VENUE: Oakfield Stadium, Eastern Way, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 7GU
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(Coach ticket only; match ticket separate - purchase on the gate)
ONE MONTH HAS PASSED since Melksham Town were on the wrong end of a 0-3 defeat at the Snows Stadium to an AFC Totton side still smarting from their own loss at Sholing, 11 days earlier. And Jimmy Ball’s team have recorded wins in every match since then, while midtable Melksham have continued to hold their own with three wins, one draw and one defeat.
Goals from Ethan Taylor, Charlie Davis and a stoppage-time belter from Benny Read saw The Stags to a comfortable home win on Saturday 18 February. The following weekend, Town got back to winning ways thanks to a late Luke Ballinger goal after they had allowed a two-goal lead to slip at home to bottom-of-the-table Slimbridge AFC, for whom creative midfielder Marley Thomas, absent through suspension against Totton this past weekend, had equalised on the hour mark.
Town followed up with a creditable 3-1 away win at Paulton Rovers, courtesy of goals from Aaron Witchell, Jay Malshanskyj and young winger, Albie Hopkins. Their interest in the Wiltshire Premier Shield was ended three days later, though, with a Tuesday night elimination at the hands of Westbury United at Melksham’s own Oakfield Stadium.
Malshanskyj and Hopkins were both on the scoresheet again when Melksham compounded relegation-threatened Cinderford Town’s fears of the drop with an emphatic 4-0 away win. And Hopkins registered his sixth league goal since the turn of the year to open the scoring in this past weekend’s eventual 2-2 draw at home to Evesham United.
That draw with The Robins leaves Melksham in eighth position in the Southern League Div.1 South table, having only suffered last month’s defeat to The Stags among their nine most recent league matches. They are still very much in contention for the Promotion Play-Offs, joining Evesham and Bashley in hot pursuit of Tavistock AFC in the last of the qualifying slots; should Wimborne Town’s 2-1 win over Willand Rovers on Saturday prove not to be enough to put a stop to The Magpies’ recent wobbles to renew their grip on fourth-place, the chasing pack may yet be playing for two play-off berths, assuming Hamworthy United are all but home and hosed.
November’s appointment of experienced manager Mark Collier to the Oakfield Stadium hot seat had already begun to show dividends prior to Melksham’s last meeting with The Stags, and the former Swindon Supermarine boss who took Chippenham Town into the National League South via the Southern Premier Division South title in 2016/17, will have learned a lot from that encounter.
FIRE AT WILL: Ethan Taylor lets fly during the Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round tie against Melksham Town at the Snows Stadium in August.
Of the last eight meetings between these two sides, dating back to 2001/02, The Stags have won six times with one draw and only that first encounter more than 20 years ago ending in a Melksham win. As well as last month’s 3-0 league victory, Totton ended Melksham’s involvement in this season’s Emirates FA Cup at the Preliminary Round stage with a win by the same scoreline in August. Scott Rendell put The Stags ahead on the stroke of half-time, before Ethan Taylor and substitute Jordan Ragguette rounded out a handsome home win. Totton recorded two 1-0 wins last season, with Hisham Kasimu scoring the winner at Oakfield and powerful midfielder Jordan Ngalo making the breakthrough in the midweek return match at the Snows Stadium with a long-range shot that went in off the left-hand post to beat on-loan Southampton goalkeeper, Matt Hall.
An eighth consecutive win in this season’s Southern League Div.1 South on Tuesday night will take AFC Totton to the top of the table for the first time throughout the campaign. The match will reduce The Stags’ number of games in-hand over rivals Sholing to three, still leaving Jimmy Ball’s men in control of their own destiny as far as the league title, automatic promotion and a potential league and cup treble for 2022/23 are concerned.
Last Thursday night’s win over Hamble Club means The Stags will get to defend the Southampton Senior Cup title they won last year at St. Mary’s Stadium against the winners of this week’s other Semi-Final between The Boatmen and Wessex League Premier Division side Hythe & Dibden at Romsey Town. And whoever wins the Southern League Div.1 South title will then go into a Champion of Champions Final against their counterparts from Southern League Div.1 Central. Runaway leaders Berkhamsted, who The Stags beat 2-1 at home in the Isuzu FA Trophy in September, are firm favourites to be the Central division’s representative in the showpiece match. The Comrades sit 18 points clear of second-placed Biggleswade with a game in-hand. There are only 19 teams in the Central division, so anything less than maximum points for Bedfordshire-based Biggleswade from now to the end of the season will hand the title to Berkhamsted – as would just two more wins for The Comrades.
By Ben Rochey-Adams and Malcolm Tombs, Club Historian
Image courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography