Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Gillingham 5 Fleetwood Town 1

Match 26/15/1231 - Tuesday, 29th September 2015 - League One

Gillingham (4) 5 Donnelly 18,34 Houghton 28, Egan 31, McDonald 87
Fleetwood Town (1) 1 Grant 12
Attendance: 5,231

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 568/1,600

Match Report

Bouncebackability is a cumbersome word that was invented (if that is what happens to words) by then Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie and picked up by Sky's Soccer AM who promoted it to the extent that within a year it appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. Gillingham needed all of their bouncebackability to the put the disappointment of successive defeats on the road behind them, and after a shaky start, they did it in an emphatic manner.

The winter nights are drawing closer and there was a definite need for the heavier coat for the first time this season. A first glance at the away end seemed to signal that nobody from Fleetwood had bothered to make the long trip down, but, in fact, 37 hardy souls had made the journey and were accommodated in the Gordon Road Stand.

Those supporters were cruelly rewarded for the efforts with an abject defensive display that signalled the end of Graham Alexander’s tenure the following day.

It would be churlish to criticise Gillingham on a night in which they scored five goals to maintain their third place in League One, but in truth, they only excelled for about 20 minutes in this game, but what a spell that was!

After an early save by Fleetwood’s goalkeeper, Chris Maxwell, from a Jordan Houghton shot on goal, it was the visitors who dominated the opening stages. They eventually went ahead on 12 minutes when a whipped free kick into the box from Bobby Grant was deflected into his own net off the head of Brennan Dickenson.

It was the shock needed to spark the home side into life and within six minutes they were level. Ryan Jackson’s trademark long throw was met at the near post by Houghton whose header to the far post was met by Rory Donnelly, who swept the ball into the bottom corner.

In the 28th minute, Gillingham began a seven minute spell that devastated the Cod Army. Grant should have put Fleetwood back in front when he headed over before Jackson surged down the right wing to cross for Houghton to head into the bottom corner.

Two became three within three minutes with the ball nestling in the same corner of net for a third time. A free kick into the box found John Egan who was afforded time and space to turn and shoot past the bewildered Maxwell.

The third in seven glorious minutes took your breath away. If it had been in the Premiership we would be watching it for weeks. A Fleetwood attack was broken down with an interception by Doug Loft who played the ball towards the centre circle to Donnelly whose turn of speed took him between two defenders with another trailing in his wake as ran 40 yards with the ball at his feet. As Maxwell advanced from his line, from 20 yards, Donnelly produced the most audacious of chips to earn the rapturous acclaim from the Gillingham faithful.

As so often happens when one side establishes a big first half lead, the second half died on its feet. With ten minutes remaining, Fleetwood’s night went from bad to worse with the dismissal of Eggert Jonsson for a second bookable offence and after 85 minutes, Cody McDonald finally found a goal when he fired past Maxwell from the edge of the box. Stuart Nelson’s full length of the field run to join the celebration showed how much the end of the striker’s drought meant to everybody.

The sponsors, who hardly ever look beyond a great goal for their man of the match award, made the superb choice of Jordan Houghton as their recipient for a fine performance. What a boost for the club it will be if, in January, Gillingham are able to extend his loan to the end of the season. Let’s hope Chelsea’s results improve and Jose doesn’t need his services!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Leiston 3 Tonbridge 1

Match 25/15/1230 - Saturday, 25th September 2015 - FA Cup 2QR

Leiston (1) 3 Jefford 17, Sands 48,73
Tonbridge (1) 1 Phipp 2
Attendance: 212

Entrance: £7 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 248/1,544
New Ground: 281

Match Report

Somewhere upstairs the God of the FA Cup looks down and makes his choices as to who benefits from Lady Luck. Through the mists of time, Tonbridge must have really pissed him off, Tonbridge and the FA Cup go together like chalk and cheese. A year ago at Redhill I was labouring the same old story, sometimes it is misfortune, other times Tonbridge need no intervention from above, they can mess it up all of their own accord.

This latest exit, at the hands of a newly acquired bogey team, Leiston, was not unexpected, and it has to be said, the home side were deserving of their victory, but, once again, it was laced with misfortune.

On arrival at Victory Road, home of the Suffolk-based hosts, I was greeted with a warm welcome and was immediately taken with the beautiful playing surface. There was a nice sized clubhouse but the rest of the facilities were a bit sparse. A small seating enclosure straddles the half-way line opposite the clubhouse and behind one goal there is what can best be described as a bus stop. On the clubhouse house side there is a further length of covered terracing.

The Tonbridge line-up revealed the absence of Tommy Parkinson, a loss of one of their most influential midfielders.

Tonbridge's FA Cup misery was encapsulated within the opening two minutes of the game. They started brightly with an encouraging surge forward from James Folkes that signalled intent. The ball was recycled to Lee Carey who planted a sublime cross to the far post that met the head of Tom Phipp who gave the goalkeeper no chance. Immediately, there was distressed signals to the sidelines as Nicky Wheeler and the goalkeeper urgently summoned the medical team. Initially, from my position I thought that Phipp had collided with the post as he landed but it was far more serious than that. He was heard from behind the goal saying that his knee had "popped". A five minute delay ensued whilst his knee was encased in a splint and stretchered away.

So, having been shorn of one midfielder before the start, now they were two light in a matter of minutes. Sadly, worse was to follow.

Tommy Whitnell replaced Phipp, and for a while they appeared to make light of the setback. But, in the 17th minute a free kick floated to the far post was met with a towering header from the Leiston skipper, Joe Jefford. It was a set piece that, in truth, was poorly defended by the Angels.

Ashlee Jones, the Leiston keeper who was ultimately handed the man of the match accolade, did well to tip over an effort from Wheeler and was grateful when a shot from Nathan Elder was steered into his hands.

Just prior to the break, Whitnell fell to the ground and was unable to continue. The Tonbridge midfield had now been almost totally decimated.

In the time added on at the end of the first half, Anthony Di Bernardo made a magificent, low diving save to turn to safety a shot from Jefford.

The second half was always going to be an uphill task for the visitors and it became a mountain after just two minutes. Elder was robbed in the centre of the field, I say robbed but he was clearly fouled. Leon Ottley-Gooch strode forward into the huge gap that had opened up in front of him, rode a couple of insipid challenges and as Di Bernardo advanced he unselfishly passed to his right to allow John Sands the luxury of an open goal to touch the ball into.

A fine move after 72 minutes cut through the Tonbridge defence with a cross from the right finding Sands to steer home the decisive goal.

Tonbridge pressed on in the final minutes attempting to retrieve a hopeless situation and Jones produced a flying save from a deflected shot that probably influenced the sponsors decision for man of the match. He was one of the most vocal goalkeepers I've come across, giving a virtual tactical commentary.

Reading this back, perhaps disappointment got in the way of balance, that is the curse of the FA Cup. It has been with me for 43 years and I fear it will never leave me.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Tunbridge Wells 4 Holmesdale 3

Match 24/15/1229 - Tuesday, 22nd September 2015 - Southern Counties East

Tunbridge Wells (3) 4 Fernandes og 16, Seenan 21, Springett og 44, Cooke 90+6
Holmesdale (1) 3 McKenna 2,55,86
Attendance: 148

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 36/1,296

Match Report

The early morning walk for my dog was a swim for her in places and left me with the thought that there was no way I would be watching football at Tunbridge Wells that evening. So it is a great credit, acknowledged by the stadium announcer, to Brian and Mick who worked all day in an effort to get this matched played. It is, perhaps, also a vindication of the money spent on the verti-draining of the pitch during the summer.

Those groundmen must have been holding their heads in despair when, with a couple of minutes remaining, Tunbridge Wells’ goalkeeper, Steve Lawrence made an absolute rick of an over hit cross to seemingly hand Holmesdale a point.

But, somewhere upstairs, it was decided that their efforts should not go unrewarded and with the virtual last kick (actually a header) of the match, Ollie Cooke rescued the three points for the home side.

Holmesdale opened the game with a goal with just two minutes on the clock. Awarded a free kick, 25 yards out, Michael McKenna curled a beautifully flighted shot past the despairing dive of Lawrence. The visitors continued to belie their lowly league position as the Wells struggled to find their own game.

Tunbridge Wells equalised after 16 minutes and went on to produce a first half display that was the best I’ve seen from them this season. Chris Seenan sent Lee Radford away down the left hand side and, cutting into the penalty area, the winger drove in a shot that found the net via a deflection. Officially, the goal was credited against Jamie Fernandes, but I think it was harsh to take it away from Radford as his shot looked on target.

Having found their passing game, and with Radford having a stormer, the Wells took the lead after 21 minutes. Once again, Seenan fed Radford, who rounded his marker and crossed into the box where Seenan had continued his run to touch in from six yards.

The outlet almost bore fruit once more four minutes later when Radford’s cross to the far post saw Seenan narrowly send a header wide.

Just before the break a half-cleared corner fell at the feet of Seenan, whose shot took another wicked deflection to nestle in the net for a 3-1 half-time lead. Once again, officially, the goal was credited as an own goal from Paul Springett.

Such was Tunbridge Wells’ first half dominance it could only be expected that they would go on to win handsomely but this notion was dispelled 10 minutes into the half when a 30 yard strike from McKenna whistled into the top corner.

Gary Beckett limped away from the action and Radford was asked to fill in at full back and, with the move, Tunbridge Wells lost all their momentum. They created the odd half-chance but their football was nowhere near as free flowing as that of the first half.

The unthinkable was suddenly on the cards when with five minutes remaining, McKenna floated a cross to the far post, it was over hit, but Lawrence only managed to palm the ball into his own net when a catch didn’t seem out of the question. For McKenna, had the result stayed the same, it was a night he could only dream of, three goals from a total of around 85 yards.

But his night was only to be a personal success as, deep into injury time, Jamie Lawrence threw one last cross into the box from a corner and Cooke rose to bury his header.

Much though I've laboured the point about one club with money tending to run away with this league, this season appears different. For all their resources, the likes of Ashford and Greenwich are hardly better placed than the Wells with Hollands and Blair and Lordswood unexpectedly leading the field. Tunbridge Wells, six points adrift, can join the chasers with a decent run and this season with no team outstanding must represent a great opportunity.

Perhaps the doubt of the match going ahead contributed to the below average attendance of 148, but they went home happy with both the result and the entertainment. The groundsmen also departed happy with the knowledge that their pitch had passed a severe test.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Colchester United 2 Gillingham 1

Match 23/15/1228 - Saturday, 19th September 2015 - League One

Colchester United (2) 2 Massey 4, Harriott 28
Gillingham (1) 1 Norris 7
Attendance: 4,694

Entrance: £17 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 140/1,260

Match Report

It had to happen sometime, Gillingham's upbeaten run in League One wasn't going to last forever and as this was my first away game of the season it leaves a few jinx fingers pointing in my direction.

Whether Gillingham have faced a team away from home this season that played with two out-and-out wingers I don't know but in the first half they had no answer to the pace and width of Gavin Massey and Callum Harriott, with Massey, in particular, giving Brennan Dickenson a torrid time.

Gillingham could not have started better and just 90 seconds had elapsed when Cody McDonald fastened onto a Luke Norris header only to see his shot from around the penalty spot strike a post.

But it was the wing play of the Colchester duo that combined after three minutes to create the opening goal. Harriott was sent clear down the left hand side and as Gillingham's back line stretched to counteract the width, Massey was left on his own on the opposite side of the pitch. When the ball reached him, he picked his spot to shoot past Stuart Nelson to stun the 1,171 visiting fans assembled behind that goal.

It was not long before those fans were celebrating an equaliser. Norris and McDonald combined to open up a one-on-one shooting opportunity for Norris, which he gleefully struck past Colchester's Jamie Jones.

The game became very open as Gillingham struggled to combat Colchester's width, but equally capitalised on the space offered by playing such a game, and the chances continue to fall to both sides.

In the frentic pace of the game, referee Breakspear started to take centre stage and by the 25th minute had two players from each side in his book.

After 28 minutes, the home side restored their lead. Gillingham had opportunities to launch the ball to safety but persistence on the bye-line allowed a cut back to Harriott who drilled a well struck shot into the far corner.

Gillingham were offered the chance of another quick response after 34 minutes when Frankie Kent was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. McDonald, a striker in need of a goal, stepped foward but his firmly hit shot straight down the middle was saved as the ball cannoned off the chest of Jones, for this second penalty save in a week.

The second half was not as open as the manager's made tactical adjustments during the break. Dickenson, on a booking, was withdrawn as Justin Edinburgh replaced him with a natural full back in Bradley Garmston.

Despite the merits of the wingers, it was Jones who eventually took the honour of the man of the match with further saves to deny a one-on-one with Jordan Houghton and smothering the follow-up from McDonald.

In a final assault on the home goal, Rory Donnelly shot wide and Norris saw his goalbound shot blocked as Jones and his defence just about held firm.

Gillingham slipped to third in the table, but realistically are still ahead of where most expected them to be after eight games.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Folkestone Invicta 1 Tonbridge 2

Match 22/15/1227 - Tuesday, 15th September 2015 - FA Cup PRR

Folkestone Invicta (0) 1 Miller 48
Tonbridge (0) 2 Elder 67, 74
Attendance: 365

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 73/1,120

Match Report

Given Tonbridge’s FA Cup history over the last 40 years or more, there were very good reason to have some serious misgivings about a draw against the Ryman South league leaders, Folkestone Invicta, would really should be a Premier league club by now, having reached and failed to emerge from the end-of-season play-offs for the last three seasons.

Whilst away in New York, I was rather concerned to hear, via the mobile phone, that Tonbridge had gone behind in the initial game and it was a good seven hours later before, with some relief, I discovered that they had, at least, forced a replay.

Cheriton Road, or the Fullicks Stadium in its sponsored guise, has turned itself 180 degrees since my last visit. The gales of the Christmas period of 2013 caused irreparable damage to the old Wilf Amory stand and after its demolition the seats were transferred to the opposite side of the pitch and installed into the Brian Merryman stand. In its place, the club has built a good length of uncovered terracing. The old low covered terracing behind the Cheriton End remains.

Tonbridge suffered an early scare when Ashley Miller burst through their defence only to see his shot turned away from the line by Sonny Miles. Miller was a livewire throughout and despite it being against my club it was good to see the player in such dangerous form as his career has rather stalled since his release from Gillingham. At 21, he still has time on his side to make an impact in the non-league game and perhaps return to the Football League and he has one of the best managers in Kent football than Neil Cugley to encourage his development.

Tonbridge recovered from their early scare and although the game ebbed and flowed, it was the visitors that created the better chances. Nathan Elder, returning from suspension, headed over and a succession of shots on goal sailed harmlessly over the bar. Tom Phipp sent a header over the bar from a Nicky Wheeler corner for the best opportunity of the half.

Tonbridge fell behind early in the second half when Miller capitalised on a slip by Jerrome Sobers, taking the ball around a couple of defenders before calmly slotting past the goalkeeper.

The visitors reacted in the best possible manner and immediately dominated from midfield with Phipp, in particular, driving them forward. In the 67 minute, Elder converted a Wheeler corner with a header from close range and seven minutes later the big striker's welcome back was complete when he latched onto the perfect through ball from Phipp to shoot past the Folkestone goalkeeper.

In the closing minutes, Anthony Di Bernado denied the home side their shot at extra time when he saved brilliantly from Carl Rook to preserve the Angels advantage in a well fought game.

Apart from the prize money of £3,000, a trip to the Suffolk coast to the home of Leiston was the perhaps not quite so welcome reward.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

New York Red Bulls 3 Chicago Fire 2

Match 21/15/1226 - Friday, 11th September 2015 - Major League Soccer

New York Red Bulls (2) 3 B. Wright-Phillips 28, Grella 38,
Kljestan 70 (pen)

Chicago Fire (2) 2 Larowentowicz 13 (pen), Accam 26
Attendance: 17,184

Entrance: $80
Programme: None
Mileage: 41/1,047 (from hotel)
New Ground: 279
Grounds Abroad: 38

Match Report

My apologies in advance if the following post turns into a travelogue rather than the usual afternoon at the football. As said in the previous posting this trip to New York was to celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary and being a sports-loving couple we were to take in a day at the US Open Tennis at Flushing Meadow and a game at the Red Bull Arena, tickets kindly paid for by my brother and his wife.

As far as the tennis goes, Andy Murray rather spoilt the plans by getting knocked out before the quarter finals, but we had a great day watching two very good ladies’ singles quarter finals on the main Arthur Ashe Court and a set of Stan Wawrinka, who after a rain delay was moved to the Louis Armstrong. Flushing Meadow is a very different experience to that of Wimbledon, but I love them both in their different ways.

I chose the New York Red Bulls as the team to visit as they play their home games in a soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey rather than the baseball home of the New York Yankees and Frank Lampard’s New York City. On the return journey from the Red Bull Arena, we spent a pleasant 20 minutes on the subway discussing football matters with a knowledgeable young man, who (as a Red Bulls fan) found the Manchester City owned New York City cash-laden model rather distasteful, ringing bells of the Premier League. The lad was very aware of financial troubles that had befallen the likes of Portsmouth and questioned the sustainability of New York City without instant success.

The day of the game was the 14th anniversary of 9/11 and it started by watching on television the reading of the victims’ names by an adult and a child (that was often unborn in 2001) until they got to their relative when they were allowed to make their own tribute. We had been to the memorial the previous day and found it very moving, somewhat upsetting, but the children reading their tributes brought a significant lump to the throat. An aside that moved me to Twitter was that at 08:46, the time the first plane hit the Tower, the bells of churches were to ring out across the city. We went outside of our hotel to listen and could not hear a thing with the traffic continuing to move. My tweet to the mayor of NYC suggested that every traffic light be turned to red for just a few seconds to allow the bells to peel and be heard.

The journey down to Harrison took us down the World Trade Center where we changed trains, this was to be to our benefit after the match as we were able to re-visit the Memorial and see the twin beams rising into the sky.

The Red Bull Arena can be seen from the train as Harrison is approached. Considering the stadium has been open since 2010, the surrounding area remains something of a scrub-land awaiting further development. But inside of the stadium’s perimeter the place comes to life with loud (very loud) music and family-orientated facilities. Sadly, the traditional, at least to the English, matchday programme was a non-runner which was irritating given my unfamiliarity with the teams.

The Red Bulls came into the game in second place in their Division trailing New England Revolution but with the opportunity to go top with a win in this game against the bottom-placed Chicago Fire. With a successful team to follow it was disappointing that at kick-off the 25,000-capacity stadium appeared barely half-full. The attendance eventually grew to 17,000-plus with people still arriving a couple of minutes before half-time, all very strange!

The Red Bulls supporters behind one of the goals generated a fantastic atmosphere. They had a mixture of familiar songs from the English leagues, some that had been long archived. They were whipped up by a drummer in each of the sections and a choirmaster, so it was somewhat orchestrated but nonetheless they kicked up a din and kept it going continuously. Their rendition of the Beatles Twist and Shout was highly amusing with the accompanying hand movements. The only thing lacking from the atmosphere was a presence of away fans to create some banter.

A stirring unfurling of a giant Stars and Stripes and a magnificent rendition of the anthem was the pre-cursor to the teams taking the field. The only familiar name on the Chicago roster was that of the head coach, Frank Yallop who made the best part of 400 appearances for Ipswich Town. The significant names on the Red Bulls team sheet were that of the Wright-Phillips brothers, Bradley and Shaun. Whilst Bradley is seemingly the darling of the Red Bulls with his name decorating many of the supporters’ shirts, Shaun is still getting splinters in his behind only coming from the bench for the final few minutes. Nothing much seems to have changed since his Queens Park Rangers days.

As the game took shape, I would class it as around Championship standard, although some of the first half defending would have been seen as a shambles in the Ryman Premier.

The Red Bulls were stunned to find themselves two goals down after 26 minutes. The home side simply had no answer to the electric place of David Accam, a Ghanian international who plied his trade in England with the illustrious names of Ledbury Town and Evesham United before departing our shores for Sweden where he made is name at Helsingborg.

The opening goal after 14 minutes came from the penalty spot after a foul just inside the left hand side of the box. Jeff Larentowicz calmly shooting home. After 26 minutes, even the vibrant noise behind the goal was brought to silence by a goal stunning both in its creation and the ineptness of the Red Bulls defending.

A long punt out of defence saw Accam surging clear of a pedestrian central defence before selling the goalkeeper a dummy and rolling the ball into an empty net. Undoubtedly, it was a brilliant individual goal, but, oh dear, the defending!

To their credit, the Red Bulls came immediately storming back and halved the deficit within a couple of minutes. Bradley Wright-Phillips received a defence-splitting pass and poked a shot past the goalkeeper, although we had suspicions that the defender making a desperate challenge had the last touch. But in the Red Bulls Arena, nobody is going to take a goal away from Bradley.

Before half-time, the home side were level with more disastrous defending at the heart of the action. A pass from Lloyd Sam, once of Charlton Athletic, found Mike Grella who was given time and space to turn and shoot past the Chicago keeper from inside the six yard box.

A thoroughly entertaining first half for the neutral but one that must have left both Yallop and the Red Bulls coach, Jesse Marsh, shaking their heads. Their talk in the break had the desired effect and the second half saw a far better display of defending.

The Red Bulls eventually won the game with a penalty won by Sam. Sacha Kljestan converting and eventually collecting the man of the match award for his midfield display. Personally, I could not see past the Red Bulls’ Michael “Dax” McCarty, an American midfielder who has spent his entire career in the MLS.

Earlier, and later, in the week we experienced in the sport bar close to our hotel the passion for baseball and, especially, the New York Mets, who are on a fantastic roll to the end of season play-offs. But we witnessed in New Jersey, that there is a growing appetite for soccer and a good standard at that. Let us not forget that just last season, Thierry Henry was gracing the Red Bull Arena.

I will be watching the Red Bulls progress in the upcoming play-offs with great interest, and dare I say, a level of affection for the club.

Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 0

Match 20/15/1225 - Saturday, 5th September 2015 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Hessenthaler 66
Doncaster Rovers (0) 0
Attendance: 5,685

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/1,006

Match Report

Forty years is a long time married and deserving of a celebration and it was to New York that we were bound to mark the occasion. But first there was football to clear and considering we were due to leave home not much more than hour after full-time, it speaks volumes of the good lady’s patience that I was seating in my seat for this game.

To lead the table at any time during the season requires a number of factors. The most obvious is, of course, a winning team and the confidence it brings but the undefined factor is lady luck. Gillingham have made it too the summit of League One with a great work ethic, team spirit and the goals of Bradley Dack. But this game against Doncaster Rovers, they also enjoyed the rub of the green as a single, disputed goal saw them to another three points and remain undefeated.

If there was good fortune to come, it didn’t appear so prior to kick off with three of the regular back four missing, Brennan Dickenson, John Egan and Deji Oshilaja all failing fitness tests. The returning captain and midfielder, Doug Loft, was called upon to form a central defensive partnership with Max Ehmer and did an admirable job.

The first half was one of few chances, probably the best of which fell to Rovers’ striker Curtis Main with Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson advancing from his goal to block his effort.

There was a further scare early in the second half when it appeared Ryan Jackson had tripped Cedric Evina in the box but the referee waved away the visitor’s appeals.

Gillingham’s stroke of luck came on 66 minutes. A shot from substitute Jake Hessenthaler was cleared from the line by Doncaster’s Mitchell Lund, the rebound was returned and once more the goalbound shot was cleared but a linesman’s flag was already indicating that the original shot had crossed the line and the goal was given. Was it in? Initially I thought it was the second effort that had counted, a couple of Rainham Enders said it was well over, video evidence wasn’t quite so convincing, albeit the camera angle was poor.

Gillingham gave me a great send-off; New York can do the rest.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Croydon 2 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 19/15/1224 - Wednesday, 2nd September 2015 -
FA Cup Prelininary Round Replay

Croydon (0) 2 Toney 49, Hudson 86
Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Parsons 76
Attendance: 110

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 88/950
New Ground: 278

Match Report

It seemed appropriate that in an arena principally set up for athletics a couple of real flyers led a pedestrian Tunbridge Wells defence a merry dance to emerge the winners of this FA Cup tie.

Prior to kick off thunder rumbled around the Croydon Arena, but no lightning was seen until Lauris Chin showed a clean pair of heels to his opposing full back as a early warning to the visitors.

On Monday, whilst Croydon opted to postpone a local derby against Croydon Athletic, Tunbridge Wells decided to play their Southern Counties East game against the league leaders Corinthian. I can only think they are questioning that decision as they looked "leggy", whilst I'm sure 90 minutes on Monday would have taken something out of the legs of the hosts, especially on a pitch with grass that was too long and an uneven bounce.

Over the two matches, Tunbridge Wells have come up against a goalkeeper of significant potential. Francis Ameyaw kept Croydon in the tie on Saturday with a series of good saves and made several more in this replay to see his club over the winning line.

The first half was far from entertaining fare with very few chances created by either side. Tunbridge Wells started well with an 8th minute Jason Barton header tipped over the bar by Ameyaw from a corner. The following corner brought another save by the goalkeeper at his near post.

Despite their threatening pace on the counter attack, Croydon didn’t really create anything of note in the opening 45 minutes; a couple of comfortable saves for Steve Lawrence was as much as they could muster.

Ameyaw, however, was called into action once more after 34 minutes. A mistake in the box allowed Andy Irvine to pull a pass back from the bye-line to Brett Ince whose shot towards to bottom corner was turned away by the goalkeeper.

Croydon were in front in the second period before some of the supporters had collected their half-time tea. A superb pass from Karl Douglin cut the Wells open to put Tristan Toney through to finish clinically from the edge of the box with a shot into the top corner.

Tunbridge Wells reacted positively, after 52 minutes, Lee Radford (a waste a full back, in my opinion) got in a great cross from the left, but Irvine failed to connect and from a corner, Barton headed the ball forward to a position in front of goal, but Joe Fuller failed to get the ball out from under his feet.

Just past the hour mark, Croydon had a breakaway attack that led to Lawrence's poor clearance falling at the feet of Douglin, but the striker’s effort at an empty goal was well wide from 35 yards.

The Wells were knocking the door. Ameyaw tipped over an Izzy Izokun header; Fuller headed narrowly over and Irvine rounded the keeper and crossed with no one on hand to supply a finish.

The goal the visitors deserved finally arrived on 72 minutes when substitute Ian Parsons curled in a shot from the left hand side of the box after good linking between Radford and Irvine.

The impetus was with the Wells but with five minutes remaining Croydon delivered the knock-out punch. Toney sped away down the right side but his cross only found the Tunbridge Wells defender Gary Beckett, whose sliced clearance returned the ball to Toney, who this time passed across the face of goal to Jermaille Hudson who finished well into the bottom corner from just outside the box.

Three fine finishes and two good goalkeeping performances over both legs of the tie gave Croydon the right to host Molesey in the next round and collect the £1,925 prize money.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Tonbridge 7 VCD Athletic 0

Match 18/15/1223 - Monday, 31st August 2015 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (3) 7 Phipp 9, Wheeler 28, 68 (pen), Webster 37,
Whitnall 73, Elder 80, Parkinson 88

VCD Athletic (0) 0
Attendance: 516

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 38/862

Match Report

Walking away from Longmead, I joked with a fellow Angels’ supporter that if we could find somebody to put the ball in the net we would have a damn good team. The comment referred back to pre-season fears about the lack of a recognised goalscorer. So, here we are at the end of August, the opposition net has been found 23 times in seven league games and of the last four games, three have yield a four, a five and in this game, VCD were the unfortunate victims as seven found their way past their goalkeeper, Robb Budd.

VCD, it has to be said, were not good and Kevin McMahon faces an uphill task in the coming months to keep the Crayford side in the Ryman Premier League. But let’s not take anything from Tonbridge, it was not as if VCD went down to 9 or 10 men and to their credit they, in an inept way at times, kept battling until the final whistle. But the Angels gave a complete team performance, with Nick Wheeler and Charlie Webster offering width and delivery that was a delight to watch.

Wheeler’s individual performance in particular was one of the best that I have witnessed at Longmead in many a year with two goals, four assists and a minor contribution to the other goal. The man of the match award raised a quizzical eyebrow with the announcement of Nathan Elder. The big man was very instrumental with his hold-up play and a goal, but for me, it had to be Wheeler.

Tonbridge opened the scoring after nine minutes. Elder collected the ball from just beyond the half-way line and sent Wheeler away with a pass towards the bye-line. The winger crossed to the penalty spot from where Tom Phipp placed a header past Budd, who probably should have done better.

The home side’s expansive game was causing VCD endless problems and before the half-hour mark, Tonbridge doubled their lead. A free kick taken by Anthony Di Bernado, was headed on by Elder into the path of Luke Blewden. A challenge saw the ball back at the feet of Elder who picked out a pass for Wheeler to side-step his marker and drive home his shot.

McMahon reacted immediately and withdrew two of his players including a full back that had been led a merry dance.

A third goal before the break saw Wheeler cross into the box after an initial cross had been returned to him. The second attempt found Tom Parkinson, whose goalwards header was turned in by Webster from close range.

The only downside of the afternoon from a Tonbridge perspective was an injury to Phipp a couple of minutes before the break. A rampaging run through the centre of the field was ended when he was brought to the ground by a desperate challenge, incurring a heavy knock to the ankle.

The was no respite for VCD as Tonbridge continued their assault on the visitor’s goal in the second half. The score became 4-0 after 68 minutes when substitute Tommy Whitnell was pushed in the back as he collected a Jack Parter cross leaving the referee little option but to point to the penalty spot. With neither Blewden, who had been substituted for Whitnall, or Phipp on the pitch, Wheeler stepped forward to fire his spot kick past the despairing dive of Budd.

Four quickly became five when a Wheeler corner dropped in the six yard box with Whitnall the quickest to react to stab the ball home.

Elder got the deserved reward of the sixth goal converting Wheeler’s right-sided free kick with a powerful header from inside the six yard box. The big man is now sidelined for three games as the suspension for his sending-off at Bogor Regis kicks in.

The final goal, before the referee blew his whistle to end VCD’s embarrassment, came with a couple of minutes remaining. A cross from Parter was met with another powerful header, this time from Parkinson, to complete a glorious afternoon for the Angels.

A respectable attendance of 516 patronised Longmead on a weather-threatening Bank Holiday Monday. Hopefully word is going to get out that this is a Tonbridge team that is an exciting watch and well worth turning out for.