However, it has to be said that Meads’ win was a skin of the teeth affair, with neither they nor their opponents from the Southern Amateur League, West Wickham, finding it easy to put together much incisive or cohesive football in dealing with a capricious ball which seemed untameable in the blustery wind when added to the problems of a high bounce from a flat, well prepared but nonetheless unyielding pitch at the spacious Bank of England sports complex on Saturday.
Meads’ current problem is that they started the season with a squad of barely eighteen, compared with those of the palmy noughties when their squads were between twenty and twenty five and boasted Middlesborough’s Albert Adomah as one of their number into the bargain. At this point in a hard season, having been hit by just three or four key injuries, they have recently been living off their reserve of fat which is why, on Saturday, centre back Ali McCombe played throughout the second half with his head bandaged protecting a cut over his eye which eventually needed eight stitches and which, in his words, ‘squelched every time he headed the ball’.
Throughout the season Meads have built up a healthy ‘goal difference’ tally in both league and cup through the cutting edge up front of Craig Jones, Ed Glover and Ryan Bright, backed up by a strong mid-field led by play-maker in chief Jack Costello and the removal from this formation of two mid-fielders and, crucially, lynchpin Bright who is undergoing surgery for repairing a knee ligament has practically emasculated their attacking abilities. Thus, during this game in particular, Jones and Glover had to cope with the well marshalled West Wickham defence with shadow support which lacked finesse behind them. Whatever the excuses, with neither side willing to take any chances, and the aerial route being preferred both defences found it comparatively easy to keep their goals out of danger and, consequently, attempts on goal by both sides could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Meads started brightly enough getting the ball into the Wickham area in the first five minutes and going one up in the chances stakes when Jones could only toe poke an attempt from ten yards which went straight to the keeper. However, it is interesting to note that Meads’ Gary Robinson wasn’t called into action until ten minutes into the second half when he lost a long range lob in the sun and the rebound off the bar was put over. The remainder of the second half was unfruitful but it was notable that Meads were gradually gaining the upper hand to give them greater access to their opponents’ area.
This edge was reinforced by the fact that Meads’ subs were of a higher calibre than their opponents’ and this was to be telling throughout the rest of the ninety minutes and extra time. Meads’ slight supremacy late on before extra time was typified by their best effort which was when on seventy minutes Jones worked the ball across the edge of the area from right to left and when just outside the far left hand post unleashed a ferocious left foot cross shot which the wrong-footed keeper deflected wide of the far post with his trailing leg. In extra time Meads gradually increased their hold on the game and almost immediately Ali McCombe had a header from a corner cleared off the line but sub Adam Goode, on at right back to push John Shay into mid-field, got the winning goal four minutes into on. Jack Costello’s deep corner from the left found Goode soaring to crash a header into the roof of the net. From then on Meads looked the only side likely to score another.
John Shay shaded Ali McCombe for the MoM award.