Usually, when Christmas comes early, it means something good has happened ahead of time. Well, due to a combination of working shifts and logistics, my Christmas once again literally came early as Sunday December 4th was my designated Christmas Day in Dorchester with my Mum and The Girlfriend. This did mean one anomaly on this out-of-sync festive period; Christmas Eve coincided with Dorch at home to Chesham. What a treat for all involved…
Our festive form over the past few seasons has been nothing short of awful, and there is a handy TSOF blog from last season to document this, but even at fake Christmas our luck wasn’t to change as we came up against, for my money, comfortably the best side I’ve seen us play this season.
Given I had come home for the specific point of a faux Christmas, there was none of the usual frivolity and this blog will be sadly football centric, but that doesn’t mean some of the standard haunts weren’t frequented and certain standards weren’t kept. The Convivial Rabbit was visited, and I was pleased to inform Nigel there that the advertising board they have at the Tesco end has managed to prominently feature in several photos that Phil Standfield has taken, and that for a pleasant change, it is us scoring in them. “The Convivial Rabbit, a bar worth hitting”, as the sign reads. And no truer words have been spoken. You know it’s a good place to drink when other local pub landlords are drinking there. Ray from the Bakers Arms had spent some quality time there last week and had a very one-way conversation with a cask of Bass. In fact, Ray enjoyed it so much that upon waking up with a hangover the next day, he ordered two casks of the stuff for the Bakers. Just 160 pints worth. Bass for gas. What a life to lead.
Where a Spoons fry up or a visit to the Gorge would usually have filled the morning period, instead it was something to eat at home before a trip into town for some Christmas shopping, and a visit to Coffee #1. How times change. As The Girlfriend and I entered Coffee #1, the door was held open for us by Trevor Senior. After a brief chat with Trev, The Girlfriend and I headed inside and I explained to her she had just met DTFC royalty and Reading’s all-time leading goal scorer. Her response was not a question regarding Trev’s footballing prowess, but in fact a more straightforward one resulting in this exchange;
“If that’s Trevor Senior, does that mean there is a Trevor Junior?”
“You mean Chris?”
Once we had established who was Junior Senior and who was Senior Junior, we got ourselves a coffee and vowed never to speak of this again. The Christmas shopping part of the day was done, complete with a few things to take to the ground for the club’s ‘Give at the Gate’ appeal, which will help provide some much-needed assistance to local foodbanks. A sizable amount of food was donated, so well done to all who contributed and to the club for organising.
As we set off towards the ground, The Girlfriend asked what to expect from the day’s game, and I was unusually a bit stumped. We’ve been in pretty good nick and not lost for a while, but with a few draws and Chesham being right up there, it was a tough one to call. The Girlfriend had a good record watching Dorch prior to this; her first game was a season changing win at Kings Langley last term, and a 1-1 draw in a real end of season affair at Walton Casuals completed her two games thus far. Given many haven’t seen us win in years having watched more games, this isn’t a bad record at all. She was far more confident than I of a result though.
As we arrived at the ground, she was greeted by a hug from Keith Kellaway, who had met and spoken to her at her two games last season. He recognised her as a good luck charm from previous games and was pleased to see her, and she was pleased to see him as he’s a nice bloke and she found his Dorset accent endearing, saying he sounds like me after I’ve been in Dorch for more than five minutes. We nattered to Keith before heading to the turnstile to go in and donate our purchases, and made a beeline for the snack bar. With The Girlfriend being very Northern, the food choice was appropriate in chips, cheese and gravy. One of the women serving seemed horrified, the other like she’d finally found a kindred spirit.
“Chips, cheese and gravy is bloody lovely. Good choice!”
This was the sort of reaction The Girlfriend was looking for, and I have to begrudgingly accept that it was a bloody good choice as some serious harm was done to the food, all washed down with a piping hot Bovril. Just what was required.
Although slightly down on recent attendances, there was still a good turnout from the home fans. Ben Ward had decided the time had come for his daughter to be introduced to a world of bitterness and disappointment as she attended her first game. Many familiar faces occupied the Bovril and, fresh from his rounds, Drew O’Farrell was seen tucking into a nice, refreshing, ice-cold bottle of Tribute ale. Just what was needed to warm the cockles. To be fair, it probably did warm him up a bit as given his employment as a postie, it would appear that he is stipulated to wear shorts for at least 11 months of the year, regardless of the outside temperature.
As The Girlfriend and I took residence in the different surrounds for me of the main stand, I got a proper look at the team. There was only the one change to the XI as Alfie came in for Harvey Bradbury, and there was the welcome sight of Shaq back amongst the substitutes. We were kicking towards the bypass end and had a shot on goal with the first kick of the game as Charlie Gunson had a go straight from kick-off – Chesham’s keeper however was alert and took a simple catch. Charlie may have seen Wimborne win a game with an identical effort last week; respectful nod to Tim Sills and Junior Senior for the job they’ve done there since coming in.
After the initial early effort, the game turned into a quite entertaining affair with both sides keen to attack. Gunson would be the main threat early on, as he thudded an effort off the face of the post after some excellent work on the righthand side, and we also saw an effort cleared off the line. It was not all one-way traffic though as Chesham looked dangerous every time they came forward. Ryan Hall made a high quality save away to his right following a shot from 12 yards out, and there were a couple of efforts that went narrowly wide of Hall’s goal as we were forced to defend for a spell, having looked the better side only minutes earlier.
Back came Dorch and we tried to be a bit too clever as a combination of Olaf and Matty Neale elected to pass when shooting may have been the better option, and then moments later a shot was taken when Alfie was in space on the left-hand side. Olaf was playing thought the middle with Alf on the left and Matty Neale on the right, and this caused Chesham a lot of problems, particularly when the ever-lively Gunson broke forward. Both sides had further half chances but it was an outstanding piece of individual brilliance that would eventually see us open the scoring.
A freekick in a good position was hit into the wall by Matty Neale, but he was able to regain possession and find Alfie on the left side of the box. Alf channelled his inner Andrés D’Alessandro, cutting back onto his favoured foot and bending an unsavable effort beyond the keeper that was made to look all the more pleasing as it hit the post on the way in. Alfie is a Pompey fan, so may get the Andrés D’Alessandro reference. He might not read this though, and I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t. But I can assure you, D’Alessandro was fucking brilliant.
Alfie’s goal came in the 44th minute, but there were four minutes of injury time to see out yet, largely due to what appeared to be a particularly nasty finger injury to a Chesham defender. Either that or his little finger was meant to bend at 45 degrees to all the others. It was this injury time that would aid our later downfall as Olaf picked up an injury in what looked like an innocuous 50/50 challenge. He was in obvious pain, and although he tried to continue, it wasn’t one he could run off as he went back down in agony. He was replaced by Bradders and there was news today that Olaf has sadly broken his ankle, an injury that will see him out for around 12 weeks. We wish him a speedy recovery; he’s been one of our standouts this season and will be sorely missed.
Olaf’s injury put a slight dampener on what had been a good half of football in general, let alone a good half for us. Wardy and I realised we might have to keep bringing our guests with us should this luck continue as we chatted at halftime, and there was good news from the bar as Drew was able to source a Tribute that hadn’t been in the fridge, but was “one from the top”, like a big number on Countdown. How long that bottle of Tribute had been sat on display in the bar is anyone’s guess, but he seemed happy. There was also a sighting of Simon Slade at half-time as we caught up and spoke of Jägermeister fuelled days gone by. Slader, Ian Sibley and I once said that we’d do a shot for every goal Dorch scored as we watched an inconsistent Magpies at home to Braintree. Dorch were 3-0 up at half time and in the end won 5-0. Our order of 15 shots of Jägermeister was greeted with confusion and delight by Geoff Claridge.
Residence was taken up on the Tesco end for the second half as The Girlfriend and I perched near the Kellaway clan. Nige, Paul and I agreed that this would be a real tough half of football and that keeping it tight to start would be vital. We were made to look foolish as Chesham upped the ante and turned the game on its head in the 45 minutes that followed.
Chesham enjoyed a lot of the ball and were far more aggressive at the start of the second half, their reward coming nine minutes in as they deservedly equalised. Jeanmal Proser’s low effort was brilliantly saved by Hall down low to his right, but the loose ball was turned in on the angle by the onrushing Tobias Braney. Even with only nine minutes of the half gone, it felt the goal had been coming as our visitors had obviously upped it a gear from the first 45. That said, the equaliser did liven us up a bit as we had more possession without creating any real opening; Bradders physicality caused issues and he nearly got on the end of a loose ball, but Chesham’s keeper, Sam Beasant, was there in the nick of time to clear.
Possession and no real end product would be the story of the half for us, and it wasn’t a great surpise when Chesham took the lead just after the hour mark. At the time, the second goal looked all too easy as Jordan Edwards was able to turn and fire into the bottom right corner of Hall’s goal to give the visitors the lead. Looking back, it was probably just a very good goal by a decent side who had the bit between their teeth. Their passing, movement and speed of it all caused us a lot of problems – this was underlined when a foul by Callum Buckley gave them a penalty, the third we’ve conceded in as many games in a season where we’ve conceded a few, and when Edwards duly converted that to make it 3-1, it did feel like game over. Beasant in the Chesham goal certainly fancied it was all over – his Robbie Keane style celebration, complete with a flicking of the V’s to the Dorch behind the goal, was that of a man who didn’t think he’d have much else to do that afternoon. He wasn’t wrong.
Shaq was introduced with 10 to play as we looked to salvage something from the game, but his first touch was to boot an away defender in the head as he tried to bring a high ball down and he got a yellow card before he got a touch of the ball. At this point, I’ll also add that I thought the referee was crap. He was in no way at fault for us losing the game and the penalty decision was the correct one, but aside from that, he was fucking awful, manging to piss off both benches, ignore calls from his assistants, get in the way of play, and then lose control as the game petered out. T’Sharne Gallimore, who is no relation to Wooker as far as I know, brought down Ngalo in injury with a tackle that looked at best clumsy, at worst reckless and intended to injure. Rather than deal quickly with this, he let it develop into a bit of a flare up between the two sides, with Gallimore eventually getting booked, but Bradders and Kieran Douglas were also booked for their very vocal protests. “You’ve fucking bottled that”, and “that was fucking shit” were two of the audible complaints heard as an obviously fucked Ngalo was helped from the pitch to leave us with ten men for the dying minutes. Fulltime mercifully came soon after, and as I trotted towards the bar I overheard the Chesham manager saying to one of their players that we were a good side, which is a scant consolation but nice and The Girlfriend and I headed into the bright lights of DT1 for some food and drink to drown the sorrows. Although not before Keith Kellaway informed us that “the jury is out” on whether The Girlfriend will be allowed back. This might not be something she is too saddened by, but she would miss the chips, cheese and gravy.
Although it was disappointing to lose and fall away like we did in the second half, this didn’t feel like an utter disaster. It felt more like a bit of a reminder of where we are and where we want to be. Chesham are, for my money, the best side I’ve seen us play this season, and it is easy to see why they are pulling away from the pack along with Truro and Weston-super-Mare. They were solid all over the pitch, quick to move the ball about, no frills in defence, and a very dangerous side in the final third. I didn’t see the Weston home game, but they did a job on us by all accounts, and I can’t really say Truro are a better side either given how the game there went. As a reminder, it was a day that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Second game of the season, only four players on the bench, no sub keeper and no physio, so of course our keeper at the time, Brad Snelling, would get concussed after about 15 minutes. No physio saw Brad play for 15 minutes longer than he needed to, and no sub keeper meant that when the obvious was diagnosed and Snelling was taken off, Kieran Douglas went in goal. Oddly enough, with a central defender in goal, we never looked like winning the game from there, eventually succumbing to a 4-0 defeat in a loss so interesting that Brian Churchill spent a decent portion of the second half looking at his phone when sat on the bench. So, yes, Chesham shade the best team I’ve seen award thus far.
So, our unbeaten run comes to an end but it wasn’t as stinging an end to the run as it could have been – there isn’t any shame in losing to a better side on the day and that is exactly what Chesham were. the 5-2 win that followed this in the DSC on Wednesday was helpful with several players, such as Keith Emmerson, Harvey Bertrand, Shaq and Louis Slough getting minutes that they’ve not had recently, along with goals for Ollie Balmer and Bradders, so that was more than just another meaningless game. Also, it was good to see Lewis Toms get another start in the DSC as I was impressed by him in the under 23’s game I saw last week. His Dad was a more than useful player as well, from memory, and it was pleasing to see a few familiar names on in the youth set up, although seeing a Gadsby that isn’t a goalkeeper confused me somewhat.
North Leigh awaits on Saturday and that is a game we really should be looking to win as they are well adrift at the foot of the table. I have no idea what North Leigh will be like, but given it is a place that is slightly bigger than Puddletown but smaller than Stalbridge, I’m not expecting much. Hopefully I have to spend less time around a sausage casserole this weekend than I did in the reverse fixture. Up The Magpies, if anyone fancies a pint of Bass, Ray at the Bakers might be able to assist. SV