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Matchday #18

AFC TOTTON                                     7
Jordan Ngalo 38mins; Shaq Gwengwe 45mins+1; Jack Hoey 70mins, 75mins; Sam Griffin 76mins; Hisham Kasimu 79mins; Harry Medway 87mins

LYMINGTON TOWN                      1
Harry McGrath 45mins+2

Wearing red-and-white and bearing the gift of three points, mid-table Lymington Town came to the Snows Stadium full of the festive spirit yesterday (Monday) where Dan ’Scrooge’ Sackman’s team of Grinches stole their Christmas.

This was the third meeting of the season between these two sides. In their first league encounter at the end of August, Totton won 4-0 at the Lymington Sports Ground. But the Linnets exacted their revenge by knocking the Stags out of the Southern League Challenge Cup in Dan Sackman’s second game in charge, in early November. And they will face each other for a fourth time in Lymington on 18 January, in the Quarter-Final of the Hampshire Senior Cup.

Goalkeeper Lewis Noice retained the No.1 jersey following his clean sheet against Bashley in the Southampton Senior Cup, four days before Christmas. Ben Jefford returned to replace Jordan Ragguette at left-back. Callum Baughan continued at centre-back in the absence of Stephane Zubar, with Ade Olumuyiwa among the substitutes. Shaquille Gwengwe made his second consecutive start during an injury-hit season, with Ethan Taylor now starting a three-match suspension following his late red card in the FA Trophy match at Larkhall Athletic, which will also see him miss the New Year’s Day trip to Sholing and the visit to Winchester City on Friday 07 January.

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Lewis Noice was called into action in the first minute of this Southern League Div.1 South match, coming out to catch a whipped cross from the Lymington left wing. And there was an early injury for the Linnets’ centre-back Ryan Fuller who had to stretch to prevent Shaq Gwengwe dribbling his way to glory down the inside-right.

Lymington left-winger Dominic Thelen took advantage of a sloppy pass in the Totton defence to send a high cross to the far side of the penalty area where their skipper Nathan Hurst volleyed the ball back into the centre. Freddie Bullard - who scored on his previous visit to the Snows Stadium - took a shot on the half-turn that flashed wide of Noice’s left-hand post.

Totton were wearing their away kit of fluo yellow shirts, black shorts and yellow socks in a show of support for the #NoHomeKit campaign on behalf of the homelessness charity Shelter. And they began to settle into their own game, with Harry Medway and Callum Baughan sending direct passes out to the flanks in an attempt to bring Sam Griffin and Gwengwe into the action. Baughan found Griffin with one such move in the 12th minute, enabling Ben Jefford to get forward and join the attack with a short sprint around Griffin, winning a corner in the process. Freddie Read took it, his in-swinging cross having to be headed away at the near post but the dogged midfielder was alive to the potential for a counter-attack and quickly got back to reclaim possession near the half-way line.

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HEADS UP: Harry Medway gets to the ball first at an AFC Totton set-piece.

Shaq Gwengwe was enjoying the opportunity to run at Lymington defenders, often forcing them to double up to deal with his quick-witted wing wizardry. Jordan Ngalo found him with an angled pass as a Totton move swept from the left flank to the right. Despite two defenders watching him closely, Gwengwe stood a high cross up to the far side where Griffin won the header and Hisham Kasimu then nodded towards the top-right corner, where the Linnets’ keeper Callum Coulter caught the ball.

Totton looked the more lively team, more willing to press high up the pitch. Neat footwork by midfielder Adam Biss enabled him to avoid the embarrassment of being dispossessed right outside his own penalty area by a hungry Jordan Ngalo. Stags skipper Harry Medway was similarly cool under pressure inside his own area to put a stop to a Lymington attack.

After a 10-minute period where neither side was able to connect with their direct passes or complete more intricate passing moves, Totton made half-hearted appeals for a penalty when Gwengwe went down in the area. The referee wasn’t interested so the forward got up and re-engaged with the action, linking with Jefford on the left before attempting a curled shot from the edge of the box which Coulter got his body behind. Then, Gwengwe got in again down the inside-left courtesy of Ngalo’s through-ball, and he shifted the ball to his right foot before shooting over the bar.

About 10 minutes before half-time, the tempo of the game had once again dropped with neither side able to impose their will on proceedings. But as Ben Jefford moved to take control of the ball in the centre-circle, Nathan Hurst launched himself at the Totton left-back with a two-footed challenge for which the referee had no hesitation in producing the red card and reducing the visitors to ten men. Totton physio Andrew Hanley administered lengthy treatment before helping Jefford to limp off the pitch - he would end the day on crutches but in good cheer at the Club’s Christmas Party - and Stags stalwart Jack Masterton stepped off the bench to replace him.

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KICKSTARTER: Jordan Ngalo, modelling AFC Totton's away kit, got the ball rolling with the opening goal against Lymington Town in the Southern League Div.1 South.

Totton needed no further invitation to take control of the match. A team move that began in the left-back area and moved across the defence, presented possession to Ngalo in the midfield. Amid Dan Sackman’s vocal encouragement to keep the ball moving, Ngalo brought the ball under control, turned and played a short angled pass out to Griffin on the left wing. The Stags No.11 advanced, stepped infield and slipped a short return pass between two defenders and back into the path of Jordan NGALO who took a touch and stroked the ball home from the corner of the 6-yard box, past Coulter, against the foot of the far post and into the net to give AFC Totton the lead.

One goal and one man to the good, the Stags looked to press home their advantage. Griffin came close with a chip shot from the left which floated narrowly over the crossbar. Then, a short free-kick routine on the right-hand side freed Lewis Waterfield to fire in a low cross that pin-balled about the box before being hacked clear. And Kasimu forced a save out of Coulter when he latched on to Read’s pass down the right to run round a defender and hit a low shot for the near corner.

But it was no surprise when the Stags extended their lead one minute into stoppage time at the end of the first half. Gwengwe’s progress down the left flank was halted by Rian Drake’s tackle but the Lymington right-back diverted the ball to the feet of Ngalo by the touchline. By the time Ngalo had squared to Sam Griffin, Gwengwe had got himself back into an onside position ready to receive the winger’s short pass as the two of them threaded their way through three defenders in the inside-left channel, enabling Shaquille GWENGWE to hook the ball across Coulter.

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THE COMEBACK KID: Shaquille Gwengwe's recovery from injury continued with an excellent display against Lymington Town at the Snows Stadium.

Though, no sooner had Totton doubled their lead than Lymington pegged them back to 2-1. A cross from the visitors’ left wing took a deflection off Waterfield that spun the ball high into the air. Noice and his defenders were caught in Nomansland trying to track the flight of the ball and Harry McGRATH stooped to head in unchallenged at the right-hand post, to send the teams in at half-time to muted applause just a few moments later.

AFC TOTTON                                     2
LYMINGTON TOWN                      1

The second half had barely begun when Lymington were forced into a change, with their goalscorer Harry McGrath making way for Oliver Dennett. Then, the visitors found themselves forced back into their own penalty area as Griffin and Masterton linked up down the left wing, Griffin sending the ball high to the far post where Coulter was able to punch it away before Gwengwe could connect. Ngalo crossed the ball back in and won a corner, which the Linnets were able to clear.

A mazy run by Sam Griffin had the Lymington defenders backpedaling before his shot clipped a heel to win another corner on the left. Totton took it short and Lewis Waterfield picked out Griffin at the right-hand post but his close-range header was too high. And Griffin shot over again shortly after, when a beautiful turn by Gwengwe on the right wing enabled him to tee up Ngalo for a cross but the Assistant Referee flagged for an offside against Griffin.

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THREAT: AFC Totton winger Sam Griffin was a constant thorn in the side of the Lymington Town defence, getting himself on the scoresheet and creating goals for others.

The Stags were making their numerical advantage count, playing the ball all around the pitch and pulling the Lymington players out of position. A promising move initiated by Adam Tomasso and advanced by the ever-willingness of Griffin to run at opponents resulted in a disappointingly weak shot from the left foot of the usually powerful Ngalo from just outside the area.

Lymington were happy to drop into their own half and try to counter-attack whenever possible but the presence of Read and Tomasso in midfield enabled Totton to guard against leaving themselves vulnerable while the more attack-minded players went in search of more goals. Ngalo and Gwengwe linked up well down the right-hand side to create another chance for Griffin who came in from the left-wing to shoot narrowly past the near post. The visitors briefly threatened when Luke Churchill’s high free-kick delivery from deep on the left got caught in the swirling wind and Noice decided to leave it, but Medway and Masterton were able to clear.

Shaq Gwengwe’s most impressive display since his return from injury was brought to a premature close when he was withdrawn with about 25 minutes to go. Jack Hoey came on to replace him and wasted no time at all in making his mark on the match, after combining with Freddie Read to win a corner on the right. Jack Masterton curled a left-footed cross towards a ruck of players on the edge of the 6-yard box. Coulter came out to punch it but caught the bottom of the ball, sending it spinning high and over his own head. Jack HOEY kept his eye on the ball and nodded it over two defenders into the empty net on 70 minutes.

Hoey was involved again shortly after, in a move that resulted in Hisham Kasimu winning a free-kick to the right of the D for holding. Jack Masterton’s curled left-foot effort was too high. And then the energetic substitute reacted quickly to reclaim possession in midfield when one Totton attack broke down, finding Griffin who won another Stags corner on the right. Masterton took it again, his cross dropping in the 6-yard box near the far post. Churchill’s clearance was partially smothered and bounced up for Kasimu to steal away from a defender who was about to clear. Jack HOEY called to his teammate and struck a low shot that ricocheted off two Lymington defenders to wrong foot Coulter and sneak in at the left-hand post.

Within a minute, it was 5-1 to the hosts. The over-exposed Callum Coulter made a brave double save to deny Kasimu and then Griffin at his right-hand post. Lewis Waterfield sent the resulting right-wing corner to the far post where Sam GRIFFIN ran in from the blindside of a horde of Linnets defenders to head home from the edge of the 6-yard box.

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SPOT THE BALL: AFC Totton's Hisham Kasimu moves in on goal vs Lymington Town.

Griffin was given a well-deserved rest with about 12 minutes to go when Brett Williams was sent on to replace him. Then Kasimu received a forward pass from Waterfield with his back to goal and showed great awareness of the run made by Read into the inside-right channel, finding him with a deft first-time flick before spinning away from his marker to meet Read’s square pass across the 6-yard box where Hisham KASIMU applied the simplest of finishes to an excellent team move.

Brett Williams came close to getting on the scoresheet with a low shot from the left which took a deflection that wrong-footed Coulter and almost pea-rolled into the far corner, but trickled just the wrong side of the post.

An injury to right-back Rian Drake meant a late cameo performance for ex-Totton player Callum Davies.

With 4 minutes of normal time remaining, another short corner routine presented Lewis Waterfield with the chance to cross from the right corner of the penalty area. The ball seemed destined for the head of Williams but Harry MEDWAY rushed in to thump the Stags’ seventh goal of the night with his left temple to put the gloss on an emphatic win to round off 2021.

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HIGH-FLYING STAGS: Skipper Harry Medway wheels away in jubilation after heading AFC Totton's seventh goal of the afternoon against Lymington Town at the Snows Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Southern League Div.1 South, leaders Frome Town were behind twice at home to Melksham Town before scoring three minutes into stoppage time to claim a point in a 3-3 draw. Sholing’s match at Winchester City was postponed, which meant that Cirencester Town’s 3-1 win over Evesham United moved them into 3rd place behind the Stags. Paulton Rovers lost ground in the promotion/play-off race following a 1-2 defeat at Larkhall Athletic. And bottom club Barnstaple Town timed their first win of the season to perfection, celebrating the festive season with a 1-0 home victory over Bideford.

AFC Totton’s next match is the New Year’s Day trip to Sholing for a 3:00pm kick-off. We hope to see a large contingent of Stags fans make the short trip across the Itchen Bridge for that one. But in the meantime, Happy New Year and thank you, everybody, for your magnificent support.

Match Report by Ben Rochey-Adams

Image courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography

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