Kent Senior Trophy Second Round
Meridian VP won 4-3 on penalties
Meridian Sports and Social Club, Charlton
Admission including Programme: £6.00
Match Rating: 4
After the bitterly disappointing conclusion of my lunchtime game at The Valley, I made my way uphill and across Charlton Park to take in my second game of the day in the more modest surroundings of a Kent Invicta League club, at Step 6 in the non-league pyramid, with the walk taking about twenty minutes.
Although I have previously visited the Meridian Sports and Social Club on two occasions, most recently last December, but the transformation of the ground has been quite remarkable. Last December, and indeed right through to the end of last season, this was an open ground, just containing some hard standing, with no admission taken not programme produced. Since the end of last season, the ground is now fully enclosed with quite attractive wooden fencing, hard standing is now available all around the pitch, an all-seater stand is now positioned along one length, floodlights are now present, and a turnstile hut has been installed behind one of the goals within the wooden fencing, which now takes an admission charge which is excessively high for this level of football - although that is a theme that is repeated across Kent in non league football compared to what I am more used to in Sussex. A 16 page programme is included with admission, and was glossy and colourful, and covered the basics but was rather light on interesting material.
This game would represent the opportunity for a giantkilling, with Meridian VP of the Kent Invicta League, one step below Cray Valley PM, of the Southern Counties East League. Since being founder members of the Kent Invicta League, Meridian have not finished higher than bottom, and seem likely to continue that run this season as well, currently third bottom, with three wins and two draws from their 14 games. Cray Valley are struggling towards the foot of the Southern Counties East League this season, in 16th place in the 20 team division, with 15 points from their 15 games. In the previous round, Meridian won 1-0 at home to fellow Kent Invicta League outfit Lewisham Borough, whilst Cray Valley won 0-5 at bottom of the Kent Invicta League outfit, Kent Football United.
On a lovely sunny afternoon, but one that was cold with a biting wind, this was very much a game of two halves. Although the home side started quite strongly, it didn't take long for Cray Valley to impose their superiority on the game. For all that superiority and possession though, they struggled to carve open goalscoring opportunities, although they forced an excellent reflex save on 20 minutes. They did take the lead on 35 minutes though. Alex Chambers ran onto a through ball, and after an attempted interception by a defender only resulted in hitting Chambers' chest and bouncing back into his path, Chambers slotted the ball past the keeper. It was no more than they deserved, although Meridian had their best chance of the half on 41 minutes, when their number 11 showed great skill towards the outer right corner of the penalty area in deceiving defenders and creating space for himself, before fizzing a shot just wide of the far post. But as the half time whistle blow, one felt that there was only going to be one winner here, even if the higher ranked visitors had not converted their superiority into a more convincing lead.
Meridian certainly rolled their sleeves up in the second half, showing much more intent throughout, although for much of it, Cray Valley still looked comfortable with their lead and one imagined that if they could get a second goal, that would kill the tie. However, six minutes from time and Meridian were awarded a penalty, when Nzeed Rasheed waltzed into the box, before being brought down my a mis-timed lunging tackle from Ronnie Vint. Dominic Elmes stepped up, and from a very short run-up of two paces, fired the ball in the right hand side of the net, sending the keeper the wrong way. A minute from time, and Meridian could have sealed an unlikely victory when a ball over the top of the defence sent their striker clearer through on goal, and as the goalkeeper came way out of his area to close the ball down, the striker just hit a shot which ricocheted off the keeper, when he really should have tried to dribble the ball around the keeper or attempted a lob. In the closing minutes, Meridian defended ever more desperately to take the tie to penalties, with some rather ugly lunges resulting in yellow cards. But the game finished all square after 90 minutes, and went straight to penalties.
Meridian took the first penalty, with the penalties taking the following sequence...
1-0 - Elmes, scored low to the right, keeper dived the other way
1-1 - Paul Gross, scored in bottom left corner, with the keeper unmoved
2-1 - Gary Phillimore, score in bottom left corner, the keeper did not dive
2-1 - Ronnie Vint, shot struck the crossbar
3-1 - George Coshall, shot powered to the right side of the net, keeper dived the other way
3-2 - Adam Gross, ditto above
4-2 - Sydeny Cline-Decker, struck low to the left side of the goal, keeper dived the other way
4-3 - Jimmy Rogers, struck low down the middle with the keeper diving out of the way
4-3 - Danny Twin, saved low to the keeper's right
4-3 - Harry Fenner, ditto above.
And so it was the underdogs who triumphed, as Cray Valley were left to rue not putting this game to bed when they were on top for long periods of this match. But full credit to Meridian, who kept battling away and refused to buckle under pressure, and they now progress to a home tie against fellow Kent Invicta League side, and reigning champions, Hollands and Blair in the next round.