Evo-Stik Premier South Play Off Final

Monday 6th May, 1500 Kick Off

Metropolitan Police FC vs Poole Town FC

The Build Up

After last week’s visit to Imber Court for Evo Stik Southern League Premier Division South Play Off Semi Final (and breathe) Bank Holiday Monday saw me back there for a match without the Semi (stop sniggering at the back).   The Met Police’s thrilling victory over Salisbury was mirrored by Poole Town dispatching second place Taunton Town on penalties in Somerset, setting up a mouth-watering final.

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Max Blackmore, sporting a black eye from Salisbury, leads the team out

Poole Town have hit form at just the right time, and their run of four wins and a draw in their last five enabled them to leapfrog the likes of Harrow Borough and snatch the final Play Off place on the last day of the season.  A 7-0 victory at Staines was the icing on the cake, and they rode that wave to see off Taunton at the Viridor.  For a club who have had some notable highs and lows since forming through a merger of Poole Rovers and Poole Hornets 139 years ago, the chance to make it back to the National League South at the first time of asking will sit neatly among the highs.  Famous in nonleague circles for a 39 match losing streak in the 1994/95 season, the Dolphins underwent substantial ground development and investment in the early teen years, culminating in a Step Two promotion, which last two years before finishing 20th last season.  The return to Step Three didn’t start as well as Tom Killick would have hoped, but once they found their feet, the Dorset side became strong side, both on the road and at home.  In fact, they’re one of the few sides Gavin MacPherson’s Blues have failed to beat this season.

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The Met Police would surely have preferred Taunton to come through the Play Off Semis, having (quite comfortably) taken six points off them already this season, yet it is Poole Town they’ll have to deal with.  However, in a season where many (including, embarrassingly, this correspondent) thought they’d be involved in a relegation scrap, to be 180 minutes from National League South football is remarkable.  The 3-2 victory over Salisbury was a microcosm of the Met’s season – not at their best for the full 90, the Police showed typical resilience, and as always, were able to rely on the finishing of Jack Mazzone and Max Blackmore to get them over the line.  Now, MacPherson and his staff would be hoping that same resilience could set up Super Play Off Final against either Tonbridge Angels, or Surrey neighbours Merstham.

The Ground

I’ve travelled to Imber Court a number of times, but this was comfortably the longest journey.  Mainly because I was driving back from a weekend in Cornwall with the family.  With my fiancée in the driving seat so that I could research and prep this report, we made unhealthy progress until around Salisbury, before we hit the obligatory Stonehenge traffic.  There’s a good chance a fair few of the cars I was stuck with were en route to Imber Court, as the attendance was nine times the Met’s average, at 1,025.

I was unceremoniously booted out of the car in East Molesey, my other half delighted that football meant she would be unpacking the car herself, but after years of diving on admin grenades for her hockey, it’s only fair that the feeling is shared.  I walked into the ground (£10), through the now well familiar Mounted Branch End where I discovered programmes had sold out, and so set my bearings for the Tea Hut.  Now one encounter with the Full Hog Burger last week was enough to teach me that whilst an exceptional meat delivery system, a burger with a runny yolk is sub-optimal for someone who will spend the next ninety minutes fiddling with a camera.  Thankfully, the queue was so large due to the swollen crowd, that by the time I made to the front I only had time for a bag of crisps and a can of coke.

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With the food sorted, and the jangling chords of The Clash’s I Fought The Law blaring out as is customary when the Met take to the pitch, it was time to get underway.

The Match

Once Mr Walchester got proceedings started, the match was a pretty tetchy affair at first, and it’s fair to say that the first half won’t live long in the memory.  Both sides appeared acutely aware of the importance of the fixture, and adopted a safety first mentality – not committing large numbers offensively, and somewhat tentative in possession.  That said, it was only two minutes before James Constable had the first shot at goal, though it should have been offside.  And when I say shot at goal, I really mean “well wide of goal”, as his right footed effort flashed a good four metres outside the upright.

On eight minutes, the Met had their first chance, as Ethan Chislett hit a soft shot from the edge of the area.  Both teams were really testing the waters, and it wasn’t until 16 minutes that either side properly worked the opposition ‘keeper.  It was Constable again, who was easing into the game well, and giving Jeremy Arthur and Ollie Robinson plenty to think about.  He was will found from midfield, and from near the corner of the box shot low and hard, but Berti Schotterl reacted well to save with his feet.

Halfway through the first period, the Dolphins were well in the ascendancy, and much like against Salisbury the hosts were struggling to get clear of their own half.  Everything was being easily dealt with by the two towers of Will Spetch and Jamie Whisken, whilst Jack Dickson in particular was finding plenty of room to get forward, and his tussle with Jonathan Hippolyte and Nesta Guiness-Walker was proving enthralling.

On 25 mintues, Josh Leslie-Smith wasn’t closed down in midfield, and the youth team graduate struck a firm shot from twenty odd yards.  It clipped a Met defender on the way through, which caused some excitement in the fans, but it was easily dealt with by the German born number one.

It wasn’t long before the visitors were threatening again, and it came about through Dickson down the right.  He beat John Gilbert and chipped a delightful ball into the box, coming down just under the bar.  A combination of Schotterl and Robinson got the ball out under stiff pressure from Constable, and then the follow up shot by Sam Griffin was well blocked by former Walton Casuals man Robinson.

The match was really coming alive at this point, and the Blues were beginning to play themselves into contention.  By now midfield enforcer Louis Birch had gone off through injury, and John Gilbert was on in his place, forcing a slight change in style.  With Chislett, Gilbert and Hippolyte all on, the midfield was naturally very attacking, with even the more defensive minded Luke Robertson taking a box-to-box role.  With half an hour played a deep free kick from Gilbert was well held by Poole Town and British Army ‘keeper Luke Cairney (how he gets away with a barnet like that in the military is another matter entirely).  Then, two minutes later, a long throw by Ollie Robinson gave Gilbert another chance on the volley, but it flashed just wide.

On 35 minutes, Nesta Guinness-Walker, the youth prospect who is drawing attention from across the professional game, went on a muscular run through midfield, before crossing to Jack Mazzone at the back post.  The ball dropped for him nicely, but he only half-caught the volley and it went through for Cairney to gather with ease.  Mazzone had one final chance before half time, when Johnny “Cash” Hippolyte (non-league’s most camera happy footballer) and Luke Robertson doubled up to win the ball from Jack Dickson.  Hippolyte crossed, Max Blackmore flicked on, and just as Mazzone rose to power a header goalwards, the flag went up for offside.

That was the last significant action of the opening forty five, and it had been a half of two halves really.  Poole had looked the stronger side initially, but with John Gilbert and Jonathan Hippolyte growing in influence, the Met had taken the second twenty to their visitors.  For Poole Town, whilst Corby Moore and Sam Griffin had shown some nice touches, as the match was wearing on, they were struggling to get Marvin Brooks and Jez Bedford – their real creative influences – on the ball enough.

The second half saw a much more complete Met Police performance, and I don’t think I’m being unfair to say that they were the better side from the break.  That said, it was the Dolphins who crafted the first opportunity, when a long throw found Bedford in a little space at the back post.  His shot on the swivel went high and wide, but it showed the Old Bill that Poole were still able to pose a threat.

It wasn’t long though before the Met were threatening through their own long throw specialist – Ollie “Rory Delap” Robinson.  The Sky TV analyst prepped for the Play Off run by putting in a sub-four hour marathon, and getting him back from Walton Casuals can be seen as a key moment for the Met Police this season.  On 55 minutes his throw looked as though it would present a chance for Jack Mazzone, but Will Spetch just nicked the ball off his foot at the vital moment.

On 61 minutes John Gilbert hit a fine strike from 25 yards, which Luke Cairney did well to tip over, then on 66 minutes a dangerous Poole Town cross was well cleared by the Met.  From the resulting corner, Marvin Brooks did well (nay, miraculously) to get higher than Jeremy Arthur, but his header was cleared off the line by Jack Mazzone.

As the game drew on, it felt as though extra time might be the order of the day, and when Luke Cairney again made a good save – from Ethan Chislett this time – destiny seemed to be pushing us towards a nil-nil.

However, Supporter’s Player of the Year, Jack Mazzone, had other ideas, and – crucially – so did the linesman.  When a free kick was half cleared, substitute Tommy Nyama lofted a looping ball back into the area.  Out rushed Cairney, but despite his spectacular Superhero dive, he couldn’t beat Mazzone to the ball, and the former South Park No.9 headed goalwards.  As Poole’s defender rushed back, he managed to hook a foot around the ball and appeared to have made a spectacular goalline clearance.  Mazzone turned to the linesman, who signalled a goal, and Mazzone went, frankly, beserk.

Poole Town pushed on in search of an equaliser, but the Met Police back line stood firm.  Josh Webb had one of his best games of the season, and the energetic Tommy Nyama brought well-directed enthusiasm in breaking up attacks.

On 87 minutes Ethan Chislett shot inches wide as the Met searched for a second goal – again after a Robinson throw was only half cleared, whilst Poole continued to put men forward.  The fourth official announced four minutes of added time, but it never really felt as though the result was likely to change.  Large parts of the last four were played out with Nyama and Mazzone in the Poole Town corner area, and every time the Dolphins got into the Met area, the likes of Jeremy Arthur and Luke Robertson were there to hack clear.  When the final whistle did eventually go, it was celebrations for the Met Police, as they moved on to the trophy presentation.  They may not have gone up yet, but this is still the club’s most successful ever season, in their centenary year.

The Wash Up

So in true FA fashion, the winners of the Play Offs for promotion – the Met Police – will have to play once more to actually get promoted.  Having run out deserved victors here, on the basis of seventy minutes in the ascendancy, and Jack Mazzone’s winner, the Old Bill’s reward is a home tie against Tonbridge Angels of the Bostik Isthmian League.  Win that, and it’s Step Two football, in the 101st year of the club.  As for Poole Town, they came within 90 minutes and a goalline clearance of making it back to the National League South at the first time of asking, but they were second best on the day.  Despite bossing the opening encounters, they struggled to cope with the fluidity of the Met’s attacking play at times, and couldn’t find a way past the defence, which was excellently marshalled by Ollie Robinson.  James Constable looked dangerous up front, and it was a surprise to see him come off, whilst Jack Dickson and Luke Cairney also looked good.

In fact, the two best goalkeepers in the division were probably on display in this match, with only Berti Schotterl matching up to Cairney.  Schotterl pulled out another clean sheet today, and in him and Luke Williams the Met Police have a fine pair of goalkeepers.  Also impressive were John Gilbert and Nesta Guinness-Walker, but for the first time ever, I’m awarding a joint Man of the Match award as I’m simply unable to separate two players.  At the back, Ollie Robinson was immense, winning almost every aerial duel he went in for, and in attack, his long throws were a vital weapon.  Sharing the vote is Jack Mazzone, who scored the winner, which was simply the icing on the cake of his performance.  Against two physical centre backs in Jamie Whisken and Will Spetch he stood up to the test, and gave them a torrid match.


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