I honestly just wanted a nice football match with two teams playing half-decent football, a couple of pints, sharing a joke with some old familiar faces and no one needing an ambulance. I wasn’t even overly fussed about the result as long as one team triumphed over the other within the laws and normal parameters of the game. Sometimes, when you fancy a sandwich, it’s just ham and you don’t want avocado, mango and crayfish, you know what I mean? The dream lasted 9 minutes.
With the gift of hindsight, the reverse fixture in Chatham back in September will turn out to be the moment when we realised we were not actually doomed and would avoid the dreaded drop. It was a terrific smash and grab performance that day, a 2-1 win ground out through hard work and organisation, a theme that has now seen us accumulate a dizzying 34 points. Another clear theme, in what’s proving to be very much a transitional season, is the bewildering amount of players we have used to get us here, and only two of the team that started the game back in September, started the game today – Tom Boddy obviously and Connor Pring. I say two, but actually there were three of our starters on the pitch from that day as Dan Ellis returned to Alderbrook in the Chatham goal, having already featured once against us on the opening day of the season at Sheppey. We just can’t get rid of him, but we looked forward to some friendly banter and secretly all hoped for a last minute Ellis howler that might gift us a win and give us something to remind him about the next time we see him, probably sooner rather than later.
Things went weird almost immediately. Crows lost the coin toss and for the first time this season (as far as I can recall) attacked the Fermor end (as no one is calling it) rather than the Uckfield end (nope, still no one) which meant Dan would have to the endure the first 45 minutes directly in front of the home crowd, with the faithful questioning his ability, parentage, virility, fashion choices and body mass index at regular intervals, with their usual brand of good natured humour and attention to detail. We all settled in and the game started quite brightly, despite a number of absentees in the Crows line-up meaning several new faces yet again. A keeper change following Ryan Burbridge’s brush with A&E last week was inevitable and our 7th keeper of the season, (Mohamed “Olmasey”, according to the team board, “Elmasry” according to the club Programme guru or possibly “Elmasey” according to the official club tweet, so we’re none the wiser there) made his debut, along with Richard Wetton and the returning John Sinclair, who had an excellent game. The teams exchanged lively opening attacks until the Crows won a corner which Connor delivered to the far post and Jahmahl King met with a firm header. Ellis got a thumb to it at close range but couldn’t keep out. First strike to Boro but it was immediately apparent that all was not well with the Chats keeper as he feel to his knees clearly in pain. A lengthy stoppage ended with Dan leaving the field with a dislocated thumb, to be replaced by Chatham’s top scorer from the subs bench, no doubt surprised to find his afternoon would be spent keeping balls out of the net rather than trying to stick them in one. As Dan made a swift exit in search of professional advice on his thumb, the Crows started to sniff some points but the optimism lasted about 15 minutes when the referee then decided that Jason Barton had been a little overzealous jumping for a loose ball, leaving a Chats defender in a heap on the ground. Barts had been penalised harshly twice already challenging for balls in the box at Boro corners, and he’d exchanged heated words with the ref following both the free kicks given against him. I’m not sure whether this incident involved the same two players, and I really couldn’t see exactly what happened, but the straight red card certainly evened up the general misfortune at the start of this game and the Chats were now stirred into action, changing instantly from a team that needed to defend deep to protect the inexperienced keeper, into an attacking team with an extra man. They never really looked back, probably having 70% of the possession from this point on, although strangely limited in attempts on goal.
The equaliser came in first half stoppage time, when a corner was only half cleared and then lobbed back into the six yard box where it was headed home from close range. Chatham increased their lead early in the second half in similar fashion. Another deep cross was headed home and the ten men now had it all to do, hoping to win the ball and catch Chatham on the break. Disappointingly, we only managed one shot in the second half, Trey Masikini working some space with Levonte Johnson but generally Chatham kept the ball really well and the Crows just couldn’t get enough possession to fashion anything that would trouble the stand-in keeper. That said, Boro worked extremely hard and I don’t recall Mo E (or Mo O possibly) having to make anything other than routine saves. The Chats third was a bit of a farce, I’m afraid, five minutes from the end, with their keeper punting the ball down pitch where it bounced once and Mo hesitated, allowing a Chats forward to nip in, toe it past him, and roll it into an empty net. It was a fitting finish to a game that had been odd from the outset and won’t live long in anyone’s memory. Chatham deserved the win, and it was just a shame for everyone that we didn’t get to see two full strength teams battle it out for 90 minutes. It’s starting to feel like we may never see that novelty again, following dismissals in the previous two games, and I’m not overly optimistic that the visit of AFC Croydon will see 22 players leaving the pitch at the end of that encounter either. I dare both teams to surprise me.
Pluses for Boro from this game are a little thin on the ground. As mentioned, it was good to see John Sinclair back in blue and his reading of the game, sitting just in front of our defence, was certainly one of the reasons goalscoring opportunities for the visitors were limited. Richard Wetton had a solid game, his long throws causing issues, and the jury is still out on Mo who didn’t have a great deal to do, despite conceding three. We created very little but with one goal in it right up until the end, it must’ve been hard to make a decision on when to introduce fresh legs. Certainly Masikini, Johnson and Gonella livened things up when they were finally given a run out, probably too late with hindsight, but we need to find an attacking combination that will play to the predatory instincts of Danny Powell if we’re going to get the goals to get more points.
Goals were certainly not lacking when we last played AFC Croydon at the beginning of December, and I think everyone would be pretty happy with another 3-3 next Saturday, although I’d like to think we won’t let a three goal lead slip quite so easily again. It’s been a very strange season and I bet the last nine games will be equally bizarre. I guess there’s only one way to find out…