Match Post has to be the article from our Isthmian guest Ian Townsend … welcome to Wheatsheaf Park Ian. [Pic: AKD features Max and Tyrell]
On the radio on the way to Wheatsheaf Park, and indeed pre-match at the ground itself, much of the talk was of the impending doom promised by Storm Brian. You have to consider that those people naming storms should have a bit of a rethink, don’t you? After all, if they’d named it Storm Banshee, or perhaps Storm Behemoth, then no further warning would even be required- people would automatically think, “that sounds a bit naughty, better keep my head down.” But Brian? For those of us of a certain age, Brian is a snail who lived with an overly hairy dog named Dougal, an eccentric cow named Ermintrude, and a strange looking military-type creature with a spring up its bottom who insisted it was time for bed at 6PM. Either that or a chap who certainly wasn’t the Messiah but was most definitely a naughty boy.
An hour and a half before kick off the weather was calm. It seemed, perhaps, that somebody had made a mistake and “weleased Wodger” instead. That was to change, however- but more on that later.
Today’s match featured two teams who didn’t need the onset of eighty miles per hour winds to be inconsistent, they could manage that quite well when the weather was irrelevant rather than threatening. Staines Town, in eighth place in the Bostik Premier, were hosting Leatherhead, in sixteenth- and both sides had been promising much but often failing to deliver it. The Swans were capable of losing 3-0 one weekend and then winning 7-0 the next, the Tanners of being brilliant in the cup (beating Margate away from home last weekend) and moribund in the league (the midweek hammering at Folkestone Invicta). Rather like the British weather, you never quite knew what you were going to get.
Leatherhead, under player-manager Sammy Moore, had promised much this season but as yet hadn’t quite delivered. A talented squad, led by Moore himself but with the cutting edge of former AFC Wimbledon striker (and Assistant Manager) Jack Midson- 13 goals already this season- up front, they’d recently added more guile in midfield in the guise of another former Womble, Tom Beere, who made his debut in midweek. Staines, under the watchful eye of experienced manager Johnson Hippolyte, probably had more reason that the Tanners to be happy with the way that the season was going, but really needed to begin turning draws into victories if they wanted to plant themselves firmly in the playoff places. The Swans had two in-form goalscorers; Elliot Buchanan had already found the back of the net ten times this season, and strike partner Mohammed Bettamer had the same number.
Home supporters were probably trying to forget the Tanners last visit to Wheatsheaf Park, whilst for those in green it was undoubtedly one of the high points of last season as their side, then marshalled by former celebrity Jimmy Bullard, left not only with three points but having scored five goals, Daniel Akindayini and Kadell Daniel with two each, D’sean Theobalds with the other. They also had a bill for a broken substitute board, courtesy of an apparent Bullard tantrum after the referee restarted play whilst the Tanners manager dithered over a change. The fact that only one of those three players is still a Tanner perhaps demonstrates the change in personnel that has occurred under Moore, and perhaps that accounts for their inconsistent form this season- as Beere’s signing shows, the squad building is still incomplete.
Despite all that, both sets of supporters seemed supremely confident that good times were just around the corner. For the Tanners, Ross and Jamie were particularly impressed with the form of Midson, and felt that many of the poor results so far this season were down to silly errors or bad luck. “If we can cut the mistakes out of our game we’ll be up around the playoff positions at the end of the season,” said Jamie, a fairly recent convert to the Tanners cause after moving from Borehamwood for the sake of love. Ross was similarly upbeat about the form and ability of Midson and the rest of the “former AFC Wimbledon contingent,” whilst delighted with the commitment of Sammy Moore. “He could have left months ago for a far bigger pay packet than we can pay him. But he’s still here and we’re grateful.“
In the home corner, Chris and Arthur were delighted with the form of their side, even if the results hadn’t quite clicked yet. “We were magnificent against Dulwich Hamlet last week,” explained Chris. Arthur nodded in agreement. “We’re not going to win the league- Billericay are going to win it, we all know that- but we will be in the playoffs.” Both were looking forward to the visit of Tamplin’s men in early December. “Football or Christmas shopping- that’s no contest! And it’ll be good to see the likes of Pennant, O’Hara and Konchesky- particularly because we might turn them over.” They were sure of a victory today, “2-0” said Chris, “3-1” countered Arthur.
By half time both of them were still in with a chance of being right, but hardly anyone in the ground was sure just how.
Leatherhead kicked off into the wind, which was by now blowing around Wheatsheaf Park rather violently, but fairly quickly learned to keep the ball on the floor. Town didn’t get that message at all during the first half an hour, and almost all of their passes and corners were overhit. Midson was irrepressible, and very well supported by Niall McManus and Nathan Wood, Tanners full back Sean Clohessey was both marauding up and down the right wing and marshalling the backline, and it seemed only a matter of time before the away side made a breakthrough. “We are the Head, we are the Head,” sang the away faithful, but although they were undoubtedly the Head they weren’t a-head and couldn’t seem to make that crucial breakthrough. Midson fired a volley over his shoulder and just over the bar, Wood made a sharp turn and fired goalwards, forcing a save from Liam Driscoll, and then a driving run from Sam Blackman which started on the edge of his own box ended just inside the Swans box when he hit the floor under pressure, the referee waving away appeals. “That was rubbish, ref,” came a shout from behind the goal, but actually the official looked to have got it right, Blackman going down rather too easily.
Leatherhead sent forward wave after wave of attacks. Tom Beere fired a shot which came back of the bottom of the post with the keeper beaten, Wood had one shot saved and then the rebound blocked when he perhaps should have done better, Beere hit a superb volley at the back post just over the bar- the Staines goal was leading a charmed life. You just know what’s coming next, don’t you?
Thirty five minutes gone and with the home side pinned mainly in their own half, and a break found Daniel Brown with time to feed the ball through to Elliot Buchanan just inside the Tanners box. With- inexplicably- no defender near enough to close him down he steadied himself and finished beautifully, just inside the keepers left hand post. 1-0 to Town, and nobody, even the home fans, quite knew how that had happened. They were strangely quiet, but it was just possible that the wind was blowing their songs towards Egham and deafening people on the riverbank. In the ten minutes between the goal and half time McManus managed to head just over and shoot just wide as Leatherhead searched for an equaliser, but the whistle went with them- somehow- behind; although Staines could have gone further ahead just before the break, as Zaki Oualah had to get down smartly to push away a Bettamer shot.
The second half was a different game entirely. Leatherhead huffed and puffed, prodded and probed, but only rarely threatened- and when they did the home defence stood firm. The more the Tanners pushed forward the more dangerous the Swans looked on the break, in it was no real surprise when the lead was doubled. An off-key shot from Tyrell Miller-Rodney looked to be trickling out for a goal kick but Buchanan had other ideas, racing after it to play a beautifully weighted ball back into the path of the onrushing Bettamer, who finished precisely from just inside the box. They could have been three up ten minutes later, when a shot from Buchanan was deflected over, and it was no real surprise when the third goal did arrive in the 82nd minute, when a quick break out of defence and a lovely through ball allowed Max Worsfold to outpace the defence and beat the keeper at his near post.
As the game petered to a close, and Tanners supporters began an inquest, it was easy to see what their problem was. They had, on occasions, been breathtaking going forward, and with better finishing and more luck would have been ahead before the Swans got on the scoresheet- but at the back they’d been ponderous. They’d left gaps, been flat footed, and you can’t do that against an attacking force as potent as that which faced them today.
Whilst the referee checked his watch, the sun came out and a rainbow made an appearance behind the Swans goal. By this point it was apparent that Leatherhead had more chance of finding the pot of gold than the back of the net. The Swans, in the end, had been able to glide serenely back into the playoff positions, whilst the Tanners headed back to Fetcham Grove having lost five from their last seven league games. They are undoubtedly going to have to improve quickly if they are to find their way into the Second Round of the FA Cup- and meet their League aspirations.