It never really got going properly this year anyway, but the end of August marks the beginning of the passing of summer into autumn, and this Bank Holiday weekend brings an extra round of non-league matches. In the Ryman League a round of derby matches has been scheduled for a day when there are no Premier League or Football League matches being played. In the Premier Division, we’re at The Imperial Fields for the match between Tooting & Mitcham United and Kingstonian. This is a match which perhaps encapsulates this league in a way that no two other clubs could. Tooting have been members of this league since 1956, whilst Kingstonian – a short sojourn in the Football Conference aside – have been here since 1929. Both are clubs which departed old homes for something new and have had difficulties since then.
On the pitch, Tooting have had the better start of the two clubs, with two wins out of three in the league (against Concord Rangers and Leatherhead), whilst Kingstonian, who started the season amongst the clubs expected to at least challenge for a place in the play-offs, are still awaiting their first win of the season. It turns out to be an afternoon which turns this early season on its form, though. It would, however, be remiss of us to not mention Imperial Fields itself. Tooting & Mitcham United have been here since 2002, and it is a very impressive non-league venue, with high, covered terraces at each end of the ground and a main stand that offers a birds-eye view of the match itself that is relatively uncommon at this level of the game. It is a most splendid venue, a very modern ground but one with more than a hint of character about it.
For forty-five tempestuous minute there isn’t so much between the two sides, but there are three goals to mention and the feeling that, with a little cutting edge up front for the home side, the score could have ended up quite different. It takes twenty minutes for the opening goal to come, but these are punctuated by Tooting dominating possession, although the light-weight nature of their attack means that chances are thin on the ground. The breakthrough comes for Kingstonian comes when Bobby Traynor finds some space and drills the ball in, but it isn’t long before Tooting level things up with a goal from close range by Lee Newman. This flash of excitement continues with the moment that changes the tone of the game. Tooting had been struggling to clear the ball for some time before an award of handball gave Kingstonian a penalty, and Traynor converts the penalty to give them the lead again.
As the first half wears on, though, Tooting’s problem becomes evident. This is a young team, and it is not a physically imposing one, either. Every time the ball is pushed forward, their attacking players are brushed from the ball by the visiting defence. It feels at times like a youth team playing against a team of more seasoned professionals. Likewise, Kingstonian look more incisive when they get into attacking positions. For all their possession, Tooting seldom look like scoring and, whilst their style of play could be described as “patient”, it could just as easily be described as “timid”. There are too many occasions this afternoon when they are chasing down blind alleys or passing the ball sideways or backwards when they need to be pushing forward. Several of their players look technically excellent, but they are hustled from the ball by their opponents too often.
Kingstonian seem to shuffle their pack a little at half-time, and the second half feels for more one-sided than the first. Alan Tait adds a third goal with just over a quarter of an hour left to play, and a fourth goal follows from Gary MacDonald. By this time, Tooting are chasing shadows and Kingstonian are home and dry, with the only serious question to be asked is that of whether this comprehensive win will become a thrashing. Oddly, though, Kingstonian haven’t even played particularly brilliantly this afternoon and it isn’t difficult to see where their stuttering start to the season came from, but having lost in the play-off final in this division two years ago and only just outside the play-off places last season, the potential is clearly there for them to develop and it wouldn’t seem out of the question to seem them challenging, if not perhaps for the title itself, then more likely for a play-off place. Tooting, on the other hand, looked outplayed this afternoon and manager Mark Beard may well have his work cut out in order to lift his team for their next game, at home on Saturday against Wingate & Finchley.
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