Pre-Season round-up (part one)
Our pre-season preparations began on Saturday 1 July with a back-pitch friendly against Bagshot. The visitors, managed by one of our Academy coaches, Tony Hart - and sporting several players formerly associated with Tooting & Mitcham such as Kevin Turbi - came from behind to win the match 2-1. A young Terrors side, predominantly made up of current Academy students and hopeful trialists, gave a good account of themselves early on, and took a first-half lead through Hussein Siklawi before tiring towards the end, conceding two late goals. It was a useful exercise in shaking off the cobwebs ahead of more meaningful action.
The following Saturday saw Banstead Athletic visiting, and the team coming together somewhat with initial signings being announced beforehand. Tooting gave an impressive showing, scoring five goals through old favourite Sol Patterson-Bohner, an Alex Penfold penalty, and a hat-trick from Hussein Siklawi - a former Academy graduate returning to the club after briefly featuring for the first-team several seasons ago. There was some confusion as to the final score (!) with not many of those in attendance noticing a consolation goal for the visitors, but the official result was recorded as a 5-1 victory.
Three days later we entertained Glebe, and the visitors looked useful early on. However, keeper Tom Theobald made a couple of decent saves and the Terrors showed commendable patience to run out 2-0 victors with a second-half brace from Shay Brennan.
Our first test against higher level opposition came in the shape of Corinthian Casuals on Saturday 15 July and we rose to the occasion with a 3-1 triumph. The visitors boasted a couple of familiar faces in Jaiden Chang and Jordan Clarke, but were seen off with further goals from Siklawi and Brennan, along with youngster Adenipekun who rounded things off. Some positive signs were really starting to emerge now, such as the eye for goal displayed by Shay - prolific at Step 5 over the past few seasons - and the growing patience and maturity displayed by the team in general. When we didn't have the ball, we were very disciplined in waiting for the opposition to waste it; when we did have possession, we retained it well with some good off-the-ball movement and intelligent passing. The team-spirit on display, amongst a group still coming together, was another plus which augurs extremely well at this stage.
Raynes Park Vale were the next visitors on Tuesday 18 July, and oozed the confidence befitting of a team who have recently been promoted to the highest level in their history. Early on, they looked like they might overwhelm us (as they did in a similar fixture around twelve months ago); Tom Theobald made several good saves to keep them at bay and,
when they finally took the lead midway through the first-half it looked ominous. But the Terrors grew in confidence after the break, and we pinned them back for long periods, piling on the pressure which culminated in a deserved equaliser bagged by Marcus Whittaker ten minutes from time.
25.7.23 T&MU 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1
We moved into the main stadium for our highest-profile fixture of the pre-season campaign, and the players rose to the occasion as they stood toe-to-toe with two-levels higher south London rivals Dulwich, and were perhaps unlucky not to have come away with a victory.
What wasn't in doubt was the entertaining nature of the evening, with the match beautifully balanced in the second half as both sides looked for a winner; under these circumstances, maybe a draw was a fair result as we matched the visitors throughout.
The game exploded into life inside the first minute, when Marcus Whittaker belied his stature to run at his marker, and draw a foul midway inside the Dulwich half. Hussein Siklawi, so impressive in the opening matches, took the free-kick and curled an inch-perfect strike beyond the visiting keeper into the top corner, with not all members of the Terrors faithful yet in the ground!
We threatened to run riot in these opening stages and almost went further in front when Kieran Campbell shot just over after a nice build-up involving Hussein and Shay Brennan. Shay was looking particularly dangerous and eager to add to his already encouraging pre-season haul.
However, Dulwich found their feet, and began to come into it more as the half progressed, and we were grateful to Tom Theobald who tipped a looping header from Elliott Romain impressively over the bar.
It wasn't long before the visitors were on terms though, and just after the half-hour a neat passing move culminated in a low cross driven over by Sanchez Ming and Danny Mills netted with a classy volley.
Dulwich thought they had taken the lead just before the break when Mills headed home from Romain's cross, but the offside flag was up to deny them a second and the teams departed for the interval on level terms.
Dulwich tightened the screw in the first half of the second half, but the Terrors defence held firm and Theo distinguished himself with another fine save, turning a long-range effort superbly around the post. But we came out of our shell and created a few chances to win it in the latter stages; first, Shay latched on to a through-ball, found himself confronted by the keeper and a defender, and tried to be cute by outfoxing them both but his deft footwork was not rewarded by the finish which drifted agonisingly wide of the post. Then substitute Joel Drew seized on a loose pass from Ming and drove just wide from the edge of the box. Finally, it was another sub, Shawn Lyle, who sensed a moment of glory as he advanced onto a deeply flighted cross, but the keeper had read it well and got to the ball just before Shawn to deny him a last-minute winner.
Pre-season round-up (part two)
After our resumption of hostilities with our old rivals Dulwich Hamlet the previous Tuesday, we took on another local foe from times past four days later when we made the short journey to the Croydon Arena to participate in Croydon FC's seventieth birthday celebrations. With many activities taking place on site, the centrepiece was a friendly match between the two sides, with the uneven Arena pitch providing ample preparation for our FA Cup tie on a similar surface one week later. The hosts gave us a good workout, although the pitch did result in one or two knocks to both sides, with new skipper Alex Penfold leaving the fray early and doubtful for the following week's first competitive action (he didn't make it - Ed). Having hit the post with a header from a free-kick, we eventually ran out winners thanks to the only goal of the afternoon being driven home from close-range by speedy winger Marcus Whittaker who, as he demonstrated the following week also, can seemingly shine on any surface - no matter how dodgy.
Tuesday 1 August saw us return to the back pitch at Imperial Fields for our final pre-season workout against Westside FC. The starting eleven saw a few familiar faces rested as manager Jamie Byatt began to assess the depth of the squad that he is building. Although Westside triumphed 2-0 on the night, it wasn't a scoreline that completely reflected the balance of the game, as Tooting made most of the first-half running, only to fall behind midway through the half. Shawn Lyle headed just over the bar from Hussein Siklawi's corner early on, and had a second aerial chance not long after which he glanced wide of the target. Westside took the lead on twenty-five minutes when a neat passing move was calmly finished off and they almost doubled it minutes later when James Denison-Smith was forced into a fine goal-line clearance, but the flag was up in any case. Tooting put the visitors under pressure at the start of the second period, with Hussein floating a free-kick to the far post where a shot was deflected wide for a corner - the flag kick being subsequently headed just wide at the back post. There was an excellent curling effort from one of the home substitutes, which the visiting keeper did well to parry; the ball fell invitingly to Jayden Hutchings whose measured effort canoned back off the crossbar. Jayden limped from the action shortly afterwards, leaving him doubtful for Saturday (he also didn't make it - Ed), and after the referee had waved away a substantial Tooting claim for a penalty, Westside wrapped things up by hitting a nicely worked second goal on the break to seal their win.