Tuesday 23rd January 2018, 1945 KO
Metropolitan Police FC vs Tonbridge Angels FC
The Build Up
An unexpectedly free Tuesday evening found me making the short drive to East Molesey, and the Met Police’s home ground of Imber Court. Tonight would be the third time I’ve been to see the Met Police play, and I’m yet to see them drop points. A home tie against Tonbridge Angels would give Jim Cooper’s side the chance to make it three wins from three in front of the Grass Roots Tourist.
Despite attendances rising by almost 14% this season, the boys in blue still have one of the lowest average attendances in the Bostik Premier, with only promoted Thurrock getting fewer through the turnstiles. Partly due to being named for the Old Bill (rarely a crowd pleaser…), partly due to not being geographically associated to the area, and partly due to being in predominantly rugby territory, the Met’s difficulty in getting supporters in means they operate on a much smaller budget than the teams around them. Considering this, it is remarkable that the side who finished 17th last season find themselves in 8th going into tonight’s match – especially considering this is the league where Glenn Tamplin is spending the GDP of Laos on player salaries each week.
A hard to take 1-0 loss to Wingate & Finchley was hardly ideal preparation for the Met, and missing top scorer Lloyd Macklin from the match day 16 meant that Tonbridge could arrive with confidence. Angels, by contrast, are coming off the back of a hard fought 1-0 victory against mid table rivals Enfield Town, and have their own top scorer – Alexander Akrofi – safely ensconced within the starting line-up. A win tonight, and with two games in hand on their hosts, could see 11th placed Tonbridge quickly leapfrog Met Police in the league.
On arrival at the ground I eschewed my usual practice of a walk around to take photos. Having visited Imber Court before, and in the daytime when the light is more conducive to good photos, I satisfied myself simply buying a programme (£2), and a Golden Goal ticket (paying a quid for the privilege of 65th minute ticket – cheers) and beat a path to the tea hut.
Although not the best nonleague food I’ve experienced (Worcester Park in general, Walton & Hersham for the chips), the hot dog with onions, Cup’a’Soup and Diet Coke at only £4.50 represented great value for money, and was thoroughly enjoyable. Well, the hot dog and soft drink were – the soup in a mug was rank, and swiftly found its way into the bin.
My pre match preparations were also briefly interrupted by noticing one fan’s particularly impressive effort at a moustache. Sporting the best lip warmer since Joseph Stalin, I thought it was only fair to highlight his commitment and dedication to Tom Selleck with a photo. I hope he doesn’t mind…
The team of match officials led the team out, and it struck me that it was awfully kind of the FA to allow someone to officiate a league match on Year 11 work experience. Mercifully, the referee had been paired with two of the more “experienced” looking assistant refs on the circuit who I assume had a secondary role of taking him home to his parents afterwards.
Said youthful ref got proceedings underway, and in short order Tonbridge Angels had the first sight of goal, when centre forward Nathan Elder fizzed a shot from around 30 yards, which flew past the upright of Luke Williams’ goal. That was about all the Angels were to see of Williams’ goal in the first period, as a healthy travelling contingent of Kentish fans were frustrated by their side’s inability to string passes together.
The Met Police on the other hand, were racking up the passes like nobody’s business. Clearly set up to retain possession and look to release the full backs Tom Bird and Sam Williams on the overlap, the Met’s approach started to bear fruit with a couple of early sighters in the first ten minutes. It wasn’t until 14 minutes, though, that they got their first good chance. A deep cross from the right was over hit, and it looked as if it would drift out harmlessly. However, new signing from Kingstonian Alec Fiddes had other ideas. With the technical ability he clearly learned playing in Spain’s Segunda B (definitely not whilst at Exeter – spit), he lofted the ball towards goal, forcing Jonathan Henly into acrobatic action to tip over.
Henly was certainly the busier of the two keepers during the opening exchanges, and the former Hemel Hempstead ‘keeper was pressed into action again on 22 minutes. A deep free kick by Tom Bird – he of Football Icon fame – was met by the head of a leaping Jay Gasson. His header was text back, down into the ground and right in the corner. Just as I was cursing my luck in having the photo of a bulging net obscured by a melee of players, I was astounded to see the ball rise up into the air and clear. Somehow, Henly had got down to it and clawed/kicked the ball to safety. I can only assume he cheated, or that he is a wizard, because it looked nigh on impossible. Well done, Sir.
There was, however, nothing that Henly could do with Met Police’s opener, which came in the 28th minute. When Fiddes again kept possession well in midfield, the rozzers recycled the ball through the midfield. A succession of quick, snappy passes, and Sam Williams found himself in space, teed up be Jonny Wright on the right wing. His cross from deep found Bayley Mummery unmarked in acres of space, and the summer arrival from Ashford Town (Middx) made no mistake with the header.
Having waited the best part of half an hour for the opener, and seen my chances on the Golden Goal draw eradicated, the 126 souls in attendance waited only two minutes for the second, and again it came from a full back’s cross. This time, Tom Bird was the provider. He received the ball from Gasson inside his own half, and backed himself to beat Liam Smith for pace. Beat Smith for pace he did, and as Bird approached the box Smith pulled him down, giving the Met a well placed free kick. Bird dusted himself down and whipped the wall in to the back stick, whereupon Jonny Wright nodded the ball back across goal, straight into the hands of a jumping Henly. If I couldn’t work out how Henly kept the ball out earlier, I can’t really work out how he let this one in, seemingly palming it into the top corner of his own net.
With the home side 2-0 up, and having all the play, they looked to capitalise on the possession before half time, coming close on 41 minutes when Mummery’s fine header forced a good save from Henly, tipping on to the crossbar and over. Goal kick, obviously. Whilst that was an odd decision by the officiating team, there was an odder one still three minutes later. When an Angels attacker dribbled at the Met defence, he was quite clearly – and audibly – tripped about five metres in front of the ref. There is absolutely no way he can have missed it, so I can only assume he was playing the advantage. The rub being, there is no advantage when the side lose possession after the tackle and the free kick would have been eminently strikeable…
This was but one of a series of complaints Tonbridge had with the referee throughout the match. Whilst I didn’t agree with a lot of them – and felt that many of the fouls, particularly those given against the elbowy pair of Nathan Elder and Alexander Akrofi were fair – there were certainly a few odd calls.
However, two nil down at the break, and if Angels were blaming the ref they were looking in the wrong place. They should have been placing the blame firmly at the Met Police’s feet, who were playing them off the park. With Sam Gallagher and Olli Robinson bossing the midfield, this allowed Bird and Williams to bomb forward down the wings (Sam, not Luke – that would be mental) and create a number of chances for the busy trio of Mummery, Wright and Gavin James. If manager Steve McKimm was to turn this match around he’d need to find a way to stop the supply line to that front three, whilst also bringing his own danger men into the game.
As soon as the second half started, this didn’t look likely. Under a minute in and it was more of the same when Mummery was sent free down the right. He cut back to where both Wright and James were waiting, but a deflection off the defender’s heel sent the ball behind both onrushing forwards. Only two minutes later, the home side had the ball in the net, when Jay Gasson got highest from a free kick, only to see it ruled out for a push.
In the 51st minute, Jonny Wright – hassling and harrying all night, in fact he’s probably at home now, challenging his missus to headers and chasing loose balls into the bathroom – broke through a 50/50 challenge and was scythed down by Xavier Vidal. A brief period of handbags ensued, featuring Tom Bird and visiting skipper Sonny Miles as headline acts, before the free kick was taken. When the ball was eventually whipped in, Met captain Olli Robinson got a fine looping header to the ball, but it struck the bar and bounced over. The second time the home side had hit the woodwork.
It was around this point that the Angels began to up their game. A few substitutions including bringing on Tashie Jay Kwayie (who had impressed me in a two goal performance for Thamesmead Town earlier in the season) added mobility to their forward line and they started to push the Met Police deeper. Despite this building pressure, the home side continued to look dangerous on the break. On 70 minutes, they threatened in just that way, when former Beaver Sam Gallagher won the ball in midfield and released Jonny Wright down the wing. His ball in from the right was textbook, low and hard through the “corridor of uncertainty”, but none of his teammates could quite reach the cross to apply the finishing touch.
I was impressed by Wright throughout this performance. Despite appearing like an old fashioned target man, with his strong hold up play and prodigious leap (not to mention the 1950s style t-shirt tucked into shorts which are hanging off his nipples…), but he actually has a much broader game. Drifting wide, particularly to the right wing, he dovetailed nicely with Sam Williams throughout and was as much a provider from wide positions as a central focal point.
The Angels continued to huff and puff moving into the last quarter of an hour, and things started to get a little petty. Luke Williams picked up a yellow for time wasting, and with ten minutes to play, Miles finally got a yellow for dissent. Throughout the game Miles gave the ref so much stick he could have built a wicker man to actually put Miles inside, however, opting for the traditional approach, the teenager in black issued a caution instead.
For all their pressure in the last ten minutes, Tonbridge couldn’t force Williams into making a save. A header from a corner drew a goal line clearance from Wright, and Joe Turner blazed over from 12 yards after a long ball, but that was as close as they came.
The Met Police defended stoutly, forcing Tonbridge into pumping hopeful crosses which were easily cleared by Jay Gasson and former QPR centre back Jeremy Arthur, when they weren’t claimed comfortably by Williams. Bird and Wright managed to see out large period of stoppage time holding the ball in the corner, and when the ref blew the final whistle, the Met Police had secured an important three points and a clean sheet.
The Wash Up
An impressive performance for Jim Cooper’s side, who it must be said play some great football. Cooper, and his coaching team of Gavin and Chris Macpherson, Jon Nurse and Scott Tarr, have organised a very capable defence, which coupled with Olli Robinson and Sam Gallagher both chasing and retaining the ball well, provides a great platform for the attacking side of the squad. A thoroughly dominant performance tonight – whilst missing key performers such as Tom Hickey, Lloyd Macklin and Will Salmon – only goes to show that the Met are real contenders for a Play Off spot, despite their small budget.
I really didn’t feel like I saw the best of Tonbridge Angels, and midweek games – particularly in different counties – are tough beasts when players have work commitments during the day. It’s no shock that a lot of midweek fixtures see home wins from Step Three down. Although Henly made some fine saves, he also dropped a fine bollock, so for me, Xavier Vidal was the brightest spot for the Angels today. He never hid in the midfield engine room, demanded the ball and was at the heart of the (few) good things Tonbridge did in possession.
As for Man of the Match, Mummery and Wright worked hard up front, and Gasson organised the defence well. I also thought that whilst Fiddes provided the technical and creative touch, probably showing the most flair in midfield he’d have been unable to do so without the graft of Gallagher and Robinson. However, the two key performers tonight were Sam Williams and Tom Bird. Former Wales U19 Williams played a key role in the first goal, and was up and down his line all evening, just as Bird was on the left flank, however, I have to give the Man of the Match to Bird. In addition to being the spitting image of Luke Shaw, he absolutely ran himself into the ground this evening, and was thoroughly spent by the end of it. Despite this, he retained a technical quality, and rarely made the wrong decision in or out of possession.
With Leiston at home to come on Saturday, the Met Police should be feeling confident. Although they have played more games than all the teams around them, there is no guarantee those sides will win those matches, and I can really see them making a late season surge for the Play Offs.
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