Tuesday 27th April Tooting & Mitcham United 2 - Sporting Bengal 0
Competitive football made a welcome return to Imperial Fields on Tuesday evening, as we played host to an impressive Sporting Bengal side who pushed us all the way. Ultimately, however, the higher edge in quality and experience proved decisive and the Terrors duly move into the next round of the London Senior Cup, the only trophy left to play for in another truncated season.
Unfortunately, current government regulations preclude us from welcoming any spectators into the ground, and as such the match unfolded in a somewhat unconventional atmosphere but those inside certainly enjoyed what proved to be an entertaining encounter with the outcome in doubt right up until the referee blew his whistle for the final time that evening.
On paper this looked a straightforward task against lower level opponents, but the east Londoners belied their status by taking the game to the Terrors early on, and one or two of the visiting team caught the eye with some fancy footwork and nice passing as they showed they were not going to be overawed.
A strong Tooting line-up showed a few signs of rustiness,, this being a first outing of any significance since the Hallowe’en trip to Bognor Regis almost six months ago, but were soon into their stride with Ahkeem Belford showing the time away has not hindered his distribution as he sprayed some intelligent passes around the field from left-wing back. Linking up well with the pace of Jamarie Brissett, and the strength of Dontai Stewart it was the latter who had the first sniff of goal ten minutes in when he latched onto Tom Jelley’s through ball, but the Sporting defence charged his effort down.
Mark Waters, so impressive in the early part of the season, also looked eager to pick up where he had left off and released Daniel Williams for a run at the visitor’s defence just past the quarter-hour mark but once again the back-line showed they were alert to the task by snuffing out the danger.
The visiting number seven, Chaka Barnett, was looking impressive early on and showed a cool head to dispossess Brissett midway inside the Tooting half before releasing centre forward Joel Ramos for a run on goal but Nathan Daly read the situation well, and aborted the threat.
The Tooting passing game was beginning to gel, with Waters and Belford in particular impressive in their distribution, but the forwards were all too often thwarted by the linesman’s flag. It seemed a perfectly timed run could be the key to unlocking the stubborn opposition defence. Sporting, meanwhile, continued their disciplined approach and always looked dangerous when breaking in numbers and Gary Ross had to be alert to dive at the feet of Ramos after he was released by Mauricio Rimcon. A few minutes later, some nice interplay between the same duo was broken up well by Elijah Simpson tracking back, allowing Daryl Coleman to hook the ball clear.
Simpson and Brissett were beginning to link up well in attack but were still being thwarted by the massed ranks of the Sporting defence, who were protecting their keeper well.
Just before the half-hour mark, a weaving run from Rimcon saw him with a shooting opportunity from the edge of the area, and his curling effort looked to have been tipped over by Ross - though the referee thought differently and awarded a goal-kick.
This was the closest either side had come to opening the scoring, and seemed to spur the Terrors into life. Another fine ball out of defence from Belford released Simpson, but his shot was charged down as he attempted to work an opening, and then - finally - came the breakthrough.
Williams made a surging break down the right, and cut the ball back for Stewart on the edge of the area. For once, the defenders were slow to close him down and his curling effort found the back of the net giving Aires Ferreira in the visitor’s goal no chance to repel it. It was a goal worthy of breaking any deadlock, and was greeted as vociferously by those who had managed to find a vantage point on the hill outside the ground as by those lucky few within.
With tails up, the lead was doubled just three minutes later; Tom Jelley sent in a looping cross from the right and Williams connected sweetly with a beautiful stooping header to make it 2-0.
When Simpson showed good footwork, and an unselfish attitude moments later, the tie could have been put to bed as he laid the ball back for Waters who measured a shot that just cleared the bar. Had that been several inches lower, it would have been hard to see any way back for Sporting Bengal; but they showed they were still dangerous as half-time approached, when Ramos once again put in a shot from the edge of the box that Ross had to get down well to scramble around the post.
HT : T&MU 2 SPORTING BENGAL UTD. 0
The hosts began the second period on the front foot; just five minutes in, Jamarie Brissett once again made a surging run, shot from the edge of the area and forced Aires Ferreira into another good save. He couldn’t hold it though and the ball rebounded back to Brissett who fired another effort in. Ferreira was once again equal to it and tipped it over the bar.
Sporting Bengal soon showed they were in no mood to go down without a fight though, and Joel Ramos picked up where he left off in the first half by firing in another shot from distance which Ross had to be alert to gather.
Jake Rose, another whose impressive early season form was curtailed by the pandemic, replaced Elijah Simpson just after the hour mark and showed no sign of rustiness as he almost put Daniel Williams clear of the defence, Williams on this occasion was just unable to bring the ball under control which enabled the keeper to clear.
Although Sporting were enjoying a lot of possession, the Terror’s defence was keeping them at bay and restricting their shooting to long range efforts. Mauricio Rimcon tried another of these but once again, Ross saw it all the way and dealt with it comfortably.
As the game entered the final period, Brissett went on another run, and cut the ball back to Williams whose shot from the edge of the box just cleared the bar; shortly afterwards, Mark
Waters released Jamarie who squared again but this time Ruskin Choudhury just managed to get a toe in to prevent Williams from reaching it.
Any assumptions that the visitors had shot their bolt was soon dispelled, however, when another jinking run by Chaka Barnett saw him weave his way into the penalty area, and direct an effort toward the far post. It looked like it might just find its way in, but ended up trickling past the upright. Sporting were still dangerous, and a goal for them would ensure a nervy last ten minutes.
Returning substitute Mike Dixon, a veteran of the 2017 title winning side, made a break down the right but his cut back didn’t quite find Rose who had over-run it; he managed to retrieve it though, and looped a cross back in but the keeper did well to save at the feet of Dixon, and deny him a goal on his return to Imperial Fields.
Tooting stepped up the pressure once again in the last few minutes, and very nearly added another direct from a corner, but Lee Williams managed to head it off the goal line. A third would have been very harsh on the visitors who had given their all, but that looked to be the last scoring apportioning as we entered a fourth minute of stoppage time.
There was one final twist in the tale though, as Dino Diaz-Vaz scooped a ball over the home defence, and Tanvir Ahmed pounced on the opportunity to slot it past the keeper as Ross failed to block. The visitors had their reward from an impressive display, and had that come a few minutes earlier it could well have set the cat among the pigeons. However, play barely had time to re-start before the referee called a halt to the proceeedings, and Tooting advanced to a home tie with Leyton Orient - hopefully to be played in front of a crowd - in the next round.
T&MU : Ross, Jelley (Adjei 85”), Hamlin, Waters, Daly, Belford, Brissett, Coleman, Williams (Dixon 72”), Simpson (Rose 61”), Stewart.
SUBS NOT USED : Mbangui, Clarke.