Sunday, 31 January 2016

Maidstone United U16 2 Tonbridge U16 1

Match 64/15/1269 - Sunday, 31st January 2016 - Causeway Steel Cup QF

Maidstone United U16 (0) 2
Tonbridge U16 (1) 1
Attendance: Est. 100

Entrance: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 19/4,850

I've watched the results of Tonbridge's U16 with interest as they have put together a fine season so far, topping their Division of the Ryman Youth League with a single defeat. So faced with an aimless Sunday morning, what better opportunity than to watch them against the old enemy at the Gallagher.

This, being my first dip into Under-16s football, meant that I had little knowledge of either team, or its standard. To this end, the game was very watchable. Unfortunately with no team sheet, my observations would have been nameless but for information gathered after the event.

The attendance of around a hundred was made up by Mum's and Dad's, those tireless people who ferry their sons (and daughters) to training and matches. On this occasion, I would say that probably the Mum's held a small majority.

Over the course of the match, Tonbridge were by far the better side, but the old maxim of failing to take their chances can come back to haunt you, proved their undoing as a reslient Maidstone side scored two second half goals to progress to the semi-finals.

Upfront, for the Angels, Jack Cussens and Guy Taylor had too much pace for the Maidstone back line but time and time again chances were spurned until the two combined to put the visitors in front after 24 minutes.

Over-committing in search of a second goal, Tonbridge were caught on the break and with 15 minutes remaining the Maidstone number 10 was sent clear to score an equaliser and with a few minutes remaining a scrambled shot squirmed under the Tonbridge goalkeeper to give the home side an unlikely victory.

At the end of the day, this was far more enjoyable than a morning hoovering, although my penance was, indeed, the hoover!

Beckenham Town 2 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 63/15/1268 - Saturday, 30th January 2016 - Southern Counties East

Beckenham Town (0) 2 Alobiosu 52 Humphries 83
Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Crandley 24
Attendance: 210

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 85/4,831

Match Report

2:35 pm is not the time to be forced to change direction and hot foot it to another game.

Listening to the rain beating against the office windows throughout the night in Bermondsey left me with grave doubts that my Saturday afternoon would be spent at Longmead watching Tonbridge in action against the Metropolitan Police. But, checking Facebook, etc., as soon as I got up, it seemed that a successful forking of the pitch had taken place and the game was declared on. Leaving home just before 2 p.m., one last check continued to say game on. But, as I pulled into Longmead's car park, Radio Kent were reporting the game's postponement. Five minutes into my journey, the referee had changed his mind with one area of the pitch was deemed unplayable.

The satnav was quickly booted up and it predicted an arrival at Beckenham's Eden Park Avenue at 3:20. Seventy minutes football is better than none, so up the A21 I headed.

Last Saturday's heavy home defeat to AFC Croydon had left much soul searching on and off the field at Culverden Stadium and heralded another week of comings and goings highlighted by the departure of club stalwart Joe Fuller. Those Tunbridge Wells supporters that turn out in big numbers deserve so much more than they have been offered this season and for 45 minutes (or 25 in my case), they saw a much improved, highly committed performance.

As with my late arrival at Woodstock Sports on Tuesday, I was met with a helpful young lady on the turnstile who informed me that the game remained goalless and pitchside I met with a fellow Tonbridge supporter who had made the same journey, his motorbike having negotiated the traffic and parking quicker than myself.

Having come from a waterlogged pitch, it was amazing to see the pristine nature of the Beckenham pitch. It always has been one of the best, but given the conditions of this winter, it was truly impressive.

After five minutes of watching one-way traffic in Tunbridge Wells' favour, Bradley Large stood up a perfect cross for Ryan Crandley to head in from close range. On-loan from Gillingham, Crandley was very impressive, whilst new signings Dane Moore and Basit Ajala also caught the eye in a half in which it was hard to believe that only the maroooned Holmesdale sat below the Wells in the table.

Tunbridge Wells continued to enjoy the lion's share of possession early in the second half but were undone when Marvin Alobiosu got through down the right hand side and produced a good finish.

What happened on the hour was one of the most unseemly fracas I've witnessed on a football pitch for a long while. The initial incident, I have to plead Arsene Wenger, as my eyes followed the ball and when they returned to the scene, a Tunbridge Wells player was on the ground and a scuffle between a couple of players had begun. This quickly escalated in a mass brawl with half the players throwing punches, whilst the others were trying to bring some order. When some semblance of calm had been restored the referee stepped in and showed the red card to Alobiosu, who responded by launching himself back into the melee before being dragged away. As he walked towards the dressing room, a member of the Beckenham staff ran from the dug outs, sensing I think that it was all going to kick off again behind the goal. Who became Alobiosu's target, or who provoked him, again I'm pleading Wenger, but some Tunbridge Wells players ran from the pitch into that kerfuffle and another almighty set-to ensued. At this point, my thoughts were that this game was about to be abandoned. Out of that bundle, Tunbridge Wells' Keiron Tarbie was shown a red.

Once everybody was ready to play football again, Tunbridge Wells' found it difficult to get back into their stride and with seven minutes remaining a cross into the box was met with the faintest of touches from Jamie Humphries to give the home side the lead.

A couple of goalmouth scrambles might have produced an equaliser for the visitors but it was not too be and the travelling contingent could only take satisfaction that their side's first half performance was not that of a team struggling badly at the foot of the table.

Jason Bourne has made the decision, whether forced by his budget or otherwise, to put his faith into a much younger set-up and, from my discussions with supporters, they are willing to buy into this policy, as long as the endeavour shown in the opening 45 minutes is replicated for the rest of, what has been, a desperate season.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sittingbourne 2 Corinthian Casuals 1

Match 62/15/1267 - Tuesday, 26th January 2016 - Ryman League Cup QF

Sittingbourne (0) 2 Hughes 66,77
Corinthian Casuals (1) 1 Joseph 33
Attendance: 70

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 33/4,746

Match Report

ME9 8AG. This is the postcode for Sittingbourne Football Club for my future reference and others that might trail around country lanes in the near future. I made such a mess of getting to this footballing outpost, even I couldn't believe I had been here before and found the place with ease.

A satellite navigation devise can only work if given the correct details of your destination and forward planning is the key. Undecided on where I would spend my Tuesday evening; by the time I made the decision on Sittingbourne, I was fumbling around with my phone looking for the correct postcode. Sittingbourne's website is a lot more user friendly on a tablet than a phone and a Google search eventually gave me a postcode, for their old ground at Central Park!

The most annoying part was actually heading along Woodstock Road en-route to what is presently a greyhound track.

I eventually arrived at Woodstock Park with the game around 10 minutes old. The young lady on the gate helpfully informed that the game had kicked off late and I had only missed around five minutes and it was still goalless.

The remnants of Storm Jonah that had dumped a trillion tonnes of snow on the eastern seaboard of America was blowing hard with driving rain, not hard but irritating. So the little covered enclosure was a welcome retreat.

Sittingbourne have ventured to the quarter-final of the competition by virtue of winning a penalty shoot-out in the previous round against Hastings United, who disposed of Tonbridge in similar fashion, whilst Corinthian Casuals were reinstated after Tooting and Mitcham had been found to have played an ineligible player in their tie.

The wind made it particularly difficult for both sides and there wasn't much between the sides with Corinthian perhaps edging it by virtue of having the advantage of the wind. They took a 33rd minute lead when Stef Joseph was sent clear to finish past Adam Molloy with a low shot into the corner.

Sittingbourne's second half recovery began on the hour with the introduction of an old friend, Andy Irvine, recently signed from Tunbridge Wells. He won a free kick that was turned away for a corner. Hitcham Akhassan, who now must attain legendary status with the Brickies, sent the ball the box and a partial clearance fell to Dan Hughes, who scored with a sweet volley from the angle of the six yard box.

The home side took the lead with a well worked goal that involved Irvine sending Josh Wisson away down the right hand side. The youngster, who on Saturday will be with England Schoolboys, stood up the perfect cross for Hughes to nod in from close range.

Sittingbourne comfortably saw out time to set up an all-Kent semi-final against Faversham Town.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Gillingham 2 Peterborough United 1

Match 61/15/1266 - Saturday, 23rd January 2016 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Norris 49, Dack 65
Peterborough United (1) 1 Oztumer 25
Attendance: 6,449

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 56/4,713

Match Report

A week ago, I and many others, were criticising Justin Edinburgh for his substitutions at Doncaster, so it is only fair to point out that the half-time changes he made in this match turned the game in his team's favour.

A meeting of the Division’s great entertainers, 105 league goals between them this season, produced a cracking match with Peterborough dominating the first half and Gillingham staging a thrilling second half comeback.

Once again the star of the show from a Gillingham perspective was Bradley Dack and the club’s fans are counting down the days until the end of the transfer window with the hope that their prized asset is going to see the season out at Priestfield and with him the prospect of promotion.

Rumours abound of bids from Crystal Palace, Reading, Leeds, but only one bid has been made public, that of a £1 million from Bristol City that was turned down out-of-hand. How much is Dack actually worth? Every player has a price, what sort of offer could not be refused?

Perhaps a benchmark might be taken from Connor Washington’s move from today’s opponents Peterborough to Queens Park Rangers for a rumoured £2.5 million. Washington, is a year older at 23, has 10 goals to his credit this season and overall scored 27 goals from 81 appearances following his move from Newport County. In comparison, Dack has scored 12 goals from midfield this term and 25 goals from 100 appearances overall. Those figures alone surely undervalues Bristol City’s offer by a long way.

Dack’s value to Gillingham on the pitch is a whole lot more than just goals. His presence is everywhere on the pitch. He takes virtually all the free kicks and corners, his number of assists must rank alongside his goals total and when he is not bombing forward, he is tracking back diligently.

Gillingham’s impressive campaign so far has not been built on a single player, but Bradley Dack’s contribution has been very significant. I, for one, have serious reservations that Gillingham’s challenge can be kept on track without him. But if an offer of £2.5 million was to drop on Paul Scally’s mat, could it be refused?

Gillingham made one change to their line-up, Rory Donnelly pulling up in the warm-up and being replaced by Luke Norris.

The first half very much belonged to Peterborough. Shaquille Coulthirst, on loan from Tottenham, brought an early save out of Stuart Nelson and another effort narrowly missed at the far post. The attempts on goal from the Posh continued to rain in as, frankly, they were running rings around a ragged Gillingham before taking a deserved lead after 20 minutes with a brilliantly engineered free kick. A cluster of players jostled for space to the left of the box as Jon Taylor stood over the ball 20 yards from goal. Instead of a cross into that area he played a simple ball to Coulthirst positioned in the wall who played it back into the path of Erhut Otzumer, who picked his spot into the bottom right hand corner with unerring accuracy.

Otzumer, quite possibly the smallest player in the Football League, was long admired in non-league circles at Dulwich Hamlet before his move to Peterborough, a club with a rich recent history of unearthing talent from the lower leagues.

Peterborough continued to dominate the half and created further chances for Coulthirst and a couple for Martin Samuelson, none of which missed the target by much.

As the half neared its end, Gillingham at least found a bit of momentum and were unlucky when John Egan struck the right hand post with a shot from a difficult angle.

Edinburgh made two half-time changes, replacing Jake Hessenthaler, who had a particularly poor 45 minutes, and Bradley Garmston with Doug Loft and Brennan Dickenson. Dickenson went on to play as well as at any time during the season but it was the club skipper Loft who carried the most influence.

A different Gillingham emerged from the tunnel for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose. Dominic Samuel went close within a couple of minutes of the restart before the home side equalised after 49 minutes. Dack, who else, threaded an inch perfect 40 yard pass down a narrow channel on the right wing into the path of Samuel, whose cross found an unmarked Luke Norris who finished with a shot into the bottom corner despite the efforts of a defender to clear from the line.

Gillingham now had their tails up and when the ball fell to Egan in the box following a corner, the central defender's shot came back off the bar.

Just before the hour mark, the visiting manager made the surprising decision to withdraw Oztumer, a choice that was welcomed by the home support around me. But his replaced Adil Nabi served notice of his arrival when his first chance struck the bar.

Peterborough gave notice that they were far from out of this game when a couple more chances fell to Coulthirst, one went wide and the other needed a save from Nelson.

After 65 minutes, Gillingham were in front. Loft put the ball into the box to Samuel whose backheel was into the path of Dack. A challenge from Chris Forrester at first appeared to have stopped the midfielder, but the defender stumbled on the ball, setting it up perfectly for Dack to drive a shot into the centre of the goal.

To their credit, Peterborough refused to lie down and the game had a thrilling ebb and flow. Forrester went close to making amends 15 minutes from time when his long range shot hit a post and the visitors were really cursing their luck when shots from Baldwin and Maddison went sailing over the bar.

Gillingham laid a lie to the previous two games when they successfully, almost comfortably, saw out the five minutes of time added to record their eleventh victory in 14 games at Fortress Priestfield, one that took them back to the summit of League One.

January can be a pretty dark, dank and unwelcoming month and Gillingham fans will be glad to see the back of it with their prized asset still wearing their blue shirt.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Doncaster Rovers 2 Gillingham 2

Match 60/15/1265 - Saturday, 16th January 2016 - League One

Doncaster Rovers (0) 2 Stewart 75, Williams 88
Gillingham (2) 2 Donnelly 10,46
Attendance: 4,876

Entrance: £17 Senior
Programme: £3
Mileage: 434/4,657
New Ground: 285

Match Report

We may be just the paying public, but surely when so many people are thinking the same thing, they can't all be wrong? At 2-0, Gillingham were coasting this match; could and should have been further ahead. In midfield Josh Wright and Jake Hessenthaler were dominating the centre of the pitch, leaving Aaron Morris a relatively easy job as the holding player and allowing Bradley Dack the luxury of performing all his magic further forward. And then, after 72 minutes, Justin Edinburgh made the strange decision to break the partnership and replace Wright with Jermaine McGlashen. A dodgy refereeing decision only clouds the issue that with that substitution, Doncaster Rovers found a way back into the game and left Gillingham holding on for dear life for nine minutes of added time. McGlashen's contribution in his time on the field was one cross into the goalkeeper's hands.

Holding my own hands up, I would have taken a draw from the outset, but two goals to the good, levels of expectation rise and when that lead was ultimately lost, the disappointment is so much the greater. This is the second successive game, third overall where two goal leads have been surrendered. Edinburgh's young team assertion cannot tell the whole story. It's a pointless exercise in "what ifs" but if those leads had been translated into wins, Gillingham would have been five points clear at the top of the table.

Gillingham looked a little shaky down their right hand side in the opening minutes when, on a couple of occasions, Andy Williams had an acre of space to exploit but ended with hopelessly overhit crosses.

After 10 minutes the visitors were in front. Ryan Jackson's long throw were returned to him and his cross found Rory Donnelly at the far post who executed an exquisite volley from the angle of the six yard box into the opposite corner of the net.

Overhit became a watchword for Rovers as time and again they emulated their Rugby League groundsharers with shots that sailed blissfully over the bar by some considerable distance.

Gillingham might have doubled their advantage prior to the break. A Rovers attack was broken down and Dack from well inside his own half set Bradley Garmston free down the left hand side. The full back made a lot of ground before crossing into the box where it was met with a header from Dack that rebounded off the crossbar.

Visiting supporters who had taken an extra half minute to sup their half-time Bovril failed to return to their seats in time to see their side's second goal. A 30-yard run from Dack from the centre circle culminated with a straight pass into the path of Donnelly who slipped it past the advancing Thorsten Stuckmann with an assured finish.

On 72 minutes came the head-scratching moment that left Gillingham fans bewildered and Josh Wright frustrated as he threw a water bottle to the floor and, within three mminutes, Doncaster had a foothold back in the match. A dubious foul on Williams by Max Ehmer gave Rovers a free kick just inside the D and Cameron Stewart stepped up to drive a shot into the top corner.

Ten minutes later, Stewart was involved in a hideous incident when he tumbled over McGlashen landing on his head. Stewart was hospitalised but thankfully was released later that evening.

A couple of minutes before the game entered into nine minutes of time added due to Stewart's injury, the home side were level. Morris was caught in possession and a pass found Williams taking the ball between Gillingham's two central defenders and firing into the bottom corner.

In the second minute of time added, Gillingham were spared the blushes of a third 3-2 defeat after being two-up when a fine save from Nelson denied Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Somehow, Gillingham survived those long nine minutes, before the supporters inquest began with a loud, long rant from one supporter in the gents!

This was third time lucky for me in regards to a visit to the Keepmoat Stadium. I actually liked the ground more from the outside than inside. A walk alongside a lake in a nicely terraced park with childen feeding the ducks was very pleasant leading up to a statue that, I presume, was a nod towards the local steel industry.

With no tickets available prior to the day, the selling of them by one person in a makeshift room was far from ideal leading to long queues and once inside the ground, food stocks were close to running out and expensive to boot.

For some reason, the visiting support was allocated a couple of blocks in a corner from where the view wasn't the best. The ground was bland in a sterile, modern way that lacked any sort of interesting feature. On the plus side, it did retain a good atmosphere generated by a noisy home following complete with continuous drumming.

At third in the table, Gillingham fans have little right to complain, but we pay our money and are entitled to our opinion and social media on Saturday night was full of fans questioning Edinburgh's judgement on that substitution. Can we all be wrong?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Hollands & Blair 4 Ashford United 0

Match 59/15/1264 - Wednesday, 13th January 2016 - SCEL League Cup QF

Hollands & Blair (2) 4 McDonald 10, Greenfield (pen) 32, West 48, 58
Ashford United (0) 0
Attendance: 88

Entrance: £4 Senior
Programme: £1
Mileage: 56/4,213
New Ground: 284

Match Report

With no midweek fixtures scheduled for my usual suspects, there was an opportunity for a groundhop to take in Gillingham's "other team".

Hollands and Blair, once a factory team, are one of Kent's success stories. Just a dozen years ago, they were still playing their football in the Rochester and District League before winning the two lower divisions of the Kent County League back-to-back and going on to win the Premier League in 2008 and 2011. This led to their promotion to the Kent Invicta League on its formation; they were runners-up to Phoenix Spoorts in 2013 before winning successive titles that led to their elevation to the Southern Counties East League.

Anybody expecting their momentum to stall at the higher level have been proved wrong as they have opened up a five point lead on the well-heeled Greenwich Borough at the head of the table.

At the present time, I would guess that Star Meadow is some way from getting a suitable ground grading for Isthmian League status and, but from reports work is in progress to upgrade the facilities as necessary. The small seated stand with a capacity of no more than 150 is the only covered enclosure which falls short of the requirements. But, on the whole, it is a nice little facility, with room to put into place the necessary improvements.

As I left Star Meadow, a couple of minutes early, not exactly to beat the rush but because the bitterly cold wind was eating into the bones, I bumped into an old friend who had adopted Hollands as his team. Not wishing to burst his bubble, I passed comment that whilst his side had been good, that was the worst Ashford team I'd ever seen. On reflection that was pretty unfair, failing to take into account Ashford's FA Vase encounter coming up at Newport, Isle of Wight on Saturday coupled with suspensions to key players.

Nevertheless, nothing should be taken away from Paul Piggott's team. A mixture of youth and experience, they were quick on the counter attack with a couple of raiding full backs with a goalscorer in prime form alongside an older head up front. When they were forced to defend, the visitors found a goalkeeper in good form and defenders willing to put their bodies on the line.

Hollands took the lead after 10 minutes when a cross from the impressive Justin Ascheri was nodded back across the face of goal to the unerring head of the Southern Counties East leading goalscorer, James McDonald.

Just past the half-hour, Shaun Welford inexplicably hand-balled a cross from the left and Bryan Greenfield scored from the spot.

Two goals early in the second half left Ashford waving the white flag. Hollands' skipper, Stuart West got on the end of a free kick from Greenfield to score with a diving header and 10 minutes later, when Ashford tried and failed to clear their lines following a corner, West was on hand again to poke the ball in.

Ashford sacrificed the experienced Michael Phillips and Shaun Welford to save their legs for the trip to the Isle of Wight and the home side took their foot off the gas to save any further embarrassment.

Where can you get a decent evening's entertainment for a fiver? Certainly this would have been great value on a night when it wasn't quite so cold.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Canvey Island 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 58/15/1263 - Saturday, 9th January 2016 - Ryman Premier

Canvey Island (1) 1 James-Lewis 20
Tonbridge (1) 1 Parkinson 28
Attendance: 361

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2
Mileage: 107/4,157

There cannot be a Saturday gone by, ever, when within earshot, somebody has verbally abused a referee for what they consider has been a wrong decision made against their team. I might even have directed said abuse myself on the odd occasion.

Most right-minded supporters understand that the man-in-the-middle's job is difficult and at times thankless, regardless of the fact that they are paid, and some would argue, paid well.

A curious incident, late in the second half of this game provided a heavily debated discussion on social media with, in my opinion, no definitive answer, but also proof that despite years of watching the game, I still don't know the rules!

I can play Arsene Wenger's card as having not seen the incident in the first instance. A ball was played to around the penalty box and a couple of players made a challenge for it. At that point there were loud appeals from Tonbridge supporters behind the goal. The referee immediately brought the game to a halt and appeared to be pointing at the penalty spot. Slightly bemused, I thought he had given a handball, but it was for dangerous play on behalf of the Canvey Island defender, but the referee had not given a penalty but an indirect free kick.

This is where my lack of knowledge of the rules surfaced, but it seems I was far from alone. Around me, Tonbridge fans were incensed that a penalty was the only option available to the referee, but seemingly not. I have two ex-referees among my friends and they concurred with the decision, whilst in the stands, a Tonbridge forum member was being told by the referee's assessor that he didn't know what he was talking about.

The decision centres around intent. In the referee's opinion there was no contact or intent, so although the foot was dangerously high, no penalty. Sonny Miles later tweeted about the mud down Tom Parkinson's face indicating, in his opinion, contact had been made. Chris Varney, from the Tonbridge bench, also posted that was what the official had told them as they left the pitch.

Dave Couldridge's photograph appears to clearly show contact, but even this brought alternative viewpoints.

I think my greatest gripe, whilst accepting the referee's decision, is that anywhere else on the pitch it would have been seen as dangerous play with intent. Several other qualified referee's joined in the debate on social media and they pretty much stood by each other.

As usual, a stiff wind blew from behind the sea wall making playing conditions difficult for both sides. Meanwhile, on a another day of local postponements through waterlogged pitches, there was no inspection required at Canvey Island.

Tonbridge started brightly with Charlie Webster bringing a comfortable save out of the towering Connor Gough. The visitors also had the ball in the net within the opening five minutes when Nathan Elder converted after being sent through by James Folkes, but a linesman's flag ruled it out in a very tight call.

Canvey Island grew into the game and, after quarter of an hour, Tambeson Eyong was sent clear but was denied by firstly a blocking save from Anthony Di Bernardo and then a further block from Laurence Ball.

The home side took the lead after 20 minutes. A corner from the left was only cleared by an upward header that was knocked back to the edge of the box to the waiting Merrick James-Lewis, whose first touch flicked the ball in the air and his second that was a very sweet volley that took a heavy deflection off Miles, wrong footing Di Barnardo.

Canvey had a spell in the ascendancy whilst Tonbridge were struggling to get Nicky Wheeler into the game. Wheeler's value came to the fore after 27 minutes when his corner was met at the far post with a Parkinson header that found the bottom corner for an equaliser.

Tonbridge, with the wind at their backs, created a number of chances in the last quarter hour of the half. Wheeler shot wide; a Webster cross offered another heading opportunity for Parkinson, but this one drifted wide and similarly Elder headed wide in the final throes of the half.

After Contactgate, Tonbridge made a wasted a host of chances that should have made that particular decision irrelevant. Elder's radar wasn't quite on beam, a Webster cross was steered wide and another from Whitnell saw his header clip the top of the bar. With seven minutes remaining Luke Blewden set Elder up with a golden opportunity but once more his header was wide.

With a couple of minutes remaining, it looked like those wasted chances would come back to bite the visitors when Di Barnardo suffered a rush of blood racing from his goal and robbed at the left hand corner flag. His blushes were spared by two fine blocks, firstly by Ball and then by a combination of Miles and Ball before the ball was ballooned over the bar.

A nick off the left hand post in the final act of the afternoon proved it just wasn't to be Nathan Elder's day as Tonbridge had to accept a share of the points for the umpteenth time in the last 10 games. It is a run of draws that is becoming damaging to their hopes of automatic promotion.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Tonbridge 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1

Match 57/15/1262 - Saturday, 3rd January 2016 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Elder 90+1
Dulwich Hamlet (0) 1 Nelson 74
Attendance: 1,095

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 38/4,050

Match Report

What a great start to 2016! Arguably the best game I've seen this season in the worst of conditions. Great credit to the groundstaff at Longmead for getting the game on; both sets of supporters for creating an atmosphere worthy of the occasion; the referee who kept the game flowing and to the teams who contributed to an outstanding tussle with very little complaint of the conditions imposed upon them.

Ultimately, a draw (which personally I was ready to take at kick-off) was a fair result, although the supporters of Dulwich Hamlet might well have gone back to south London disappointed to have lost the points at such a late stage of the game.

This was the first time this season (I'm not expecting it to be the last) that I've chosen to, in effect, waste my Gillingham season ticket for what I perceived to be the better match. Despite Gillingham's fine 3-0 win over Bradford City, I wasn't to be disappointed. But the weather was causing a real headache. Pictures had appeared on Facebook on Friday of the pitch being vertidrained, but as the morning's light rain turned heavier, I began to fear sitting in the car park at Longmead at 2:30 p.m. with the postponed signs going up and knowing that Priestfield was a good hour away. Nevertheless, the season ticket was put into the pocket as a precautionary measure.

Tonbridge were quick out of the blocks and Luke Blewden brought an early save out of Phil Wilson in the Dulwich goal, who turned the ball away for a corner, from which Nathan Elder's header was cleared from the line.

It's easy to see why Steve McKimm is the Tonbridge manager and I'm a humble blogger as I didn't really understand Blewden's role, not being used to seeing him chasing back and often finding himself behind James Folkes making last ditch challenges. McKimm's interview later made it crystal clear and I'm now able to appreciate the sheer endeavour of Blewden.

Nick Wheeler was causing real problems for the Londoners down the left hand side and cutting in, first saw a shot just edge past the post before bringing another save from Wilson.

Chances were few and far between for the visitors although Damian Scannell looked dangerous, Sonny Miles, who it was revealed afterwards popped a shoulder out (again) in the opening minutes, was more than his equal.

Miles produced a raking cross field pass to Wheeler who laid back for Luke Allen to drag a shot wide as the Angels' continued to dominate.

Dulwich created just one clear opportunity in the first half when Ryan Moss' header needed to be hacked to safety by Laurence Ball.

Tonbridge deserved something for their first half efforts but it wasn't to come. Allen brought a comfortable save out of Wilson and a corner saw Blewden's header drift wide.

Gavin Rose is well respected in Ryman circles and his half-time team talk and tactical tinkering brought a different Hamlet side out of the dressing room for the second period. Now it was the Pink and Blues that were calling the tune and exerting continued pressure on the Tonbridge defence. Anthony Di Barnardo made his first real save of the match blocking an effort from Jack Dixon and a magnificent block from Tom Parkinson denied Scannell after 50 minutes.

The opening goal had been coming for much of the second period when it arrived after 74 minutes. A corner from Scannell to the far post was met with a looping header from full back Mitchell Nelson that didn't appear to have enough pace to beat the Tonbridge goalkeeper, but the ball bounced right in front of his hands and nestled in the far corner.

With the confidence borne out of the goal, Dulwich began to open up the Tonbridge defence and when Scannell sent Moss clear, the ex-Margate striker dragged his shot wide with a poor effort.

As the game neared its end, Tonbridge threw caution to the wind in hope of finding an equaliser. Wheeler, who had been starved of the ball during the second half, put a cross onto the head of Parkinson, who could only direct it into the welcoming hands of Wilson. Wilson's handling in the conditions was exceptional throughout the game.

Tonbridge fans thought their goose was cooked with no time left on the clock when Rhys Murrell-Williamson, cutting in from the left, hit a shot towards the near post, but Di Barnardo clawed it away with a top drawer save that, in its own way, saved the point that was about to be gained.

Entering into the time added on, Tonbridge won a free kick on the left-hand side, 18 yards out. Sam Rents touched it to Wheeler, who sent in the most pin-point of crosses that Elder read perfectly, getting across the face of his markers to glance the ball into the net.

Hampton and Richmond are proving that the title race is not a two horse race and they are certainly going to have their say, as will two or three others. But, I cannot wait to see these two clubs go head-to-head once again at Champion Hill on Easter Monday, when the game will be a true six-pointer that could decide the destination of the title, whilst leaving one club with the drama of the play-offs.

Picture courtesy of David Couldridge