CITY were unlucky to lose this one, having contained their hosts extremely well at times and created enough chances to have scored at least once. As it was they were forced to rue their missed chances as Epsom and Ewell emerged with all three points and moved to joint top of the league with Guildford’s opponents of a few weeks ago, Bedfont Green.
This was a far from easy place to get to either from Guildford, or in my case, from Victoria Station. I allowed myself an hour and a half to get to the ground but was beaten by the idiosyncrasies of our wonderful transport network. Having bought my ticket to Tattenham Corner – the nearest station – I then realised that all the trains were running about 45 minutes late due to the sort of problems which seem to befall our trains on an almost daily basis. Jumping instead on a train to Epsom, I received a call from Dave Sendall to say neither he nor the student contingent could make it up because of a fatality on the line from Guildford, Mr Pegman having bailed out earlier in the day (perhaps with some sort of premonition of the sort of problems he was likely to encounter getting there!) Having got to Epsom and taken advice from Dave it seemed like an easy matter to jump on a bus. Wrong again! No buses seemed to be running out to Tadworth so in absolute exasperation and seeing a sign pointing in that direction I decided to walk there. Grabbing the obligatory kebab to keep me going I set off and walked and walked and walked until I got to Epsom racecourse. My long suffering girlfriend (who I managed to disturb in the middle of her dinner at home) then directed me in the right direction to Merland Rise.
After our 5-0 thumping I arrived at the game, about 10 minutes after kick off, expecting the home side to already be ahead. It was true that we had been a bit lucky, the Epsom striker, Robbie Burns having burst into the box on 7 minutes and hit the bar with a powerful shot from 12 yards. However we appeared to be so much more organised at the back with both Simon Sheppard (now filling the role of right back) and Martin Beard, the impressive centre half, doing well to contain most of the attacks. It was our makeshift right back who cleared a dangerous shot off the line around the ten minute mark and helped get the ball out of danger and from this point on City pushed on with real purpose. In the 21st minute came their first chance – a corner being won and a decent looking ball sent into the box. Completely unmarked, Beard should have done better with his header which curled inches wide of the post. Minutes later Guildford won a freekick on the edge of the box but instead of testing Paul Borg between the Epsom and Ewell sticks, the ball was sent pretty much into orbit!!
Back came the home side though beating the offside trap on the half hour mark and going through one on one with Jack Smelt. City’s impressive keeper held his ground, causing the E’s forward to hastily shoot wide. Minutes later Aneel Azeem went on the attack, as usual carving a swathe through the home side’s defenders and being brought down for a freekick which unfortunately came to nothing. City had to absorb more pressure in the 38th minute though – Simon Moore going through on goal but quickly being latched onto by the terrier-like Sheppard. As he got closer and closer to goal, it seemed the home side scoring was the most likely outcome but Moore somehow shot wide. Guildford must have taken on board their precarious hold on the game as they now put real pressure on the E’s and forged their best chance. As usual it was Aneel who supplied it, waltzing past his marker down the left wing, getting to the byline and then firing a slide-rule pass to John Hamsher on the edge of the box. The City assistant manager had time to control the ball and then fire a wonderful dipping shot which beat the keeper and smacked against the foot of the post before being cleared to safety. The remainder of the half belonged to the home side as they tried in vain to beat Guildford’s dogged rearguard – the final chance coming in added time when a good cross was put into the box and the forward swung his foot at the ball and missed!!
The whistle blew and myself, Tony, Paul and Shahid headed for the clubhouse and some welcome hospitality from the Epsom and Ewell committee – including some chocolate birthday cake! It was quite snug in the committee rooms but we had a good chat with the friendly backroom staff before once more heading back out for the second half. Tony had bought himself a hamburger and had quite a quantity of mustard round his face for most of the rest of the match – maybe I should have told him!
The game restarted and Guildford continued to be a thorn in the side for their hosts. Simon Sheppard, surely already the player of the season, worked his socks off playing as right wing back and in the 51st minute beat his marker before firing in a powerful shot which was well held by the keeper. The home side won a corner seven minutes later but again City’s defence worked hard to get the ball out of danger. Guildford’s best chance to get the goal their effort deserved came in the 62nd minute – Joe Loyza putting in an impressive performance up front and winning a throw in a dangerous position. The throw went back to Loyza who skilfully turned and fired a shot just inches wide of the far post, the keeper getting his fingertips to it as it went past. The resulting corner nearly went City’s way as well but the E’s defence were just too good for their visitors and cleared the ball to safety after a goalmouth scramble. The match now settled down a little – although both sides were unable to convert freekicks in good positions before Beard was rather harshly booked for appearing to go through the back of one of Epsom and Ewell’s players. Guildford were still putting their hosts under pressure with Aneel Azeem and Joe Loyza continuing to link up well down the left. It was so unfortunate that the only goal of the game came during one of these good attacking moves – City again going on the offensive but the move breaking down and possession passing to the E’s. To be fair the home side played some wonderful one touch football to get their goal – the ball being passed from the edge of their 18 yard box and out to the midfielders and then to Kyle Hough, the E’s striker, who rolled a pass to McLaughlin, making a supporting run down their right wing. He struck the ball first time and it smashed downwards off the bottom of the bar. With our hearts in out mouths we were praying someone would clear it but it wasn’t to be as Hough followed up with a cushion header into the back of the net.
From wondering if we would win this game, our thoughts now turned to whether we would capitulate as we have done so many times this season and lose 3 or 4 nil. Dave Tidy made a number of substitutions to try to get the much needed equaliser and City showed good spirit to prevent any further goals going in. In the 86th minute they won a freekick on the edge of the Epsom area which went behind for a corner – unfortunately the E’s defence were able to hoof the resulting set-piece to safety. The visitors were lucky not to be 2-0 down minutes later though, Ross Shoefield getting around his marker on the right wing and sending in a good cross which Jack Smelt couldn’t get his hands to and was which was met by Dale Marvell at the back post. A goal looked a certainty but somehow Smelt managed to get back into position and bravely block the shot for a corner. The clock was ticking down and City went on their last attack of the match – the ball being played through to Nathan Parkinson who ran with all his might to get to it. Paul Borg just got to it before him, but as he did Parkinson was deliberately (and blatantly) pushed by one of the E’s defenders whilst in the box. Tony was adamant this was a cast iron penalty, regardless of where the ball was but the ref who may or may not have had a good view of the incident waved play on and blew for fulltime a few moments later.
A disappointing result but Guildford’s performance was worthy of a point and should give them confidence ahead of their game against Badshot Lea on Saturday.
EPSOM & EWELL: P. Borg; A. McKay (sub J. Keys, 87); R. Webber; A. Rodrigues; C. West; R. Shoefield; G. McLaughlin; D. Marvell; R. Burns; K. Hough; S. Moore (sub B. Hayward, 61)
Subs not used: N. Harrowing; S. Sinclair
GUILDFORD CITY: J. Smelt; S. Sheppard; A. Arnold; A. Smillie; M. Beard; C. Moore; J. Hamsher (sub C. Saundercock, 90); L. Passmore; R. O’Sullivan (sub N. Parkinson, 82); J. Loyza; A. Azeem (sub Z. Hussain, 80)
Subs not used: N. Farquharson