Tuesday 28th January 2020, 1945 Kick Off
Hampton & Richmond Borough FC vs Slough Town FC
The Build Up
My first non-league match of the new decade was supposed to be out in Essex on this cold and windy Tuesday, but due to the continued weird prioritisation of the County Cups, Billericay Town vs Havant & Waterlooville was postponed, leaving me scrabbling around for an alternative at short notice. Thankfully, west London and Surrey are full of nonleague clubs, and it didn’t take long to find an intriguing tie at Richmond-upon-Thames’s premier (and indeed only) senior football club.
Gary McCann’s Beavers have seen a real upturn in form through the winter, winning three and drawing one of their last five – a run which has seen them rise up the National League South to 10th, only seven points from the Play Offs. After a 15th place finish in McCann’s first season as manager, Hampton & Richmond Borough will be looking upwards and dreaming of the heady days of 2018, when Alan Dowson led them to the Play Off Final.
That match was Dowson’s last at the club, as he left for Woking in the summer, leaving a legacy as one of the Beavers’ most successful ever managers. His final league placing was the club’s highest since their formation as Hampton in 1921, and his departure left a sizeable gap to be filled. In came McCann, who brought with him a host of tried and trusted faces from Hendon. Unfortunately, the level up was too steep for many, and after initially struggling, McCann showed a ruthless streak, rebuilding his squad effectively to the point where the Play Offs are now a realistic objective again.
The Play Offs are also a more than realistic objective for the visiting Rebels. Sitting in 3rd place on 49 points coming into the fixture, Slough were ten off the top with a game in hand on 1st placed Wealdstone. With Bath City and Havant & Waterlooville also boasting 49 points, it’s tight at the top, and Slough’s habit of grinding out single goal victories has come in very useful. It’s become such a habit, they haven’t had a match with a more than one goal margin since beating Chippenham Town 3-0 on November 16th… Coming off the back of a 1-0 victory (shocker) over Braintree Town, Neil Baker and Jon Underwood continue to defy all predictions with their small squad of incredibly hard-working players boasting the best defence in the division.
With a history stretching back to 1893, Slough Town have been through as many name changes as Cheryl Cole, with the most recent being in 1947, when they split from Slough Centre in a dispute over membership of the Spartan League (hence the Rebels nickname). Languishing in Step Four a recently as 2013, the Slough board hired Neil Baker and Jon Underwood as joint managers, and the pair haven’t looked back, securing promotion to Step Three in their first full season, and then another to the National League South four years later.
The Beveree is a ground I’ve visited a fair few times before, and it’s always been either gloriously hot (vs Braintree and vs Ebbsfleet), or absolutely Baltic (vs Oldham, and, sadly, vs Slough on this occasion). Located a five minute walk from Hampton train station, it’s easy to get to from central London, and holds up to 3,500, though with an average attendance of 580, Hampton are comfortably in the bottom half for crowd size in the National League South.
The entrance at Beveree is £13 for an adult, with a healthy £5 discount for children, with a further £2.50 for a programme, and 20p for a teamsheet. Once you’re in, there’s a well-stocked club shop (one of the best at this level or Step One in my opinion) and the ever-welcoming Hammonds Bar. With Hampton & Richmond being one of my more local clubs, I availed myself of a HRBFC mug, before the obligatory fuelling stop. £6.50 was enough for a good sized cheeseburger and chips, with my now customary Diet Coke/Pepsi variant to wash it down.
Once that was out the way, I took my position behind the farthest goal, ready for kick off. With 455 fans in attendance, it was the Rebels’ contingent making the majority of the noise, and they were joined with the home supporters for a minute’s applause pre-match, in remembrance of former Beaver Malcolm Dickensen, who sadly passed away this week aged 57.
The hosts started much the brighter of the two sides, and went close as early as the 4th minute. A free kick on the right-hand side was taken by Sam Deadfield towards Danilo Orsi-Dadomo, who clipped goalwards forcing Jack Turner into an early save. Turner remained alert, diving towards Ruaridh Donaldson’s follow up, but the big defender was denied by the covering George Wells.
However, this was a sign of things to come, as the Beavers looked to press home their early dominance. Full of running, the home side were pressing all over the pitch, with Deadfield and Orsi-Dadomo setting the tone up front, harrying the Slough defenders in possession. A good break by Kyron Farrell on the 13th minute took Hampton & Richmond all the way up the pitch, and his low ball to Ryan Hill gave him a shooting opportunity, but the former Stoke City midfielder’s touch was heavy, allowing Turner to claim.
There was, however, nothing Turner could do three minutes later, when skipper Luke Ruddick picked up his second goal in a week to put the Beavers ahead. Again, it was Orsi-Dadomo putting in the hard yards, as he robbed Guy Hollis of possession whilst he was trying to shepherd it for a goal kick. Hampton’s resulting short free kick routine didn’t amount o much, but when Jake Gray popped in a hopeful cross, it eventually fell to the feet of Ruddick, who swivelled and shot through a crowd of bodies to open the scoring.
After twenty minutes, the home side were very much in the ascendancy, and Slough were beginning to look rattled, with Ben Harris picking up the first of a quick trio of bookings for a late, frustrated looking foul. With some better final third passing, and maybe sharper feet in the box on occasion, Hampton & Richmond should have added a second, and you felt that Slough would surely come stronger. On 25 minutes, the Rebels had a penalty shout for a dubious handball call against Sam Cox, which was immediately followed by a long ball out of defence for Orsi-Dadomo to chase, but the former Hungerford Town striker lashed high over the bar, failing to add to his eight for the season.
As the half moved on, Slough started to gather their composure, and assert themselves in a way befitting of their league position. Their defensive line pushed higher, and the Togwell brothers began to muscle out Wadah Ahmidi in midfield, after the former Wealdstone man had started the match brightly. However, Slough weren’t really creating any clear chances, and were relying on hopeful punts and long throws into the box. Once such effort nearly brough a reward, when Warren Harris reacted well to a ricochet in the box, and pulled a smart stop out of Middlesex cricketer / Hampton goalkeeper Dan Lincoln.
Lincoln was busy again on the stroke of halftime, palming away a stinging drive from Matt Lench, and it was beginning to look as though Hampton & Richmond could really use the break. So, right on cue, referee Jack Packman provided it, and I quickly made a beeline for Hammonds to plunge my now frozen hands into a vat of coffee.
There was a noticeable change in Slough’s tempo at the start of the second half, and Dan Lincoln was pressing his batting footwork into action within 60 seconds, reacting smartly from close range to keep his side ahead. However, he was left helpless on 52 minutes, when Ben Harris bagged his eighth league goal of the season with a well taken free kick from twenty yards.
Then, a mere three minutes later, the Rebels had their second. After a half with very few chances, they were now coming along with a frequency which I’m legally obliged to liken to London buses. Consistently throughout the match, the Beavers had struggled to clear their lines quickly from aerial incursions (how they must wish the more physically imposing Charlie Wassmer wasn’t stuck on the bench with broken ribs), and it was only a matter of time before it cost them. When a corner wasn’t dealt with properly, the ever impressive George Wells reacted quickly, scoring the lowest ever “bicycle” kick, whilst sat on the ground. Still, technically an overhead volley, that would have scored him three points in heads and vols, and with Slough’s record of holding a lead, was likely to score him three points here, too. It also ensured that the immutable law of the ex held firm, with former Beavers getting both of Slough’s goals.
The Beavers were well and truly on the ropes, and were really struggling to deal with Slough’s threat down the right. With Josh Jackman holding his defensive position, Matt Lench (looking just like Christian Slater in True Romance) and Max Worsfold were free to link up and attack with aplomb down that flank, and they were giving Islington-born Kyron Farrell a torrid time. Keen to help out his mate, captain Luke Ruddick stepped across to deal with one marauding Lench run, and promptly did so. By bringing him down in the box for one of the most cast-iron penalties you will ever see, in the 57th minute.
Hampton & Richmond had been completely overrun in the first third of the second half, and a third goal would only have been just. However, football doesn’t work like that, and when Ben Harris stepped up, he never really looked confident. His right footed effort sliced off his boot, and zipped wide of the goal. Still 2-1.
The hosts had to do something, and on 75 minutes they did get the ball in the net, through Ruaridh Donaldson, after good play by Sam Cox down the right, however his finish was rightly ruled out by the linesman’s flag. Two minutes later, a solid effort by Ahmidi was parried behind by Turner, before Farrell rifled a feisty drive over the bar from the resultant corner.
The Beavers were pressing, and after thirty five minutes of Slough dominance, they went all out to grab a point, bringing on both Tyrell Miller-Rodney and Tyrone Lewthwaite. With five minutes left on the clock, some lovely interplay between the two substitutes and Sam Deadfield led to a shot by Ryan Hill, which was well tipped over by Jake Turner. Gary McCann’s side were really ramping up the pressure, and with the clock ticking over to ninety, had five successive corners, but just couldn’t muster the equaliser.
The Wash Up
A 15 minute blitz at the start of the second half was enough to put Slough Town ahead, and once they get there, they very rarely let it slip. It’s a big three points for Neil Baker and Jon Underwood, as it puts them into second place in their own right, now only seven points behind Dean Brennan’s Wealdstone. After the match, Lee Togwell confirmed that the Play Offs are very much the target, and with their ability to dominate key parts of a match, and then kill it off once ahead, you’d be a fool to bet against them.
The midfield pairing of Lee and Sam Togwell were crucial tonight, whilst the entire back four also worked well as they always do. On the other side of the pitch, there were definite positives for Gary McCann to reflect on, in particular the entire first half of a match which leaves his side still in tenth place. A few cooler heads in the final third, and he could have taken an unassailable lead into the break. The direct dribbling of Wadah Ahmidi, and the tireless pressing and channel running of Jake Gray, Sam Deadfield and Danilo Orsi-Dadomo threatened right until the last. At the back, although shaky under the high ball on occasions, Dan Lincoln made some key stops, whilst Sam Cox also showed tenacity and drive.
The man of the match, on the day, goes to either Max Worsfold or Matt Lench. For the bulk of the match, Slough’s main threat came from deep crosses, with Worsfold and Lench the men most likely, but it was in the first fifteen minutes of the second half that both really stole the plaudits. For that quarter of an hour, as a pairing, they were simply too much for the Hampton & Richmond back line to handle, and for that reason, it’s a joint award.