Westleigh Park, Havant
It’s been a topsy-turvy world of late. Performance wise we came into this weekend off the back of three dreadful wins and two encouraging defeats. Now though, finally, all the bits have come together; a win and, would you credit it, a good ‘un.
After bossing large parts of our match against high-flying Braintree at home last Monday, we were offered a lesson in gamesmanship and referee manipulation as our opponents expertly highlighted the abject lack of class that has flung them to the top of the table. However what showed at the end of the shenanigans was a 2-1 defeat for us and a forthcoming suspension for our first choice left back; Jon MacDonald having been tunnelled for exhaling air, with the reprehensible beastliness of forethought, in the direction of Cliff Akurang.
Yet, after two 2-1 defeats against the top two sides in 3 days, we were undeterred and apparently saved up to take it out once more against Bishop’s Stortford. Seemingly a 5-1 hammering at their place was not enough punishment for one season. Today we uncovered that cruel streak once more; an ability to properly kill teams off when they appear before us trembling and vulnerable, like a tethered goat in a tiger enclosure.
One thing we needed to be wary of was the fact that Bishop’s Stortford took on a new manager in midweek. However despite hovering just above the Conference South relegation zone they decided the man for the job was not a whiskey-nosed, been-there-done-that-at-this-level firefighter, but 39 year old former Spurs and England goalkeeper Ian Walker who appears to have as much experience of the non-League scene as I have of Berkshire schools netball.
Out he strolled in his freshly pressed suit. Very nice n’all, but this is more a club-tracksuits-with-shorts-when-the-weather-allows kinda environment, so even before kick-off he looked as out of place as an Amish elder wandering around the flat-screens in Dixons.
Above the suit was the hair; the lank, damp curtain look still in place after all these years. Clearly this is a man who likes to permanently appear as though he has just got out of the shower. So, the suit was surely a mistake. It would have been much more in keeping for him to appear in the dugout with just a towel wrapped round him.
There was to be no new-manager-bounce though as we exposed his new charges’ failings all too evidently. For large parts of the game it was as though we were playing against ten men such was the space left open for us to tinker with, but with a referee as unfussy as Oleksander Saliy on show, you’d pretty much have had to shoot both of his assistants and a passing steward to get sent off (there were no bookings until the 88th minute), so I can confirm the Bish were turned out with their full complement.
Little good it did them as we took the lead in the 17th minute, Guiseppe Sole opened the scoring crashing home Sammy Igoe’s knock-back pass. Five minutes before half-time, we got a real curiosity; the lesser-spotted Jake Newton goal. Certainly his first for us, they are as rare as a politician’s apology and he showed why, almost contriving to fall over the ball despite being two yards out with an open goal gaping. The Bish felt aggrieved that he had not been flagged offside but it had appeared that the ball had been tackled by defender Sanchez Ming away from Sole and into Jake’s path, so the officials were certainly unlikely to budge.
The idea that they might come out at us in the second half did not last long. Two minutes in, a goalmouth scramble saw the ball drop to Sammy Igoe who hammered through the bodies to put us three up. An ideal reward for Sammy’s best performance since joining us last summer then as he really has been showing his class in the last few weeks. You expect a certain extra ‘something’ when you sign a player with 538 appearances for Football League clubs, and in the last month that ‘something’ has certainly kicked in.
At 3-0 up it seemed we felt that our opponents were proving to be of no sport at all, so Ian Simpemba gifted them a goal to make things interesting. Clearly we were toying with them but less cat-and-mouse as cat-and-brittle-autumnal-leaf-that’s-blown-into-the-kitchen.
Further chances came with Sole bundling into the box and hitting the post, the rebound from which clipped the top of his forehead and hung in the air for ages before dropping against the join of bar and far-post and out to safety. It was another Sole header in a similar position that led to our fourth goal though as he cushioned down a cross for Wes Fogden to follow up clinically.
At this point, nigh on half an hour remained but no further goals were to come. Hopefully we were saving some for the further challenges that await us, with a trip to Thurrock on Tuesday next on the remaining agenda. Traditionally we do well there, but each season is a clean slate and we will need to keep up the performance level if we want to write “WE WON” in big chalky letters on this year’s slate.