To me. To you. To Marc. To Stu. The long trip down to West Wickham was always bound to be an eventful one and so it proved. Despite the specific warnings in the previous match report, the Chuckle Brothers rolled into town a solid half hour after the meet time and got the day off to an explosive start. They were always going to get some stick upon arrival and whilst Marc took the sensible approach, sending the skipper a direct message on the sly blaming the lateness on Stu, Stu took the Lance Armstrong approach to guilt. Short of staging a press conference in the dressing room, he went on the PR offensive with rage, aggression, denial and counter accusation. As if that wasn’t enough, in one of the most the profound acts of protest of a generation, in his role as goalkeeper, he refused to take the valuables out. I think this was initially a form of non-violent resistance employed by Gandhi but I can’t be certain.
Anyway, with various tantrums over and done with, we had the small issue of West Wickham themselves to deal with. We had played them in the AFA Cup on an equally freezing day last season and had taken them to penalties. Whilst perhaps lacking the flair of some of the other top sides, we knew to expect an established top tier outfit, who were strong, very well organised and dangerous from set plays. It was 4-2-3-1 again for Park and the same line up that we fielded in the Poly victory a week prior, bar one enforced change.
It was a slow start, Wickham were comfortable on the ball and we were giving it away cheaply. We were working hard to stay on level terms but that said, the oppo had a lot of ball without masses of chances. Their best came about from set plays and on the one occasion their front man checked inside the skipper, before a despairing (and SIGNIFICANTLY under praised) recovery prod took it away from him.
Going forward, the Brendan O’Donnell solo running club was having its weekly 2pm meet. I feel for Brendan, who has been an excellent addition to first team thus far. Progressing through the teams, to be handed the number 9 shirt for the first team, he could probably be forgiven for thinking goals and glory were in the offing. Alas, thus far it has been running, making it stick 50 yards from goal and running some more. He has done a fine job but I fear we have already worn down 30% of the cartilage in his knees.
That said, we had arguably the best chance of the half, the oppo keeper dropping a Hillier cross and the following scramble seeing ‘Philly G’ (as Marc religiously addresses him on doing anything positive) eventually smash into the car park.
Half time, 0-0 and all to play for. Certainly not one for the neutrals, or indeed anybody for that matter. Like a hostile European away game, part of the challenge is to quieten the hostile Wickham faithful and we may have bored all 20 of them into it. To be fair, it has been good banter the last couple of times we have played down there, as our resident Scouser put it ‘I love it when the oppo have a good line..’
We started the second half brightly and looked a lot more dangerous. As well as working hard, Matt and Brendan began to link up well, a move involving the two of them seeing a cut back fizz painfully across the goalmouth. Chris and Marc began to get on the ball that little bit more in addition to the donkey work they were doing going backwards. It was one of those games in which you felt the first goal would be massive and possibly win it. It was a big blow when it went to Wickham. The ball was worked down our left and despite some hopeful offside appeals, their wide man delivered a ball into what can only be described as a ‘good area’. The oppo lad just nicked in at the near post and credit to Lee, he had only pinched half a yard. Unfortunately, it meant his finely glanced header flicked off Lee’s shoulder, which did just enough to take it under Stu. That was the least of Lee’s worries however, controversially stopped in the 9th round later that day.
Anyhow, we dusted ourselves off and battled back. After a small spell of pressure we forced a corner, hung up to the back stick by Matt Kelly. Wickham could only half clear and the ball dropped to Egan just inside the area. After he chested down and the ball sat up, Safestyle and Autoglass’ local branches were placed on high alert. However, the German could not have caught it any sweeter, lashing it through the crowd and if off the bar, Yeboah style. Our euphoria was only halted by one of the worst knee slides in recent memory (it was awful) but I can’t blame him, it was a crucial goal and a belter at that.
At that point, with 15 remaining, we thought the win was up for a grabs. We did try and kick on but as the game entered the final stages, I think it was pretty clear that being out of possession for large parts of the game had taken it out of us. It was backs to the wall stuff, headers, tackles, blocks. Stu did well under pressure and made a couple of sharp stops from headers, skips hooked one off the line. In trying to break up a counter attack, Egan was hurdled by a Wickham winger and in forcing him to do so, received a second yellow. Just tired legs as much as anything.
Fair play to the ref, whilst I thought that decision was a bit harsh, I think he did a very decent job in an intense game. I have to say, on a positive note, the standard of officiating in the top flight has been of a really good quality this year. Anyhow, we managed to close off the final moments with 10 men and secure a hard earned point. Wickham are a strong side, established at this level and even though they were missing a few, a point is not to be sniffed at. They will probably feel they should have won but in our defence, there were not masses of chances for either side. It was a good battle, probably not great to watch but enjoyable to play in. We have looked a lot more solid defensively over the last few and I have always said to the lads, I always fancy us to nick a goal from somewhere. We have shown good organisation, a high workrate and some real grit over the past couple of weeks to get a couple of decent results. It gives us a platform to kick on if we can add the little bit of extra quality on the ball.
AP : Pennycook, Carlin (Corten), Patterson, Egan, Hillier, McVey, Nicholau (Gunyon), Fernee, Kelly, Gallagher, O’Donnell.
MOM : Mentions for Kelly, O’Donnell and well….myself (I made it clear to the lads in the Faltering Fullback that I thought I was ‘faultless’ but for some reason only got abuse), all action Egan gets the nod. Sending off takes nothing away from a cracking strike and a solid defensive display.