Saturday 10th October 2020, 1500 Kick Off
Hampton & Richmond Borough vs Dartford
The Build Up
Regular readers of this website will know that I have been delighted to take up the role as Hampton & Richmond’s Club Photographer this season, and as such, have been making fewer entries on these pages. I felt that writing up every match would (a) lead to saturation fatigue from visitors who come here to read about different grounds and teams, and (b) undoubtedly lead to divorce from the hitherto very understanding Mrs GRT, due to the intense time commitment these reports take. So, I decided to only write up interesting or important games, and this – the first home league match in our new COVID-regulated world – felt like a worthy subject.
First – a disclaimer. I am proudly neutral in my match commentary on this website, though there have undoubtedly been times (such as writing about the Mighty Green Army…) where that has been tough. I will endeavour to maintain that neutrality still, and should make absolutely clear that this is a report from me independently, and not in any capacity as a volunteer at the club. That said, I would also like to make clear how incredibly welcoming everyone at the Beveree has been. From Chairman Jacques le Bars, through all the staff, players and volunteers, it has been overwhelming how quickly the club has taken me into the fold – it immediately feels like a special place, and a special group of people. And that’s what is remarkable about the non-league game. A quick look around Twitter shows that the same or similar feeling exists at the majority of clubs, and I’m certain that the photographer at Dartford, the turnstile operators at Maidstone, and the programme editor at Chippenham, feel exactly the same.
Onto the match, and at the start of play, both Dartford and Hampton sat somewhere in the melee of clubs between three and zero points after one match of the season. Frankly, until 10 games are played, I couldn’t care less about who is where in the table. It will, for the purposes of this intro, suffice to say that Hampton lost their opening game 1-0 away at St Albans City, whilst Dartford beat Chelmsford by the same scoreline. Both sides were there or thereabouts at the time the National League South was curtailed last season, as Dartford took a Play Off place, and the Beavers missed out by 0.182 points. Dartford would go on to make it to the Final, where they eventually succumbed to Weymouth on a penalty shoot-out.
Manager Steve King has not rested on those laurels, and has brought in some impressive talent over the summer. Amongst others, Jack Barham has signed from Dorking, Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong from Aldershot, and Ricky Modeste from Dover, but he still has a Darren McQueen sized gap in his front line. After the success that he and Elliott Romain had at the back end of last season, King will need at least one of his new arrivals to step up. McQueen wasn’t the only departure either, as the Princes Park Stadium also said farwell to a number of long time servants, including former captain, Lee Noble – who has moved on to Tilbury in the Isthmian North. Gary McCann has also been busy, bringing in a mix of experience and youth, such as Alan Julian, Niko Muir, Rene Steer and former academy prospect Imran Uche.
The Beveree Stadium on Station Road is a ground I’ve visited on many occasions, so I won’t go through the same level of depth as usual, but it is worth a quick look at the COVID protocols in place. For Hampton – and all other ‘elite’ clubs – there are many masters to please, with the FA, National League, DCMS and Borough Council all having seats at this particularly unpleasant table. Unlike fans, they don’t get a seat anywhere.
Not only are fans not allowed in, but every single person present must be justified, with no spare capacity allowed. Additional rooms have been pressed into service as changing room overflows, to satisfy the requirement for maximum amounts of players in one room at a time – the Beavers are even compelled to have their own squad changing in a tent in the car park, to make extra space for the away teams inside. Markings in place all around the ground advise fans how to transit and where to stand (if they’re ever allowed back…) and everybody present was designated as either Red, Amber or Green. It’s like one of those traffic light parties that students have, except it’s absolutely no fun. Actually, that’s not too dissimilar to most student parties.
The club did what they could to make the match accessible, with live streaming and commentary provided free of charge to both Hampton and Dartford supporters. Whilst some clubs have elected to charge (with some pretty insane prices quoted to be honest), the Beavers decided against that option and were vindicated with over 500 people watching the match online.
An interesting quirk of this match was that I arrived at a stadium with one name, and left a stadium called something different. Thanks to Hampton & Richmond’s initiative for supporters to buy a raffle ticket to name the stadium, at full time the Beveree Stadium officially became the Chris Sweet Beveree Stadium for the 2020/21 season.
Hampton immediately set out to attack down the left with Ruaridh Donaldson, as the former Stenhousemuir wide man looked to get in behind. His good early link up with Kyron Farrell from left back would become a theme of the first half, and his running battle with Craig Braham-Barrett was one of the interesting subplots of the opening period. On this occasion, his cross towards Niko Muir had a little too much on it, and sailed past the striker.
However, it was the visitors who created the first decent chance – and to be honest, one of the best in the whole match. One of Dartford’s strikers (I think it was Elliott Romain) found time and space in the box, and struck a low shot goalwards, but Julian reacted quickly in the Hampton goal, and deflected the ball behind for a corner. It was a rare-ish foray into the box for Dartford, as the Beavers definitely had the better of the opening ten minutes.
The half chances kept coming as Sam Deafield and Niko Muir both had shots blocked. Then, on ten minutes Donaldson had a presentable chance to open the scoring and add to his goal against Corinthian in the FA Cup. Good interplay between Jake Gray and Ryan Hill worked the ball to Dean Inman on the edge of the box. The defender-striker slipped a pass into the penalty area, where obviously his centre back partner Charlie Wassmer was waiting, and played a first time pass across to the penalty area. Unfortunately for the hosts, they couldn’t capitalise on that opportunity, as Donaldson’s shot off his weaker foot lacked the power to beat Craig King in the Dartford goal.
A minute later, Hampton broke from a Dartford free kick, and created another decent opportunity. The visitors’ set piece routine came apart at the edge of the Hampton box, and Niko Muir, in a really deep position, spotted the run of Ryan Hill wide right. He fed the former Stoke City prospect, and Hill in turn drove the ball cross field to Farrell, but the Islington-born full back dragged his effort across the goal.
With 21 minutes played, once again the Beavers threatened down the left hand side, and this time it was new man Danny Bassett causing the problems. Signed from Step Four Tooting & Mitcham United in the summer, Bassett has the sort of pace that makes defenders want to pack up their hamstrings and go home, and he used that to get goalside and attempt a volley from a good cross by Tyrell Miller-Rodney. After his red card against St Albans midweek, Miller-Rodney seemed determined to make amends, and turned in an all action performance at both ends of the pitch.
This may make it sound as though Hampton were having it all their own way, but that certainly wasn’t the case. Noor Husin, Ky Marsh-Brown and Jacob Berkeley-Agyemang were keeping the defensive unit honest, and Jack Barham was a nuisance for the centre halves. In midfield, Jordan Wynter – whilst outnumbered at times – was giving as good as he got against Jake Gray and Sam Deadfield. That said, with half an hour played Ryan Hill created another half chance for Donaldson, when he beat two men down the right and found the Scottish winger on his left. Donaldson was well positioned, but his shot was bravely charged down by the seemingly unbeatable at times Tom Bonner.
On 38 minutes a quick throw by Donaldson sent Danny Bassett free, and his pull back to Ryan Hill was snuffed out by the Dartford defence. When the ball was smuggled half away, it came almost straight back from Sam Deadfield, but a skimmed header in the box just took it away from Bassett. It seemed like being one of those days for Hampton, who had exerted some real pressure at times, but just couldn’t find the killer breakthrough.
Still 0-0 at half time, it certainly wasn’t for want of trying, and it felt as though Hampton had probably edged the first half. There was definitely danger though, as shown by the early shot for Dartford. However, as the second half started, once again, it was the hosts who immediately threatened, and did in fact beat Craig King. Admittedly, it was offside. Again, Niko Muir was involved, where he held the ball up well in midfield and fed Jake Gray. His initial shot was palmed away by Craig King, straight into the path of the onrushing Donaldson, but the linesman’s flag was (correctly) up well before he tapped it home.
That was a rare highlight for the officials really, and as much as I’m not a big fan of criticising the referee for doing what is an incredibly hard job, it certainly won’t rank around the top refereeing performances I’ve seen. A touch whistle friendly, he gave some bizarre decisions at times, and I’d be surprised if we had more than 30 seconds of uninterrupted football at any point. Yet, his whistle must have been bought second hand from Schrödinger, because it was simultaneously always in use but not when it should be. Seemingly on a one man crusade to make the shirt pull legal, the referee simply refused to acknowledge it as an offence.
On 61 minutes, Dartford created the best chance of the match, when Jack Barham got in behind Kyron Farrell down the right hand side. Barham really made a name for himself at Greenwich, where his form earned him a move to Barnet, and then Dorking. His poachers instincts were in evidence today, as he seized on the space and drove goalwards, but at the crucial moment, he tucked his shot just wide of the near post.
Chances became harder to come by into the last half an hour, and the game settled into an absorbing, if slightly frustrating battle. Already under the cosh, the officials’ jobs became harder as the players on both sides sought to break play up with niggly fouls – an area where Christian Smith in particular seemed to excel. On for the injured Deadfield, Smith’s physicality in midfield was noticeable, and along with his composure on the ball, his disruptive efforts had a real influence.
On 84 minutes Ryan Hill had a half chance from a quick free kick routine. Fed by Jake Gray, he advanced on the right hand side of the box and shot towards the near post. A deflection took the ball cruelly away from King, but the new arrival from Oxford City reacted well to adjust and save.
There was just time for one more chance, but again it was something and nothing. A cross from the Hampton left hung in the air above and behind former Bracknell Town striker Nathan Minhas, who attempted to open his competitive account with a bicycle kick. He connected well enough, but it dropped neatly into the grateful arms of King. The final score, nil nil, but you’ll definitely see worse stalemates.
The Wash Up
Whilst Hampton created more opportunities, Dartford arguably created the best, with Barham’s shot on the hour mark probably the most presentable chance of the match. It was an absorbing tie, and I felt on balance Hampton were slightly the better side, but a draw was really a fair result.
Both managers will certainly be able to identify positives from this match, but also areas for improvement to take into their next matches. The result tells a story of where the key performances were, and the man of the match could easily have been drawn from any of Charlie Wassmer, Dean Inman, Tom Bonner and Ronnie Vint. In the end, I’ve pulled a name out of the hat, and gone for Bonner. The Dartford captain has racked up over 300 appearances for the Kent club, and is genuinely one of the most effective defenders at this level. Dominant in the air, and rarely flustered on the ball he – along with the other three mentioned – made it very difficult for the attacking players.
For Hampton, both full backs also performed well, with Tyrell Miller-Rodney and Kyron Farrell defending resolutely. Jake Gray showed nice touches in midfield, and was happy to try and drive the side on in possession. For the visitors, Craig Braham-Barrett was also effective – and pulled off one of the most textbook professional fouls I’ve ever seen – whilst Noor Husin was probably the most dangerous of the attacking players. A word for Danny Bassett on his full league debut as well, who was energetic and probably the man most likely to worry Dartford’s back line with his pace.
Dartford will now turn their attention to the visit of Jerry Gill’s Bath City next weekend, who will prove another tough test. There aren’t many easy weekends in the National League South this season, and Bath will be confident on the back of their 2-0 victory over Billericay on Saturday. Hampton, on the other hand, have the return of Chris Dickson to worry about, as the Ghanaian strikers visits with Hornchurch for an FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round fixture on Tuesday night.