The last time we visited Colston Avenue, on 14th April last year, we experienced one of those football days that will linger in the memory forever. The sun shone down gloriously upon the expectant masses, some of whom were stretched out and soaking up the rays. The match kicked off fifty-two minutes late because the referee was delayed on his way from Albania- no, we’re not making that up- and opponents Whyteleafe did their level best to spoil Carshalton’s promotion party. Leafe found themselves one-nil up, then two-one up, and then three-one up as the Robins, who needed three points to confirm promotion, toiled in the heat. And then it was two-three, then three-three, and finally, three minutes into added time, Tommy Bradford popped up to make it four-three and pandemonium reigned. The party went on well into the night, and in some ways has continued into this season, as Carshalton have ploughed through their first season back in the big time. Starting today in fourth place after eight victories from their last ten matches, they knew that another victory would qualify them for the end of season playoffs- and could even see them climb as high as second place, depending on other results.
But that wasn’t the whole story. There was more than one potential spanner in the works.
Today’s opponents, Bishop’s Stortford, also needed that victory- for exactly the same reasons, the Blues starting the day one place and one point behind the Robins. And then came a second, even larger, problem. A draw could see them both miss out dependent on other results, as Merstham were only one point behind the Robins and level on points with the Blues, whilst Folkestone Invicta, a place further back, were only two points/one point behind respectively. Worthing were another side not yet out of the running. A defeat for either of the teams walking out this afternoon was likely to end in heartbreak.
A very blustery day
On 14th April 2018 you could have bottled the nervous tension around the War Memorial Sports Ground. Today you’d have needed the facilities provided by an entire brewery to do the same. What an end to the season. What a match we had in prospect.
In contrast to last season, the weather today would have put off even the hardiest sunbathers; the edges of Storm Hannah had made the conditions rather blustery. The roof of the main stand rattled in the wind, behind the right hand goal a large dustbin was blowing around the terrace, and the corner flag in the far right hand corner was more horizontal than vertical. On the pitch, a very small boy in a Carshalton shirt was doing step-overs in at attempt to baffle a similarly diminutive goalkeeper, who was wearing a Juventus shirt which bore the legend, ‘Ronaldo 7’ on the back. Seven hundred and sixty five miles away in Turin it was unlikely that a similar scene was being enacted with the real Ronaldo. Imagine him going in goal? He’d probably complain that if he was asked again he’d take his ball home and nobody would play. Mind you, his small counterpart didn’t look too happy about it either, hoofing the ball down the pitch in anger at being beaten.
The stadium announcer played “The Boys of Summer,” by Don Henley. He’d have been better off with “Wild is the Wind,” by David Bowie, or “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner. Surprisingly he did follow up with some Foreigner, which would have upset those who had put up UKIP posters on the edge of the town, as noticed on the way to the ground. Bloody Foreigner, coming over here wanting to know what love is. “Burger and Chips, half price until two o’clock. Spurs v West Ham on the TV in the clubhouse, along with a selection of real ales and lager.” He pulled his benchcoat tighter around him, as if he was wishing that he could join the throng who were following his instructions. Those in the press box and those watching their children scamper around the pitch felt very much the same.
Still, what was to come on the pitch would surely warm us all up.
The main stand at Carshalton Athletic
On Monday, Stortford co-manager Jamie Cureton had played against Brightlingsea Regent in a shirt which bore four digits, in commemoration of his one thousandth match. In a carnival atmosphere he’d then scored goals three hundred and sixty and three hundred and sixty one, but there would be no carnival today if that turned out to be their last win of the season. Stortford certainly hadn’t come to make up the numbers. Whilst Athletic had managed to lose two of their last five matches, both one-nil, the Blues had won each of theirs, and the two before them. In early March they looked to be a mid-table side and were expected to get a mid-table finish, but those seven consecutive victories had seen them soar into the upper reaches. Haringey, Hornchurch, Worthing, Whyteleafe, and three clubs not beginning with H or W had been on the receiving end of the kind of form that was undoubtedly worrying Robins boss Peter Adeniyi. But perhaps not too much, as his side, when on song, have been magnificent, recording victories over the likes of our champions, Dorking Wanderers, as well as second place Haringey Borough, play off contenders Folkestone Invicta, and many others besides.
The teams emerged into the cold right on cue at two minutes to three, and the visitors got us underway, Cureton laying the ball back from kick off for it to be lofted forward. Johnville Renee quickly tested Billy Bishop, but the breakthrough came almost immediately at the other end- Harry Ottaway finishing expertly past Arthur Janata to give the Robins a dream start in only the second minute. News came through that Merstham were already two-nil up at Worthing, so Athletic weren’t the only side off to a flyer. “Allez the Blues,” sang the Stortford fans, mixing their languages appallingly but providing great support to their side.
The early stages were living up to their promise. Ryan Charles was unlucky to see the ball fly wide of the post after charging down a clearance from Bishop, then at the other end Adeniyi fired wide from twenty five yards. Ottaway then made his own space and fired wide of Janata’s right hand post from the edge of the area as the Robins looked to extend their lead. As a free kick from Omar Koroma cleared the Stortford bar Merstham were celebrating a third goal, and Dorking Wanderers had taken the lead over Haringey Borough, lifting Carshalton- however temporarily- into second place in the table.
The visitors had their chance to equalise in the twentieth minute, and then they had another. First, a neat flick from Cureton found Ben Worman, and his shot saw Bishop claw the ball away for a corner, and then from the set piece Charles headed the ball just past the far post. They were soon made to regret not taking these opportunities.
The guard of honour compare notes
The Robins player-manager, Peter Adeniyi, was everywhere, dominating possession in the middle of the park. On twenty-four minutes, midway into the Stortford half, moving forward, he slipped, and seemed to have lost the ball, but even from a prone position managed to wrap a leg around it and move it to a teammate. It found its way to Ricky Korboa, scorer or fourteen goals this season, at the right hand side of the box, and soon it was fifteen. A fabulous finish, the ball arrowed towards the far corner of the net and gave Janata no chance whatsoever. The players celebrated, the home fans did the same, and the Blues had a mountain to climb.
They began to climb it almost immediately. A corner on the right, and the ball was forced over the line at the second attempt after a great save from Bishop. The fans behind the goal celebrated, and it seemed as if Sam Robbins had got the last touch. Whoever it was, it was two-one, and game on.
Stortford kept up the pressure. On thirty six minutes they earned another corner, and once more an away head was first to it, this time Ryan Henshaw, but the ball cleared the bar. The away fans kept up a superb cacophony to encourage their team, and it seemed to be working as the Blues- in white, just to confuse us- began to dominate for the first time. “Shall we sing a song for you,” they chorused, and we knew that in reality we had no choice in the matter.
Two minutes from half time Stortford should have been level. Another corner, and Ryan Henshaw threw himself at the ball, full length. His header flew towards goal, everyone held their breath, and it dropped just wide of the post. Carshalton were living extremely dangerously. As we approached half time yet another Stortford corner was earned and cleared, but only for a throw and the pressure remained, Henshaw with a strike blocked and Jack Thomas twisting before firing wide. The half time whistle went- and what a half we’d had.
An Athletic warm up
The Robins got us back underway, and almost immediately were forced into a change as full back Bobby Price went down injured. It took the visitors four minutes to fashion their first chance of the half, Bishop having to push away a corner under pressure, which got the away fans excited once more- although it seemed that they’d left some of their number in the bar.
The next chances came to Athletic, Janata making a good save from Korboa, who was attempting to chip him from a very tight angle, and both Ottaway and Bradford tried to force the ball goalwards in the ensuing melee. Adeniyi then sent a twenty five yard free kick onto the top of the net as the home side kept up the pressure; and then we were at the other end, interplay between Charles and Worman resulting in yet another corner. Once again Henshaw got a head to it, and once again, to the anguish of the away fans, the ball dropped wide of the far post. News came through that Merstham were now 4-1 up at Worthing and, as we passed the hour mark, the game became stretched and rather frantic.
The away side were, not surprisingly, showing most of the attacking intent. A mazy run from Jack Thomas earned another corner, and when it was cleared Adeniyi tried to slow the game down, before intelligently setting up Ottaway for a shot which was well saved by Janata. A ball over the top then sent Cureton away- surely this was the chance? Down went Bishop to save, up he got, and down he went again to save the rebound- magnificent goalkeeping ensuring that Carshalton kept their advantage! Twenty one minutes remained.
Stortford made a change, and it was an attacking move. Ben Sampayo went off, and on came Luke Callander, who scored what turned out to be the winner in the victory over Brightlingsea on Easter Monday. More Blues pressure followed, accompanied by a number of blocked shots and another corner, which Daniel Pappoe headed clear, only for it to come straight back. Ryan Charles then fired in a shot which saw Bishop rooted to the spot, but the ball crashed into the advertising hoardings to the right of the goal.
Athletic brought on defender Taofiq Olomowewe for attacker Omar Koroma as they looked to hold on to what they had. The home defence then had to block two shots from Henshaw as the relentless pressure continued. Most of the six hundred and sixty three in attendance breathed a sigh of relief as a goal kick brought some respite. Athletic then did some attacking of their own, slowing the game down before eventually finding Luke Read inside the box, but he could only poke the ball outside the near post from a tight angle. Folkestone had gone ahead against Bognor, and two more Stortford corners came to naught, although a plume of blue smoke rose from the away end in response.
Ninety minutes arrived, and the board went up. Six added minutes! Two away fans, for reasons nobody could fathom, climbed onto the roof of the terrace as Carshalton got a corner, for which they kept six players back. The away side eventually cleared it and the pressure resumed, a shot from Shadrach Ogie flying harmlessly wide. The two fans climbed down again.
Three and a half minutes of the six gone, and the tireless Henshaw got the ball on the edge of the home box, but his shot went wide and he slumped to the ground in despair. The pressure continued, but the ball was cleared to Ottaway on the right and he took the ball to the corner to waste some time, winning a throw. It was the last action of the match, although there seemed to be half a minute still to play according to the clock. The Robins fans celebrated , whilst the visiting players slumped to the floor. They could have done no more- and deserved the accolades delivered by their fans as they saluted them after the match.
Athletic will be back here on Thursday evening, to play Merstham. Read all about that match here within half an hour of the final whistle.
Some frozen home fans half an hour before kick off
Perhaps we might be back here once more for the Final on Bank Holiday Monday? You wouldn’t want to bet against it.