CITY finally stuttered to their first home league win of the season in this thrilling 7-goal encounter between two sides near the bottom of the table. Cobham were comprehensively outplayed in the first half as City ran riot and missed as many nailed on chances as they scored. The second half was a different matter and Cobham deserve great credit for coming back from 3-1 and 4-1 down. Surprisingly the match turned on a dubious penalty awarded to the home side 10 minutes from the end – but for this the visitors may have grabbed an unlikely point.
After back-to-back thrashings in the preceding league matches against Molesey and Bookham, Dave Tidy had been clear that more new faces would feature in this ‘must win’ game – particularly at the back. He did not disappoint, bringing in four new faces to shore up City’s rickety defence. One of these was new keeper Jack Smelt who was to have a largely solid debut. The obvious advantage of this new addition was that Tidy could fulfil his role as manager without the distractions of goalkeeping.
City’s usual contingent of match day volunteers were in short supply for this encounter due to holidays and Christmas responsibilities. I therefore observed the match from the snack bar, frantically serving teas, coffees and lots of Bovril to one, clearly addicted, youth who must have had about 5 cups! Elsewhere Paul was running around trying to ensure all the pre match requirements were fulfilled while none other than Shahid, the City chairman, sat at the admissions booth selling tickets! Luckily all went smoothly, but rest assured ‘Moaning’ Tone, Eddie, Roz and Georgia you were all very much missed.
The sides lined up on the pitch – City in their famous red and white stripes and Cobham (aka ‘The Hammers’) in the horrendous luminous yellow shirts worn by Chelsea as a 2nd or 3rd strip last season. Both sides started well – City coming out of the blocks quickly and testing Peter Ruggles, the Cobham keeper with a dangerous cross . The Hammers then responded by winning a freekick on the corner of the Guildford penalty area in the 4th minute. Jack Smelt nearly started his City career in the worst possible way as the ball rebounded and was kicked at him at point blank range. Luckily he managed to hold the ball on the line (although the vocal Cobham fans were certain it had crossed the line). Three minutes later it was the home side who took the lead with a now customary superb piece of individual skill from Joe Loyza. The ball was taken down the left wing and then passed inside to Joe who beat his man, flicked the ball into the air and then stabbed it past the keeper. The visitors were not phased by this and forced a corner in the 10th minute, although this was blocked and Guildford again went on the attack. New boy Reece Wilson displayed some impressive skill to beat his marker in the 12th minute but his cross into the Hammers’ box was cleared. A minute later Sheppard made a blistering run down the left wing and forced a corner – Martin Beard heading narrowly wide from the resulting set piece. Back came Cobham though and eked out a half chance on the quarter hour mark – a freekick being won some 30 yards out and being pumped into the City box. Smelt opted to punch the ball out but it fell to a Cobham player who lofted the ball high into the box again. Luckily for City a defender was there to clear.
It seemed the visitors were starting to find their way back into the game but in the 16th minute they again fell prey to a City sucker-punch. Some skilful play down the Guildford left wing produced an excellent slide-rule pass which fell to the unmarked Matt Grave – he had all the time in the world to slot the ball past Ruggles and send the home fans into raptures. Now City had firm control of the game and they could and should have increased their lead 3 minutes later – Simon Sheppard being put through, beating the keeper but somehow missing the open goal. This profligacy gave Cobham renewed hope and they again ran at City, winning another freekick in the 23rd minute. The ball was put out for a corner from which a shot was curled over the bar by a Cobham player. Having survived this onslaught, Guildford then increased their lead – again it was Matt Grave with his name on the scoresheet as he picked up the ball on the left edge of the box and finished clinically past the Hammers’ keeper to make it 3-0. Cobham continued to show the sort of resilience which has enabled them to claim points against some of the league’s big hitters this season and in the 31st minute they really should have scored – their striker was put through but, with the keeper beaten, his shot cannoned off the post. Guildford continued to sit back, and with 7 minutes of the half remaining, the Hammers had another excellent chance, heading straight into the capable mits of Jack Smelt. The home side had one more chance before half time – Loyza going on another powerful run but being unable to produce any power on his shot, which dribbled to the Cobham keeper.
The halftime break was pandemonium as myself and Shahid kept the hoards at bay in the snack bar. By the end of the break we had sold pretty much every item of food and goodness knows how many cups of tea! Meanwhile, Ace DJ Ian Plested, on his Christmas break from university, was spinning some cool tunes (far cooler than my mix tape which is now a year old and getting a bit repetitive!) The question has to be raised though about whether Mr P is receiving money from record companies for what he says between songs – examples include ‘this track is taken from the Mercury Music Prize nominated album from the Zutons’ and ‘this Parisian duo are sure to be the next big thing’ – just make sure your football club gets a share of your commission Mr Plested!
Anyway, back to the match and Cobham demonstrated their belief that they could still get something from the game with an attacking triple substitution at half time. It was City however who should have scored when Simon Sheppard hit the bar with a powerful header after the home side won a corner in the 49th minute. The ball bounced vertically downwards, struck a defender but was cleared before it could ricochet into the net. Five minutes later Ruggles was called into action again, saving impressively from close range. The visitors clearly believed they could get back into the game however and began to put increasing amounts of pressure on City, despite some impressive performances from the Guildford back four – particularly new left back Darren Annon who seemed strong in the tackle and able to pass with composure. On the hour mark Guildford spurned another opportunity – Simon Sheppard volleying over – before the visitors again went on the attack. One of their players was put through and produced a powerful shot on goal which bounced off Jack Smelt and another Cobham player before going behind for a goal kick. The Hammers were not to be denied however and in the 62nd minute they got the goal their hard work had merited. Some good play down the visitors’ right wing enabled a dangerous cross to be put in which Mark Knight bundled over the line to reduce the deficit to two.
Now the jitters started for the home fans – too many times this season Guildford have let big leads slip due to complacency and wastefulness in front of goal. Mr Pegman, never one of life’s optimists, even started predicting an unlikely win for the visitors! As if anticipating some discomfort in the ranks, Dave Tidy himself tried some tactical substitutions, bringing on the ever solid Andy Wylde, Craig Moore and Aneel Azeem to add some extra pace up front and steel at the back. This did not stop Cobham from continuing to pose a threat however and there were great sighs of relief when a promising attack (started when Moore was dispossessed in the middle of the park) ended in the ball being put into the (notional) Row Z! At last Guildford started to recover their composure and should have scored in the 76th minute when a Martin Beard bullet header went straight to the keeper after some fine play down the City right wing. A minute later Matt Grave was put through after the home side had counter attacked. Grave beat the offside trap but his first touch was too heavy and the ball ran slightly away from him and towards the onrushing Peter Ruggles. The Cobham keeper seemed to get the ball before the City striker tripped over him but the ref pointed to the penalty spot, much to the dismay of the visiting supporters. Grave stepped up and completed his hat trick, drilling the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
If the home side thought this would kill off their opponents they were badly mistaken. Within two minutes of Grave’s goal, they pulled one back – Mark McKendrick taking a superb freekick which pretty much lobbed the Guildford keeper – although an optical illusion made it appear as if he had pushed the ball over the bar. The match now became an end-to-end affair with the home side forging some half chances and the visitors creating some excellent ones. In the 86th minute Smelt had to be on his toes to claim a very accurate header whilst at the other end Grave made some space for himself but with no support to convert his cross. Further drama followed just three minutes from the end of normal time – Lee Passmore apparently kicking a player in the face with a poorly timed tackle and being sent off.
The match was building to a crescendo and there were City fans with nails bitten almost to the quick despite the 2 goal cushion. First Aneel spurned a gold plated chance to finish the visitors off in the 90th minute, after being put through but yet again missing an open goal. A minute later he had another chance but chipped the ball over the bar after trying to lob the keeper. In the second of minute of stoppage time, the visitors raised the stakes yet again, making it 4-3, after the impressive Mark Knight was put through and easily beat the advancing Jack Smelt. We had no idea how much stoppage time would be played and a further two minutes elapsed before the ref blew his whistle and the home fans could finally celebrate.
GUILDFORD CITY: Jack Smelt; J. Hamsher; Darren Annon (sub A. Wylde, 74); L. Passmore; Antonie Simeone; M. Beard; A. Vine (sub A. Azeem, 70); Reece Wilson; M. Grave; J. Loyza; S. Sheppard (sub C. Moore, 70)
Sub not used: J. Whitaker
COBHAM: P. Ruggles; M. Leech (sub R. Wilson, 45); D. Andrews; R. Anderson; D. Rousell; J. Alcott (sub L. Taylor, 45); S. Rideout; T. Davis (sub N. McGregor, 45); M. Knight; C. McKay; M. McKendrick
Subs not used: J. Stevens; S. Day