Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Hyde United

Is there an English football club that have been more of a mess in the last few years than Hyde United?

I'm sure if Family Fortunes asked 100 football fans to name a club that's currently a total mess, Aston Villa would be the team picked by the vast majority. The plight of the Villa is of course all over the media currently, and the club being relegated and rock bottom of the premier league is just the tip of the iceberg given the behaviour of their players (Agbonlahor and Okore just in the last week) and the mess in their board (David Bernstein and Lord King resigned in the last week). But, when you look at their situation in terms of the stats of past seasons, it is ultimately only one relegation. This is a team that were playing in the FA Cup final just last year.

Looking beyond the league, if you look at the non-league tables you will find examples of teams who've had a much worse season than Hyde. You only need to look at the Evo Stik Division One North (the division Hyde are dropping down to next season) to see New Mills finishing their season on just 3 points. 3 draws, 39 defeats. Needless to say it's been a total disaster for New Mills, who only stayed up because of a reprieve last season, but in previous years they'd been consistently in that division since being promoted up to it in 2011. We'll see what happens in future seasons, but as with Villa, at present it's only one relegation ultimately.

There are teams that have slumped to back to back relegations, for example Colwyn Bay, who finished second to bottom in the Evo Stik Premier League. But look one place above them in the final league table and you will find Hyde United, who have now hit the unfortunate milestone of being relegated for 3 consecutive seasons.

This isn't a first in England - I'm sure this will have happened several times in the various non league divisions throughout its pyramid system. And even in the football league Wolves were relegated 3 seasons in a row back in 1984-6.

But the decision making from Hyde's owners / board during this descent has been pretty bizarre.

In the first season of relegation in 2013-14, when Hyde were in the Conference (or the National League as it's now known), they in fairness were mainly punching above their weight, competing with former league teams such as Grimsby, Luton, Wrexham etc. But it was the manner of their relegation that season that was significant. They drew a lot of attention to themselves (Jeff Stelling for example, the presenter of Sky Sports Soccer Saturday wore their scarf many times as that season went on), but the publicity was for all the wrong reasons. Hyde achieved an astonishing 29 consecutive winless games.

The win to end that run, a 2-0 win at Welling in mid January, proved to be their only win that season, as they achieved the Conference division's record low of just 10 points. As a season ticket holder that year, it had been blatently obvious by early October even to the most optimistic fan that the club would go down under the manager Scott McNiven.

Unfortunately, McNiven had been given a 2 year contract before the start of that season. When the question was being asked about why he wasn't being sacked, the situation seemed to be that Hyde's owner John Manship wasn't prepared or able to stump up the money to end his contract.

In what seemed effectively a suicide mission for the club from the owner, he persisted with McNiven the following season, and sure enough in the Conference North Hyde's season took a similar structure in terms of points, performance and hope. Hyde achieved the occasional win this time round but were still rock bottom of the league.

Supporters had long since lost any faith in McNiven, but the situation still seemed to be that his contract couldn't / wouldn't be ended early. Then, on New Years Day 2015 Hyde lost 7-1 away at their biggest rivals Stalybridge. I was there and it was every bit as bad as the scoreline suggested. A day later McNiven was sacked, and replaced by former manager Gary Lowe.

Whilst it was a relief to see McNiven finally removed, that turn of events was more frustrating than anything else. After all the talk that the owner didn't have the money to remove McNiven, the fans had resigned themselves to having to see out the season with him in charge. But this showed the owner was able to sack him after all, but by this point Hyde were so far adrift of the relegation line it was far too late to make a difference.

Performances did improve a little following the change, and despite Hyde once again finishing bottom of the league by a distance there was a general belief that Hyde might finally achieve mid table stability if not better the following season. The new manager Gary Lowe was the man who had originally got Hyde promoted to the Conference, before he walked away due to a disagreement with the owner along the lines of money.

Meanwhile behind the scenes the fans bad feeling towards the owner continued to build. The owner had previously shown interest in selling the club if an offer was made. So a small group of the fans made the decision to offer to take over the club as a supporter owned venture. The owner agreed he would write off the club's debts, reported to be around £500,000, as long as an initial £50,000 could be raised.

Fundraising seemed to begin quite slowly and pretty much tail off according to the running total on the website which was miles off the required amount, before next thing it was announced that the takeover had been completed. A month before the takeover had actually taken place, Hyde announced that Gary Lowe would continue as manager.

The next season got going, and began with an inconsistent start with a scattered mix of results putting Hyde mid table. Compared to the previous two seasons mid table was a refreshing change, and there were positive signs that Hyde could build on that start and climb the table, including wins away at the promotion favourites Darlington and Salford City, and at home a 7-1 thrashing of Stamford. A 5 match winning streak in the league followed in October, and Hyde finished that month having climbed to 4th and into the play-off positions. By this stage Hyde had played 17 out of 46 games, so they were over a third of the way through the season, and any worries of relegation were becoming a distant memory.

And from then on, it all spectacularly changed. That 5 match winning run was incredibly followed by 14 straight matches without a win, a run stretching to mid February that included 11 defeats. Hyde gradually descended down the table to the point of finding themselves 4 points from relegation. They finally scraped a win, 2-1 at home to Whitby Town who were also in the relegation zone. Following another defeat Hyde finished February with another 2-1 home win against Buxton, opening up some much needed distance from the relegation zone with 12 games to play.

But March was to be another win-less month, with 2 draws and 4 defeats. The final one of these games was to prove a significant moment. Hyde faced nearby Ashton United at home. This was the manager's pre-match programme notes:

If Gary Lowe choosing to lay into the players was meant to provoke a reaction on the pitch it didn't work, as Ashton battered them 4-0. And it proved to be the final straw as he was then sacked, with some fans questioning why this was left so late in the season, with only 6 games now left to go. 

It was certainly set up to be a tough situation for any manager to walk into, with the club now only 3 points above the relegation places having achieved just 2 wins, 5 draws and a colossal 16 defeats in the previous 5 months. But the manager chosen to achieve results in the final 6 games of the season seemed nothing short of laughable to me.

They went for Darren Kelly, a man who had already made a spectacular mess of both Oldham Athletic and Halifax Town earlier that season. He had been sacked by Oldham after just 1 win in 9 matches, and followed this with being sacked again by Halifax, this time after only 7 league games in charge, 6 of which were defeats. His time with Halifax was particularly spectacular, with his opening game in charge ending in a 7-1 home defeat against Cheltenham. They went on to again concede 7 away at Grimsby, and his final game in charge was a 6-3 defeat at home to Braintree Town.

Darren Kelly was to later blame Halifax Town's facilities for these results, claiming his‘hands were tied’ as the club lacked the facilities to allow him to do his job properly. If that was true then a change in manager would make no difference, but the club he left rock bottom of the division and 10 points below the relegation line are now a point above that relegation line with 1 game left to play, and in the FA Trophy final at Wembley next month. Yes they might still go down if results don't go their way on the final day but it's a huge difference to being so far adrift at the bottom when he was sacked in mid November.

It's also interesting to note that Halifax conceded 28 goals in the 7 games that Darren Kelly was in charge, that's an average of 4 per game, but in the 5 months since he left there has only been one league game in which they've conceded more than 2 goals. Recently when their defender Scott McManus was asked what was the main cause of their poor defensive record this season he replied “The appointment of Darren Kelly, if you want me to be brutally honest". 

So given his track record, and the fact he claimed he couldn't do his job properly because of the lack of facilities at a club like Halifax, who compared to Hyde are in a far superior position in terms of their stadium, fan-base, finances etc, there was no chance of him changing the fortunes of Hyde. To put it bluntly it was a ridiculous appointment. Sure enough in the 6 games with him in charge Hyde lost all 6, scoring 2 and conceding 17. In the process of those final 6 games Hyde moved down a place into the relegation zone, then dropped a further place to finish 22nd, which is two below the relegation line. 

That further drop in the relegation places from 21st to 22nd could end up having more significance than it first seems. At that level if a team goes bust the highest placed of the relegated teams would get a reprieve and stay up in the division to make up the numbers. This has actually become quite regular in previous seasons, with Marine receiving a reprieve from relegation following the demise of Salisbury City last season, and the same happened for Frickley Athletic the season before after the resignation of Vauxhall Motors. It is possible for more than one club in the same division to receive a reprieve if more than one goes bust, but unlikely.
Who knows what the future holds for Hyde United. The good news is that the club have chosen not to continue with Darren Kelly, who was in effect on trial for the 6 games he took charge. In terms of Hyde's results next season it's probably just as well they lost those last 6 games. The manager's position is currently being advertised, and it can only be hoped that whoever thought bringing Darren Kelly in would be a good idea has either come back to reality since or isn't involved in the final decision this time round.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Bringing it back...

So I’ve decided to resurrect my blog – I really want to keep the focus on football talk rather than about me, but I guess I can’t just suddenly start again after 4 years without some sort of explanation.

Why did it die? Money and motivation. The format of the blog 4 years ago was me going to different football grounds so I could review the stadium and the match. Even at non-league level it takes up a fair chunk of money for admission and travel for each game. I’m not a confident driver so I went to different grounds by public transport. When money started getting a bit tight, going to a new ground every week was becoming too expensive.

I also found I was losing interest in going to the lower level non-league games, in truth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy non-league football, I still go to the odd game and always check the scores of my local clubs (Mossley, Hyde, Stalybridge and many others), but given the level it’s at, yes there are the odd really entertaining games here and there, but there do end up being a LOT of terrible games.

When more than a couple of times I found myself sat on the first of several trains home reflecting on an awful game that I were bored to death by from the 5th minute onwards, knowing I was hours away from getting home and I’d paid decent money and wasted my day in the process… this wasn’t something I wanted to carry on doing.

So I decided I wanted to be watching football at a high football league level, but I still needed to cut back on what I was paying on a weekly basis. The best way of doing that was a season ticket at a nearby league club I could travel to cheaply, so I went for Bolton Wanderers.

Once I’d gone for that, there wasn’t any point carrying on the blog. Obviously the ground reviews would stop as I was going to the same one each week, and there wasn’t much point doing match reports for Bolton, given that the BBC, Sky, all the newspapers and so on were all doing the same.

What have you done since? In terms of football watching, I’ve become the chief Jinx-er of football teams. That’s how it seems anyway! I bought the Bolton season tickets towards the end of the 2011/12 season (Sky Sports watchers may know this better as the AAGGGUUUEEERRROOO season), whilst they were in the Premier League and looking likely to stay up. So once I was committed to this, suddenly QPR went on an amazing run of winning games and Bolton were relegated.

For the season I had the season ticket, Bolton started poorly and hovered around the lower half of the table, then picked up late on before just missing out on the play offs on the last day of the season. Fast forward to the present day and they’ve now been relegated again and are repeatedly losing games as the season comes to an end.

Speaking of teams in decline, after that season at Bolton I decided I couldn’t justify the price of another Bolton season ticket, and noticed that Hyde, who had just stayed up in the Conference, were advertising a very affordable season ticket. They got relegated, rock bottom of the league. I don’t know why looking back but I then got another season ticket for them, and they got relegated rock bottom of the league again! I didn’t renew it this season, but just like with Bolton, they’ve been relegated again and are currently repeatedly losing games.

I’ve had a season without having a season ticket for anybody, instead getting my football fix through Sky and BT. I’ve enjoyed seeing a lot more football on TV, but as time’s gone on I have missed the atmosphere of being at the games in a crowd. Money remains tight and the Hyde fiasco has put me right off non-league football for the time being!

So I was really pleased when I saw that Huddersfield Town, who are a short train or bus journey away for me, announced a mega cheap season ticket costing just £179 for adults in all areas of the stadium. I’ve gone for it, they’ve stayed up in the Championship which is great, but given my previous track record if you’re a betting person I’d say put your money on Huddersfield being relegated next season!

None of this explains why the blog is being resurrected? Ok, so there would be no reason to bring the blog back in its previous format, nothing would happen till August then it’d just be me doing fortnightly Huddersfield Town match reports, there’d be no point.

I’d like to bring this back as an outlet for my views on football news and talking points that are in the headlines, and generally an outsider’s view on the goings on of the teams nearby to me, all English teams in general and with Euro 2016 on the horizon my thoughts on that as well.

It’s all opinions and people will have plenty of things they have a completely different view on, that’s great and I’d love to hear from people in the comments below my posts. I’m not posting things because I think I’m always right or I’m trying to tell people what to think, it’s all just a point of view and comments and feedback would be more than welcome.

I don’t know if this will last long or get any interest at all from anyone, but I want to give it a go. I was surprised by how many page views this blog got whilst I was writing it, and whenever I’ve checked back in the years since I’ve been surprised by the steady amount of views it’s still been receiving despite laying dormant for all this time. It stands at over 33,000 page views in total which I’m amazed by, with a lot of that audience in other parts of Europe and the USA as well. Given all that I don’t feel like it would be right to delete this blog from existence, so I might as well have a go at writing posts for it again!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

FC Halifax Town 2 Stockport County 0

A win for Halifax in a fairly routine pre season friendly bar one incident - you can't look too much into friendlies but for what it's worth, Halifax look a pretty effective unit bar some defensive mistakes, and their new signings are already starting to slot in nicely - they're the favourites in the Conference North and there was nothing here to suggest they won't be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

Stockport meanwhile struggled near the bottom of the Conference last season, and did little attack-wise in the first half of this game but improved after the break. They'll need to improve this season else they could end up swapping divisions with Halifax - personally can see them settling into mid table this time round though.

So in the match, Halifax took the lead midway through the first half with a Seddon shot going through the goalkeeper's legs, and got the second goal late in the second half from a soft/dubious/laughable penalty.

The incident was towards the end of the first half - Dan Gardner, who'd looked very good for Halifax, was shaping up to play a pass, around 30 yards from goal. He sort of turned as he was passing, and it appeared that one foot seemed to stay stuck in the turf, as the rest of him turned and that leg didn't turn with him.. next second he was on the floor writhing in absolute agony - it looked very, very serious at that point.

He was stretchered off, but later a scan revealed he definitely hasn't broken anything. But he said in an interview that it was the worst pain he'd ever felt, and the worry for him could be that this could turn out to be ligament damage - which in terms of time out injured could turn out to be worse than a break ultimately!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Mossley 0 Oldham Athletic 3

I've learnt from previous years not to look too much into performances at friendlies - the main example from last year was when I saw Mossley beat Hyde, and on the day Mossley beat a disorganised, near-shambolic Hyde side. The obvious conclusion was that Hyde were going to be relegation strugglers. Fast forward to the end of the season, and Hyde were top of the Conference North by some distance, and mainly because they played as a super-organised unit.

So, I guess going off that I shouldn't be thinking 'here we go again' with Mossley after seeing them manage just a single shot in this entire match. A shot that cleared the stand and possibly even the school behind the stand. Yes they were missing some of their first team players and playing Oldham's full first team so the result was entirely expected, but it was the complete lack of attacking threat that was a disappointment.

Early on Oldham seemed to struggle with playing with a ground with a small fence on one side, as they managed to send the ball over it at least 5 times in the opening 10 minutes. When play was stopped for an injury Dickov brought his team over and had a word, and they stopped doing it from then on!

Shortly after Oldham got a (dodgy) penalty, and scored, and really they seized the initiative from there on in. They scored again at the start of the second half, and mainly bossed the game. Mossley finally had some solid spells of possession late on but still failed to create anything with it, and Oldham added a third goal right at the end. 

It was an easy and relaxed first run out for Oldham, so much so that they seemed to repeatedly switch off and give away possession in dangerous areas - fortunately for them Mossley were never actually going to manage to exploit any of these opportunities, so in truth it didn't really matter!

The positive for Mossley is that because they so much sat back and didn't at all make a contest out of it, the game was a manager's dream from Oldham's perspective - no risk of injuries, no risk of embarrassing loss to non league opposition. That means Oldham are likely to be more than happy to come back for another friendly next year - and with a crowd not too far short of 1000 at this game, financially this must be a big pre-season bonus for Mossley.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Best and Worst of 2011/12

So, unless today's torrential rain forces a postponement, tomorrow I'll be watching my first game of the 2012/13 season - albeit only a pre season friendly - (Mossley vs Oldham Athletic). So to draw the curtain on the last season, here's a quick 'bests and worsts' from all the grounds I visited during the course of it:

Noisiest atmosphere: For most of the season this was between Bolton and Sheffield United, and then on the final game of the season I went to the Galpharm Stadium, where the Huddersfield Town fans created a right racket for the majority of the match! Admittedly everyone was given a 'clapper' which certainly added to it, and it was a play off semi final, so I'll be interested to see in the coming season if they get close to that atmosphere in a normal match.

Best match: A tough one - I remember the second half of Manchester City vs Sporting Lisbon was very exciting, where City battled back from 3-0 behind on aggregate to bring it to 3-3 on aggregate, and then right at the end a last second Joe Hart header was narrowly pushed round the push, and the whistle went to sent Sporting through on away goals. It was a dramatic end and if that'd gone in that would've been an unbelievable moment. But I don't feel like it can be best as the first half was terrible!

I guess, and admittedly this is a highly biased choice, the most memorably exciting match was Bolton Wanderers 2 QPR 1. It had plenty of drama, and was to be mainly remembered in the media for QPR's goal that never was, but it was a riveting watch from start to finish. With the battle to stay up getting increasingly tight, this game had so much at stake, and it was Bolton leading 1-0 at half time, before Cisse grabbed a goal midway through the second half to make it 1-1.

Both teams had big opportunities to get the crucial win, and then in the 86th minute Klasnic was put through clean on goal... it was one of those moments where time seems to slow down, as he ran at the keeper and finally side-footed the ball towards goal and perfectly into the corner, and thus the Reebok Stadium erupted. Cue the most nail biting period of time added on I'd experienced in a long time!

Worst match: There were a couple of dismal Mossley games I put up with towards the beginning of the season, but in the preliminary round of the FA Cup, Mossley 0 Runcorn Linnets 0 was absolutely dire from start to finish. Now I enjoy following the FA Cup round by round where possible and was looking forward to seeing if my local team could get another run going, having got to the last stage before the 1st round the season before, but this was lifeless utter rubbish that completely went against the 'magic of the FA cup'. The replay was no better from a Mossley perspective, as they were dumped out 4-0 (remember this was against a team from the division below).

Best cheese and onion pie: By a country mile, Glossop North End. It was their steak pie that won an best football pie award a couple of years ago, but this one is ridiculously good.

Worst cheese and onion pie: Oldham Athletic. Their solution to how bad it is seems to be to give you something that's so ridiculously hot, you can't even taste it for a quarter of an hour after buying it. But, leave it to cool till it's edible, and you're left with mush in pastry!

Best league ground: With the Reebok Stadium a very close second, this goes to Man City's Etihad Stadium.

Best non league ground: I'm a big fan of Lancaster City's Giant Axe. It just has real character and a feel to it, which is added to with the backdrop of the train station and Lancaster Castle.

Worst league ground: Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park is looking dilapidated with it's missing stand and general lack of any refurbishment, it's a depressing mess at present.

Worst non league ground: Woodley Sports' Neil Rourke Stadium. (they've now renamed themselves to Stockport Sports having been knocked down a division because their ground didn't match the division's regulations). At the time I visited it was a plastic pitch in the middle of a building site on all sides, it was just a total mess. We'll see if they can developed it into something remotely respectable to match their ambitions.

Best goal: One of those frustrating non league moments where no one was filming so only the people at the match will ever see it - in the second minute of Chorley 2 Whitby Town 2, Jimmy Beadle gets the ball 40+ yards from goal with nothing on, and in a "what is he thinking?" moment, shapes to shoot. The ball goes high and then dips perfectly into the top right corner, impossible to stop.

Best moment: The minute's applause for Muamba at Bolton vs Blackburn. I think minute's silences/applause are overdone and frequently can feel forced and like they gain little, but complete with the stunning 'MUAMBA 6' mosaic and the ripples of chanting of his name, this really was one of those moments that lives with you and gives you goosebumps even when you look back on it months later.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bolton in the Championship

So despite Manchester City's dramatic late turnaround to beat QPR 3-2, Bolton finished just below QPR after drawing 2-2 away at Stoke, and thus Bolton were relegated. So how will the team I support fare in the Championship?

Within a week of being relegated, the sinking feeling was made all the worse for the fans. as Bolton were faced with the need to significantly cut the wage bill to cope with the sudden drop in income. 16 players either left or were released, including Jussi Jaaskelainen, Ricardo Gardner, Gretar Steinsson, Ivan Klasnic and Nigel Reo-Coker. Not only had some reliable first team regulars gone, there was also little or no squad depth left in several positions.

Bolton have lately brought in two players to begin to add more options, with Matt Mills added to their defence and Keith Andrews in midfield. To me these are strong signings at Championship level, and strong battling type players will add a backbone to the team and perhaps replace the likes of Nigel Reo-Coker and David Wheater (still with Bolton, but recovering from a major ligament injury).

The hope with Bolton is they have more luck with injuries this time round - with all the players to pick from, I'd be confident this team would be right near the top of the table all season. But another series of unlucky injuries would expose the gaps in squad depth.

Last time round, both Chung Yong Lee and Stuart Holden (arguably two of Bolton's best players) were pretty much out all season long with major injuries. Various other smaller injuries disrupted the team throughout the season, and of course I don't even need to say what happened to Fabrice Muamba. The hope is that Bolton were dealt such a bad hand in terms of luck last season, surely they're due some fortune this time round?

Anyway fixtures were announced a few weeks ago, and of all the games they could possibly start with, incredibly Bolton begin away at Burnley - a bit of a local rivalry to start with, but lately much more so since Owen Coyle moved from Burnley to become Bolton manager. Burnley, having started so well in the Premier League, went on to plummet down the table to relegation without Coyle, and have been stuck mid-table in the Championship since.

Burnley was an away trip I was pondering before the fixture announcement, but the home fans will be wound up given the circumstances and it being the opening fixture, and thus the idiots may also come along looking to cause trouble (and that's in both the home and away ends). I'm not sure if I'm looking into it too much or whether I'm just best giving this one a miss!

Whatever the result in this I feel the most important thing in the start of the new season will be the next two matches - at home to Derby County on Tuesday evening, and then Nottingham Forest on Friday evening (live on Sky). I say this as in previous seasons, the Reebok Stadium was widely seen as a difficult away game for many teams - there was a confidence that Bolton had at home that meant even major sides like Arsenal and Tottenham were intimidated into regularly losing/drawing there.

For once this didn't happen for Bolton last season, with just 4 wins from 19 home games. A poor start at home seemed to take away the confidence they'd built up over the seasons. But they've got the chance, in these difficult but potentially fairly attack-friendly opening home games, to make a statement to the other Championship clubs that the Reebok Stadium will be a really difficult away day for everyone. And of course some good early home performances can also lift the crowd to build up a big, noisy and potentially intimidating atmosphere for all visitors!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Football's almost back!

Summer is difficult when you're trying to keep a football blog up to date - do you leave it untouched for months and hope your viewers come back when the next season begins, or try to make posts with little to talk about and risk filling your blog with boring ramble?

Euro 2012 somewhat filled the gap between the seasons, and now with just over a month until the majority of the leagues begin, it's time for pre-season to start to kick in. Pre-season of course never compares to competitive football in terms of entertainment and atmosphere, but it can just be nice to be back at the grounds and enjoy the simple things you don't get from seeing it on tv.

For me a return to going to competitive matches happens before the new season starts however, as I'm at a couple of the Olympic football games at Old Trafford.  I've heard it all with the whole 'yeah but it's not taken seriously' 'it's mostly youth players so it'll be rubbish' etc, but for £20 for a ticket it seems well worth it to me.

First on the 29th July I see a double header in the group stages, Egypt vs New Zealand and Brazil vs Belarus (and seeing the Brazil team will contain the likes of Pato, Neymar, Hulk, Marcelo and Thiago Silva that seems an attractive prospect!).

Then on 4th August I see the first of the quarter finals, the winner of Group D vs the runner up of Group C. Group C is the four countries I mentioned above so it would be optimistic to think there'd be any chance of Brazil only being runners up, but Group D contains a strong Spain team (Mata, Alba, Martinez) so I've got my fingers crossed I'll be seeing them!

In the meantime I'll be at the local pre season matches, starting with Mossley vs Oldham Athletic this Wednesday at 7pm. As with last year Oldham are planning on taking their full first team, which is excellent for Mossley in terms of getting a decent crowd paying admission and buying food and drink - think I'll be getting one of their excellent cheese and onion pies too!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Galpharm Stadium - Huddersfield Town (pictures)

Pictures taken in the run-up, during and immediately after the end of Huddersfield Town vs Milton Keynes Dons from Tuesday evening. (including the fans on the pitch at the end, but was too high up to get a pic of Alan Smith fighting with fans!) Was an entertaining encounter and it's an excellent ground with some similarities to the Reebok Stadium. It's odd as you approach the stadium as you get close to it and then go downhill or down steps to get to it, making it difficult to get a picture from far away - as in the first pic below, the lower half of the ground is below the car park, so the ground looks small on the walk to it!

The Huddersfield fans were very loud, the atmosphere was intense, and that alone makes the ground worth a visit. Definitely thinking whoever wins the league one play off final (Sheffield United vs Huddersfield) will be at the top of my list of Bolton away matches to possibly go to next season, both stadiums are superb in different ways!

Britannia Stadium - Stoke City (pictures)

Pictures on Sunday in the run-up to Stoke City 2 Bolton Wanderers 2 are below. Got to the Britannia from the train station by walking along the canal by the way - it's a two and a half mile walk so not one to do in a rush, but canal leads to right next to the stadium so it's a very uncomplicated route, would recommend it to visiting fans.