“Staines got a draw at East Thurrock. They’ll probably feel a bit dirty now.”
As Hampton and Richmond Borough went seven points clear in the Ryman Premier League, courtesy of a hard fought 2-1 victory over Billericay Town and two points dropped by their closest competition at Rookery Hill, the home supporters were rather reluctant to heap praise on their local rivals. Given their celebrations when The Swans were relegated from Conference South last season (“we’re having a party ‘cause Staines have gone down” was the song of choice at their final match, at Peacehaven) this reluctance wasn’t surprising, but they may end the season owing Drax Hippolyte and his side a debt of gratitude.
Not that they are ever likely to admit it.
This had been widely touted as the Ryman Premier match of the day. The Beavers had won their last five home matches scoring twenty one goals in the process, whilst the visitors were unbeaten in their last eight and had smashed four goals past play-off rivals Dulwich Hamlet the previous weekend. But the crowd of 505 must have initially thought that they’d gone to the wrong venue, as the first half was so devoid of quality that manager Alan Dowson later joked that he’d been considering asking his chairman to give the fans a refund.
Dowson was understandably delighted- and also a little relieved- after goals from Brendan Kiernan and Moussa Diarra, both the result of set pieces, took the spoils. “I thought we deserved the points. We came out of the traps quickly in the second half, and although we made it difficult for ourselves by conceding a stupid penalty we had enough to win the game. I can’t really criticise Moussa Diarra for the challenge though, he’s been our player of the season so far, and he made up for his error by scoring the winner.” He was particularly delighted with the nature of the goals. “We worked on the set pieces in training, and it’s always pleasing when something you’ve practiced comes off.”
It took just thirty seven seconds for the first incident of the match. Billericay winger Quentin Monville jumped into the back of Beavers captain Kieran Murphy, who went down in a heap, perhaps wishing that his three match ban for last week’s sending off at Burgess Hill Town could have started already. The referee showed a yellow card. It was to be the only yellow card of the match, and indeed the only incident of note in a turgid first half hour. The visitors had the best chances of the half, with last weeks hat-trick hero Jordan Cox hitting the post after thirty two minutes and firing a shot against keeper Mark Smith’s legs two minutes later, but the ball spent much of the time simply being lofted from end to end in the forlorn hope that Cox and Beavers striker Nicke Kabamba could profit. Whilst both showed some aerial prowess this approach failed to deliver any success, unless the real aim was to send the supporters to sleep.
Hampton & Richmond came back from the changing room fired up, and it took only two minutes for them to take the initiative and shake us from our stupor. A corner from the left was whipped in by Tom Beere, and Brendan Kiernan left his marker chasing shadows as he darted towards the near post and headed home.
Further chances followed. Winger Jamal Lowe came close on two occasions within a minute, first controlling the ball on his chest at the edge of the box before swiveling through one hundred and eight degrees and firing wide, before a barnstorming run through the Billericay defence ended with a similar result. Such was the home sides control that it took until the sixty-fifth minute for the visitors to register another shot, full back Ibrahim Diallo firing the ball high into the executive area from twenty five yards. But five minutes later they were level.
Cox was just inside the box but facing away from goal when gangly defender Moussa Diarra seemingly managed to lose control of his own legs, bringing the striker down. Referee Mark Mellor didn’t hesitate, and there were few protests against the decision on the pitch- although they were rather louder in the stand. Glenn Poole stepped up and lashed the penalty firmly to the keepers’ right.
Billericay managed Craig Edwards later commented that he thought his side would go on and win the match at this point, but the home side quickly rallied and it took only seven minutes for them to retake the lead. Handball was given against Ibrahim Diallo just in from the left touchline, around thirty yards from goal. Beere floated the free kick to the far post, and from the knockdown Diarra sidefooted home for his ninth league goal of the season. It was beautifully taken, and it was perhaps unsurprising to learn that it was his twelfth in all competitions. Strikers across the league should perhaps visit the Beveree for a finishing lesson.
With ten minutes to go the away side threw on three substitutes at once. This gave them three strikers, with Mike Fondom-Talom and new signing Evans Kouassi joining Cox up front, but despite this attacking threat Billericay didn’t manage to fashion another chance; indeed it was the Beavers who continued to press. Their attacking intent was perhaps best exemplified with three minutes remaining on the clock; a free kick deep inside their own half saw Diarra leave his defensive duties to take up position on the edge of the visitors box. Dowson later explained this approach. “People pay good money to be entertained. I know I’ll get criticised when it doesn’t work, but I want my teams to attack; that’s always been my philosophy and I’m not going to change now. Even when Jamal (Lowe, Man of the Match today) had the ball on the left towards the end, I was shouting at him to get it in the box.” They were still pressing even as the referee blew the final whistle after four minutes of added time.
After the match, Edwards was philosophical in defeat. “I was disappointed with the manner of the second goal, and conceding a minute into the second half gave them a lift, but we’ve got a young side and this was a big test. When we’ve had a hiccup we’ve bounced back and shown character, and I’m confident we’ll do the same again.”
This time last season Hampton and Richmond Borough were in difficulty at the wrong end of the table, before four wins in their last four games pulled them clear of trouble. The contrast in their fortunes this season cannot be overstated. Indeed, it would seem that they may turn out to be the Leicester City of an alternative Premier League; and if they continue to follow their manager’s instructions to entertain, the neutral acclaim may be similarly positive.
Published on in National.