Saturday 30th November 2019, 1500 Kick Off
Met Police FC vs Chesham United FC
The Build Up
A month away from football is too long, and it really gives you time to think. I’ve spent that time ruminating on my career, my family, the casserole of nonsense we call a Prime Minister, and all manner of things besides. But mainly, I’ve spent it thinking about how much I miss watching football. So, when I finally identified a free Saturday, I decided to head back to my regular haunt at Imber Court, to take in the Met Police against league leaders Chesham United.
The Met Police are one of my more local sides, and as such I’ve written about them a number of times – so I’ll rattle through the history. Formed in 1919, and historically a “works” side for London’s Police Force, the Met have not had any serving officers play in a number of years, though they retain close ties to Bobby Peel’s old mob. Sitting 15th in the Southern League Premier Division South, it’s fair to say the Met are struggling to repeat last season’s heroics. A 3rd place finish saw them reach the Super Play Off Final (who ever thought those were a good idea?!) before losing to Tonbridge Angels, and also made the FA Cup Second Round, going down to Newport County in biblical rain in East Molesey. Since then, a number of players have stepped up leagues, such as Nesta Guinness-Walker to AFC Wimbledon, and Ethan Chislett to become one of the National League’s best attacking midfielders with Aldershot Town. With those (and other key) departures affecting the squad, it’s understandable that there’s been a slight drop off in league position.
Gavin MacPherson’s side have failed to win in their last three, and drew 2-2 against Wimborne Town in the week. As such, the visit of in-form Chesham United (top of the league with five wins on the bounce), probably wasn’t the fixture they’d have asked for… The Generals – by contrast, have been around the top of the table for much of the season, and have really hit their stride in the last six weeks, recording five wins and a draw. However, with Tiverton Town and Truro City breathing hard down their necks, there’s room for slip ups.
With one of the better nicknames in non-league football, Chesham missed a trick when they merged Chesham Town and Chesham Generals in 1917, and lumbered the world with yet another “United”, instead of allowing us the enjoyment of picturing a team full of General Melchetts careering around the pitch. Like their hosts on this bitterly cold day, the Buckinghamshire outfit spent a large part of their history in the South Eastern oriented Isthmian League, but moved across to the Southern League system in 2004/05. A promotion in 2010 has seen them maintain Step Three football for nine seasons, finishing mid-table for the last five. Tenth place last term represented the norm for Chesham, but they have kicked on this time around and look good to compete for promotion. A huge part of that has been the fact that with a full season under their belt, the duo of Murray and Duncan are now working the same magic they did with Potter’s Bar Town, which resulted in a promotion in 2017/18.
It was more evolution than revolution for Chesham over the summer, with five or six players moving in each direction. One of the key departures, however, was that of 40 year old attacker Jefferson Louis, moving on to Hampton & Richmond Borough, who became the 127th club of his career. With his goals leaving the club, someone needed to step up, and so far that man has been David Pearce – his eight goals means he’s already matched last season’s tally before December.
Imber Court is (I’m willing the bet) the only ground in English football which adjoins a Police horse training facility, and the 3,000 capacity venue is co-located with the Metropolitan Police Service’s Sports and Social Club. An average attendance of 139 is a slight decrease on last season, at a club where it is difficult to attract regular match going fans – a shame, because MacPherson and his team insist on an attractive style of play, and the food is top drawer.
With the weekend also being my birthday, it meant my family were in town, so my dad was happy to be able to add another ground to his fledgling career as a Ground Hopper. His £5 concessions ticket (£10 full price), £2 programme and £1 Golden Goal ticket (8th minute, never going to happen…) preceded the most important purchase of the day. The mighty Full Hog Burger, featuring 7kg of pig meat might knock 2-3 months off your life expectancy, but by god it tastes good. At £5, you’re essentially spending about 8 pence per milligram of cholesterol.
Proceedings started very much as the form books would have made you expect, with Chesham taking the initiative early. In fact, there were only two minutes played before young stopper Rhys Forster was pressed into action, saving well from Bradley Clayton. However, despite a lot of early possession, this was the only real chance at either end for quarter of an hour, with the only other action of note being Ben Goode sliding out to beat Kai Hamilton to a through ball.
Chesham’s front four of Clayton, Karl Oliyide, Romario Hart, and especially Zak Joseph, were pulling the strings in the Met half, and after 17 minutes Oliyide went close, when he toe-poked a chance past Forster as he flew from goal. It looked almost certain to be the opener, but Lucas Ness was the right man in the right place, with the academy graduate sliding in to clear off the line.
Five minutes later, Zak Joseph was causing problems down the Chesham right, when he set the ball inside Alex Fisher to the marauding Sam Jenkins. Jenkins was up and down the touchline like a ginger Cafu, and he sent a delightful ball across the box, but neither Oliyide nor Hart could get the finishing touch. Almost immediately the Met broke, and it was Tyrique Clarke with the chance. Despite the Generals’ dominance, the Police were still a threat on the counter, and it was Clarke who looked the man-most-likely, breaking with confidence through the middle of the pitch. On this occasion, the recent arrival from Yeovil Town was denied first by Goode, and then by goalline clearance.
As the half hour mark passed, Chesham were still dominant, but weren’t really carving out any opportunities. A combination of stoic Met defending, organised well be captain Ollie Robinson, and a tendency by Chesham to slightly overplay in the final third, meant that Forster had not been tested as often as he should have been. That wouldn’t last. A half-chance for Junior Eldstal came and went when the Malaysia international did well to dig out a header from behind him, but it was an easy save for Goode and half time was soon upon us.
At half-time it was difficult to see how the Met could keep the game scoreless, as the league leaders were on top right across the pitch. Jack Mazzone was completely isolated, and whenever the technical dribblers of Bilal Sayoud, Tyrique Clarke and Kai Hamilton got on the ball they were quickly crowded out. Chesham’s attacking line was enjoying the afternoon, with the likes of Zak Joseph throwing back-heeled nutmegs in for good measure – however, if they couldn’t find a way to test Forster more often, then it could end up being a frustrating afternoon. As for the Met #1, even though his reactions hadn’t been tested much, his all round game was in evidence, coming to claim and punch crosses, and working well with the back four.
Met manager Gavin MacPherson clearly gave his players something of a rollicking over the break, because it only took them a minute to craft a decent opening, when Jack Mazzone broke through the midfield and set up Luke Robertson. The former Farnborough man turned and shot well, but Goode denied him his 5th of the season. Three minutes later, they went close again when Mazzone – who was growing into the match – drilled a snapshot wide of the post.
Chesham’s first chance of the half fell to Romario Hart on the 50 minute mark, when a low shot forced a good reaction save out of Forster. Then on 58 minutes, a good corner by Alex Fisher was either cleared expertly by Sam Jenkins, or if you’re feeling less charitable, on 58 minutes Jenkins’ blushes were spared, when he narrowly avoided scoring a peach of an own goal, as he headed Fisher’s corner just over his own crossbar.
As we entered the last half an hour, the Police’s backline started to look nervy, after an hour of resolute defending. Despite the fact chances had been even, at least 70% of the match had been played in the Met’s half, and the pressure was beginning to tell. On 61 minutes, Chesham had a good chance when one of the Met centre halves played a poor ball out of defence, which enabled Joseph to shoot low, but Forster was once again equal, saving with his feet.
Then, on 65 minutes, Daniel Akinwunmi had a fifteen second spell to forget. His poor clearance bounced straight into Karl Oliyide, and Akinwunmi compounded his mistake by pushing the striker to the floor – penalty to Chesham United. Positioned awfully at the other end of the pitch, I ran up the touchline to get a better angle, and arrived just as Bradley Clayton hit one of the worst penalties I’ve seen on a football pitch. However, although there are bad penalties, there are no bad penalty saves, and Rhys Forster reacted quickly to get down low. The ball bounced off (I think) his knee, and it looked awkward as hell, but a good save nonetheless. Junior Eldstal completed the clearance, and play headed back to the Chesham end.
And how. Within sixty seconds of Forster’s penalty save, Tyrique Clarke had bagged his first goal in Met colours. A wicked cross from Hamilton was cleared before it could fall to a lurking Mazzone, but it wasn’t cleared far enough, and Clarke slammed the ball into the net, to put the home side one up.
The goal changed nothing in the flow of the match, as Chesham continued to apply pressure. Robinson, Ness, Fisher and Akinwunmi stood firm though, and Eldstal just in front of the defence was terrific. Chesham, with Joseph as the catalyst, probed and pressed but couldn’t find a way through. Karl Oliyide was potentially lucky to avoid a red card – seeing only yellow for a petty and deliberate kick on Forster as the former CB Hounslow ‘keeper was picking up the ball.
With five minutes left of normal time, it looked as though the Met’s hard work would be for nothing, when another botched clearance succeeded only in putting the defence under more pressure. A shot by Hart was saved by Forster, but after a spell of penalty box pinball, the ball eventually fell to Jenkins, who smashed home to level the scores. It was fitting that Jenkins had scored the goal, as both he and Kyle Watson on the other side and been key parts of the Chesham attack throughout.
As full time approached Scott Tarr got his magic board out, and signalled five minutes of stoppage time. Both sides were clearly going for three points, and despite time ebbing away, it really felt as though a draw was the most unlikely result possible. And so it proved. With 93 played, Bilal Sayoud broke down the Met Police right, and played a low ball to Jack Mazzone. He quickly moved it left, into the path of substitute Ollie Knight. Knight took it in his stride, narrowed the angle, and drilled a low shot across the ‘keeper into Goode’s net. 2-1 to the Met Police, and that was that.
The Wash Up
An important three points for the Met Police, as a hard earned victory sees them leapfrog four places to 11th in the table, and end the recent poor run. For Chesham, however, Alex Battle’s goal for Truro at Beaconsfield Town means the Generals slip into second, having also played a game more than the new league leaders.
James Duncan and Michael Murray will be pleased with 75% of their team’s performance, but the play in the final third could have been significantly improved. Zak Joseph was dangerous, and Bradley Clayton had a strong first half, tailing off a little in the second. Both Sam Jenkins and Kyle Watson were effective in possession from full back, and Ben Goode made a number of good saves, but despite all their possession, they just didn’t make full use of it.
And a large reason for that was the solid defending from Gavin MacPherson’s side. Ollie Robinson has matured into a real defensive organiser over the last two seasons, and alongside the talented Lucas Ness, they formed the bedrock of a valiant defensive effort. Akinwunmi was effective at right back, whilst Alex Fisher had his best game for the Blues yet in the #3 shirt. Junior Eldstal was a beast in defensive midfield, and will be sorely missed when (and if) he completes his move to Romford.
However, the man of the match – and not really up for debate – was Rhys Forster. The goalkeeper has gone from strength to strength since he took up the shirt for the Met, and after the performances of Berti Schotterl last season has big gloves to fill. He looks a bit like the big German (or his little brother at least), and on the evidence of this performance, could be as big a part of the team.
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