Saturday 26th October 201A9, 1500 Kick Off
Metropolitan Police FC vs Tilbury FC
The Build Up
It’s been quite an October in the GRT household. An incredible honeymoon in Japan saw myself and the new Mrs Grass Roots Tourist get to two Rugby World games, and a J-League fixture (Gamba Osaka vs Kawasaki Frontale), but was somewhat light on non-league football. On Saturday, after 24 hours travelling through the immaculate and efficient airports in Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai, I was welcomed back to the UK by the familiar piss-flooded urinals and 40-minute-long passport queues at Heathrow, before heading back home. I arrived just in time to watch England produce a textbook performance to dispatch the All Blacks, before heading down to East Molesey to get the non-league fix I’d been sorely missing.
It was FA Trophy weekend, and the First Round Qualifying had thrown up some interesting fixtures in my area – such as a Kingston derby between Corinthian-Casuals and Kingstonian – but I couldn’t pass up the chance to get my first Met Police fixture of the season in, so headed along to Imber Court in the pouring rain.
After a fantastic first season back in the Southern League (after a thirty year absence), manager Gavin MacPherson saw a number of his Super Play Off Final reaching squad move to pastures new, including Max Blackmore back to Westfield, Ethan Chislett to Aldershot Town, Berti Schötterl back to Germany, and Nesta Guinness-Walker to AFC Wimbledon. With such a turnover of quality, it’s no surprise that the Old Bill struggled at the start of this campaign, but back-to-back wins over Weston-super-Mare and Harrow Borough saw them lying 11th coming into this fixture.
Despite the high turnover of players, some key men remained, such as captain Ollie Robinson, central midfielder Luke Robertson, and top scorer Jack Mazzone. Mazzone finished with 27 league goals last time out, and the away side, Tilbury, also retained their top scorer from last season – Lewis Smith, who bagged 24. The Essex side – formed by workers at Tilbury docks in 1889, are a step below their hosts, in the Isthmian League Division One North, and have been playing at that level since promotion from the Essex Senior League in 2006. After a 10th placed finish last season, Marc Harrison’s Dockers were 12th approaching the match, and were coming off the back of a 2-1 victory over Bury Town.
The First Round Qualifying represents Step Three Met Police’s first fixture in the FA Trophy, whilst Tilbury have already had to beat Waltham Abbey – something they achieved by a comfortable 6-2 scoreline. Despite being a level below the Met Police, Tilbury had the greater pedigree in the FA Trophy, having reached the 3rd Round in 1982/83, whilst the Met have only ever reached the 2nd Round – where they were beaten by Barrow in 1989. Neither side progressed beyond their first fixture last season, with Carshalton seeing off the Met Police, and Bedford Town beating Tilbury.
In swirling rain, Tilbury started the better of the two sides, and immediately the giant Brian Moses was marked out as a danger man when he tested Met Police ‘keeper Rhys Forster after only two minutes. With six goals to his name already this season, Moses has proven to be a key signing for the Dockers after arriving from Cheshunt in the summer.
On 12 minutes, Ollie Knight provided the first goalscoring opportunity for the hosts, when he sent a low cross over from the left, for the onrushing Ayoub Assal. The on-loan AFC Wimbledon midfielder – still only 17 – could only steer his shot wide of the post.
However, two minutes later, the Met went ahead – probably against the run of play – following a foul on Assal after a driving run through the middle. Taken by Bilal Sayoud, it was easily dealt with by Harry Aldridge. Or rather, it should have been. Bouncing shortly in front of him, the wet ball squirmed from Aldridge’s grasp, and Ross Murdoch was on hand to poke the rebound into the net.
Undeservedly behind after such a feisty start, it was only fitting that Tilbury equalised within thirty seconds of the restart. Forster was lax in coming for a loose pass at the back, and Brian Moses robbed the new arrival from CB Hounslow, leaving him with an easy rolled finish to score his 7th of the season, and the Dockers’ equaliser.
After 21 minutes, Tilbury’s right back Eljay Worrell picked up a deserved yellow for a late tackle on Sayoud, though the manner of delivery did flag up the referee as a bit of a jumped up Mike Dean type – more on that later. Then, six minutes later, a fine free kick by Marlon Agyakwa forced probably the save of the match out of Forster. From the resultant corner, Forster landed heavily, and suffered an unfortunate injury, being replaced by 18-year old Alfie Rule.
From the next corner, Tilbury’s bruising centre half, Darren Phillips missed a potentially good chance to put his side ahead. Playing the role of non-league bastard to perfection, Phillips was enjoying putting his weight about, but when the corner was flicked on, he couldn’t react in time and glanced his effort wide. However, just a few minutes later, Tilbury would threaten again – once more through their winger Agyakwa.
Both Agyakwa on the left wing, and Olajuwon Ogunwamide on the right, were making headway for Tilbury, and looked particularly dangerous when cutting inside. On around 27 minutes, Ogunwamide – a recent signing from Barking – dipped inside Alex Fletcher and flashed a shot goalwards, but it was well parried by Rule. Then, on 35 minutes, a typically effective Oli Knight corner for the Met Police was headed back across goal by captain Robinson, but when Bilal Sayoud shoved the ball into the net, he was ruled offside by the linesman.
I wasn’t close enough to see whether the call was correct, but it was certainly costly for the Police, as they fell behind six minutes later. A harmless looking cross was floated in by Agyakwa on the Tilbury left, but when Rule went to deal with the cross, he succeeded only in palming it into the inside of his net. A bad mistake, but an important lesson in concentration for the young ‘keeper.
2-1 down, with just a few minutes left to play in the half, and the Met pushed forward looking to level. First good interplay between Assal and Sayoud saw Aldridge in goal punch Sayoud’s cross clear well, and then a moment of contention. Right on the stroke of half time, Jack Mazzone – who had struggled to get into the match – turned in the box, and fed his strike partner Murdoch. As he was about to pull the trigger, Murdoch was sent crashing to the ground by what looked like a trip, only for referee Creswick to wave play on, and then blow for half time.
So the visitors ahead at half time, and the Met defenders were really struggling with the intensity of the match. Moses – with his head above the cloudline – was the focal point, and holding the ball up well, but he was also working hard out of possession, and robbed several Met players of possession at various points. Once the second half started, it took only three minutes for the Met to re-establish parity, and again it was Murdoch on the scoresheet. Having arrived from Woking last season, Murdoch has established an exciting reputation, and converted well when found by Kai Hamilton, on as a half time sub. Then, like London buses, another came immediately. Again, it was a Knight delivery causing trouble, and on this occasion, it was met firmly be centre back Jeremy Arthur, who headed home. 3-2, and only five minutes of the second half played.
Things went from bad to worse for Tilbury around the 55th minute, when they went down to 10 men, following a foul by Worrell on Hamilton. Another signing from CB Hounslow, Hamilton had a breakout performance against Yate Town as a substitute, and was having another here. His direct running was scaring the defenders, and with one assist to his name already, he had now forced a red card. Quite a ten minutes…
The chances of Tilbury salvaging anything following their good start was getting more and more remote, until a breakaway goal. A clearance fell to Ogunwamide, fully ten metres inside his own half, and he set off upfield on a single man fighting patrol. Vaguely reminiscent of Michael Owen against Argentina in ’98, he chopped his run between men, beating three in total, before slipping a finish past Rule between the sticks. 3-3, and a goal which a more cynical team would never have conceded. It was fine play by the Tilbury forward, but it showed how much the Met are missing the injured Louis Birch, who would surely have taken the yellow card to halt Ogunwamide’s progress.
However, on 65 minutes, Jack Mazzone got his customary strike, and put the Met Police back in the lead. A deep cross from Alex Fisher found Mazzone in space, and he acrobatically volleyed the ball into the ground, and the corner of the net. Mazzone hadn’t been able to get as involved in the match as he might have liked, but like the Surrey Inzaghi, he was the right man, in the right place, to score the crucial goal. Six for the season.
Into the last fifteen minutes, Tilbury kept pushing for the result, and forced a good save low to Rule’s left, when he tipped around the post. However, pushing forward left space on the counter for the hosts, and on 76 minutes, they put together the best move of the match – fine interplay between Akinwunmi, Hamilton and Assal, resulting in a blocked shot for the latter.
The final notable chance of the match fell – in nice symmetry with the first – to Brian Moses. That the chance came at all was testament to his work rate and close control, as he skinned Robinson, allowing himself space to poke a shot goalwards with the outside of his right foot. The shot beat the goalkeeper, but bounced agonisingly off the inside of the post and out.
The Wash Up
A mix of a creditable Tilbury performance, combined with a sluggish Met Police first half, made this match a closer spectacle and scoreline than it should have been, but by 90 (plus change), the better side had progressed.
That said, the Dockers – and in particular Brian Moses and Marlon Agyakwa – caused the Met Police backline no end of problems, and some better finishing on occasions could have put the visitors through. That said, I felt that the Met contributed to all three goals they conceded, and indeed should have prevented each of them. By contrast, with the exception of the first, there really wasn’t much Tilbury could have done about any of the rest.
Two goals for Murdoch show him as one of the key performers for the Met Police on the day, and right-winger Kai Hamilton produced a game changing cameo, but the Man of the Match vote goes to right back Dan Akinwumni. The former-Reading youth teamer was controlled in possession, and also showed good pace on the recovery. He seems to be the man MacPherson has identified to fill Josh Webb’s boots this season, and performances like these vindicate the manager’s faith.
In the end it might not have been flawless from the Met Police – but six points and an FA Trophy progression makes for a very productive week at Imber Court.
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