Tuesday 20th March 2018, 1930 KO
Worcester Park vs Lingfield
The Build Up
As we reach what is apparently, technically Spring, even though the wintery weather shows no sign of abating, the football season is winding inexorably towards conclusion. The nonleague calendar is rapidly filling up with promotion battles, relegation six pointers – and of course – semi finals.
My local side, Combined Counties League Division One Champions elect, Worcester Park were in one such semi final tonight – in the Surrey FA Saturday Premier Cup, against Lingfield. This Cup is for all sides based in Surrey in Division One (Step Six) leagues, and has also included amateur and reserve sides along the way.
Worcester Park racked up a massive 8-1 victory over Old Wilsonians in the quarters – one of many massive scorelines they’ve accrued this season. Gary Taylor’s Park side have blown the competition away so far in 2017/8, racking up 113 league goals, at an average of over four per match. Results such as 11-1 against Cove, and 9-0 against Bagshot have left them setting 10 points clear at the top. Although, with ground grading a concern, their march to the title could actually end with a relegation to Step Seven (along with four other sides!), an utterly absurd state of affairs, and one the FA needs to rectify quickly.
Their opposition tonight were Lingfield, from, erm, Lingfield. Google maps tells me this is a village just outside East Grinstead, which is a place I’ve heard of but never visited. I’m sure it’s great. Managed by David Dean, who is obligatorily nicknamed “Dixie”, Lingfield are currently 3rd in the Southern Combination Football League Division One. Having finished 5th last season, they are looking likely to improve on that this time around, with Langney Wanderers above and Ringmer below a fair distance away. Lingfield’s last two league matches have been postponed, whilst a 5-1 victory over Westfield Reserves put them through to face the Skinners.
Worcester Park have the better pedigree in this competition, having won it last season, and been beaten finalists twice. A victory over Banstead Athletic at Gander Green Lane saw them take the cup last April.
With Worcester Park the designated home side, and their ground lacking floodlights (but having great food), the fixture had to be moved. As such, I made my way after work to the Met Police’s Imber Court. A ground I’ve visited many times, Imber Court is a short drive away from my gaff, and has plenty of parking. Despite some absolute throbbing belter cutting me up and almost running me off the A3, I made it to East Molesey ready to enjoy the match.
A cheeseburger (avec onions) and a Diet Coke cost me a princely £4, whilst a ticket was a fiver. Below ten quid, and had I fancied a pint the bar at Imber Court is also cheap.
Worcester Park sent a solid five minute long warning signal to their SCFL opposition in early doors, winning approximately 73 corners in the first five minutes. With skipper Gary Knowelden whipping in his trademark pinpoint set pieces it was only a matter of time until these resulted in a chance. When one of the many early deliveries came swirling in, a weak clearance allowed Mark Waters to shake the defender off and send a shot into orbit.
The next five minutes were all Lingfield though, as they controlled the ball. Sammy Clements and Jake Horn showed some nice touches in midfield, and were two of the few players to do so in the opening third. In fact, despite a few chances created at either ends, the whole first half was pretty low on quality. Both sides were finding first touches bouncing just beyond reach, and passes causing the recipients to stretch, killing momentum.
On fifteen minutes, Nick Dembele, scorer of 14 league goals this season, tested Kevin Wheller at his near post, but the big stopper from Kingston was equal to it. Five minutes later, Dembele was at it again. His pace on the break got him clear, but he delayed his decision to shoot or pass, and the Park centre backs were able to smuggle the ball away.
Dembele was a touch enigmatic to be honest. Rapid, and able to run at the same pace with or without the ball, it would just be nice if he could ever look as though he actually has it under control. He remained a danger on the break throughout, but regularly lost possession just as it looked as though Lingfield could threaten.
This was about the brightest spell of the game for the Lingers, but it couldn’t last. As soon as the clock hit 30, Worcester Park began to dominate. A 32nd minute snapshot by Waters was easily pushed wide by Olly Moore in goal, and when Knowelden got another fine delivery right on the edge of the six yard box, Waters – who was coming more and more to the fore – flicked his header wide.
Two minutes later, and Joe Cheeseman – who hit a hat trick last time I watched him – got his first shot. He got on the ball in the box, and was patient to work an opportunity between himself and Knowelden. When he got the ball down and turned, however, his shot was deflected wide.
Knowelden was at his creative best again on forty minutes, when he chipped a neat free kick into the box. A clearance looped the ball up high into the air, and as it dropped Simon Burt smashed a volley goalwards from a tight angle. It rippled the net, but from the wrong side, and the score remained level.
This was the last notable action of the first forty five, a half that Park had come to dominate. Despite the threat of Dembele (how many Dembele’s are there in football at the minute?!) on the break, and some occasionally smart touches and turns in midfield, Lingfield just weren’t able to get up the pitch. In Waters, Burt and Knowelden, Worcester Park had the beating of Lingfield in the centre of the park, and Deacon and Cheeseman posed a threat up top.
Where Lingfield were doing well was to stifle the ball at the feet of Cheeseman and the prolific Deacon. Deacon had scored 48 goals in all competitions prior to tonight, but every time he’d got the ball in the first half, he’d been smothered by bodies.
Immediately in the second half Worcester Park came out to secure the win. It was almost as if the first forty five had been an exercise for them in sizing up the opposition, because within two minutes Deacon had dragged a shot just wide. Minutes later, Cheeseman achieved probably his personal highlight of the match – attempting an outside of the foot pass he clipped his own standing leg and went down in a heap claiming the free kick. Sadly for Cheeseman and his dignity there were no Lingfield players within two yards of him…
He wouldn’t care for long though, as on 51 minutes his side went ahead. When Harrison Deacon chased a loose ball, his pressure forced a mistake from the Lingfield defence. As the ball bounced towards goal, Olly Moore rushed out to meet it. He was slower than Deacon though, who is faster than he looks, and the former Crystal Palace youth ‘keeper could only watch on as Deacon clipped it over him, onto the crossbar, and then made sure on the rebound.
Only four minutes later, the Park were two up. Another loose touch by Dembele was seized upon by Burt. He released a speculative shot from around 35 yards. Surely expecting the ‘keeper to save it, he looked up more in hope than expectation, only to see Moore beaten by the bounce and the ball nestling in the net.
Goal three took only one more minute. With 56 showing on my watch, the ball was worked to Cheeseman on the right wing. He slid a pass in towards Waters who, attacking the edge of the box, curled a neat sidefooted finish into the corner of the net. Six minutes, three goals, and the tie was as good as over.
A sixtieth minute half chance for Lingfield was easily saved low by Wheller, and that was about as good as it got for the visitors in the second half, as their frustrations began to tell. The Lingers began to complain about refereeing decisions, and appeared unable to adjust their tactics. Set on playing the ball out from the back it was easy to defeat for Gary Taylor, who sent his team out to effectively press from the front.
After 65 minutes, the pressure told, when Moore was forced right back to his goalline in possession. His drive clear was weak, and Deacon was able to intercept with his face (that’s how all the best interceptions are made…) before bringing the ball under control. He strode forward, and, under pressure, finished well to make it 4-0 and bring up his fiftieth of the season. Fair play.
A fifth was added on 73 minutes when Mark Waters drove forward through midfield. He faked to shoot, but slipped a delicious disguised pass through to Cheeseman. The big number nine took the ball in his stride and slid a right footed finish past Moore. No more than Cheeseman’s performance deserved, as once again he had been a bustling, gurning bundle of energy up front.
The last fifteen minutes were about preserving the clean sheet for Worcester Park, and that was no more than they deserved. A few more chances came and went for the Park, with Deacon in particular creating and missing one good chance after dribbling past three statuesque defenders.
It should also be said that Park’s fitness levels were obvious. When the opposition tired, with many cramping up, the Skinners players seemed to go from strength to strength. There were no more goals, and Gary Taylor even managed to blood some younger players before the final whistle. When it went, Worcester Park had secured a 5-0 victory, and a spot in the final.
The Wash Up
A richly deserved win for Worcester Park, who in truth could have added another two or three. Their backline held firm, and Lingfield never really managed to create any clear cut opportunities as a result. In midfield, Waters, Burt and Knowelden were just too strong, combative and precise in possession for the opposition. Once they got the ball forward, Deacon and Harrison were too strong and too mobile for the Lingfield defence, and finished well when it counted.
Carl Chaney and Chris Burke also got forward well in the wing back positions, and caused problems when they did advance up the pitch. By pressing high up the pitch, Park prevented the Lingfield wingers from really causing any problems in their own halves.
The only away players who caught the eye were Dembele, who was quick but wasted possession, and their central midfielder Jake Horn. The young number six has been at Lingfield all the way through the youth set up, and looked comfortable in possession, with a good first tough and change of direction.
Man of the match though is the aforementioned Waters. He has already scored 23 league goals this season, and added another in the cup tonight. He broke up play well in midfield, was a strong physical presence, and also had a touch of class in possession.
Moving forward, Gary Taylor’s side will have to wait to find out who they play in the final on April 20th. With Nottsborough sat at the semi final stage, unsure who they will play so far, it could be one of four teams that line up against Park. If it is Nottsborough, it’d mean that 2016’s winners, will play 2017’s to determine who takes this year’s trophy.
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