TEAM SOLENT met Croydon on a damp afternoon at Test Park, playing for a place in the last sixteen of the FA Vase which ends at nowhere other than playing under the Arch at Wembley Stadium. The win was achieved with a fine overall show and the dream continues.
Solent’s side had a familiar look about it, although Gibraltar youth international Bradley Banda didn’t make the trip over having suffered from illness. This meant there were only two non-students in the starting XI, one being Lee Webber, the club’s 38-year old goalkeeper who became the fourth different custodian used by Team Solent in the FA Vase run so far!
For this scribe, it was the seventh sighting of Croydon, although the first since 1989!
Ade Olumuyiwa’s ball over the Trams defensive line was nearly reach by Jesse Waller-Lassen, but the ball ran through to Croydon keeper Francis Ameyaw. Croydon wide-man Lauris Chin showed some good pace but his ball in, whilst under pressure, was saved by Webber. The ball was immediately moved up the other end where Waller-Lassen attempted a 25-yard effort that Ameyaw got down to parry and gather.
A low effort by Croydon’s Jeff Dual-Kessie from wide on the left forced Webber to get down low to save. But Solent didn’t have too much longer to wait to score the game’s opening goal.
Jemal Wiseman swept the ball wide left from midfield and sent Tyrell Mitford on a good run forward which took him to an angled position inside the box, Ameyaw blocked his effort and the ball fell to Tobi Adekunle who hit it firmly and first time into the far corner.
That was just what Solent needed, a goal reasonably early in the game. However, it seemed to stir the Trams into action for a while as the Solent defence had to stick to their tasks. Dual-Kessie tried a distant effort for them but Webber watched it drift wide. Mott had a free-kick about 25-yards out, but the Croydon player put the ball over.
It wasn’t going Solent’s way with Croydon playing the ball around well. The pacy Chin who provedm menacing again, crossed in from the right and Olutani Ibikunle, unmarked, struck the underside of the bar before being gathered by Webber.
Half-time: 1-0 and there was still all to play for.
The Sparks turned on the style almost from the very first kick of the ball in the second half. They appeared to be a touch fitter than the South London visitors, possibly due to the Wessex League having matches to play during the Christmas period whilst Croydon had not played for twenty days.
Waller-Lassen slipped a good pass to Mitford but Ameyaw was out to block the Solent striker’s shot and as Waller-Lassen tried to battle through into the box, visiting defender Max Rothwell got across to make a strong but fair challenge.
Goal number two for Solent came in the 56th minute when Mitford’s shot caught a deflection and the ball fell to Ellis White who took a touch with his right to open up a shooting chance and buried a low 15-yard effort with his left. There was clearly no better time for the Solent defender to score his first goal of the season and it was finished with the nonchalance of a seasoned striker too!
There was a feeling that Solent had the match well under control by that point and they went for further goals and Nolan, a cup goal-scoring specialist, came up from the back and rose to head an Jim Orvis corner but somehow guided it wide of the target. Shortly after that, the industrious Ryan Dacres-Smith hobbled from the field to be replaced by Pitts.
There was a further Team Solent goal on 75 minutes when a fine pass by Adekunle located Waller-Lassen wide on the left, the keeper advanced but wasn’t going to make it before the Solent talisman who struck a delightful chip over him and all the way into the net. Incidentally, that goal was Solent’s 100th of the season in all competitions, achieved in 38 matches (at a most impressive 2.63 per game).
Ameyaw gathered from Waller-Lassen close to full-time but, by this point, it didn’t matter as Team Solent had clearly got themselves over this particular hurdle and they and only 15 other teams survive into Round 5 that is scheduled for 28th January.
Yes, the goals were great, but good defending is also paramount and the back line was well tested during the first half. It was great to go off at half-time leading having had to defend so stoutly; in the end fitness and hard work contributed so much to this victory. It was a fine all-round show by the Sparks who had been well prepared by the management team.
It must be time for the club to order some memorabilia for the fans now that we have a decent amount of prize money! OK, I admit it, I’m jealous! That chief announcer Phil Green has the only Team Solent scarf that currently exists … yet again, Santa didn’t leave me one!
We look forward to the draw on Monday and, as it opens up nationally we could be facing any of the following teams, with only one of the other 15 ties finishing in a draw and another, in that footballing hotbed of the North-East, finishing a bit prematurely when the floodlights went out!