Saturday 17th October 2020, 1500 Kick Off
Hayes & Yeading United FC vs Truro City FC
The Build Up
With the sad demise of Macclesfield Town, the National League divisions are running a team light this season, meaning that the National League South has only 21 teams. As a result, each side will have two match days off across the season, and this week it was the turn of Hampton & Richmond Borough, which freed me up to attend a match. With the dear Mrs GRT playing hockey away in Canterbury, and me not really fancying a four hour round trip into Kent, I searched the ever reliable Futbology app, and found this potential corker in the Pitching In Southern League Premier Division South.
Being a Cornish Exile myself, I have a soft spot for the county’s teams, and an opportunity to watch the White Tigers in (or rather, near) London was too good to pass up. The last time I managed this was the famous FA Cup First Round fixture against Charlton Athletic (Addicks won 3-1), when hordes of fans made their way up from God’s County to the capital’s south east, in a routing eerily reminiscent of 1497. However, I digress. The match was to see Truro City visit Hayes & Yeading United, themselves a well respected non-league club. Founded via a merger of (you guessed it) Hayes and Yeading football clubs in 2007, the newly formed side started life in the Conference South, and won promotion to the top tier of non-league in their first season. Going on to spend three years at that level, United also managed an FA Cup First Round proper appearance of their own in 2010/11, going out at the hands of Wycombe Wanderers. Relegated in 2012, they spent another four campaigns at Step Four, before back to back relegations saw them start the 2017/18 campaign in Step Four of the Southern League system. Hayes & Yeading almost bounced straight back, finishing third, but were defeated in the Play Offs by Cambridge City. The following year, after a switch to the Isthmian League South Central, United went one better – and in some style. Playing free flowing football, manager Paul Hughes (of Chelsea and Luton Town fame) led his side to the title, scoring 129 goals, conceding only 36, and finishing 16 points clear of second placed Bracknell Town.
Promotion resulted in another switch of league system, hence their placement in the Southern League Premier South. When the season was cancelled for COVID earlier this year, another fine campaign had seen Hayes & Yeading United challenging for the title again, sitting in third place, behind only Chesham United and (again, you’ve guessed it, from just these clues) today’s visitors, Truro City. The visitors were top of the league, and buoyed by the form of Tyler Harvey, favourites to bounce back to the National League South at the first time of asking. After spending four season at Step Two, an awful campaign under Leigh Robinson had resulted in relegation for the White Tigers, and the eventual appointment of janner legend Paul Wotton ahead of 2019/20.
Founded in 1889, Truro have always been at the forefront of the Cornish game, and were founding members of both the Cornish County FA, and the South Western League. Currently in Step Three, they are three tiers higher than any other Cornish clubs – all of whom play in the South West Peninsula League or lower. A period of sustained investment throughout the noughties brought relative success, including an FA Vase triumph, over AFC Totton at Wembley in 2007. However, sure as day follows night, fall must follow rise, and in 2011 the club came within two hours of being wound up over an unpaid bill to HMRC. The sadly familiar tale of administration, points deduction and relegation followed in short order. That is now history (albeit of the recent kind) and Truro’s ownership situation is now somewhat more healthy, as they are owned by arguably Cornwall’s premier sporting outfit – Cornish Pirates RFC, and await a move from their Treyew Road home to the much vaunted Stadium for Cornwall.
Truro have started the season in slightly better form than their hosts, having picked up three wins and a draw in their opening five matches, whilst those numbers are reversed for Hayes & Yeading, who sat 11th at the start of play with six points from a possible 15.
The SkyEx Community Stadium sits on Beaconsfield Road, in Hayes – part of the sprawling suburban expanse at the junction of north west London and Middlesex. Making it a relaxing 10 hour, 506 mile, round trip for the Truro City fans. Still, they made the journey, bringing with them the ubiquitous flags of St Piran, and singing songs of Trelawney (alright, there were no songs, but they did have flags).
With an average attendance of 211 last season, United have one of the smaller attendances in the division, which is no surprise in an area so rammed with both professional and non-league teams. Indeed, of the five teams lower than them in the attendance table, Harrow Borough, Walton Casuals, Beaconsfield Town and Met Police are all within a thirty minute drive. Truro City sit much closer to the top of that particular chart, as is often the case with more rural town/city representing teams, and with their fans also in attendance, the crowd was boosted to 300 here.
At £10 for admission the prices are consistent with many in the league, though the programme is slightly more expensive than most at £2.50. The food was absolutely top drawer though, and a cheese burger, chips and Diet Coke combo set me back £4.80. So good was the scran, that I even went back again at half time for a hot dog – which was even better than the first round.
With the 253 mile journey still fresh in their legs, it was no surprise when Truro City struggled to impose themselves on the opening period of the match, and the hosts were able to keep the White Tigers caged in their own half. Based on form over the season so far, I assumed this would change as the match progressed – but it did not. On eight minutes Paul Wotton had to change his game plan, as influential midfielder (and Saltash Comp’s most prestigious footballing graduate) was forced off with injury, and replaced by former Plymouth Argyle prospect Alex Battle.
After ten minutes, the newly introduced Battle was fouled in fine style by Sanmi Odelusi, resulting in a free kick just outside the Hayes & Yeading box. Goalkeeper Jack Smith lined up his wall, and it did the job well, as Ed Palmer’s free kick deflected off it and behind for a corner. Three minutes later, the hosts had their first chance, when Truro’s left back Connor Riley-Lowe was robbed of the ball by Bay Downing in midfield. The recent arrival from Salisbury then fed Francis Amartey, but the striker took too long over his shot and was closed down, preventing him increasing his tally of three league goals this campaign.
After 19 minutes Hayes & Yeading created the first really good chance, and it fell to energetic full back Jordan Norville-Williams. The left back, who only joined this month from Cambridge United, was one of the hosts’ key performers today, and on this occasion he linked up with another, Scott Donnelly, with a neat one-two at the edge of the area. Continuing his run, Norville-Williams made progress into the box, and shot left footed, narrowly wide of (former Hayes) keeper James Hamon’s near post.
Two minutes later, Hayes & Yeading really should have gone ahead when Karl Cunningham blazed over from close range when the ball broke to him about ten yards out to the side of the goal. It should have been 1-0, but still Truro didn’t heed the warning. Francis Amartey, Jake Sheppard and Scott Donnelly in particular were running rings around Truro’s midfield, which was almost non-existent at times. On 24 minutes, another patient bit of build up by United resulted in a Norville-Williams cross narrowly escaping the head on the onrushing Bay Downing. A left back crossing to a right back shows just how dominant the home side were at this point.
With 27 on the clock, Ed Palmer made a cynical foul on Karl Cunningham, and Sheppard smashed the resulting free kick off the angle of crossbar and post. Not the last time he’d trouble the woodwork either. Sheppard was coming more and more to the fore, as the summer arrival from Wealdstone was dictating most of the play through midfield, and none of Alex Battle, Dan Rooney or Ryan Brett could really get hold of him. On thirty minutes, he set up Donnelly for a first time shot at the edge of the area which Hamon did well to tip over.
The match really was this one sided, as Truro resorted to long balls forward in the hope that Rocky Neal and new signing Kieran Hayes would grow a foot while the ball was in the air, but no such luck. Adel Gafaiti – who arrived from Truro in the summer – and captain Liam McDevitt had no difficulty repelling such attacks. After 35 minutes Hayes got another golden opportunity when penalty area pinball saw the ball fall at the of someone who I couldn’t quite make out, and with the goal gaping he hit a limp shot straight at Hamon.
However, three minutes later, Hayes did get the goal their play deserved, and unsurprisingly it was the increasingly dangerous Amartey who scored it. He was set up by Sheppard with a precise through ball, and former Slough Town man Amartey kept his composure and slid the ball home through Hamon’s legs. One nil to Hayes & Yeading, but it really should have been about three…
On the stroke of half time, Battle had a half chance for Truro at the edge of the area, but as the ball was half cleared from a corner he lashed his shot high, wide and handsome. A completely dominant first half for Hayes & Yeading, and it was difficult to see how Truro would get back into the match. Nothing changed as the second period started either, as another good cross from Downing narrowly missed the boot the boot of Amartey in the middle as he was sprinting in to finish.
Truro very nearly equalised through Neal on 51 minutes – from an admittedly potentially offside position. Neal, with one of the most glorious Plymouth accents in history, bagged 16 goals for Taunton Town in the league last season, and moved to the Cornish capital to form a much-anticipated strike partnership with Tyler Harvey. He almost added to three he’s already scored this season when he got behind the defence, rounded Smith in the Hayes goal, but was denied by a fantastic goal line clearance by McDevitt.
On 54 minutes, Norville-Williams, Odelusi and Sheppard combined to steal the ball from Reuben Collins, and Sheppard advanced goalwards. From around 30 metres he hit a sweet right-footed effort, but his shot struck the woodwork – his second near miss of the afternoon. Eight minutes later, Amartey had another effort as he skinned Palmer wide right, cut inside, and shot through a crowd of bodies. His effort clipped Truro skipper Jamie Richards though, and lost its pace, making it an easy stop for Hamon.
Hayes & Yeading continued to press for a second though, with Sheppard in particular exerting real influence in midfield. He, Amartey, Donnelly and Odelusi were giving Truro’s Niall Thompson and Reuben Collins a horrible time down the their right flank, and routinely getting around the back looking to cross. Indeed, on around 70 minutes, Amartey broke the length of the pitch and fed substitute Dylan Kearney on the edge of the box, but the former Dulwich man’s shot was easily saved. Truro countered almost immediately, and the ball broke to Kieran Hayes. A new arrival from Nottingham Forest, Hayes crossed, and Gafaiti seemingly forgot that he had left Truro, slicing the ball into his own net, to make it one all.
The game opened up as both sides sought a winning goal, with players routinely advancing the length of the pitch in possession, or sending searing long balls towards the attackers. Truro had a chance through Alex Battle on 78 minutes when he set up by Neal, but his shot was weak and never likely to trouble Jack Smith.
On 85 minutes, Hayes & Yeading again took the lead their performance had merited, and this time it was Jake Sheppard with the goal. Ryan Brett couldn’t control the bouncing ball in midfield and was robbed by Dylan Kear, who played the ball to Amartey. He turned and fed Sheppard with a through ball in an exact reverse of the first goal, and this time Sheppard didn’t hit the post – he calmly slid the ball past Hamon as he attempted to close down the shot, and notched his first of the season.
Kearney had another effort saved by Hamon as the clock wound down, whilst Smith came under pressure with some testing crosses and had to react smartly to tip an Alex Battle shot over at the other end. However, it always seemed more likely that Hayes would add to their tally than that Truro would level the scores. Sheppard hit the post (again!) on 89 minutes, before Amartey added gloss to the scoreline in stoppage time.
From the resulting corner, United broke the length of the pitch, with Amartey picking the ball up near to the half way line. With back to goal he feinted left and turned right, leaving the defender chasing shadows. As he neared the box he cut inside, beat another, and then placed his shot neatly past Hamon to give the hosts an unassailable 3-1 lead.
The Wash Up
A comfortable victory for Hayes & Yeading United, which in truth could have been five or six. They (Jake Sheppard) hit the woodwork three times, Hamon made some smart saves, and yet still they scored three times. The result moves them up to one place behind Truro in this still formative Southern League Premier South table.
Paul Wotton won’t be able to draw many positives from this match, but perhaps one crumb of comfort will be the attacking intent shown by Alex Battle when he was in possession. Probably the best player for Truro on the day, the substitute was at his best when buzzing around in the space between attack and midfield. Jamie Richards also performed well as captain, doing his best to hold the defence together, which was being pulled from pillar to post by the lively movement of the United attacking players.
As for Hayes & Yeading United, this was a consummate performance. No player let the side down with their performances, but a special note to three. Jordan Norville-Williams was effervescent from full back, and gave Rocky Neal little joy when he attempted to make inroads down Truro’s right. Up front Amartey was everywhere, and deservedly ended the match with two goals and an assist.
However, Man of the Match today simply must go to Jake Sheppard. The central midfielder was at the core of everything United did well in this match. Happy taking the ball under pressure, he rarely – if ever – lost possession, and his incisive passing and sharp movement was the catalyst for the hosts’ fine performance.