Mullets suffer Senior Cup exit

Tuesday evening this week took me to Arundel as they took on Oakwood in the Sussex Senior Cup 1st round. There was much debate up and down the country as to whether County FA’s would run their own senior competitions this season and it’s been pretty mixed, some are and some have postponed them until next season.

Sussex recently went for it and drew their competition a few weeks ago, only county league sides involved in this round but with the incentive of drawing the likes of Brighton & Hove Albion Under 23’s, Crawley Town, Eastbourne Borough or one of the Pitching In Isthmian League sides in the next round, money spinners for some even if big crowds are not allowed to attend.

On a crisp, but damp evening after early afternoon rain the Mill Road looked in good shape. It looked on arrival that the visitors might have had a delayed journey heading to West Sussex as they seemed to be kit changing at the far end of the pitch although these days with grounds being configured differently due to the covid restrictions that might well have been their changing area for the evening.

Both sides have made poor starts to their campaigns with neither side having registered a league win so far, not surprisingly the opening exchanges were tentative as both sides struggled to find a rhythm on a quick pitch.

It took 26 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, and with Oakwood making most of the early chances it was the visitors who went in front, Aaron Ryder scoring from a corner.

The lead only lasted four minutes, the Mullets Ben Grey equalising with a well taken penalty after that notorious handball law made the call. From that point I was expecting it to give Arundel the confidence to take hold of the game and make Oakwood work to win the game.

But it was the visitors who took the lead again on 36 minutes, a deft finish from Sam Cane past the hosts keeper Lewis Broughton was no more than they deserved and were well in control of the game at the half time interval.

The second half took a little while to come to life, neither really finding enough to test the goalkeepers and the midfield battle looking very even on the whole. The Mullets pulled themselves back into the tie as Grey with a small suspicion of offside got clear to lob the onrushing Greaves for the ball to land perfectly under the bar and level the scores once more.

Mullets had the chance five minutes later when from a corner defender Rob Madden met the ball perfectly but his header hit the outside of the post. It was left to the visitors substitute Oluwaseun Olabiyi to notch the winner ten minutes from time although Madden had a late chance to take the tie to penalties but scouped the ball over from three yards.

Impressive performance from Oakwood’s Arnold Saurombe who gave the Arundel defence problems throughout the game with his direct running and coming in off the left flank with no one sure who was tracking him. The Mullets desperately need an injection of confidence before they find themselves too far behind the top teams in the league, they do have a couple of games in hand but they need to won or mid-table might beckon this season…………

Ten wins from Wembley

For the third Saturday in a row I decided on a little road trip for my choice of game. I had two or three in mind for differing reasons, local, nostalgia and Step 3 vs Step 2. In the end I plumped for nostalgia and headed up the M23 to Chipstead.

It’s so far turned out to be a game in every round of the FA Cup for me and Chips hosting East Grinstead Town was to be the latest port of call. The reason for nostalgia, around 30 odd years ago I was involved with my late father in the Tandridge Youth League, which took in Kent, Surrey, part of South London and a bit of Sussex.

The league held a lot of the end of season cup finals at Chipstead so come the end of April and beginning of May, many a night was spent there under lights well looked after by the then chairman Keith Rivers. The club were always challengers in those days at the top of the Combined Counties league and eventually did take the plunge into what is now the Pitching In Isthmian League.

Two defeats from two in the league hasn’t seen the Chips start too well in the South Central Division with just a single goal scored, cup success of course has been slightly better. Their opponents have only played one league game so far, a resounding 4-1 win whilst knocking out Premier Division opponents Worthing on penalties in the last round to set up this tie.

Having been present at the Worthing game, I knew what to expect from the Wasps on Saturday afternoon, strong across the back four, pacey and strikers who make a nuisance of themselves, Chipstead very much an unknown quantity to me.

The early running so to speak came from the visitors, Jerry Amoo willing to take on his full back at every opportunity and with the hosts struggling to get a hold of the ball the attacking threat was limited. Indeed, Grinstead thought they were in front on 13 minutes with Chipstead just about clearing the ball off the line to keep the scores level.

It took until the 34th minute for the breakthrough to be made and came very much against the run of play for the hosts, Tom Collins sent clear, rounded the keeper before jinking back and slotting home between the two defenders on the line. Jack Beadle almost made it a second for the home side moments later but his shot deflected wide of the target.

The second half followed a pretty similar pattern, the home side content to concede possession and play on the counter while the visitors worked their way through midfield out wide to get the ball into the box. The task got harder for Grinstead on 64 minutes after Jerome Beckles picked up a yellow card from a poor challenge with it being his second of the game his afternoon was over.

Despite the numerical advantage, Chips still struggled to string some movement together and really had to defend their one goal lead resolutely, the visitors were handed a lifeline on 71 minutes, Amoo’s spot kick though well saved by Chips keeper Oliver Pain. Grinstead though almost getting themselves back on level terms with 12 minutes to go but that dogged determination kept the visitors out once again.

The hosts looked the more likely to add to their tally in the final ten minutes and George Membrilera thought he had made the game safe in the last minute, but his powerful drive was superbly tipped over by Adams in the Grinstead goal.

The Chips held out through stoppage time and were rewarded with a trip to Hayes and Yeading in the Third Qualifying Round next Tuesday evening. A couple of players stood out for me throughout the game, Amoo with his pace and direct running should have created a few chances for striker Louis Theophanous, but the extra touch taken more often than not resulted in the ball not reaching the middle of the box whilst Chris Boulter marshalled the home side’s backline to keep the clean sheet intact.

So, the first game of October in the bag, great to get back to a ground I’ve not been to for so long and whilst things looked a little different from three decades ago, it’s still a lovely little club to visit and another doing all they’ve been asked to do for fans to be inside their ground watching their team……….

Rebels made to work hard for points

The end of September and a fruitful month for football. Eleven games watched since the 1st September in total, bearing in mind I normally get to about 20-25 games in season it appears I’m on a bit of a mission!

To finish off the month I was at Lewes vs Worthing on Tuesday evening to see Adam Hinshelwood’s side for the second Tuesday in a row and hopeful of a better result than the previous week. Standing in their way were Hugo Langton’s Lewes side, looking for a first league win of the season in an East vs West Sussex derby.

Roco Rees, on loan from Premier League Brighton, was back between the sticks for the Rebels whilst Dajon Goulding started up front against his former club no doubt eager to find the back of the net.

The Dripping Pan was split between ‘FRIES’ and ‘PIES’ to keep to social distancing rules, Pies where I was situated with Rebel Yell co-commentator and fellow PNLP podcaster James Easton, took in the terrace behind the bottom goal and the sideline stand.

The Rebels made the early running, Golding having an effort cleared off the line while Jasper Pattenden was inches away from opening the scoring, curling the ball just beyond the far post. Soon after, the hosts were reduced to 10 men, Golding sent clean through, Lewes’ keeper Nathan Stroomberg handled outside the box and the referee had no alternative to send the stopper off. When it’s not going for you, it’s really not and currently for Langton and Lewes that is definitely the case.

Despite the man advantage, Lewes made Worthing work hard across the pitch and there was a struggle for the Rebels to get any fluid passing movement going although they were getting joy down both flanks with the pace of Pattenden and Reece Meekums giving the full backs the runaround.

On the half hour though Worthing made the breakthrough, Golding received the ball outside the box, jinked inside and after shifting the ball to his left let rip blasting the ball past substitute keeper Gary Noel.

The lead however was not to last long, a short back pass from Danny Barker left Rees with little opportunity but to slam it against the onrushing Jude Arthurs and the ball ending up in the back of the net for the equaliser which sent the sides in level at half time.

The second half bizarrely opened up with Lewes’s third goalkeeper of the night, Noel replaced by Nic D’Arienzo. It also came with more purpose from The Rebels to spread the play across the pitch to try and stretch the one man advantage, something they didn’t manage to do too often in the first half.

Ricky Aguiar, a first half substitute for Jesse Starkey, almost embarrassed the new keeper from the kick-off, his 50 yard lob only slightly off target. To add to the attacking firepower on the pitch, Hinshelwood sent on Tom Chalaye for Leon Moore to try and press home the advantage the extra man was starting to bring.

Just a minute after the youngster’s introduction, Worthing were back in front, Meekums dancing his way through the hosts defence and the ball was turned into his own net by Leon Redwood with Ollie Pearce waiting to pounce behind him.

Chalaye thought he had extended the lead on 67 minutes, but D’Arienzo was equal to it, pulling off a fine save but was unable to stop Golding scoring his second and Worthing’s third a couple of minutes later, a delightful finish from Pearce’s cross to put the gloss on a much improved second half performance.

There was a very good chance for Lewes to drag themselves back into the game just before the final ten minutes, but Rees was equal twice to the efforts and the points headed back up the A27 with the Rebels and three league wins out of three to start the season.

You feel there is much more to come from Hinshelwood’s side, they haven’t yet hit their stride but still unbeaten, you can’t argue with that and if there is much more to come the Rebels are definitely going to be in the mix once again this season.

Credit must go to Lewes however, they made Worthing work hard for the points across both halves and if they can get that bit of luck going their way to match the hard work shown in this match that first win surely won’t be too far away for Langton and his team.

Bees almost at the ready

It’s been a very long while since the last Barnet blog, indeed when Peter Beadle was appointed as manager the last time the keyboard was tapped and opinions formed.

That was 23rd August to be precise but like most Bees fans my eyes haven’t been away from the page to keep tabs on what has been going on and who’s going to be wearing the black and amber this season.

Whilst I write there is currently no chance of getting into The Hive this weekend to watch us take on Eastleigh which is a massive shame, I had plans for a little meeting afterwards with Strevs, who I’ve kept in contact with throughout the last few months along with Neil Smith and Darren Currie, but alas no plans to be made and that will have to wait for better times.

It’s fair to say that it’s taken a little bit of time to realise that we aren’t expecting to see the kind of performances we were getting prior to lockdown, the calibre of players are not at the same level coming in, they may change my opinion of that in games to come, I hope they do in all honesty.

Games without fans at this level is going to look very odd for weeks, while we might be used to it at Premier League level with pumped in crowd sounds, it’s going to be like watching training matches in your own stadium. I am hopeful we won’t see this for too long at our level, our grounds can cope perfectly well with social distancing of say 1000 people as a starting point, its outside and public transport is not going to get overwhelmed, most people drive themselves and friends to a game!

So far then six signings and a really mixed bag in total, not sure it’s quite enough to make the squad look at least reasonably full and there might be a couple more to come before we kick off this weekend.

When Ben Nugent was announced as the first signing I thought it was a good measure of the calibre player we might expect for others. 222 senior appearances, a promotion to the Premier League on his CV from seven years ago, looks decent enough at first glance, 6ft 5in for a centre back is commanding.

The next two signings are ones I hope prove me wrong, Eliot Richards and Tyrone Duffus. Both well known to Beadle having played for him at Hereford, Richards does have 150 EFL appearances which like Nugent gives him some experience, but last played under Beadle in 2017 and more recently spent time at Merthyr. Duffus is also one well known to the manager also having been at Hereford, recently at Warrington Town and like Richards stepping up two levels to join the Bees, whether either or both bridge the gap will show over the next few weeks.

The other three signings do all come with some National League experience, J J Hooper had a 14 goals in 22 games record at Bromley which prompted a move to Wrexham, unable to settle there saw him net just six times last season and a move closer to home again will hopefully re-ignite his career.

Alex McQueen and Jerome Binnom-Williams, both full backs, have turned out for Dagenham & Redbridge and Halifax respectively last season with some 80 games between them and should be solid if not spectacular.

In the light of the on-going restrictions it would seem sensible to not fill the budget for now and keep things tight, the loan market has to be used effectively to supplement the players that are already there and I would guess there is little panic around The Hive compared to say Notts County or Dagenham where wages are that much higher and no income from supporters inside stadiums the money has to come from somewhere.

I’m not expecting to set the world alight, competitive is all I ask for this season and the odd surprise result. Having not been able to see much from pre-season as you normally would it’s hard to put down a decent prediction. Nowhere near the relegation zone will suit me, but if you get on a run and momentum builds then who knows, we’ll find out in a few weeks……..

Honours even

Another Saturday, another footballing road trip. Needing to be in Essex after the game, and a short window from leaving Sussex most games over the water were out of range so options were limited as to where I could spend my afternoon.

There are a lot of clubs I’m trying to get round to this season and quite a few I’ve already managed in the first month but I’m not adverse to getting to watch some clubs a few times with my newfound freedom. My choice of the afternoon was the early top of the table clash in the South Counties East League Premier Division between Tunbridge Wells and Welling Town at the Culverden Stadium.

My first competitive game of the new season was here back on 1st September when a 1-0 win sent the Wells through in the FA Cup. That particular journey ended on Tuesday evening at Haringey Borough, 2 steps higher in the food chain, but the early results in the league campaign have put the Wells on the front foot and this was seen as a good test of their credentials for keeping in touch at the top.

Their opponents in Welling Town came into the game as league leaders, four wins from four games. Just six years after being formed and only two years into their membership of the SECL their remarkable rise is looking like continuing this season, placed 9th before lockdown ended last season and already mixing well with clubs in excess of their budget.

Wells could and should have been in front before Town opened the scoring, chances for Euan Sahadow, Frankie Griffin and Richard Atkins unable to be converted. On the counter from one of these failed chances, Ryan Golding held off the attentions of a defender to put the visitors in front 10 minutes in.

A lack on incisive passing was also playing havoc with the Wells trying to get back into the game, Welling content to break when play broke down, Richard Jimoh a constant threat with his direct running. The remainder of the half saw Wells control a majority of the possession but unable to convert it into goals giving manager Richard Styles lots to contemplate with the visitors having the half time lead, a great close range save from Aaron_Lee Wharton kept the scoreline down to one.

Whatever Styles and his assistant Dan Morrin said at half time went out the window with three second half minutes, Jimoh beating the full back and crossing for Alex Nelson to head home from around three yards out and a 2-0 lead for the visitors.

In all honesty that looked to be it for the Wells, but this is football and sometimes it just doesn’t disappoint! Just after the hour mark the home side were back in the game, a surging run down the right hand side from substitute Regan Corke, his cross was met by fellow winger Sahadow after a deft flick on from Adkins to reduce the deficit.

Just a minute later and the scores were on parity once again, a free kick was headed into the box by Ryan Cheek and while the Town defenders failed to react Miles Cornwell sneaked in and lifted the ball over the keeper, under the bar and into the net, drama and something that didn’t look on the cards five minutes earlier.

Both sides then broke at ease trying to find a winner, Town the closest crashing one against the bar and a few half chances came the way of both sides before they had to settle for a point each, 100% records gone but still unbeaten in the early standings.

I was quite impressed with Town’s Alex Nelson, always available for the ball in midfield throughout the game whilst in all honesty the Wells never really got going despite the early chances expecting things to go their way. A draw pretty much the right result once the home side had levelled things up, the attendance watching what was an exciting game exactly on the maximum 300, all safely in, distances observed and plenty of room for all.

Just a quick mention for Wells coaching staff, great to see Richard Styles and Dan Morrin before the game for a quick catch up and standing first half  by the home dug-out was interesting just listening to coach Luke Carpenter and his insights into why things weren’t working in the first half.

The programme I bought yesterday as well, best one I’ve seen so far, granted I haven’t been able to find one at every game so far but this one looked good and might look even better if they’d like to get a column in there from me, we’ll have to see on that score………

Dodd confident of climbing the table

Since I last caught up with East Preston boss Terry Dodd, there has been an improvement in results and things are starting to look a little better as we come to the end of a packed September fixture list.

By the time next Tuesday rolls around the first team will have completed eight league and cup matches with contrasting fortunes in that time. The first win of the season duly arrived in the FA Vase last weekend at division lower Oakwood and the confidence that will bring is needed as we head into what is going to be another busy month in October.

Goals from Harry Franks and Cameron Lineham means EP are now off the mark for the season, but it also means some prize money coming to the club which is going to be a massive thing for all clubs this season in both FA competitions however big or small the amount. A home draw against Fisher in the next round will bring a little more money in as well, win or lose.

Prior to the Vase game a vast improvement saw the team hold Alfold to a 2-2 draw despite squandering a two goal lead but the defensive performance which was much improved on the previous week’s defeat to Loxwood which laid the foundations for the result at Oakwood.

The three new signings made before the defeat to Eastbourne Utd have added some much needed craft and guile while the return of Chad Milner to the Alfold game made a big difference, although he missed the Vase win. Working without a budget at this level does make the job a lot harder than it should be to get results and the club are very much aware and supportive of how things need to be done this season.

Dodd though is pleased with how things are starting to shape up but now expects the team to kick on:

‘I was pleased with the win last weekend, it has been coming with the way we’ve been playing over the last few games, although I didn’t think we played particularly well we still got the win and that’s all that counts.’

‘I am hoping it kicks off for us in the league now and I know I keep saying it but I really feel we aren’t too far away from all clicking together and once we do I think we’ll surprise a few people along the way.’

‘It’s always nice to have a cup run and we’ll be looking to do that, but we are aware we need results in the league and that is our main aim at the present moment. With all the games coming up again in large numbers next month we are going to need to have as many players available as we can, we’re lucky we have the Under 23 side and I’ve already called a few of them into the first team squad this season, I am however looking to bring in more attacking options in the next couple of weeks.’

For most clubs just being able to stay in business after a torrid few months is the ultimate aim, no-one can predict whether we will see everything through to the end of season and if we do how many interruptions we will encounter along the way.

Just a note about the club’s Under 23 side who have beaten a couple of County League Division Two sides in pre-season, they began their league campaign on Thursday evening at the Lashmar against Selsey and won 2-1. Bearing in mind they started the game with four 16 year olds, two 17 year old and one 18 year old and ended the game with five 16 year olds on the pitch, the future is a very bright one for this club if they can keep the players together.

EP travel to Horley Town this coming weekend ko 3pm whilst they host high flying Saltdean Utd on Tuesday night at The Lashmar ko 7.30pm.

Rebels stung by Wasps

Tuesday night was FA Cup action once again, so far I’ve managed to watch a game in all three rounds which again is another first for me this season, creating quite a few of those so far in the early days of the 2020/21!

It was also the first chance to take a look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing as they travelled to division lower East Grinstead in the first qualifying round, the Rebels not changing too much from last season’s squad as they attempt to win promotion into the National League South.

This was also a first visit to the home of The Wasps for me and it’s a nice tidy little ground, well set out for social distancing inside the bar and around the ground as you would expect for a Step 4 club, temperature taken on the way in and off you go!

The Worthing starting eleven had a familiar look to it for me with the likes of Jesse Starkey, Joel Colbran, Jasper Pattenden and Reece Meekums to name a few added to by newcomers Mo Diallo, Leon Moore and Sam Keefe whilst the unavailable Rocco Rees saw the return of Jack Fagan between the sticks.

It was the hosts who started the brighter despite Worthing keeping most of the possession and moving the ball quickly across the surface into feet, as it was though a peach of a free kick from Starkey from 25 yards out gave the Rebels the lead.

Standing in line behind the free kick, it was easy to note the wall was not far enough over given the potency of Starkey’s left foot and the ball was bent around said wall and into the top left hand corner.

Both sides then traded chances as Worthing tried to settle the game down while their hard working opponents battled hard going up the slope. The visitors went into the interval two goals to the good, a strong run and shot from Marvin Armstrong was spilled by the home keeper and Diallo was on hand to tuck in the rebound and appear to put Worthing well in control a minute before the break.

The hosts came out with good purpose in the second half and Worthing initially struggled to get a measure of the game resulting in Grinstead pulling one back early on through Theophanous after a fine save from Fagan but couldn’t drop on the ball.

The game then swung from end to end with good chances for both sides, the home side thought they had equalised just past the hour mark, but Uwezu was ruled offside to keep Worthing in front.

A double change for the visitors saw Diallo and Pattenden depart for Dajon Golding and Shaq Gwengue just before Wilson rattled Fagan’s bar with the ball coming back out to safety.

Worthing thought they had made the game safe in the 73rd minute, a breakaway from Gwengue saw the striker slip down the right hand side and crossed low for Golding to drag the ball back and past the keeper for 3-1.

At that point the visitors looked home and dry but what I believe was the wrong substitution made with Ollie Pearce coming on for Gwengue, following a disagreement between the striker and Hinshelwood, instead of a midfielder to shore things up a bit allowed the hosts to get themselves back into the game and that they did in fantastic style.

Theophanous added his and the home side’s second goal ten minutes from time and while the Rebels were reeling from that blow, Thompson broke away past the Worthing backline and levelled the scores with six minutes to play.

With no more goal scoring action it went to penalties and the first four dispatched from both sides all went to the keeper’s left and into the net. At 2-2, Armstrong went down the middle to find his shot saved whilst The Wasps went 4-3 in front and it was left to Ricky Aguiar to send the 5th Worthing penalty over the bar and the hosts into the second qualifying round.

East Grinstead certainly deserved the win following their second half performance but Worthing would have felt at 2-0 and 3-1 up they were in control of the game, but that’s cup football for you, a great game for the neutral but hard if you were wearing the red of the Rebels.

Clubs simply will not survive

The latest change in the restrictions could sound the end for many non-league clubs over the course of the next few weeks and definitely months. Less than 24 hours after it was announced clubs were already beginning to make noises to suggest this latest change could mean closure for some.

Clubs at Steps 3-6 have been fortunate to have fans attending their matches since the beginning of September and currently appear to exempt from the news rules coming into force this week although most are aware that can change at a moment’s notice.

The National League who are due to start their season a week on Saturday have once again been told no fans will be attending their matches due the ‘elite’ status placed upon them. It is no different right to the very top and whilst financial blows can be absorbed at the top end of the game, there is little to share around the further down the pyramid you go.

Whilst there maybe a handful of clubs at non-league’s top level who could survive for a short while, the consensus is the majority cannot. Fans being inside grounds are the lifeblood for all non-league clubs, that ship has sailed from the top table and while grounds are soulless in the Premier League gate receipts are mere pocket change but the atmosphere is the game changer.

It’s not just getting the fans inside grounds it’s also the food outlets and bars that provide much needed revenue for all clubs and without being able to open those places for hire income streams are still very much marginalised and they need people in them just as much as ticket sales.

The loss of any club will have far reaching implications on a wider scale than just a football club disappearing. Jobs will be lost at each club, businesses who supply them and those around some of the grounds will see a drop in income as we are seeing in cities across the country with people not returning to work.

The mental health aspect of shutting everything down once again will tip a lot of people over the edge and once things re-open again, will there be much to re-open afterwards? I don’t want this to get too political as it’s about football but there are more far-reaching consequences this time around.

I’ve been to around 10 games since the beginning of the month from Steps 4-6 and each one has been different in its approach inside the ground. I was expecting it to be in all honesty, whilst all clubs can undertake a Covid review of an empty ground, policing it all is a different matter. Volunteers run these clubs, not business owners and those of you and I who attend games know there isn’t a huge abundance of volunteers coming forward for any club.

Some grounds have been set out well, others don’t have the ability for separate entrances and exits, and they’re not exactly going to be able to build one in a matter of weeks if there is actually room to do so. Clubs are doing this to the best of their ability and are very much reliant on common sense being applied by most if not all. We all know 100% compliance is going to be a struggle with a minority, but with transmission being lower outside is the risk higher or not?

The first club to fall is likely to cause a domino effect and the question then becomes where will it stop? Dover Athletic were on the brink before making some huge cuts to try to remain sustainable, its being reported they are two weeks from closure if fans are not watching games at the season start on 3rd October inside their Crabble ground. Other clubs in the National League South are also making noises about the same kind of thing, it’s not going to be isolated incidents.

Some clubs I believe are asking if they can ‘mothball’ their season, but what happens if half of them want to and the others want to play on to recoup wages they’ve already agreed to pay for a year? It is going to be very dangerous territory for all to step onto over the next few days and weeks and I for one am glad it’s not me that needs to be making decisions.

600 fans allowed in NL stadiums as per the current guidelines for Steps 3-6 is more manageable with stewards and more room for social distancing to be comfortably observed than for clubs at the lower level and more importantly while it’s not a huge amount of people it gives clubs a little bit of a base to build upon, without it your club, my club, your mates club might not be here to see 2021……………

Town come good despite windy battles

This weekend saw me head ‘home’ to Kent and to Greatness Park, home of Sevenoaks Town. I lived in Kent for nearly 31 years until I moved down to Sussex, Sevenoaks might be the hometown but Otford Utd were my club having lived in the nearby village for 18 years. However, going home to places from my childhood I really love but this was to be the first time I had watched Town in an enclosed ground scenario.

I saw many great games and battles between the two clubs and sadly while Otford went out the Premier Division via relegation, Oaks went the other way and won the title and with it promotion to the Kent League. Stabilisation in that competition eventually led them to another league title and into the the Ryman/Bostik/Pitching In Isthmian South East Division where they sit now. They were 10th in the table before Covid-19 struck in March and on Saturday it was a first return to competitive league action since then.

Of course this ‘new normal’ is quite different for each of level of grounds you go into. Pre-paid for ticket is now expected, easily done, face recognition for a temperature check is a new one in the first three weeks, luckily I passed and of course sanitising points as you enter the turnstiles and a one way system to enter and exit the ground, very well thought out. Also a word or two to say about the stewards/volunteers here, first class from the car park to inside the ground, happy to answer any query we had, even got a printed team-sheet without needing a picture of the written board!

What I wasn’t expecting when I got here was to see two very familiar faces to me, firstly Jason Bourne, the ex Tunbridge Wells player and manager, who knows my family very well and secondly Julian Leigh, a man I’ve known for the best part of 30 odd years through him playing for Otford and Sevenoaks as well, again well known to my family and nice to have a short catch up before the game began.

A game that wasn’t ever going to be for the purist with wind dominating the full 90 minutes, Bridges with three ex Worthing players in their ranks, Mason Doughty, Hayden Skerry and Brannon O’Neill were the brighter starters playing with the wind with the latter controlling the game from midfield in front of a good sized crowd of 137.

Oaks also included an ex Rebel in Joe Tennent who had a fine game at centre back alongside Thomas Ripley, but they struggled to created anything in the final third of the pitch and it was no surprise to see the visitors take the lead on 12 minutes through Alex Barbary.

The home side didn’t find any joy down the wings either and despite O’Neill probing and prompting Bridges couldn’t add to the scoreline and one of the few attacks on the visitors goal saw Oaks draw level on the stroke of half time. A corner headed back across goal landed on the head of striker Kyle Da Silva who nodded home from just a few yards out to send the sides in level at the break.

The goal certainly came at the right time for the home side who hadn’t offered much in the first 45 minutes but came out with a better game plan in the second half. Had Bridges continued to play in the same vain against the wind, there might have been a better outcome for them but it was Sevenoaks who played the better football with more joy down the flanks whilst Bridges struggled to get any joy from Tennent and Ripley.

Oaks took the lead on 71 minutes after Jason Thompson broke the offside trap, rounded the keeper and netted. Just four minutes later, Thompson added his second after great work from Tyrell Richardson-Brown down the right hand side who squared to the striker to slot home. Those two quickfire goals put the game out of Bridges’ reach and with James Bessey-Saldanha adding a fourth in stoppage time a comprehensive victory goes down in the record books before a trip to Corinthian in Tuesday’s FA Cup tie.

Manager Mickey Collins will certainly be pleased with the way his side responded in the second half but knows a stern test will await his team on Tuesday evening. For Bridges, a long way to go with this being only the first league game, the front two of Barbary and Tom Tolfrey will give a few sides problems this season and had they taken one or two of the chances that did come their way in the first half the game could have ended with a different complexion.

Tuesday night is FA Cup night again and my first look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing who started the season with a good 2-1 victory at Folkestone Invicta, East Grinstead are their opponents and a new ground I’ve yet to visit, I’m certainly making the most of this season!

Three points not far away

Since 1st September and the re-start for Steps 3-6 in non-league football, the games have come thick and fast and continue to do so for the next few months in order to get the season completed in a timely fashion, this of course is not allowing for any postponements along the way.

Tuesday evening saw another local trip to the featured club, East Preston and with it more goals. Alfold were the visitors in the Southern Combination Premier Division, a very progressive club aiming to follow in the footsteps of Dorking Wanderers. Their facilities are improving every year and looked impressive when I visited with Wick two seasons ago, I believe things now have moved on once again and I might have to sneak in a visit over the course of this season.

EP were on the end of a narrow defeat to Eastbourne Utd at the weekend but having strengthened the squad with the signings of Callum Litterick, Scott Vine and Tijan Sparks a bit more experience has been added to what is still a very young but improving side.

The visitors were always going to be a stern test, a strong tall but mobile outfit who battle for every ball and after you know you’ve been in a game. EP are slowly putting together a side that should eventually finish in a higher position than where they are now.

A muggy September evening but welcome sunshine during the day, the game certainly had the feel of an early August summer night though. East Preston as per last Tuesday night’s game against Loxwood started the much brighter of the two sides and once again drew first blood.

The impressive Conor Bull gave the home side the lead inside 10 minutes, a bit of pinball around the area saw the ball break to Bull to slot home. Plenty of endeavour followed from the visitors but the defence marshalled by skipper Charlie Robinson held firm backed up by keeper Keelan Belcher.

Bull extended the home side’s lead on 42 minutes, a fierce shot from outside the box gave James Stallen no chance and a 2-0 lead for EP. That should have been the half time score, but Alfold had other ideas and in first half stoppage time Devon Fender slotted past Belcher to halve the deficit and possibly change the half time team talks for both managers.

Just past the hour mark the visitors levelled things up through substitute Kelvin Lucas whilst East Preston played very much on the counter attack, Bull had the chance late on to win the game and complete his hat-trick, but an outstanding save from Stallen to tip the ball around the post kept the scores level while at the other end Belcher and his defence stood firm for both sides to share the spoils.

Few things to note from an EP perspective, the return of Chad Milner up front gave the defence something to think about while Bull was a constant menace throughout the first half and deserved his two goals.

The introduction of Sparks into the midfield has given it more bite and determination and Robinson enjoyed a good ninety minute battle with Tiago Andrade, a good bustling centre-forward for this level. The biggest difference for me compared to last Tuesday night against Loxwood was better defending in and around their own penalty area, something learnt from last week which when you have a young team is the hope they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

It was a big ask for a full game press, it worked very well in the first half which contributed to the two-nil lead and although you could still see flashes of it in the second half it wasn’t quite as strong, but Rome wasn’t built in a day! Improvement week on week is all you can ask for and this was certainly a step in the right direction, a break from league action this coming Saturday with a trip to Division One Oakwood in the FA Vase and hopefully much needed income and a first win.