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First Team, Match Report

24 Mar 2024

Match Report: Jersey Bulls 2-2 Farnham Town

After back-to-back wins against AFC Croydon Athletic and Redhill following their first dropped points of the season away at second-placed Knaphill earlier in March, Farnham Town knew they were travelling to Jersey to take on the Bulls with multiple title-clinching scenarios.

90 minutes stood between the Town and Step 4 football for the first time in the Club’s 118-year history. A 28th win in 29 league games, in addition to Knaphill failing to beat Balham at home would secure promotion from the Combined Counties Premier Division South, while a draw against Jersey Bulls would also be enough, providing the Knappers fell to Balham, and Tadley Calleva were unable to win away at AFC Croydon Athletic.

In front of a bumper crowd of over 1,150 at Springfield Stadium, including close to 200 travelling Farnham Town faithful, the stage was set for the most highly-anticipated game of the season – on Non-League Day no less.

Paul Johnson made just one change to the side that had beaten Redhill 3-0 on Tuesday night, with Adam Liddle – who had been struggling with a knee issue in recent weeks – returning to the side in place of Lamar Koroma with Harry Cooksley dropping back into a deeper role as the Town opted to go perhaps slightly more attacking in a game of such magnitude.

With an eye on scores from around the division, the news of a delayed start by 15 minutes only added to the drama of the day as we would know what was required going into the dying embers of the game as the fixtures involving both Knaphill and Tadley would have ended.

Farnham were dealt some great news as the teams were walking out with word filtering around the away fans that AFC Croydon had taken the lead against Tadley in the opening minutes, but those joys were soon snuffed out following a hot start from the hosts on the Island.

With just five minutes on the clock, the Bulls raced into an early deserved lead. Jonny Le Quesne’s fizzed low effort was beaten away by Pat Nash but straight into the path of Jersey’s top scorer, Lorne Bickley, who delivered a thumping first-time driven effort on the half-volley through a host of bodies, between the legs of Nash and into the back of the net. For the first time in the league this season, Farnham Town were trailing – and looked shellshocked.

Less than two minutes later, the Bulls were nearly gifted a second. Left-back Jay Giles’ flighted cross into the box was caught in a gust of wind and nearly deceived Nash who was caught under it, getting a palm on the ball before collecting it with Le Quesne looking to tap home from close range. The howling wind towards that end would continue to play a role in the game throughout.

Tactically, Jersey were stifling the Farnham midfield who struggled to progress the ball forward all afternoon, often resulting in dithering in possession or turning the ball over trying to force a pass that wasn’t there. Mark Waters had the ball stolen from him just inside the Farnham half by Adam Trotter who drove towards the box. He opted to shoot early with a low effort straight at Nash, perhaps left to regret the choice not to advance closer to the goal.

As we approached the 15-minute mark, Jersey again forced a turnover in their attacking half. Ryan Kinnane this time was the man dispossessed, again by Trotter, who carried the ball forward and played a splitting pass to the left side of the box to Fraser Barlow. His shot took a strong deflection off Max Meaton, nearly wrong-footing Nash who was able to claim.

Frankly put, Farnham were putting in one of their worst displays of the season so far, potentially swept up in the occasion and the “what ifs”. The Bulls were well up for the fight and were probably scratching their heads at how they hadn’t yet improved on their advantage in the game. Bickley pressed high and blocked a clearance from Kinnane which rebounded back towards the Farnham goal. The towering striker challenged Nash for the free ball, but neither really got on the end of it and it fell back to Kinnane who was able to clear his lines at the second attempt.

It took until just after a half hour had been played for Farnham to muster their first effort of the game, Harry Cooksley collecting the ball on the left, coming inside and letting rip from 30 yards which flew narrowly past the top-left corner.

There would be just eight more touches of the ball before it found its way into the net again. Pierce Roche set a long ball forward towards Bickley who flicked it on. Barlow collected it coming inside off the left, strode forward and slid in Le Quesne who beat the offside trap and slotted past Nash to double the Bulls’ lead. It was the least that the hosts deserved after an impressive start to the game.

A silver lining was found with the news that not only were AFC Croydon romping to victory against Tadley, and Balham remained a goal to the good against Knaphill at halftime, meaning as things stood, a draw would be enough to secure the title.

Farnham needed to make a marked improvement in the second half if they were to find a way back into the game with their 38-game unbeaten league record on the line, but just two minutes after the restart the Bulls had the ball in the Town net again as Luke Watson thumped home a knockdown from a flighted free kick, but the referee had blew up for a foul on Nash in the build-up.

With an attacking bench at his disposal, Johnson didn’t refrain from looking to impact the game with his substitutes. Shamal Edwards replaced Dean Rule, and Lamar Koroma replaced an injured Tom Smith which saw Meaton move from right to left-back, and Koroma slotting in on the right side of the back four.

As we entered the last 20 minutes of regulation time, the 3PM kick-offs were coming to a close. AFC Croydon saw off Tadley with an emphatic 6-1 victory, and Balham, who had been pegged back early in the second half of their clash with Knaphill, grabbed an 89th-minute winner at Redding Way which sparked a new buzz in the travelling Farnham fans who knew that with those two results locked in, the Town would be crowned champions if they could battle back for a draw.

One can only assume word of this also reached the players as they suddenly looked reinvigorated and played with a purpose. A long throw from Lewis Flatman was cleared to the edge of the box to Owen Dean who volleyed goalward. His shot was deflected and into the path of Waters, he looked to prod it home but it was cleared away off the line for a corner.

From that corner, Cooksley lofted the ball towards the back of the box for Kinnane to send a looping header back into the mixer. Both Waters and Liddle challenged Roche for the ball in amongst a crowd of Jersey defenders. The ‘keeper claimed but was bundled into his own goal amidst the battle for the ball, but the referee had judged he was fouled.

Struggling to create from open play, perhaps a set piece was going to be Farnham’s best opportunity to get back into the game. With 11 minutes to play, Cooksley whipped in a free kick towards the back post. Edwards lept for it but it evaded his efforts which allowed Waters to follow in behind him to tap home. His contact wasn’t the best resulting in a bit of goalmouth pinball. It eventually fell to Kai Tanner who was just introduced in place of Flatman, he shifted it to his left foot and struck across the goal, picking out the far right corner and the Town suddenly had a lifeline out of nowhere.

That goal lit a fire under Farnham who came with unrelenting pressure as the Bulls continued to drop deeper and deeper, looking to protect their now frail lead. One more goal would send the Town into Step 4.

Five minutes from time, Cooksley had another opportunity from a corner. His initial delivery was cleared, as was the follow up which was collected by Tanner around 25 yards from goal. His attempts to push down the left were cut off and decided to play it back to Meaton just inside the Jersey half.

He took a touch to compose himself and looked to deliver a long, hopeful ball into the box with the likes of Charlie Postance and Ryan Kinnane still upfield. As had been the case all afternoon, the wind blowing in that direction was causing serious problems for both ‘keepers in terms of judging the flight.

Meaton’s hopeful ball rode the wind and kept on soaring, and Roche in the Bulls’ net came out too far looking to collect it and was caught under the flight. The ball cleared all of the players into the box and bounced into an empty net, sending the travelling fans into raptures behind the goal. After being thoroughly outplayed for much of the game, Farnham found themselves level courtesy of a little bit of help from Mother Nature.

With the clock winding down, it was Farnham who looked the more likely to find the fifth and decisive goal of the game, but the Bulls still had one more moment left in them. A hopeful ball forward was headed into the path of Miguel Carvalho who then played in Bickley on the right side of the box. He pushed forward into the space and with Kinnane and Meaton closing down from his left looked to bury it past Nash at the near post but found the side netting.

After 94 minutes of scintillating ninth-tier football, the referee’s whistle sounded for full time and Farnham Town were confirmed as Combined Counties Premier Division South champions. The elated players and staff mobbed the travelling fans behind the goal, kickstarting what would be a night of celebrations no one would forget.

The Town remain on course for a memorable unbeaten season as well, but next up they welcome Tooting & Mitcham United to The Memorial Ground on Tuesday night in their first game back on home soil as league winners.

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