Westleigh Park, Havant
I visited Westleigh Park for the first time this season with a bounce in my step. More bounce than Zebedee, a trampolining toddler and the West Indian bowling unit of the 1980’s on space hoppers PUT TOGETHER. Mmm, bouncy.
That might be overselling it but we had reached this game without, thus far, conceding any goals. This was partly because we went away from home to two of the favourites, Ebbsfleet and Eastleigh, and took away a scoreless, while last weekends home game against Weston-super-Mare, sadly missed by these eyes, ended in a two-nil victory; Sahr Kabba scoring just after half time and Christian Nanetti wrapping things up from the penalty spot.
We were also helped in this goal-prevention task by Farnborough, who were supposed to be our first midweek home fixture, but were prevented from starting the season by the Conference due to them being the most heinous football club in history. Yes, even more than one managed by Steve Evans. Now you might think I’m exaggerating but you know that phrase about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing? Well, Farnborough clearly don’t know the price of anything either, as they must have been writing blank cheques all over the shop to amass a £2 million debt.
This is astonishing at non-League level at the best of times, but factor in the fact they’ve only been going six years following the similarly mismanagement inspired liquidation of Farnborough Town and clearly sensible business practice in that part of Hampshire involves walking up and down the high street naked whilst blowing whistles with each nostril, crashing two cymbals together and bellowing FUCK THE CREDITORS! We won’t dwell on their sponsorship deal with Paddy Power, but suffice to say Farnborough now seem to exist solely to bring disrepute upon semi-professional football. Pah! Harrumph! *shakes jowls* etc.
Anyway, I digress, possibly cos I don’t want to have to talk about the fact we’ve finally conceded. One pretty early, and one horribly late. 89th minute own goals. I have to tell you here and now, I’m not in favour of them. At least not when they happen at the other of the ground to where I’m standing, and especially not when they snatch points from our grasp.
It was a cruel blow really as we’d done enough in the second half to warrant at least a point. That said, our first half display had all the excitement of an Amish stag do. Our second half performance, particularly following the arrival of Perry Ryan and Nic Ciardini to an under-performing midfield, had so much more energy, you could have powered Havant town centre for the night on their leg-pump alone.
Even though I characterise the first half as though it had nothing, Tonbridge Angels keeper Clark Masters, who we had watched from a distance throughout last season (he was playing for us, see), appeared keen to show us what he can do from closer range, stretching to save outside-the-box shots from Dennis Oli and Christian Nanetti. With his bright orange kit, and his “strawberry-blonde-with-the-emphasis-on-the-strawberry” hair, he appeared to have come dressed as a bonfire, but proved exactly why we were sad to see him leave in the summer.
The second half, despite the better performance, we actually gave him less to do, unless you count him picking Sahr Kabba’s 47th minute equaliser out of the back of the net. Sahr was a busy presence all game, nipping about with the travel itinerary of an excitable wasp, while behind him Jesse Kewley-Graham was looking more calmly creative.
However Jesse appears to have also gone creative with his hair, taking ‘how to look generally ridiculous without the need of a wig’ tips from Christian “give me a grade one on the sides, and use that lawnmower if you don’t mind” Nanetti. Taking his near shoulder length barnet and tying it up at the crown just made his head look like it had a stem. If Clark Masters had come to the fancy dress party as a flame, Jesse had come as the candle.
So, we pushed forward in the second half, with Jake Newton going close with a rare shot, whilst Dennis Oli showed his ‘penalty box predator’ prowess to allow the ball to hit the back of his head with a dull thud from a corner.
For all that hard work, the 89th minute caught us in the kisser as Tonbridge made a break. Ryan Watts took aim and fired, and Scott Bevan, who had also made two more than decent saves over the course of 90 minutes, had the situation covered; that is until the ball took a deflection off Ed Harris that was so wicked it had a dog named Muttley riding in a sidecar with it.
So, some of the tactical decisions went a little awry today, but life at WLP does remain better under Lee Bradbury and so were not going to get ourselves at it after four games. What does seem clear though is that Perry Ryan and Nic Ciardini should not be confined to second half cameos. There was a point last season where Perry Ryan represented our malaise; these days he’s more representative of a potentially very bright future this season. If the team could have played with his vim in the first half, I wouldn’t be talking to you now under the cloud of defeat.
Still, we return to Bishops Stortford next week for the first time in three seasons after their brief sojourn in the Conference North and we’ll be keen to turn this negative into an instant positive. I trust that we can achieve just that.