FA Cup football once again took over midweek action, and for me the first time ever that I’ve managed to watch a game in every round so far, however depending on how kind the draw is on Thursday for the 4th qualifying round, that might be it for me this season given the inclusion of the National League Premier clubs and still no fans allowed in at that level.
My Tuesday night game saw me take in Chichester vs Tonbridge Angels, my first ever visit to Oaklands Park despite living down here in West Sussex for fourteen years, but also a chance to catch up briefly with Angels manager Steve McKimm who was kind enough to give me a blog interview over the lockdown period and as we are unable to enter Longmead Stadium currently with the restrictions this was the next best thing.
I used to live a five minute drive from that stadium before moving here and even played on the pitch in a cup semi final for my school a long time ago and also spent some junior years watching a very good Angels team smash their way through the Winstonlead Kent League.
The FA giant-killers of last season were a team McKimm was wary of when the draw was made despite Tonbridge hailing from two levels higher, Chi having also started their season a few weeks earlier than their visitors that might have given them the edge.
The game began on a damp pitch from the afternoon rain but both sides were set on passing the ball and not resorting to long channel balls which was pleasing to see, wing backs from Chi and wingers from Tonbridge were the name of the game.
The early chances fell the way of the hosts but were unable to find the target and as the visitors began to get a foothold in the game, they took the lead. Panic in the Chi defence after allowing a ball to bounce caught the home keeper Steve Mowthorpe in no-mans-land and Joe Turner nipped in between the keeper and defender to slot home the opening goal.
The goal however didn’t knock the home side out of their stride and they were level just five minutes later, a ball from Josh Clack squared across the box to Kaleem Haitham found it’s way into the back of the net to give the capacity 400 crowd something to cheer.
The remainder of the half was a trade off of chances but neither side were able to make the breakthrough to go in front before the half time break.
The first chance of the second half came immediately for the visitors, the impressive Khale Da Costa forcing Mowthorpe to tip the ball round the post within two minutes of the re-start. Both sides certainly appeared more intent in an open game this half as play swung from end to end, and the midfield area seemed a lot more stretched.
The Angels once again took the lead on 65 minutes, Da Costa appearing to score straight from the corner with no Chi player on the front post to attack the ball. The hosts did have the ball in the net four minutes later but Scott Jones comfortably fouled the keeper at the same time.
Chi made a couple of substitutions to try and change the nature of the game, the young impressive Ethan Pritchard arrived just before the goal and was involved after trying to get his back into the game down the left wing, with Lewis Hyde replacing Matt Axell to drive the team forward.
Tonbridge had their chances on the counter attack to add a third, but seemed unable to hold onto the ball when they attacked the final third of the pitch which gave their hosts the chance to put pressure immediately back on the visitors defence and goal for the final fifteen minutes.
McKimm’s defenders dealt with everything thrown at them including stoppage time, Sonny Miles marshalling the back line alongside Rian Bray headed, kicked and put their bodies in front of everything to give the Angels victory and a place in Thursday’s draw.
Very impressed with Chi and the way they played throughout the game, will definitely be making another visit there this season, facilities look pretty good for this level.
I caught up with the Angels boss on Wednesday morning and here are his thoughts:
‘It was a tough game as I expected, a proper game of cup football. Despite all the pressure towards the end I was comfortable with my defence dealing with all the crosses coming in and with a touch more quality we could have had another goal.’
‘It was really nice to hear other voices than just the players shouting at each other, good to see a crowd watching football again.’