GUILDFORD were good value for this draw against a side fairly walking the Combined Counties Premier Division this season. While they failed to perform at their best in the first half and were punished accordingly, City were magnificent in the second and could even have snatched all three points late on.
The first thought occupying supporters’ minds on the day of the match though was whether the game would take place at all. In between bouts of sunshine Surrey was being pummelled by hailstones, rain and a freezing gale. Matt Howell who had kindly agreed to drive up to Merstham spent much of the journey trying to ensure his car didn’t slide off the road!! Unlike at the abortive Whyteleafe match a month or so before however, commonsense triumphed and the two sides lined up for eagerly awaited showdown between the teams sitting first and second in the league. For Guildford it was chance both to gain revenge for the 1-0 ‘smash and grab’ raid at the Spectrum back in September and to remind the league leaders that there are still some pretty useful sides in the league they are imminently about to progress from.
The opening exchanges of the game set the scene for what was to come. Aneel Azeem (who was to terrorise the home defence throughout the match) was put through on goal in the opening minutes but was just unable to get to the ball before the defender. Meanwhile Merstham, using their pacey forwards were always dangerous on the attack and had the City defenders working flat out to contain them. The action remained even until the 26th minute when the home side had an excellent opportunity to open their account. A Merstham freekick on the edge of the City box was parried out by Gindre and fell to an opposition forward who inexplicably shot wide with the open goal at his mercy. The pressure on the visitors did not let up with the home side shooting over the bar a few minutes later and then forcing a corner from a superb cross into the box. In the 32nd minute they got the breakthrough they deserved – a powerful shot at close range was saved impressively by Gindre but the rebound fell to Nick Greenhouse who sent it back towards goal. The City keeper got his fingers to it but the ball rebounded in off the bar.
The omens were not good, however City were not throwing in the towel just yet. In the 39th minute Aneel Azeem collected an exquisite 30 yard cross field pass from Lee Allum and charged down the wing and into the box. Unable to progress any further he sent in a dangerous low cross but none of his team mates were there to convert it. Back came the home side, curling a shot just wide in the 41st minute, volleying over two minutes later and nearly putting a putting the ball into the net after Jay Gindre spilled a cross. The excitement continued right into stoppage time with Scott Cannie denied by a stunning save from Ian Chatfield, the Merstham keeper, after being put through on goal in the 46th minute and then Merstham hitting the post two minutes later.
Half time arrived and with it a welcome chance to get indoors and out of the freezing wind and occasional snow blizzards which had raked Moatside for long periods of the first half. The City fans had tried to make light of their (and the players’) plight by chanting such ditties as ‘Build a snowman over here’ and ‘frozen pitch? You’re having a laugh!’ (yet another reference to Whyteleafe!) Much amusement was gained from a dog which one of the supporters had brought to the game which seemed to love rolling in the snow and making more noise than all the home fans combined. Lofty meanwhile was becoming good friends with the Merstham keeper – I wouldn’t expect a Christmas card from him James!! The food from the clubhouse was excellent although any hope of eating it was dashed by standing next to the City Chairman (did Ian actually get to eat any of his chips Shahid?!!)
Back to the football anyway and Guildford set about their task in the second half with far more purpose – the endeavour spilling over into some of the challenges with Reece White booked in the 46th minute. Merstham were still dangerous and but for a great save by Gindre in the 54th minute could have made it 2-1. However they could do nothing about the equaliser 4 minutes later.
How fitting that it was Aneel Azeem that scored it – another jinking run down the wing and then a sublime shot from the edge of the box straight into the bottom corner of the net. To say his dad was pleased would be an understatement! But for a dangerous ball flashed across the face of the visitors’ goal in the 63rd minute, the next ten minutes belonged to City. Suddenly they were getting the control of midfield and the space to get into attacking positions and the possibility of a famous victory against the league leaders looked possible. In the 71st minute Aneel curled a freekick just over the post from the edge of the box – ‘it’s going in!’ yelled the City fans more in hope than expectation as they utilised the lid of a wheely bin to generate a right royal racket behind the Merstham goal. The pendulum then swung back towards the home side as they themselves won a freekick in a dangerous position in the 84th minute, however they were unable to convert it or (very fortunately) the cross which trickled across City’s open goal five minutes later!! Back once again came City in the first minute of stoppage time only to spurn a peach of a chance to win the game when Mark Tomlinson controlled the ball from a corner but caught it under his feet and could only scuff it at the keeper. The home side had time to win a corner at the other end but it came to nothing before the ref blew for fulltime.
GUILDFORD CITY: J. Gindre; S. Pothecary (sub A. Wylde, 90); P. Andrews; M. Tomlinson; B. McCoy; S. Cannie; A. Azeem; R. White; M. Mercer (sub D. Peltohaka, 45); B. Thorne; L. Allum.
Subs not used: L. Wye; S. Steele; D. Rice
MERSTHAM: I. Chatfield; J. Hill; R. Hill; C. Boulter; K. Malloy; C. Read; N. Greenhouse; M. Simmonds; K. Agyei (sub L. Wallace, 88); K. Lock (sub M. Morgan, 76); D. Smith.
Subs not used: J. Dale; P. Hudson; R. Davis