Written by: Chris Brenta
After weather rained off Saturday’s fixture, fans were treated to true mid-week football when Carshalton travelled to Merstham in the third qualifying round of the FA Trophy, where two teams at opposite ends of the Isthmian Premier Division were both looking to make it to the first round proper where Essex based Barking lay in wait.
Captain Paris Hamilton-Downes was the only change from the side that had beaten Enfield Town 10 days prior, which meant a start for Ernold Haxhiu. Bobby Price took the armband in Hamilton-Downes first absence of the season. The Moatsiders made five changes from the side that got trounced by Cray last weekend.
The game started frantically: either both teams were desperate to make a good showing of what could be the only game of football they get this month, or they were just trying to stay warm, as a cold mist descended on the Whisky Bible stadium. Around 10 minutes in, the Robins showed their class with two good chances to take the lead. Nyren Clunis was unable to connect fully with his volley, and Tommy Bradford (full of confidence after grabbing two at the weekend) saw both his long range attempts blocked.
Both teams’ left hand sides seemed more dangerous, with Fisher and Cheadle causing Merstham all sorts of problems, and tricky Brighton loanee Jack Leahy looking the brightest for the home side. With 17 minutes played, it was the Robins left winger that broke the deadlock: a long ball over the top of the defence from Read gave Clunis a great chance, his effort was well saved, but only as far as the out stretched Fisher who slid home to give the Robins the lead.
By the 26th minute the Robins could really have been out of sight; Fisher could have grabbed three more, and Archie Proctor should have got his first of the season but took a swing and a miss at a corner that fell perfectly at his feet. Fortunately, not one minute later Carshalton got their second through Harry Ottaway. Another poorly defended corner reached the number 9 and he had all the time in the world to pick his spot and deservedly double the reds lead.
Merstham didn’t manage a shot on target for the entirety of the first half, their best opportunity came from a header from youngster Elliot Bolton which just evaded Patrick Ohman’s post. Bolton, who only turned 19 a month ago, was one of the Moatsider’s standout players throughout the game, and it was a foul on Bolton in the 42nd minute that saw David Fisher enter the referee’s book with the only yellow of the match.
Merstham started the second half much livelier and took the game to Carshalton as they looked to pull one back. The Robins seemed taken aback by this new lease of life from the home side as the first 15 minutes or so really belonged to them. The Yellow’s failed to take advantage of their opportunities and in the 65th minute, Harry Ottaway nearly put the game to bed, but his effort bounced off the cross bar and Merstham lived to fight another day.
Two minutes later and it was the man at the opposite end of the pitch that was called into action; Patrick Ohman had had very little to do up until this point, but was called into action to save top scorer, Calvin Ekpiteta’s point blank shot and maintain the two goal advantage. Two minutes after that, the game was dead and buried, as Tommy Bradford down the right-hand side played the ball across the face of goal to Ottaway, who quite possibly scored the easiest goal of his career as he tapped it into a empty Merstham goal.
Both teams made full use of their subs in the second half, Carshalton brought on Hector, Manuel and we got to see a first appearance of the season for Paul Ansah who replaced man of the match Harry Ottaway after he felt the full force of a Bertie Lloyd challenge and gingerly limped off the pitch.
The home fans did have something to smile about, as in the 91st minute Omar Folkes volleyed past Ohman to rid him of his clean sheet and give a consolation to those fans that stuck it out to bitter end.
And that was it, Carshalton coming away deserved victors in what could well be the last game of football for a while. They progress into the first round where they will take on Barking at Colston Avenue hopefully in the not too distant future.