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MATCHDAY #36 - Saturday 15 April 2023

AFC TOTTON                                  1
Scott Rendell 17mins (pen)

EXMOUTH TOWN                      0

AFC TOTTON ARE CHAMPIONS of the Southern League Div.1 South for season 2022/23 after securing more than the single point they needed with a home win over Exmouth Town, achieved through top scorer Scott Rendell’s first-half penalty, in front of a busy Snows Stadium yesterday (Saturday).

Manager Jimmy Ball recalled his skipper Mike Carter to the starting line-up, with Adam Tomasso joining him in midfield. Conor Whiteley came in for Mitchell Speechley-Price to take the No.10 shirt. Ben Jefford was named on the bench. Josh Carmichael was left out after being carried off injured at Melksham on Thursday night.

AFC-Totton-badge.pngAFC TOTTON
Starting Line-Up

1.  Lewis NOICE
2.  Benny READ
4.  Mike CARTER (Capt.)
5.  Charlie KENNEDY
6.  Luke HALLETT
7.  Charlie DAVIS
8.  Adam TOMASSO
9.  Scott RENDELL
10.  Conor WHITELEY
11.  Ethan TAYLOR
14.  Ben JEFFORD
15.  Matty BURROWS
16.  Tommy WRIGHT
18.  Jordan RAGGUETTE

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LET'S DO THIS: AFC Totton captain Mike Carter leads his teammates onto the Snows Stadium pitch in search of the point needed to secure the Southern League Div.1 South title.

Exmouth kicked-off, wearing their away kit of all maroon with a bright pinstripe and yellow trim - certainly one of the more stylish ensembles to have graced the Snows Stadium pitch this season.

On a potentially big day for the home side and with the vast majority of the support going against them, Exmouth found themselves under pressure early on and they had to defend a corner in the third minute, from which Charlie Kennedy fired wide after the ball had been knocked out to the edge of the box. After that, Totton tried to get the ball down and pass it around, in their usual style, while Exmouth did enough to keep them at arm’s length for the opening 10 minutes.

Then, Ethan Taylor latched onto a bouncing ball towards the left corner of the penalty area, tracked by defender Jordan Casey, who was wearing the No.14 shirt for Exmouth. Keeping it shielded on his left side, Taylor flicked the ball past the stumbling figure of Casey to set himself for an angled strike on the half-volley which Thomas Gardner bravely blocked by throwing his body full length to divert the ball wide for a corner.

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POKER FACE: Ethan Taylor tussles with Exmouth Town's Ace High during the crucial Southern League Div.1 South encounter at the Snows Stadium.

Jimmy Ball implored his team to pass the ball quicker, while Exmouth tried to press high up the pitch. Totton came forward again and Taylor found himself with options left and right, before deciding to go it alone with a low shot that was deflected wide by Michael Landricombe for another corner on 17 minutes. Masterton played it short to Charlie Davis on the near edge of the penalty area before darting into the box himself close to the byline. Davis gave it back to him and made a short arcing run to receive a return pass, losing his marker and drawing James Richards out of the defensive pack to make a last-ditch challenge, The defender missed the ball and caught Davis on the left ankle as he was about to fire a right-footed shot. The Referee was well-placed and had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Goalkeeper Christopher Wright jumped up-and-down on his goal line and pointed to his right in an attempt to put AFC Totton’s No.9 off his spot-kick, but Scott RENDELL sold him enough of a dummy to make him take a step to his left, before firing a low shot past Wright’s outstretched right hand to put AFC Totton ahead, and himself - if only temporarily - in pole position in the race for the Southern League Div.1 South’s Golden Boot.

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GET IN THERE: Scott Rendell and Charlie Davis wheel away in celebration after The Sunburnt Assassin put The Stags ahead from the penalty spot.

As the teams reset for the restart, Charlie Davis trotted over to the Totton dugout to take off his navy blue under armour shirt, such was the warmth on a bright afternoon on the South Coast. Once play did get back underway, Exmouth put together a swift move, their veteran forward Ace High combining well with Ben Steer and Aarron Denny to chip the ball into the left side of Totton’s area. Steer returned the ball to him and his shot was blocked by Carter. High was able to keep it alive, feeding Denny on the left to cross to the far post where Landricombe headed wide.

Attacking from the Exmouth left wing, Daniel Cullen managed to isolate Benny Read on the corner of the Totton penalty area. With a quick stepover, he shifted the ball inside and cracked a low shot that was going just inside the near post before Lewis Noice got down to parry it. Kennedy cleared the loose ball before Denny could stab it into the open net.

Totton had the ball in the net a second time on 21 minutes, when Rendell knocked down a high ball from Noice to present Davis with the chance to volley home spectacularly from 25 yards. But the Referee pulled it back for hand-ball against Rendell. Then, Davis chased Read’s pass up the right wing and sent over a looping cross that drifted over the six-yard box without a blue head there to finish.

Carter tried a rare long shot, the ball striking a defender and bouncing back to him, before he spread the play to Masterton on the left. A defensive header only knocked the ball down for Kennedy, who stood it up to the far post for Rendell. The centre-forward was beaten to it by Wright’s outstretched left hand pushing it off-course. Totton regained the ball and Taylor had another effort charged down, before it came out to Davis to put in another cross that Wright was only able to push away. It came back to Davis on the left-hand side again, this time his in-swinging cross found Kennedy’s head, sandwiched between two defenders, but he could only steer the ball over the bar.

Exmouth tried to get forward but Carter’s strong header back to Lewis Noice put paid to that. Then, the visitors were forced into an early substitution, taking off Jordan Casey and sending on Karl Riddell, who was wearing the No.3 shirt. Ace High found a pocked of space on the Exmouth right and tried to fizz in a low cross-shot. Fortunately for Totton, Benny Read was alert to the situation and raced across from his right-back berth to nullify the opportunity at source. Totton went straight down the other end of the pitch, Masterton’s delivery from the left once again tempting Wright off his line to punch away. The home side regathered the ball but couldn’t fashion a shooting chance.

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HEADS I WIN: Charlie Kennedy challenges Exmouth goalkeeper Christopher Wright for a high ball from a Totton set-piece during The Stags' 1-0 victory.

A moment of defensive hesitation in the Exmouth penalty area enabled Read to pounce on the ball and force a corner on the right-hand side. Masterton’s cross was headed high into the air by a defender and as it dropped, Charlie Davis swiped thin air with a miss-kick he’d probably prefer not to be reminded about. When Exmouth tried to spring forward, Read was back at his defensive station to tidy up and remove the threat.

Taylor showed more neat control to beat his man in the middle of the Exmouth half, but his attempted one-two with Rendell was interrupted by a maroon-clad sock. Then, Rendell had a brief chance to head at goal, but Richards did well to put his own head in the way, forcing the ball to drop in front of Wright, who claimed comfortably.

Exmouth’s best chance of the first half came in the 38th minutes when Denny turned sharply to shake off Kennedy and Carter on the edfe of the Totton penalty area, and advanced on goal with only Lewis Noice to beat. The keeper rushed out, flung himself forward and blocked Denny’s shot with his right foot, to earn the applause of the Snows Stadium crowd as Totton cleared their lines.

Conor Whiteley received the ball in the centre-circle and was then allowed to travel a long way towards the Exmouth goal, tempting him to try a shot from 25 yards that Wright saved at his bottom-right corner, pushing the ball wide for a corner. Davis put the ball into the box. Both Rendell and Hallett were tussling with defenders, one of whom got the last touch before the ball went out for another corner on the opposite flank. Masterton delivered but Kennedy was pulled up for a push on his marker.

Carter and Tomasso both made important defensive interventions in midfield to dismantle Exmouth attacks. Then, Totton swept forward in numbers as Carter played the ball to Read on the right-wing touchline. He fed Whiteley in a pocked of space about 20 yards out, in a central position. The former Bashley and Sholing man backed himself again, firing a low shot towards the bottom-right corner which Wright turned behind for a corner. Totton put in a succession of high crosses from the corner and the open play that immediately followed, but Wright gathered in the end. The Referee’s half-time whistle made it a case of so far, so good from Totton’s point-of-view.

AFC TOTTON                                          1
EXMOUTH TOWN                               0

During the half-time interval, AFC Totton’s various younger youth teams did a lap of honour around the Snows Stadium pitch. There were no further changes to the two teams when the second half got underway.

A promising early move for Totton broke down when Whiteley miss-controlled. In a flash, Exmouth were attacking the left side of the Totton box, with Ace High slipping the ball to Ben Steer, but his looped cross to the far post flashed past the frame of the goal.

Read, Davis and Carter combined down the Totton right to win a corner. Davis played it short to Taylor, despite the winger having two defenders on him. An improvised variation on the Cruyff turn forced one of them to put the ball out for a throw-in, from which the ball was quickly worked out to Masterton on the opposite flank. His cross was caught by Wright under pressure on the edge of his six-yard line.

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ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK: Conor Whiteley leads a charge into the opposition half.

Whiteley received the ball on the left-wing touchline, as Totton poured forward again. He played a short pass square to Taylor, who fed it further infield for Rendell to dummy and allow it to run into the path of Charlie Davis about 22 yards out, the midfielder striking narrowly wide of the left-hand post. Denny tried to launch a counter-attack down the Exmouth left wing, but Hallett stepped across to deal with it.

Denny’s high cross from the left required Masterton to time his jump well to head away, with two maroon shirts loitering with intent just past his shoulder. Then, Carter and High locked antlers, leading to an Exmouth free-kick 22 yards out in a central position. Ben Steer sent a right-footed curling effort about two yards over the crossbar.

High managed to force a right-wing corner off Masterton, and then the veteran forward got on the end of Denny’s cross from the set-piece to head at goal. Noice had a clear view of it and caught comfortably. Then, Steer found himself with the freedom of Hampshire to the left side of the Totton area, before Read appeared from nowhere to poke the ball out of the winger’s reach and drive Totton forward, again.

For a moment, Totton passed the ball around within their defensive third while the substitute Karl Riddell tried to affect a one-man press, rushing from one player to the next to hurry them along, while Jimmy Ball again did likewise, shouting to his players to quicken the pace of their passing. Carter put a stop to Denny’s forward foray just before the hour mark, then Riddell was shown a yellow card for cutting down Ethan Taylor in full flight. Before the free-kick could be taken, Luke Hallett was replaced by Ben Jefford in the heart of the Totton defence. Masterton’s in-swinging cross had Wright stretching towards the sky, but the goalkeeper claimed the ball for the visitors.

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MIDFIELD DYNAMO: Charlie Davis takes the ball under control on the touchline, under the watchful eye of AFC Totton's Assistant Manager Paul Masters.

An arrowed pass from Taylor towards Whiteley on the left corner of the penalty area threatened to open up the Exmouth defence, until Cullen nodded the ball back to his keeper. Whiteley was then replaced with Mitchell Speechley-Price, who scored the winning goal at Melksham Town on Thursday night. The sub was straight into the action, winning a free-kick on the left-hand side, in line with the 18-yard line. Davis put the ball into the box. It was knocked out as a far as Kennedy on the far side, who touched it back to Tomasso. A deft touch from the combative midfielder enabled him to skip past one lunging tackle, then his low cross was diverted out to the left, where Masterton redirected to Taylor 20 yards out, left of centre. His first-time shot soared just over the crossbar, a few inches away from the top-left corner.

Read was called up for a foul on Steer near the halfway line. The full-back was given a talking to by the Referee but escaped without a booking. From the free-kick, crisp passing by Exmouth in a small triangle between Steer, Richards and Denny freed the latter to shoot for the near bottom corner, Noice again getting down sharply to make a save.

Ace High continued to pose problems, wrestling his way past Masterton to feed the ball into the box, before Carter intercepted and initiated a passing move from the back four. Michael Landricombe’s snapshot from outside the box flew over. Then, Ben Jefford, who had only just come on as a sub, had to come off injured, with Jordan Ragguette coming on to replace him, prompting Jimmy Ball to reshuffle Adam Tomasso into the back four and Jack Masterton to midfield, to slot Ragguette in at left-back.

Davis exchanged passes with Speechley-Price to force a corner on the right wing. Wright pushed the cross away, but then Totton players lined up on the edge of the box to try and drive a shot between the massed ranks of defenders, but the visitors didn’t let the ball through. Then, Taylor got on the end of a clever move to strike left-footed from the inside-right channel. Gardner once again thrust his body in the way to keep the Totton No.11’s name off the scoresheet.

With five minutes to go, it was still a warm afternoon and both teams seemed to be feeling the effects of a long, gruelling season, as the game petered out as a contest. But, aware their team only needed a point from the game to secure the title, the Totton fans, led by the Muppets on Mally’s Corner, began their celebrations. Taylor was still looking lively, buzzing around the edge of the Exmouth box to try and force an error. Then, Denny’s tight control and turn got him goal side of Benny Read, for once, but his shot was too high.

Scott Rendell got back to chest a right-wing Exmouth cross back to Lewis Noice. Then, Jack Masterton took what looked to be a painful whack on his knee, although he was able to continue. Tomasso’s tired free-kick delivery from the halfway line struggled to reach its target on the far side of the Exmouth penalty area, before the board went up to indicate three minutes of stoppage time.

A late foray out of his area by Noice presented Rowe with the chance to launch the ball from halfway, trying to catch the keeper off his line. But his attempt flew over the top. A late Totton counter-attack came to nothing with Speechley-Price trying to put Taylor through with space to attack on the left-wing. It didn’t matter, though.

When the Referee blew the full-time whistle, AFC Totton were finally able to celebrate, safe in the knowledge they had secured the Southern League Div.1 South title and automatic promotion to Step 3 football in the Southern League Premier Division South for next season, as Champions.

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AFC TOTTON: Southern League Div.1 South Champions 2022/23.

Jimmy Ball_AFC Totton Manager_Apr2023.jpg

After the match, AFC Totton Manager Jimmy Ball (pictured) said:

“It’s been a long hard season and we’ve had to put in a very good, determined performance again today to make sure we got the result. From the day I walked into the club, the players have been first class. There was a little bit of doubt in some quarters early on in the season - not from me - when we were 15 points behind the leaders at one point, with loads of games in-hand. But the whole squad has shown immense character and they’ve all worked incredibly hard all season long.

“The defensive side of the team has been excellent. I think we’ve only conceded one goal in our last seven games, and when you don’t concede goals, it takes a lot of pressure off the front men. All the credit has to go to the players, really, They’ve been fantastic throughout the squad and throughout the season, really buying into what I and the coaching team have been trying to put in place and responding with some excellent performances.

“Our backroom staff are some of the best in the business at this level, and they’ve demonstrated their worth during this last month or so where the players have had to deal with a massive workload. Everybody has done their part and we get to enjoy the spoils, tonight.

“The fans were fantastic again today, too. They brought the noise and it was great to see so many of the youth teams and their parents in the crowd, to help cheer the team over the finish line. I hope this experience will turn some of them into long-term fans - maybe some of the youngsters will be AFC Totton players, one day - and we can all continue to take this football club towards a positive future.

“Once again, I have to pay tribute to the Board, who have backed me all season long while also just leaving me alone to get on with things, which is the best way to do it. I believe this club can still go far. As you go up the divisions, you need more and more backing in terms of getting more fans into the ground and getting more money into the club so you can keep on improving. That’s the reality of modern football. But if we can keep progressing the way we have been and keep on being ambitious, who’s to say how far we can go. We just need to push, push, push and keep taking this club forward.

“We will celebrate and have a good time, tonight. But we’ll back on it again in time for Tuesday night and the visit of Frome Town. We want to win both of our remaining games so we can have the Champion of Champions match against Berkhamsted here on the 22nd. Then, we also have the Southampton Senior Cup Final against Sholing on 17 May. So, the season’s still a long way from over yet, but we can take tonight to celebrate the fact that we’ve won a very difficult league.”

Southern League Div.1 South | Matchday #37
Snows Stadium | Tuesday 18 April | Kick-Off at 7:45pm

Latest Southern League Div.1 South league table

View AFC Totton’s fixture list for the 2022/23 season

By Ben Rochey-Adams

Images courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photograph

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