Feeling good after the win against Farncombe United, Weysiders were again playing away, this time at Elstead. With many players not available for the fixture, one would think that a weakened side would be put out. Such is the availability for both the first team and the reserves that Russ Minns and Phil Ney were able to pick a strong squad for the match against top-of-the-table Elstead. Aaron Hennessy (currently on fine form) once again took position in goal, with a changed back line of Jack Gamble, Simon Stacey, Tas Makris and Bradley Goslin. The midfield comprised Kevin Wielocha, Tony Ney, Chris Murch and Ryan Sayers, with Dave Shilcock and Kevin Barrow up top. On the bench, very capable Liam Cox, original Gino (og) Raccuglia, Gino Valentino, Freddie Richards and Russell Minns were all ready to come on and give their all for the cause. A positive team talk in the changing room and the team went out to warm up and prepare for the game. With the match sheets completed, Phil Ney went off to find the ref. After much searching and confusion, neither he nor the officials from Elstead could find him. At 1:53 there was still no sign of the referee and much panic from the hosting club was going on. Phone calls not answered and league officials not able to be contacted left the Elstead manager getting on his bike and to head home … his wife and secretary of the club seemingly knowing someone who might be able to help at the last minute. Within five minutes he returned, informing us that a referee could step in and had officiated at a high level. The kick-off was confirmed for 2:15 and, lo and behold, at that time the game was ready to kick off. A large crowd of locals had gathered to offer their support to the home team and as far as football at this level goes it is good to see.
The game was kicked off by Weysiders and from the off we knew this was going to be a tough game. It didn't take long for Elstead to gain possession and begin an attack. Of the two teams, the home team definitely started brighter and with more menace. Elstead had some quick players and, although attempting to attack on their right-hand side, Brad Goslin was there each and every time with smart jockeying and important headers won time after time. Tirelessly Ryan Sayers did his best, running up and down the pitch, attacking and defending simultaneously. This soon paid dividends as Goslin intercepted a through ball and played it down the line. Sayers picked up the ball and attacked the opposing full-back. With a little bit of luck, the ball ricocheted from the attempted tackle and Sayers was able to dribble the ball to the goal line. As he tried to get either a shot or cross in, the pitch ran out and the ball was frustratingly out for a goal kick. The keeper took it and it was clear that this was not a strong point. A weak kick went straight to Dave Shilcock who played in Kev Barrow whose shot was narrowly high of the crossbar.
This had all begun to frustrate the home team who have probably had it all their way throughout the early stages of the season, but they knew today we would not roll over. The shot from Barrow was a short-lived high as Elstead attacked and brought a hat-trick of saves from Aaron Hennessy that we thought we would never see! First, a shot from distance looked like going into the top corner and somehow Hennessy got an outstretched hand to it, pushing the ball wide for a corner. From the corner came a headed shot and Hennessy was able to get down low and push the ball out for another corner. Again the inswinging corner was won with Goslin scrambling to clear the ball which found an Elstead player and Hennessy got low again to his opposite side and held onto the ball. Wow, what a burst from the home team and Weysiders were kept in the game by some excellent play at the back. The ball went wide again to Weysiders’ left and some great work from Goslin and Sayers allowed another attack from the visiting team, again agonisingly running out of pitch for Sayers to get a connection with. Another poor kick from the keeper fell to Shilcock who, seeing the run from Barrow, played him in for a shot and clearance for a throw-in. Goslin took the throw and the ball bounced up. The keeper could not handle it and fumbled the ball which fell to Barrow four yards out. The pressure was coming from north, east, south and west as the ball was struck. Leaning back, there was only one way the ball was going and it was high over the crossbar and a chance that all knew should have put Weysiders Reserves 1-0 up.
This riled Elstead and some dangerous challenges started flying in and some nasty late tackles were made. This normally might upset the visiting players but Weysiders were having none of it. Freddie Richards was getting ready to come on and Kevin Wielocha was first to make way to help support the right-hand side that was now being targeted. Gino Valentino was also warming up to come on up front, but with a nasty late challenge to Sayers, who took a hard knock to his ankle, a decision was made and Valentino came on, playing out of position to help the team, replacing Sayers on the left wing. The game went on and, after a substitution from Elstead, a ball was played through. The flag was raised quickly and although the ball was in the back of the net, it would not count. The whistle was blown and it was 0-0 at half-time.
There were some words of encouragement from the management to the players as really the Reserves were matching the opposition and defending well. A planned substitution was made with Barrow coming off to be replaced by Gino Raccuglia. At this point, Jack Gamble was unable to continue and again another player was asked to play out of position. This time is was Richards who dropped back to right-back and Liam Cox joined the game on the wing.
The second half kicked off and Weysiders started brightly with Chris Murch and Tony Ney winning the ball in midfield. The ball was played wide and Shilcock played in Valentino who shimmied and turned; the result – two feet to his shins and over he went. A disgusting challenge that could have easily put the young Spaniard in hospital. The referee was reluctant to give a card to his mates, although in any other game the offender would have been given his marching orders. He remained on the pitch. The free-kick was taken and was blasted high and wide. This, I am afraid, would set the narrative for the rest of the game. More and more late challenges were made with Elstead trying to intimidate the Reserves. With the never-give-up attitude of the team, this was not going to work.
Goslin was beginning to struggle with a previous groin problem and Russ Minns was preparing to come on at left-back. This would be a blow as Goslin was the best player on the pitch for Weysiders. The substitution was made and off limped Goslin. With the more than capable Minns as his replacement, there was little worry from the sideline. It was, however, not long until the deadlock was broken. With a burst down our right Richards got the ball and, as he went to clear, a horrendous challenge came in with no whistle from the referee. As Richards lay on the floor protecting the ball kick after kick was made to the Weysiders player, not only to the body but to his face. The ball unsurprisingly left his control and was played into the middle where the run of the Elstead player could not be picked up and he put the ball in the back of the net. Outrage from the management on the side as Richards had to wash the blood out of his mouth. Manic celebration from the home team would have had anyone convinced that they had just scored in the FA cup final. A compliment to the fight and resolve of Weysiders Reserves. The goal stood and it was 1-0 to Elstead.
Weysiders carried on with heads up and Raccuglia held the ball up well. As he turned to release the ball, another nasty challenge was put in and another dangerous free kick in Weysiders’ favour was given. Shilcock and Murch stood over the ball it was not sure who would have this one. Something different was tried with Murch laying the ball off to Shilcock and the ball was scuffed wide with no real threat.
It was a nice idea but never looked like it was going to work. The goal-kick was taken and play resumed. Ney won the ball in midfield and a kick to his ankle was the greeting. On he went with the ball to receive another kick and clear foul; “play to the whistle” he did and then the third challenge came him. This time Elstead came out with the ball and were frustrated with the decision as a hard tackle but winning tackle was made. This time, however, the ref blew up and gave a free kick to Elstead. The game was now leaving a bitter taste in the mouth with each foul missed by the official. Each time the ball was cleared from the defence Elstead’s Macca was there with an elbow and then a header. Minns was now coming off and although Goslin wanted to give it another go, there was no desire to injure him further. Sayers came on at left-back and, with Shilcock nursing his hamstring, Wielocha came on up top while Barrow was getting ready.
There was another foul, this time on Simon Stacey, and the captain was down in pain. After a little while, the game continued with Stacey limping and playing on. A ball played down the middle beat Tas Makris and Stacey, and the Elstead forward slotted in the goal despite Hennessy's attempt in the one-on-one situation. Again, wild celebrations from the home team. Cox came off for Barrow who went up top with Wielocha dropping back to the wing. Richards collected the ball and passed to Wielocha, who was crunched by the approaching player and lashed out, pushing the player. In most games that would have been that and Wielocha was booked, but the Elstead player continued to argue with Wielocha who ignored his advances.
The whistle was blown for full-time: 2-0 to Elstead. Bradley Goslin was Weysiders’ man of the match. It was a strange game and one to reflect on going into the next game.