Southern League Division One South
EVESHAM UNITED 3
Brandon Smalley 4mins; Jordan Straten 57mins; Michael Symons 89mins
AFC TOTTON 3
Ben Jefford 33mins; Ethan Taylor 52mins, 69mins
Dan Sackman’s AFC Totton made the two-and-a-half hour trip to Worcestershire yesterday (Saturday) for what turned out to be a barnstorming six-goal thriller with a resolute Evesham United, before a crowd of 237 at a blustery Spiers & Hartwell Jubilee Stadium.
The home side were, for the first time, under the control of their new manager Lee Driver-Dickerson, who was reported on the Southern League website on Friday as having quit Slimbridge AFC in favour of taking the vacant hot seat with the currently lower-mid-table Robins. Totton themselves, of course, still have Interim 1st Team Manager Dan Sackman at the helm who was keen to recover from Tuesday night’s elimination from the Southern League Challenge Cup at the hands of Lymington Town and to keep pace with Frome Town, who put nine past lowly Barnstaple on the same evening in a 9-2 victory that leapfrogged them over the Stags into top spot in the Southern League Div.1 South table.
Amadeusz Skrzyniarz continued in goal for his third consecutive match in the injury-enforced absence of Lewis Noice. Ben Jefford was recalled to start at left-back. Freddie Read and Jack Hoey were both restored to the midfield, with Sam Griffin also coming back into the starting XI to form a front three with Ethan Taylor and Hisham Kasimu. Jordan Ragguette, Lewis Waterfield, Ade Olumuyiwa and Brett Williams, who all started against Lymington on Tuesday, dropped to the bench, where they were joined by the returning Shaquille Gwengwe.
Totton wore their limited edition Remembrance shirts of blue-and-white hoops featuring the poppy, which are to be auctioned at the end of the month to raise money for the Royal British Legion. And the match was preceded by an impeccably-observed minute’s silence in honour of those who have given so much in service to our country.
Overlooked by the rolling fields of Bredon Hill and an aggressively grey cloud formation, the home side, bedecked in red-and-white stripes with black shorts and socks, kicked-off and went straight on the attack. Left winger Brandon Smalley dropped a shoulder to put a yard between himself and Callum Baughan and drove a low shot into the side-netting, which fooled several home fans on the opposite side of the ground into thinking their team had taken an early lead.
But the joke proved to be on the Stags, because within 3 minutes of the start, Evesham went in front. Robins centre-forward Michael Symons is hardly what you’d call a natural athlete, but his ability to hold the ball up under pressure provided valuable time for his teammates to get forward, while he laid the ball back into midfield to enable the release of Smalley down the centre. He had the pace to get away from Stephane Zubar and, with a composed finish, Brandon SMALLEY steered the ball past Skrzyniarz and into the bottom-left corner.
With the ground open on one side, there’s nothing to stop heavy winds from joining in with the football at the Jubilee Stadium and they nearly registered an assist when a drop-kick clearance from the Evesham goalkeeper Lewis Clayton sent the ball upfield, beyond the Totton defensive line, where Symons was able to stretch out his right leg to poke it towards goal but, ultimately, over Skrzyniarz’s crossbar. It was a warning to both sides that they had more to contend with in this match than just the opposition.
Ethan Taylor responded for Totton, catching two Evesham defenders flat-footed on the edge of their penalty area by taking a high ball forward on the half-volley to shoot narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Both sides were lively during the early stages of the game, but Totton were often sloppy with the ball. Jordan Ngalo was caught in possession a couple of times, with Evesham skipper Calvin Dinsley seemingly assigned to close the Stags midfielder down whenever he got the ball. And central defender Jordan Staten stuck to his task well when Hisham Kasimu attempted one of his trademark mazy dribbles into the home side’s penalty area.
Zubar had to make a strong sliding tackle to prevent Smalley doing further damage, after a miss-kick by Baughan had briefly opened up the inside-left channel. From the resulting left-wing corner, the ball dropped at the far post where Ryan Paddock was within a whisker of doubling Evesham’s lead.
On-loan Cheltenham Town striker Callum Ebanks came into this match with 5 goals in his last 4 games, and demonstrated his willingness to press defenders by forcing Harry Medway to pass back to his goalkeeper before then rushing Skrzyniarz into a hurried clearance as Totton struggled to settle into the game.
There was a yellow card for Evesham’s Lorcan Sheehan in the 24th minute for bringing down Taylor, as the Stags attempted to mount a counter-attack. Then, Taylor combined with Baughan down the right flank to create the chance for Baughan to cross to the far side where Sam Griffin met the ball with a roundhouse-style full-volley that flew across goal and past the right-hand post. Griffin and Taylor then linked up to play their way through the middle but the home defence was able to scrape the ball away.
Totton were warming to their task, and Griffin was involved again in the 31st minute, latching onto Ben Jefford’s forward pass to get to the left-wing byline and cross to the middle. Jack Hoey met the ball but could only send it upward, giving Ethan Taylor the opportunity to attempt a scissor-kick volley that was well-struck but looped over the crossbar.
Sam Griffin was then booked for a foul on the peroxide blonde-haired midfielder, Jordan Lymn, about 25-yards out and to the right of the D. Evesham left-back Charles Johnson went for goal with a curling free-kick shot that wrapped around the far top corner, Skrzyniarz seemingly comfortable that he had it covered.
On 33 minutes, Totton levelled the scores. Ngalo won a tussle in midfield and laid it off to the left where, pushing up from left-back, Jefford was able to carry the ball forward to create a 4-on-3 situation in the Stags’ favour. With Griffin peeling away to the left wing, and Kasimu and Taylor both offering themselves for short passes to the right while the home defence backed off, Ben JEFFORD ignored them all to strike from about 20 yards with the outside of his left boot, through the legs of Staten and beyond the dive of Clayton to bury the ball into the bottom-far corner of the Evesham net for his first goal of the season.
The Stags went forward again, keen to take advantage of their ascendency, but Griffin’s cross was too high for Taylor to get meaningful contact with his header. Then, Evesham demonstrated their strength from set-pieces with a deep free-kick that had Ebanks and Symons both lurking at the back post but the header from Symons went wide.
The robust figure of Symons met the immovable force of Zubar shortly before half-time, with both players given a talking to about an ongoing tussle that they both seemed to be enjoying. Then, a Zubar up-and-under caused confusion in the home side’s area, with Kasimu going down amid loud penalty claims and Griffin twisting on the ball like he did last summer, before being crowded out by a collaboration of Staten, Paddock and the right-back, Joseph Hunt.
The busy Sam Griffin took Taylor’s high pass on his thigh to attack Evesham again, before the break, but possibly over-elaborated on the ball and allowed Paddock to clear. Then, Baughan’s cross from the right wing had to be headed out from under the Robins’ crossbar and, shortly afterwards, Kasimu blasted high and wide to the left of goal, having momentarily escaped the attentions of Staten after good approach work from Hoey and Griffin, ensuring that the two sides went in tied at the break.
EVESHAM UNITED ...…..……… 1
AFC TOTTON ……………………..... 1
With the wind at their backs, Totton made a promising start to the second half, with Hoey clipping the ball in from the right-hand side as Griffin closed in at the far post, but Hunt managed to hook the ball away.
And, 7 minutes into the second half, the Stags took the lead. Sam Griffin picked the ball up in midfield and ran past two Evesham players before playing Taylor in through the middle. Keeper Clayton came out to intercept but Ethan TAYLOR danced around him to the left and rolled the ball into the empty net to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
Evesham tried to hit back but Totton managed to deal with their crosses into the box and then launched a counter-attack with Kasimu finding Taylor on the right wing. He played the ball in and Griffin went down under a challenge, but the referee wasn’t interested in blue-shirted claims for a penalty.
In the 57th minute, Calvin Dinsley forced a corner for his side on the right wing. The delivery was headed on target and Skrzyniarz did well to palm it away, but Jordan STATEN met the rebound to force the ball over the line from close range, and bring Evesham level at 2-2.
Ngalo played an angled ball out to Kasimu and he found Jack Hoey with a low cross, but the midfielder scooped his shot over the bar. Then, a right-footed in-swinger from Smalley’s left-wing corner had to be headed away at the near post, as it threatening to curl directly into the goal.
On 65 minutes, Brett Williams came on to replace Sam Griffin, as Dan Sackman went in search of a winning goal. And 4 minutes later, Totton went in front for the second time. Jefford’s forward pass enabled Hoey to attack the left-wing byline. His low cross took Clayton out of the game and Ethan TAYLOR arrived just ahead of the defender to bundle the ball into the empty net from a few yards out, to make it 3-2 to the Stags.
Evesham didn’t lose heart, though, and they were aware that their aerial threat was causing problems for the Totton defence. Callum Baughan found himself outnumbered at the back post from a high cross from the Evesham right, but stuck his head in bravely to deny Jordan Staten a second goal. The two players clashed heads and both had to receive lengthy treatment. While Staten was relatively unhurt, Baughan had to play out the rest of the match sporting a Mr. Bump-style bandage. AFC Totton would like to express our thanks to the Evesham United physio, Peter Sollis, for his assistance in delivering first aid to Callum.
In the 76th minute, Freddie Read was withdrawn from the midfield, with Lewis Waterfield coming on to replace him.
Callum Ebanks suddenly burst into action, getting away from Jefford and Medway to unleash a venomous right-foot shot from a tight angle, which Skrzyniarz had to get both hands behind to divert over the crossbar. Then, from the corner, Paddock connected with a volley which the Polish-born keeper got his body behind to make a comfortable save.
Lee Driver-Dickerson used all three of his substitutes at once with 10 minutes to go, looking to shake things up and give the Stags some different problems to deal with. Among those changes, the impressive Brandon Smalley left the field to be replaced by Jack Horrell.
Totton hearts were in mouths shortly after, when the strong figure of Ebanks tried to bundle his way through from a long ball forward. Amad Skrzynairz rushed out of goal to clear with a horizontal flying scissor-kick but missed the ball completely. Ebanks poked it towards the bottom-right corner and the recovering Ngalo tried in vain to catch it before it crossed the line - but when it did, it was inches wide of the right-hand post.
With 3 minutes to go, Taylor hooked the ball over the Evesham defence and Hisham Kasimu raced in to nip the ball around Clayton, to present himself with an open net but from a tight angle to the right of goal. He shot for the far corner but pulled it too far to the left. Then, Kasimu took the ball under control with his back to goal from Baughan’s right-wing throw-in, wrapped himself around Paddock to leave the centre-back standing and laid it back to Taylor just inside the penalty area. Taylor spun onto his left foot and picked out Brett Williams in space to the left of the penalty spot. The centre-forward went for power and forced Lewis Clayton into a brilliant close-range save, pushing the ball over the bar. The subsequent corner bounced across goal but there was no Stag on-hand to convert it.
Jack Hoey was shown a late yellow card for time-wasting, as Totton looked to hold onto their slender lead. Jordan Lymn had other ideas, making surging runs from the right of midfield to carry the fight the very end. Lewis Waterfield came close to sealing it for the visitors, though, with a right-footed drive that seemed to catch the wind and sailed wide of the left-hand upright.
But there was a late sting in the tail end of this match for the Stags. A combination of Baughan and Zubar appeared to have shut down the threat posed by Jack Horrell on the Evesham left, but when the ball was played backwards Johnson hit a high, cross-field ball that dropped in behind the Totton defence and found Michael SYMONS unmarked, to fire low and hard under Skrzyniarz and into the bottom-left corner, tying the scores at 3-3 with 89 minutes on the clock and prompting a rapturous reaction from the home crowd.
Stoppage time of 5 minutes was indicated and Evesham went in search of an unlikely winner but Totton stood firm and limited their chances to trouble Skrzyniarz’s goal, again. The name of Ryan Paddock went into the referee’s notebook for a forearm to the back of Williams’ head. From Taylor’s free-kick, Symons stretched to head clear and almost diverted the ball into his own net, conceding a corner that then had to be headed away at the near post.
Another yellow card for a foul by substitute Jack Horrell gave Ethan Taylor the chance to complete his hat-trick and make himself the last-minute match winner, but his 25-yard free-kick just to the right of the D curled over the middle of the goal and harmlessly behind. A draw was probably the right result, on a ground that, according to seasoned travelling fans, is notoriously difficult to get anything from.
By Ben Rochey-Adams