Saturday, October 22, 2011

FA Trophy - Whyteleafe 0 Grays Athletic 3

The FA Trophy (or FA Carling Trophy to use its proper name) is the cup competition that only a non-league club can win. The tournament is open to all clubs from step 5 to 8 in the Non-League Pyramid. There are ten rounds in total, the final being at Wembley Stadium.

My first experience of this competition was this season at Ryman League Division 1 South club Whytleleafe FC when a gaggle of football bloggers descended on Church Road to see the home team battle back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 with a dubious last-minute penalty against North Greenford United of the Evostick (Southern) League in the Preliminary Round.

To the victor was a home draw against the once mighty Grays Athletic in the First Quailfying Round on 22nd October. Grays are a big name in English non-league circles, their heady days in the Conference, last decade, as they made a bid for Football League status. These days, The Gravelmen play in the Ryman Division 1 North so it was an even match between the two sides. The winner enters the pot for the Second Qualifying Round where teams from the step above join the fray and trousers the not inconsiderable prize fund of £2,200.

The away side are two times winners of the FA Trophy and while they are no longer the force they were, they sit in second place in the Ryman Division 1 North. Whyteleafe, meanwhile, are languishing in 19th place in Division 1 South, just two points from the relegation zone. Progression would be a tough challenge for the leafy club from the north-east corner of Surrey.

From the kick off it was clear that Grays were a team that will be playing a division higher, next season. The away side were winning every ball in the air. They were quicker in both mind and body and as strong as their hosts. You could have cordoned off one half of the pitch in the first period of play, such was Grays' domination. Attacking midfielder Joa Carlos hit the post early on and it was only a matter of time before the first goal. Specifically, it was nine minutes.

Louis Dennis is a strong and purposeful forward who verily rifled home a shot for the opener. Grays kept up the pressure. Captain Lee Flynn headed the second home from a the rebound after the ‘Leafe ‘keeper saved yet another rasping shot. The home side paid the occasional visit to the opposition half and when they did, their forwards were isolated and could barely scare up a shot on goal. At Half Time a three or four to nil score would not have been an injustice and Whyteleafe can thank their ‘keeper Paul Smith for maintaining a respectable scoreline.

It was more of the same after the break until Dennis' second goal signalled the end of the contest. The strike was from a tight angle and was too quick for the ‘keeper. After that, Grays were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure.

As the late October sun set on Whyteleafe’s dreams of the Wembley Arch, Grays’ lively away support that made up the bulk of the 145 attendance headed back to their cars and onto the next round. For those of us left behind, a long season of concentrating on the league awaits. The only other significant statistic from the match is that it is finally time to retire my Converse trainers after a prolonged summer.

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