Sunday 8th November 2020, 1245 Kick Off
Hampton & Richmond Borough FC vs Oldham Athletic FC
The Build Up
2020/21 is Hampton & Richmond Borough’s 100th year as a football club, and in that milestone season, they qualified for the FA Cup First Round Proper for only the fourth time. At an average of one appearance every twenty five years, the fact that manager Gary McCann has achieved it twice in three seasons is remarkable – however, what’s even more remarkable, is that for the second time in a row, the Beavers drew League Two Oldham Athletic out of the hat. As Ben Harrison-Hyde pointed out on Twitter, that means that by close of play on Sunday, 50% of all Hampton & Richmond’s matches in the FA Cup proper would have been against the Latics…
When ball 66 was drawn from the hat confirming the Beavers’ home tie, and then Oldham came out again, it meant that the side currently 13th in National League South would be hosting the side in 19th in EFL League Two (which is coincidentally the exact position they finished in last season). McCann’s men were 8th when the season was curtailed in March, and have so far won one, drawn one and lost two in this campaign. On Saturday, they secured their first league victory, 2-0 victory away at Oxford City. To reach this point of the FA Cup they’ve overcome Step Five Corinthian from Kent, Hornchurch of Step Three (featuring a now-viral Christian Smith wonder goal) and apparent local rivals Hemel Hempstead Town – Oldham of course, as a Football League side, join in this round.
Last time around, almost two years ago to the day, the Beavers took a 15th minute lead through Chris Dickson, before Rob Hunt in the 88th minute and Callum Lang in the 94th broke the hearts of Hampton supporters. Which leads us to the real elephant in the room – the lack of fans. With “Lockdown 2” upon us, matches between league and non-league sides all over the country are taking place in eerily quiet and uncomfortably empty stadia, though at the Beveree an appeal for banners and posters went some way to enabling fans to support their side. The visitors to this sadly empty ground, Oldham Athletic, have real FA Cup pedigree of their own, and have in fact reached the semi finals as often as the Beavers have reach the First Round. Formed in 1895 as Pine Villa, Oldham most recently reached the penultimate match in 1994, where they took Manchester United to a replay before losing 4-1. That season also saw Oldham relegated from the top flight, having been founder members of the Premier League. Since then, the Latics spent many years in what is now League One, before running into the all too familiar financial problems which have beset lower league clubs in the 21st century.
From 2016, ownership issues and financial irregularity have seen the Greater Manchester club having to fend off numerous threats of administration and winding up orders, with their Boundary Park stadium even being raided by HMRC in November 2017. In May the following year, they finally succumbed to relegation after 21 years in the third tier, falling to EFL League Two, but their troubles are far from over. Indeed, as recently as July this year, a poll of Oldham Athletic fans found that 90% do not believe owner Abdallah Lemsagam is the right man to take the club forward. However, that is a conversation for more lofty pages than this – at the moment, Harry Kewell’s side have enough difficulty on the pitch. Beset by injuries and positive COVID tests, the club have performed admirably to win three and draw one of their last six, including a 2-1 victory over Cheltenham Town in midweek, with goals from George Blackwood, and Arsenal loanee Harry Clarke.
In this financial climate, during the COVID pandemic, the opportunity for a financially rewarding cup run would ensure that everything was left on the pitch by both sides.
With the absence of fans from matches, the TV companies showed more matches than usual from the First Round this year, and the return of Oldham to the Beveree was always likely to attract the attention of national media. The decision of the BBC to broadcast Harry Kewell and co’s visit to West London resulted in the match being delayed to Sunday, but also a gargantuan effort from the staff and volunteers to accommodate the massed ranks of the wider sports media. With Match of the Day, BBC Final Score, and a selection of newspapers present, manager Gary McCann found himself much in demand for interviews pre-match.
With this being Remembrance Sunday, the match started with the customary two minute silence, which was as always impeccably observed by all in attendance, paying tribute to those who have fallen in service of their country. With the players lined up, another silence was carried out, this time at the knee, as the players took up the baton of highlighting racial injustice.
Hampton came out looking to make amends, and within five minutes had already had two free kicks in dangerous areas, both for fouls on Sam Deadfield. The Reading based midfielder started the game at a breakneck speed, and working in tandem with Tyrell Miller-Rodney and Jake Gray, was central in the Beavers midfield establishing themselves on the game.
However, it was the visitors who opened the scoring, against the early run of play, and it came from a free kick wide on the left. A dominant header from Christian Smith cleared the box, but when the ball came back in from the left, Blackpool loanee Ben Garrity found himself with the freedom of Hampton in the box, and had ample time to pick his spot and sidefoot past Alan Julian in the Beavers goal.
If the hosts were affected mentally by that setback they didn’t show it, as within a minute they were pressing hard again at the other end. When Niko Muir was fouled by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson wide right, Kyron Farrell whipped in a dangerous low free kick which narrowly evaded both Ruaridh Donaldson and Christian Smith. The Beavers were definitely in the ascendancy, and within five minutes both Miller-Rodney and Muir saw speculative efforts drift wide and get blocked respectively.
With quarter of an hour on the clock it felt only a matter of time until Hampton & Richmond Borough levelled things up. Both flanks were pinning Oldham back, whilst the midfield trio were running riot with neat triangles, and Niko Muir’s hold up play was excellent. That’s not to say the match was one sided, though – on 21 minutes, former AFC Fylde striker Danny Rowe showed the danger he presented with a rifled free kick from wide on the left, which clanged against Julian’s post and wide.
Alfie McCalmont lofted a shot over after coming out on top in a battle with Rene Steer and Wilson Carvalho on 23 minutes, and then five minutes later, Hampton had the opportunity their play deserved. After neat link up play with Muir, Ru Donaldson drove into the box, before he was scythed down by Oldham ‘keeper Ian Lawlor. As the ball ran to the feet of Deadfield, referee Sam Purkiss waved advantage. Deadfield picked his spot, and was also unceremoniously bundled to the floor, this time by Kyle Jameson. Penalty.
Under significant pressure, Deadfield stepped up, but the former Basingstoke Town player made no mistake, drilling the spot kick straight down the centre, to level up the scores.
On 32 minutes, a foul on the recently signed Wilson Carvalho resulted in another Farrell free kick, which was headed over by the Latics defence, and three minutes later Carvalho drew another foul from Harry Clarke, on loan from Arsenal. Another dangerous delivery, this time from Deadfield was cleared to the edge of the area, and an absolute rocket from Farrell on the volley creamed Kyle Jameson right in the face. Clearly they make them tough in Urmston, because the centre back was up on his feet moments later, from a headshot that would have given Tyson Fury problems.
Hampton were pushing, but they often say that you’re most vulnerable when you’re on top, and so it proved. A lightning fast counterattack from Oldham resulted in Bobby Grant laying the ball off to Dylan Fage on the right. When he sent the cross in, Grant had timed his run perfectly, pulling off the back of the defender, and the former Wrexham winger made no mistake with the finish.
It felt cruel on the Beavers, so close before half time, but with a minute left until the break, Kyron Farrell forced a good save out of Lawlor, and then Jake Gray’s follow up cross was blocked. Immediately from that Dylan Bahamboula, a Congolese international, went right up the other end and had a shot which drifted just wide. At half time the score of 2-1 to Oldham probably wasn’t a fair reflection of the match, but it was clear both managers had set their teams up well. Hampton were controlling the midfield, and exerting most pressure, but Harry Kewell – who would later speak about knowing how hard the Beavers pressed in the final third – had set his side up to break the high press and counter, and so far, it was paying off.
The usual press and buzz of half time gave way to a hurried fifteen minutes uploading some pictures, and then waiting for the players, and was yet another reminder of just what football misses without fans. The banners may have been there, but the supporters were not, save one chap watching over the perimeter wall from his garden, Camden Hells in hand.
In the second half, Niko Muir was denied what looked like a penalty almost straight away, as the former Poolie was pulled back when through on goal, then two minutes later, Danny Rowe extended Oldham’s lead. When the lively Bahamboula – a consistent threat on the wing – beat three men to the byline, his cross was headed half away by Smith. Unfortunately it landed at the feet of Rowe, who showed exactly why he was so sought after when he left the Coasters, as he turned both Inman and Smith and curled a sweet effort into the top corner.
3-1 down, and a team with less character may have conceded defeat there and then, but the Beavers have fight, and like Donald Trump, refuse to know when they’re beaten. Almost immediately, Deadfield was driving upfield again, working up the pitch with wall passes, and eventually found Farrell. The Islington-born full back played in Jake Gray, but from the right of the box his effort was always going wide.
A minute later, another of Gray’s trademark bursts into the box was almost rewarded with a penalty, but both the referee and linesman had clearly gone for a toilet break, as there can be no other reason not to have seen the blatant trip on the former Yeovil man. With the stonewall penalty denied, Oldham almost doubled the injustice, but Alan Julian did well to palm Alfie McCalmont’s shot away from harm.
With 57 played, former Dulwich Hamlet defender Christian Smith played an exquisite ball over the top of the defence, dropping just out of reach of Clarke and onto the feet of Donaldson. His first touch was a little heavy, but he still reached the ball just before the ‘keeper, and when it bounced out to Niko Muir he looked certain to score. Irishman Lawlor recovered well though, forcing Muir wide, and suffocating the shooting opportunity.
On the hour mark, Carvalho had an effort from the right which was deflected wide, and from the resulting short corner Kyron Farrell seized the opportunity to dribble into the box. He shot from the right, but his effort (off his weaker right foot) drifted past the post. It was getting tense for the Beavers, and on 63 minutes another counter from Oldham saw a short-cross narrowly evade Alfie McCalmont at the back post.
On 74 minutes, possibly the best play of the match resulted in a second for Hampton, and it was that man Deadfield again. He started the move, playing it into Muir back to goal. The striker flicked it up, and hooked the ball over his shoulder into the path of Donaldson. The man from Deloitte lashed a cross into the six yard box, and there was Deadfield, who had continued his run, to poke home.
Two minutes later though, Borthwick-Jackson missed a glorious opportunity to settle the match, as the former Manchester Untied full back flashed over from about ten yards. Back in the Latics area, Jake Gray had a decent chance well held by Lawlor, after neat interplay between Gray, Sam Deadfield and substitute Danny Bassett. Niko Muir reacted quickly, but under intense pressure, Lawlor did well to hold the initial shot.
With three minutes until the allotted ninety was up, Danny Rowe curled a magnificent effort against the post, which then bounced agonisingly back in front of Julian, before a deflection sent McCalmont through on goal moments later. He was denied by an unbelievable flying tackle from Farrell. Four minutes of added on time was announced, and in the first of them Jake Gray went down in the box, before being (probably correctly) booked for a dive. Moments later, there was another yellow, and this time it was a second – for Tyrell Miller-Rodney – as he shoved Bobby Grant to the floor after the winger had been nipping at his ankles.
There was still time for one last effort, and of course, it fell to Deadfield. With defenders crowing him, he opted to try and loft it into the corner, but got too much elevation, and the ball sailed high. As the full time whistle went, Oldham had booked their place in the next round, but only the most partisan supporter could argue that Hampton hadn’t deserved more from the match.
The Wash Up
Despite all their difficulties, this was Oldham’s third win on the bounce, and was a fine performance from Harry Kewell tactically. He knew the quality he possessed in the final third, and relied on that to see him through on the counter. And it worked. Danny Rowe was exceptional, and but for one other player’s performance would have taken man of the match. Bobby Grant was a liverwire, whilst Dylan Bahamboula was terrific in possession. Defensively, Brice Ntambwe showed nous and athleticism, with the former Birmingham City man acting as the spoiler in midfield.
For the Beavers, once the disappointment has faded they will have to look back on this match with pride. Had the foul on Gray been given, then they would have justifiably taken this game into extra time, and even with ten men you’d have been a fool to bet against them.
It seems almost churlish to pick out individuals, given how well every man played, but I will anyway. Firstly, Gary McCann, and his coaching staff. They set their team up to nullify Oldham, and to impose themselves on midfield, with the wingers switching flanks, caused no end of problems to the full backs. With Hungerford away on Tuesday, the manager must pick his players up quickly – but the bond he and the squad have is clear, and there’s no doubt he’ll have them focused.
On the pitch, Miller-Rodney and Gray were excellent, and on any other day could have been man of the match. Donaldson had probably his best game of the season, and must have run about 47 miles up and down the wing. Niko Muir was almost unplayable at times, and against League Two opposition showed strength and guile, winning almost everything that came his way. At one point in the first half, he controlled a pass pinged into him at knee height from ten metres away – it was almost Bergkamp-esque.
But, the main man was Deadfield. His passing range, work rate and composure is so crucial to way Hampton play, and everything he did was right here. Decision making was spot on, and he seemed to have time every time he was in possession. A truly impressive performance, capped with two goals – it was only right that it was commended by Stephen Warnock and Karen Carney on Match of the Day.