Tuesday 5th September 2017, 1945 KO
Chipstead FC vs Littlehampton Town FC
The Build Up
Having spent a week or so away from the nonleague circuit, eating around 3 stone of pig meat, watching Borussia Dortmund and getting decked by a Berliner, I felt the time was right to get back on the horse. I looked around the various fixture lists and whilst a few league games drew my attention (despite the international break playing havoc with the nonleague schedule) the scattered FA Cup First Qualifying Round replays were the pick of the bunch. After securing a late 2-2 draw away to Littlehampton Town, I saw that Chipstead would welcome their opposition back to High Road to attempt to complete the job. So, with it being a school night and Chipstead close to home this fixture fit the bill perfectly.
It’s fair to say that Chipstead haven’t had the greatest of starts to this season. Sitting 23rd in the Bostik Isthmian Division One South, they’re spared the ignominy of propping up the table only by virtue of Shoreham shipping goals at more than three per game. A run of four straight losses has been halted by the 2-2 Cup draw at Littlehampton, but although (with the exception of Walton Casuals) their defeats have been tight, Chipstead could use a good result in the Cup to boost morale heading into a tough September. The likes of Cray, Carshalton and South Park look pretty ominous in this run of form… Their Southern Combination Premier opponents have had more of a mixed start to the season, occupying 11th in the table after two wins and a loss, but would hope that a victory tonight could propel them to a more consistent set of results.
It’s been almost a decade since Chipstead have gone any great distance in the FA Cup Qualifiers, their best ever season coming in 2008/9 when they reached the Fourth Round. Once there it took a trip to Plainmoor for Torquay United to end their run. That was the season after they were promoted to the Isthmian South Division One – now established members at this level, they are overdue a good FA Cup run. Tonight’s opponents Littlehampton are a consistent presence at Step Five, and do have good FA Cup pedigree for a club in Level 9 of the English Football pyramid. In 1990-91, they managed an appearance in the First Round proper, losing away to Northampton Town once they got there. Interestingly, their first opponents in the Qualifiers that year, were none other than Chipstead. Surely manager Rob Maccalees will have highlighted this coincidence in his pre-match team talk…
I arrived at the High Road far, far too early. Typically I enjoy a walk around to take photos of the ground, however, when it’s pissing it down, this often ceases to be fun. The time spent sat inside in Coops’ Bar did give me time to peruse the programme though, which came free with the £9 entry fee. This is the first time I’ve seen this, and I must say it is a nice touch. Add this to the £5 for a hot dog (in a round bun – have you no shame, Chipstead FC?!), chips and diet coke, and I think that for an evening out to watch FA Cup football, with scran and reading material it’s pretty decent value.
This pre-match purgatory also gave me the opportunity to meet a supporter who is comfortably my favourite of all those I’ve met on my travels so far. This is intended as no slight to the many great people I’ve encountered around the grounds, but there are none who can hold a torch to Tannia – probably the only dog ever named after Stoke City’s Brittania Stadium. She arrived in her Chipstead FC raincoat, cunningly fashioned by her owner out of an eBayed Celtic shirt. Nonleague is great.
Speaking to a few Chips supporters pre-match, they seemed apprehensive. As is this isn’t Game of Thrones, I’ll dispense with the spoiler alerts and just tell you – they shouldn’t have been. Despite an initial scare when former Sunderland ‘keeper Oliver Pain had to react quickly to a limp backpass by Liam Harwood, it was pretty much all Chipstead.
Not a minute after that, a pinball-esque sequence of play saw the ball race into the left channel to be chased by burly number 9 Sam Bell. Bell latched onto the it on the corner of the area, cut inside and bundled through a half-hearted tackle attempt. It wasn’t pretty, but the finish certainly was, stroking the ball into the roof of the net past the prostrate Luke Hutchings.
Littlehampton thought they may get back into it when they had a claim for a penalty. Unfortunately for them, the incident in question involved neither handball nor a push as suggested and the referee took no action. This was in around the 9th minute, and to be frank, the referee and his team lost control of the match there and then. Littlehampton (in particular their ‘keeper, which I’ll come to later) were vocally very aggressive to the officials throughout, who weren’t particularly effective in keeping a lid on the match. I’ve no doubt this contributed to events later on.
After 19 minutes, Bell again showed his strength with a bustling drive towards the area after winger Ollie Twum had done well to keep the ball in play. Whilst nothing came of the shot, it was indicative of the pattern of play, as Chipstead were starting to fashion good chances. Another came and went on 26 minutes for left wing-back Chris O’Flaherty who drew a good stop from Hutchings with a free kick near the touchline.
Just three minutes later O’Flaherty got his goal. Displaying absolutely no positional discipline, he ended up exchanging a one-two with Bell on the edge of Littlehampton’s box. The marauding full back then danced past the opposition centre back with feet so quick they’d make a wolverine purr before sliding a composed finish into the net. Not the sort of goal you expect from a full back, but well taken, and well deserved. Two-nil.
Just as I was writing my notes for that goal, specifically that the Chips were carving through Littlehampton at will, they did so again. It followed the second so fast I actually dropped my camera trying to react in time, but whilst there are no photos, I did manage to see it. Tooting & Mitcham alumnus Leon Lalor-Dell reached the byline showing great pace, and clipped a ball over Hutchings to the back stick, where Bell couldn’t miss, racking up his second, and Chipstead’s third.
This was half an hour in, and was the last significant action of the half. As I tried to make halftime notes, my ears rang to the delightful dulcet tones of Littlehampton goalie Luke Hutchings, as he sought time and again to make his point to the ref that he was, in fact, “an absolute f*cking bell end, mate”. Excepting the superfluous “mate”, this didn’t really strike me as the way to endear him or his team to the officials, and was a refrain he’d repeat throughout the match. I must say, given his belligerence, it’s unsurprising he received little sympathy each time he picked the ball out of his net.
The first half performance had been overwhelmingly dominant by Chipstead, although Littlehampton did manage the occasional breaking foray towards the other end. In particular, Lalor-Dell and teenager Ollie Twum looked dangerous. If they could learn to release the ball slightly earlier, both would be highly effective players at this level – or higher. In defence, Martin, Harwood and Cumber were easily dealing with Littlehampton’s long ball strategy, whilst Felix and O’Flaherty were getting forward well from wing back. In addition, Saidou Khan was dovetailing well with captain Callum McClean in midfield and really controlling possession. As for Bell, the Littlehampton defence couldn’t handle him.
Which is why it was no surprise when he racked up a hat trick in the fiftieth minute. A pinpoint left wing cross found him at the back post, and when he nodded his header into the ground, as all the good coaching manuals say, the Littlehampton goalkeeper was left with little option but to harangue the ref again and look disappointed. 4-0, and realistically the game was finished.
There were a few more moments of quality, from both teams, with Littlehampton forcing Pain into a good save in particular, whereby he tipped a decent long range shot onto the crossbar and over. Substitutes Keanu Williams and Tony Martin also went close for Chipstead, but there were no more goals.
There was, however, a good ol’ fashioned dust up. As I mentioned, the referee and his team were displaying less control than a drunken toddler driving a JCB, and it was no surprise that the game became niggly and the challenges late. When Saidou Khan launched into a hard (but, in my opinion, fair) tackle on Littlehampton’s Ben Gray, Gray took exception and fouled him back. What happened next is open to conjecture, but Khan definitely threw a punch, which was returned with interest by Gray. Cue bedlam, with all 22 players, plus coaching staff, groundsman, tea lady and the assembled cast of the musical Cats all pitching in for a scrap. When the referee eventually got a grip, the denouement was a red card for former Palace trainee Khan, and a yellow card for Gray. I think deuce reds would have been more appropriate, but what the hell.
So there it was. A tempestuous, but ultimately satisfactory 4-0 victory for Chipstead FC, and a drive home in the swirling rain for Littlehampton.
The Wash Up
Man of the Match was quite comfortably Sam Bell. The new joiner from Lingfield Town was so impressive he managed to rack up three goals and an assist, yet still only play about 65 minutes. His knack of making it into the box for crosses will certainly pay dividends in the long season ahead. However, that does not detract from how well all of his teammates played. On a difficult, wet surface, the ball control and commitment to playing on the deck were spot on across the team.
For Littlehampton, it’s hard to draw a lot of positives from tonight, although their back four worked hard throughout, despite being under almost continual pressure. In fact, it is testament to their efforts that the deficit was only four. On a personal note, I am really disappointed with the quality of pictures I was able to take tonight. A large element of this was the light, with thick cloud cover removing the chance to get good first half pictures which I usually rely on. So, my apologies to those good folk at Chipstead, including a few of the players, who were hoping to have some decent pictures from the evening.
Chipstead will travel away to Suffolk-based AFC Sudbury in the next round full of confidence, and I really hope that Antony Williams’ team can make an impression further into the FA Cup Qualifiers. It’s an oft-repeated phrase within the mainstream media that the FA Cup is losing its magic – I can say with certainty following my visits to the High Road and Chalky Lane, that sure as shit isn’t the case in the Qualifiers.
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