Time to analyse all things AFC Whyteleafe!
23 September saw our 14-game unbeaten run come to an end as we limped out of the FA Vase, but there’s nothing like a home league game to reset and get back into our groove!
We welcomed perennial title contenders Larkfield and Hythe to Church Road. The Kent team is the ultimate ‘box of chocolates’ side as you just never know what you are going to get. They started the game at breakneck speed, while we looked initially nervous (not surprising after last week’s defensive debacle). Chances came thick and fast for Larkfield, culminating withthem scoring three goals in five minutes from three calamitous errors at the back from us.
We somehow managed to shake off our shock and the fightback looked to be on as we began playing our trademark fast-flowing attacking football, grabbing two quick goals in the 43rd and 45th minutes and leaving our visitors in a state of disarray. After the break, Larkfield’s cute gamesmanship looked to kill our rhythm at every opportunity, leaving us wondering if their half-time team talk had consisted entirely of ‘I want everyone to roll around on the ground for as long as possible, for no reason’. This tactic worked, as the second-half became a drab non-event (in contrast to the excitement of the first). The game ended 2-3 and our 100% league record finished in bizarre fashion.
Next up, we were away to Staplehurst Monarchs. After two consecutive defeats and seven awful goals conceded, we rightfully went into this game anxiously. The return of Alfie Clark to our line-up gave us a much-needed boost at the back, however, and our set-up was much more defensive.
The first 10 minutes saw a number of chances falling to the home side. Leafe looked short on confidence and couldn’t establish a foothold in the game. In the 22nd minute, a Whyteleafe free kick was played to Mike Hill on the edge of the opposition box, where he appeared to be strongly barged from behind, hitting the deck. Staplehurst took the loose ball and hit a long, hopeful ball forward, reaching their striker on the edge of the box, who stuck it through our keeper’s legs. 1-0 Staplehurst.
The goal seemed to wake us up and three minutes later we got our first really good play. Their keeper played a short ball to his defender and some great closing down from us saw panic set into their defence. A mis-controlled touch saw Helge steal the ball and lay it off to Buruk, whose short pass was met by an Azza step-over and a speeding, unmarked Alaka on the wing, who fired a cross into the box for Hill to stick home. A beautiful team goal and another produced from pressing higher up the pitch. 1-1.
We then began looking like our normal selves as our confidence returned. Five minutes after the goal we took possession on the halfway line. Clark played a great ball forward to Watson, who charged forward down the left wing and hit a perfect pass to Hill, who laid it across the six-yard line for an onrushing Alaka to hit over from a few yards out. The first half finished 1-1 with Whyteleafe slowly but surely finding their way into the game.
Four minutes from the restart Azza was adjudged to have been fouled in the box. He casually shot the penalty into the bottom corner, sending the keeper the wrong way: 1-2 Leafe. As the second half progressed, Whyteleafe saw much more of the ball and it was then the turn of the hosts to struggle to get out of their own half.
The final 20 minutes saw Staplehurst apply more pressure as they looked for an equaliser, while the Leafe hit them on the counter, coming close to increasing the lead a few times. The game ended 1- 2 to us: three hard fought points and some confidence restored.
In midweek, we announced the signing of former Whyteleafe FC player Dami Olorunnisomo. The exciting full-back joins after spells at Glebe FC, Sevenoaks and a trial with Sheffield Wednesday last season.
On the 21st, we welcomed Bridon Ropes to Church Road. The South East London team has been struggling this season and were fourth from bottom when they visited us. A beating was on the cards and we duly obliged with a 7-1 victory, with hat-tricks for both Azza and man of the match Hill. The game deserves more words but unfortunately I was away for arguably our best performance of the season.
However, I did make it back in time for a Division 1 Cup game away to Tooting Bec: without question our worst performance of the season! We fielded a much-changed team for this one, with players rested, a few injuries and some old faces returning. The wet, damp afternoon was matched by a wet, damp performance, with recent Leafe departee Nile Waite coming back to haunt us with two goals and an assist. The first half saw us second best in everything with pedestrian performances from too many players, going in at the break 3-0 down. A marginal improvement in the second half saw both teams score, although our keeper was much busier than Tooting’s, as they also hit the crossbar twice! They scored four but it could have been eight or nine. The game ended 4-1.
A mixed month from us, though we still top the league and have only dropped three points all season.
Games to watch out for at Church Road in November: there will no doubt be fireworks on the 4th, as we ‘welcome’ local rivals Croydon FC, in what could turn out to be one of the games of the season. 7 November sees another local derby as we take on Lingfield U23s in the County Cup. Staplehurst Monarchs will be looking for revenge when they come to us on the 11th, and on the 25th we’ll be looking for a goalfest as we take on Meridian VP!
(Photo credit: Crayford Media)