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Tuesday 02 August 2022

AFC TOTTON                                             0

SOUTHAMPTON                                      1
Rylee WRIGHT 5mins

AFC Totton completed their pre-season campaign ahead of the new Southern League Div.1 South season with a competitive work out against a Southampton XI packed with highly-rated young talent at the Snows Stadium yesterday evening (Tuesday).

In an evenly-matched encounter that was, at times, full of end-to-end attacking football and combative midfield tussling, it was ultimately an early mistake by the home side that made the difference.

Lewis Noice continued in goal, having made his first start of pre-season in the previous match against Basingstoke Town. Harry Medway returned to the starting line-up, on the left side of the defence. Jack Masterton made his first start since January, replacing Mike Carter in midfield. Youngster Brenno Narezzi was named among the substitutes.

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LET'S DO THIS: Luke Hallett and Ethan Taylor take to the Snows Stadium pitch ahead of AFC Totton's pre-season friendly with Southampton.

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

1.  Lewis NOICE
2.  Callum BAUGHAN
3.  Harry MEDWAY
4.  Adam TOMASSO
5.  Charlie KENNEDY
6.  Luke HALLETT
7.  Jake ADAMS
10.  Scott RENDELL
11.  Ethan TAYLOR

12.  Lloyd THOMAS
14.  Brett WILLIAMS
15.  Yemi ODUBADE
17.  Pascal KPOHOMOUH
18.  Enrique RUSSELL
19.  Brenno NAREZZI

Both teams took to the pitch on a cool but bright summer’s evening wearing their respective home kits, the Saints in their brand new mainly white number with a thick red stripe down the middle of the front of the shirt, with black shorts and white socks. And within five minutes of the kick-off, the visitors were ahead. A slip by Totton centre-back Charlie Kennedy in possession allowed the ball to be claimed in midfield and slipped into the feet of Rylee WRIGHT inside the Stags’ penalty area to the right of goal, his shot beating Lewis Noice at the near post.

Totton tried to hit back straight away. Harry Medway picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the Saints box and crossed to the far post where Scott Rendell met it with a firm header. Saints goalkeeper Matt Hall - a one-time AFC Totton loanee and an opponent at the Snows Stadium last season when he kept goal for Melksham Town - made a solid catch.

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HERE IT COMES: Harry Medway prepares to cross the ball from Totton's left flank.

But buoyed by their early advantage, the Saints were soon on the hunt for more goals. Kennedy was given the chance to redeem himself for his earlier error by throwing his body in the way of a Jake Vokins shot, after the left-back had driven infield from the touchline, before Ryan Finnigan pulled his follow-up shot too far to the left.

Wright, wearing the No.10 shirt for the Saints, and Zuriel Outseh-Taiwo frequently looked for each other when attacking down their right flank, with full-back Kayne Ramsay charging forward on the overlap to pose multiple problems for Medway and Jack Masterton, with Ethan Taylor and even striker Jireh Oyebamiji having to track back to help stem the tide.

The busy Kennedy was involved again on 18 minutes when the Stags lost possession in the centre-circle and their opponents quickly swept the ball out to their left wing. The former Salisbury skipper cleared the cross away but as Saints regained the ball, he was drawn into committing a foul just outside the area, to the left of the D. Finnigan struck a low shot through the defensive wall, Noice getting his body behind it and holding onto the ball inside his 6-yard box.

A loose pass from defence by Southampton’s Ramsay presented Taylor with the chance to try to lob Hall from close to the half-way line, but his attempt drifted wide of the left-hand upright. Nevertheless, it drew enthusiastic applause from the bumper crowd of around 500 at the sheer audacity of the attempt.

Jireh Oyebamiji was pulled back by defender Leon Pambou in the 26th minute, as he tried to run onto Noice’s long kick into the inside-right channel. From the resulting free-kick, Jake Adams delivered a high, dipping cross to the far side where Medway got free but the Stags defender couldn’t get any direction on his header which flew well wide to the right.

A smart overlapping run by Ramsay provided enough room for Outseh-Taiwo to cross towards the near post from the right flank. Wright took a touch and drove in a snapshot that flashed wide of Noice’s left-hand post. Then, Totton came within a whisker of equalising when Oyebamiji chased an up-and-under, sliding in to challenge goalkeeper Hall to a 50-50. The ball squirmed out from under and behind Hall to where Adams was the first to pick it up, shooting from a tight angle near the byline, only to see his effort headed off the line by Will Tizzard. Adams retrieved the ball, with white shirts quickly filling up the box, so he chipped to the centre where Kennedy was steaming in, his header coming off a defender and flying over the bar for a corner that Totton did not capitalise upon.

Jireh Oyebamiji-1_AFC Totton vs Southampton_Pre-Season Friendly-8_Tue02Aug2022.jpg
ON THE STRETCH: Jireh Oyebamiji reaches for the ball as former AFC Totton loanee goalkeeper Matt Hall comes out to close him down.

At the other end, a Saints short corner routine caught out Callum Baughan, the cross deflecting off another defender and carrying to the far post where Pambou’s header was dealt with by Noice.

Medway had to chase back into his left-back area to close down the lively Outseh-Taiwo, whose cross to the near post was turned away by Kennedy. Then, Wright and Outseh-Taiwo linked up again to create space for a cross, which flicked off Medway’s inside leg and flashed narrowly wide of the far post.

A few minutes later, Tizzard chipped the ball forward from the centre-circle to the right of the penalty spot, where Will Ferry brought the ball down with an immaculate first touch, stepped away from Medway but then skewed his shot wide of the near post.

A Medway clearance down the left flank was flicked on by Oyebamiji into the centre where Taylor was able to bring the ball under control, before passing into the path of Adams who trod on the ball while surrounded by three Saints players, enabling them to quickly snuff out the chance.

Jack Masterton earned deserved applause from the Snows Stadium faithful with two strong challenges in quick succession to halt Wright’s progress down the Saints right flank. But from the resulting throw-in, Jeremi Rodriguez was able to wriggle himself enough room among a cluster of blue shirts to scoop out a left-footed curler from outside the box, for which Noice had to display alert reflexes to turn over the crossbar. Saints took the corner short from their left, and as they tried to work their way infield, they claimed Baughan had used his arm to intervene. The Referee wasn’t interested.

Taylor got the ball stuck under his feet as he tussled with Wright mid-way inside the Totton half, the Saints player coming away with it and laying off to Ferry, who tested Noice again with a high curling shot that threatened to drop in at the far post, the Stags keeper proving equal to the test once more.

Just as the match was settling into a period of calm before half-time, Southampton surged forward, forcing Noice to punch the ball away under pressure. And as Totton countered, Oyebamiji was taken down near the half-way line, for which Will Tizzard was shown the game’s first yellow card. Adams took the free-kick, aiming the ball high to the far side where Luke Hallett leapt well and headed back across goal towards Rendell, but Matt Hall grabbed the ball off the veteran centre-forward’s forehead.

AFC TOTTON                                                0
SOUTHAMPTON                                         1

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THRUST INTO THE ACTION: Second-half substitute Lewis Waterfield takes on Saints defender Leon Pambou on the Totton left wing.

Lewis Waterfield and Pascal Kpohomouh both entered the fray for the second-half, with Jack Masterton and Callum Baughan being withdrawn by manager Jimmy Ball. The Saints sent on imposing central defender Nico Lawrence in place of the already-cautioned Will Tizzard. Matt Hall made way in the Southampton goal for Ollie Wright.

Jake Adams used his strength well to shrug Outseh-Taiwo to the ground to retain possession near the centre-circle, before Waterfield was fouled. Rendell couldn’t connect with the high ball forward from the free-kick. Then, Oyebamiji almost managed to sneak in on goal when a blind back-header wrong-footed the Saints defence, but Pambou stood firm in the centre to prevent the former Forest Green Rovers striker getting his shot away.

When Adams lost the ball on the half-way line, he raced back into defence to harass the Saints back to half-way, to the audible approval of Jimmy Ball on the opposite touchline. Then, good footwork from Tommy-Lee Higgs carved out space among three Totton defenders, before he drilled his low shot wide of the left-hand post.

The game had to be stopped on 67 minutes when Ryan Finnigan came off worse from a foul he committed on Jireh Oyebamiji, near the AFC Totton dugout on Totton’s right-wing touchline. The young midfielder, who made his first team debut in an FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury Town in January, appeared to be in considerable discomfort and was eventually stretchered off the pitch by St. John’s Ambulance staff and Southampton physios. Jack Turner stepped off the bench to return the Saints to a full complement of XI. After a five-minute delay, Adams took the free-kick and Hallett nodded on but Ollie Wright claimed the ball inside his 6-yard box.

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HE'S BEHIND YOU: Ethan Taylor and Leon Pambou get ready for Panto Season.

Kayne Ramsay did well to get his head to Rendell’s lobbed pass, intended to release Adams into the inside-left channel for a clear run on the Saints goal. Soon after, Taylor picked up the ball in centre field and pushed it wide to Adams who then struck a perfectly-weighted forward pass into the path of Jireh Oyebamiji, who out-paced his marker to shoot across goal and narrowly wide of the far post. That proved to be Oyebamiji’s last major contribution to proceedings when he was replaced by Yemi Odubade.

Ollie Wright had to keep a close eye on Lewis Waterfield’s high cross from the right flank that dropped sharply onto the roof of his net. Then, Scott Rendell popped up to cause a series of problems for the Saints defence within the space of a few minutes, mainly with his ability to knock high balls down for the likes of Taylor and Waterfield to run onto.

As the match entered its last 15 minutes, Totton looked the stronger and fitter of the two sides, despite the considerably larger physical presence of many of the Saints players who found themselves pressed back into their own defensive third. The Stags moved the ball across the pitch quickly, looking for opportunities to test the Saints back line for weaknesses. But then Saints countered, and Noice had to race out of his penalty area to beat Rylee Wright to a long ball and clear Totton’s lines.

A Totton throw on the left found its way to Adams, who beat his man and crossed low into the 6-yard box, encouraging Pambou to take a wild swipe at the ball that almost sliced it into his own net, the ball going out for a corner on the Totton right. Taylor delivered a high in-swinger for which Pascal Kpohomouh jumped high but the defender made little or no contact with the ball and the chance went begging. Brett Williams then came on to replace Scott Rendell up front for the Stags.

Kennedy and Medway shut the door on one Saints attack from their right-hand side. Then, Hallett did well to get across quickly to prevent Ferry doing damage on the opposite flank. Noice caught Nico Lawrence’s header from a Rodriguez free-kick. Then, play had to be stopped to allow Pambou to receive treatment after he fell awkwardly on his left shoulder in a coming together with Brett Williams, at which point Jimmy Ball took the opportunity to send on Enrique Russell in place of Jake Adams.

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CLOSE ONE: Yemi Odubade nearly levelled the scores directly from a corner.

Play resumed with a contested drop-ball, which Kpohomouh poked forward for Taylor to latch onto near the right-wing byline. His cross carried beyond the penalty spot to Yemi Odubade on the left. He forced the ball down with his chest, his shot ricocheting off a defender for a corner on the Totton left. Odubade took it, sending over a high in-swinger which would have flown into the net but for Ollie Wright tipping over the crossbar.

Saints were penned back. Medway crossed from the left but Pambou flicked the ball away. Pascal Kpohomouh retrieved it on the right flank and centred for Enrique Russell, who was beaten to it by the hands of Ollie Wright.

Six minutes of injury time were indicated by the fourth official. Totton continued to work hard across the pitch, closing the Saints down in midfield while defending resolutely and getting forward frequently. Lawrence had to resort to upending Taylor to prevent him running onto Kpohomouh’s long punt. From the free-kick, Taylor sent an inviting in-swinger to around the penalty spot; once again, though, Kpohomouh was well-placed but couldn’t get a strong enough connection with the ball to trouble Ollie Wright in the Saints goal, in what proved to be the last chance of the match.

Jimmy Ball_AFC Totton Manager_August2022.jpg

In his post-match interview, Jimmy Ball (above) said:

“We understood coming into this one that we’d spend a lot of time without the ball, and it was a case of how well could we deal with that and still find ways to ask them difficult questions. They’re a very talented group of players with bags of ability, playing a high standard of academy football. They moved the ball quickly and with purpose, and they certainly tested us in several ways.

“But, one unfortunate mistake early in the game aside, I think we matched them. We were solid at the back, competitive in midfield and we found ways to cause them problems when we went forward. And the longer the game went on, the stronger we looked and the more joy we had in imposing our game on them. That’s a testament to our coaching staff who have been working these players for the last six weeks or so, steadily building them up throughout the pre-season campaign to get everyone to peak condition in time for the match against Bishop’s Cleeve on Saturday the 13th.

“I thought our players were brave on the ball. They were prepared to go toe-to-toe against quality opposition and they stuck to the plan in terms of the changes in tactical shape we discussed beforehand, should certain scenarios arise. I think Saints will come away from this knowing they’ve been in a game and been put to the test, to some extent. It was pleasing to see - just a shame we didn’t get the goal that our performance deserved, which I would have liked the players to come away with after putting in a good shift across the whole team. We’re ready to go, now. We’ll have the players in for more strength and conditioning work between now and Bishop’s Cleeve to keep them ticking over, but we’re where we need to be and, thankfully, we haven’t picked up any injuries along the way.

“On that note, I would like to wish Ryan Finnigan, the lad who had to be stretchered off during the second half for Saints, a full and speedy recovery from his injury. We don’t know at this point exactly how bad it is, but hopefully he’ll be back out on a football pitch soon.

“I want to thank the fans who have come to support us throughout pre-season. It means a lot to me and the players to have you all behind us and I’m really looking forward to getting properly underway on what I hope will be a positive season for this football club.”

NEXT UP: AFC TOTTON vs BISHOP’S CLEEVE  |  Southern League Div.1 South  |  Matchday 01  |  Snows Stadium  |  Saturday 13 August 2022  |  Kick-Off 3:00pm

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

By Ben Rochey-Adams

Images courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography

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