Westleigh Park, Havant
Enoch Powell once said that all political lives end in failure, but with the caveat “unless they are cut off midstream at a happy juncture” which, to me, is a bit like saying “all politicians fail…unless, of course, they don’t”. Following this formula I contend that all one’s football club’s former players and managers, by definition of them having deserted, or been discarded, are horrendous and dreadful. Except when you still like them a bit.
One who fits the exception at our club, for me anyway, would be Liam Daish. Current Ebbsfleet manager, he was sacked as joint manager of our club (along with the curiously orange Mick Jenkins) back in early 2004 after a nasty run of dampening results that hinted at us not making the stringent cut for the formation of the Conference South the following season. Eventually we made it, under Dave Leworthy’s stewarding, but prospects were bleak and I doubt anyone would question the logic of the dual dismissal in addressing the issue.
However, whilst it might have ended in ignominy, Daishy’s time with us is still remembered fondly by those of us who wobbled around the vast stretches of the Southern League watching him, first being awesome in central defence and scoring bullet headers from set-pieces, then being part of an idiosyncratic management combo that worked like a charm, for the first three years at any rate. The Daish/Jenkins team landed us 6th, 3rd and 8th place finishes, two FA Cup 1st round appearances and a run to the FA Trophy semi-finals.
This fondness doesn’t particularly stem from him being a great ‘man of the people’ either; the russet–hued Jenkins was much keener on being ‘amongst the fans’. Neither did Daishy particularly have a winning smile. Indeed he was seen, more often than not, wearing the exasperated look of a man who had lost his keys several hours before, and still hadn’t found them. Perhaps the changing of this ‘appearance’ was the reason he’s recently grown a Grizzly Adams-style thicket across his chops. However he now just looks like a bearded man bereft of his keys, so that may require a return to the drawing board.
What it comes down to is a wholehearted respect, I think, not only for what we saw of him at our place and in his previous life as a pro, but also in his patience-of-a-saint dealings with the whole MyFC fiasco in his current role.
Yet the respect doesn’t stretch to wanting anything but the worst for his current charges when they rock up at our manor. Following successive 2-1 league wins at home to Maidenhead and away to the usually-impervious-at-home-except-it-seems-when-we-turn-up Chelmsford City; we had moved back into the top half and had every reason to feel confident against them. That is if you ignore our exit from the Hampshire Senior Cup last Monday night at the hands of Wessex Leaguers Winchester, despite us putting out a near full-strength first XI, or the fact that our two top scorers, Mustafa Tiryaki and Wes Fogden, were suspended for the game.
In terms of feeling upbeat, we might have wanted to also ignore Ebbsfleet opening the scoring in the fourth minute; Ashley Carew able to glide through a back four so inert they’d had bikes chained to them. Michael West then went close two minutes later.
After 26 minutes, our centre-half Sam Pearce executed a perfect hook-over-the-crossbar clearance. Unfortunately he was attacking the Ebbsfleet goal at the time. At this point it very much felt like it was not to be our day, especially as all this was taking place on a pitch which now looks so anguished that we’ve had to offer it counselling. Frankly, the last time I came across a landscape like this, it was being evoked in Wilfred Owen’s poetry.
However, despite us looking pretty dreadful, we managed to work an equaliser prior to half time. Steve Ramsay did some excellent work on the edge of the area despite having fallen on his arse and eventually put in a delightful cross that loanee Joe Keehan was able to screw into the top corner with a slightly mis-hit volley.
Honours were largely even at the start of the second half with the surface making passing difficult for both teams down the centre of the field. However, Ebbsfleet eventually regained their lead after 64 minutes, Paul Lorraine’s header from a corner hitting the turf at the ideal angle for it to bounce over the goal-line defender’s head and into the roof of the net.
We didn’t sit long on the deficit though as within five minutes, Giuseppe Sole continued his great run of dead-eye finishing, making the most of another superb ball from the rather unsung Steve Ramsay and looping the ball past advancing keeper Preston Edwards. Sadly, despite being on top of the game for a period, Ebbsfleet found a winner ten minutes from time. The defence were again beaten with a ball over the top, and sub Ricky Shakes was able to run on and tuck the ball home.
In a game where we were left without two of our main attacking options, to score two goals was more than I was anticipating, frankly, and should have been enough to win us the game. However I certainly had not anticipated our defence, Jake Newton’s great one-man-band effort aside, not turning up to do their bit.
If anything will derail our season it’s this lack of consistency aligned with the poor discipline which stretches our thin squad as though laying itself out on a medieval rack. Yet, it is not as though wins have not been coming so I would be very reticent, given our run in last year, to suggest that we cannot break the shackles of our own making, put a more sustained sequence of decent performances together during these catch-up fixtures and climb the table once more.