Thursday 01st September 2005

Merridan the hero for Thamesmead

Referee Johnson takes centre-stage on his last Kent League appointment

Cray Wanderers 0-1 Thamesmead Town
Go Travel Kent League - Premier Division Cup Final
Saturday 8 May 2004
Stephen McCartney reports from the Westbourne Stadium

THAMESMEAD TOWN won the Go Travel Kent League Cup for the first time in their short thirty-five year history, and in doing so denied Cray Wanderers the treble, at a very wet Westbourne Stadium in Folkestone today.

The only goal of the game came in the 32nd minute when Marc Merridan's close range strike found the back of the net, but it was what the Bayliss Avenue outfit deserved.

Cray Wanderers', who had already won the Go Travel Kent League Premier Division title, for the second year running, and the Kent Senior Trophy, lost their grasp of the Kent League Cup, which they won last season, after beating VCD Athletic 2-0 on the same ground.

Cray were off-colour and were desperately missing thirty-goal midfielder Jamie Kempster and experienced striker Ricky Bennett, who were both unavailable.

Thamesmead's smart showing matched their suits they wore for the game, and were tremendously supported by many supporters who made the game into a special cup final occasion.  Balloons rose to the air as the teams came onto the pitch - and Paul Blade's side, that finished the season in second place, rose to the occasion.

Thamesmead used the Cheriton Road pitch, which cut up throughout the encounter, to full affect and Merridan received a lot of the ball, making many runs from deep, down the right hand side.

Cray Wanderers did have the ball in the back of the net after thirteen minutes but the goal was ruled out by forty-year-old referee Gary Johnson.

A penatrating run by Matt Woolf, whose career was delayed after a leg injury at Dr Martens League side Crawley Town, after a successful time at Bromley, threaded the ball to Sam Wood, and from twelve yards his shot rifled into the top right hand corner.

However, celebrations were extinguised, not by a linesman's flag, but by referee Johnson, who had pulled play back for a foul on Woolf by Wayne Barrett, and a free kick yards outside the penalty area was awarded instead of the goal.

From the resulting free kick, Adam Heaslewood's left footed attempt was inches away from the crossbar.

At the other end, Thamesmead Town were awarded a penalty in the 16th minute. 

Twenty-year-old striker, Michael Power, whose performance should alert managers of clubs at a higher level, turned his marker and his shot was blocked but Johnson pointed to the penalty spot as he was pulled back by experienced defender David Gray.

Heaslewood and Gray were both booked after the decision and the delay must have put many thoughts into Dean Burns head, as his penalty lacked conviction, allowing thirty-nine year old agile goalkeeper, Micky Simmons to make a comfortable save low to his left.

Thamesmead's Pedro Knight sprayed the ball to Merridan on the right hand side, and his cross was met by Burns', who beat his marker in the air, to send a header over Simmons' crossbar from inside the penalty area.

Cray's James Taylor, who played 73 minutes of the game with a bandaged head following a cut, received the ball from Ross Lover's flick, and after beating thirty-six year old Thamesmead defender, Peter Deadman, and cutting inside Mark Simmons, his effort from twenty-yards flew well wide of the far post.

Thamesmead's twenty-six-year-old goalkeeper Steve Northwood produced an athletic flying save after 28 minutes from Woolf's snap shot from twenty yards that  took a deflection of Knight but the shot was superbly tipped over the bar.

Knight showed his attacking prowerness at the other end when his 24 yard shot screamed wide of the left post.

Thamesmead scored the decisive goal in the 32nd minute.  Burns' right footed shot from 25 yards moved in the air but Cray goalkeeper Micky Simmons parried the shot.  The loose ball was picked up by Michael Power, who was denied by a brave tackle by David Gray, but Merridan pounced onto the ball and from three yards slotted home to give the Bayliss Avenue outfit the deserved lead.

On the stroke of half-time, Woolf struck a 22-yard cracker, which again hit Knight onto its way wide of the post before Northwood got his body fully behind Cray captain, Ian Rawlings' fierce drive, four yards outside the penalty area, after Thamesmead failed to clear Lover's corner.

The last action of the half saw Gray commit a foul on Power, and from the resulting set-piece, Tony Russell screamed a free kick narrowly off target from just outside the danger area.

Five minutes after the break, Woolf went to ground inside the penalty area from Dean Kearley's challenge, and the decision not to award a penalty, upset two Cray substitutes, and referee Johnson came over to the dug-out to give them a stern talking to.

Power had a couple of good chances when, after a flowing run down the left, his fierece drive from the left hand side outside the box, whistled wide of the far post, before he struck a free kick over the three man wall but over Simmons goal from  twenty-five yards.

A chance to put the game beyound Cray's grasp was squandered in the 62nd minute when Power reached the by-line before his cross evaded Burns at the near post but Merridan sent his header agonisingly over from close range at the far post.

Nothing was going to get past Thamesmead's solid defence and goalkeeper Northwood. The goalkeeper was in the right place at the right time when he saved Gray's flick after Rawlings' launched a long free kick from the half way line into the opposing six yard box.

Another Thamesmead chance went begging with twenty minutes left on the clock.  Burns rode Rawlings' challenge outside the penalty area, but the experienced defender managed to win the ball back, before losing possession again, but Burns was denied a goal from the edge of the penalty area by Simmons, who made himself big and to be fair, the shot was struck straight at him.

Two minutes later Merridan's deep cross was met by Power's header but it was wide of the left post before Heaslewood blazed another free kick over the bar from twenty yards.

Sam Wood, exchanged passes down the left hand side with thirty-one-year-old utility man, Andy Silk, who was thrown on as a striker, but Wood drilled a curling shot wide of the near post.

Thamesmead's terrific supporters sensed victory and vocally encouraged their team for the final ten minutes, and their hero's responded to the support and showboated the Kent League champions at times.

Thamesmead substitute Mark Simmons held the ball up outside the Cray penalty area and shimmied the ball before going past his marker Gray but his cross-shot from the right by-line didn't beat his namesake, in the Cray goal, who made a comfortable near post save.

With four minutes remaining, it was now time for referee Johnson to steal the limelight.

Two weeks ago, Johnson, 40, was interviewed at FA headquaters in Soho Square for promotion to the national list of referees and duly gained this significant step up, and today he left supporters of Kent League football with a nasty taste in their mouth with his performance and handling of the late incident with Cray manager Ian Jenkins.

"Been all good all game, haven't said nothing to him (referee Johnson) all I've done with ten minutes to go, I was getting up  trying to get my players rallied round. Joe (Francis, assistant manager) always stands up, I want to stand up as well, he (Johnson) has told me to sit down, the linesman's told me to sit down.  He (Johnson) came over, I went to sit down, and he went: " No! Ian sit down, I've told you!"  I went "hold on a minute" I'm standing on the steps of the dug out, we are 1-0 down, what do you want me to do - sit down!" Jenkins explained.

Jenkins was banished out of the dug-outs by Johnson and the fuming manager leaped over the perimeter fence and sat down at the front of the main stand.

However, Johnson waited and waited, holding the game up for many minutes, until the manager made his way into the dressing rooms.  Jenkins' did return to the pitch to congratulate his friend, Thamesmead manager Paul Blade after the final whistle on their triumph.

With almost three minutes into injury time, Thamesmead showed their do-or-die attitude when Russell bravely got his body to Gray's goalbound shot at the far post following winger Ross Lover's corner kick.

Thamesmead substitute, Curtis Williams, who scored both goals that helped Thamesmead beat Cray 2-0 in the Kent Senior Trophy at Fisher Athletic's Docklands home two years ago, almost carved a deserved second goal for his side deep into injury time but Power headed over from ten yards.

President of the Go Travel Kent League, Peter Wager presented winning captain, Dean Kearley the Marion Wager Trophy and the name of Thamesmead Town can now be scribed on the trophy - and they fully deserve it!

Cray Wanderers: Micky Simmons, Danny Whelan (Paul Dimmock 79), Ian Rawlings (Capt), David Gray, Danny Evans, James Taylor (John Mayall 79), Adam Heaslewood, Ross Lover, Jamie Wood, Matt Woolf (Andy Silk 71), Sam Wood.  Subs: Robert Browning, Ian Jenkins

Thamesmead Town: Steve Northwood, Marc Merridan, Peter Deadman, Pedro Knight, Dean Kearley (Capt), Mark Penny, Tony Russel, Wayne Barrett (Tony Gallagher 15), Michael Power, Dean Burns (Curtis Williams 85), Sam Thomas (Mark Simmons 62). Subs: Lee Loveridge, James Brown

Attendance: 274
Referee: Gary Johnson (Newington)
Assistants: Leo Goodchild (Rochester) , Geoffrey Smith (Deal)
Fourth Official: Neil Creasy (Deal)