Dorking Wanderers FC

Tuesday 15th August 2017, 1945 KO

Dorking Wanderers FC vs Metropolitan Police FC

Having spent the late part of this afternoon at the dentist, being prodded and pored over by someone whose career choice must surely highlight some sort of deep rooted perversion, I really wasn’t in the mood for driving to Dorking at rush hour.  However, as Mr Mercury once famously screamed (overrated band in my opinion), the show must go on.  Therefore, I found myself, at around 1845 after a torturous trip out of London, pulling into the car park at the home of Dorking Wanderers – Westhumble.  I was actually invited down to Dorking last season by striker Gareth Chendlik (I’m sure he’s forgotten…), but was sadly away, however, I’m glad to have waited until this season, where I can see them try to establish themselves at a new level.

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The picturesque Westhumble, overlooked by Box Hill

Dorking Wanderers were promoted to Step 3 for the first time in their history last season, following a penalty shootout victory over Corinthian Casuals in the Play Off Final.  The Bostik Isthmian League Premier’s newest team currently play at Westhumble, nestled picturesquely in the Surrey Hills, however, in November of this year Dorking will be completing their long awaited move to the revamped stadium at Meadowbank, co-locating with Surrey FA.

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Dorking have taken their promotion seriously, and doubled the size of their backroom staff.  Snapbacked Manager-cum-Chairman Marc White now has a team of around twenty people to help him in managing the club, taking them to “compete with some of the biggest non-league towns in the South of England” in his own words.   This restructuring of the stadium and staff has been matched in the club branding, with local designer Oliver Dell commissioned to design the sleek new club crest.  Naturally enough, when I read the press release there is some guff about what it all means, but for the uninitiated in the arts (me) it’s a good looking badge, and I reckon a significant upgrade on the last one.

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They’ve sought to strengthen the playing squad as well, adding league experience in the form of ex-AFC Wimbledon’s Luke Moore (England C international as well…) and Crawley Town old-boy Brannon O’Neill, both in midfield.  This improved playing squad would find themselves up against a Met Police squad high in confidence at the start of the season.  Since I watched them defeat Hampton & Richmond in pre-season they have won the season opener against Worthing – the centre forward partnership of Ryan James and Lloyd Macklin apparently playing very well.

 

 

Westhumble really is an attractive ground.  Everything about the place feels fresh (maybe in part due to the glorious Surrey sunshine), and there’s a really positive energy.  All the club staff are in branded kit, everyone is friendly and there’s a real air of professionalism around the club.  My hot dog was ready in under a minute (£4 with a Diet Coke, £10 for a ticket) and the programme (£2) was genuinely better than some I’ve seen at Football League grounds.

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And then, the game kicked off.  Immediately, it was apparent that this was a Dorking side with a very different mentality to the one who lost to Leiston at the weekend.  In front of a crowd of 245 (boosted by promotion and the weather compared to 2016/17’s average of 181), Wanderers raced into an early lead.  Inside two minutes, a ball clipped into the right channel was chased down by number 8 Matt Briggs, an Aeronautical Engineering student at nearby Surrey University.  He raced onto it – blitzing the full back for pace – and clipped a finish into the far corner past an onrushing Luke Williams in the Met goal.

 

 

*Spoiler Alert* that was about as good as it got for the Met, who were thoroughly outclassed throughout.  I like this Met team, and I genuinely fancy them for a top half finish, but they really weren’t at the races today.  The centre forward duo of Macklin and James who are usually so bustling and busy just didn’t get anything out of Dorking’s three man defence.

 

 

In the 8th minute Dorking’s Tommy Hutchings had a good snapshot well saved by Williams, and a loose ball across the box by Met defenders brought an 11th minute shot by James McShane to similar effect.

 

 

It briefly looked in the first fifteen minutes as though the Met might fight their way back into the game, with Lewis Putman showing glimpses of his undoubted quality down the left.  The new arrival from Slough’s threatening runs sadly didn’t result in anything for the Police.  However, on 17 minutes the Met could – and in my opinion, should – have gone down to 10 men.  A rash, late, stampy looking tackle from Lloyd Macklin resulting in a good old fashioned shoving match and obligatory yellow card.

 

 

However, Macklin and his side were punished further from the resulting free kick.  A lofted ball in to the front stick by Luke Moore was knocked back across goal, to be met by the irrepressible Briggs with a header that looped tantalisingly up over Williams.  2-0, and it was effectively game over.

 

 

Around the half hour mark Dorking number 1 Slav Huk was forced into action and saved well.  Throughout the match, on the rare occasions the Met did threaten his goal, Huk was impressive – and very vocal.  I nearly got tinnitus in the first half whilst positioned beside his goal.  A solid keeper such as Huk will really provide confidence to Dorking’s back line this season.  However, he was powerless a minute or so later when a slack pass out from the full back resulted in an isolated defender having his pocket picked by Joshua Webb.  With Huk approximately 47 miles from his goal line, new signing Webb was left with the easy task of tucking into an empty net.

 

 

Just one minute later, Putman had a cracking half volley from twenty yards forcing Huk into action.  Had he have scored here perhaps Dorking wouldn’t have run away with the match.  However, if my auntie had balls and all that, because he didn’t and they did – in that order.  A fantastic strike from range by Luke Moore crashed against the bar and I thought that would be it for the half.

 

 

However, the drama wasn’t done, and on 42 minutes a deflected left wing cross wormed its way to Briggs at the back post and he notched up a first half hat trick with a neat header.  I was told at full time that Briggs has been scouted by League clubs, and if he can continue this form, building on his 24 goals from last season, his goal bonus alone will surely pay off that inevitable student loan.

 

 

3-1 at half time, and fully deserved.  I had witnessed a 45 minute masterclass by Dorking.  Would it continue in the second half?  Well, yes, and no.  Dorking were just as dominant, but thankfully (for my word count) the second half wasn’t quite so eventful.

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On 55 minutes Briggs tested his aeronautical skills by blazing the ball into orbit somewhere over Box Hill when presented a chance after good work by Hutchings, and then in the 60th minute the game’s most contentious moment.  With Hutchings chasing down a hopeful punt (with surprising pace for a man who looks as though he’s a graduate of the Wayne Rooney School of Athletics) Tom Bird shepherded the ball out of play.  A sly/clever nudge in the back depending on who you support saw Bird seeing red, both figuratively and literally.  He lashed out with a donkey style kick at Hutchings right in front of the lino and the ref had no choice but to issue his marching orders.

 

 

With that red card, any hope the Met had was gone.  Dorking were already playing as if they had an extra man, and now they actually did.  If Jerome Beckles and Luke Moore had seemed untouchable in midfield previously they had the freedom of Westhumble now.  Shortly afterwards, Briggs almost got his fourth, when he went past substitute Charlie Cullins as if he wasn’t there – like a Panzer Division bypassing the Maginot Line, then nicked a shot off the near post with the outside of his right foot.

 

 

As it was, the next really notable moment came in the last minute of normal time, when the impressive McShane picked up a loose ball around 35 yards out.  He took four or five paces, and nonchalantly fired off a daisy cutter into the bottom left corner.  4-1 and done.

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Celebrating McShane’s goal

I have to say, I was hugely impressed with Dorking.  Credit is certainly due to Marc White – his decision to switch to a three man defence allowing an extra body in midfield.  This numerical advantage gave the highly composed Beckles and Moore the room to absolutely dominate.  I honestly can’t remember seeing either of them tackled once, and a misplaced pass by Moore in around the 88th minute was the first time I recall either of them making a mistake.  As for the hat trick scorer – and man of the match – Briggs, his performance was electric.  Every time he received the ball he looked to go forward, his first touch was stickier than the league sponsor and his finishing was first class.

 

 

As I said earlier, I think the Met certainly had an off day.  I’ve seen them play better than this and they certainly will again.  At times they threatened to lose their heads – and Bird definitely did.  Despite his teammates’ protests, manager Jim Cooper will be understandably irritated by that decision.

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For Dorking, it’s easy to see why bookies have installed them as dark horses for promotion.  Odds of 33/1 are available and roughly equivalent to established Step 3 sides Enfield Town and Folkestone Invicta.  It’s early doors yet, but if Dorking can play like they did today consistently, don’t be surprised to see their 10 promotions in 18 seasons become 11.

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