Saturday 30th September 2017, 1500 KO
Concord Rangers FC vs Dorking Wanderers FC
The Build Up
When Bodmin Town sadly lost their replay away in Bideford, I was deprived the opportunity to watch one of Cornwall’s finest in London this weekend. So, I was very grateful to Dorking Wanderers when they were able to give me a late spot on their free supporters’ coach to Concord Rangers for an inter-divisional FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round clash.
For the home side, the fixture represented a chance to provide some respite from a difficult start to the league season. The Beachboys lie 21st out of the Vanarama National League South’s 22 teams, though following an FA Cup win over Tunbridge Wells, and last weekend’s draw at Beveree Stadium would be hoping to continue with their upturn in fortunes. A large amount of how they fared today, and indeed this season, would be dependent on Steve Cawley recapturing the form which has seen him finish with the club’s Golden Boot three seasons in a row.
Dorking Wanderers, on the other hand, visit the Aspect Arena (AKA Thames Road) in good spirits. Although they sit in the lower reaches of the Bostik Isthmian Premier Division, this is very much an upwardly mobile club. Formed in 1999 and currently playing at their highest ever divisional level, today also represented the furthest the Wanderers have ever been in the FA Cup.
My trip out to Canvey Island, and the home of Concord Rangers took me via Westhumble to meet the Dorking supporters’ coach. A typically soul-destroying journey around the M25 to transit the Dartford Tunnel was brought to a close as the coach driver expertly navigated the sort of residential street I wouldn’t want to try and steer a skateboard down. He somehow managed not to prang any of the absurdly parked cars in the road, and I can only assume his soul is now forfeit to whatever devil coach drivers strike bargains with.
The ground itself is, ahem, picturesquely situated between a caravan park and the Calor Gas headquarters. In my opinion, it is a great example of a traditional non-league ground, and there’s something endearing about watching football while container ships roll by in the middle distance. Although not overly noticeable today, I was assured by a few home fans that the smell of the gas works can be quite overpowering, and has been known to unsettle the opposition…
Due to FA Cup rules there was no free entry for me today, so £12 for a ticket and £2 for a programme left me with just enough left over to grab a pie and diet coke (£3.50) before kick off. As the players came out onto the pitch, I noticed that the pitch was absolutely immaculate, so a doff of the cap to the groundsman (who was also a thoroughly pleasant chap).
There was little quality on display in the opening exchanges, with both teams sizing the other up. Considering Concord’s stuttering start to the season, their early nervousness in possession was understandable, as Dorking presented genuine banana-skin-risk. That said, The Beachboys could (and perhaps should) have found themselves ahead after only two minutes, when they had a free header and follow up shot. However, the only outcome was that Dorking ‘keeper Harry Palmer got the chance to warm his gloves.
Five minutes later, Wanderers had their first sight of Concord’s goal when Tom Tolfrey cut inside from the right hand side of the box before clattering a shot off the crossbar. Tolfrey and his teammates would rue that missed opportunity on 19 minutes, when a good passage of play down Concord’s left saw Palmer making a smart save. The ball broke out into the box and found its way to Amos Nasha, Rangers’ all-action centre midfielder. He smashed a right footed drive into the net and Concord had the lead.
From that moment on, any nervousness within the home ranks seemed to dissipate, and the team went from strength to strength. When I say strength, it isn’t metaphorical, Concord Rangers are a very robust and physical side. In honesty, some of their challenges went over the line, particularly a late hack which left a Dorking player with nasty stud marks, and a running elbow to Matt Briggs’ head by Kyron Farrell. You can take the boy out of Millwall etc…
On 24 minutes Steve Cawley tested his shooting boots. Having thoroughly outmuscled Dorking’s full back to prevent him shepherding the ball out of play, the number 10 found himself with time and space on the corner of the six yard box. His near post shot was well saved by Palmer. Palmer couldn’t (and didn’t need to) save five minutes later though, when Amos put Khale da Costa through on goal. Da Costa nicked his finish past the ‘goalie, but was simultaneously denied by the post and the linesman’s flag.
The rest of the half was pretty stale, and despite large amounts of Dorking pressure, they were unable to convert what half chances they did create. Their best chance came on the cusp of half time, when Matt Briggs beat his man down the right (a recurring theme) and teed up a Dan Pearse to shoot. A fine shot brought an even finer save out of Louis Wells, and the half time whistle went with Concord holding a narrow lead.
Although Dorking had a lot of the ball in the first period, Concord’s centre backs Billy Roast and Lewis Knight were thoroughly unperturbed. In the interests of fairness, both Dorking wingers were giving their full backs torrid times, but the men in the centre held firm. The key difference, however, had been the strength and aggression of the Concord players – exemplified by Harry Lee in midfield.
It took Concord less than two second half minutes to extend their lead. When a corner wasn’t cleared, Harry Palmer found himself forced into action. Although a combination of him and his defenders rebuffed the initial shot, it meant the prolific Cawley was left with time and space to pick his shot. This he did, and thanks very much. 2-0 to Concord and it was difficult to see Dorking getting back into the match.
If they were going to do so, it was always most likely to be through that man Briggs. At one point during the second half I heard Wells in the Concord goal implore his defenders not to take any chances, especially around “that guy”. His pace on the break was a real weapon, and former Ireland youth international Farrell struggled to stick with him throughout. It was one such break by Briggs that gave Dorking their best opportunity to stage a comeback. His burst to the byline and pull back was handled in the area, and the ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Tom Tolfrey had similarly little doubt in grabbing the ball and marching to the spot. Whilst his confidence was in no way lacking, on this occasion his technique was. He ran up, leant back and smashed it. As a consequence, the ball is now starting a new life as a deckhand on a boat somewhere in the Thames Estuary.
This was on 54 minutes, and as I was penning the unfortunate line “Dorking really coming back into the match” in my notepad, Concord finished it. Former Maidenhead striker Jordan Cox showed what made him so effective in their promotion season and scored a goal that may or may not have been out of this world. I was writing, so didn’t see it. I really need to get a better method of taking my notes. Or employ an assistant. I did switch on in time to see him celebrate though, which was a woeful robot-esque dance, so there is that.
To their credit, Dorking certainly didn’t cave in. They pushed forward, and continued to play their passing football, but Concord were very well organised. Manager Adam Flanagan has clearly done a good job in training to set up his team, and even when the likes of Briggs, Tolfrey or McShane did get around the back, their crosses were well dealt with by the bodies in the box. When shots were taken, Wells was equal to them.
McShane saw a low shot saved by Wells with his feet on 62 minutes, and then ten minutes later had another back come off the post. McShane was unlucky not to get a goal in the game, but by the same token, I think Wells earned his clean sheet. At the other end, Palmer was having an equally good game. In the absence of regular ‘keeper Slav Huk, Palmer showed that he is a more than adequate replacement. His highlight came with a superb one-handed save from Nasha on 71 minutes.
Both sides created chances in the final twenty minutes, but Concord managed the closing stages well and so it was that when the referee brought the game to an end, The Beachboys had run out 3-0 victors.
The Wash Up
So Concord Rangers march on in the FA Cup, with sights firmly set on matching 2014-15, where they reached the first round proper. A crowd of 141 watched a professional performance, where they avoided the potential cupset and continued to reverse their early season fortunes.
Dorking will reflect ruefully on a day which could have ended very differently. Had Tolfrey’s early chance hit the bar and gone in, instead of out, the match may have played out very differently. Certainly any team which hits the woodwork twice, and sees an inspired goalkeeping performance can consider themselves unlucky to end goalless. I am sure that even the most partisan supporter will, however, concede that Concord deserved the win, if maybe not by the three goal difference.
Concord were strong, aggressive, and took their chances when they came. Having understudied Dave Tarpey at Maidenhead last season, Jordan Cox is a hungry, busy striker who worked well with Cawley up front. I’ve already discussed the good performances of both centre backs and the ‘keeper, but I’d like to highlight young Billy Roast. In his first season at Vanarama South Level, if he maintains these sort of performances he will find this division a comfortable transition.
I often criticise refereeing performances on this site, so when I see a good one I like to mention it. It was a difficult game for Aji Ajibola and his team (Michael Marsh and Richard Joss), with some full blood tackles and attackers who liked to play on the shoulder of the last man. Whilst Dorking fans may feel that the ref missed a few fouls, I would say that no one ever gets 100%, and in general I thought he controlled the match very well.
Matt Briggs again takes the prize as Dorking’s best player (that’s two out of two in the Wanderers games I’ve watched, please don’t take out a restraining order against me…), but the man of the match in my eyes was Amos Nasha in midfield. I’ve been impressed by Dorking’s central midfield when I’ve seen them before, but they were simply overpowered by Nasha and Lee for Concord. Nasha gets my highly prestigious nod as MotM, though, as he was slightly more disciplined. A few rash lunges from Lee count against him, and Nasha’s feet, head or chest seemed to be under absolutely every second ball in the last half an hour. Great work rate, and the opening goal to boot for the former Hammer, who played in the Europa League whilst at West Ham.
Congratulations to Dorking Wanderers on a successful FA Cup campaign which has seen them go further than ever before, and good luck to Concord as they move on to the 4th Qualifying Round and (hopefully) beyond…