Tuesday 27th July 2017, 1945 KO
Metropolitan Police FC vs Hampton & Richmond Borough FC
After a relaxing summer spent doing whatever people do when the weather is disappointingly English, the new football season could not come quickly enough. So, with much excitement, I packed up my new lens (Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6) and headed off to Imber Court to catch a pre-season friendly between two clubs I watched last term.
Both Metropolitan Police and Hampton & Richmond Borough had been enjoyable experiences for me last season, and ended the year in very different positions. For the Met boys, a last day escape saw them finish the season one point clear of relegation, whereas the Beavers ended their Vanarama South campaign losing out to Ebbsfleet in the Play Offs (admittedly after arriving there by default…). I was keen to see how each team was shaping up for the 2017/18 season, and today would be my first opportunity to do so. So, on a typical July evening of glorious sunshine alternating happily with thunderous downpours, I drove/floated down to East Molesey.
The away side first, and despite losing some useful players over the summer, such as Harold Odametey – who had impressed me on my visit to Beveree – to Maidenhead, the club have definitely taken strides forward over the summer. A raft of new faces and returning players have arrived to bolster the squad, under newly full-time manager Alan Dowson (who left his job at Weston Green School to focus on Hampton & Richmond). This impetus had been borne out by positive pre-season form, including a draw against Partick Thistle and a win over a strong Aldershot Town side.
As for the Met Police, first glances show a side that seem to have been gutted following their difficult last campaign. Powerful midfielder Ola Sogbanmu has left for Carshalton, and Orlando Smith to Margate. The nature of football at this level is that players will often move for reasons such as work and proximity to their homes, and this was certainly the case for Met stalwart Elliot Taylor who quit to pursue his career as an estate agent, after more than 300 club appearances.
Also departing was Roman Michael-Percil, the former Tottenham academy player who scored a cracker to secure the result against Needham Market on my last visit to Imber Court. He’s headed up the leagues with Braintree. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, skipper Rob Bartley has beaten a path to North London and Enfield Town. Tom Hickey returns from a summer playing with Richmond Athletic in New Zealand to take over the captaincy.
All this turbulence provided a fitting backdrop as I parted with £5 for my ticket and £4 for the now customary cheeseburger (onions, please) and Diet Coke. Imber Court was as immaculate as ever and must be the only ground in the country with a Police Horse training facility immediately next door.
Despite an early chance for Hampton & Richmond, it was the Met Police who stormed into an early two goal lead. Fresh from his antipodean adventure, Tom Hickey rose like a salmon on steroids to nudge a 4th minute header past Billy Bishop in the Beavers goal. In all honesty, Bishop (carrying a fair bit more timber than the last time I watched him – summer can be fun like that…) didn’t really get off the ground and will have been disappointed to concede. With Sam Howes having joined on loan from Watford for the season he won’t want to be making many more mistakes like that…
Not content with giving their Bostik adversaries a one goal lead, the Beavers continued to implode, and on ten minutes a weak aerial clearance fell to Hickey who took it full on the volley from 25 yards and struck sweetly into the bottom left corner.
On fifteen minutes, it almost got worse for the Vanarama side as Ryan James (who looks a cracking player) turned and shot from inside the box, but Bishop got down well to save. James would have another gilt edged chance on 39 minutes when a long through ball wasn’t dealt with, but he blazed over the bar.
The first half settled down into a pattern, with Hampton & Richmond enjoying lots of possession. In particular Harry Crawford, Jerome Federico and Milly Hysi looked comfortable on the ball and had few good driving runs, but there was no inspiration. The Met Police defensive unit including new signings Tom Bird (from Gosport) and architect Jay Gasson dealt with them with ease. In the interests of fairness, it should be said that neither Luke Williams (newly signed brother of Sam) in the Met goal, nor Bishop, were really tested again in the first half.
And so the first half ended, with the Met Police two goals to the good. A couple of triallists/youngsters made it on at half time, with Alex Stephenson coming on at centre back for Hampton in the hopes of earning a contract, and Joe Jackson stepping up for the Met.
As the second half got underway, and more substitutions were made, the game lost rhythm, but not before a (wrongly) disallowed goal for Hampton & Richmond. A tame back pass was seized upon by centre forward Trey Williams who slid in ahead of the onrushing ‘keeper to slip the ball in. However, another Beavers’ player was incorrectly adjudged to have touched the ball on the line and the offside flag went up (after some consultation).
Hampton & Richmond threatened again around the hour mark, when new signing Harry Crawford (capped under 19 international for the Republic of Ireland) snaffled up a loose pass in midfield, dropped a shoulder and made his way into the box like a young, slim, potentially ginger Paul Gascoigne. However, his shot was well saved by substitute goalkeeper Mohamed Mustafa, who would become more influential as the game wore on.
Hampton & Richmond certainly looked more dangerous in the second half, and also more solid at the back, where Stephenson slotted in comfortably, striding forward with the ball at his feet on more than one occasion. Stephenson looks like an interesting prospect to me, and can consider himself unlucky to have been let go by the nouveau-riche and kind of up themselves Billericay.
On 72 minutes the goal Hampton & Richmond were waiting for came, and it was new boy Crawford with the goods, rising highest to head home a corner which was never effectively dealt with.
Three minutes later, it looked like a shocker from the ref was going to hand Hampton & Richmond a share of the (non-existent) points, and consign Mustafa to an unfortunate trial. A long bouncing ball was well dealt with by the ‘keeper who rushed out and palmed it – quite clearly – to safety, however, the onrushing Beaver then fell over him and the penalty was awarded. Up stepped new signing Ryan Moss – scorer of 25 goals for Kingstonian last season, and scorer of no goals for Hampton & Richmond tonight, because his penalty was weaker than American beer and Mustafa guessed correctly to make the save.
Into the last ten minutes, and with five left on the clock, a free kick on the edge of the box was expertly dispatched by Met Police left back Tom Bird to seal a comfortable looking 3-1 victory.
Despite Hampton & Richmond missing some of their bigger names, including local boy Max Kretzschmar, signed in the summer from Woking, as well as new faces Sean McAuley, Taurean Roberts and Claudiu Vilcu, the Met Police can take heart from this win. It may only be pre-season, but Jim Cooper has built a very solid looking team. They’re comfortable on the ball, and happy to play out from the back patiently. Josh Webb, formerly of Harrow Borough is a composed presence in midfield, and with Tom Hickey organising I really don’t see them conceding a huge amount. Throw in the guile and technique of Ryan James and the pace of ex-Slough Town’s Lewis Putnam and they will cause problems for anyone in this league.
For Hampton & Richmond, as you were really. A number of players missing following the weekend’s Middlesex Cup victory over Wealdstone, it really is difficult to make any judgements on their performance. As I listened to one of their supporters leaving, he remarked that “this is the season we go back to the Bostik”. However, when I look at the club’s direction of travel, and some of the players they’ve brought in this season (I can’t wait to see Kretzschmar and Roberts playing in the same side) I think they may be leaving the league from the other direction.