Well this is getting exciting! It’s another play off v relegation scrap at Longmead this weekend, with Tonbridge Angels and Harlow Town serving up the goodies. Turning up every week when there is something to play for will make it an exciting run-in to the end of the season in this part of West Kent, and a great shop window for the home team.
The last three “top v bottom” matches have gone very well for Tonbridge, seeing off Whitehawk, Corinthian Casuals and Hornchurch with some ease, while Harlow have found the going much heavier. One of many football cliches is that success is built from the back, and with five clean sheets in a row, and just one goal conceded in the last seven league matches, Tonbridge are currently a fine example of this.
As for Harlow, last season’s relegation reprieve due to the league restructure doesn’t seem to have done them any favours. They have the worst defence in the Division, conceding 88 goals, and sit second bottom. They have conceded seven and five goals in their last two games, and shipped nine in one game last month at Worthing. They are clearly not only very fragile in defence, but also prone to the occasional spectacular collapse.
As is often the case, there is a familiar old face in the Harlow side returning to Tonbridge, in defender Ugo Udoji. I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t really reach the current level of quality defenders enjoyed by Tonbridge. Given the number of goals Harlow are conceding, maybe that’s why he now calls himself Emmanuel Udoji, in the hope his family and friends don’t realise where he plays when the results are read out. “Nah mate, that’s not me, that’s my cousin Manny. He’s hopeless”.
However remember that, as Ugo, he does have a little place in a Tonbridge Angels history, as he scored the winning spot kick which finally ended the club’s decades long penalty shootout hoodoo, going one better than players with many more goals than him under their belts.
Last week the Angels paper thin squad waved goodbye to captain Tom Parkinson for his early summer holidays again this season. It looked bleak when his cover, Tom Beere, was stretchered off at Whitehawk last Saturday, having twisted his knee on some old turnips or discarded farm machinery left on the pitch in Sussex. However, word from the physio’s bench suggests he should be ok to earn another invisible man of the match award again this week.
So, what could possibly go wrong? Well….the Angels home form is patchy this season, and over recent years when a decent crowd has turned out at Longmead, they’ve lost. Is it a good idea for the Tonbridge Board to target this game as “Project 650”, to get their biggest gate of the season, especially when the away crowd will come in a Reliant Robin? Perhaps Project 150 would be wiser.
While a big crowd should turn out in the hope of a goal fest, given their respective league positions, Harlow are at the point where they can’t afford to lose. In all likelihood they will do what any team in their position would do – put 11 men behind the ball, foul the Tonbridge playmakers in rotation to avoid too many bookings, and hope to nick a win from a scruffy corner in the 88th minute. Tonbridge, and especially their supporters, may well have to be supremely patient if they don’t get an early goal.
We are at the Snakes & Ladders point of the season. Tonbridge are in very good form indeed, but may have to roll the dice to find a way to climb higher, while Harlow must try and avoid slipping on snakes and hope their number comes up.
Walk out music…..