MATCH REPORTS - MAY
Saturday 22nd May - Tooting & Mitcham United 2 Erith Town 1
The Terrors moved into the semi-final of the London Senior Cup after seeing off Southern Counties East League side Erith Town, but it was anything but straightforward as the underdogs pushed us all the way at Imperial Fields and only a last-gasp goal saw us over the line.
With fans returning to the stadium for the first time in seven months, and a revenge mission in the air against the side who had eliminated us from this competition last season, there was a vibrant atmosphere on the banks of the Wandle as kick-off time approached.
With only the previous match in this competition, against Sporting Bengal three and a half weeks ago, to sate our competitive urges it was no wonder the Terrors looked rusty early on, and we struggled to get our usual passing game flowing. It was a young Erith team who seemed to settle better, and perhaps energised by the setting and a large crowd, looked like they may be a tough nut to crack. However Ahkeem Belford, as usual marshalling the defence so well, and Nathan Daly held firm in the centre of defence and their composure gradually radiated out to those around them.
Billy Brown, who joined us last summer with a reputation for pace and trickery, finally had a belated chance to show us what he could do and it was his emergence down the left flank that enabled us to start troubling the Dockers’ back line. With Dontai Stewart’s strength, and Daniel Williams’ pace also beginning to stretch the visitors it finally looked as if Tooting were waking up, and in the mood to do some damage.
It was Erith who fashioned the first real chance though, just past the twenty minute mark, when Jack White slipped an incisive pass to Sam Fairweather-Oates, who whipped in a dangerous cross; Jack Fenton got his head on it, but couldn’t get the power or direction he was looking for and the ball dropped comfortably wide of Gary Ross’ net.
Five minutes later, Tooting took the lead. Stewart was chopped down just inside the Erith half, but with Billy Brown pouncing on the loose ball the referee waved play on and Brown outpaced his marker to burst into the box, then foxed the defence and the home strikers by cutting the ball back, rather than square; thankfully, he’d spotted an onrushing Tom Jelley who gleefully struck home the half-volley to beat ex-Terror Nic Taylor in the visiting goal.
Four minutes later came Erith’s best chance of the half, when Fred Obasa cut in from the right and let fly with a thunderous effort, but it sailed just wide of the target.
The Terrors had an opportunity to extend their lead right on the stroke of half-time when Mark Waters headed a Dontai Stewart corner into the side netting when well placed but it was a slender lead to take into the break, with Erith suggesting they weren’t out of things yet.
HT : T&M 1 Erith 0
The second half began with Tooting in the ascendancy, and in the mood to put things to bed once and for all; Ahkeem Belford spotted Taylor off his line, and let rip from just inside the Erith half of the field. It had speed, and power, and looked like it was heading in but just cleared the top of the crossbar to the relief of the visitors. This set the tempo for a sustained spell of home pressure, culminating in a great chance to put daylight between the teams when Noah Kelo was bundled over in the area and referee Fabien le Houezec pointed to the spot. Tom Jelley stepped up to take it, looking for his second of the afternoon, but didn’t strike the ball as cleanly as he would have liked and Taylor got down to make a comfortable stop.
The visiting keeper, who has played International football for Montserrat, was enjoying a purple patch, and shortly afterwards thwarted another chance for the hosts when showing alertness to come off his line and throw himself at the feet of Daniel Williams just as the striker thought he was in for goal number two.
With Imperial Fields suddenly engulfed in a torrential downpour, it looked as though the game was going to peter out with no further scoring, as the minutes ticked down and both sides started to tire - understandable, given the lack of competitive action recently.
Then it exploded into life once more; Erith almost equalised from out of nowhere when Gary Ross came out for a routine clearance, slipped on the wet turf, and presented Obasa with a chance he didn’t expect; with a split second to think, and a only a narrow angle to aim at he was unable to make the most of the opportunity and skewed the ball into the side netting, but it enlivened Erith’s mood again and Ahkeem Belford had to be alert a minute later to snuff out another threatening attack with a perfectly timed sliding tackle.
With three minutes to go, Belford undermined his own fine performance when he inexplicably raised his arm in the penalty area as a cross came in; the ball struck it and it was as clear a penalty as you are ever likely to see. Fred Obasa took the spot-kick, Ross got down to his right and looked to have done enough to keep it out but despite the firm hand, the ball somehow managed to squirm away from him and trickle into the corner of the net.
1-1, and with time almost up it looked like the match was heading to a dreaded penalty shootout when in the last minute of the ninety, a free kick on the far side of the penalty area gave the Terror’s another chance of glory. Dontai Stewart curled the ball in, and amongst a melee in the six yard box, the ball somehow found its way into the net to the delight of the Bog End faithful just behind. Ahkeem Belford was in the thick of it, looking to make amends for his error at the other end, but Erith’s captain Taylor McDonagh looked to have got the decisive touch that carried the ball past his despairing keeper and gives Tooting the chance to end this most bizarre of seasons by lifting silverware at the end of it.
T&MU : Ross, Jelley, Hamlin, Waters, Daly, Belford, Brown (Brissett 74”), Coleman, Williams, Kelo (Clarke 83”), Stewart. SUBS NOT USED : Campbell, Ademiluyi, Filipe.