Monday 26th August 2019, 1500 Kick Off
Carshalton Athletic FC vs Leatherhead FC
The Build Up
Part two of a sweltering Bank Holiday saw me jumping on the 413 bus from Gander Green Lane to the Sutton Civic Centre, and then onwards on the S1 to Carshalton Athletic vs Leatherhead. After years of commuting on baking trains and buses, it’s apparent that suburban travel is much more pleasant than the arterial routes into London when it’s this hot. Not that that’s of any relevance to a non-league football blog, so I’ll move swiftly on.
The Robins of Carshalton were formed in 1905, and can trace their roots to two clubs initially – Mill Lane Mission and Carshalton St Andrews. During the following 114 years, Carshalton spent just over half their history playing in the Surrey and surrounding area county leagues, before securing a first promotion to the Isthmian system in 1973/74. Immediately at home in this new environment, the club solidified and eventually won another promotion – to the Conference South – in the mid-noughties. 19th and 21st placed finishes indicated that Carshalton struggled to adjust to this level, and they returned to the Isthmian League after just two seasons. Further relegation followed, and as recently as 2018, the Robins were playing Step Four football, before a championship season saw them back in the Isthmian League Premier Division. They almost made it two promotions in two last term as well, as Peter Adeniyi’s side capitalised on a tight chasing pack (Dorking finished 22 points clear…) to ride a late surge into second place, before Merstham knocked them out in the Play Off Semi Finals.
Still, it was undoubtedly a season that no-one would have expected in the first season back at Step Three, but expectations will be higher this time around, as they also would at their Bank Holiday visitors, Leatherhead. The Mole Valley side had a difficult start to last season, before Nikki Bull’s direct style of football started to pay off, and they eventually rose through the division to finish 8th. Formed in 1907, the Tanners are in their sixth season in the Isthmian League Premier Division, and have flitted between Step Three and Step Four since the early seventies. Bull has had to rebuild this summer, with both of last season’s top scorers – Ibrahim Olutade and Shaun Okojie – leaving over the summer. The rebuilding project has started slowly, with two losses and two draws thus far, though Leatherhead have faced strong opposition in the form of Haringey Borough, Folkestone Invicta and Enfield Town.
Carshalton, however, have started reasonably well, and two opening draws have been followed up by consecutive victories, including a 3-2 win away to Corinthian-Casuals on Saturday, to leave them 9th in the early season table.
Carshalton Athletic’s War Memorial Sports Ground is a short walk from Carshalton train station, or alternatively a long, sweaty walk from the Poulton Avenue bus stop in the 32°C heat. Guess which option I chose… Having visited the 5,000 capacity ground a few times before I’ll keep this section short, but at £10 entry is consistent with what most other Step Three sides charge, and below the £12 I’ve paid at other London clubs.
Carshalton averaged an attendance of 389 last season, and produce an online programme. I know some people frown on this approach, but the simple fact is clubs don’t make money on programmes anymore, and when you look at clubs much larger than non-league Carshalton going to the wall, I can fully understand every cost-saving being made. They also have the teamsheets on a TV screen in the bar which I think is a nice touch, and with a £4.80 combination of sausage roll, Coke Zero and a 100% necessary bottle of water dispatched, I headed pitchside for the match.
The opening period of the match was a tetchy, even affair, with neither side really pushing too much forward. This was very much what I had expected in the heat, especially when nearly all of the players had completed the full ninety minutes in similar conditions just 48 hours earlier. However, there were players who were showing some early vigour, most notably Travis Gregory and Eddie DSane from Leatherhead.
Indeed, it was the visitors attacking duo who conjured up the first threatening play of the match, as they looked to get around the back of Carshalton after around quarter of an hour. On 24 minutes, Leatherhead also produced the first shot of the match, when Craig McGee hit a shot wide from 25 yards, after some good play by DSane.
Two minutes later, the Robins forced a corner when Christie Pattison worked hard chasing a lost cause. This corner was never fully cleared, and when Kershaney Samuels played an impeccable ball forward Omar Koroma found himself in space in the box. The four time Gambian international needed too long to sort out his feet, though, and Jerry Nnamani got back to deal with the danger.
On 37 minutes Luke Read headed wide from a corner, and Carshalton were starting to look the better of the sides, as Leatherhead stuck to their game plan of humping long balls forward, particularly from the howitzer-like left boot of Zaki Oulah in goal. The home side were aided in their efforts to establish themselves on the match by some unfortunate injuries suffered by the Tanners. Both Isunna Ikebuasi – who had played well, too – and Jerry Nnamani were forced from the pitch in the first half. Nnamani in particular was a big loss. An absolute giant, the 26 year old is also a thoroughly nice guy to boot. Nnamani, who has over 300 club appearances, looks as though his physicality would be his biggest asset, but it’s his reading of the game which sets him apart at Step Three.
With just a few minutes to play before the interval, Ricky Korboa did his best to add to his goal against Corinthian-Casuals two days earlier, when he forced Oulah into a save after a Koroma knock down. Then, from the resulting corner, Carshalton had a big handball shout for a penalty, which fell on deaf ears. Finally, just on the cusp of the half time whistle, Leatherhead had a free kick, which was headed over.
All square at half time, though Carshalton were starting to grow into the ascendancy, as Leatherhead’s game plan began to look somewhat limited. There was skill in the Tanners’ midfield, particularly with William Seager and the two wingers, however Nikki Bull’s long ball strategy just wasn’t getting the most out of them, whereas Carshalton’s midfield was coming to the fore. Peter Adeniyi had his side playing through the middle, where Kershaney Samuels, Ernie Haxhiu and, erm, Peter Adeniyi were winning the midfield.
Five minutes into the second half, DSane reminded the bumper crowd of 460 about the threat he possessed, when he took a good shot from the edge of the area, which forced Carshalton’s new arrival between the sticks, Kleton Perntreou, to tip over. Signed from Chelmsford City in the week, Perntreou didn’t have a huge amount to do in the match, but had to be at his best here. Where he did excel in the match was with his distribution, regularly finding Korboa and Pattison with inch-perfect kicks from the hand.
On 57 minutes, Leatherhead really should have taken the lead, when that man DSane again caused trouble at the back. The ex-Maldon & Tiptree forward has three goals already this season, and has clearly taken the move to Step Three well within his incredibly fast stride. On this occasion he fed Jack Skinner in acres of space inside the Carshalton penalty area, but with Perntreou flying out of goal, Skinner fluffed his lines and dragged the shot wide.
And that was a miss that Leatherhead would rue, as with 68 minutes played, Carshalton scored the opening – and eventual winning – goal. A corner was half cleared, and the seemingly ageless Peter Adeniyi collected on the left of the box. He squared up Will Salmon and dug a cross into the danger area. A Tanners’ defender headed the ball up and out, but as it dropped, captain Paris Hamilton-Downes watched it onto his foot, and slammed a volley past Oulah in the Leatherhead goal. Technically well executed, it was the left-back’s first goal of the campaign [edit: PH-D’s goal record corrected thanks to feedback from Carshalton Athletic].
Carshalton maintained their hold on the match after the goal, and although the visitors did their best to push forward, the Robins mainly held them at arms length. In fact, if anyone felt more likely to get the game’s second goal, it was Carshalton.
On 69 minutes, Adeniyi brought on diminutive attacking midfielder Tommy Bradford, complete with a protective face mask, resulting in fans singing Phantom of the Opera. Surprisingly high-brow… It was good to see Bradford getting on the pitch, and with him on, Carshalton took even more control of possession, with his close control under pressure enabling greater ball retention.
As the match ebbed away, Leatherhead became more frustrated with their inability to cause Carshalton any real problems – a frustration which mainly manifested itself with Zaki Oulah getting even more vocal in the Tanners’ goal. However, all his shouting was to no avail, as Carshalton held out, securing a 1-0 win.
The Wash Up
A third win on the bounce for Carshalton, who now sit in fifth position after five games. Not that anyone really cares about the table at this stage of the season. More importantly though, it keeps the roll going, with a tough fixture away to Bognor Regis to come. Nikki Bull, and Leatherhead, by contrast, are still searching for that first win of the campaign. They face Lewes next at Fetcham Grove, which is the perfect opportunity to generate that winning feeling, with the Rooks the only side in the division with fewer points.
There were good performers in the Leatherhead side, but the Tanners just didn’t play a system which got the most out of them. Both Eddie DSane and Travis Gregory looked dangerous every time they got in possession, but Leatherhead continually looked long for the head of Daniel Gallagher and Jack Skinner. Something that the Carshalton defenders were more than comfortable at dealing with. Defensively Leatherhead looked solid, with Will Salmon marshalling the back line – had Nnamani and Ikebuasi not been forced off, I could easily be trying to dig out a match report on a scoreless draw.
The hosts deserved their victory though, and whilst Peter Adeniyi was one of the star performers, I simply refuse to give man of the match to a manager… Luckily, he had plenty of competition. Ricky Korboa didn’t look at his effervescent best, but still caused problems, whilst Kershaney Samuels and Paris Hamilton-Downes also turned in good performances. However, I’m going to go for Ernie Haxhiu, who was an all-action tackling machine in the heart of midfield. The new arrival from Leyton Orient has quickly become a favourite at the War Memorial Ground, and it’s easy to see why on the basis of this combative performance.
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