Southern Counties East League
Culverden Stadium, Tunbridge Wells
This evening I took a break from the midweek "silly season" and paid my last visit of the season to the Culverden, for Tunbridge Wells' last home match of their league season.
It was pleasing to note that a number of ground improvements have been made to the Culverden, to ensure that the stadium is fit to host Isthmian League football. An impressive new turnstile block has been constructed, programmes are now available from a separate wooden "garden shed" beyond the turnstiles, and fencing now extends along the length opposite the covered stand. There's still work to be done however, as the ground failed a recent inspection as the officials' changing room remains too small.
The race for the Southern Counties East title and promotion has been a three way slog between Whyteleafe, Ashford United and Tunbridge Wells. The Wells' are now the rank outsiders, in third place with 60 points from 28 games, six points adrift of Ashford and eight points adrift of Whyteleafe, with each club having four games left to play. They only have themselves to blame for not being much closer to the top two, as on Saturday they threw away winning positions against both of their rivals - last Saturday, they went in 2-1 ahead at half time against Whyteleafe only to lose 2-3, whilst just under a month ago, they blew a two goal lead to lose 2-3 against Ashford United. So a third place finish seems the most likely outcome for the Wells - although that in itself should be considered a fine achievement, higher than they have finished for many years. Holmesdale went into this game in midtable obscurity - in tenth place in the 17 team division, with 36 points from 27 games. This evening's teams met in the reverse fixture exactly
one month ago, with Tunbridge Wells winning 1-2 in outer Bromley.
On a chilly evening with clear skies, Tunbridge Wells started the game very strongly, with much of the play in the Holmesdale half and the home side having plenty of shots on goal, and on 5 minutes saw a cross shot from a fairly tight angle near the edge of the area come back off the post. However, after the first quarter of an hour, the threat subsided as the game descended into something of a scrap with little quality on show, and it was Holmesdale who took the lead on 36 minutes thanks to a powerful drive from the edge of the area by JP Collier. 0-1 was how it remained at half time.
Into the second half and the game was a tepid affair, Holmesdale seemingly content with their lead, whilst Tunbridge Wells' play lacked any fluidity and urgency, with their play having a rather disillusioned feel to it in the knowledge that they have little left to play for from a season that promised so much. Somewhat out of the blue, the Wells did get back on level terms though, a deep free kick was headed towards goal and Richard Sinden stabbed the ball past the keeper. Suddenly, the home side were rejuvenated, forcing two fingertip saves from the keeper from a header and a long range shot amongst other shots on goal, Tunbridge Wells went into the lead on 83 minutes with an excellent shot from the edge of the area by Ian Parsons which the keeper got a hand. It looked like Tunbridge Wells would claim a win they barely deserved after a generally poor performance for much of the game, and deep into injury time, they conceded a very avoidable equaliser. They gave away possession on the half way line as Holmesdale players poured forward and eventually Benja Ogunseye drove the ball powerfully inside the near post, although the keeper really should have saved it as he appeared to have the shot covered. A draw was the least Holmesdale deserved though, and the Wells will need to pick up some form to ensure they hold on to third place, with Corinthian now just four points behind and Erith Town (who have a game in hand) six points behind.