Match report by Matthew Breach (a.k.a. Chalfont Don)
Another Saturday and another adventure into the depths of the Home Counties. How would the North-side of Greenford appear to the travelling Dons? After the last three weeks anything was possible: the burnt out Eastern European war zone that was Feltham's stand; Cobham's be-chandeliered beer-tent and the (extremely) low-flying jumbos at Bedfont - we had seen it all. The day started promisingly with glorious sunshine in the Chalfonts, and my proximity to Greenford (the second closest CCL ground to my house) enabling me to enjoy a leisurely lunch before departure.
After turning off the A40, I passed a large shopping mall on the right before turning into Berkeley Avenue to find a spot to park. My first impressions were that the ground was situated in a pleasant suburb on the edge of large open fields, and that for some reason every car parked on the road that wasn't adorned with AFC stickers was being washed – obviously a Saturday ritual for the locals. On entering the ground I inspected the pitch (patchy but mainly green, with a pronounced "Hartley Wintney" style slope rising left to right and up to the far end) before finding the beer tent. Cheap beer, friendly faces, smiling policemen and yellow and blue being displayed everywhere lent the ground a carnival atmosphere – although the police were probably smiling because they were missing the anti-war demo in town!
The news on the official teamsheet (thanks Trevor) was promising: Bolger and Oakins back for the Dons and the NGU keeper being listed to play in a fetching "Pink/Mauve" combo. The teams came out to muted applause, with a large number of our more vocal fans still finishing their drinks outside the bar, and the Dons lined up to kick uphill in the first half. The opening exchanges saw AFC generally on top, but little was created in the first ten minutes other than a long range attempt by Ally Russell. As the first half wore on, NGU gradually took control of the game as the Don's passing seemed to be compromised by the slope. The first real threat at Ray Merry's goal came when the NGU number eight met a clearance with a spectacular volley from 25 yards – fortunately it ended up much nearer the corner flag than the goal. This was a warning that should have been heeded however, as just before the half-hour mark NGU took the lead. The right-winger sped to the by-line as Daley and Oakins appealed vainly for offside and his cross was hit against the post by Hill, but the rebound was buried while Merry was still grounded. Barely a minute later and 1-0 nearly became 2-0 as a identical move saw Hill again latch onto the end of a cross – this time his shot was saved, and when the rebound was fired in he managed to lift the ball over the bar from barely a yard out. Luckily for us his finishing was not up to his usual standard.
The game went into a scrappy period with little action for ten minutes or so, before finally a break for the Dons when Bolger slammed the ball home after a prolonged period of ping-pong in the NGU box. The goal seemed to lift the team and they finished the half strongly, but on balance we were probably slightly lucky to go in at 1-1. I was supplied with a half-time burger report from Gerry (not bad, better than K's and with an individual touch – whatever that means), and as the Dons fans gathered at the bottom of the hill I hoped that Terry's no doubt "colourful" half-time talk would rouse the team into action. Only a couple of minutes after the restart, Danny Oakins tried to run through the entire NGU team, and whilst getting stopped by about the fifth defender, his run set the tone for a hugely improved Dons performance.
Gavin Bolger and the combative Bassey took control of the midfield, and the chances began to arrive. Coops got through a couple of times but couldn't get his shot away, and Russell almost played Bolger through before a quick throw from Lee Sidwell found Bolger who beat his man and crossed for Coops to prod home for 2-1. The referee, who looked a lot more in control than many at this level, then booked Bassey for a gratuitous push – his first yellow card in over 150 minutes play, which must be a record! This didn't stop the Dons and, after a great flicked pass by Coops, Russell set-up Bolger whose shot was spilled at the feet of Coops who cleaned up to make it 3-1. A period of NGU pressure then followed which ended when Matt Everard headed off the line after Merry had spilt a catch. AFC regained control, with Sidwell in particular creating chances with good link-up play with Wardy and Bolger.
With about five minutes to go, Bolger broke down the left, and after rounding two defenders (and being fouled twice to boot) proceeded to blast into the roof of the net as the keeper looked to cover the expected cross. Did we have time to make it pass the five goal jinx? That question appeared to be answered with a resounding no as the NGU number four broke down the right, beat two defenders and slotted pass Merry to make it 4-2. Perhaps unsettled by the chorus of "He hates his pies" from behind the goal, the lanky NGU keeper then caught a Sean Daley corner but proceeded to carry the ball outside the box. Despite cries from behind the goal for a red card, the referee sensibly just gave a free kick which Coops went to take after a brief discussion with the fellow hat-trick chasing Bolger. In a carbon copy of his hat-trick goal against Ash, Coops blasted the ball low to the keeper's left to make it 5-2 as the game entered injury-time. After the restart, AFC won the ball back and made one more move up field. As the ball was played to Coops just in side the box, a tiring NGU defender hacked his ankles and the ref blew for the penalty. Coops sportingly handed the ball to Bolger, who whacked the spot kick into the top-left corner to break the jinx: 6-2.
The whistle was blown immediately to the delighted cheers of the Dons fans, who had immensely enjoyed their day in Sunny Greenford. A very satisfying result, although possibly a little harsh on our very welcoming hosts who were a lot better than some of the teams we had only put five past. Still, all in all a job very well done.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Special mentions to hat-trick man Coops and the energetic Bassey, but Gavin Bolger took his goals well and his runs from midfield were at the heart of almost everything creative shown by AFC, making him a clear winner.
(I mentioned the war once, but I think I got away with it!)