local rivals Hoddesdon Town. Town also spent eight seasons in Division One following a relegation in 2005. They returned to the Premier Division in 2013 and they two sides are now in their sixth successive season playing in the same division.

The Bury had the edge in the first two seasons finishing above the side from down the Stanstead Road. Hoddesdon soon found their feet, however, and finished above the Bury in each of their last three seasons in the SSML. They were seperated by five points and four league places last season as Hoddesdon finsihed 12th and St Margaretsbury 16th. The points in their league meetings were shared as the Bury won 2-1 at home while Hoddesdon won 3-2 when they had home advantage.

There isn’t a huge amount between the sides again this year. St Margaretsbury currently have a 10 point advantage over their rivals but have played a game more, and they are only seperated by two league places as the Bury sit seventh and Town sit ninth. St Margaretsbury won the only meeting between the two sides so far this year with a 4-1 victory in November.

St Margaretsbury v Hoddesdon Town
The players emerge from the woodland

St Margaretsbury rise up table but lose manager

The Bury had been in good form of late. They’d won seven out of ten league games this season prior to a slightly surprising 3-1 loss to bottom of the table Barkingside on 9 March. That was then followed by a cup defeat to Colney Heath. During their winning run, they’d also reached the Final of the Gordan Brasted Memorial Trophy following a semi-final win over Stanway.

A final against Stansted and a run that had moved them up to seventh in the table, however, wasn’t enough to keep manager Max Mitchell at the club. Mitchell had been tempted away by nearby Bostik South Central club Hertford Town. The Blues are in the process of fighting a relegation battle, so Mitchell could well find himself returning to the St Margaretsbury Recreation Ground in the not too distant future.

The visitors, Hoddesdon, had also lost their last two games. Although to be fair they were tight 1-0 losses to the top two sides in the division, Stansted and Hullbridge. They were ten points behind their local rivals going into the game but were sitting comfortably in ninth place despite some patchy recent form.

St Margaretsbury v Hoddesdon Town
Hoddesdon have an attacking set-piece

St Margaretsbury find positives at end of tough week

Their former manager had reportedly taken a few players with him to Hertford, including their star striker. As the players made their way out in the spring sunshine there were plenty of discussions on the sidelines about the extent of the changes that the home side would have to make.

Conversations about a tough week for the club distracted slightly from what is a picturesque ground in the Hertfordshire countryside. The pitch is hidden away in a green thicket behind the clubhouse and car park. The two sides appeared, seemingly from nowhere, from out of the foliage. On a different day the picturesque surroundings might be the main talking point, but there was more going on here.

The home side started nervously and looked to get men behind the ball. Hoddesdon had a couple of early openings but weren’t able to get in front. The Bury then began to settle a little and find their stride. Against the run of play, they had the best chance of the first half. A corner, the main source of attacking opportunities in the first period, found it’s way on to the head of one of their forwards. He was, however, unable to head it anywhere but into the ground in front of him and Hoddesdon cleared.

The start of the second half was signalled by a loud war cry made by the visiting side as they left the changes rooms and made their way down the slope to the pitch. They took the motivation straight onto the pitch and looked instantly energised. They had several chances and had the home side pinned in their own half for much of the remaining game.

The deadlock, and St Margaretsbury’s resistance, was eventually broken by the Hoddesdon forward Lillis. He got on the ball near the edge of the box and curled a lovely finish into the far corner of the goal. It was a bit of quality to decide a competitive game. The home side struggled to get too much going in the opposition’s half but looked solid and well organised defensively.

Hoddesdon were able to see out the rest of the game for a well deserved win that cuts the gap to their local rivals to seven points. For St Margaretsbury they may just be happy to see out the end of the week. Regardless of how the last few games go they’ve had an impressive Essex Senior League debut and will have a cup final to contest in the coming weeks.