Whyteleafe FC


Crazy times, as we all know, but finally Leafe are back in action, even though it has to be behind closed doors with no spectators.
Harry Hudson was back for Tuesday evening’s match at Church Road (looking resplendent – that’s the ground not Harry, although he didn’t look to shabby after his little break!) following the shock 3-0 home defeat to Hollands & Blair on Saturday, which is probably best sketched over.
To be fair though, our opponents that day, from Gillingham, play in the Southern Counties Football League Premier Division (they finished 14th last season) and as the likes of Cray Valley have shown, although a level below us, there is plenty of ambition and let’s be honest, fire-power, lurking in that division.
Anyway, back to Tuesday evening and to say that Church Road was roasting at kick-off time is an understatement and our opponents, Croydon FC, from the SCFL Division One (they came second last season and in normal circumstances would have been promoted) are regular pre-season visitors and always provide a stern test.
They lined up in a 4-5-1 formation so clearly had come to stifle Leafe’s creativity at all costs by packing their midfield. A big, strong side it should be noted and following Saturday’s reversal Harry picked a strong Leafe team although regulars such as Tyler McCarthy, Mannie Mensah and Bentley Graham were unavailable.
Good to see the core of last season’s Leafe squad back this term. You may have seen in Gaffer’s Chat that Matt O’Donoghue and Corie Andrews have moved to Isthmian Premier sides and we all wish them well, I’m sure.
Replacing Matt at full-back is a very promising young player in Ryan Atkinson while starting in Bentley’s number 8 shirt was seventeen-year old Courtney Clark, who to these eyes looks extremely assured on the ball. He’s definitely another of Harry and Calum’s young finds. Which luckily for us they keep managing to discover.
Cagey first ten minutes and, as mentioned, Croydon had clearly come to stop Leafe’s flowing football and it took a while for us to get into our stride. The home back four well marshalled by Jamie McGeoghegan and Corey Holder at centre-back had a few minor scares early on but held firm directed by the ever-dependable and vocal reserve keeper, Sheikh Ceesay.
Nice to see Manager’s Player of the Season, Ricardo Thompson thriving in his new role sitting in front of the back four. His athleticism enables him to get around the back line providing a perfect screen or cover as needed. He could do well this season in his new position.
Andrew Sesay looked very sharp out on the left wing and he seems to have continued the fine form he showed at the end of last season. He is fast and strong on the ball and creates space for others as opponents seem to put two men on him. Talking of others, Ryan Gondoh is a mercurial talent who seems to make the game look easy when he’s in the mood.
Ryan arrived at Leafe towards end of last season’s truncated campaign and endeared himself to the home fans quickly scoring some fine goals during that time, too. Against Croydon he wasn’t firing at his very best but he causes panic in opposition defences and it was no surprise when his cross set up Sesay, coming in from his wing, for an easy tap-in in the penalty box. The prospect of the two of them developing a partnership should be relished by Leafe fans.
Indeed, a few minutes earlier Sesay had a header hit the bar and also drew a fine close range save from the young Croydon keeper.
The returning Valentino Carpene had a run out at centre-forward in the first half and worked tirelessly but with no reward.
In the 39th minute Leafe stretched their lead with a cool finish by that man Gondoh after a superb cross-field through-ball from Courtney Clark had put him through. A great pass but they still need putting away. Standing behind Gondoh, even though pursued by three Croydon defenders and some eighteen yards out there was never any doubt in my mind that the ball wasn’t ending up in the back of the net.
The same can’t be said of Ryan’s penalty in the 65th minute. The faltering, stuttering run-up and tame shot was always going to be saved by the Croydon keeper. I don’t think he’ll try that one again. Speaking as a dinosaur, I don’t know what’s wrong with the 20-yard run up and a blaster of a shot penalty taking technique a la Francis Lee (younger readers ask you dad  - or gulp, your grandad!).
Plenty of second half substitutions from Harry – typical pre-season game in that respect – and some promising players among them. Good to see another returning centre-forward from two seasons ago in the shape of David Owusu come on in the second period and he looked very sharp.
Man of the match? Helge Orome playing on the right of midfield was busy all evening breaking up Croydon attacks at source while also creating until he was on the end of a very severe challenge late in the second half that saw him having to come off. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear too bad although he was nursing a sore ankle at the end of the match.
Another of Harry’s youngsters, Dami Olurunnisomo started a few games last season and impressed in a variety of roles. He started at right back against Croydon and for me was the stand-out player in the first half (he was withdrawn at half time) with strong defensive play, neat passing and the ability to bomb forward on the overlap.
So, a regulation victory for Leafe and a result that gets Harry and Calum back on track with Isthmian South Central side Northwood FC making the trip to Church Road from their Hillingdon base this coming Saturday (August 15) and they will undoubtedly provide a real test.

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