Having watched an exciting cup tie last night I came today to see a game in what regular readers know is one of my favourite leagues, the Southern Counties East Football League (SCEFL) Division 1. There is always honest football played at this level (6 of the National League system) and usually a lot of goals to be seen.
A month ago I had watched Larkfield & New Hythe, beaten play off finalists last year and much fancied, by many, to be champions this time around, at the start of the season, secure a hard fought point at local neighbours Snodland Town. I was impressed by the way they played and thought they were good value for their pre-season rating.
Since then, manager Kris Browning has seen his side have some mixed performances, losing at home to Faversham Strike Force and FC Elmstead, whilst winning 5-0 at home against league newcomers, Bermondsey Town. The league however is very competitive this year and 10 points from a possible 18, still leaves Larkfield & New Hythe in fourth place, although they will know they have to shore up defensively and avoid errors to gain the points they will need this season to ensure promotion. A real plus has been the start made by striker Tarik Ibrahim, who has three goals already from his opening 6 games.
Tooting Bec have had a harder opening to the season, losing away to leaders Lydd Town, and second place Rochester United. However they have also secured points against Meridian VP and Croydon in hard fought draws, as well as comprehensively beating Bermondsey Town away. Manager Matt Hancock (not that one!!) knew that a win against a side with the quality of Larkfield & New Hythe today, would signify his team’s intent to push into the play off places and beyond, this season.
Tooting Bec CC moved to the High Road Stadium to ground share with Chipstead FC of the Isthmian League (South Central Division) in the summer, having previously been based at the Imperial Fields Stadium, the home of Tooting & Mitchum United. The High Road ground has a capacity of 2000, with 150 seated and 200 covered. The clubhouse is welcoming and friendly and there was a decent refreshment stand. The pitch is grass and in good condition and the ground has good floodlighting.
The first half consisted of Tooting Bec playing pretty much a route one game, which did cause Larkfield & New Hythe some trouble in the first 20 minutes. The away team also found it difficult to get the ball from midfield through to their front line and made a series of unforced errors, which frustrated their vocal coaching team.
In the 40th minute Larkfield & New Hythe finally found a way through the defence and Luke Burdon found time to turn with the ball and fire it home to put the away side 0-1 ahead.
For the last five minutes of the half it was Larkfield & New Hythe who piled on the pressure with Tarik Ibrahim finally finding space to cause problems. However no further goals were added and at the break it was still anybody’s match with the score remaining 0-1 to the away team.
The second half saw heavy Larkfield & New Hythe dominance but without being converted into a goal. Tooting’s Fraser was sin binned on 65 minutes for dissent. Rather than negatively affect his side, this seemed to spur them on to pull themselves back into the game.
In the 78th minute a penalty was given to Tooting Bec after a poor tackle in the area. Eoin Bolger converted it with ease to make it 1-1.
With two minutes of play left it looked as though Tooting Bec had come through to grab all three points when a long free kick was jabbed home by Matthew Stone.
This game still had another surprise when, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Larkfield & New Hythe’s Stuart West was able to slot the ball away, from close range after the ball broke to him in open play, in the final minute of the game.
The fact that both teams walked away with a point seemed the fairest outcome even though both sides felt like they lost the chance for all three points. Larkfield & New Hythe had so much dominance during the late first half and early second half that they should have capitalised and put the game out of reach. Tooting Bec will be wondering how, having clawed the goals required to lead with two minutes left, they failed to keep possession and close out the victory.