Vale prevail

Back to the top go Raynes Park Vale, with a fifth consecutive win- this one over Uxbridge. We gave them the once over, and liked what we saw

It seemed rather a long time since a Saturday afternoon hadn’t been spent trying to avoid getting soaked to the skin, but Raynes Park Vale was both bright and cheerful as supporters arrived for the visit of Uxbridge in Pitching In Isthmian South Central this afternoon. Suddenly, finally, autumn had turned- temporarily- merciful.

The home supporters were as bright and cheerful as the weather, prior to kick off- and not surprisingly. A first ever Combined Counties Premier title last season came with ninety nine points and a hundred goals, and the club have taken to life at Step Four as if they’d been here for years. At kick off they sat in second place in the table, a point behind leaders Chertsey Town and with a game in hand, looking to go back to a summit they’d occupied for most of the campaign. Having won their last four, they seemed to be firmly over a little blip which saw them lose two in a row just over a month ago.

Visitors Uxbridge were six places and eight points behind their hosts, but would be boosted by their away record- which was significantly better than their home record. To some extent, perhaps, the table didn’t give a true reflection of their abilities, as most of their home matches hadn’t actually been at home- they’ve only recently returned to Honeycroft after the completion of their new 3G pitch, a pitch they are now having to get used to. The Red Army had seen their side win their last two on their travels, and were looking for a hat trick.

In footballing terms, Vale are little more than babies- a club formed in 1995- but they were created by the merger of two clubs who were rather more venerable. Raynes Park FC was formed in 1964, but can trace their history back much earlier, as they were initially the club of the Southern Railway and formed in 1925 (that’s the original Southern Railway, destroyed in the sixties by Beeching, rather than the imposters who charge the folks of Sussex a fortune and give them a train very occasionally when they are not having ‘operational difficulties.’). The other half of that whole were Malden Vale, just in case you were wondering where the rest of the name came from, a side which was formed in 1967 and actually won the Combined Counties title in the late seventies.

The ground, Prince George’s Fields, is a short walk from Raynes Park station. We’re not sure which Prince George it was named after, but we hope that it was the fellow from Blackadder who always had a shortage of socks. We would very much recommend that visitors let the train take the strain if they can- not only because there isn’t a large amount of car parking but because the traffic in the area is dreadful! It was rather picturesque on this sunny day, surrounded by trees and with a view towards Wimbledon Hill, although we suspect it might be a little exposed when the weather is a rather more angry. Shelter is provided by a big blue stand. The pitch gently slopes from side to side, the dugouts effectively at the bottom of a small hill.

After an impeccable minute of silence, only broken by the distant hum of queuing traffic, the hosts, in blue, got us underway- but the visitors, in red, should have been ahead after ninety seconds. George Moore was entirely unmarked as the ball came into the box, but his effort cleared the bar when it should have ended up in the net. Billy Bishop in the Vale goal doesn’t tend to concede many (unless Badshot Lea are the opposition, very much their bogey team), but he should have been picking the ball out of the net.

The visitors had the most of the opening ten minutes, but without creating any further chances. At the other end, a jinking run by Palace Francis ended with the Vale number nineteen on his face and claiming a penalty, but the referee was rather unconvinced. Shortly afterwards visiting keeper Andrew McCorkell was called into action to make the first save of the match, but in truth Callum Hope’s shot was more hope than expectation.

At the midway point of the half a shot from James Dickson brought another save from McCorkell, and it was almost immediately followed by an effort from Jordan Gallagher which was deflected for a corner. There was perhaps an irony at the fact that the visitors had delivered most of the pressure so far, but only their keeper had been called into action. Gallagher worked himself an opportunity on twenty seven minutes, his shot stopped by a desperate block, and then another Gallagher effort- after a fine pass from Dickson- was blocked on the line. Suddenly the blues were having a purple patch, and the attacking impetus had changed ends.

The opening goal arrived on thirty four minutes, and it came- by this point, unsurprisingly- to the hosts. A fine move, a fine cross, and a super diving header saw Charlie Penny direct the ball home, his effort as brave as it was accurate.

Raynes Park Vale 1 Uxbridge 0- Charlie Penny, 34 minutes

It should have been two soon afterwards, a beautiful defence splitting ball setting Gallagher free but the combination of defender and keeper getting in the way. A immediate foul on Gallagher resulted in a free kick, the player got up to take it, and despite the ball being right on the edge of the box he managed to get it up, down and in within fifteen yards. A beauty, and two-nil.

It looked a long way back for Uxbridge.

Raynes Park Vale 2 Uxbridge 0- Jordan Gallagher, 39 minutes.

On forty one minutes Bishop finally got his hands dirty, a brave save from Moore, but a minute later he did something rather daft, rather inexplicably picking up a back pass. Everyone on the line, a free kick eight yards out, yellow cards and shouting aplenty was the outcome, along with a corner, but eventually the hosts regained possession and Bishop escaped his moment of madness.

Half Time: Raynes Park Vale 2 Uxbridge 0

The visitors were out for the second half long before their hosts, and deep in conversation. They had a lot of work to do.

They started well. A corner within two minutes was cleared to Moore on the edge of the box, but, with defenders charging towards him, he was only to pull it wide. A minute later and it was Alex Witham trying his luck, his shot blocked. At the other end, Francis saw the ball find him in the box, but his effort was quickly closed down.

A tackle on Callum McAllister got the home fans incensed, but the referee was unmoved. Soon afterwards a challenge on Gallagher got the same reaction from both crowd and official, who was letting far too much go for the Vale fans to be content. We reached the hour mark with the scoreline unchanged.

Uxbridge tried to change that, and Witham had the chance to do so on sixty five minutes. His effort looked destined for the net, but Bishop thought otherwise, charging off his line to somehow touch the ball around the post. It was a big, big opportunity.

With little more than fifteen minutes left Vale could have been out of sight. Penny did everything right, keeper beaten, but the defender did just as well, clearing off the line. Another chance saw Jerry O’Sullivan come close to a third, as the hosts applied the pressure. A Vale corner saw Uxbridge pull everyone back, which seemed- two goals behind with twelve left- a little self defeating, but in the end those bodies were required to deal with a goalmouth scramble, eventually cleared.

The closing stages brought pressure at both ends. What it didn’t bring was clear cut chances, and after six added minutes the game came to and end, the home fans raising their voice in celebration and their side top of the table once more.

Final Score: Raynes Park Vale 2 Uxbridge 0

Before the match a Vale supporter in the stand expressed concern that they weren’t scoring enough goals. But what is ‘enough?’ If you win the game, you’ve surely scored enough, and this victory made it five in a row and ten from twelve this season- and although it’s still early to express this sentiment, that’s the very definition of promotion form. Today, certainly, they could have scored more, but they were very, very good at the other end.

Last season a side came up from the Combined Counties and won an immediate South Central promotion. Could Raynes Park Vale be the next Walton and Hersham?

There’s enough evidence to believe they might.

Where next?

Green for goals as Hornchurch hammer the Ambers Urchins hit six to go eleven clear of victorious Enfield Town and Chatham. Hastings go fifth, Tags and Wingate win on the road, Cray, Bognor and Invicta take three points, and Hamlet welcome more than three thousand
Highlights: Merstham 0 Ramsgate 3 No cup hangover as the Rams deliver a masterclass

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