Saturday 19th January 2019, 1500 KO
Frome Town FC vs Metropolitan Police FC
The Build Up
A Step Three match-up in the Evo Stik Southern League Premier Division South was my destination this weekend, and it was a fairly unique journey there for me. With plans in Wiltshire for the evening, and my other half having won the weekly Rock, Paper, Scissors for the car, I found myself looking around for viable options. With one of my closest local sides, Met Police, playing away at Frome Town, I opted for the old “beg, borrow, steal” approach, and at 0930 on the Saturday morning, found myself boarding the team coach at Imber Court.
Whilst I obviously won’t discuss the journey to respect the Met inviting me into their pre-match environment, it was certainly a good experience. The Met Police squad were in good spirit – and it’s understandable – they’d won their last two with clean sheets, beating Hendon 3-0 last time out, and were sitting nicely in second. The goals of Jack Mazzone and Max Blackmore had been crucial to their rise, but so too the solidity throughout the squad. Two points behind Taunton Town, but with games in hand, this season already represents possibly their best chance to reach Step Two in in the year they celebrate their centenary.
The hosts, Frome Town, were second bottom, though with a large points buffer from Staines Town at the foot of the table. Staines – beset by off-field issues – have been dire so far this season, and the Robins will be looking upwards to where Chesham United and Gosport Borough are five points away. Having beaten their highest ever league position for the last two years consecutively, manager Danny Greaves would be desperate to ensure the club avoid relegation. A repeat of last season’s 13th, in what is a very strong Step Three division, would surely be welcomed.
Formed in 1904, Frome Town reached Step Three after only two seasons in the Southern League Division One South & West (they beat Sholing 1-0 in the Play Offs) having previously spent the majority of their history in the Western League. Perhaps Frome Town’s most famous moment was in 2003/04, when they rode the Harry Potter wave into the national media, recruiting a local witch to remedy their form issues. It worked (was definitely the witchcraft…) and the Robins won eight of their next nine home matches. Maybe they got a wizard or two in last week, as they managed to subdue Wimborne’s prolific Tobias Holmes, winning 1-0, to bring their record to three wins and three losses in the last six.
After passing the horrors of Salisbury Plain, and the frustratingly one-lane sections of the A303, the coach pulled in to Frome Town’s Badgers Hill. A 3,000 capacity ground, Frome Town’s average of 217 is at the lower end of the division, and represents a slight decrease on last season.
The ground is well branded, and the club has a strong “We are #BA11” theme running. A £12 entrance fee, and £2 programme are well priced, but at £4 for a microwaved pasty and a Diet Coke, the food is more expensive than it should be. As a well-known pasty connoisseur, I certainly wouldn’t rate this in the same league as a classic Ivor Dewdney at the same price.
The pitch was in iffy condition, and could be generously described as “undulating”. Less generously, the slope was so severe there are rumours that the SAS are considering replacing the Fan Dance with shuttle runs across the width of Badgers Hill.
If you’d turned up for the first half without any knowledge of the Southern Premier, you’d have thought Frome Town were the side up the top, and Met Police were fighting relegation. The Robins were on top for the first five minutes, and stayed there for the duration of the opening period.
They had their first chance after five minutes, and would have gone ahead but for sterling work by the Met Police’s Bavarian No 1 Berti Schötterl. The big man from Nuremburg had (unfairly in my opinion) found himself out of favour at Woking in recent weeks, where Alan Dowson preferred Craig Ross, and was welcomed with open arms at Imber Court by Gavin MacPherson. He got down quickly to push a firm Marcus Mapstone header around the post here.
On 16 minutes, Jack Mazzone had the Met’s first chance, when he headed over after a foul on Jonathan Hippolyte gave the away side a free kick. It was then twenty minutes before the next chance for either side, when former Northern Ireland midfielder Johnny Gorman smashed a half volley straight at Schötterl.
It was turning into a first half of few chances in the dismal weather. Frome Town were very much the dominant side, but were struggling to break through Ollie Robinson (back from Walton Casuals) and Jeremy Arthur who stood up firmly at the back. As were the Frome defenders. Jack Mazzone and Max Blackmore have been more than a handful for most defences this season, and Connor Roberts must have been wearing big shorts, because they were both comfortably in his pockets in the first half.
Only once did the two strikers manage to combine in the opening forty-five, when a quick one-two at the edge of the area gave Blackmore the chance to shoot from the edge of the D, but he fired wide. Around this time the Met were also forced into a change, as John Gilbert left the pitch – soon to be seen on crutches – to be replaced by Luke Robertson, who would go on to have a very influential match.
On 42 minutes Frome Town came close to opening the deadlock, when the impressive Alex Monks got the ball in the area. A deep right-wing cross found him 10 yards out at the back post, and he killed it quickly. He pulled the trigger, but out of nowhere right back Josh Webb dived in and made a crucial block.
Minutes later the importance of that block became clear, as the visitors found themselves one up, instead of one behind. A foul on Hippolyte out on the right hand touchline (hotly debated by the Frome supporters, but it looked pretty clear to me) gave the Met a chance to whip the ball in. In came the cross, and it wasn’t cleared as a textbook goalmouth scramble ensued. To my mind, a proper goalmouth scramble needs the following ingredients: mud, scuffed shots, clearances straight into teammates, and desperate blocks. This had all of those things, as Jonathan Hippolyte, Max Blackmore, Jeremy Arthur and Ollie Robinson all tried, and failed, to stick it in the onion bag.
After miscuing one attempt, Chessington-based Robinson was fortune to get a second bite at this particular cherry, and this time made no mistake, diverting the pinball beyond Rob Brown in the Robins’ goal, to put the Met ahead.
One-nil to the visitors at half time, and I think even the Met coaching team would struggle to say they deserved it. They weren’t playing well (though the surface wasn’t ideally suited to their usual playing style) and Frome were. Danny Greaves’ side were getting right in the Met’s faces, and snapping possession up quickly and effectively. By swarming Mazzone and Blackmore in possession, they were preventing the neat interchanges the Met do so well, and by defending deep, forcing a huge gap between the visitors’ midfield and attack.
When in possession, Alex Monks and John Morgan-Williams looked good, and threatened to cause problems. In particular Monks, a summer signing from Mangotsfield United was carrying the ball well, and winning the midfield battle.
In the second half, the Met’s performance improved markedly, and if they didn’t deserve their half-time lead, they certainly deserved the full-time result. Luke Robertson started to stamp his mark in midfield, ably supported as always by Louis Birch, whilst both Hippolyte and former Frome Town winger Ollie Knight were livewire out balls.
On 52 minutes, it was Robertson and Knight who combined to give the Met a great chance to add a second. Robertson broke through two tackles in midfield, and set Knight free down the left. The pacy youngster gave chase, and dug out a tempting cross to the back post, where top scorer Jack Mazzone was arriving at pace. The former South Park striker was pulled back, giving the ref no choice but to award a penalty.
In truth, Mazzone hadn’t been having his best game, but he stepped up to take the penalty himself, and made no mistake from the spot. From then on, he was a massive thorn in the Frome backline’s collective side, and the interplay between him and captain Max Blackmore caused more and more problems as the match progressed.
With an hour played, Robertson fired over from twenty five yards, and then on 62 minutes Rob Brown made probably the save of the match when he stopped Blackmore at point blank range. Brown had only arrived from Division One South side Paulton Rovers this week, and made a number of good stops on his debut.
On 74 minutes substitute Rex Mannings had a chance in the box, but the youngster from Bristol Manor Farm used a wedge instead of a wood, and sent his shot high towards the clubhouse mural. Two minutes later a loose pass in midfield from Frome Town resulted in a Blackmore cross from which Jack Mazzone also blazed over. Blackmore had another shot well saved by Brown, but generally, when Mazzone scores so does Blackmore, and after the number 9 had picked up his 17th of the season, it seemed a matter of time before the skipper got one too.
So it was, on 90 minutes, then an inch perfect through ball from Robertson found Mazzone in the box. With me fully confident he’d dispatch it, Blackmore stood on the ball, and looked to have lost the chance. He recovered well though, turning onto his left, and sending a low shot into the corner of the net.
The Wash Up
And that’s how it finished, 3-0 to the Met Police. After an iffy opening first half, where Frome Town were much the better side, visitors took control in the second. When you’re down the bottom it must feel like your luck’s never in, and the Robins’ players and fans certainly felt that they were on the wrong side of most of the marginal calls. They were well on top in the first half, and must have been baffled at how they were behind at the break. However, for all their possession, they hadn’t really threatened the Met Police enough, only forcing two real saves out of Schötterl. Their best performers on the day were both at the back, where new ‘keeper Rob Brown former Biggleswade Town defender Connor Roberts were solid throughout.
The visitors though really put down a statement today in my opinion. A long trip to Somerset, and a difficult pitch in the rain, could have seen them come unstuck in the mud, but they stayed true to their game plan and got the rewards. Mazzone and Blackmore were tireless, and looked dangerous in the second half. Having stepped up from South Park and Westfield respectively this season, both have adapted to the league brilliantly.
Hippolyte had probably his best match of the season so far, and Knight was a real threat, whilst Jeremy Arthur was a rock at the back. Man of the match though, goes to the youngster in midfield, Luke Robertson, who was the biggest difference between the Met’s dire first half, and their dominant second.
With both Basingstoke and Gosport losing, it’s situation no change at the bottom for Frome, who remain 21st. On the strength of their first half performance today, it’s easy to see them climbing up the league, and I’d certainly expect to see them safely in the middle third at the end of the season. Taunton Town’s 3-2 win means the Met Police made up one point of goal difference, and with Weymouth, Salisbury and Harrow Borough all breathing down their necks, every advantage gained could be crucial.
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