Saturday 8th April 2022 3pm – Northern Premier League – Silverlands Stadium
On a day where a number of titles were being decided, the situation at the top of the Northern Premier League remained a tightly fought contest. After being denied promotion in the aborted 2019/20 season, South Shields would have hoped it would be third time lucky this time around but coming into the final two weeks of the season they were having to play the bridesmaids to Buxton.
In that 2019/20 season, Buxton were precariously sitting in 18th spot when the league was wiped from the records. Not that dissimilar to Lewes’ situation. Two years later they’ve been transformed into potential champions, having scored more and conceded less than anyone else in the Northern Premier League this season. With just four games to go and a two point lead to protect, the title race is likely to go down to the last week of the season.
There’s little not to like about Buxton. A picturesque market town, set in the stunning Derbyshire Dales. Two breweries, England’s oldest hotel, an opera house and of course a Non-League side with ambitions to play in the National League, who play in England’s highest ground, which has been in continual use since 1884, a year earlier than the Dripping Pan’s record.
In the hour before kick off we had sun, rain and snow but with a 3G pitch installed in 2018 there was never a doubt that the weather would impact the game. Pre-match preparations in the RedWillow Tap complete, we climbed up the hill to the ground, located at the far end of a residential street. With restrictions being lifted there’s no doubt that the facility has played a major part in their success this season, with the club delivering real community benefit.
The visitors from Lincolnshire arrived already knowing they would be playing at Step 4 next season, relegated a couple of weeks ago and on the back of a five game winless streak. Despite having the biggest stadium in the league, the 7,500 Kesteven Stadium, the locals haven’t flocked to watch them in recent years, with an average crowd of 268 and consequently, the away following heading to Derbyshire was small in number.
These games can often be banana-skins at this time of the year and had Shaw converted an early chance for the Gingerbread Men it may have been a different story but the home side made light work of the game, scoring three and perhaps disappointed they didn’t score more.
Buxton’s wide man Ash Chambers looked head and shoulders above the Grantham defence from the first minute. Chambers made his debut in the senior game for Leicester City at the age of 15 in a League Cup game back in 2005 and his intelligent off the ball movement was a constant threat, and it was no surprise when he put the hosts ahead in the 11th minute.
Ten minutes later and it was 2-0 when former Italian International at youth level Diego De Girolamo smashed the ball home from close range. Chambers thought he had a second himself a few minutes later but was ruled to have strayed offside.
Non-League football is a popular destination for stag do’s – tickets are cheap, beer is plentiful and clubs tend to be willing to support unusual requests. You can normally spot the stag in the crowd dressed as Minnie Mouse, or spirting a snug football kit. Today’s stag was dressed as Harry Potter, with comedian Joss Widdicombe as part of the group.
The second half was one way traffic. Buxton’s solid left back Sean Newton, on loan from York City, was a constant threat, marauding down the flank and it was from one of these runs that set up De Girolamo to score his second of the game that wrapped up the three points.
Easter Monday seems local rivals Matlock Town arrive at the Silverlands Stadium in a game that could decide the title. Over 500 tickets have been sold so far and the club will hope to match their 3,500+ crowd they got for the FA Cup 2nd Round game last year against Morecambe.
A few weeks ago Matlock were challenging for the title but one win in their last six games has seen them have to accept a play-off spot. Whatever the end of season brings the club off the pitch is certainly set up to host Step 2 should they win promotion.