Saturday 10th November 2018, 1500 Kick Off
Metropolitan Police FC vs Newport County AFC
The Build Up
The excitement around the non-league community reached fever pitch a few short weeks ago, as after months of campaigning, the draw for the First Round Proper of the FA Cup was made on live television at the Hertfordshire home of Hitchin Town. I watched along with many others, hoping for some huge matches between the haves and have nots of English football, and was rewarded with some choice ties, such as Maidenhead United vs Portsmouth, Aldershot Town vs Bradford City, and Hitchin Town vs Solihull Moors. Arguably the pick of the ties was Bostik Isthmian League Premier side Haringey Borough drawing EFL League One AFC Wimbledon, but this fixture is right up there.
The Metropolitan Police come into the match in a fine run of form, having lost only twice since August (6-3 away to Gosport Borough on September 1st, and 2-1 to Carshalton Athletic in the FA Trophy). Sitting 13th in the league, but with three games in hand, even if they only win two of those they’ll find themselves joint with Tiverton Town in 6th. After finishing 10th in the Bostik Premier League last season, it is a real indicator of the sterling job that Gavin MacPherson and his management team have done in rebuilding a squad decimated following their re-zoning into the disgustingly named Evo-stik Southern League Premier Division South.
Another indicator of this great work is this match. Only a fifth ever First Round appearance for the Old Bill since their formation in 1919, the last time the Met made it this far they fell 2-1 to Crawley Town at Imber Court in 2012. However, after Jack Mazzone’s wonder goal dispatched National League Havant & Waterlooville in the last round, the Blues would be dreaming of further progression – for the first time ever. They’ve worked hard just to make it this far, racking up 480 minutes of football across four qualifying rounds, a replay and extra time.
By contrast, as an EFL side, their opponents Newport County were playing their first fixture in the tournament, with Football League teams joining at the First Round. Visiting Imber Court for the first time in their 106 year history, the Exiles arrived separated from their hosts by 73 positions in the footballing pyramid. Sitting 6th in EFL League Two represents a strong start to the season for Mike Flynn’s side, who finished 11th last season.
Formed in 1912, the club went out of business in 1989 following relegation from the Football League, and was reformed as Newport AFC in the Hellenic League. Rising quickly through the league structure, Newport assumed their old moniker of Newport County AFC in 1999, and then finally made it back to the Football League via the (then) Conference Premier Play Offs in 2012/13. Occupying a spot in the Play Offs, Newport are only two points from Colchester United in 3rd, and have been buoyed by the goals of two former-non league strikers in Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond. Having played in the Conference with Kidderminster Harriers and Grimsby Town respectively, both players would have an idea of what to expect dropping down the leagues for this fixture.
Newport’s form may have dropped off a little recently (no wins in four in the league), but their recent FA Cup form shows real pedigree. The Exiles made the Fourth Round last season, only eventually succumbing in a replay to Tottenham Hotspur after holding their own at home. Since promotion to the Football League in 2013, Newport hadn’t failed to progress past the First Round, and would be hoping to avoid ending that run against London’s finest…
I arrived at Imber Court in plenty of time, to ensure I could get a parking spot, and what a good decision that was. Even at 1230 the visiting supporters were already swarming the streets of East Molesey, and with the BBC in town to film Football Focus and the match being broadcast live, the car park was awash with production-type vehicles. As part of the occasion, dozens of kids from the club’s youth teams were present, and all added to a really enjoyable day (at least until the weather turned…).
At £15 for entry the ticket price (not decided by the club I hasten to add) was well above the Met’s usual pricing, but even with the £2 for a programme and £4 for an egg burger and Diet Coke, it was still very good value for the occasion.
I’ve visited Imber Court, a 3,000 capacity ground owned by the actual Police Force, on numerous occasions, and have never, ever seen in this busy. With an average crowd of only 144 (and even that being regularly bolstered by the parents of children in the successful youth section, the Met Police are above only Beaconsfield Town in the whole of Step Three. Even an hour before kick off, the attendance was well above the average, but always likely to fall below the 4,500 record crowd set against nearby Kingstonian in 1934. Health and safety and all that. For this match, the crowd was significantly swelled by a large number of travelling – and vocal – Newport fans, bringing the total well up.
The BBC and associated press had also brought with them spectacle, including the (I assume) actual FA Cup, for the pre-match broadcast of Football Focus (other weekly magazine shows are available. The real highlight of the pre-match events though took place shortly after the weather had switched from glorious autumn sunshine to horrendous downpour. As the teams came out for the match, two serving Police Officers in dress uniform brought wreaths out onto the field, where they were laid on the centre spot to a bagpipe fanfare. A minute’s silence to remember our war fallen followed, and then referee Matt Donohue got proceedings underway.
The home side definitely started the brighter of the two teams, and could have gone ahead inside the first minute or two, heading wide from an early opportunity. A few minutes later, though, it was the Exiles threatening, through top scorer Jamille Matt. His low shot was well saved by Tom/Luke (I’m going with Luke) Williams in the Met Police goal.
The early parts of the match were an engaging ebb and flow in the swirling wind and rain, and although I was engrossed, my main focus was trying not to drown on the side of the pitch. After 18 minutes, the Met threatened again, this time going close from a dangerous corner, with Oliver Knight demonstrating his usual quality from set pieces. One this occasion his delivery was dropped by Newport ‘keeper Joe Day, but the Old Bill could only scramble it wide.
By the time the first period was about half way through, the Met were very much in the ascendancy. Keeping true to Gavin MacPherson’s philosophy, the home side were playing out well from the back through the likes of Mekhail McLaughlin and the teenager Nesta Guinness-Walker. Newport on the other hand were looking for clipped balls over the back for Padraig Amond – who gave the PA guy pronunciation nightmares pre-match – to chase, particularly from right back David Pipe.
Another aerial chance to the Met came and went on 23 minutes after Bayley Mummery crossed well from the right, and then the first really clear-cut chance fell to Newport. A precise through ball found Amond, who had the pace to escape both Josh Webb and Jeremy Arthur. Out came Williams, and it looked certain that the man from Carlow would open the scoring, but he could only drag wide.
Five minutes later, Jack Mazzone and Max Blackmore were linking up well, to give Blackmore a shooting chance. His shot was parried, and when the ball fell, it bounced tantalisingly past his strike partner. It looked as though that would cost them minutes later when Amond had the ball in the net. A fine free kick delivery was met by the Irish number nine with a thumping header, rain spray flying off his noggin, but as he wheeled away to celebrate, his goal was ruled out by the offside flag. Whether it was correct or not I have no idea…
A minute later, Ethan Chislett made a chance for himself when he drove through midfield towards the Exiles goal. The Academy graduate saw his name in headlights, but his shot was easily saved by Day. Once again it looked like Newport would punish their hosts’ profligacy, and this time there was no respite from the officials.
When a Newport corner was swung in, Amond again rose highest. This time, however his connection was less clean, and the ball bounced between the legs of Guinness-Walker. On the sodden surface, the ball didn’t bounce as expected, and skimmed towards the goal, where it somehow squirmed past Luke Williams to put Mike Flynn’s charges 1-0 ahead.
Almost straight away, the Met had their best chance of the half, when Max Blackmore met a cross at the back post. His header was all good technically, down into the ground and on target, but was just too close to the ‘keeper. That should take nothing away from Joe Day, however, as the big number one from Brighton astonishingly managed to tip over from the deck.
That was the last notable action of the half, and as I looked back on the half, and down at my rain-soaked notes, it was apparent that the Met had enjoyed the best of the match so far, and it was only Joe Day who had prevented them being in front. If Blackmore, Mazzone and Chislett had directed their shots just a foot futher away from Day, they could have been three ahead by half time. Blackmore in particular was causing real problems, and had been the best player on the pitch so far.
The difference, however, was Amond, and his class in front of goal. He’d already had the ball in the net twice (once legally) and was always a threat when Newport managed to get forward.
I was intrigued to see if the second half would be more of the same, and genuinely felt that if the score remained 0-1 for five to ten minutes, the Met Police (who typically finish strongly) could go on and win. Within three minutes, Jamille Matt had disavowed me of that notion. When Tyreeq Bakinson’s shot was parried by Luke Williams, Matt was perfectly placed to slam home the rebound, and it was an uphill struggle for the Met from then on.
As the game wore on, and the professionals’ fitness told, the Met’s midfield struggled to exert themselves on the game, and found themselves prey to an aggressive press by Newport’s Josh Sheehan and Matt Dolan in particular. Despite having a lot of the ball, it was often in quick transitions from defence to attack, where the likes of Jack Mazzone found himself outnumbered. A pattern developed whereby the Met would have good possession and partial pressure only for Newport to create the next decent chance.
So it was on 55 minutes, when Mickey Demetriou headed wide from a corner after getting up well at the back post. Five minutes later though, it was Blackmore threatening. The summer signing from Westfield fought hard to create his chance, and struck well from the edge of the area, forcing Day to get down smartly and tip wide.
A further ten minutes of home pressure ensued, but was ended when Dolan forced the save of the match out of Luke Williams. His curling effort brought a spectacular dive out of the Met stopper, who just managed to tip wide for a corner. Two minutes later, it looked as though he would be beaten, when good work by Dan Butler sent Amond through, but he snatched at his shot, sending it high and wide. Despite all the play Met Police had in the second half, Newport very professionally kept them at arm’s length, and if anything should have extended their lead.
The Met pushed forward, seeking a comeback, and had brought on Antonios Kozakis and Jonathan Hippolyte to try mix things up in the final third. Hippolyte was stretching the play well, and added more width, but was just unable to make the final ball telling. Robbie Willmott at the other end was having no such problems, and his inch perfect cross to the back post almost put the game out of sight in the 85th minute, but the attacker sliding in could only steer wide.
Two minutes later the ball was in the net again, from a player I couldn’t see, and was disallowed. Again. This time a poked pass by substitute Antoine Semenyo sent a player clear, but was adjudged to be past the last man before he steered home. A minute later, and any hope of a home comeback was extinguished when Louis Birch was harshly awarded a second yellow for holding Bakinson.
As stoppage time began, there was just enough left on the clock for Williams to pull off another fine save, but in the end, in the driving rain, as Mr Donohue blew the whistle, it was Newport continuing their FA Cup adventure.
The Wash Up
It had been a fine effort by the Met Police, who were just unable to take that extra step and set a new record for their FA Cup exploits. As it is, a First Round appearance, and only their third loss of the season (against Football League opposition no less), represents an incredible 2018/19 campaign so far.
On the pitch, the players stayed true to the tactics set out by MacPherson, and held their own against their full time opposition. On a wonderful day which exhibited everything great about the FA Cup (except the weather), the home side well and truly did themselves justice. That said, they are a competitive side, and will be bitterly disappointed that they were unable to turn their pressure – particularly in the first half – into goals.
And that was the difference – Newport have two form strikers, with scoring pedigree, and Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt made their mark today. There were fine performances across the pitch (with Blackmore probably just edging it for Man of the Match in my opinion), but it was these two who got the Exiles across the line. And so it is Newport who continue their record of not losing a First Round tie since their return to the professional leagues, and going as well as they are in the league, will surely be looking towards the next round with confidence.
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