Saturday 3rd April 2021

Finchampstead 2    Wraysbury Village  1

( B. Hart)

The Stags unbeaten run comes to an end at top of the league after late drama.

After 112 days without any competitive football, we were back in action in the Thames Valley Premier League, and what a game to get back to. Today we travelled to top of the league Finchampstead looking to keep our unbeaten season going, but we knew this wasn’t going to be all plane sailing. The majority of the squad were still feeling the after affects from Tuesday night’s friendly against Staines Lammas but still looking forward to getting the campaign started again.

We started with virtually the same 11 that began our last league game back in December with only Matty Andrews missing and replaced by Sam Sillah up top and there were spots on the bench for Alfie Fairhall, returning after suspension, and Dan Stock looking to get some minutes.

There was little in terms of clear-cut chances in the first half, the best for us came after 16 minutes when Sam Sillah managed to hold off the defender, turn and get his shot away from 20 yards but the keeper read it well and parried it behind for a corner.

Finchampstead didn’t create a lot themselves but were very well organised, making things hard for us and always seems to be in the right placers to gather the loose balls, whereas we lacked that along with finesse and of which struggled to get the ball up to our front two.

Half-time arrived with the game still 0-0 but we came the most disappointed of the two sides. We seemed to lacking that urgency and want to get the ball into the opposition’s half, so the managers made a change at the break, bringing on Alfie Fairhall at right wing-back for Ollie Pitt.

The second half though seemed to start how the first ended with us a bit slow out of the blocks, the game was starting to have that feel of “0-0 written all over it”. Until 10 minutes into the second period when a dangerous ball from their right-hand side was put into our area only for Fairhall’s defending instinct to head the ball away for a corner fearing an attacker behind him…unfortunately his header only managed to make it into the bottom corner of Bonnett’s net. Own goal, and 1-0 to the home side.

We then made more changes with Ben Landi replacing Josh Christopher to try and getting more attacking feel into the midfield, but unfortunately the chances just weren’t falling for us. Stan Anum did manage to get the better of his man on the right but the angle got the better of him and was unable to get the pace to beat the keeper. Finchampstead could, and probably should’ve put the game to bed when they beat the offside trap to get in behind our defence and unselfishly their striker squared it to his team mate for an easy tap in, only for him to skew his effort wide of the left-hand post. Let off!

Sam Sillah picked up an injury to his wrist so was replaced by Paul Abbott with George Dewhurst moving up front.

Heading into the last 10 minutes and it was still looking like Finchampstead were the likely to score again with a few more half chances going affray. Five minutes left and Gary Black came on to the field in place of Stan Anum and Ollie Pitt made use of the roll on-roll off sub system to replace the relentless skipper Reed.

The clock was ticking down and we had made it to the third minute of added time, it was looking like defeat was heading our way, until Billy Hart picked up a pass from Dewhurst in the centre, for probably the first time in the match the space had opened up in front of him and with those on the sidelines willing him to have a go, he did just that from 30 yards out with his right foot straight into the top left-hand corner of the net!! Unbelievable strike! 1-1! The scenes on the bench of jubilation. Our unbeaten record was intact…or so we thought. The game continued and a needless foul was given away from us in our half, down the left, in a dangerous position. There seemed to be a delay in taking the kick from justling in the area. Into the 95th minute now when eventually the free-kick was taken. Into the box it went and there seemed to be some pushing in the box, but nothing was given and the ball fell to their man who smashed it in from 12 yards. Heartbreak! One minute celebrating a dramatic equaliser to heads in hands. Scenes of jubilation now from the other bench. There were protests to the referee from our players and he went to his assistant for clarification but the goal stood. Dewhurst was then sin-binned for decent against the referee.

We still had time though for a free-kick of our own in a dangerous position! Surely there wasn’t going to be another twist in added time?! The ball was whipped in low and Hart tried to get it under control for the acrobatics but produced a foul in doing so and that was it! Full-time whistle blew and we had suffered defeat for the first time this season.

Maybe the long lay off took its toll on our fitness and so were tired near the end making silly errors, but we learn from this and go again next weekend before the start of midweek matches.

Man of the Match went to Codie Sumner for his, once again, cool, calm and dominant performance in midfield.

The Stags (3-5-2): Bonnett; Currell, Dewhurst, Reed (c) (Pitt 85); Pitt (Fairhall 46), Sumner, Christopher (Landi 58), Homes, Hart; Sillah (Abbott 66), Anum (Black 85).

Unused Sub: Stock

Goalscorer: B.Hart 90+3

Booked: Dewhurst 90+5