Isthmian League Division One South
Waterside Stadium, Walton-on-Thames
Match Rating: 3
For my first taste of competitive football in the 2014/15 team, I decided to head to south west London to tick off my penultimate ground in the Isthmian League Division One South. I was also attracted by watching Hastings United, a club I've always had a large soft spot for through family connections.
The Waterside Stadium is about a 2 mile, 40 minute walk from Hersham train station. Although the name suggests a pleasant ground, and indeed it is located close to the River Thames, the reality was quite different, with little being easy on the eye. The positive aspects are some colourful trees around the ground and some attractive new club and welcome signage. Entering through turnstiles by the halfway line, to the left is a covered standing area with a clubhouse type building behind it, whilst to the other side of the half way is the current clubhouse, which is a rather soulless portakabin. Beyond the clubhouse by the corner flag are a couple of rather ugly small grey portakabins, hosting a tea bar and board room. On the opposite side is a small modern pre-fab metallic all-seater stand, whilst behind both goals are small stands covering a couple of steps of terracing. Although the pitch was in excellent condition, it does contain some undulations. No doubt not the last time I'll be saying this at this level this season, but the programme was very overpriced at £2.00. Whilst it is attractive, colourful and printed on good quality paper, the 20 pages, six of which were advertising, was rather limited in interest, although in fairness this may in part be due to this being the first game of the season.
Walton Casuals finished in their highest ever league placing last season, in twelfth, although for much of the season, at least a play-off positions looked a real possibility. Their preparations for the season have not been helped by a handful of new players deciding not to stay after all this week. Hastings United also fell away badly, having been expected to push for an immediate return to the Premier Division. They did scrape into the play-offs though, only to lose in the semi-final, but they are one of the favourites again for promotion this season, having made some good quality signings in the close season. Both encounters between the two sides last season finished in 1-0 wins for Hastings.
On an overcast afternoon, Walton Casuals actually started this game much the stronger, doing almost all the attacking in the opening ten minutes. However, it was Hastings who took the lead on 12 minutes. The ball was looped over from the left to the opposite side, Sam Adams crossed the ball low to Ronnie Dolan in a central position, and he hit the ball first time across the keeper and into the net from the edge of the area. The result never looked in doubt from this point, as Hastings completely dominated the game. They played some delightful attacking football with plenty of energy, playing inventive, penetrating passes forward whilst also closing down players, often winning the ball back. That they didn't score more than the one goal in the first half was quite unbelievable, creating so many good chances to score only to shoot over or wide when well placed.
Into the second half, and the same pattern continued, with Hastings finally doubling their lead on 62 minutes. Dolan threaded the ball forward for Ade Olorunda to run onto before placing the ball past the keeper. One felt that that second goal was the clincher, and so it proved, as Hastings coasted for the rest of the match, although a third goal always looked much more likely than Walton pulling a goal back. Hastings certainly looked like they will be there or thereabouts on today's showing at least, whilst Walton Casuals look a lower half of the table team, who did seem to have enough about them to be able to gain enough points against the weaker teams in the division.