Sunday 22nd April 2012
By Patrice Mongelard
Below par Senior Vets slope to 3-1 defeat by Riverside Wanderers
Roger French was right to be wary of today’s game. In one of his idler moments during the week he had looked up Riverside Wanderers’ results and found that they were a much improved team this season. Our three relatively comfortable victories against them last season may well have induced some complacency on our part and we paid the price against a team that did a number on us today and took full home advantage – more on that later.
Even before the game had started Roger’s plans had begun to unravel. First two of our squad of 14 pulled out overnight (but we got a bonus in Colin Brazier’s availability – a birdie to offset a double bogey so to speak). Second Roger’s car would not start and I got the call whilst already on my way to the ground to return to Orpington to pick Roger up (reluctantly – joke !). I and my two passengers at the time had visions of Roger doing a Basil Fawlty impression with the reluctant automobile but instead found him sat outside his house, forlorn, subdued and apparently locked out by his family for their own protection (I made this up but it is not inconceivable), and reflecting on whether he should have spent 60 man hours during the week working on his substitutions policy. We made good time, once I ignored Roger’s directions to the ground, and all agreed this was a glorious day for football and golf.
You have to see the Riverside Wanderers pitch to believe your eyes and even then you are not quite sure how to commit it to memory: the word sloping seems woefully inadequate, and you could almost forget the undulations, great width, uneven bounce. However, the rural setting is quite charming and it is framed by a grassy bank on one side and a children’s playground on another and you get a sense that it is a focal point for the local community. The family theme was completed by a large number of young and old supporters for the home team and I was certainly impressed by their preparations for the game. Whilst we verged on the over-casual their large squad was drilled by their entourage – manager, coach, physio, personal trainer, kitman, psychologist to name but a few. OK I might be exaggerating a bit but it felt that way and it was clear they meant business.
The Farnborough line-up consisted of Gary Fentiman in goal; Ian Coles, Chris Webb, Roger French and Patrice Mongelard in defence; Ian Shoebridge, Nick Waller, Sinisa Gracanin and Rob Lipscomb in midfield; Andy Faulks and Paul Smith in attack. George Kleanthous, and an unexpected but welcome Colin Brazier completed the team.
Andy Faulks lost the toss and we found ourselves playing with the slope though it did not feel that way in the first quarter of an hour as we had to weather a lot of pressure from the home team who hit the bar in the early stages. Gradually we began to impose ourselves on the game and passed the ball more, and gave the Riverside defence something to think about. Yet the first goal was Riverside’s and it was a strange one – against the run of play a little, a cross from the right was made to look very good by Gary Fentiman as he sought, in splendid isolation, to palm it away or over the bar and only succeeded in deflecting it into our net. This was a wake-up call but we missed good chances to equalise – namely two good headers in the six-yard box and Andy Faulks failed to convert a one-to-one. Soon after, the languid referee awarded a penalty to the home side. A headed back pass from Chris Webb fell short and Gary Fentiman was beaten to the ball by a Riverside forward - the ball had gone wide and a long way when the two players came together but the penalty stood. It was not converted. Games between our two teams are usually played in a very good spirit. There was one discordant moment though when in the immediate aftermath of this missed penalty a frustrated Riverside player caused a bit of an altercation after he thought he’d heard Gary Fentiman remark on his striking resemblance to a part of the male anatomy. But this was sorted out quickly and there no further unpleasantness for the whole of the game.
We got back in the game with a smart finish from Paul Smith who had sprung the offside trap. Colin Brazier came on for Roger French and gave us more momentum down our left. I think even Riverside would concede that we finished the half the stronger and were unlucky not to have gone in ahead by half-time. They would though have taken comfort from knowing that the slope would be with them in the second half. Yet for the first ten minutes of that half we looked more likely to score. George Kleanthous had come on for Paul Smith and was linking well with Andy Faulks and Ian Shoebridge and Rob Lipscomb to pose a threat to the Riverside defence. Andy Faulks had a shot cleared off the line and he also got through from a long ball over the top but pushed the ball wide of the oncoming keeper – got a nudge but stayed on his feet when a bit of an “Ashley Young” would surely have tested the referee’s bond with the home side. Apart from a few corners which Ian Shoebridge put too close to the keeper we did not really create any other goal opportunity until late when Nick Waller (who had gone off and come back to replace an injured Sinisa Gracanin within ten minutes) hit a delightful volley that sailed very close to the top corner. But the Riverside defence and keeper stood strong, providing a platform for their team to go down the hill so to speak and press home their advantage.
The action was mainly at the other end where Gary Fentiman earned the appreciation of both teams with a string of stunning saves from close range to keep us in it. I for one could not help reflect what a difference it makes to have a real keeper in goal (and not the pale imitation in our last game). Gary certainly deserved better than today’s scoreline. He was finally undone with about fifteen minutes left with a bit of a scrappy goal from close range as the canny Riverside forward with a low centre of gravity managed to squeeze the ball through Colin Brazier’s legs and below Gary’s body and it trickled over the line to the delight of the massed home support. With five minutes left Riverside applied a final bit of gloss with an emphatic finish from three yards out as we failed to clear the ball, to make it 3-1.
And that was it. We cannot complain. The team that wanted it more and had prepared better won it. I recognised a few faces from last time, noted the presence of some young looking vets particularly at left back and wide midfield, but have to accept we lost to a better team today. The return game in two weeks at our place is eagerly anticipated.
The après-match hospitality in the Castle Hotel was friendly as ever, warm and copious as Patrice Mongelard won the race to eat one hundred samosas, spring rolls and pastry parcels tied with seaweed – or so would some of his team mates have you believe.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman - almost unanimously, despite providing an assist for the first goal, giving away a penalty but, it needs to be said, for making three or four “world classies”.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman