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MATCHDAY 07 - Saturday 22 October 2022

LARKHALL ATHLETIC                        0

AFC TOTTON                                           3
Adam Tomasso 2mins; Scott Rendell 5mins (pen); Harvey Woods 90mins

Facing a team who managed to get under their skin in two out of three encounters last season, AFC Totton travelled to Bath yesterday (Saturday) and produced a mature, controlled, dominant, skilful performance - undoubtedly one of their best of 2022/23, so far - at Larkhall Athletic’s idyllic Plain Ham ground to claim an emphatic away win that continues The Stags’ climb up the Southern League Div.1 South table.

There was only one change to the starting line-up that defeated Slimbridge AFC at the Snows Stadium last weekend. Adam Tomasso came into the midfield to replace Jack Masterton, who dropped to the substitutes’ bench where he was joined by Jordan Ragguette, now recovered from a thigh strain that saw him rested against The Swans. The match marked a return to familiar surroundings for both Masterton and Totton goalkeeper Lewis Noice, the two former Eastleigh players having spent a period on loan with The Larks during their time with The Spitfires.

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

1.  Lewis NOICE
2.  Jack SEDDON
4.  Mike CARTER (Capt.)
5.  Charlie KENNEDY
6.  Luke HALLETT
7.  Ethan TAYLOR
8.  Adam TOMASSO
9.  Scott RENDELL
10.  Brett WILLIAMS
11.  Jake ADAMS
12.  Giulio GIRELLI
14.  Harvey WOODS
15.  Jordan RAGGUETTE
16.  Freddie READ

Larkhall, dressed in all blue, kicked-off and very nearly took the lead within the first minute. The ball came to Harrison Lea just outside the Totton penalty area and his shot was deflected, requiring Lewis Noice to keep a watchful eye on the flight of the ball as he dived to his left to make a smart catch. Noice drop-kicked out to the left flank where full-back Dan Restorick made his presence felt with a strong, early challenge on Jake Adams.

Ben Jefford took the throw-in, picking out Brett Williams down the left touchline who, with a defender at his back, used the in-step of his right foot to volley the ball back to Scott Rendell on the edge of the Larkhall penalty area. Keeping his marker at arm’s length, Rendell was able to turn infield and roll the ball into the path of Adam TOMASSO and the midfielder drove a right-footed pearler into the bottom-left corner of the Larkhall Athletic net, getting The Stags off to a fantastic start with just two minutes on the clock. It was Tomasso’s first goal since his header in the 5-0 drubbing of Concord Rangers in the FA Trophy, last November.

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PILEDRIVER: Adam Tomasso got The Stags off to a flying start with a goal from outside the box just two minutes into their Southern League Div.1 South match at Larkhall Athletic.

Ethan Taylor had the ball in the back of The Larks’ net within a minute of the restart, scampering in behind the left-back to latch onto a Williams pass before lobbing the goalkeeper, only to be ruled offside by the Assistant Referee on the touchline on the same side of the pitch.

It didn’t matter. Totton were already playing with swagger, moving the ball around at pace to players who knew what runs to make and where to expect their teammates to be. Rendell held the ball up in the middle of the pitch and laid it back to Jake Adams, who quickly found Taylor making a forward run on the right-hand side. The pass was direct and accurate, enabling Taylor to quickly control as he turned infield to shape an inviting in-swinging cross into Rendell airspace. Restorick tripped the Stags’ striker and the Referee awarded a penalty, before producing a yellow card for the full-back. Scott RENDELL picked himself up, dusted himself off and coolly converted the spot-kick - his third successful penalty in four matches, which also took his all-competitions goals tally for the season to date into double figures.

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TOP TEN: Man of the Match Scott Rendell reached double figures for the season so far in all competitions with his 5th-minute goal from the penalty spot.

Totton were rampant and had the ball in the Larkhall net for a fourth time soon after the restart, when Williams charged his way down the left flank and crossed into the box. Tomasso intercepted a partial clearance and turned the ball back to Adams, who floated a cross onto the head of Rendell for a firm header into the bottom-left corner of goalkeeper Alfie Kelsey’s net. But the flag went up to indicate offside, so the goal did not stand.

It was all Totton. Taylor delivered a free-kick from the left wing that Luke Hallett stretched for but couldn’t connect with at the far post. Then, Williams and Rendell combined to tee-up Tomasso, again, this time the Totton Terrier blasted his effort high over the crossbar. When Larkhall attempted to get forward in the 10th minute, Jack Seddon slammed the door with a strong tackle on the touchline to stop The Larks skipper Bradley Norris in his tracks.

Alfie Kelsey in the Larkhall goal is just 17 years-old, and he was grateful that the striker he had to race to Taylor’s through-ball is twice his age, the keeper just managing to get there before Brett Williams to kick the ball clear. Williams was next to take aim at the Larkhall goal on 17 minutes, after Rendell knocked-on Jefford’s ball in from deep on the left to provide Williams with the opportunity to drift inside his marker and let fly with a right-footed shot across the goal and narrowly wide of the far post.

Left winger Wayne Nderemani tried to offer his team an out-ball by lurking tight to the touchline while Seddon was occupied in a more central position. But when The Larks’ No.11 received possession, Seddon was quickly out to him, closing down the space and, through sheer determination, dispossessing him and clearing Totton’s lines with the assistance of the covering Hallett. The centre-back’s pass out of defence found Taylor in midfield, who skipped over a potentially dangerous lunging tackle to then attack the space vacated but his pass to Williams was too high for the forward to bring under control.

Taylor played an integral part in another sweeping Totton move that he instigated from a deep position on the left, finding Rendell near half-way who then passed back to Adams. The young playmaker played Seddon into space down the right-hand side, the full-back opting to shift the ball infield for Tomasso, who in turn fed Taylor who had sprinted over to the right wing. He floated in another inviting cross which dropped between Rendell and Williams, providing the chance for young keeper Kelsey to rush out and catch the ball close to his penalty spot.

A Larkhall throw on their right gave them a chance to press Totton back. But, as they moved the ball across the edge of the Totton penalty area, all pathways forward were blocked, forcing a constant shifting of the ball further left, until Thomas Bradley was forced to rush a cross-shot before Hallett could block. Noice had to keep his eye on it, but the ball drifted and dropped wide of the far post.

Jake Adams-4_Larkhall Athletic vs AFC Totton_SLD1S-07_Sat22Oct2022.JPG
THE NEW GOAT?: Jake 'Alpaca' Adams (right) was a creative influence for Jimmy Ball's team at Plain Ham on Saturday afternoon.

Scott Rendell’s hold-up play through the middle of the park was providing a firm foundation for the visitors to launch assaults into the final third. Adams received the centre-forward’s lay-off and released Williams down the left wing, who crossed for Rendell around the edge of the 6-yard box. A defender managed to knock the ball away despite Rendell’s challenge, and it fell to Adams for a firm snapshot from the edge of the area that Kelsey did well to parry wide of his right-hand post.

Larkhall tried to assert themselves in a more directly physical manner, which worked for them against The Stags last season - but this team is built of sterner stuff. The Totton players stood up to the challenge and continued to play their football, Rendell and Williams further threatening the home side with their link-up play, Williams driving in another effort from the left that Kelsey had to save smartly at the foot of his right-hand post.

The Larks side got forward around the 34th minute, with Norris finding half-a-yard in the inside-right channel. However, he shot over Lewis Noice’s goal, despite two potentially better-placed teammates arriving in the middle of the penalty area, pleading for a cross.

With Ethan Taylor tracking back to assist his team’s defensive effort, the immovable trident of Hallett, Kennedy and Carter barking orders from the centre, and the dogged Tomasso on general patrol ahead of them, there was no room for Larkhall to play their way through. Attempts to go direct were comfortably dealt with, while Seddon and Jefford were in equally uncharitable mood in the full-back berths.

Only clever defending from Restorick at the far post prevented Adams capitalising upon Taylor’s high cross, and when Adams went out to the touchline to retrieve the ball, Restorick was there again to make a firm tackle. From the resulting throw-in, Adams sent a dipping cross into the box for which Rendell tried to improvise a volley via his left thigh, but the ball bounced off him and wide of the target.

Larkhall won a free-kick shortly in advance of the centre-circle, close to half-time. With players up from the back to try and force a way back into the game, the boys in blue could only watch in despair as Samuel Boulton’s delivery floated harmlessly past them all and out for a goal-kick, as they were unable to shake off their fluo-yellow-shirted markers, prompting congratulatory applause among the Totton players for a well-held defensive line.

More pressing from Brett Williams further unsettled the home defence, and he might have won a free-kick for a trip had the Referee not also had the option to blow the half-time whistle.

LARKHALL ATHLETIC                         0
AFC TOTTON                                            2

Larkhall began the second half with two substitutes on the pitch. Cian Carty McManus and Harry Warwick came on, with Robert Hobbs and Wayne Nderemani making way.

If you had 48 minutes in this week’s ‘In which minute will Mike Carter get booked?’ sweepstake, the drinks are on you! The Stags skipper collected his customary yellow card for a miss-timed sliding tackle on the half-way line, just three minutes into the second half.

A foul on Ben Jefford presented a free-kick to Totton, just inside the Larkhall half. Taylor sent the ball to the far side of the penalty area, where Hallett headed back across goal but Larkhall forced the ball away.

Totton’s Assistant Manager Paul Masters was spoken to by the Referee, after an apparent push on Rendell in an advanced area down the left flank went unnoticed. Shortly after, Jefford sent a high cross-field ball towards the right side of the penalty area. Taylor controlled it on the run, got to the byline and hooked the ball into the middle, Kelsey responding quickly to claim it under pressure.

Adams received possession from a Totton throw in an advanced position on the right-hand side, before sending in a high cross that dipped over everyone and only just missed the far corner of the goal. Then, for a short period, the match became stop-start, with several free-kicks being awarded for pushing and shoving by players of both sides while engaging in aerial battles, neither team able to bring the ball down and get it under control.

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YOU SHALL NOT PASS: Centre-back Charlie Kennedy contributed to another clean sheet for The Stags on a traditionally tricky away trip in Bath.

When McManus managed to flick the ball over the head of Charlie Kennedy and into a dangerous area for the home side, Hallett and Carter both snapped into covering mode to remove the threat for The Stags. Then, Jack Seddon was quickly across to the middle to put the kibosh on Warwick’s attempt to run straight through the heart of the Totton defence, after he briefly stole a march on Hallett.

Keeper Kelsey was required to sweep up again, 10 yards outside his area this time, to beat Taylor to Rendell’s looped pass from deep. Then, Jimmy Ball sent on Jack Masterton and Jordan Ragguette in place of Jake Adams and Brett Williams. No sooner had Ragguette been introduced into the game than he made his impact felt. With Restorick pushing up from right-back, Ragguette intercepted a pass, knocked the ball beyond the defender and challenged him to a foot race. Restorick had two choices - take Ragguette’s ankles away or stand and stare while the in-form St. Vincentian international made hay down the left-wing touchline. The yellow card was inevitable - as was the subsequent red, once the Referee realised that he had already booked Restorick in the early penalty incident. It was the fourth red card in as many matches between these two teams.

The resulting free-kick was initially cleared but Ragguette, now on the right-hand side, intercepted in midfield and picked out Jack Masterton at the left-hand post, the cultured midfielder taking the chance on with a left-foot volley from a narrow angle, flashing his effort across the goal and narrowly wide of the opposite upright. Then, Taylor tried to set-up Rendell on the edge of the area from the right-hand side, but a defender got his body in the way to block.

Tomasso showed his strength to intercept the ball in his own half, surge forward through the centre-circle and get his pass out to the left flank away safely despite being shoved over in the process. Ragguette was already enjoying himself, making marauding runs down the left against a now depleted 10-man Larkhall side who couldn’t suppress him. Ragguette was refreshingly direct, taking on the defender ahead of him before firing in a low shot that ricocheted off a defender and then the goalkeeper for a corner.

Carlo Garside stepped off the bench for the home side’s third and final substitution, replacing Dawid Regula, as Larkhall appeared to adopt a 4-3-2 formation, trying to remain as solid at the back as possible while also having to chase the game.

Ethan Taylor_Larkhall Athletic vs AFC Totton_FATr3R_18Dec21.jpg
CONSTANT THREAT: Ethan Taylor created several chances for his team and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself on a few occasions.

Taylor was also finding spaces to attack on the right-hand side for Totton. He raced away from Boulton on his way to the byline, checked and pulled the ball back to the edge of the area for Rendell to strike left-footed, the ball deflecting off a defender and Kelsey completing the save low to his left to parry wide for another corner, which the keeper subsequently caught. A few moments later, Ragguette held off a defender as the ball bounced over him and then bobbled a couple of times before sitting up for him to strike, but the defender got something in the way to charge it down.

Ben Jefford was then withdrawn from the fray, with on-loan Saints striker Harvey Woods coming on for his second AFC Totton appearance.

Taylor was played into the inside-right channel by Carter, Kelsey doing well to come off his line and save with his legs. Tomasso regathered the ball and fed Masterton on the edge of the box, who also saw his effort blocked. Then, Taylor crossed from the right and Tomasso had his diving header deflected wide of the left-hand post.

As the match entered its last 15 minutes, Totton continued to press the Larkhall defence when they had possession, forcing them to act quicker than they appeared to be comfortable with, and when they did manage to get forward down the middle, they were quickly outnumbered and their attacking ambitions quashed. A co-ordinated step-up from the Totton defensive line caught McManus offside from a Larkhall free-kick, drawing praise from Jimmy Ball in the Totton dug-out, even as the home fans made known their displeasure at McManus’s subsequent finish being ruled out.

Led by captain Carter sitting back in a more withdrawn role, Totton signalled they were happy to see the game out for three points by simply keeping the ball, with possession being recycled through the back four, Carter, Masterton and Noice in the Totton goal. They still managed to get forwards on occasion, though, with tired legs among the home side unable to prevent them exploiting gaps. Seddon played the ball into the near-post area from the right for Harvey Woods to shoot, but Kelsey was well-positioned to catch. Then, Seddon again showcased his defensive abilities, sticking close to Norris to prevent him cutting in from the left-wing when he had appeared to isolate the full-back, who responded by sticking to his task and timing his tackle to put Totton on the front foot, once more.

A long kick by Lewis Noice was headed on by Rendell to the left-hand side. Masterton ran onto it and sent in a low, first-time cross that Taylor came racing into the 6-yard box to convert, two defenders stretching to stop him and one of them doing enough to distract him into sending the ball over the top. A few moments later, Taylor appeared content to saunter over to the right-wing corner flag to waste time, but then space opened up to pass infield to Masterton, who left fly with a left-footed shot that Kelsey did well to save.

Harvey Woods_Goal Celebration-2_Larkhall Athletic vs AFC Totton_SLD1S-07_Sat22Oct2022.JPG
BEST FRIEND HUG: Southampton-loanee striker Harvey Woods is embraced by teammate Luke Hallett after opening his AFC Totton account with a late goal.

As the match ticked over into its final minute of normal time, Carter was operating as a sweeper or a half back, sitting between the two centre-backs and engaging in short passes to run the clock down. But, with the ball at his feet and facing forward, he spotted the run of Taylor into the inside-right channel and sent a long pass into his path. Ethan Taylor took the ball in his stride, advanced towards the byline and, when it looked as though he was going to shoot, squared for 19-year-old striker Harvey WOODS to help himself to his first AFC Totton goal. A moment of unselfish teamwork that epitomised an excellent away win for The Stags.

Jimmy Ball_AFC Totton Manager_August2022.jpg

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

“That was a proper win, today. We’re not a soft touch anymore, which I think we were at times at the end of last season. But today, we took control and never looked like giving an inch. We have only conceded two goals - one at Havant & Waterlooville and one in the 2-1 home win against Berkhamsted - in our last eight games. We’ve changed the mentality at the back, and the team as a whole; they now know how to fight for a clean sheet, which is a massive step for us.

“My thoughts are already on Wimborne on Tuesday night. We have to go again with the same intensity, all over the pitch, and the same determination to impose our game on the opposition. The spine of this team is top class, and I’ve got top class players in the wide areas, too, to be fair. I’ve got solid options on the bench and players who can come on and make a difference - I thought Jordan and Jack were excellent once they came on and I’m delighted for Harvey, getting his goal, which will hopefully help him to settle in and do well for us.

“I want us to put performances like this one today at the heart of what we’re about and what we’re trying to achieve. But to come to a place like this and boss the game from minute one to minute ninety is not easy; this is a bloody hard league and there will be plenty of times when we need to fight and be prepared to win ugly. We have a very talented group of players who have shown they can play attractive, exciting, attacking football, but we also need to be able to get down and dirty in the mud and fight for every goal and for every point - when we can’t win, we don’t get beat.

“We see some of the comments that get posted by fans online, and hear some of the things that are said about the team’s performances, and at times it seems like winning 3-0 against decent Southern League clubs like Larkhall isn’t enough. Make no mistake about it, that was an impressive win today and a massive three points for us. We’re going to have to try and do it again and again this season, but at times it will be harder and we’re going to need the support of the fans behind us. I hope I can persuade people to see the quality football and the improvement in standards that I can see, and to recognise how hard these players are working, and encourage everyone to get fully behind this team.

“We have a real opportunity this season. Let’s make the most of it.”

Southern League Div.1 South | Matchday 08 | Snows Stadium
Tuesday 25 October 2022 | Kick-Off 7:45pm

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

Latest Southern League Div.1 South league table

By Ben Rochey-Adams

New photography by Doug Webber. Stock images courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography.

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