SOUTHERN LEAGUE DIV.1 - CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS
Saturday 29 April 2023
Bradley Wadkins 70mins
AFC TOTTON 2
Ethan Taylor 45+1mins, 80mins
ALREADY CROWNED CHAMPIONS of the Southern League Division One South, AFC Totton travelled to the picturesque Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire on Saturday to take on their Division One Central counterparts Berkhamsted in the Champion of Champions Super Cup match at The Meadow, the 5,000-capacity home of Chesham United FC.
In a tightly contested tie, two goals from Ethan Taylor - his 50th and 51st for the club since joining in the summer of 2020 - and a strong rearguard action in the face of a spirited fightback saw The Stags claim their second piece of silverware of the 2022/23 campaign. And with two trophies safely in their display cabinet, Jimmy Ball’s men now have their sights set on a potential treble with the Southampton Senior Cup Final showdown against Sholing to come at St. Mary’s Stadium on Wednesday 17 May, when Totton will be defending the trophy they won against Folland Sports at the same venue last season.
Regular goalkeeper Lewis Noice was recalled to the starting line-up for the first time since the title-clinching win over Exmouth Town on 15 April, with the on-loan AFC Bournemouth youngster Mack Allan having played the last two games to gain valuable experience of senior football. Luke Hallett also returned, having picked up an injury in the same game against Exmouth that kept him out of the subsequent matches at home to Frome Town and away to Evesham United. With Bashley and Lymington Town having completed all of their fixtures for the season, recent outward-bound loanees Jake Adams, Owen Pelham and Jireh Oyebamiji all made welcome returns to the AFC Totton fold and went straight into the first XI. Adams, in particular, had reason to be optimistic, having scored the late winning goal when these two sides met at the Snows Stadium in the Isuzu FA Trophy back in September. Having enjoyed a prolonged run in the team since early-March, the experienced and influential Jack Masterton dropped to the substitutes’ bench.
1. Lewis NOICE
2. Benny READ
3. Jordan RAGGUETTE
4. Mike CARTER (Capt.)
5. Charlie KENNEDY
6. Luke HALLETT
7. Jake ADAMS
8. Owen PELHAM
9. Scott RENDELL
10. Ethan TAYLOR
11. Jireh OYEBAMIJI
14. Adam TOMASSO
15. Conor WHITELEY
16. Charlie DAVIS
17. Tommy WRIGHT
18. Jack MASTERTON
Berkhamsted’s own Broadwater Stadium is undergoing renovations to meet the ground grading requirements of the Step 3 football they will be playing next season, so The Comrades had the match moved a few miles down the road to the home of nearby Chesham United of the Southern League Premier Division South; Chesham’s own ambitions of promotion to Step 2 were scuppered for at least another season by their midweek Play-Off Semi-Final defeat at Bracknell Town. Officially the home side, then, Berkhamsted wore white shirts with a black horizontal panel across the shoulders and upper chest, and black shorts and socks. Totton were in their usual all blue-and-white.
The crowd of 144 only had to wait two minutes for the opening chance of the game, when the offside flag stayed down to allow Jireh Oyebamiji to run onto a high looping ball that had bounced into the space behind the Berkhamsted defence towards the inside-right channel. Cameron Groom raced out of his area just in time to block the forward’s shot with his upper torso, the ball deflecting out for a throw-in.
FROM THE BASH TO BERKO: Jake Adams returned from his loan spell at Bashley to take a place in the starting line-up against Berkhamsted.
Jake Adams took possession near the centre-circle and spread the play to the left wing for Jordan Ragguette - the scorer of Totton’s other goal against The Comrades in September. His forward pass found Oyebamiji who was closed down quickly but was still able to wrestle with the defender to earn a corner. Ethan Taylor sent the ball high into the penalty area where Luke Hallett headed down, but a Berkhamsted defender booted the ball clear.
Totton were the brighter of the two sides during the early exchanges. Quick reactions from Mike Carter saw The Stags skipper win the ball in midfield before Berkhamsted could start stringing multiple passes together. Scott Rendell received the pass and a one-two between him and Taylor briefly threatened to open up the opposition defence until the ball was diverted out for a throw on the left flank. Adams then had the ball in space on that side but his cross was too close to the goalkeeper.
A swift move between Carter, Rendell and Ragguette brought Totton forward again, in the eighth minute. Owen Pelham joined in and tried to play a killer pass into the penalty area that didn’t come off, while Adams was offering an alternative option in the inside-left channel.
Carter’s headed back-pass during Berkhamsted’s first foray into enemy territory fell short of its intended target. Fortunately for the away side, Lewis Noice was alert enough to rush out and kick clear before Ryan Blake could latch onto it. The ball struck Blake on the shoulder but Charlie Kennedy managed to scramble it clear before anyone in a white-and-black shirt could capitalise.
Taylor and Ragguette linked up on the left wing. Taylor danced past one defender on his way into the area from the left edge but the large frame of the covering defender, Comrades captain Ryan Kinnane, proved too big an obstacle to traverse, and the ball ran out of play for a goal-kick.
Oluwatobi Coker, in the No.10 shirt for Berkhamsted, showed skilful feet to work himself some space in the middle, halfway into Totton’s half. He spread the play wide to Connor Toomey, pushing forward from left-back. His high cross was watched all the way by Kennedy, who was happy to concede a corner on the Berkhamsted right rather than take a chance with Blake lurking behind him. Ben Walster’s left-footed in-swinger was over everyone in the middle and out beyond the far post.
Taylor was pulled up for a shoulder charge on Jack Tompkins in midfield, to which he pleaded his innocence while the Referee gave him a lecture but kept his cards in his pocket. Then, on 15 minutes, Rendell received Hallett’s long ball and fed the overlapping run of Benny Read, who earned a corner on the Totton right. Taylor whipped in a high in-swinging cross, which flicked off Kinnane’s head at the near side of the six-yard box before going out for a throw-in on the opposite flank. Ragguette threw the ball short to Pelham, who clipped it towards Oyebamiji in the middle, about 10 yards out. Kinnane got his head in the way to divert the ball out to the edge of the area. Carter intercepted and teed up Read, who fired over the crossbar.
Coker’s skill on the ball created space for Tompkins to get forward down the right for Berkhamsted, but Kennedy, Carter and Hallett moved across en masse to smother the situation before it could become a threat.
MIDFIELD MINDER: Captain Mike Carter led his team to a second trophy in his first season with AFC Totton.
Ethan Taylor, who younger brother Leo was not involved on this occasion, was integral to Totton’s ability to move the ball around the pitch, dropping deep from his advanced position to help link the play between the defence, midfield and attack. A period of prolonged Totton possession resulted in Ragguette taking receiving the ball on the left-hand side and threading a low pass into the run of Oyebamiji into the inside-left channel. With Tompkins at his back, Oyebamiji spun his marker to progress into the left corner of the penalty area and put himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He opted for an early right-footed shot, which Groom parried into the air. Oyebamiji was determined to get under the ball to head at goal, but he didn’t see Scott Rendell who was better placed to just side-foot volley at the target; the two collided and the chance went begging.
With Totton having just spurned their best chance of the game so far, it was then Berkhamsted’s turn to do likewise in the 25th minute. The ball was chipped to the edge of the Totton box in the Nomansland between the defence and goalkeeper. Noice came out to intercept but Ryan Blake darted in to take the ball wide to the right, before trying to convert from a tight angle. Luke Hallett had read the situation and calmly took the ball under control before it could reach the goal line, before passing to Benny Read to his right and encouraging the full-back to play out from the back.
Hallett was called into action again shortly after, when a miss-control by a Totton player further up the pitch gave Berkhamsted the opportunity to launch a counter-attack down their left, with Lynton Goss earning his side a corner. Kennedy did well to get above the giant Kinnane when the ball came over, flicking the ball out to the edge of the area. But Taylor was then penalised for pushing, as he tried to spring forward, instead conceding a free-kick midway inside his own half, to the right of centre from Berkhamsted’s perspective. Ben Walster curled his delivery to the far post where Kinnane met it to head across goal to the opposite post; Ragguette got there before his opponent to flick it away with a back header, allowing Pelham to complete the clearance.
Goss intercepted a Lewis Noice goal-kick on the halfway line and within a few short passes, Coker received possession on the right-hand side for Berkhamsted. Moving infield just outside the box, he stepped inside and away from Ragguette to shift the ball onto his left foot, before driving a low shot narrowly past the near post.
Benny Read had a shot blocked by a defender, the ball looping into the air and going across the goal for a corner on the left-hand side, after clever approach play from Ragguette, Oyebamiji and Adams. Then, a sharp turn from Coker enabled him to get away from Taylor and Pelham, but not Mike Carter who stepped forward to put a brick wall in the lively midfielder’s path. Coker tried to complete a pass from his prone position on the ground and, with Carter unable to step over him, Bradley Wadkins took up the loose ball and tried his luck from about 22 yards, dragging his shot wide to the left.
Charlie Kennedy had to shift through the gears to win a foot race towards his own goal in time to pass back to Lewis Noice, who cleared under pressure. Then, when Kennedy was caught in possession by the troublesome Coker, Carter was on-hand to win it back, aware of the increasing influence the Berkhamsted No.10 was beginning to exert upon proceedings.
As one Berkhamsted attack down their right appeared to fade to nothing, the Referee was called over by his assistant on the near touchline, before awarding a free-kick to The Comrades just off the right corner of the penalty area. Owen Pelham and Jake Adams formed a two-man defensive wall, which proved to be enough to deflect Ben Walster’s free-kick over the bar for a corner on the opposite side. Walster trotted across to send over an out-swinging delivery which Ryan Kinnane met at the back post but could only send hurtling towards the glorious Chiltern Hills behind that end of the ground.
Rendell took Noice’s high ball under control outside the Berkhamsted area. He laid it short to Oyebamiji who then picked out Taylor in the middle, but his well-struck effort was blocked at source by a strong defensive challenge by Ross Oulton.
HALF CENTURY: Two-goals on the day took Ethan Taylor's overall AFC Totton tally to 51 goals since he joined the club in the summer of 2020.
One minute into stoppage time at the end of the first half, Kennedy and Hallett moved the ball out to the right right for Read, whose long ball forward was intended for Rendell. It was a slightly too high for the centre-forward, though, so Oyebamiji scampered in behind to retrieve it from close to the right-wing corner flag. Walster had tracked him all the way and attempt to make a sliding challenge. But the defender failed to win the ball and Oyebamiji was able to play it back to Owen Pelham, who had followed the play forward to provide midfield support. He passed forward into the feet of Rendell on the right of the six-yard box, and he had the time and space to tee up the incoming Ethan TAYLOR to finish from 10 yards, the ball striking the goalkeeper on its way high into the net for Taylor’s 50th goal as an AFC Totton player. There was barely enough time for the match to be restarted before the Referee blew the half-time whistle to send The Stags in ahead at the break.
AFC TOTTON 1
HOME AND AWAY: Adi Rose (centre) with fellow AFC Totton fans Mark and Stephanie.
When the two sides emerged for the second half, Owen Pelham had been replaced in midfield by Adam Tomasso. An early tussle between Jordan Ragguette and Oluwatobi Coker was won by the Totton left-back. Taylor moved the ball into the middle for Rendell, who in turn released Benny Read to attack down the Totton right wing, via a one-two with Carter. Read’s cross was flicked on by Oyebamiji but there was nobody in the middle, so Adams had to retrieve it on the far side, Berkhamsted eventually managing to clear as Totton tried to work the ball back into the danger area.
Berkhamsted substitute Thomas Silford, who had replaced Ryan Oulton at the break, combined with Lynton Goss down their left to win a corner, which was repelled by the Totton defence at the expense of a throw-in. Silford hurled the ball into the box but Oyebamiji, lending defensive support to his teammates, was presented with a free header to get the ball clear for The Stags.
Incessant pressing from Taylor had Ben Walster penned in at his own left-wing corner flag. All he could do was clear upfield, allowing Tomasso to intercept near halfway and redirect the ball to Rendell, who tried to release Oyebamiji between the two centre-backs, one of whom turned the ball away before it could get through. Then, a sweeping move down Totton’s left saw Ragguette play a long, low pass out to the wing for Jake Adams, whose early cross towards the near side of the six-yard box gave Scott Rendell the chance to slide in for a finish before Groom could get there, but Rendell couldn’t connect and the ball ran through for a goal-kick.
BACK IN THE FOLD: Jireh Oyebamiji returned to AFC Totton for the Champion of Champions encounter under the idyllic hills of the Chilterns.
Only a superb piece of defending by Benny Read prevented Berkhamsted from levelling the scores in the 54th minute. Tompkins played the ball down the right-hand side and Coker spun away from Ragguette to get to the ball at the right-wing byline, from where he pulled it back for Blake who had sprinted from the left towards the edge of the six-yard box at the near post. Read tracked him all the way and, with Noice exposed, the Totton right-back thrust his right leg into the path of Blake’s shot in the nick of time to divert the ball out for a corner.
Read very nearly undid his own good work within a minute, though, when he under-hit his back-pass, forcing Lewis Noice to come out to the very edge of the area to block a shot with his torso, then having to go outside his box to close down and jockey like a defender. But as the ball fell to one Berkhamsted player after another, it either came to them on their wrong foot or they had a rapidly retreating Totton player descending upon them closely enough that they couldn’t do the obvious and just lob the ball over the stranded keeper; instead, they passed the ball to one another like a hot potato, with Carter, Kennedy and Tomasso all getting their bodies in the way of attempted shots, until enough seconds had passed for Totton to fully regroup and their No.1 to return to his goalmouth in time to make a routine catch from a left-wing cross.
The game had to be stopped for a couple of minutes when Luke Hallett and Ryan Blake clashed heads during an aerial challenge. Blake was not happy that only he was required to leave the pitch before the game was restarted; Hallett was allowed to stay on because he had not received treatment but Blake argued he was the victim of a foul by the Totton centre-back.
An offside flag came to the rescue of Bradley Wadkins when his square pass near the halfway line landed at the feet of Jake Adams, who tried to release Oyebamiji straight through on goal only for the striker to make his move a fraction too early. That through-ball proved to be Adams’s last contribution before he was replaced by Tommy Wright.
Berkhamsted tried to attack down their left, but Carter got across to put the kibosh on that idea. Then, a short, bizarre sequence of miss-kicks initiated by Luke Andrews with comedic contributions from Ryan Kinnane and goalkeeper Cameron Groom almost put Rendell in without anyone in a blue shirt having to do very much at all. Then, in homage to the recently substituted Adams, Charlie Kennedy and Mike Carter both performed immaculate pirouettes on the ball to turn away from pressing opponents and retain AFC Totton possession, before Luke Hallett restored order by lumping the ball up the pitch.
Lynton Goss found enough space on the right-hand side in the 63rd minute to cross to the far post, where Blake could only head over the bar and into the stand behind the goal. Then, Groom had cause to rebuke his teammates for putting him under pressure from Scott Rendell’s press, as the goalkeeper was forced to take a back-pass under control on the edge of his six-yard box and then twist away from the Southern League Div.1 South’s top scorer to hack it clear to the far side. When Berkhamsted got the ball up the other end, Noice was out quickly to send it back from whence it came.
Tommy Wright as the next Totton player to try to pressure Groom, but the keeper was warming to his task of sidestepping forwards and was able to complete another clearance. Then, Hallett and Noice were briefly on different wavelengths when the ball was played in between them. Noice forced the ball out for a throw, which was taken quickly but Tomasso closed his man down to prevent a cross.
Totton were wobbling a little and Berkhamsted sensed there was an advantage to be gained. Blake got in down the left and hung the ball to the far post where Goss connected with a side-foot volley that drifted across goal and fell to Carter, who cleared upfield.
Kennedy initiated a forward move with a long ball for Tommy Wright to chase into the right-wing corner. He crossed to the far side for Taylor, whose low centre was cleared from the toe of Oyebamiji.
Berkhamsted drew level in the 70th minute. Read was caught in possession on the halfway line but Connor Toomey, who then turned sharply to his his left to avoid Wright, who was in the process of stepping back into his own half. Toomey spotted the run of Wadkins and slipped the ball into the inside-left channel. As Totton defenders requested an offside flag that was never raised, Bradley WADKINS latched onto the ball, took a touch to set himself and advance on Lewis Noice’s goal and slotted the ball to the right of the keeper to give The Comrades a well-deserved equaliser.
Jimmy Ball sent on Charlie Davis in place of Jireh Oyebamiji, to try and grab a firmer hold of the midfield. But Silford was able to make a strong run through the middle and pass to Blake. He fed Goss, who beat Ragguette and crossed into the box, but Kennedy intercepted and dealt with the situation. Hallett then had to throw his body full length to make an important block, after Berkhamsted had worked their way through Totton’s midfield and defence. A follow-up shot from the edge of the area curled over the crossbar.
FRESH LEGS: Charlie Davis stepped off the bench to help see The Stags over the line in the face of a spritied fightback from Berkhamsted.
With 15 minutes to go, Berkhamsted were looking the more likely. But as Davis began busying himself in the midfield, coming short to collect the ball from his defence and distribute it to the wings, The Stags settled back into the game. Taylor and the overlapping Ragguette both had crosses blocked from the left-hand side, the latter by an excellent sliding intervention from the hard-working Lynton Goss, getting back to help his defence.
Somewhat against the run of play, Totton restored their lead in the 80th minute. Read played the ball down the right for Rendell to turn on towards Tommy Wright. He played a low pass to Adam Tomasso inside the area who must have heard a called behind him, because he dummied the ball to allow it to run to Taylor on the edge of the box. With a defender in front of him, Ethan TAYLOR shifted the ball to his left and took a shot which struck the defender’s outstretched leg, spun high into the air and looped over the stranded Cameron Groom into the back of the Berkhamsted net.
As Berkhamsted’s Lynton Goss was replaced by substitute James Verney, AFC Totton boss Jimmy Ball could be heard telling his players to keep the ball, which they promptly began to do, until a one-two between Taylor and Rendell ended with Taylor shrugging off Tompkins but, in the process, catching the defender in the face, for which he was shown a yellow card.
James Verney managed to charge down Read’s clearance, but Wright was on-hand to pick up the loose ball and play it back to Noice. Then, Silford did well to prevent Rendell’s knock-on releasing Taylor through the middle for a chance to complete his hat-trick.
Coker clipped the ball out to the left for Wadkins, who turned infield before playing a clever reverse pass into the path of Verney who appeared to be in on goal, before Carter swooped in to ease the forward out of the way and shepherd the ball back to Lewis Noice.
With three minutes of the regulation 90 to go, Tommy Wright was booked for cynically belting the ball out the ground after it had already bounced out of play at the touchline. There was little advantage to doing so, though, considering the speed with which another ball was rolled from the Berkhamsted dug-out to where the Referee was standing. The throw-in was nodded behind by Tomasso for a corner, from which Kinnane got a flick on but Noice reached above a ruck of players to make a one-handed punch, before Totton smothered the ball out.
Four minutes of stoppage time were indicated. Rendell was bundled into in front of the dug-outs and, after receiving treatment, he was the target for Charlie Davis’s delivery to the far side of the box. Kinnane headed out and as Taylor took the ball under control and tried to take it to the left-wing corner flag, he was subjected to some rough stuff, which he gave back in spades and ended up conceding a free-kick.
A diagonal ball into the Totton box took the slightest of deflections off Jordan Ragguette’s fringe to go out for a corner. With stoppage time ticking away, Cameron Groom came forward from his goal to join the attack. Walster took the corner from the Berkhamsted right, Hallett got his head to it at the near post, which proved enough to carry it across the goalmouth but out of everyone else’s reach until it went out for another corner from the left. Walster jogged across and sent in another cross, which Noice got both hands to but could only push out for another corner back on the opposite flank. Walster dutifully trotted over to take that one, too, with the seconds ticking by and more than one member of the AFC Totton contingent on the sidelines informing the Referee that the four minutes had passed more than 90 seconds ago. The cross came in and was once again forced out of play by a Totton head for another corner on the other flank. Somebody else took this one but Luke Hallett was there again at the near post to divert the ball away from the ruck. As it fell between Groom and Blake to the right of the penalty spot, the Referee decided enough was enough and blew the full-time whistle that confirmed AFC Totton as the Southern League Division One Champion of Champions.
CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS: AFC Totton are awarded the trophy after beating Berkhamsted 2-1 at Chesham United's ground in Buckinghamshire.
After the match, AFC Totton boss Jimmy Ball (pictured, holding the trophy, with Paul Masters, left, Harry Brookwell middle-right and physio Graham McAnuff, right) said:
“Wonderful! I’m pleased for the players, they were brilliant. This kind of game is actually tough, it’s tough to get motivated for. After scrapping from behind to win a league, like we did, and then the season’s over and you’ve got to keep going. But, if you’re still playing at the end of the season, you’ve done something right; you’re winners and you’re trying to be winners, again. The effort was great against a top side, one of the best sides we’ve played all season by a mile - they won their league for a reason, and they’re a very, very good side. I thought we played some fantastic football and we defended well when we needed to. The first goal was a very good one and the second goal, if it was not 30 passes, then I will have lost a bet with Ben Jefford; it was a fantastic team goal.
“You send players on loans for different reasons, maybe for confidence or experience. JJ [Jireh Oyebamiji] is 17 years-old, he’s a baby in football terms. He’s gone away from us and played 25 games in men’s football and you saw today that he’s a big, strong, powerful, quick boy and he’s got a bright future with us - we’ve just got to be patient, make sure we get his pathway right. Jake Adams has gone away and got some confidence, scoring goals for Bashley, and he looked bright.
“These players are winners. They’re proper competitors - the fans will know, because they’ve watched them all season. These lads absolutely give everything, every game without fail for this football club. I had no doubt today would be the same. It is hard mentally to keep going and to get up again and again, but these boys are different class and they’re capable of a lot.
“I’m looking forward to next season, I’m looking forward to this Cup Final in two weeks. There will be a mix of recuperation and rehabilitation before we sharpen up for what should be a fantastic game between the best two teams in our league going against each other, again. It’s another chance to go and play and entertain people - and we’re all looking forward to it.”
By Ben Rochey-Adams
Football action images courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography