Date: Saturday 23 January 2016
Venue: Cobham FC
Starting line-up: Gaz Stewart, Ryan Shedwick, Jonny Patterson, Marcus Torr, Pete Woodhead, Elliot Connolley, Chris Pyke, Martin Ansell, Tom Simmons, Oli Perkins (C), Harry Tulip
Subs: Alan Clarke, Oli Watkins, Luke Arnold
The Baby Blue Army arrived in leafy Cobham with a strong squad to face Surrey Elite league leaders Balham FC in a match-up that had previously been postponed due to torrential rain. Thankfully on this occasion the pitch at Cobham FC was ripe for a decent encounter.
Balham have been in terrific form this season maintaining an attractive and adaptable brand of possession football whilst scoring goals for fun. The youthful side emphatically dispatched Warlingham 9-0 the weekend before serving as an unnecessary reminder of the task ahead of the Cubans.
Cubo Manager Ben McGeown was unable to fulfill managerial and administrative duties on the day, instead pre-match battle cries were led by a combination of Watkins – Stewart – Perkins – Tulip – Shedders and anyone else who had something to say.
As with earlier fixtures, Balham’s chief threat was to come from pace on the wing – two wingers with gas to spare were supported by full-backs who continually bombed on.
Left-back Jonny Patterson dealt admirably with his opposite number although he did pick up a first half booking for a late tackle on the right winger who had earlier demonstrated the mismatch in pace by arriving first to a ball in the channel despite Popo having a good 15 yards head start!
At right-back, Shedders showed his experience to keep a lid on his opposite number who for one reason or another had a particularly short fuse on the day. The winger cleaned Shedders out after five minutes to receive an early yellow and was arguably lucky to stay on the pitch later in the game having kicked the ball away in frustration on two occasions once the ref’s whistle had gone.
Perkins, Tulip and Simmons took it in turns to track runs from a Balham defence keen to create overloads in the wide areas. Meanwhile the ever feisty Pyke was ably assisted by Ansell and El to win the first and second ball in the middle of the park, and to maintain pressure and disrupt the Balham skipper and deep lying play-maker who so often dictates play for the team.
In truth, 45 minutes of graft from the Cubans largely kept a lid on Balham. There was little to trouble the Cubo keeper Stewart aside from a speculative free-kick from the left hand channel which clipped the top of bar and some half chances that were spurned by a combination of wayward finishing from the usually prolific French striker and determined defending from centre back pairing Marcus and Pete.
The same levels of commitment were called for at the break and this was delivered in a breathless second 45 minutes with chances a plenty for both sides.
A little over five minutes into the half, Tulip lofted a lovely cross-field ball from the left wing to the far right of the penalty area to find Simmons in space 18 yards from goal. Simmo calmly took the ball on his chest and proceeded to lash a volley into the far top corner, the outstretched keeper just managing to touch the ball before it hit the back of the net. Take a bow Simmo! A sublime effort best illustrated by this goal from Argentine Maxi Rodriguez in the 2006 World Cup…
The goal spurred Balham into life, a sense of urgency returning to their play.
From here on out goalkeeper Stewart was to have a big say in proceedings through his general presence – taking crosses under pressure and commanding his box – but more importantly making three or more fine saves, one at point blank from 8 yards, when conceding seemed inevitable.
Cubo did well to withstand the pressure, and in doing so there were plenty of combative performances but none more so than Pykey who was clearly up for the contest.
This is not to say that Cubo were without opportunities to extend their lead.
Balham switched formation from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 with 25 minutes to go further increasing their attacking options but also leaving their back line exposed to a swift counter attack from the Cubo forward line. Tulip and Perkins continued to stretch the Balham defence pulling players into difficult positions, often beating their markers and thus creating chances for themselves and others. The best of these was perhaps late on when a deep cross to the far left was met by a Tulip head which skimmed the outside of the post. In fairness to Harry, he did manage a double step-over before getting his header away.
In the end grit, determination and hard-work from the first minute to last, coupled with some superb keeping and a tremendous finish, saw the boys in baby blue claim the double over a Balham side who are probably the most talented in the league and title favourites. With time Balham will undoubtedly become even better and will continue to court the attention of the professional clubs; there were three heavily clad Brentford boys in the stand, either they were scouts or massive FKW’s.
Man of the match: Gaz Stewart – the big gypsy Welshman kept Cubo in the game with some fantastic stops in the second-half.
View from the Opposition:
The game was a rare one in recent times where a number of good chances created weren’t taken. A lot of that was down to the AFC Cubo keeper who had an outstanding game however Balham left the field of play ruing their profligacy in front of the onion bag. It has to be said the winning goal scored early in the second half was an absolute beauty taken on the chest and volleyed into the far top corner from the edge of the box and credit must be given to Cubo who, when they have a strong team out, as they clearly did for this game, are formidable opponents. Although they came with a game plan that paid dividends Balham were in the ascendency for most of the ninety minutes though and only have themselves to blame for not turning the majority of territory, possession and chances created into goals.
Balham FC Team: Kuklinski, Fenlon, Herbert(capt), Charnock, Haire, Elbekri(capt), Benson, Archard, David, Wocial, Boncoeur Subs: Adebayo, Emmett, Fosse