SOUTHERN LEAGUE DIV.1 SOUTH
LARKHALL ATHLETIC 1
Dale Evans 55mins (pen)
AFC TOTTON 2
Hisham Kasimu 1min, 45mins
Dan Sackman’s patched up AFC Totton side were forced to battle in Bath yesterday afternoon (Saturday), to take all three points against Larkhall Athletic despite spending much of the second half down to 10 men. Back in-form striker Hisham Kasimu’s goals at either end of the first half proved to be enough to take the Stags back up to 2nd-place in the Southern League Div.1 South table.
Head Coach Sackman was forced into several changes from the side that won at Willand Rovers on Wednesday night. Ade Olumuyiwa, who came off with a muscular strain at Silver Street, was rested, with Callum Baughan shifting into the centre-back position and Lewis Waterfield slotting in at right-back, with experienced defender Stephane Zubar also unavailable. Freddie Read came back into the team in place of Adam Tomasso, and Jordan Ragguette started on the left-wing in place of Sam Griffin. Fit-again goalkeeper Lewis Noice was the only Totton substitute who isn’t a striker.
Larkhall Athletic are still recovering from the recent loss of highly-rated forward Lewis Powell to Merthyr Town in the Southern League Premier Division, and the Larks’ top scorer Sam Crumb was also unavailable. This match was an effective full-dress rehearsal for the imminent Buildbase FA Trophy 3rd Round encounter between these two sides on 18 December, which will also be played at Larkhall’s Plain Ham stadium.
The Stags have made something of a habit of scoring early goals this season. It took just 40 seconds for Ethan Taylor to give them the lead at Willand Rovers on Wednesday and the winger played his part in the build-up to an even quicker goal by striker Hisham Kasimu.
Totton, in their change kit of yellow-and-black, went straight on the attack from the kick-off and swept down the left-hand side. Taylor had taken up a central position and dropped to receive the ball just outside the penalty area to back heel Kasimu in behind the Larkhall defence. A heavy shoulder challenge by defender Daniel Restorick knocked Kasimu off his feet, amid claims for a penalty, but Jack Hoey was alert enough to beat goalkeeper Shaun Semmens to the loose ball and poked it back to Hisham KASIMU, who was back on his feet in time to stroke the ball into the net.
Larkhall tried to get level early on and thought they had a claim for a penalty when striker Daniel Demkiv went down under a challenge from Callum Baughan in a crowded Totton penalty area, but the referee waved away the home side’s protests.
Taylor almost doubled Totton’s lead in the 7th minute, when Jordan Ngalo’s long ball picked him out on the right and his attempted cross spun up off a defender’s outstretched shin to loop over Semmens and hit the inside of the far post. Then, Jordan Ragguette attacked down the left wing and crossed to the near post but it was too high for Kasimu to connect with his head.
Demkiv tried to burrow his way through the Totton defence in the 11th minute but found himself crowded out. So, he laid the ball back for Larkhall captain Michael Baker to launch a powerful effort from distance but it was too high to trouble Amadeusz Skrzyniarz in the Stags’ goal.
Striker Brad Norris has recently returned to Larkhall Athletic in wake of the departure of Lewis Powell. He managed to find Demkiv inside the area but his forward partner’s effort was straight at Skrzyniarz.
MR. STRONG: Stags midfielder Jordan Ngalo.
On 16 minutes, the powerful Ngalo drove forward down the left wing and played the ball infield to Kasimu, who had his back to goal. He laid the ball off into the path of the onrushing Jack Hoey, the midfielder firing over the bar from just outside the area.
Totton then found themselves pressed back for a prolonged period, as Larkhall moved the ball more effectively on a bumpy pitch and tested the makeshift Stags’ back four with high crosses from either flank. Amad Skrzyniarz was keen to take control whenever he could, coming out to claim several crosses with a loud shout.
The hosts came close to equalising on 24 minutes when Norris headed wide from within the 6-yard box from a corner. Then, Callum Baughan had to react quickly to stop Larkhall going through on goal after a slip by Taylor in midfield.
A Larkhall free-kick on the half-hour was aimed towards Baker but went over his head, finding Norris free at the back post but his half-volley was straight at Skrzyniarz. And five minutes later, Taylor was forced back into a defensive position to force a Larkhall attacker to fire wide, as Totton struggled to get out of their own half.
Skrzyniarz punched away a high ball into his penalty area, and then Ben Jefford bought some respite for his teammates after a late challenge by Alex Lambert. And this became the pattern of the rest of the first half. Freddie Read had to defend deep to block Demkiv’s shot and Skrzyniarz again demonstrated his dominance in the air. Then, Jefford went down again and needed treatment from physio Andrew Hanley.
Totton’s attempts to launch counter-attacks and to relieve the pressure on their defence were frequently let down by poor control on the uneven surface, and Larkhall were also effective at getting men around the ball to halt their opponents’ progress. As the first half ticked over into its last minute, Read appeared to be fouled. But the determined diminutive midfielder got back to his feet quickly to win the second ball, prompting the referee to wave play on. Taylor picked up the ball about 30 yards out and ran through two defenders on the right of the penalty area on his way to the byline, where he cut it low across the 6-yard box. Semmens dived forward to claim the ball 3 yards from his line but the outstretched foot of Hisham KASIMU got there first to poke it into his bottom-left corner to give the Stags a classic poacher’s goal against the run of play.
LARKHALL ATHLETIC 0-2 AFC TOTTON
After hanging on for much of the first half, Totton were up to their early attacking shenanigans again at the beginning of the second, when Kasimu went down the left wing and centred for Taylor but his shot was smothered among a crowd of defenders. Then, Baker managed to deflect another Taylor effort wide to prevent the winger making it 3-0.
Larkhall found some joy by switching the play from one flank to the other quickly and by doing so, they created a heading opportunity for Brad Norris, which he directed wide. But the home side got back into the game in fortuitous circumstances in the 55th minute. Right-back Joseph Hillard sent a high ball forward which Dan Demkiv tried to latch onto in the inside-left channel, while under the watchful eye of Lewis Waterfield. The pair locked arms and gave each other a shove but when Demkiv went down inside the penalty area, the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot and showing Waterfield the red card to reduce the Stags to 10 men, much to the protestations of the visiting team. Once the arguments had subsided, Dale EVANS lashed his spot-kick into the top right-hand corner above the dive of Skrzyniarz.
Dan Sackman reshuffled his pack to accommodate the loss of Waterfield, pushing Jefford into central defence alongside Medway, and bringing Ragguette back to the left-back position with Callum Baughan returning to his usual right-back slot. Larkhall tried to exploit the makeshift nature of Totton’s defence when Norris drove the ball into the box and struck for goal. Skrzyniarz parried and the ball hit Baughan, prompting loud penalty claims but the referee wasn’t interested.
A long ball on 62 minutes had Skrzyniarz racing out from his goal but his sliced clearance came at the cost of a corner and the need for treatment after colliding with Norris.
The introduction of Brett Williams in place of Freddie Read in the 64th minute raised the average height of the Totton team, as they dug in to combat the Larks’ aerial onslaught by going to a 4-3-2 formation with Taylor dropping into midfield. And Williams put his height to good use within 3 minutes to head away a Larkhall corner at the near post.
A rare foray forward by Totton had Kasimu running through on goal when he was pulled down. The travelling contingent immediately claimed a free-kick and a red card for a last man situation that was comparable to that which earned Waterfield an early bath, but the referee turned them away. Then, Jordan Ragguette was left thumping the ground in pain after a heavy tackle, for which he received treatment and briefly left the field but was ultimately able to carry on.
Skrzyniarz caught a high cross, threw himself to the ground and stayed there for a few seconds, in a clear indication that Totton were now trying to slow the game down and “game manage” their way to protecting their slender lead. At the other end, Brett Williams was eager to chase defenders down and make them uncomfortable in possession, to prevent them building meaningful attacks against the reduced Totton ranks.
Michael Baker did well to head the ball back to his goalkeeper with Kasimu lurking, trying to connect with Taylor’s high pass in the 74th minute. Then the match became Attack vs Defence, as Totton fell back to try and hang on to what they had. But when they could get the ball clear, there was no attacking outlet and no opportunity to play their usual pressing game.
Skrzyniarz came out to claim from a Larkhall corner but fumbled the ball wide. Then from the subsequent corner, a goalmouth scramble ensued with every Totton shirt back in their own penalty area, in a desperate attempt to hang on. The ball popped out wide and was crossed back in by Britton. Totton repelled it once more and Demkiv shot over the crossbar from the edge of the area.
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Harry Medway led his team to victory at Plain Ham.
With 8 minutes left on the clock, Ryan Pennery, who has recently been on loan at AFC Portchester to aid his return from long-term injury, came on to replace two-goal hero Hisham Kasimu. Then, skipper Harry Medway won a free-kick inside his own half to allow his teammates to catch their breath.
Totton had their backs against the wall and were defending for dear life. They managed to get forward in the 86th minute, when Hoey knocked the ball down to Pennery and he found Ethan Taylor on the edge of the Larkhall penalty area, to the right of the D. Taylor got the ball on to his favoured left foot and let fly, his shot destined for the top-left corner. But Shaun Semmens dived full length and thrust his right hand up in time to divert the ball over for a corner. Totton only sent two players forward for the set-piece but when Larkhall inevitably got forward again, the Stags had men back to shut the door firmly in their faces.
For the last couple of minutes of normal time and well into a lengthy period of stoppage time, Larkhall lay siege upon the Totton goal with crosses raining in from either side. Medway and Jefford both headed several away as Totton stood firm, remaining compact in their own third of the field. Demkiv then sent a high one into the box, but Skrzyniarz caught it and stayed down, again.
Williams and Hoey were both able to buy free-kicks higher up the field to waste a few more precious seconds. Then, as time was rapidly running out, Medway headed out for a throw-in. Williams went back to defend and was soon heading clear from his own penalty area. Baker sent the ball back into the box, where it squirmed out to Hilland on the Larkhall right, as Totton rallied to get all hands on deck and throw their bodies in the way of anything they could. Britton’s shot was repelled and Pennery was able to scamper away, before becoming isolated upfield. Demkiv launched another one towards Lark heads but Ngalo turned it away. Left-back Alfie Clarke sent it in again but Jefford headed out for a Larkhall throw. And just as Demkiv was preparing to send the ball in once more, the referee’s whistle called an end to 8 minutes of injury time and confirmed a hard-fought win for the away side.
There was a post-match scuffle between several players from both sides, as the conflicting emotions of the afternoon got the better of some of them. But once everyone had been calmed down, the final score remained exactly the same with Totton overtaking Sholing with what proved to be the Stags’ game in-hand with the Boatmen’s match postponed, and staying in touch with leaders Frome Town, who also won today.
by Ben Rochey-Adams