Thursday, 21 August 2008

Wrexham 2-0 Oxford, Blue Square Premier, 21 August 2008

Thursday night on Setanta is often Blue Square Premier League night. Live football from the fifth tier of England's pyramid. I've got a lot of time for the Conference (which I'm going to call it from now on), as Morecambe are only in their second season in the league above, and I enjoyed our time there - visits to small grounds and friendly fans, you're usually able to go wherever you like in the ground without segregation and best of all, most of the grounds still have terracing.

Setanta covered something like 78 live matches last season, and I think are doing about 60 matches this season in an attempt to try and appease fans as 60 live matches means 60 matches moved from their usual Saturday 3pm kick-off, which limits the amount of fans that are able to go if it means a long journey after work. Reaction has mainly been positive from those who have bothered to watch it (if you ignore the comments about it being like pub football from the Premier League fanboys) as the quality of the football can be quite skillful, and the matches are often entertaining as there is not the gulf in class that exists in the top flight, so most teams are capable of taking points off each other. Added to that, the Setanta
aim to bring the experience closer with cameras in the dressing room, and a roving reporter moving around the room giving guerilla interviews to fans and the managers. It's a great idea as it trys to capture the intimacy of football at that level. I've seen viewing figures reported at 100,000 for some matches, which is pretty credible for football at this level.

Part of me would have liked Setanta to be around when Morecambe were still in the Conference - increased chance of catching away matches and a proper highlights program, but it undoubtedly causes disruption for some of the "big" teams at that level. Well supported teams such as Torquay, Oxford and Wrexham are bigger draws than Altrincham so they tend to pop up more often, and more matches moved means more matches fans mightn't be able to get to. There doesn't seem to be a real pattern to matches they broadcast - for instance, showing Torquays match away at Altrincham could draw a big TV audience amongst Torquay fans, but the match choice is much more random than that.

The large terrace behind one of the goals is empty, as it was when I visited with Morecambe last season. However, I don't think it's been condemned, as I have seen it in use occasionally when watching match highlights on TV. I think it's a shame that people are forced to sit when terracing is available, but I suppose it congregates the support into a smaller area, which should have a positive affect on the atmosphere.

Both teams have been involved in high scoring matches in their opening few Conference games, which is usually a sign that the match will end up goalless, although thankfully not on this occasion. Decent opening skirmishes, with Oxford being reduced to 10 men early on after a red card following a professional foul. Wrexham missed the resultant penalty. Wrexham kept going and after sustained pressure, they finally took the lead through Welsh international (not a phrase you hear often in the Conference) Steve Evan's header from a corner. After another good chance from Kempson near the end of the first half, the game fizzled out a little in the second half as Wrexham struggled to continue to create chances against a well-organised Oxford side. Jefferson Louis nicked a goal at the death with a well taken solo goal.

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