Monday 12th November 2018, 1945 Kick Off
Hampton & Richmond Borough FC vs Oldham Athletic AFC
The Build Up
Televised football is a paradoxical thing for a match-attending football fan. On the one hand, matches are played on more days to squeeze in as much glorious cash-generating TV as possible, which means you can get to extra fixtures. However, the flip side, is that you end up with some ridiculous expectations being place on fans – such as the requirement for Oldham Athletic supporters to make a 430 mile round trip to watch their team play on a Monday night. Fortunately, my journey wasn’t quite so far (closer to six miles each way) though as I made it on the London rail network, it was arguably as tough, and probably took just as long.
Oldham’s reason for going south was an FA Cup First Round tie against Hampton & Richmond Borough, of the Vanarama National League South, and would be the first time these sides had met. Founded in 1895 as Pine Villa, Oldham Athletic adopted the folding Oldham County’s Boundary Park home – and part of their name – in 1899. Having been relegated from EFL League One last season, The Latics parted company with manager Richie Wellens, and brought in former player Frankie Bunn on a one year contract. Bunn has a strong connection with Oldham, having made over 70 appearances for the Greater Manchester club, scoring 26 goals. However, his Oldham side have found things tough in the bottom tier of the Football League and came into Monday’s match 15th in the table, but 22nd in the form table, with only one victory in their last six.
As such, this FA Cup fixture represented a welcome opportunity for Oldham to turn things around. A club with proud FA Cup pedigree, the Latics have made the Semi Finals three times, most recently in 1994, where they were beaten in a replay by eventual winners Manchester United. Speaking of whom, United legend Paul Scholes’ is a famous Oldham fan, and would be hoping to see them fare better than they did last season – a 3-2 first round loss at Carlisle United’s Brunton Park. Certainly, the visitors would be favourites to dispatch Hampton & Richmond, 49 places below them in the league pyramid and going through a rough patch of their own.
After a summer of upheaval, which saw long-standing manager Alan Dowson depart to Woking along with a large portion of his playing squad, Gary McCann’s new-look Beavers hit the ground running in the National League South. Flying high early in the season, McCann – who reached the Play Off Final at Step Three with Hendon last season – must have known that his team would hit a period of poor form at some point, and hit it they have. Their last league victory came away at Truro City on September 15th, although the division is so tight that even down in 16th they are still only five points from Bath City in 4th – with two games in hand.
The FA Cup has provided the respite during this difficult period, especially a smash-and-grab 1-0 victory away at Eastleigh in the last round which saw them into the First Round for only the third time in their 97 year history – courtesy of an 85th minute Chris Dickson goal. Dickson, signed from Chelmsford City in the summer, is the league’s second top scorer with nine goals, and would be the man most likely should the hosts overcome the bookies’ expectations to win.
Like any non-league club who make the First Round “Proper”, Hampton & Richmond have already had a fair journey, seeing off the aforementioned Eastleigh, AFC Hornchurch and Burgess Hill Town, earning £49,000 in the process. For context, if they win another three matches, they’ll be one of only 32 teams left, and would have raked in £273,000.
This was my third visit to the Beveree Stadium, and after driving to the last two, I decided to try my luck on the public transport system. Despite living just a few miles from the ground, the vagaries of London’s train network required a trip almost into central London and then back out again, and after around an hour and a half I was belched out of Hampton station for the seven minute walk to the ground.
A 3,500 capacity ground, with seating for around 600, a (pretty strong person’s) stone’s throw from the banks of the Thames, Beveree is always a pleasant place to visit. Despite being the only senior club in the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, this is definite rugby union territory, and the Beavers average league attendance is only 556. However, with the hosts selling out their allocation, and the Latics bringing a fair few down the M6, Monday’s crowd was an impressive 2,720.
With both BBC and BT in attendance, for the Second Round draw and the live coverage respectively, there were some big names present, such as Matt Smith, Paul Dickov, Glenn Murray and non-league favourite Adam Virgo. Additionally, I got to see the FA Cup for the second time since Saturday…
I grabbed myself a cheeseburger and Diet Coke for £4, and settled down to watch the fans enjoy the build up to kick off. With the FA’s requirement to segregate fans, it meant that the usual burger bar wasn’t accessible to the away fans, and so an additional one was brought it – Hampton’s Hamburgers, from, erm, Hampton, and a fine addition they made.
Before kick off, a minute’s silence was impeccably conducted, and then the referee’s whistle got things underway.
It took only three minutes for Oldham’s game plan to get around the back of the Beavers’ back line to become evident, when left back Andy Taylor got forward and whipped a dangerous cross in. However, it also became apparent quite quickly that Oldham’s defence was more porous than the US/Mexican border. Six minutes after Taylor had threatened, Hampton’s Casey Maclaren had a half chance after Zak Joseph’s free kick was only half cleared. The second ball in found Maclaren in the box, but the danger was snuffed out.
After ten minutes, Tom Lovelock made his first exceptional save of the evening, as he tipped over a rasping drive from right-back Cameron Dummigan. Impressive hold up play by Jose Baxter had released Dummigan, and he kept his effort on target but couldn’t beat Lovelock. The Harlow-born stopper is one of many players who made the step up from Hendon with Gary McCann, and showed real class throughout this match.
Five minutes later, and the Beavers had struck a critical blow. When right back Tyrell Miller-Rodney ventured forward, he got the better of Andy Taylor, and Callum Lang backtracking could only bring him down illegally. Chris Dickson, he of the nine league goals (and two full caps for Ghana…) stepped up to take the penalty. His spot-kick was inch perfect, giving Daniel Iverson no chance. Right down in the bottom corner, even Iverson’s 6’10” namesake Allan wouldn’t have reached it.
Behind me, in the crowd, rumours surfaced of text messages received from friends watching at home – there was no contact on Miller-Rodney. Had the “plucky underdogs” employed professional gamesmanship to win the penalty? Who knows, but almost immediately it appeared the ref must have had the same thoughts, because he awarded an Oldham free kick for an almost imperceptible push on Ishmael Miller. The resulting shot, however, was weak, and Lovelock easily scooped it up. Former Man City-man Miller was front and centre again on 22 minutes, when he pulled another sharp save out of Lovelock. His shot from the right of the six yard box was hit with real venom, but the number one reacted quickly to palm over.
From the resulting corner, the ball was knocked down in the area, and an Oldham player I couldn’t see flashed a shot in. The ball skidded around, and eventually clanged against the post, bouncing tantalisingly along the line. Lovelock turned around, dived, and somehow pawed it away to safety, where Yado Mambo (disappointingly not No 5) hacked clear to complete the job.
Just a minute later, it was Hampton & Richmond threatening, this time through Dickson and Zak Joseph. Another summer arrival from Hendon, Joseph – who formed a dangerous partnership with Niko Muir last season – was a real livewire throughout the match, but on this occasion both he and Dickson shot over within thirty seconds of each other.
Almost straight from that, in what was becoming an action packed first half, former Everton youngster Jose Baxter was sent clear on goal by a textbook through ball. As he rushed through, Lovelock raced out, forcing the Bootle-born striker wide. Or rather, he would have done, had Baxter not thrown himself over a phantom leg – incurring the boos of the home crowd, and the yellow card of Mr Neld.
Oldham were having the majority of the ball in this period, but Hampton’s defensive discipline was admirable. They held their shape well, and pressed aggressively as soon as the Latics entered the attacking third, restricting them to sideways movement around the box. Around 35 minutes, a bad tackle by Maclaren on Samuel Edmundson gave Oldham a free kick in a presentable area, but the free kick resulted in an easy save.
Strong hold up play by part-time fitness instructor, part-time Sutton United coach, and full-time South London football legend, Craig Dundas, allowed him to slip in Zak Joseph on 38 minutes, but Iverson stood up well to make the save. A minute later, I couldn’t completely understand how Oldham had failed to equalise, when another marauding forward run by Taylor saw him whip in a dangerous cross, and Mambo Number Six headed down towards his own goal. Whether it went wide of its own accord, or Lovelock tipped it, I’m not quite sure, but it didn’t go in anyhow.
Direct from the corner, Cameron Dummigan found himself completely unmarked, with more space than anyone could reasonably need. It was therefore quite unexpected when he diverted his header down, and wide of the goal.
There was still time for Oldham to threaten again, and they did so right on the stroke of half time. A deep cross was met by Miller, who leapt like a salmon on steroids, and knocked the ball down for (I think) Lang to strike. His shot took a crucial deflection off centre back Rian Bray and went out for a corner. Again the corner was dangerous, and another goalmouth scramble didn’t end until Lovelock bravely dived on the ball, resulting in a textbook Year 9 bundle on the line. Sadly this was also the point where my lens decided to fog itself up to the max, rendering me completely unable to take photos for the remainder of the match.
So 1-0 to the National League South side at half time, and although Oldham had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, both teams had threatened to score. Hampton were defending well, and it Dickson and Dundas they had strength and close-control to hold the ball up, with Joseph a willing runner off them. However, their resolute defending would need to be partnered with luck if it was to hold out for the second forty five, because Oldham looked dangerous, particularly with Jose Baxter coming more to the fore. His ability to find pockets of space in front of the defence, then use the willing runners from deep, was likely to cause problems as the game progressed.
Unforunately, soon into the second half, Baxter was removed from the fray. An innocuous looking challenge in his own area led to a six minute stoppage for injury and sadly he had to be substituted for Johan Branger. Three minutes later, the Oldham defence parted in front of Joseph as he advanced in possession, tempting him into a shot from the edge of the area. His effort was well struck, but ended up the wrong side of the post.
During the second half, up until around the 75th minute, Hampton were effectively holding Oldham at arm’s length, keeping them pinned in their half for long stretches. However, during this period in the ascendancy, McCann’s charges never really threatened to extend their lead, and that would prove to be their undoing. On 75 minutes, an Oldham counter down the left resulted in a shot so wild it went for a throw, but the warning signs were there that the visitors were dangerous, particularly down the wings.
The pressure from the League Two side became more pronounced, and the likes of Lang, Rob Hunt, Taylor and Dummigan were regularly getting behind the Hampton defence. Last ditch blocks, slide tackles and clearances were the order of the day, and no one exemplified the work rate more than skipper Michael Corcoran and substitute Ricky Wellard, and one exquisite block by Nathan Mavila.
However, when Chris O’Grady was introduced to the fray, the tide inexorably began to turn, and despite the stoicism of the Beavers’ backline, it looked inevitable that Oldham would equalise. So it transpired, that in the 88th minute, when a well worked Hampton free kick ended with a scuffed Zak Joseph effort, Dan Gardner sprinted the length of the pitch in possession. From the left wing, the man who was spotted whilst training to be a panel beater, whipped in an inviting cross, and there was Rob Hunt to sidefoot home.
It was hard to say that Oldham didn’t deserve the leveller, but what followed was particularly cruel on Hampton & Richmond. With eight minutes of stoppage time indicated, it became real backs to the wall stuff for the Beavers. Despite more heroics by Lovelock, Oldham just kept coming, and four minutes into the allotted time, up popped Wigan loannee Callum Lang to seal the win for Oldham. Lang has been in fine recent form for Oldham, and when a flicked on long ball fell to him in time and space inside the six yard box, there was no doubt that he would score.
2-1 to Oldham, with just a few additional minutes to play. A last gasp chance fell to Rian Bray to level, but his glanced header from an Ogo Obi cross skidded agonisingly wide, before Tom Neld blew his whistle, calling time on the Beavers’ FA Cup journey.
The Wash Up
A heart-breaking way for the Beavers to go out in the end, but no one at the club will look back on the performance with anything other than pride. For 85 minutes, they had veered between some lovely attacking play, and resolute backs-to-the-wall defending. The Oldham fans were silenced, from the 15th minute until the 88th, and must have been fearing the worst.
Football, however, is a game of small margins, and in only six minutes, that despondence turned to jubilation for the travelling Latics fans – making the 215 mile return seem a lot more palatable. Pre-match, the draw was made for the Second Round, meaning Oldham know their reward is an away trip to Maidstone. Another long day, but an eminently winnable fixture, which gives them a great-chance of a money-spinning giant-killing opportunity in the Third Round.
There were good performances from both sides, with the full backs for Oldham particularly impressing, along with Callum Lang. However, I want to focus on a few of the Hampton players. Zak Joseph was a dangerous runner all match, and on another day could certainly have troubled the scorers. Additionally, I thought Mambo, Bray, Mavila and Miller-Rodney were magnificent, particularly in the second half, but it was Lovelock who really caught my eye. There have been some good ‘keepers at the Beveree in recent years, such as Watford’s Sam Howes, but on tonight’s performance, Lovelock looked the real deal, and deserving winner of my Man of the Match award.
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