A first visit, accompanied by my daughter, on a relatively warm, April evening, to Merland Rise, home of Banstead FC, of the Combined Counties Premier Division South.
Banstead Athletic came into the game still with an outside chance of escaping the relegation places, being eleven points behind AFC Croydon Athletic, who sit in 18th place, but with just twelve points available. Balham came into the game in 9th place with survival assured, but with no chance of making the promotion spaces.
Banstead have an average gate of just 56 this season. Merland Rise holds 1500 people at full capacity. The ground has a grandstand on one side and covered standing behind the goal. The clubhouse provides refreshment and there was a decent sized car park. The grass pitch does slope, quite considerably, towards the clubhouse end.
The floodlights are shared on mobile phone masts pitch side to give the ground a unique, almost industrial feel, enhanced further in that theme, with the side profile of the Tadworth leisure centre.
Tom Read has top scored for Balham this season with over 30 goals already. Unfortunately he wasn’t in the team tonight but that meant the game would possibly be closer and more open, than form suggested..
The match started according to form, when just ten minutes into the first half, Balham FC took the lead, with Andre Cruz Rosa volleying home a cross, from a free kick.
Shortly afterwards, the Banstead Athletic goalkeeper was forced to leave the pitch with an injury. The remainder of the first half saw Balham create chance after chance, but without success. At the interval the score remained 0-1 to the away side and there was a feeling of missed opportunities, that could yet haunt, the dominant Balham FC side.
After the break, Banstead came out like a new team and on 61 minutes drew level, with Brandon McCarthy heading home neatly, after a fine cross, from the left wing.
Balham came back into match and pushed the ball around well in the final third as they tried to re-establish their lead.
However, in the 83rd minute Banstead Athletic took the lead for the first time to go 2-1 up with a second goal for Brandon McCarthy, finishing clinically, on the edge of the six yard box.
The home team held out well to grab the three points, that theoretically keeps their chance of staying up alive. if Banstead Athletic can keep up the spirit and fight they showed tonight then anything is possible. Balham FC left knowing they had done enough to win tonight’s game, however an inability to finish off the match, when they were in the ascendency, early on, came back to bite them.