Caught hook, line and sinker

Epsom & Ewell FC 1 – 3 Chessington & Hook United – Southern Combination League – Division One – Tuesday 27th December.

Oh no! Not Chessington again! Historically, we have a superior won lost record against our opponents, yet this defeat was our sixth at home in the last eight encounters dating back to our days at Merstham. Indeed the last fifteen matches between these two clubs have produced just ONE home win between them, which I suppose bodes well for our return fixture at Chalky Lane in April! Seriously though, most of our home defeats against them have followed a similar pattern that we seem to struggle with, regardless of our playing personnel or Management; that of a team defending solidly as a unit at the back, working energetically to deny space and pinching their chances when they came.

Equally worryingly, we have started to see a similar script occurring in home matches. Worthing United and Deportivo Galicia also conceded first, yet we have allowed all of these teams back into the match from a position of strength and appear to be unable to stop them once they have gained their own momentum. We have not won at home since 29th October and this is not going to be good enough if we are to remain at the top of the table for much longer. Indeed we are now clinging to that position on goal difference alone, with the imposing threat of Shoreham now looming large in our rear view mirror.

So, if not exactly a terminal hammer blow to our title hopes due to the strong position we had created in recent months, Tuesday’s defeat must have sent some very large alarm bells ringing across the club and the next couple of matches will give supporters an indication of whether it has been heeded.

I referred in my match preview to the kick off being delayed an hour to 12pm instead of the traditional 11am and how much this decision might cost us financially. Our attendance, independently counted by two people from two different positions in the ground was 127 (although the club advised 138 in their official figures). Either way, Forest Row v Oakwood (at 11am) recorded 113, well over double the average attendances for those clubs and this was noted on Twitter by Oakwood with comments as to how their ground had been swelled by a large number of ground hoppers. It is conjecture of course, but for our often feisty and entertaining local derby at a venue with great facilities, close to a train station and motorway on a Bank Holiday when there were very few other local matches, you have to wonder how many of those extra sixty or seventy supporters would have chosen to come here instead, but chose not to because of the added difficulty in getting to a 3pm kick off after our game as many of these floating supporters tend to do, and that’s not including people who didn’t fancy the trip to Sussex, but who might have come here. This was an opportunity to get close to, if not over 200 missed by our club and is a lesson we must learn quickly. Moving the fixture back a day from Boxing Day = “A Plus – great idea”. Moving the kick off back by an hour = “E Minus – Could do better”.

In terms of personnel, there were a few changes from our defeat last Wednesday. Aaron Bogle and Zach Powell returned at the back, while Brad Peters was missing, so Gideon Acheampong took the Captain’s armband on and moved into the centre of defence with Johnny “Sonic” Akoto coming in at right back. Further forward Athan Smith-Joseph and Jaevon Dyer returned to the starting eleven in place of Josh Owen who was absent injured, and Steve Springett, Josh Alder and Ryan Smith, who would have to wait for their opportunities from the bench.

And things started well once again. Smith-Joseph skipped down the wing in the opening twenty seconds and his ball into the danger area caused panic, leading to a corner. However, our service would be particularly poor in this match and the delivery was weak. Then Smith-Joseph made a great exchange of passes with Nick Wilson who then set up our winger for a shot, but he delayed it after drawing the keeper and was smothered out by Chessington defenders. Dyer’s shot was then deflected wide for a corner but in the 11th minute a visiting striker broke through and we were fortunate that he shot directly at Kane Charles who made the save.

Our next attempt involved a good run from midfield by Gavin Quintyne, but Chessy keeper Andrew Osei was out quickly to save after our man had received a Smith-Joseph pass. We then took the lead in the 21st minute. A ball down the right found Jaevon Dyer who made tracks before pulling the ball back to Quintyne. Feeling confident after his super strike on Wednesday, he took aim from just inside the penalty area, but only side footed the ball towards Osei who strangely failed to gather the ball and experienced goal poacher Jamie Byatt nipped in to lift the ball over the stretching keeper from close range to score his 35th goal for us in 35 appearances; a stat that moves him onto our club Hall of Fame chart for the top fifty scorers on our history.

Byatt was just wide with a header from a free kick shortly after this and we looked good value for our lead. Byatt then shrugged off a weak challenge on the half hour and was through on goal, but the referee called him back for a foul which looked very harsh. It was a pity as he would probably have given us a two goal lead, yet in the 33rd minute the visitors were back in the game with an equaliser. The play built up well on the right and we got dragged over a little, so that when the ball was sent over, Aaron Cole-Bolt had time to control the pass and get it onto his right foot before drilling the ball into the bottom far corner from just inside our penalty area.

It was not a deserved equaliser at the time, but by the time the half time whistle had blown they were in the ascendency and Ben Bauchop’s attempt from 40 yards then went way wide of the goal just before the break gave a hint as to how the play had been going. Interestingly at half time the Chessington team were back out after just a few minutes and were doing a bit more ball work. They seemed to want to send a message that they were keen and eager to fight for the points. Having said that, we were the first team to fashion a good chance just a few seconds into the second half when a short corner between Dyer and Bauchop resulted in a shot from the latter that deflected to Byatt some eight yards out, but his snap shot on the turn cannoned back off the Chessington crossbar and away to safety.

This chance would come back to haunt us as soon as the 50th minute when they broke away after being pushed back and a right wing delivery to Cole-Bolt was struck at goal, only to rebound kindly for former Salt Hakim Griffiths to slot home the loose ball past our helpless keeper from a few yards. This was such a frustrating goal to concede and our heads appeared to visibly drop.

We would still make chances for a while though and Smith-Joseph did well on the left, having switched wings with Dyer, but his pull back was just behind the incoming Byatt before Byatt himself had a shot at goal but his connection wasn’t the strongest and provided an easy save for Osei, who was by this time beginning to waste a lot of time and picked up a yellow card for time-wasting shortly after. Smith-Joseph then provided a mazy run, beating three men before seeing his shot deflected for another corner which came to nothing.

We made a few substitutions but the pattern of the game was changing more in favour of the visitors and we only created one real chance after this when Byatt chased a through ball in the final minutes, forcing a poor clearance from Osei, but Ryan Dacres-Smith was unable to take advantage of the vacant net from thirty yards out with his attempt at goal not getting past a covering defender. Of course, by then we had already conceded a third goal in the 78th minute when a ball in from the right found another former Salt in space, Fabian O’Brien and he guided the ball past Charles and into the far corner from ten yards. It is notable that a lot of recent goals conceded have come from the opposition right hand side and as with our previous loss to Deportivo Galicia it is my opinion that their winger was the best player on the park, in this case Ben Anderson, giving us a lot of trouble throughout the match. However, we have looked extremely vulnerable at the back recently, with as many goals conceded this week (seven) as we have in the previous nine matches, and this must be a real concern.

Those who regularly read my reports will know that I am honest and critical where required and for sure this was a poor performance, although 3-1 was a flattering score line. However, It is more important to see how our group of talented players respond before being too harsh. After all, we are top of the table still, so many things are being done well. Next up though is another opponent we have had terrible struggles with in recent years, the Dorking Wanderers B team at the new Meadowbank; a ground we haven’t won competitively at since it was rebuilt. If that challenge, added to our performance here doesn’t motivate a good response, then maybe the next report won’t be so forgiving.

Epsom & Ewell: Kane Charles, Johnny “Sonic” Akoto, Zach Powell, Ben Bauchop, Gideon Acheampong (c), Aaron Bogle, Jaevon Dyer, Nick Wilson, Jamie Byatt, Gavin Quintyne, Athan Smith-Joseph

Subs: Steve Springett for Powell (65), Ryan Dacres-Smith for Dyer (73), Ryan Smith for Akoto (73), Oliver Thompson for Bauchop (83)

Report Source: www.eefconline.co.uk