The Build Up
For the second weekend in a row I decided to delve into the Evo Stik Southern League Premier Division South. After watching a cracker between Hartley Wintney and Staines Town last week, I was feeling drawn by the short drive to East Molesey, and a chance to see how two sides under new management were faring in a new league.
The Met Police last played in the Southern League system in 1977, whereupon they moved to the Isthmian’s administration. 41 years of ups and downs later, and the Old Bill found themselves shifted once more, as the FA oversaw a restructuring of the nonleague pyramid this summer. Contentiously, the side from East Molesey were moved to the Southern League, and despite their appeal, found themselves facing a season of much extended travel. As a result, their long standing manager Jim Cooper resigned (and almost the entire squad sought new pastures), with the prospect of additional travel making his already lengthy commute from Essex untenable.
Replaced by the well-respected Gavin MacPherson, the Met Police have kept an element of stability, as MacPherson has long been involved with the club, and is still ably supported by the likes of Jon Nurse. After finishing in 10th place last season, a similar finish in the (in my opinion) stronger Southern League would have to be considered a success, and so sitting in 12th coming into the match would seem about right.
Their visitors today were also under new management, with Taunton Town’s boss Leigh Robinson having departed for Truro City earlier in the month. Rob Dray is in the temporary hotseat, having been involved as a coach during the the well-fancied Peacock’s fine start to the season. Having won the Southern League Division One West by 19 points last season, the Taunton outfit have come into the league with a big reputation. That reputation has only been augmented as a run of five games undefeated has seen them saunter into 3rd position, with only Hartley Wintney and Weymouth higher. Additionally, their attendance has grown this season, up to 556 on average, marking them out as one of the biggest clubs in the league already.
Both sides are also still going strong in the FA Cup, with Taunton having dispatched Bitton 4-0 in the Second Qualifying Round, and awaiting a match between St Albans City and Corinthian-Casuals to see who they will face after Whyteleafe were ejected from the competition. The Met Police had a slightly more difficult progression to this stage, needing a replay and extra time to see off the challenge of Needham Market midweek. It remained to be seen if that exertion would have any effect on them this weekend…
I’ve visited Imber Court on many occasions, both as a player (of rugby) and watching football. Bizarrely, I rarely come and it’s not gloriously sunny. Today was no exception, and I pulled into the car park with half an hour to spare after racing back from watching Teddington hockey snatch a draw from the jaws of victory in Reading.
Part funded by the Police Lottery, the Met Police have access to great facilities at Imber Court, yet really struggle to fill the 3,000 capacity ground. On one hand this is to be expected – any side bearing the emblem and name of London’s finest is hardly likely to be popular, and Molesey does have its own side in Step Four, but I think that’s a shame.
The ground is lovely, the people are friendly, and the food is more than half decent. A bacon roll and Diet Coke cost only £3.50, and the programme, plus a Golden Goal ticket, was a further £3. Added to the ticket cost which (I think) is only £10, and you’re well under the £20 mark to watch a good standard of football.
With the match underway, Taunton Town quickly set the pace, and were firmly on the front foot for much of the first half. They created their first decent chance within ten minutes, when a nice pass slipped in behind right back Josh Webb put Matt Wright in the clear. The forward from Plymouth lined up Ollie Chamberlain and his cross was cleared by the Met around a metre from their goal line.
The lively running of Taunton’s front three – Andrew Neal, Dan Sullivan and Matt Wright was causing all manner of problems, particularly as the likes of Ryan Brett and Matt Buse sought to slide balls in behind the Police defence.
However, on 17 minutes, a rare Met Police foray up field resulted in the first goal. A big headed clearance by Charlie Wassmer, on loan from Woking as he looks to build match fitness following injury, fell to Jonathan Hippolyte. Running through on goal he was brilliantly tackled by Shane White, but the ball fell straight to Ethan Chislett on the right of midfield. He cut inside, and hit a left footed effort from around 20 yards, which ended up nestling just inside the post.
I’d also say around this point, that Met Police ‘keeper Tom Williams must have the patience of a saint. Continuously (and I mean continuously, to the point the guy must have had breathing apparatus on because he never paused for breath) abused by one Scottish fan a metre behind his goal, it’s a miracle said Scottish fan didn’t end up getting a goalie gloved fist in the mush. It was particularly frustrating given the boring and quite juvenile nature of the chants. Imagine my surprise, upon turning around after twenty minutes of “I shagged your mum” and “I bet you’re gay” to find the culprit wasn’t a 13 year old sporting a bum fluff moustache, but a bloke in his mid fifties.
The goal didn’t make much difference to the general flow of the match, and on 23 minutes the Peacocks won a corner. Tom Williams punched clear from right under his crossbar, and then Josh Nelmes pulled out the most un-centre back of efforts, as he bicycle kicked against the bar from 12 yards. A minute later Taunton went close again, when Shane White had a shot blocked at close range after good work by “Rocky” Neal and Matt White.
Taunton Town looked very strong from set pieces, and Ryan Brett’s deliveries in particular were landing right on top of Tom Williams at the back post, putting the Met under real pressure. One such delivery in the 30th minute was just about cleared by the home side, before a less well hit effort in the 32nd minute cleared everyone. Rocky Neal rushed out to collect, and the summer arrival from Truro City swung a cross into the box. It just cleared Ben Adelsbury, but the Met’s defenders didn’t deal properly, and Adelsbury reacted fastest to turn onto the ball and sweep into the corner for 1-1.
Soon after, Taunton put more corners into the danger zone. First, a corner was headed down and cleared off the line – the Taunton fans felt by a hand, but tellingly none of their players appealed. Seconds later, the Peacocks hit the crossbar for the second time, when a falling player hooked the ball over his shoulder onto the woodwork.
The game appeared to lurch away from the Met Police on 40 minutes, with John Gilbert was sent off for a stamp. I didn’t see it, but I certainly did see the scuffle which ensued afterwards, and the Taunton players were visibly incensed. Gilbert gave no complaints, and neither did the Met Police side, so I have to assume the card was justified.
I couldn’t really get my head around how Taunton weren’t ahead, as they must have been on close to 80% possession, and were creating chances with it, but then, all of a sudden, they were 2-1 down to ten men. An awful back pass from Taunton’s left side around the half way line sailed out of play for a corner, and from the resulting delivery, Max Blackmore rushed across the front post, and nodded home. Blackmore joined the Met this summer with a real pedigree, having pilfered 98 goals for Westfield, and also won a National Championship whilst studying in the United States.
Taunton almost levelled up just before half time from yet another corner, but the header down towards the back post was well saved by Williams.
As the second half kicked off, it was again Taunton who started stronger, and to be honest, I think at this point I probably still expected them to go on and secure the three points. Two corners in the first two minutes of the half tested Williams and his defensive colleagues, but both times (as they had all afternoon) they passed the test.
On 54 minutes last year’s Player of the Season, Ryan Brett, hit a good effort from 20 yards for Taunton, but it was beaten away by Williams, who was really growing into the match. For the next ten minutes, the away side huffed and puffed, but simply couldn’t blow the Met house down. If the first half had been typified by Taunton creating chances, the theme of the second was a solid Met Police defence (orchestrated by Tom Williams’ brother, Sam) repelling wave after wave of attacks.
Then, on 64 minutes, the Met really set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Breaking following heavy pressure, Josh Webb sent a curved pass up the right wing. Gathered by the busy Ethan Chislett, he exchanged passes with Max Blackmore, who got a shot away. The ball squirmed under the diving Lloyd Irish, who looked likely to recover and gather on the goal line. However, Jack Mazzone had other ideas, and the summer arrival from South Park bagged his fourth of the season, diving in on the line to beat Irish to the ball and poke into the net.
3-1 to the Met, and all of a sudden Taunton looked seriously rattled. On 69 minutes they thought they were back in it, when a good ball by Neal found Matt Wright at the back post, and his looping header dipped in under the crossbar. It would have been the big number 9’s sixth of the season, but Mr Godfrey’s flag was up, and Mr Horne ruled it out.
Minutes later, the home side were out of sight. Again, it came on the break, following a pair of Taunton corners, but once again Gavin MacPherson’s side showed their potency on the counter. A long ball clear was held up by Mazzone, who’s second half performance had been truly brilliant. Everything stuck to him, and he always had the presence of mind to find a pass. Just like he did this time, teeing up his strike partner Blackmore, who promptly slipped in Ethan Chislett. He kept his composure, and raced towards goal, before clipping the ball over a committed Irish to bring up a comprehensive 4-1 scoreline.
On 75 minutes Matt Wright saw red for Taunton, though I didn’t see what for at all. With him gone, and Sullivan already substituted, Taunton had no way back into the match, and for the final fifteen minutes, the Met played it out perfectly. Stroking passes around the pitch, they were well in control as they wound the clock down, and even created more chances to score, such as Alex Fisher’s last minute shot from the right. Taunton had one final chance, when Neal headed into the ground when well placed at the back post, but from the minute the fourth went in the result was never in doubt.
The Wash Up
A comprehensive victory for the Metropolitan Police in the end, and one that after 45 minutes no one would have seen coming. The hosts may have been ahead at half time, but they were a man down, and Taunton had given every indication they would come back into it.
That they didn’t is a huge testament to the resilience and fortitude of MacPherson’s charges. They have already come from behind against Merthyr Tydfil and Needham Market this season, and although the match reports will show it finished 10 v 10, they played a full 45 minutes a man down today. After a solid 120 minutes, getting home well past midnight, on Tuesday, to show the willpower and fitness they did to pull off today’s result is truly impressive.
Rising one place to 11th, the Met can look forward to their FA Cup tie with confidence. As for Taunton, there may not be a lot to take from this match. Were it not for the crossbar, a goal line clearance, and a fine performance by Tom Williams, they could have had five by half time. They have a strong squad, and will surely bounce back from this result quickly.
The front three of Neal, Wright and Sullivan will cause anyone problems, whilst Brett in midfield is the pacemaker of the team, dictating tempo with his incisive passing off either foot. Man of the Match today though has to come from the home side, and could be one of a number of players.
After Charlie Wassmer was sadly withdrawn through injury, Sam Williams bossed the defence alongside Jeremy Arthur, whilst his brother Tom had a fine performance between the posts. I was impressed by left back Nesta Guiness-Walker, who at only 18 years old looks a real prospect. Ethan Chislett was calmness personified in midfield, and ended the match with a goal and two assists.
However, the best player on the day for me was Jack Mazzone. The centre forward scored 25 goals for South Park last season, and hasn’t broken stride with his step up to Step Three this season. Slightly quieter in the first half, in the second he really came into his own, and gave one of the most complete 45 minutes of centre forward play you’ll see at this level.