“Happy? No! Why would I be happy?”
You know when you’ve asked the wrong question, but Hampton and Richmond Borough manager Alan Dowson, normally quite an affable chap, surely had reason to be at least mildly content. His newly promoted side had recovered from a 2-0 half time deficit to draw, had dominated the match, and were placed second in the National League South after 5 matches.
But Alan wasn’t in the best of moods. “Twenty two attempts and only seven on target?” He shook his head, then his attention turned to the other end of the pitch. “If we defend like that,” he explained, “we’ll go nowhere quick. Both goals were sloppy. We keep giving away sloppy goals- two today, two against East Thurrock last week- it doesn’t matter how many chances we create, we won’t win games defending like that. I’m going to have to think hard about what I do about it, but I wouldn’t rule out reinforcements.”
Dowson’s opposite number, Truro City manager Lee Hodges, was far more positive. As he explained, he saw it as a point gained. “We were playing against a good team, who moved the ball well, but we defended doggedly and took our chances.” He was effusive in his praise for striker Andrew Neal, who scored one goal today and made the other. “He’s had to step up four leagues but he’s hit the ground running despite missing most of pre-season. I couldn’t be anything but impressed with Rocky.”
Before the match it had not been Neal who was the centre of attention; rather the Beavers front two, Jamal Lowe and Nicke Kabamba. With thirty three goals between them last season as Hampton stormed to the Ryman Premier League title, it had been expected that they would both be snapped up by sides further up the pyramid, but instead each of them had signed new deals to remain at the Beveree. That said, even after their signing Dowson had been realistic, announcing his expectation that they’d be ‘gone by Christmas- and for big money.’ If that were to be the case then the home faithful would hope they’d find their shooting boots early, and Lowe had certainly done so, with four goals already. He was to add another. Kabamba had started rather more slowly, and although his work rate couldn’t be faulted he had not yet found his range.
Hampton started the match strongly, despite playing into the teeth of a gale. Lowe ran at the Truro defence repeatedly, and within five minutes Kabamba had fired shots wide of both posts. A goal seemed inevitable, and indeed it was. At the other end.
Neal, who last season scored sixty goals for Bodmin Town before his summer transfer, put the White Tigers ahead in the 7th minute. Cody Cooke played in a delightful cross, but the striker still had work to do. He controlled the ball with his first touch, took a step to his right, and fired home a shot which rookie keeper Billy Bishop- in for the injured Aaron Howe- couldn’t keep out. Hampton’s response was immediate, and four minutes later the speedy Christian Jolley earned his side a penalty. Surprisingly, many of the home supporters in the main stand groaned. “I bet he’s going to miss it,” came a voice. There were no dissenters.
Nicke Kabamba took the ball and placed it on the spot. He wore the body language not of a man who scored 18 goals last season, but instead of one who looked as if he was about to take his exams but had been too cool to revise. He stepped up…and fired the ball wide of the left hand post. The home fans groaned, their away counterparts, inhabiting the covered terrace at the opposite end of the ground, broke into song. They continued to sing for most of the first half, and appeared to have borrowed their entire repertoire from the Leeds United sheet music catalogue, 1983 edition. There was no vocal response from the Beavers faithful, just a collection of resigned grumbling which resembled a swarm of slightly irked bees.
Hampton continued to press. And continued to miss. A deflected shot from Brendan Kiernan and a weak strike from Kabamba did at least force saves from former Bristol City keeper Adriano Basso (a venerable 41 years young), but in the main the efforts which came- and there were many- sailed past the posts or over the bar. Truro attempted to break out, and dangerous crosses from Ryan Brett and the tireless Niall Thompson needed only a touch for their lead to be doubled. As the game approached half time it seemed that no further breakthrough would be forthcoming, and then- calamity. Twenty five yards from his own goal midfielder Harold Odametey came under pressure from Neal. A moment later he’d fallen flat on his backside and Neal was advancing towards the home defence. First he shielded the ball, and then he played a beautiful pass into the path of the onrushing Thompson, who finished expertly. The away fans could hardly believe their eyes, and the look on Alan Dowson’s face could have melted stone.
During pre-season Dowson described Hampton as ‘a village club that has done well,’ and suggested that they ‘might be in this league for a while,’ but he isn’t a man to expect his side to play as if they are Sunday afternoon strollers and, despite his protestations, is not short of ambition. As might have been expected, the Beavers came out for the second half fired up, and were immediately on the attack. A shot from Kabamba was deflected for a corner, Joe Hicks headed over when he perhaps should have done better, then best of all a magnificent cross from Josh Casey- who delivered these in abundance all afternoon- was somehow sent wide by Lowe with the goal gaping.
Home pressure finally paid off in the 69th minute. A flicked forward pass wrong footed the Truro defence and Lowe was able to react quickest. He still had work to do, but remained composed and was able to shoot across the keeper into the net, before retrieving the ball for the restart. Eight minutes later it was all square, as Kiernan touched in a Kabamba shot from around three inches, with keeper Adriano Basso, who was feeling the effects of an injury and replaced soon afterwards, stranded.
Hampton continued to press, and Dowson continued to urge them forward, but City, marshalled by Eastleigh loanee Jack Smith and captain Arran Pugh, held firm and occasionally launched a foray into the Beavers half, with first Thompson running from his own half to earn a corner and later Neal heading wide from an Ollie Knowles free kick. Three minutes into added time another surging run from Lowe ended with a pinpoint cross to Kabamba at the far post, but in a moment which effectively summed up the whole match the striker managed to head it wide.
The manager is undoubtedly correct when he calls Hampton a ‘village club’- but not correct, perhaps, in the way that he meant it. The Beveree has some rough edges, certainly- the tree right in the centre of the car park, for example, will undoubtedly soon enter National League folklore (and dent a few vehicles)- but the club seems well organised and well run and the team isn’t short of talent despite budgetary constraints, and should have a positive season. Unlike some other ambitious outfits, however, Hampton haven’t swapped charm for efficiency, nor abandoned relationships for a business improvement strategy. From the Press Officer through to the programme seller, the club shop manager to the bar staff, the catering staff to- of course- the supporters, the people of Hampton and Richmond Borough are unfailingly warm, friendly and welcoming, yet no less capable for it. Mind you, they are a little too quiet for their own good.
A National League South club, with village pretentions. Despite his protests, Alan Dowson has much to be happy about; and you can bet that he knows that only too well.
Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Truro City 2
Hampton & Richmond Borough (4-4-2): Bishop, Collier, Casey, Hicks, Gasson, Solomon (Williams 74), Kiernan, Odametey, Kabamba, Lowe, Jolley (Hippolyte-Patrick 61) Subs not used: Kamara, Brown, Jelley
Truro City (4-4-2): Basso (McHale 80), White, Richards, Adelsbury, Smith, Pugh, Brett (Knowles 80), Neal, Thompson, Fallon, Cooke. Subs not used: Bentley, Williams, Crago.
Shots on target: 7/3
Shots off: 15/1
Fouls conceded: 10/15
Published on in National.