Tonight looked on paper to be a truly enthralling match up between two of the Southern Counties East Football League (SCEFL) – Division 1’s most attractive sides. Tooting Bec are ground sharing with Chipstead FC at High Road this season and they play a side, in Larkfield & New Hythe, who have slipped from looking like likely champions only six weeks ago, to just scraping the 5th and final play off place.
Tooting Bec have come into form at just the right time, flying up the table to secure 2nd place behind champions, Snodland Town, with incredible results. The more regular reader may recall I came to see the home side defeat promotion rivals, Faversham Strike Force, to move into the play off spots last month. Since then the home team have beaten Larkfield & New Hythe, and champions, Snodland Town, as they appear to be hitting form at just the right time, securing second place to have home advantage in this play off semi final. Manager Matthew Hancock has seen goals come from across his side this season, with Alex Keating bagging seventeen goals and Alvin Turyatemba nine. Nathaniel Olawole also has four goals in six games since joining Tooting Bec, in the Spring
Larkfield & New Hythe may well have felt the pressure has come off as they go into the week of play offs that may well see them promoted for the first time to the SCEFL Premier Division. last year’s beaten play off finalists come into the fixtures this time as underdogs, and will be hoping to recapture their goal scoring form of earlier in the season, with Stuart West (6 goals), Daniel Lott (4 goals) and Brett Ince (4 goals) being their highest scorers in the season thus far, since Luke Burdon’s departure to play off rivals Lydd Town.
The first half was a typical cagey knock out fixture affair, with neither side being able to create clear cut chances. The pitch looked as though it had been left quite long and needed dressing, which seemed to make passing football hard. Tooting Bec looked the better side in the first half but at the break there really was very little to choose between the sides, in a game which increasingly looked like the opening goal would settle it.
In the second half there were chances for both sides and as the half progressed Tooting Bec’s Eddie M’Bango caused a real threat for the Larkfield & New Hythe defence. Larkfield & New Hythe’s Luke Leppard added fire to the midfield, after joining as a substitute. As the game went into the final ten minutes, it looked as if the away side had scored, but Tooting Bec’s defenders somehow combined to scoop the ball away, just as it seemed to be floating over the goal line.
At full time both teams realised that their season’s destiny was now dependent on penalties. Tooting Bec were asked to go first.
At the end it was Tooting Bec who progressed into the play off finals, with a home draw against Lydd Town on Saturday. Neither side deserved to lose tonight, but equally no one could deny the Tooting Bec players their right to be in the final, after some fantastic performances particularly across the second half of the season. Larkfield & New Hythe are a well backed and forward thinking club and while they will have been sorely disappointed tonight, I’m sure they will be in the mix for promotion next season.