Saturday 31st October 2020, 1500 Kick Off
Chesham United FC vs Whyteleafe FC
The Build Up
With the threat of another lockdown leaked to the press on Friday evening, I – along with many other non-league fans – awoke on Saturday morning in the knowledge that this could be the last chance to get to a fixture for a while. With Hampton & Richmond away in Oxford, and my time available to get to a match constrained by DIY requirements at home, I opted for a fixture somewhere slightly closer to Surrey.
I looked around the FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round fixtures and found this, a match between 7th in the Step Three Southern Premier League South, and 4th in the Step Four Isthmian League South East Division. Having never been to Chesham before, that bumped it up my list, and the decision was sealed by the presence of Tyrone Lewthwaite in the Chesham squad, on Dual Registration from the Beavers.
The hosts were looking good for a promotion challenge when the season was cessated in March, nestled in second place behind Truro City, and coming into this fixture had won three and drawn two of their last six matches. Founded in 1917 in a merger of Chesham Town and Chesham Generals, the Chilterns based outfit have spent their entire history at Step Three or below, with the undoubted highlight being a 1993 Isthmian Premier League title. The nineties also saw their furthest run in the FA Trophy, getting to the Fourth Round in 1998/99 before Hendon knocked them out 2-0.
Their visitors for this FA Trophy tie were Whyteleafe, from a level below, but who had won four of their last six, and were applying pressure to East Grinstead, VCD Athletic and Hastings above them. The Leafe were 7th when the 2019/20 campaign ended, and have never played above Step Four. The closest they came was a Play Off attempt in 2015, which ended at the hands of Folkestone Invicta. Like their hosts, their best FA Trophy performance consisted of a Fourth Round appearance in 1998/99, with Kingstonian ending that particular run.
To get to this stage, Whyteleafe have already played a further qualifying fixture, sneaking past league rivals Cray Valley Paper Mills on penalties. Irrespective of the divisional difference, there was little doubt that the trio of Ryan Gondoh, Omari Hibbert and Aaron Watson could cause problems – they’d bagged fifteen league goals between them already.
The drive to Chesham’s home took slightly longer than anticipated, coming as it did with a detour to Teddington Hockey Club to drop off Mrs GRT and the dog, but after an hour and a half I pulled into the car park just as the torrential downpour of the morning eased off. The Meadow is a 5,000 capacity stadium, which nestles picturesquely in the Chiltern foothills. It saw an average crowd of 433 last season, which has risen by fifty during this campaign.
At £10 the ticket cost is consistent with most Step Three clubs, and a further £2 acquired me a programme. Well produced by editor Danny Buckingham, it is a solid 38 page effort and is crammed with information about the club, players (who knew Sam Beasant was a FOREX trader?!) and more besides. A trip to burger bar resulted in a cheese burger, chips and Diet Coke, at the price of £7.80. A half time coffee was a further quid fifty – and absolutely necessary as the winter wind started to rattle around the ground.
My pre-match belief that the likes of Hibbert, Gondoh and Watson would cause problems for the home side was almost instantly shown to be prophetic, as Gondoh set up Watson for an eighth minute opener. Gondoh – a Sunday League institution with Lambeth All Stars – took the ball past Mark Kirby on the left of the box, and squared it for Aaron Watson, who made no mistake from five yards – adding to his seven league goals for the campaign. Unfortunately, having only just made it to the match in time for kick off, I was still finishing my lunch and setting up my camera, so didn’t manage to catch the goal…
Whyteleafe were very much in command through the opening exchanges, and on twelve minutes they created another opportunity. A neat move down the right hand side, which involved Oluwadamilola Olorunnisomo giving Billy Adock a lesson in not diving in, resulted in a cross to Omari Hibbert on the left of the box. He had – and I cannot emphasis this enough – a lot of time and space, but in the end his shot didn’t trouble Sam Beasant in the Chesham goal.
Chesham began to put Whyteleafe under a little bit of pressure as the game reached the quarter hour mark, and they were looking to exert that pressure down both flanks. On the right, Jeanmal Prosper and Zak Joseph dovetailed nicely, whilst Kyle Watson, Bradley Clayton and David Pearce put some neat triangles together down the left. Between fifteen and twenty minutes a few dangerous crosses were whipped in from both sides, but Tyrone Lewthwaite as the focal point was being well marshalled by Jamie McGeoghegan and Antone Douglas at centre back.
On 20 minutes Clayton had the Generals’ first real chance at goal, after a half headed clearance, however, just four minutes after that, his side found themselves two down, and looking at a long afternoon. Again, unfortunately I didn’t get a picture, but a lack of organisation at the back gave Watson the time to pick his spot, and he slipped it past Beasant to get his and the Leafe’s second of the day.
Whyteleafe put another chance together shortly after the hour mark, when former Tooting & Mitcham man Omari Hibbert was fed in down the left. There was nothing wrong with his effort, but Sam Beasant – son of former England ‘keeper Dave – was out well to smother the effort. A minute later, David Pearce smashed home after the first bit of really good play that Chesham created, but after turning McGeoghegan and Douglas inside out and rifling home, the referee disallowed his effort for offside.
With 37 played, Pearce was coming more to the fore, and his influence down the left particularly looked Chesham’s most likely route back into the match. He played a decent cross in to Lewthwaite in the box, but his header was down and wide. A minute or so later, Pearce played in Clayton to cut back, but it amounted to nothing.
There was one final effort for Chesham in the half, as Clayton curled an effort from the edge of the box, but it was easily held by McCarthy in goal. I think Whyteleafe shocked Chesham with the quality of some of their early forward play, and in particular the interplay of that front three. With Aaron Watson leading the line (he bagged 16 for Westfield last season), and Gondoh and Hibbert supporting, they have more than compensated for the goals of Ronald Sobowale, who moved to Whitehawk in March. For Chesham, they looked too static across the front, and needed to find a way to get Zak Joseph on the ball more.
Clearly joint managers James Duncan and Michael Murray identified a way to try and change things up, bringing on Jake Cass, a summer arrival from Maldon & Tiptree, at the break, and it seemed to have an immediate impact. On 46 minutes, the substitute teed up Bradley Clayton, and he fired the ball past McCarthy to reduce the deficit. Once again, no photos, as I was midway through changing a lens. I’m starting to think a career in editorial photography would not be a good idea.
David Pearce had a decent free kick comfortably saved by the Whyteleafe ‘keeper, and from that corner Whyteleafe broke well, with neat interplay between Watson and Antone Douglas, pushing forward from centre back. Watson showed why he’s one of the most prolific goalscorers at Step Four, going the length of the pitch, but his shot was well held by Sam Beasant, who moved to the Generals from nearby Hemel Hempstead Town in the summer.
As the hour mark passed, Chesham started to move firmly into the ascendancy, and their attacking players were having more and more impact on the match. Zak Joseph moved over to the left and was linking up well with former Hanwell Town left back Kyle Watson. However, on the right, Pearce, Clayton and now Cass were causing all manner of problems. On 61 minutes, Cass and skipper Steve Brown linked up well to give Cass a shooting opportunity and he shot wide.
Around this time the game began to go a bit mental. Zak Joseph and Jamie McGeoghegan had been involved in a great tussle, with neither getting the upper hand, but on 65 minutes, Joseph got behind the Leafe’ centre back, who brought him down, giving Cass the opportunity to score from the spot. He didn’t. McCarthy saved the penalty, keeping his side ahead 2-1.
Chesham were now well on top, but just couldn’t quite find that equalising goal, with Clayton pushing forward to good effect down the right. However, the Whyteleafe back line were standing firm. McCarthy made a few good stops, but the ‘Leafe defenders kept shots to a minimum.
Then, on 80 minutes, potential disaster struck for Chesham United. A great opportunity for the Generals was well saved by McCarthy, and he set his side away on the break. Ryan Gondoh squared up Mark Kirby and tempted him into the challenge, and as soon as Kirby’s foot came in, the livewire attacker “took the opportunity” to go down, and referee Alan Cresswell saw enough to give the penalty. Suffice to say, it was hotly disputed…
However, some (Chesham fans) would say justice was served, as Sam Beasant saved Gondoh’s effort. So far then, three goals, two missed penalties, and it was impossible to avoid the feeling that there was another twist in this tale. It could have come just a minute later, as Gondoh again went down in the box, this time under the challenge of Kyle Watson, but on this occasion Mr Cresswell wasn’t impressed.
Yet another penalty shout on 85 minutes as Chesham appealed for a handball, but to be honest I couldn’t see and I suspect neither could the ref. Another chance came and went as McCarthy stopped well with his feet, then on 87 minutes Jake Cass missed a gilt-edged chance, blazing over from the penalty spot with the goal at his mercy. However, it really felt like something was coming, and just before full time my wife phoned to ask when I’d be leaving, I told her probably not for half an hour as I thought penalties were on the cards.
So just call me Non-Leaguestradamus, because on 90 minutes plus five, that’s exactly what happened. A long ball into the box – one of many lofted forward in hope – wasn’t properly cleared, and as Cass and Kirby made a nuisance of themselves, another substitute, Eoin Casey, pounced to stab home. Manager’s Player of the Season last year, Casey hadn’t found the net yet this term, but with nine last season it was only a matter of time. His goal was met with jubilation both behind and in front of the goal, and resulted in a somewhat amusing plea for social distancing behind the goal…
So, penalties, and I must say I’m loving this doing away with extra time. Let’s be honest, extra time is rubbish, and just prolongs the inevitable.
In front of a raucous Chesham crowd, Whyteleafe’s Gondoh scored the first, before David Pearce levelled for the hosts. Up next was Orome, and his effort was the first to be saved, with Beasant guessing the right way. Lewis Rolfe then put Chesham ahead before Ricardo Thompson also saw his penalty saved. Up came Bradley Clayton, no problem for him, and then McGeoghegan made it 3-2 overall. Jake Cass had the chance to settle it, but he smashed his wide and against the advertising hoardings, putting the pressure back onto Whyteleafe – and Antone Douglas in particular. Beasant went low, and Douglas went high – too high, in fact, as his shot cannoned off the crossbar, sending Chesham into the First Round Proper.
The Wash Up
Harry Hudson stated this month that he feels this is the strongest side he’s ever had at Whyteleafe, and they certainly gave Chesham United a tough test here. Defensively, they were very tough to break down, even if they did seem to run out of steam a little towards the last ten. They won’t face many tougher offensive tests than the running of Joseph and Clayton, and the incisive passing of Pearce, this season. Indeed, in Aaron Watson, Omari Hibbert and Ryan Gondoh, they will cause people more than enough problems of their own.
In truth, that the match went to penalties is probably in part down to (a) some wayward finishing by Chesham, but also (b) some fine stops by Tyler McCarthy between the Whyteleafe posts. For Chesham, Steve Brown and Billy Adcock deserve praise for continually driving on from midfield, as does Kyle Watson from left back, particularly at 2-0 when it looked like the game was up.
Zak Joseph was probably the stand out offensive player for Chesham in my opinion, though Pearce provides strong competition. The livewire winger, formerly of Hampton & Richmond Borough, gets my vote as Man of the Match, however, as he looked to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and physically carry Chesham forward with the ball at his feet.