And so the big day arrived – we had spoken all week about the game that would decide this season’s First Division title. Polytechnic FC has won the title for the last three seasons and they are a formidable side but the Bluebloods beat them at Twisted Peak and, frankly, management confidence was running very high. A point would do the job but this didn’t enter our psyche – we wanted all three points and were hell bent on getting them.
As usual we travelled by train and the boys were in top form – there was no sign of any pre match nerves. All 15 players knew that just a draw would land us the title but not one word was spoken about the 90 minutes that lay ahead. Fozzie had opted to take 15 to the Quintin Hogg Memorial Ground in Chiswick. Connor Byrne came through his fitness test and Charlie Kallas missed out. There were no moans from Old Ripped Jeans – he did as much work as anybody else in the warm up as retiring coach Adam “Brutus” Wadey put the boys through their paces.
The Manager made it perfectly clear that we were here to score goals – our defence has been the cornerstone of many of our wins this season but we usually make enough chances to score many more goals than we have done. Today we knew that we had to put this right.
The Poly Manager, Geoff Brown, said to me recently that my Match Reports were a bit one sided – “you always say you should have scored five or six instead of two or three.”
My reply was “I only report what I see.” Nobody can deny that we make chance after chance but we all realise that it’s very hard to convert even half of them never mind the 31% that we have achieved to-date. Unfortunately for Geoff and his boys we upped our conversion rate on Saturday to almost 50% and the Blueblood Army sang themselves hoarse.
I didn’t feel any tension amongst the squad during the warm up and the sight of Marching Bluebloods entering the ground at the railway end made the boys even more determined to win the game. The flags waved, the klaxons roared, the “Wickham Ranger” resounded across the fields – Neil Linter was in top form as the boys headed for the bar. There were men, women, children and babies in the tribe which illustrates how important West Wickham Football Club is to the local community. They had come to see if they could make “a difference” and they did.
There was a strong breeze blowing down the pitch and it was in Wickham’s favour as the game kicked off.
We have pace galore in the squad and Sam Murray is electric – he gave Polytechnic a big shock after only 4 minutes. Their keeper decided to throw the ball out to his centre back who didn’t really look fit to me. He was on the edge of the penalty area and the wind held the ball up a bit – he tried to get it back to the keeper but Muzza flashed into action and blocked the attempted clearance into the net. The Army invaded the pitch but referee Andreas Demetriades quickly restored the status quo – Andeas had another great game that’s three that he has officiated in this season and he has been in full control in all of them.
The noise was deafening as the game restarted with Polytechnic soon showing what a big strong outfit they are. Both sides were fighting fiercely for midfield domination – tackles flew in and the aerial duels were absorbing. The home side had a height advantage but our back four of Doyle, Williams, Freeman and Askew are all good in the sky and both Ollie Clark and Joe Kelly compete for high balls with a high success rate.
Polytechnic were the better side as they mastered the bumpy surface quicker than Wickham but they couldn’t find their way past our defence which was superbly marshalled by Adam Freeman. Consequently, they never had a dangerous shot at goal and John Chisholm, once again, only had routine work to deal with. At the other end we had a couple of isolated breakaways but we were happy to go in at half time with our lead intact.
The second half was a completely different kettle of fish. We were kicking against the breeze but it had dropped noticeably and the pace and drive of Josh Tutt, Sam Murray and Josh Kennedy sliced through the home defence at will.
Muzza scored a brilliant goal soon after the restart – Joe Walby played a defence splitting pass into the right hand side of the Poly penalty area and Sam was on it in a shot. He calmly stroked the ball into the net and the Army went barmy again.
The third goal was almost immediate – Josh Kennedy and Joe Kelly passed their way through a static home defence – Kells played the final ball to Josh Tutt and Tutty doesn’t miss these chances.
Poly fought back and Chis had to punch away a long range free kick before they got back into the game with a neat header from a left wing cross.
The game looked safe and Manager Andy Foster withdrew Joe Walby and brought on another striker in Jamie James. JJ didn’t hang about – he drifted into the penalty area gave the ball to Jamie Askew on the left wing -- Jamie delivered an inch perfect centre for JJ to score number four with a fierce header.
Kelly and Clarke had hardly lost a tackle all game and they were splitting the home defence apart at will. It was no surprise when Kelly laid on an easy chance for Josh Tutt to score his second and our fifth.
Fozzie brought on Charlie McGeary for Josh Tutt and Connor Byrne for Josh Kennedy. They fitted seamlessly into the side – we worked hard for a sixth as both the subs wanted a goal but it ended 5 – 1. And, Geoff – it could have been more.
This was a very mature performance by a young side – we still have three very experienced players in skipper Jamie Askew, centre back Adam Freeman and striker Jamie James and they are invaluable to the club but the rest of the squad are relatively inexperienced in this league so the future looks bright.
Its goodbye though to Geoff Brown, the Polytechnic Manager and his Assistant Jip (thanks for the jug Jip) – you have produced an excellent side over the past 5 seasons and have won plenty of Cups and League titles so well done to both of you.
And The Blueblood Army? – they marched through Saturday night – they marched again on Sunday afternoon and they are marching as I speak. They made a huge difference and the boys thank you for helping them over the line. Take a bow Joe Ivory, Chris Tookey, Chris Hall, Joe Kemp and all the other organisers.
I have struggled to pick a Man of the Match and most of the fans plumped for Muzza. Jack Doyle, Mark Williams, Adam Freeman and Jay Askew were all brilliant in the first half when Polytechnic were asking all the questions – these four had all the answers and built us a platform from which to win the match. The midfield of Ollie Clarke, Joe Kelly and Joe Walby are skilful and determined and their fitness shone through as the game progressed. And you know that either Sam Murray (24 goals this season), Josh Tutt (12), Josh Kennedy (12), Joe Walby (9) and Jamie James (8) are going to score a few goals between them in every game. All three of today’s remaining squad members Connor Byrne, Charlie McGeary and Charlie Kallas are also regular scorers so we have enviable firepower. I’d like to mention keeper John Chisholm more in my Match Reports but he’s been virtually unemployed in most games conceding only 22 goals all season – top work Chis.
And Man of the Match went to ---The Squad, The Manager and the Blueblood Marching Army.
Thanks to the Polytechnic boys who took their defeat with good grace.