The long-awaited start to the 23/24 season finally arrived when Farnham Town made the 90 minute trip round the M25 to North West London where they squared off against Harefield United of the Combined Counties Premier Division North in the Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round.
Paul Johnson’s side arrived at Preston Park with a new addition in the shape of Joe Jackson, who’s no stranger to the area having played for Uxbridge last season in Step 4. Primarily a midfielder, Jackson also offers cover at centre-back which is where the Town have their only injury absentee at the moment in captain Guy Hollis, who is likely to be sidelined for the next two months with a knee injury.
Jackson trained on Thursday and was thrown straight into the starting line-up, partnering Harry Cooksley in midfield. The pairing made up two of a total of six debutants for Farnham Town on Saturday afternoon. Fellow midfielders Darryl Sanders and Ricky Wellard were handed their maiden starts, operating in a more advanced role behind the recognisable strike partnership of Shamal Edwards and Lewis Flatman.
The Town’s final two new faces included from the start came in defence with Jack Dean starting at right-back and vice captain Ryan Kinnane at the heart of the back four, donning the armband in Hollis’ absence. Kinnane, who himself lives in the Uxbridge area, had spent time at Harefield United as a teenager before moving up the football pyramid.
While an early afternoon deluge in the south of England put a number of ties to rest, the Preston Park pitch held up well and the game was underway without a hitch, and it didn’t take long for Farnham Town to establish early dominance.
Within five minutes, the woodwork was rattled as Cooksley let fly from 25 yards after finding himself in considerable space, with his powerful effort striking the crossbar, and with that the tone for the afternoon was set.
Last season, Farnham were prolific in quick transitions, especially when looking for Edwards in space in behind, and he nearly opened his account for the season inside the first 10 minutes when Flatman played him in behind. Last season’s Golden Boot winner was able to round the goalkeeper, but his scuffed finish was cleared before it could cross the line.
With the pressure beginning to mount, it looked to be only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken, and Flatman was handed not one but two excellent opportunities to do so, both via the left boot of left-back Tom Smith. First, Smith clipped a ball from deep over the Harefield United defence, but Flatman’s attempted first-time header over the onrushing goalkeeper sailed wide. Kinnane then sent a long ball forward into the left-hand channel, collected excellently by Smith, who delivered a pinpoint cross for Flatman but he mistimed his volleyed effort with the ball rebounding off his heel and wide.
Farnham’s overwhelming dominance did pay dividends soon enough, when after 17 minutes the deadlock was broken. With time and space, Cooksley picked his head up and was able to flight the ball into the box for Sanders who beat the offside trap. He brought the ball down and finished calmly into the far corner, handing the Town the lead.
Knowing that the one goal lead probably wasn’t reflective of their performance so far, Johnson’s men continued to probe and after 37 minutes the lead was doubled. Wellard slid in Smith on the left wing, his low cross made it all the way through to the other fullback, Jack Dean, who coolly finished to make it 0-2.
Edwards thought he had made it 0-3 shortly after the restart when he was freed in behind and put the ball in the back of the net after an excellent clipped pass from Wellard, but the linesman’s flag ruled out the effort.
Not to be denied, Edwards did net Farnham’s third three minutes before half-time when Sanders’ defence-splitting pass found the striker in acres of space on the edge of the box. Edwards took a touch and finished comfortably round the Harefield goalkeeper, and the game was beginning to look out of sight. It would remain 0-3 to Farnham Town going into half time.
You would be forgiven for thinking the Town could perhaps take their foot off the gas in the second half, but that was not to be the case as they went searching for more goals. Flatman would have surely thought he had scored when he rose to head home a cross from Dean, but the outstretched leg of the Harefield goalkeeper kept his headed effort out. Edwards came close to netting his second soon after when his low left-footed effort was beaten away and his follow-up was tipped behind.
With the height in the Farnham Town side this season, they were a perennial threat from set pieces. Kinnane, who had a headed effort go wide earlier in the half, scored Farnham’s fourth as Sanders’ corner beat everyone to land at the feet of the skipper who only had to pass it into an empty net. Kinnane nearly made it five late on, again from a set piece, when his pack post header clipped the outside of the post.
Johnson was able to hand out two more debuts to summer recruits with the result firmly secure, with Dean Rule, who arrived from Badshot Lea and Charlie Postance, top scorer in the Combined Counties Premier Division South last season with Abbey Rangers, freshening up the attack along with Owen Dean, hat-trick hero in the Southern Combination Cup final at the end of last season all entering the fray.
On another day, Farnham Town probably win by a wider margin, especially if what looked like a stone-wall penalty for a foul on Jack Dean late on was given, but the scoreline would remain 4-0 when the final whistle blew and the Town progress into the Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round where they will host Crowborough Athletic at The Memorial Ground in two weeks time.
✅ ???? ??? ????????? ✅
After yesterday’s win, the Town are at home in the next round of their #EmiratesFACup journey!
— Farnham Town FC (@FarnhamTownFC) August 6, 2023
Lots of positives to take out of the performance, providing a great foundation for the side as they now turn their attentions to the league where they start their season away at Balham in a replay of last season’s Southern Combination Cup final.