Mile Oak 0-0 Epsom & Ewell. Southern Combination League – Division One. Wednesday 29th March.
On Wednesday evening two teams came together, both low on confidence and nursing 5-1 defeats from the previous Saturday, and they battled each other to a standstill with a competitive, but goalless draw.
I asked in my Arundel report just exactly who is in charge and we got our answer a couple of hours before the match as it was advised that our newly appointed Director of Football Anthony Jupp had left the club. In addition, Assistant Manager Matt Chapman was no longer in charge, but was still in the dugout while Vice-Chairman Barry Gartell took over again as Manager. Some may recall him having a successful stint following the dismissal of Sam Morgan in August of 2021, although these were different circumstances, as last time we were sitting near the foot of the table. The club finally advised that it was “still looking for a new long-term Manager” which tells me that they are not looking to advertise the position, or you would think they’d have said so!
On a heavy pitch we finally managed to get the match underway at the fourth time of asking, following three previous postponements, and as usual we had changes to our line up. Gartell decided that the midfield needed changing up, so club Captain Ryan Smith and Nick Wilson started on the bench, having been replaced by Rory Edwards who made his first start for the club, while Jaan Stanley came back in on the left wing in what appeared to be a slightly different formation with Athan Smith-Joseph still absent. At the back Chris Boulter and Alex Penfold came back into the line up in place of the absent Kevin Moreno-Gomez and Oliver Thompson, both of whom had failed to complete the match at Arundel.
We started brightly enough and had the majority of the possession in the first half. An early Penfold cross was met by a Jamie Byatt header, but it was a tough chance and he was unable to get the ball on target. The ball stayed mainly in the Mile Oak half as the predicted heavy rain began to come down, sheeting across the ground and the home side then had a couple of chances, firstly when a free kick was headed over from close range, but then in the 25th minute when a right wing cross was met by the head of Zak Kladis who directed his header back across goal. Tom Theobald made a great diving save to divert the ball on to the post and then as it bounced back towards him, he clawed the ball away before it crossed the line. It was a fantastic save and one that ultimately would earn us a point.
Gavin Quintyne saw his shot deflected wide for a corner and Jaevon Dyer produced a low shot that was well saved by the foot of Aaron Stenning in the Oak goal before he had to be alert to parry a Stanley free kick to safety. Stenning also had a slice of luck as the pitch bobbled on him and he produced an air shot, just getting back in time to save a corner. As the half ended Quintyne was only just over the bar from twenty yards, so you could argue that it was a fairly respectable first half from an Epsom perspective as the teams went for their half time break.
Regrettably the second half was nowhere near as interesting from an Epsom point of view. Mile Oak had a header at goal in the early stages which was deflected over and Theobald then had to make a low save on the hour mark. He had a lucky escape in the 66th minute when he came out to clear a ball near the edge of the penalty area but missed it. Fortunately we had defensive cover.
For our part, we seemed to be restricted to sending long balls up to Byatt, who tried his best with the limited service he had. In the 68th minute a nice one-two with Lewis Pearch gave him a shooting opportunity, but he dragged his shot beyond the far post from twelve yards and our best chance of the night had gone.
As so often happens with tight encounters, a little bit of niggle started to enter the contest and after Kladis had been fouled, he then clattered into Gideon Acheampong who reacted; both players earning yellow cards for their trouble, following the obligatory player scuffle. However, the game was beginning to deteriorate by this stage and our threats were becoming less and less. Dyer and Stanley became non-factors on the wings, although Dyer nearly pulled a moment of magic out in the 86th minute with a good run and powerful strike that missed the far post by inches.
In truth though we were beginning to lose the game in midfield as the home side kept pushing us back and it did seem odd that on such a heavy surface we waited until the 88th minute before making a substitution. We appeared to be crying out for fresh legs in the middle of the park, yet with two players that could do just that job on the bench, Wilson would only get on in the fifth minute of injury time, while Smith wouldn’t take the field at all. We did nearly pinch a winner when a long throw bounced up, but I don’t think Byatt expected the ball to reach him and he only managed to get the faintest of glances to the ball literally two yards out, which Stenning still caught anyway.
In reality the longer this game went on, the more it looked like Mile Oak would pinch the win, but ultimately neither team really did enough to deserve all three points and we had to settle for the goalless draw.
These dropped points mean that the opportunity to finish in second place is now no longer exclusively in our hands, with both Wick and Godalming Town now three points behind us and holding a game in hand. Godalming also now have a better goal difference than us and are clearly in a better run of form, although they have a tough finishing schedule so there is still hope if we can win our final four fixtures. Who do we face this Saturday? It’s Mile Oak again!!
Epsom & Ewell: Tom Theobald, Gideon Acheampong, Alex Penfold, Rory Edwards, Chris Boulter, Dylan Merchant, Jaevon Dyer, Gavin Quintyne, Jamie Byatt, Lewis Pearch, Jaan Stanley
Subs: Musa Beegun for Pearch (88), George Owusu for Stanley (91), Nick Wilson for Edwards (95)