Saturday 15th September 2018, 1500 Kick Off
Kings Langley FC vs Tiverton Town FC
The Build Up
Hertfordshire was the setting for my first Step Three league match of the season, as I attended a fixture in one of the new Southern League divisions. With a revamped structure, the Southern League now runs a Central and South league at Step Three, with today’s competing sides having been placed in the so-called Evo Stik League South Premier Division South. Catchy, eh?
Kings Langley (curiously no apostrophe?) were the hosts, and came into the fixture one place above the relegation zone at this early stage of the season. A 21st place finish last season was deceptively close to the drop, but there was never any real danger, as both Gosport Borough and relegated-on-the-last-day Dunstable Town were miles off the rest of the division all season. Formed in 1886, the Kings have had various home over time, and have spent most of their history in the Hertfordshire County League system. After joining the Spartan South Midlands League in 2001, however, they started to rise through the leagues, culminating in three successive promotions between 2013/14 and 2015/16, leaving them in Step Three. This impressive run of extended form meant Kings Langley joined Truro City, Chester City and FC United of Manchester as the only English clubs to achieve a promotion hat-trick.
A 1-0 loss to Frome Town last time out was hardly ideal preparation for the visit of Tiverton Town, who themselves were embarking on the second furthest away trip (184 miles each way, five shorter than their journey to Hendon) in the division. The artists formerly known as Tiverton Athletic were second pre-match, having been the closest challengers to the runaway and Play Off competitors in the Southern League last season. With Hereford, King’s Lynn Town, Slough Town, Kettering Town and Weymouth finishing around twenty points clear of their nearest competition, Tivvy took the Everton role, finishing as the best of the rest.
Joint on points with Weymouth and Merthyr Town at the top after the first six matches, Tiverton’s only loss to this point had come in the M5 Derby at home to newly promoted Taunton Town. Double FA Vase winners in the 90s, Tivvy have been in the Southern Premier since a 2016/17 victory over Salisbury Town in the South & West Play-Off Final.
After once again battling with the M25 in my journey to watch non-league football, I arrived in Kings Langley and drove through the quaint town centre. A picturesque little spot just north of the motorway, the town’s club won the Best Away Day in nonleague last season, so I was intrigued to see what they were doing so well.
First impressions were good when I arrived to find that the admission was only £11 at the CRY Community Stadium (shared with Watford Ladies), which is at the reasonable end for Step Three, particularly in the Home Counties. With a 1,963 capacity, it’s good non-league set up, with ample on-site parking and numerous pitches for training. The bar’s resident DJ was doing what he could to get the atmosphere going (including a half-time playing of Wurzel Gummidge to welcome the Devonian visitors…), and it all felt very pleasant in the sun. Apart from the fucking flies, which were a royal pain in the arse.
The programme was only £1, and unusually had a teamsheet included (I’m always shocked when teams charge extra for teamsheets), whilst the chips, hot dog and Diet Coke at £5.50 meant that the whole afternoon came below the £20 threshold I think is an appropriate spend for a Step Three match.
It would be fair to say that the first half wasn’t an exceptional feast of football, with the ball spending more time in the sky than the average Boeing 747. There were chances, but they were of the half variety, and it was a difficult watch.
On six minutes came the first half chance, when a Tiverton Town free kick drew a routine stop out of Kings’ goalie Charlie Burns, then on twelve minutes, captain Gary Connolly had to head a dangerous cross by River Allen behind. Tiverton looked on top in the early stages, and although reasonably effective, their strategy on pumping the ball long into the channels for Jordan Rogers to flick on to Levi Landricombe was not pretty. An aerial battle not seen since the Luftwaffe were over every night ensued, and on 21 minutes a long ball was nicked on by Landricombe to send Nick Hurst into a good position on the left. The former Pilgrim’s cross/shot reached the back post, but Rogers couldn’t quite stretch his legs to get the crucial touch.
Five minutes later, Ben Mammola advanced from centre back for Tivvy and found himself on the edge of the area digging out a surprisingly good outside of the boot effort, which was well saved by Burns. The ‘keeper, on loan from Hampton & Richmond Borough, was the busier of the two custodians in the first half, but did what he had to do well.
Shortly before the half hour, the hosts created their first half chance, when a Mitchell Weiss shot was bravely blocked. Weiss started the season with 90 goals for the Kings, and had added another four before the start of play today, and looked to form a good partnership up front with Bedford-born striker Rene Howe.
A minute later, Hurst sent over a delightful ball from left back for a free Rogers at the back post, but the number 11, who joined from Taunton in 2017, couldn’t make it count. On 36 minutes, a Weiss free kick was cleared off the line for Kings Langley, and then Landricombe flicked the ball wide under pressure from two defenders whilst hunting for his fifth goal of the season.
Shortly before the half time whistle, Steve Ward had the hosts’ best chance of the half, when he turned on a sixpence in the Tiverton box and drove past the defender. He got his shot on target, but Liam Armstrong was out well to save. The best save forced in the half, it was somewhat against the run of play, as Martyn Rogers’ Tiverton side had probably shaded the opening period, thoung Kings Langley did finish strong.
The second half was only a minute old when Kings Langley should have taken the lead. A cross from the left wing found Steve Ward, who must not wash, because none of the Tiverton defenders were interested in getting within five metres of him. His glanced header beat the ‘keeper, but was a touch too glanced, and got absolutely nowhere near the goalline.
He would rue that miss seconds later, as Tiverton went up the other end and took the lead. A(nother) long ball was flicked on to Landricombe, but there didn’t appear to be any danger. However, the Plymouthian had scored 100 goals to date for Tivvy, and is almost certain to be competing with the likes of Brandon Goodship, Matt Wright and Ricardo German for top scorer. He looked up, saw Burns off his line, and hit a first time effort over his head from 35 yards into the net. 1-0 to Tiverton, and 101 on the books for Landricombe.
His brother Michael had a decent chance to extend the lead four minutes later, but his back post header clipped the crossbar and went over. Had that have gone in it’s difficult to think that the home side would have got back into the match, particularly with River Allen growing in stature. The former Argyle and Truro City man’s quick feet were winning free kick after free kick, and his passing range was exceptional.
However, it didn’t go in, and Kings Langley certainly did get back into the match, equalising shortly after the hour mark. Despite having less of the ball, they were playing the more attractive football when they did have it, and it was a nicely flowing midfield move that saw the ball wind up at the feet of Mitchell Weiss twenty yards out on the right of the box. Having already finished as top scorer three times for Kings, Weiss added another goal to his record, driving in low to the keeper’s right to equaliser.
Five minutes later, he had his second and put Steve Conroy’s side ahead. A jinking run by Steve Ward was unceremoniously ended by Tiverton captain Jamie Price, and Weiss took his place over the ball. Setting the ball outside the right post, he applied just the correct amount of spin to bring it back on target but beyond Armstrong’s reach, and watched on as the ball curled into the net. A brilliant free kick to take the lead and notch his sixth in all competitions this season.
Tiverton were beginning to look a bit rattled, and the running of Ward was causing problems. On 77 minutes, the ex-Northwood player had a golden chance to put the match to bed, but with the ball dropping on the edge of the area could only lash it wide.
On 83 minutes Rogers forced the best match of the save from Charlie Burns. An exquisite left footed pass from Allen released substitute Joel Randall in space, and his shot was deflected behind. From the resulting corner, Allen put the ball right on Rogers’ head, and his effort was good and on target, but Burns was equal to it, reacting quickly to palm away.
Tiverton were desperately chasing the game as it rolled into added time. The quick feet and close control of River Allen were creating opportunities, and he was repeatedly fouled by Kings Langley midfielders who just couldn’t get close to the ball. Chasing the game, Tivvy were beginning to take risks, and when Mammola gave the ball away, Rene Howe had a gilt-edged opportunity to seal the victory, but just as it looked that he would round Armstrong, out snuck a telescopic arm to flick the ball away.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Allen picked the ball up around the half way line and bounced off two attempted challenges, getting to the edge of the box. Just as he stepped past the defender, he was brought down, two yards from the penalty area. With him and Landricombe addressing the ball, Burns was clearly uncertain what to expect, and when Allen drilled in a low effort, the ‘keeper never looked set as it got a deflection past him to level the scores.
A frenetic four minutes followed as both sides sought to snatch all three points, but in the end a draw was the fair result.
The Wash Up
Both teams had worked hard, and had experienced spells where they were in the ascendancy. Kings Langley had played some nice football on the deck, and Conroy has clearly instilled a mentality to try and play through the thirds at the club. When they were confident after the first goal they posed a real threat, and in Weiss and Ward, there are two very dangerous direct runners, whilst Gary Connolly and Callum Adebiyi at the back were solid.
Tiverton Town also had a very distinctive game plan, with Tom Bath running his socks off up front, creating space for Rogers to get flick ons and Landricombe to grab the goals. It may not be pretty at times, but it is effective, and yet again Landricombe got on the scoresheet.
There is some sparkle in the team though, and it comes in the form of River Allen. Released by Lee Hodges in the summer, River Allen has so far divided his time between Tiverton Town and Plymouth Parkway, but he surely won’t be playing much more Step Five football on this form. His passing off both feet was too good for this division at times, and the opposition simply couldn’t keep up with his quick feet at times. Having spent the first half sitting deeper in a quarterback role, he moved further up the pitch once Tiverton went behind and really shone – for a quarter of an hour period he was simply unplayable, and deservedly my man of the match today.