Right now Folland Sports manager Danny Bowers has a few things to be happy about. It was almost a month ago to the very day that he had complained in his programme notes against Romsey Town that his in-form side had been passed over for the award of Wessex League Team of the month in favour of Alresford Town, stating that “for whatever reason we seem to get overlooked for these awards”. Not only has this oversight now been rectified with Follands receiving the latest team of the month award, but his side has just defeated the mighty Sholing in their own back-yard, cementing 3rd position ahead of a host of much bigger clubs, including Newport (IOW) and Winchester City – the latter, if the rumours I overheard at the ground are true, even having offered Bowers their vacant managerial post, but whether Bowers is entirely happy that the three points were taken from a Sholing side shorn of their key talent is a slightly different matter.
No fewer than eight changes had been made to the starting line-up of the Sholing side which defeated Verwood Town 4 -1 on Saturday, with hat-trick scorer Lee Wort left out of the squad completely. Whilst it may have come as a surprise that the team chasing the league title would field a weakened side for such a crucial game it is not entirely illogical; Sholing began the game in second, two points behind league leaders Alresford, but with four games in hand. After Follands they face Whitchurch, Horndean, Moneyfields, Christchurch and Portchester. Winning their remaining games will give Alresford a potential maximum of 97 points so as it stands Sholing, currently on 89, need 9 points from these remaining games to be sure of the title.
Thanks to the three months of rain this season however, Sholing face a very congested fixture list. The Folland’s game being the third in a series of four games in seven days, between the 17th and the 24th.. Out of these, and all the other remaining games, Follands no doubt present the toughest challenge, so perhaps it made sense to shift resources and potentially sacrifice the difficult three points for a better shot at the easier ones to come.
I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at missing out on seeing one of the most entertaining local sides in their full glory (my fault as Sholing is a place I should, and may, visit more), but the fact that it was still a half-decent game shows that Sholing have strength in depth and the 248 people who showed up were fairly happy with the spectacle.
With the sun out and a bank holiday weekend behind them the mood among the bumper crowd was good to begin with, but Sholing, shooting downhill had the uphill task in the first half, going down first to a brilliant chest and volley from Dan Mason on nine minutes and then conceding a second on the break just before half time.
As the sun gave way to ominous grey clouds in the second half Sholing began to pick up helped by two half time substitutions. Just as I felt the first spots of rain, causing me to edge closer to the small covered stand Alex Baldicchino combined with Barry Mason – one of the half-time substitutes – whose pinpoint cross Baldicchino then steered into the net. For a while it looked like a downpour may be about to happen. As I chided myself for not bringing a coat, or at least a sweater, Baldacchino wriggled his way through the Follands defence to snatch an equaliser.
It was inexperience though which cost Sholing dearly when a Sholing defender failed to get enough of a head on an incoming ball, sending it trickling into the area. As the defender watched with a look of guilt-ridden anguish on his face the Follands number 10 Ryan Long wasted no time ruthlessly pouncing on the mistake. The Sholing ‘keeper raced out to meet him, but given little chance only succeeded in bringing the attacker down for the penalty which Long himself duly converted.
The sky, seemingly responding to the rhythm of the game became less threatening with the clouds clearing and a glimmer of sun reappearing as the Sholing threat subsided. For their part the players on both sides began troubling the sky with ever bigger hoofs as the game broke down into a desperate scramble, either to hold on, or to force the ball forward for one more push.
3-2 to Follands.