Having clinched the 2012/13 MFA Championship and thereby also achieving their long held ambition of promotion to the Southern League it was a summer of anticipation and apprehension for Town as they looked forward to the inevitable extra demands on and off the field that football at the higher level would bring.
As expected there were a number of changes to Town’s squad as the new season approached, notably the retirement of the legendary Mark Faulds after clocking up 333 appearances, but Carl Adams felt that he had brought in enough quality players for Town to be competitive although not even he could be certain until after the first game.
At least the fixture list was relatively kind as Town were scheduled to begin life in the Southern League with an away match at Thatcham Town who had finished in mid-table in the previous season and who would therefore provide a reasonable indication of how Town might fare in the long term.
But few of the Town faithful could have predicted how that afternoon would unfold as Carl Adams’ side ran in five goals with a certain Richard Gregory coming off the subs bench to get on the scoresheet within ten minutes of his arrival and add another late on.
And that was just a foretaste of what that memorable season would bring as Town scorched to 103 League goals with Gregory winning the Division 1 South and West Golden boot with 39.
FIVE STAR TOWN STUN THATCHAM
Thatcham Town – 1 – Paterson 58 Stratford Town – 5 – West (2) 23 & 87 Green 39 Gregory (2) 70 & 90 + 2
For so long it had seemed to be an impossible dream, but promotion at last became reality for Town at Waterside Park on Saturday when they began life in the brave new world of the Calor Southern League only four short months after clinching the Baker Joiner MFA Championship.
And Carl Adams’ side turned in a performance far beyond the expectations of even their most optimistic supporter as they ran in five goals to get the season off to a fairytale start and send the sizeable contingent of Town fans who had travelled to witness their Club’s debut at Step 4 of the Non-League pyramid back home surely pinching themselves to see if it really was true.
With the majority of the title winning squad having gone their separate ways Town’s team for this history making occasion had a distinctly new look about it, and of the side which started last season’s final MFA game only Harry Donaghy, Simeon Tulloch and Joe Halsall did so here.
Not surprisingly Town made a cautious start, and in the opening minutes teenage keeper Sam Brady – who was preferred to last season’s regular stopper Chris Jay after impressing in the last few friendlies – showed his bravery by coming out to punch clear as Callum Willmoth chased down a through ball, and soon after confidently held a snap shot from Kalief Madden.
Gradually though Town settled down with Joe Halsall and Rob Evans making their presence felt in midfield, and they took the lead on 23 minutes when Phil Green headed a Simeon Tulloch right wing cross into the path of Matt West who from 12 yards out drilled the ball beyond the left hand of Thatcham keeper Ashley West into the bottom corner of the net.
Thatcham tried to hit back with a rasping Willmoth effort being deflected behind off a defender before Town doubled their lead on 38 minutes with a cleverly worked free kick a couple of yards outside the penalty area. Matt West deceived the Thatcham defensive wall by looking as if he was going to shoot and instead rolled the ball to the unmarked Green who neatly slid it past the helpless Ashley West to send Town in at the break two up.
Town had an early chance soon after the start of the second half when Chris Sterling worked his way to the byline down the left to set up an opening for Green who hit his shot straight at the relieved Ashley West.
But Thatcham were now upping their tempo in an effort to get back into the game, and Alex Charlick let fly with a fierce effort which Brady only held at the second attempt before they pulled a goal back on 58 minutes in hugely controversial circumstances.
It stemmed from a Charlick free kick which was floated into the Town six yard box where it was touched on by Chris Paterson only for Brady to smother the ball apparently on the line. Thatcham appealed that it had crossed the line before being grabbed by Brady but the referee initially waved play on until seconds later, with Town in possession on the halfway line, he was alerted to some frantic flag waving from his assistant.
After stopping the game to consult with the assistant he then bizarrely reversed his original decision and awarded Thatcham the goal.
On the day when the Goal Decision System was launched in the Premier League it would certainly have been interesting had it been in operation here.
Town were temporarily knocked out of their stride by this setback as Thatcham cranked up the pressure. Charlie Hull went close from distance and the dangerous Charlick finished a run from inside his own half with another well struck effort which was spectacularly tipped over by Brady.
But with twenty minutes to go Town regained their two goal advantage with arguably the best move of the match as Simeon Tulloch and Josh Shepherd exchanged passes down the right for Shepherd to deliver an inch perfect cross which was turned in by substitute Richard Gregory from close range.
Soon after only the crossbar prevented Thatcham falling further behind when a Sterling special rebounded to safety with Ashley West well beaten, but then at the other end Brady continued his outstanding form as he produced a tremendous double save when Thatcham mounted what turned out to be their last meaningful attack.
His first save was smart enough as he plunged to his right to parry another fierce drive from Charlick but his second was even better as he recovered instantly to block Hull’s follow-up as well.
From then on the result was never in doubt, and Town emphasised that it was very much their day by scoring twice more in the last five minutes.
The first came when Town won a penalty after Paterson was red carded for bring down Matt Gasper. Although the keeper saved Matt West’s spot kick Town’s Man of the Match thumped home the rebound, and in added time he turned provider by helping on a long throw which was volleyed in by Gregory to complete a memorable and special afternoon.
TOWN : Sam Brady, Josh Shepherd. Harry Donaghy, Liam Reynolds, Jim Mutton (Loyiso Recci 46), Rob Evans, Simeon Tulloch (Matt Gasper 78), Joe Halsall, Matt West, Phil Green (Richard Gregory 61), Chris Sterling.. Unused Subs – None.
THATCHAM : Ashley West, Ben McCready, Matt Bowler, Chris Paterson, Gareth Thomas, Jordan Seward (Tom Lockyer 57), Callum Willmoth, Charlie Hull, Kalief Madden, Sam Hamilton (Adam Wallace 74), Alex Charlick. Unused Subs – Peter Raines, George Stirland & James East
Referee – Robin Cox
Assistant Referees – Paul Maxwell & Thomas Moisey
Attendance – 66
Town Man of the Match – Matt West
The View From The Dug-Out – Carl Adams is all smiles after a winning start
“That was a tremendous performance and a great result.
We look like a team that can score goals and that was proved today. We are also a developing team with a lot of new players – we have a nice blend of youth and experience and they are increasing in confidence and understanding all the time.
But although there are plenty of positives to take from today we mustn’t get carried away – it was only one game.”
Match Stats by Rod Abrahams
Town – GA 11 OT 7 HW 1 CW 3 FC 13 OS 2 YC 2 RC 0
Thatcham – GA 11 OT 6 HW 0 CW 2 FC 10 OS 2 YC 1 RC 1
Town Yellow Cards – Halsall & Reynolds
Thatcham Yellow Cards – Hull Red Card – Paterson
Match Report by Bryan Hale