And, in the blink of an eye, football is back! Following a summer that has seen an influx of experienced, high level additions to an already talented squad at Church Road, our pre-season has gone incredibly well as we gel the ‘new’ with the ‘old’. Five wins and one draw against some formidable opposition, both home and away, gave us great encouragement for the season that lies ahead.
And so, we began with our first league game against FC Elmstead. A few key injuries to the visitors did our chances no harm as we immediately went on the front foot, putting their defence under a lot of pressure. The breakthrough came in the 16th minute, with Gus ‘Barnes’ Ward slotting home: 1-0. The rest of the half saw more pressure from us and occasional Elmstead counter attacks until the 38th minute, when new signing Taurean ‘Taurz’ Roberts finished well to make it 2-0.
Into the second half and it was more of the same: scintilating attacking play from us, with waves of attacks and the occasional counter attack from them. In the 65th minute, from a throw-in on the other side, Aaron ‘Azza’ Watson played the ball into Helge, who drove forward and laid the ball into Mike Hill on the edge of the box. Losing his man with trademark trickery, he returned it to Helge Orome in the box, whose beautifully weighted return flick pass found the onward rushing Hill again, who thumped it home. 3-0!
The next week saw us on our first – and likely to be our longest – away fixture of the season, as we took on the then league leaders Canterbury FC, boasting three wins in three and who are currently playing in Margate (a 150-mile round trip). Glorious sunshine welcomed us and the game got off to a great start as we created numerous chances. Then, completely against the run of play, the ball was played over our defence and fired into the box where it was met with some confusion, resulting in Canterbury slotting it home: 1-0.
More of the same for the rest of the first half, with some close offside decisions going against us and a number of half chances not being taken…until one was! Alton Leeward, with a trademark laser pass from the halfway line, found Ward out wide, who laid a ball across the edge of the box for that man Taurz to place it in the bottom corner. 1-1 at the break.
Just eight minutes into the re-start, and from their freekick into our box, we hit them on the break. The ball got played out to Taurz on the halfway line, whose first touch lost the two defenders. He drove it to an unmarked Azza who shot into the bottom corner: 1-2 to the Leafe. The rest of the second half saw us put on a show of silky play, much to the delight of the travelling fans. Canterbury applied more pressure as the half went on, but without really creating anything of note.
And then, in the 85th minute, our captain fractionally mistimed his tackle and was sent off for his second yellow of the afternoon. In truth, the sending off didn’t really alter the game: the 10 Leafe men continued to create chance after chance, sprinkled with some jaw-dropping skills. That was until the 99th minute (yes, these extended additions have also found their way down to non-league too) when Canterbury won a corner. A ball into the box found a Canterbury player, who tapped home past a stationary defence. 2-2, and scenes of utter jubilation from the home side.
Bizarrely, from a relatively comfortable afternoon, we now found ourselves asking the question, could Leafe hang on for a point? Putting the ball down on the spot, Taurz asked the ref, “how much longer?” “One minute” came the reply and Taurz charge dforward, much to the shock of the opposition. Spotting the run of the speedy Temi Alaka, he found him with a perfectly weighted pass, and Alaka drove into the box.
The ball hit a Canterbury player in the middle of a panicked defence and went in. Our ten men restored the lead in just nine seconds from the restart: utter jubilation from the Leafe army and the game finished 2-3 to AFC Whyteleafe.
The next week we were back on the road again, this time in the opening round of the FA Vase against high-flying Molesey FC. Injuries, suspensions and absences forced us into a new formation, with a number of players having to play out of position. Not a dissimilar story to the week before, we were comfortable for the first 20 minutes, and took a 1-0 lead. We then allowed Molesey two very weak goals against the run of play, going in at the break 1-2 down.
In the second half we made adjustments, moving some players into their recognised roles and taking back control of the game. We relentlessly attacked and produced two goals to win the game 2-3. We now face Steyning Town away in the next round, on the 23 September.
For our final game of this round-up, we took on Forest Hill Park at Church Road on the August bank holiday. The pre-match kids’ entertainment, including a bouncy castle, face painting and barbecue, ensured a large crowd for this one. FHP were certainly one of our bogey teams last season, taking just one point from them over two games and not registering a shot on target.
This time however, we created a host of chances against one of the best defensive teams in the league in the first half. Goalless? Yes. Boring? No. The crowd were entertained by some great attacking football from us and resolute, organised defending from them. In the second half, FHP offered little attacking threat, and it just became a question of whether we could break them down.
Well, the answer came in the 77th minute, as the fresh legs of Ward caused them problems down the left with his direct play. His tenacity led to the breakthrough: driving down the left into the box he somehow (through a melee of defenders) managed to get a ball across that was smashed into the top corner from close range by Temi Alaka. 1-0 to the Leafe, and that is how it ended.
Three wins out of three in the league and through to the next round of the FA Vase: on we march!
Dates to look out for at Church Road this month:
- 9 September Vs Faversham Strike Force
- 16 September Vs Thamesmead FC
- 30 September Vs Larkfield & New Hythe
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