Report: Whyteleafe 2-2 Herne Bay
So, after a seven-week pre-season campaign, the ‘phoney war’ was finally over and Whyteleafe kicked-off their 2019-2010 BetVictor South East campaign on Saturday, hosting Herne Bay FC at Church Road.
By and large the pre-season had been a success with just one defeat nestled among the seven matches, which included four wins. This had enabled Leafe boss Harry Hudson and his assistant Calum McFarlane, to settle on their first-choice side well in advance, although best-laid plans were hindered only by a nasty-looking Achilles injury to Tre Daley last Saturday against, South Park and a knock for winger, Jordan Clarke in training on Thursday evening meant that there was a starting spot for Martin Sontan, who looked lively.
Our visitors had strengthened considerably over the summer and their overhaul included the signing of prolific striker, Zak Ansah, who has been an ever-present threat to defences in our league for what seems like many years.
From the off, however, it was Leafe in the ascendency forcing a couple of smart saves from Herne Bay keeper, Jake Batchelor. Whyteleafe striker, Ronnie Sobowale, was facing his old club and was attracting plenty of abuse from the visiting fans, although didn’t let that get the better of him.
Some of the Leafe football during the first half was as good as anything produced during last season’s journey to eighth place in the league and the midfield trio of Bentley Graham, Mannie Mensah and Antonio Walker-Barth were running the game.
Bentley has gradually improved during the pre-season and against Herne Bay he was back to his best, pulling plenty of strings and pinging his trademark pinpoint long passes. Meanwhile, young Mannie although diminutive in stature is incredibly hard to knock off the ball, and seems to glide across the pitch. Just about shading it though was Antonio Walker-Barth who at times in the first half was completely unplayable whether it be threading passes through to the forwards or going on his own mazy runs. He is another great new addition to Harry’s squad.
It was Sobowale though, who was causing the visitors the most concern and one particular move saw him break free of the shackles of the covering defenders and fire off a wicked shot that seemed destined for the back of the net only for Batchelor to get his finger tips to it and push it onto the bar.
Credit should be given to the goalkeeper. It initially looked like Ronnie’s shot had clattered the crossbar of its own accord before the realisation that Batchelor had made an outstanding save.
He wasn’t so lucky soon after though. Ronnie made another break and his speed seemed to be getting him to the ball first before the goalie – certain goal if he’d have got there – only for the referee to judge that Batchelor had fouled him and awarded Leafe a penalty. Given that Ronnie has stuck a few spot kicks away already in pre-season, Leafe fans were hopeful…
Again, though, it was Batchelor to the rescue as he dived to his left and pushed Ronnie’s penalty away.
However, despite the miss, Leafe looked the more likely to score. That was until the 32ndminute when a move down the Whyteleafe left saw played switched to the right with a smart cross-field pass and Kyron Lightfoot stick the ball away to send Herne Bay’s fans delirious.
Their only shot of the half and they took the lead! The old cliché about football being a funny old game never seemed so apt.
It was more of the same in the second half with several Whyteleafe chances going begging. Someone standing near me reckoned that this might be turning into one of those games. That was until debutant Kwadwo Baah was sent on by Calum McFarlane. The 16-year old left winger turned the game, it has to be said.
He gave the Herne Bay right back some serious problems with his weaving runs, one of which saw him get to the byline and cross for Sobowale to net an equaliser, only for the goal to be disallowed. The referee adjudged that Baah had run the ball out of play. Seemed harsh.
Herne Bay decided that the newcomer needed special attention and doubled up on him. It’s to be hoped that the young man gets more chances to shine. He definitely did a lot to endear himself to the Leafe fans while he was on the pitch.
The equaliser finally came in the 75th minute with a close range downward header by Ronnie Sobowale. Another young debutant, Corie Andrews came on and did a similar job to Baah down the right flank and with the crowd behind them Leafe went for the winner. A superb Bentley Graham pass played Andrews in and the young man outpaced the defence and calmly slotted the ball away in the 89th minute.
You could forgive Leafe fans for thinking the victory was claimed. An entertaining game, a great performance by the home side and sheer determination to get back into the game had given us all hope that the three points had come our way.
To their credit, Herne Bay went looking for the equaliser and kept Leafe honest at the back. A free-kick in a dangerous position about 20-yards out was survived, as were some long throw bombs. However, whether the penalty awarded to Herne Bay, well into injury time, was justified is questionable. Regardless of all that, despite his best efforts, Leafe keeper, Tyler McCarthy, couldn’t keep Ansah’s spot kick out and that was it. A 2-2 draw.
Although Leafe fans were very happy with the team’s performance a draw still felt like a defeat given our dominance especially seeing Herne Bay players celebrating wildly at the end. As one of their fans said after the game “You should have won that 7-1!” – Funny old game football!
Whyteleafe next head off to newly promoted Chichester City this Tuesday evening (August 20).
Whyteleafe Line Up: 1 Tyler McCarthy 2 Mannie Mensah 3 Matt O’Donoghue 4 Nathan Campbell (Captain) 5 Ricardo Thompson (sub Kwadwo Baah 63’) 6 Corey Holder 7 Martin Sontan (sub Corie Andrews 81’) 8 Bentley Graham 9 Ronnie Sobowale 10 Antonio Walker-Barth (Junior Aikhionbare 63’) 11 Renedie Masumpu